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Elessar

A Bond of Redemption - Part 2 (attn. Myrrhi Aes Sedai)

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For PART 1 of this RP-thread see ->>
 
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PART 2
 
 
.. Revisited by Memories and Wounds that never Heal ..
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Elessar was lost in Dreams and Memories..

 

 

The days had passed by, one day flowing seamlessly into the next, as they had waited at the ‘Ocean Mistress’ inn, in the city and Capital of Tanchico by the Aryth Ocean, for new orders from the White Tower. They had certainly needed the rest after their months of travel and hardship, facing Darkfriends and Whitecloaks alike, their persistent efforts leading to the successful freeing of the imprisoned Green Sister from the Whitecloak stronghold not long ago. By now, however, both Elessar and Myrrhi, his Bonded young Aes Sedai, were becoming restless and ready to get on with their next mission for the White Tower.

 

 

Since they had been ordered to wait until further notice, it was apparent that they were not returning straight away to Tar Valon. The Warder had ambivalent feelings in that regard; part of him had looked forward to getting back to the White Tower after their many months of strenuous travel and adventures, but another part knew very well that he had always been happiest as a Gaidin on the road, away from the restricting Tower and Warder grounds, on missons and adventures with his Aes Sedai(s). It was difficult to know how Myrrhi felt, she did not speak about it during their talks and he did not press her, but as the days passed Elessar found he looked more and more forward to receiving word of their next mission and waited with anticipation for the Tower messenger to arrive with instructions.

 

 

A strong southern ocean wind beat insistently against the windows of his room at the inn one late evening, a forerunner of a coming storm, darkness enveloping the skies in all directions as night embraced the region, but the Bonded Warder heard or sensed nothing of this as his mind was back in the Borderlands, deep in memories of the past, re-living a visit made years before..

 

 

.. A strong morning breeze makes the colourful red-on-white background, star-illustrated Telcontar Banner beside the Estate Main Gate ripple with abundant life - as Elessar Gaidin and Kathleen Aes Sedai of the White Tower ride through the imposing gate and onto the front grounds - almost as if welcoming a lost son home...

 

 

Memories..

 

 

..Elessar, in his distinct Warder colour-shifting cloak, and Kathleen Aes Sedai, his Bondholder, in her green formal riding dress with a green fringed shawl around her shoulders depicting her Ajah, entered the manor house together and received respectful bows from the members of the Telcontar family.

 

 

“Welcome to our house, Aes Sedai - we are honoured”, said a tall broad-shouldered man in a friendly and respectful voice, beckoning them inside. Valdherien Telcontar, lord of this manor, was a hospitable man. He wore silver chains over a formal dark-blue coat cut in the Kandori fashion, muted silk trousers and Borderlander footwear. His beard was in the distinctive forked style of his countrymen, he had two jewelled earrings in each ear, there were some gray patches in his dark hair, and his jaw protruded a little more from his tanned face than was the case with Elessar, but even so it was not difficult to see that the two were brothers. They clasped shoulders in heartfelt welcome, though Valdherien’s eyes were slightly hesitant, a look which the Warder returned. The moment passed and they joined the others - Valdherien’s wife Leonorah, a tall beautiful Borderlander woman who wore a stylish Kandori dress with a necklace made in an intricate pattern known as the ‘Kandori snowflake pattern’, and their two daughters, leading the way - as they headed down a hallway and into the main lounge.

 

 

“Father?” Elessar asked his brother, in an uneasy voice, as they rounded a corner, and Valdherien, with a sigh he was unable to repress, replied that their father was out in the gardens. Elessar nodded and said no more, but inside he was debating with himself whether it would be wise to postpone the confrontation with his father, or simply get it over with. He had not decided by the time they reached the main lounge and his older brother bade them seat themselves in the ancient-looking chairs in the room and have a drink. On the walls were old paintings depicting Borderland history - scenery, towns, Borderlander warriors and battles -, paintings that Elessar knew from old had been passed down through several Telcontar generations. His age-long interest in history and battles had been born in part due to these old paintings and the small but distinct library of history and story-books that resided in a different part of the manor.

 

 

 

After drink and some polite conversation Elessar excused himself, with a quick nod at his Aes Sedai which was returned, and headed out into the gardens. His unease increased as he walked toward a lonely figure standing some way off, tension he was sure Kathleen would feel through the Bond, but he had to get this over with. He had been in doubt whether to wait or - possibly - avoid the confrontation, but in the end had decided that this was the only way. He had to deal with his father at some point and he was tired of this chasm of anger and distrust which had developed between them.

