As she rode through the quiet homestead, the few vendors and laborers on the street stopped to watch her ride through silently. A massive, armored warhorse, ridden by an elf wearing nearly as much armor as the horse, lacquered a deep crimson. Across her back, a massive great sword that seemed to absorb the moonlight. The elf ignored the furtive whispers in her wake. She usually did.

It hadn't taken much to find her destination...several ponies and a horse or two scattered around the yard with a single sign, reading Soothery. The Banshee shook her head and spat. "What the feck is a soothery? Sounds like something a halfling eats after bad mutton."

Standing at the homey, ivy draped doorway, she took a deep breath. How did her sister always get her in the middle of these things? Looking down, she realized she was standing on a welcome mat. Seriously? Three weeks ago she was climbing the side of Seregost for fun, now she was standing on a welcome mat?

She paused..the toe of her boot rubbing at a dark wet stain on the floorboard next to the mat. Blood? Well...that seemed more promising.

Taking another deep breath, one last dark look at the placid, tranquil surroundings, and she shouldered the door open...into chaos.

Several dwarves, perhaps three, perhaps a dozen scurried around the bright, small clinic, yelling out to each other in several languages. They seemed to be performing surgery on another dwarf in a back room, pulling an arrowhead out of him. A potted plant was knocked over in the rush by one dwarf, then righted by another. The room was filled with the stench of alcohol and blood. This was more like it.

Standing in the doorway, Xandilif the Banshee spat and rolled her shoulders. "Fah, this place smells like a dead Balrog's armpit..."

Nearer to the door then the dwarven circus was a pair of comfortable beds, each holding a seriously wounded woman. Standing near them was a knight, still breathing hard, leaning against the wall in pain.

In one of the beds, Addie froze at the sound of the voice. Could it be? She looked up to Lif and for a moment she was speechless. She then looked over to Masin, "Are you all right?"

Masin was looking at the unknown elf in confusion, catching his breathe. "Aye just fine, are you alright?"

Addie looked down to herself to see if there were any new injuries, "I.. think I am fine."

She had almost convinced herself the elf was some kind of hallucination when Xandilif spoke again, her voice sharp and raucous yet with the underlying music of her people, like a harp played with a short sword. 'Well, well, well, you look like someone put ya on a goblin spit and roasted ya, Horsegirl'"

Looking back at Xandilif, she shrugged as much as she could and smiled, shaking her head. "Riding accident.."

A long pause as Masin looked at Addie, confused still by this elf and her response...then Xandilif laughed loud and hard causing one of the dwarves rushing by to try to shush her. "Yeah, Rohan wenches fall off their damn ponies all the time. How else do their boyfriends tag em?  Speakin' of which, siddown Paramour before ya fall down. What the feck happened out there, the Monk said you did for all the bastards but the road out there says somethin' different."

Masin leaned on the foot of the bed holding his side a little. "I am fine, why do you elves keep calling me that? Paramour?"

Xandilif laughed and pulled a wooden chair over, dropping into it heavily as another cry of pain came from the dwarf in the back of the room. Both Addie and Masin winced, but Xandilif didn't seem to notice any more than the unconscious woman in the other bed did. "Ain't that yer name?" she asked "The Monk says its yer name. You sayin the Monk is wrong, lateborn?"

Masin looked even more confused, "I am Masin, but...what Monk?"

Addie reached up and patted his hand. "She means Xanderian. Xanderian has many nicknames.. I guess it's a family trait. This is her sister...Xandilif. The Banshee...among other names I don't remember."

Masin stared, now it was his turn to be speechless. "Sisters?"

Addie smiled and settled back into her pillow...one eyebrow cocked, amused by Masin's amazement. "Sisters."

Settling into her chair, Xandilif's tone changing slightly, becoming almost businesslike. "Alright then Paramour Masin, have it your way. What happened out there?"

Masin shook his head to clear it, "We were bringing Miss Addie and Miss Neth here but the wagon was ambushed. Zurri was hit and I jumped off to help him while I told the other to get here with the two ladies."

The elf nodded. 'Very well. The foes seemed to be skirmishers mainly from the tracks. How many were there?'

Masin shrugged, unsure and taken aback by the Elleth's new behavior. He felt like he was back in Rohan before his old commander. "Seemed like so many arrows, but two men came at us and I took them out. I could feel more upon us so we fled. It seemed like the woods were filled with them and Master Zurri was badly hit. They were waiting for us to move them and there are a lot more of them."

