The Waiting is the Hardest Part (being part 1 of "Night of the Gray Wolves

Authorial note: I was given permission of the creator to use this cast off character:

Yet another note: This takes place in that big white nothing on the east edge of the map drawn by JRR Tolkien. It also inludes some made-up names to represent characters like Sauron or places like Mordor. I proceeded from the fact that Sauron is not the right name of that malicious spirit and that he does not permit his true name to be used. The orcs of Mordor tend to refer to him as "Higher Up" and so on. The discrning and discriminating reader to whom I address my meanderings ought to be able to discern readily enough what is what from context. If it's unclear, the fault lieth with me, gentle reader.



Third Age, 3015. City of Dakat, East of Lake Rhun

A timid light tenuously crept round the greasy leather curtain that served as the door of Stanich's tavern as knot of rough looking easterners strutted in. Made bold by the silver they had been paid, they failed at first to notice anything beyond the bar where a faded beauty with overly rouged breasts washed ceramic tankards in a wooden bucket. From the shadows all round them, eyes friendly and not so regarded the men with cool detachment, bemusement or openly displayed malice. For to Stanich's came few such outlanders.

Mercenaries and cutpurses and whores who preyed upon them tended to frequent saloons and hostelries closer to Dakat's central market. Taverns such as the Blue Window or the Brazen Bear where a soldier for hire could find a new master or a down on her luck courtesan could find a merchant in want of conversation or a bed partner for an evening.

But to Stanich's, low slung hovel which occupied an old warehouse in the oldest part of the town came Dakat's creatures of the night and the underworld denizens of western Rhun to conduct their business and seal dark pacts in the many back rooms or cellars of the moldering structure.

From one alcove watched a peculiar set of bright green eyes veiled as they were by a heavy butternut colored hood from which strands of sandy brown hair escaped. Three others gathered round the table in the alcove exchanged glances and resumed their hushed conversation and tossing of dice amidst the general murmur.

After the mercenaries had seemed to blend into the general squalid riot of the tavern, a man made his way into the throng. Clad in costly clothes and cloaked in exotic furs, the tall, dusky skinned slender figure bore a long dagger by way of protection but seemed as singularly out of place under the low ceilings as would an elf.

This singular nobleman or wealthy mrchant, for so he surely must be, made his way steadily toward the corner alcove after an exchange of portentious glances with Stanich, a burly dwarf who held court on a wooden throne in an opposite alcove. The throne was famously a prize seized from some steppe tribe's lord by Stanich, who had made and lost a dozen fortunes as a sell-sword over two centuries.

As the gentleman his way boldly toward the corner, one of the outland mercenaries' elbows suddenly appeared in his way, causing him to stop.

“What are you touching me for, freak?” asked the lanky warrior, casting aside a cloak dramatically to reveal a sword hilt.

“I think he came here looking for a fight,” came another, looming over the dandy who blew a kiss at the swordsman.

“You'd all better mind your business or you'll be out,” shouted Stanich. At which two dozen pairs of hostile eyes lit directly on the six outlanders.

“No trouble, mate” said the aggrieved mercenary. The group of them finished their ale cups at a signal and made their way out with cool glances in every direction.

The dandy arrived in the hazy alcove and took up one of the two creaky chairs opposite the tall central figure.

The little group left off their dice game and shifted to admit the lordly newcomer.

“If you weren't so well known here, I'd have complained of your timing,” said Ahmo levelly, sipping warm ale. “Those men aren't city watch.”

“How do you know?” asked the dandy.

“How d'you think?” Ahmo said, eyes laughing. “And since I've given you so much silver to pay them all to look the other way, you ought to know them yourself.”

“I pay many to look various ways and I do not keep company with them all,” came the man with a sigh.

“Join us for a game?” the elf said, her voice brightening.

A wiry young tavern wench with the golden complexion and almond eyes of a native of the steppes of farthest Rhun pressed close to Ahmo for a second longer than necessary and returned later with a fresh tankard for them all as they took their turns throwing the dice from a little cup.

“So the king is dying at last, Jaesper? Ahmo asked after a spell, marking her latest point on a tally board an setting a silver coin out as her latest wager.

Jaesper stroked the pointed beard on his narrow chin. “He's not expected to last another fortnight. All the arts of the healers are exhausted. The pain must be unimaginable,” Jaes replied, taking his throw. “He howls all night and must be helped to make water.”

“And the young heir is still a hostage in Mordor,” came Ahmo.

“Word has come thence that young Demasjyt will soon return to take up the chiefship.” Jeas replied. “We must take our throw now or never. The very moment the king dies.”

“And your friends. They are ready to move?”

“Everything is in readiness. We await word from the king's chambers he has breathed his last. Curse the old fool.”

“This brief window of opportunity will close verysoon,” Ahmo said. “Now if you want to find out for yourself how life in Barad Dur has shaped Demasjyt, then you can do nothing. Or you can make a run for Dale. Perhaps they've forgotten your gambling debts there. Or your other transgressions...” The woman let her words trail as the minstrel-spy sagged visibly.

“I have already got all the players into position. They all know their parts by heart,” he said, recovering his easy air of confidence. “I'll need another satchel of gold,” he added, hopefully. “Not everyone at court is so eager to throw of the yoke of Mordor. Many have made an easy life of it. Perhaps you have means to assist the old man and make his passing less painful and pronlonged?”

“You promised me a map?” Ahmo stonewalled, deftly parrying Jeasper's appeal.

“The tunnels beneath the castle, yes,” Jaesper answered, drawing a folded leather wallet from inside his fashionable tunic. He held it in his fingers, waiting.

Ahmo fixed the man with her eyes and Jaesper flinched and looked quickly away. He'd locked eyes with a man once who stood on a scaffold while a rope was wrapped round his neck for the murder of his wife and children. The eyes of a pitiless killer. This woman's eyes made him feel much the same. The elf pushed the heavy almoner across the table, coins within audibly clinking.

The bard's hand swept up the pouch and he flipped the wallet before Ahmo who slid it subtly to one of her confederates.

“What's your next move? We will strike the moment the king draws his last. Then Prince Enirin cannot be called a usurper according to tradition. Our best hope is if he dies before Demasjyt arrives. We will have control of the city gate but Eriall the chamberlain stands opposed. He will have to be taken out of the equation or our effort to install your pretender may founder on the swords of his palace guard.”

Ahmo listened patiently before offering reply. “So you've intimated before. I have a plan in place. Just seal the gate and all will fall into place.”

“And Demasjyt? If he should return too soon? “

“Then we have to alter our plans accordingly,” Ahmo answered, lighting up a long pipe.

“I'd better get back or I'll be missed,” Jaesper said, pushing his chair slightly back.

“We'll be in contact by the usual means,” said the smiling elf.


You may now proceed to in your test booklet.