 

 

As he neared the lone figure, standing by an apple tree, he recognized his father’s features and posture. The old man turned around and faced his son in silence. He looked just as Elessar remembered him from his last visit several years before, though perhaps a touch frailer. Saamlin Telcontar, a proud man of dark skin with angry dark eyes and a hard face, stared angrily at Elessar but said nothing. Of all the brothers Elessar had always resembled his father the most, also becoming the martial son his father had always wanted - and nurtured. Elessar, however, thought it might be this very sameness - almost like a mirror image - that had driven his father from great pride in his son, as he had travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder of the White Tower, to great, unyielding anger at him - and perhaps himself - for Elessar being unable to save the youngest son Vehran from drowning.

 

 

It had happened on his first visit home a few years after finishing Warder training, during a forest trek in one of Kandor’s several valleys. Vehran and he had gone swimming in a Borderland river there, the currents had been strong - stronger than they had anticipated - and Vehran had accidentally slipped and knocked his head on a rock, disappearing flailing into the rushing water. Elessar had heard his brother’s scream but had been too far away to do anything, and by the time he reached his brother’s body, carried by the frantic stream further downriver, and got it out of the water, it was too late. His father had never forgiven him for not saving Vehran’s life.

 

 

“You were the older brother, it was your responsibility to take care of him, Elessar! How could you not see the danger!? How were you, a trained Warder, unable to save him!? It is on your head. You are no longer a son of mine!”

 

 

The harsh, bitter words rang in Elessar’s head still, even after so many years. And perhaps his father was right. He blamed himself for his younger brother’s death, even if perhaps unfairly, another sin weighing down on his soul..

 

 

 

Elessar tossed and turned in bed from the painful memory.

 

He was swiftly drawn back to that time at the Telcontar Estate, back to the painful confrontation with his father..

 

 

..The Warder turned away from his father’s accusing stare. He stared silently into the orchard of apple trees, flowerbeds and grassy grounds that enveloped the estate. Compared to other Kandori estates, of greater noble families, this was a fairly modest sized estate. Even so, it would have been considered a fair sized estate in some smaller countries and to a young Elessar it had, at the time, seemed the world.

 

 

It was the world to me, he thought. For a while.

 

 

In his mind’s eye, memories flowing, he was back in these gardens on a beautiful spring afternoon, the sun shining from a cloudless sky, a young Borderlander boy running freely around in play, face full of boyish glee, his two brothers at his heels - one older, one younger, but all three in many ways the same - none of them with any cares in the world..

 

 

..Screams of delight and childish banter between brothers reaching out from the past, echoing in Elessar’s head..

 

 

 

 

 

..”Wait for me, Elessar!” screams Vehran as he tries to catch up with his two elder brothers.



“Faster, Vehran!” shouts Elessar as he tries to get to the Tree before a panting Valdherien.



“Elessar, I will beat you..!” shouts Valdherien as he runs shoulder to shoulder with him.



“Never!” screams the ever competitive Elessar back, as he storms ahead for the narrow win.



Soon all three brothers lay laughing, gasping for air in the grass before the Climbing Tree ..

 

 

 

 

Fond memories.. the Calm before the Storm..

 

Without turning, his eyes fixed on the Climbing Tree of his childhood some way off, Elessar said in a clear, strong voice. “Father, I am sorry.. but we must end this!”. His voice cut through the wall of silence between them. “This anger, this hatred.. will not bring Vehran back.” Vehran, I am sorry, he thought. My brother, forgive me.  “Blame me all you wish.. I blame myself also, though I did what I could.. but please, let us end this strife. It’s been too long. It is destroying our family!” It is destroying you, he added in his mind. He clenched his fists and calmed his thoughts, trying to find the Flame and the Void. It was a struggle due to his inner distress.

 

 

His father remained silent and Elessar could feel his eyes boring into his back. Seconds stretched into what seemed forever, the Warder waiting for the outburst that would surely come, but there was only silence.

 

 

Just as Elessar was certain his father would not respond, the prolonged silence was broken by a malevolent curse. His father spat another curse and leaving obscenities in his wake he stomped off toward the manor without looking back. Elessar sighed, shaking his head sadly, and turned in time to see the figure of his angry father in the distance, closing in on the manor buildings.

 

 

I tried. He thought in abject misery. Blast! But I tried!

 

 

He had known that his attempt at reconciliation might not succeed, that this ..chasm.. between them was perhaps yet too deep, but he had hoped..

 

 

Perhaps his father simply needed more time.

 

 

Perhaps..

 

 

 

When he returned a little later to the manor’s main lounge and exchanged a quick glance with his brother, the other man shook his head slightly, in that way letting Elessar know that their father was not there but gone for the time being. The Warder nodded resignedly, releasing some tension, putting the matter aside for now, then turned to his Bondholder. Meeting her eyes, his mood lightened.

 

 

“Will you join me, Kathleen Aes Sedai”, he asked, using her formal title to give her added recognition and respect, “in the gardens. I will show you the Telcontar family estate.” There was pride in his voice and in his step - pride in his family and in her - , the pain of the confrontation and the loss temporarily put aside, as he led his Bondholder out onto the grounds..