Xandilif nodded again 'Or a few that know how to make ya think there are a lot...large forces are expensive and tough to hide. Oldest trick in the book Paramour..two archers in the woods, fire, move, fire, move..its a fecking army...The Monk could make ya think she was an entire fecking cadre of Swan Knights if she wanted ta"

Masin looked angrily at Xandilif, frustrated at feeling like a recruit again, "Either way Zurri was badly hurt and I could not risk finding out what was in the woods. He needed to get help."

Addie looked down to the bed, her eyes starting to well with tears once again. 'Strongboar has many at his command..'

Masin moved protectively to her side, "Miss Addie, no harm will come to you. Nor your friend and we will get to the end of this."

The Elleth however didn't seem to notice her tears and continued. 'And what is a Strongboar..sounds like a cheap ale.'

Addie took a moment to compose herself and looked back to Lif, "He is.. a wannabe crime lord to put it mildly, responsible for kidnapping, injuring and killing many.

"'What has he got to do with this business?" Xandilif rose and started pacing. "The Monk said you got hit by bounty hunters, not some two penny crime lord and his thugs."'

Addie sighed, looking ashamed. "It is a long tale...and one I think you might need to sit down for."

Masin tried to offer Addie comfort, taken aback by her tone, but clearly didn;t want to overstep some boundary.  'Addie, none of this is your fault.'

Xandilif stared at Masin and smirked "How do ya know until she tells her tale, Paramour. Maybe she is guilty as Sauron's naughty nursemaid? OK, long story, Horsegirl. Go, but I'll stand thanks."

The injured woman motioned for Masin to sit despite his sudden urge to take a swing at the elf, worried about his well-being. She then looked down to the bed once more, not wanting to meet either of their eyes as she told what had occurred. "It started with a man named Woodbridge, he had come to town seeking a man and brought his thugs to assault him in the Pony. Miss Cesistya and I went out to help the man, but he willingly went with them, we assume due to blackmail. Not too long after that, another man named Lincoln was also hunted down by these thugs, Strongboar being one of them. He too was taken a few days later. I saw this Woodbridge in the pony once more and went to.. well.. /inquire/ about Lincoln. He escaped my grasp and Miss Kithri was taken the next night as a warning for me to not interfere.." She stopped, unsure if she should continue.

Masin sat on the edge of the bed, rigid with tension, but Xandilif raised both eyebrows and laughed 'So now this Strongboar figgers "Heck, got a free afternoon on my hands, lets kill her anyway?'

Addiela shook her head, face growing paler, "Nay.. that is not it. He seeks to kill Woodbridge and take his /empire/ so to speak for himself. He came to me and wanted me to kill Woodbridge, so that I would have the blood on my hands and serve the jail time. When I refused, he threatened to come kill Miss Kithri and Lincoln. I then attacked him, but he overpowered me, carved his name into my side and slashed my abdomen, leaving me to bleed out."

Xandilif sighed and spat...."Bree..like the fecking shire but with worse ale and more murder. So someone told this wanna be orc that you didn't die and he is tryin to correct his mistake? Elbereth's nickers, Horsegirl, you are way more trouble then you seem at first And where in the name of Thorin's deep dark shaft did you get all these dwarves? They are feckin' everywhere."

The look of shame and guilt once again come into Addie's face as Lif said those words, thinking it true that she is too much trouble for those around her. "I.. they are all friends I have met while in Bree. 'I only know that the ruffians that took Neth and me were not part of his group, but it seems that they were part of this slaver ring.

Masin patted Addie's hand, "You are never too much trouble." He did still look a little confused however, "So two different groups all together then? And why would he think you could or would kill this Woodbridge?

She looked to Masin, her eyes ashamed.  "He thought I would want revenge on him.. and I do.. but not that way..'

Xandilif spat again. "This Strongboar...Fecking little Breelander thinks he can play wraith?"

Addiela shook her head, 'He is not of Bree..He is of Eorlingas breed and build.. but his manner is not of my people.. he is truly evil."

"He know you from back home, Horsegirl?" Xandilif sneered. "This personal after all? This an old boyfriend tryin ta get back under yer skirts?'

Addie now glared toward Lif, but managed to answer calmly. "Nay.. I knew him not before Bree.. and I assure you, he was probably exiled for acting as such or fled for his life."