 

 

When he woke early the next morning, with soft light from rising sunlight barely escaping the very dark clouds in the horizon and rain, pushed by heavy storm winds, hitting the window of his room hard, Elessar was in a daze, his head heavy, echoes of his aching, ever difficult dream-memories swirling in his fogged mind.

 

 

The pain of the past at the Telcontar Estate up in his native Borderlands was a lingering memory, a painful moment - and part - of his life, one that had intermittently revisited him over the years, and he wondered not for the first time if that emotional wound would ever heal.

 

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Edited by Elessar

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.. A Prelude to a New Mission..

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The tall Borderlander man, 6’3” in height and powerfully built, past his middle-age but not lacking in strength, stared contemplatively out at the Aryth Ocean from the near beachside-rocks a mile or so outside the seaside-city of Tanchico.

 

The strong midday sun shone down on him from an azure-blue sky and bathed his face in Light.

 

He was a man with a fairly dark complexion, short dark hair and hard dark eyes. His strong build (a result of hard physical training over many years) was evident for anyone who looked at him. Hidden from sight by the shirt he wore were some battle-scars, most prominent was one across his abdomen. Hidden from most was also the reason he, a Kandori, had shaved off his forked beard so common in his northern countrymen. In fury over the death of his mother and his inability to prevent it he had shaved it off many years before, and he had never re-grown it.

 

 

Thoughts of his past, of the many incredible things that he had experienced since he had left his home for the south many, many years before, ran through his mind as he brushed a hand through his hair, feeling the soft south-western wind touch his skin.

 

Years of joy but also of hardships and pain. Years of success but also of failure. Like all men he was flawed, and like many he had a partially wounded soul, but his determination flowed through every part of his being and manifested itself in everything he did.

 

He had always been a strong believer in loyalty and in excelling at all he did, and with a strong belief in duty, service and honour, wanting to make a difference in a changing world. His goals and his aspirations had lead him to the White Tower and a life in service to Tower and the Light.

 

His name was Elessar Telcontar.

 

He was a Warder.

 

And Bonded.                          

 

 

The thought of his young Bondholder, Myrrhi Morrigen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, made him smile.

 

They had not been Bonded that long in reality, but what they had gone through together in that time made it feel as if they had been companions in the Light for much longer. He had met her years before when she was still an Accepted in the White Tower and the road to the here and now had been paved with obstacles and challenges, not the least due to his inner demons and emotional wounds, a result of Broken Bonds and dead Bondholders. Even so, her sparkling blue eyes stayed with him - and he felt that right connection that he had also felt with his former Bondholders. Her friendship and companionship meant much to him, and he knew deep inside that this new chapter in his life was good for him, and important.

 

Theirs was a Bond of Redemption - and Elessar had embraced it to fill his Soul with Light.

 

He felt her in the distance through the Warder-Sedai Bond, some way to the west in the city. He could have pointed to her direction blindfolded. It was one of the benefits of the Bond, that weave of Saidar creating a special kind of mental link between two individuals. The Bond also gave the Warder heightened abilities to go without food, water, and rest, and the ability to withstand wounds that would kill ordinary men. It also gave some semblance of the ability channelers have to detect Shadowspawn. Warders and Aes Sedai were furthermore able to detect certain emotional and physical states about the other, while other benefits Sisters gained from the Bond were unknown to outsiders. Elessar was in no doubt that the advantages of the Bond had saved his life on many occasions through his Warder-years with his various Aes Sedais; it was a part of his life that he would not be without.

 

 

Looking down and across at the waves of the blue-black ocean below from the slightly elevated rock-formation upon which he stood, noticing several seagulls afloat on the wind, and tasting the salt in the air, he wondered where their mission for the White Tower would take them next. They had been there in Tanchico for days on end, becoming increasingly impatient as time went by without new word from Tar Valon, and Myrrhi had gone off to get some news that morning, unable to wait any longer for new orders. She wanted to talk to the Green Ajah’s local Eyes and Ears on her own and Elessar had nodded, understanding her need, and had decided to go for a run along the beachfront in the pleasant southern weather. Finally he had come to a stop at the rock-formation where he was now, breathing heavily, feeling the exertion in his whole body, and had needed some time to catch his breath.

 

When his pulse had slowed sufficiently, he had brushed sweat from his brow and eyes and had walked to stand near the dark rockface above the waves on the Aryth Ocean, his shirt damp and his arms glistening from sweat, rays of the golden sun enveloping him. Training and exercise was a part of an active Warder’s life and it was important to keep one’s body fit and ready. During their travels and adventures he had not always been able to keep up his training and fitness level - and so he had made good use of the free time in Tanchico to get up to speed with things, with daily runs and sword practice sessions in the yard behind their inn.

 

 

Turning now to stare in the direction of Tanchico in the distance, he thought some more on where the White Tower would send them next. It could be anywhere to tell the truth: the White Tower had business all across the continent as he knew from experience. Perhaps they were returning to Altara or Illian, he thought for a moment, as his mind went back to their previous visits to those lands to the south-east. If they were to return to Amadicia, however, they would certainly need to be careful considering their strife with the Whitecloaks recently. He did not believe Amadicia would be their destination though, the risk seemed too great.

 

Well, we will soon know, he thought to himself as he started running back toward the capital.

 

In truth, it did not matter. They would go where they were sent. That was their life, in service to the White Tower.

 

Passing some locals - a man, woman and child - walking along the path in the opposite direction he picked up speed and rushed westwards, his heart and pulse racing, happy to be alive.

 

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The ocean looked so quiet, so peaceful. Myrrhi took a deep breath, hoping that it would help slow her heart. She couldn't help but feel guilty for not having reached the Tower yet. A little voice, deep down, had told her to enjoy the sight, that as long as no further orders came from the Greens, she was allowed to take it easy. But taking it easy was definitely not something she was good at.

 

She peered into the bond to see if her Warder was feeling the same. She tried to look for traces of restlessness but didn't find anything close to what she was feeling. The need to hurry, the need to prove herself.  The young woman sighed. No, the bond only showed amusement. Elessar had probably felt her own frustration.

 

Time to do something useful, she told herself. Looking East a last time, towards her Warder, she straightened her back. She was Aes Sedai after all, and should act like it. 

 

Her next destination was a small shop hidden between two higher buildings. The owner, Marsala Antina, was not only a fantastic book collector. She was also one of the Greens' Eyes and Ears. From her vast knowledge and the way the small grey woman looked, with her filthy gray hair and her mousy face, people would have guessed she was affiliated to the Browns. But she wasn't. Not at all. After having been raised in the streets, the woman had become a thief, and a very good one at that. Her fighting skills could have shamed most of the youth who trained to become Warders. Time had passed unfortunately and she had needed to take a well earned retirement. Being an spy for the Green Ajah had been a way for her to keep in touch with danger, excitement, mysteries as her body was slowly failing her.

 

- I was wondering when you'd come, Marsala said with a grin.

Myrrhi hesitated,  wondering  how she should address the spy. Should she play to the fully-raised-Aes-Sedai or should she just be herself? Somehow the twinkle in the old woman's eyes convinced her that it was better to drop any mask she had considered wearing that day.

- You know who I am?

- I know you are a Green, and I know your name. I know that the big man who's wandering ocean-side is your Warder. But that doesn't mean I know who you are.

The younger woman nodded, thinking that this conversation would be longer than she would have expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Mesmerized by ‘The Ballad of Tanchico’ ..

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It was late afternoon and the sun was lower in the blue Tanchico-sky.

 

Elessar stared out through the window in his room at the ‘Ocean Mistress’ inn, thinking about the journey that awaited them. Somewhere. He felt his Aes Sedai off in the city, she had not yet returned from her errands.

 

Let’s hope she finds some answers, he thought with dark amusement. Or else, the coming days will be trying indeed.

 

Myrrhi had become increasingly restless in the past few days, he had noticed, and he had for the most part kept his distance, careful not to ‘step on any toes’ as it were. In truth she had a more impulsive persona than he did, he had learned, eager to keep going, to press on, to achieve. His ever-present need to excel at all he did was not too different, he guessed, but he was less impatient and ready to take his time when necessary. He thought experience and age-difference could be a factor, and maybe Myrrhi felt she had to prove herself (to herself, to her Ajah, to the Tower) since she was fairly new as a full Sister, but it was difficult to know for certain.

 

Women were mysterious creatures, as he knew only too well, and hard to understand at the best of times. Aes Sedai were no different.

 

 

It made him suddenly think of an episode years before when he had first met her in the Warder’s Yard, the young Accepted Myrrhi Morrigen. The memory made him smile and also made him think how far she - perhaps they had both - come since then.

 

With his great memory for detail, it was almost as if it were happening before his eyes..

 

.."Is that your dagger?" She asked him of a sudden. She tried to show a small smile and seemed to him a little less edgy. She was indicating a long dagger among the equipment he had grabbed earlier. Elessar, taken by surprise, gave a slight shake of his head. "Yes,"he answered, somewhat confused. "Can I have it?" She asked. "Just to hold it, mind you. Not to kill you with it." The Accepted giggled - an impulse of youth, he thought - and Elessar was hard pushed not to grin at her comment. Though often serious in nature, he enjoyed good jokes and humour. Warders were not as stone-hearted as some thought. Not all of the time anyway.

 

Wordlessly he handed her the dagger. It was a simple dagger, but of good Murandian workmanship, with a pommel in the shape of a thick circle. The leather bands around the hilt had recently been replaced due to tear and wear. It wasn’t a weapon he often used, in truth, but it could be handy in a close combat situation and it was prudent of him to practice with it at times. He had brought it with him this day because he had neglected practicing with it for a long period, having focused on other weaponry.