With a flurry the dwarven healers were suddenly back, concerned about Masin. After a brief negotiation he agreed to strip off his shirt so they could check his bandages. Addiela looked over to Lif to offer Masin some privacy while his wounds were being tended. Xandilif on the other hand watched him strip appraisingly

The Elleth smiled 'Nothing like a little blood on a man...like mustard on beef.'

Addiela shook her head disapprovingly at Lif, finally asking a question that had been on her mind "And.. how and why did you come here?"

Xandilif shrugged a bit again. "The Monk mentioned the little dust up with the slavers...said ya got yourself twisted up, so I figured ta come and bring ya a flower and weep at yer fecking bedside."

'Better than my grave." Addie smiled teasingly, 'But where is this flower?'

Looking almost awkward, Xandilif dug around in a belt pouch, coming out with a bent daisy that had seen better days and held it out to her. "Here...'

Addie stared at the elf, her views shifting, then took the daisy with a small chuckle to herself, "How kind of you.. and now I know what types of flowers to look out for when searching for Banshees or to attract protectors." 

Masin looked back and forth between Xandilif and Addie.."As long as you need me, I'll be around, Miss Addie. No need for flowers."

"Awww..ain't the paramour sweet...like a puppy with biceps", Xandilif punched him in the shoulder, making him wince. "So Horsegirl, you managed to make out what part of the Mark this Strongboar hails from?"

Addie looked disgusted. "He, and I assume it is his brother, tried to speak to me in our tongue.. but I refuse to defile my language for those dogs.so I could not tell you.. "

The Elleth shrugged 'Imagine they will tell us soon enough....The Monk didn't know about this Strongboar, and I know you still ain't dumped yer whole bag yet cause ya lie worse then a kobold with mange, but whatever. This is enough to start with'

Addie bristled again, 'I have no interest in knowing where they were born or even raised.. I only wish for an end to their cruelty'

"Other folk may wanna know...but it don't matter...no reason to clench up, Horsegirl, we'll kill the bastards for ya. Death will end it." The Banshee held up her hands soothingly, or what she thought might be soothingly.

Addie looked over to Lif from her bed with a cold gaze and her voice uncharacteristically dark, "Sometimes there are fates worse than death.."

Xandilif tilted her head, but smiled in a deeply disturbing way. "Oh sweetheart, there are whole bunches of fates worse then death. You want to pick one for them, like that flower I brought ya? This can be arranged.'

Masin raised a brow as his green eyes took in the two of them, becoming somewhat troubled by the turn this had taken. Noting his grave look, Addie shrugged gently, looking away, trying to lighten the moment. "Who am I to decide who should live or die?'

Xandilif sat on the edge of her bed, leaning close, her voice low and mocking. "Oooooohhh no..you want this goon to spend years in torment, ya gotta stand beside that wish or let it go. Own it, whatever it is. You got the nerve, Horsegirl?'

Addiela cast her gaze back down the the bed, her expression unreadable for that moment but the elf leaned in closer, her words dark and seductive. 'If ya want them to spend years begging strangers ta kill em...I can do that...but you gotta sign on and embrace it, you gotta look them in the eye and say "I did this to you and I am glad". Stone hearted, no regrets. If you can do that, then welcome to my world, Horsegirl

Masin shook his head, growing angry, "She does not have to feel one way or another. In the heat of battle I know when death is about to befall my foe and sometimes my rage stops and sometimes it does not."

The Elleth snorted and leaned closer still over the bed, her face close to Addie's. 'This ain't battle, Paramour..this is the set up, the coax, the trap, and the retribution. Cold fecking blood and clear feckin eye.'

Xandilif caught Addie by the chin, her eyes bright and smile twisted, close enough to kiss her. "If that is what you want, Addiela of the Riddermark, then take my hand and walk this path with me...if you can. I ain't my sister...I ain't no lone sacrifice. I view vengeance as a shared pleasure. I'm holdin' the apple...you want a bite?"

Addie's eyes widened as she was suddenly grabbed by the chin and stared into Lif's eyes with her one good one, her expression fierce...then blank. Her voice was little more than a whisper, almost a prayer. "I am not what or who you think I am.. Agreeing to this would make me no better than agreeing to Strongboar's deal.."

Xandilif nodded, letting the tension evaporate..."Question asked and answered, cutie...but I had to know....and so did you.'

Addie bit her lip, torn between anger and..something else. 'And did I pass your test?'

The Elleth rose and stepped back. "I ain't got a pass nor fail..the question is..did you pass YOUR test?'

The wounded woman stared down at the bed in sudden silence, unsure of the answer