 

Perhaps she had read about daggers in books or had seen Warders or trainees practice with them here in the Yard. Perhaps his story of Leandreen had inspired this young Accepted to get a feel for a weapon. Perhaps she was a Green Ajah, Battle Ajah-Sister in-the-making.. For whatever reason, she showed great interest in the weapon, her blue eyes shining with seeming eagerness. He watched her carefully, keeping safety in mind, as she tried to balance it on her forefinger. She placed it so her forefinger would be right under the connection between the blade and the hilt. Abruptly the dagger shifted and fell to the ground.

 

"I am so sorry", said Myrrhi as she went down on her knees to grab the dagger.

 

Elessar reacted instantly, knelt down swiftly and holding onto her arms helped the young woman back to her feet. He took the dagger carefully away from her, giving her a mildly lopsided grin as he said wryly: "I’ll take that. Balancing different kind of weapons needs some practice as you can see. Best I keep hold of this dagger, just in case: we wouldn’t want you to stab me in the heart with it, no.." She blushed again though he pretended not to notice, hoping his attempt at humour in the situation would lessen her embarassment over her perceived clumsiness somewhat..

 

 

The memory lingered.. as he stared for a long while out at the city of Tanchico, but seeing little of the buildings outside, in truth, his thoughts elsewhere as a pair of sparkling blue eyes intruded on his mind’s eye.

 

Finally he turned away from the window and seated himself on the side of the bed. Myrrhi would probably return soon, he guessed, but he had time to do some reading in the meantime. Picking up his treasured poetry-book (which was a constant companion on the road) from a small bedside-shelf, he leafed through it until he found the poem he was looking for.

 

Smiling to himself, he read the poem mouthing the words, cherishing the prose as always. It was an homage to the city they were visiting, written many years before by a local writer - Sendric Denhald, a nobleman of low rank but with a writing talent - born and bred in Tanchico.

 

Drawn into the expressive words and written visualizations, the Bonded Warder from Kandor was soon lost in a world of poetry.

 

 

►▼◄

 

The Ballad of Tanchico’

 

Spread over hills under southern Sky and Star

There by the mouth of the river Andahar

Embracing the bay, ancient City even So

There lies the Capital of Tanchico

 

Three peninsulas into the Harbour Extend

The Verana, Maseta and Calpene do Blend

Into a landscape where Fortresses Guard

With Circles and Arenas, narrated by Bard

 

The largest of these, the King’s Circle may Be

On Maseta Peninsula, for all there to See

Slightly smaller, the Panarch’s Circle is Known

On Verana Peninsula, with Panarch’s Palace Grown

 

Ancient in stature does the Panarch’s Palace Stand

With rows of white columns in the Central Hall Grand

Lit from tiny carvings in the sub-ceiling Walls

Contain a grand display of ancient Artifacts from Halls

 

King and Panarch, together they Preside

Over the nation, over ebb and Tide

Equal in authority, but with different a Task

In heritage of ‘the Tree of Man’ the rulers Bask

 

Traditions and culture in buildings, Walls Abound

A telling local saying, will to foreign ears thus Sound:

‘Best secret to reveal, is face behind a Lady’s Veil

Most deadly, is that of Illuminator’s Spark’, says Tale

 

For the Guild of Illuminators was Founded in this Place

To hold and to protect their secrets, Craft and Grace

Well known for going to great lengths in this Pursuit

Providing entertainment for Lords and Kings, to Boot

 

The Capital of Tarabon by Aryth Ocean Waves

There she lies in truth, all good Fortune it Craves

For Tanchico, its History is Ancient and of Pride

Way back in Age of Legends, did the City take its Stride

 

►▲◄

 

  ▀▄ 

 

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Myrrhi caught herself chewing on her lower lip.  A gesture she had tried to eliminate from the day she had been raised. The Eyes and Ears she had just met had given her nothing. Not a single dust of useful information nor the smallest message from the Tower. Panic had crossed her mind, as she had pictured herself being forgotten her fellow Green Sisters.

 

No, I am not forgotten, she had had to tell herself. They are just busy with more important matters. Also, I have not met all the Green spies in town.

 

She peered into the bond once more and found her Warder, strangely relaxed compared to what she felt, deep down inside of her. Elessar was so experienced. He had been his mentor and still was when it came to fighting and riding. She hoped that one day, he would see her as an equal... or that she would stop thinking of herself as a student next to him.

 

Her next appointment was Alandras, a baker. The young Green crossed her fingers hoping that he would be more helpful that Marsala.

 

As she entered the small shop, Myrrhi immediately understood why the man had been chosen by the Greens. His large shoulders and long golden hair reminded her some of the Warders she had encountered in the White Tower. The man walked with a feline grace that looked out of place in such surroundings.

 

- Myrrhi Sedai, the man started. I have received word for you.

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.. A New Mission Begins: Destination Mayene ..

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“Mayene!?” Elessar said as he looked with wonder and great surprise at Myrrhi. “We are going to Mayene?”

 

Myrrhi nodded silently, her expression neutral. Her blue eyes sparkled but neither her face nor the feelings through the Bond revealed what she thought of this non-expected destination.

 

 

They were standing outside the main gate of the Panarch’s Palace on Verana Peninsula, a strong southern wind making the banners atop the walls flutter, while bright sunlight streamed down at them from a sapphire-blue early afternoon sky. A messenger had arrived at the ‘Ocean Mistress’ inn a little earlier with  a message from Myrrhi, asking him to meet her here, and he had come as fast as he could. She had stood waiting for him at the gate and he had approached cautiously, wondering inside if she had received new orders from Tar Valon, and also curious why she had wanted to meet him here.

 

They had shared a smile, her hand touching his arm for a moment, and then she had led him off to the side, along the wall, to a spot on the western side where they could talk more in private. Once there, he had waited patiently for her to explain, curiosity and excitement building inside him. Where would they be sent on the next mission? East? North? Back to Whitecloak-country? Were they returning to Cairhien? She had received new orders, hadn’t she? She must have.. Thoughts of possible destinations had flown through his mind. When she had finally turned toward him and given him the news, he had been baffled. Truly and honestly. This was one place he had never reckoned they would ever be sent.

 

Meeting her eyes, he repeated his words.

 

This time a small smile painted her lips, almost as if she also was a little taken aback by their new orders. “Yes, Mayene it is”, she said simply, looking at him as if gauging his reaction.

 

 

He nodded in response, his initial surprise gradually replaced by practical mission thoughts. How were they to get there? What would be their mission? What preparations and supplies would be needed? What new danger could they face? He had never been to Mayene and, in truth, knew little of the place. It was a small but wealthy city-state on the Sea of Storms, south-east of the nation of Tear. As far as he knew it was pretty self-centered, it had been a part of Artur Hawkwing’s Empire once upon a time, and it had a complicated (read: troublesome) relationship with Tear.

 

That was about all he knew of Mayene. No mission-journeys for the White Tower had ever brought him there, and it was a place ‘out of the way’ and fairly seldom spoken of, so this would be a new experience. When they talked a little more about this coming new journey (or ‘adventure’, if  it could be termed in such a way) it became clear that Mayene was a new and unfamiliar place for Myrrhi too.

 

His Aes Sedai said she would explain more about their White Tower orders later, and though Elessar was very curious as to the true nature of this imminent mission, he nodded politely back, accepting her word and embracing patience. He would learn what needed knowing when she was ready.

 

They both looked toward the gate then as a horse and carriage approached from down the hill. Four black horses pulled a finely decorated carriage and it made them think that there was someone of noble birth inside. Another power-hungry noble, playing the Game of Thrones? The Warder mused. A guard stepped out from the gatehouse and spoke a few words with the carriage driver and then swiftly the carriage disappeared inside the Palace grounds, the gate closing behind.

 

 

Picking up a small rock from the ground beside the wall, Elessar rolled it between his fingers as he stared off thoughtfully at the gatehouse for a long moment. Then he threw the rock down a small cobblestone-pathway leading down to the hill road from the side, and turned toward his waiting Bondholder.

 

Meeting Myrrhi’s eyes again, Elessar said in a measured tone of voice, a hint of amusement shining through. “Now then, tell me why we are here.”

 

Her blue eyes sparkled a little extra in response, as if she bore a secret she was looking forward to sharing.

 

  ▀▄ 

Edited by Elessar

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Myrrhi wondered what Elessar knew about Mayene. She certainly didn't know much about it, except for what she had read in the books.

 

But before asking her Warder about it, she gave him the information she had received from the Greens' Eyes and Ears. Trying to be methodical, she told him about the most important points her contact had mentioned. Then, she promised she would give more explanations about the mission objectives later, when they would be sure they wouldn't be overheard. Elessar nodded, clearly wanting to know more about the matters at hand.

 

All in all, the young woman had to admit that there was still a lot of room for improvisation. The Greens hadn't gone as far as to book transportation or lodging.

 

"So, tell me, what do you know of the place?" she asked.

The Gaidin replied that he had never been brought to Mayene. He didn't know much more than her.

"I don't like it, I like to know more about the risks we may encounter," Myrrhi went on. "But I guess that the two of us can handle it."

 

***

 

The time had come at last for Myrrhi to tell about their orders. She watched her Warder picking up a small rock from the ground. He rolled it between his fingers, then threw it away.

 

"Now then, tell me why we are here," he told her.

"Something seems to be wrong with the nobility. We need to inquire about a possible Darkfriends thread." Her eyes shone. "So we will need to dress prettily and spend some time with impossible people..."

 

 

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.. Deliberations & Departure from Tanchico ..

►▼◄

 

"Something seems to be wrong with the nobility.” Myrrhi informed. “We need to inquire about a possible Darkfriends thread." Her eyes shone. "So we will need to dress prettily and spend some time with impossible people..."

 

Elessar groaned a little inside at her last words. It reminded him somewhat of their time in Cairhien when they had attended a ball held by a noblewoman there, dressed up and all. And Myrrhi had had the pleasure of dancing with her Warder. It had, in truth, not been that bad, he had to admit in the deepest recesses of his heart, but it was also true that she appeared to enjoy these kinds of events better than he did and she seemed to like seeing him squirm a little. He gave her a lopsided grin, pretty sure she knew what he was thinking, and nodded, amusement showing in his eyes.

 

His voice mirrored it when he replied, “Darkfriends again..” He murmured, his lips twisting into a wry smile. “Yes, we do seem to come across them everywhere.” They exchanged a glance, her eyes still shining. “Another ball in the works as well, I presume.” He chuckled slightly. “With.. interesting people..yes.” His grin widened. “Well, at least this gives you the chance to buy some pretty dresses.. my Lady.” He gave her a somewhat mocking bow to which she almost stuck her tongue out at him.. she resisted the temptation though, and seeing his infectious grin and his teasing eyes she grinned back and elbowed him lightly in the side, her face playful, a very un-Sedai-like giggle escaping her lips.

 

“Alright then”, Elessar said finally, becoming more serious again. “Now we know our mission.” He turned slightly and nodded towards the Panarch’s Palace. “But why are we here?” He met her eyes squarely. “Why did you want us to meet here?”

 

Her blue eyes sparkled like polished sapphires as she gave him a secretive smile and turned toward the Palace. “We are here, my dear Elessar”, she spoke excitedly, “because we have been invited to a reception held by the Panarch herself.” She turned back to him and saw his eyes widen somewhat and her smile broadened. “It is not a grand thing, but a small reception for some local nobles.. and an honoured Green Sister with her Borderlander Warder from Tar Valon.”

 

She winked at him, seeing his partially questioning eyes. “Don’t worry, I am sure it will be fun.”

 

 

The following day Elessar rose early, had a short training session (going through sword forms) in the back yard of the inn, washed and cleaned himself and then started packing his things. He would soon leave and get some provisions for their journey, but had some time first to reflect on their situation, their new mission and on all that had transpired the day before. Sitting on the side of his bed, staring thoughtfully at the bedroom wall, he clasped his hands together as he remembered.

 

Myrrhi, knowing little herself, had not been encouraged by how little he knew about their destination. Neither had he, to tell the truth. He liked being prepared before all missions and journeys but had to admit that Mayene was one of the few places in the land that he knew very little about. Focus in Warder-training had been on the major nations and cultures of the world and in his many years of travel with his Sedais though his knowledge had expanded there were limits. He had shared the little knowledge he had. She had added that she liked to know more about the risks they may encounter, to which he had nodded in agreement. When she had ended by saying that she guessed that the two of them could handle it, he had smiled inside. She had echoed his thoughts.

 

She had told him that not everything regarding their mission had been pre-planned by the White Tower, so they would be able to use their initiative and experience as before. Elessar had nodded in response, thinking it wise and practical. Plans sometimes had to be changed and the people directly involved were in the best place to revise them whenever necessary. Elessar and Myrrhi were to sort their transportation and lodging themselves.

 

Then came the reception at the Panarch’s Palace.. something the Gaidin decided to reflect more on some other time. A wry grin painted his lips as he shook his head slightly in rememberance.

 

 

Having considered alternatives, they had agreed to travel overland, at least for the first part of their journey, since the seas were becoming ‘more and more dangerous’ as the local sea-captains had phrased it. Travelling south-east, they would head toward Altara and then further eastwards from there. The plan was to avoid central parts of Amadicia as much as possible, in view of their recent skirmishes with Whitecloaks there, and by following a southern route that they had picked up on a map they thought they may succeed in avoiding attracting much attention.

 

We will need some luck as well, Elessar thought to himself as he raised himself from the bed. If any Children of the Light get a sniff of us, considering our recent ‘history’, we might have trouble on our hands.

 

He collected his coat and closed the door to his room behind him. He felt Myrrhi through the Bond in the neighbouring room, and presumed she was packing her things. Nodding to himself, he headed out into the street, which was starting to fill with locals and foreigners, vendors and open stalls, and set course for the nearest shop for needed supplies and provisions. He had a long list in his pocket. He knew he had a long day ahead of him.

 

 

By late afternoon he had finished all his errands, had been to the stable behind the inn to check up on their horses, and had eaten a pleasant meal with Myrrhi in the Common Room. They could have left soon after but decided instead to delay their departure until the next morning. Myrrhi sent a message to the local Greens’ Eyes and Ears informing of their plans, finished some errands on her own (Elessar, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and wearing a broad grin, had asked her - as she was passing him in the corridor - how many dresses she had bought, to which she had elbowed him in the side another time..), and then she had an early night.

 

Before going to bed that night, Elessar studied with interest some maps he had bought, taking special note of a wilderness region - unclaimed by any nation, inland of the Shadow Coast, known for its dangerous reefs and broken coastline, just south of Tarabon. He had actually seen this region mentioned in a book of the Southern part of the continent, and he recalled it being described as ‘an area of tall, dark hills and mountains dominating the interior, with so-called wild and dangerous animals said to live in the countryside.’ It was a region to be avoided, the author of the book had claimed. It lay to the south of their intended route.

 

 

The next morning, as the sun was slowly rising on the horizon, under a partially clouded, partially blue sky, Myrrhi and Elessar rode out of the city of Tanchico, heading toward the south-east. Their horses were frisky, happy to be on the road again, and they carried their riders along the main road toward Elmora, one of the largest Taraboner towns besides the capital, dust thrown up in their wake.

 

The Warder and Aes Sedai were happy to be on the road as well. After their time of rest in the capital of Tarabon, they were now eager for some activity, and so purpose mixed with determination were seen in their faces as they galloped away from Tanchico, their travelling cloaks billowing behind them in the strong western ocean-wind.

 

  ▀▄ 

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The young Green waited for her Warder's reaction. As her last words had left her mouth, images from the time they had spent in Cairhien passed through her mind. She wouldn't mind attending to another ball, she liked to dance. Moreover, this event had also been the occasion to meet a shady man and start another interesting mission.

 

From her companion's chuckles and comments, she understood that it had been the same for her companion. The mention of nobility and pretty clothes had brought him back to Cairhien as well. The Gaidin didn't look like he had been traumatized by his last experience on the dance floor. He even looked ... could she say enthusiastic ... at the idea of having another try at it?

 

He gave her a mocking bow, telling her that this would be the occasion for her to buy some pretty dresses and it took all her willpower not to stuck her tongue at the man. Instead, she elbowed him lightly on the side giggling in a very un-Sedai-like way.

 

After two small minutes that she had needed to become serious again, Elessar invited her to give more information about their next assignment. Feeling her heart beating faster than usual, she told him that they had been invited to a reception by the Panarch herself.

 

"Don't worry," she added. "I am sure it will be fun."

 

For the Greens it was important to answer to all these kind of invitations. Not because they needed to show off, but because it was important to let the people know that the Sister of the Green Ajah were "there" among them, to fight and protect the ones who needed it.

 

The reception would only happen on the next day which left enough time for the both of the them to get ready. Myrrhi needed to order new clothes, as expected. She also needed to contact an Eye and Ear to have some more information on the Panarch's guest.

 

"I'll get you something nice," Myrrhi told her Warder before parting with him. "Something green maybe?"  She chucked before turning away.

 

***

 

Myrrhi had decided to go to bed early. She wanted to be well rested on the next day, not knowing what to expect from the reception. Of course, she'd be allowed to join the festivities, eat delicacies and dance to her heart's content but as an Aes Sedai she'd have to pay attention to every single detail. Her mind would need to be clear.

 

She woke up well after sunrise and after a small peek into the bond, she felt that her Warder had been training. He was not close to the inn though. Probably gathering some provision for the next part of our journey, she thought.

 

The room was warm enough for the young Green to jump out of her bed before wrapping herself in one of its many covers. She freshened up with water that she cooled down using the One Power before getting dressed. She picked a regular and simple riding dress, in contrast with what she was supposed to wear for the reception. Maybe her Warder would agree on training some more, but with her this time?

 

***

 

The reception had lasted longer than Myrrhi had expected. But it had allowed her to get the information she needed about their mission in Mayene. Indeed, one of the guest was in contact with the Darkfriend cell they had heard about... and more talkative than a midwife.

 

Myrrhi and her Warder found themselves on the road on an early morning, ready for another overland travel. This time though, they would avoid the central parts of Amadicia, hoping they wouldn't find themselves caught by groups of Whitecloaks again. The young Green felt restless. As much as she had had a lot of fun at the Panarch's Palace, waltzing and spying, she felt the need to evacuate all the energy that seemed to want to choke her. Unfortunately, the last day's chores had made impossible for her to touch a sword or even to do something interesting.  She had filled the hours before her departure with administrative work, extra contacts with Eyes and Ears... and some shopping. This at least had been enjoyable, but the cause of at least two extra packs to carry on horseback. 

 

Of course Elessar as soon as he had seen the extra luggage had chuckled and teased her. She had teased him back, telling him that there were shirts with ribbons in her bags as well.. and that these were not for her. The Gaidin's eyes had widened a fraction of a second before realizing she was joking. "So you don't like ribbons," the young Green had asked with a grin on her face.

 

The conversation they had after, brought a smile on the young Green's face as she remembered how they had bantered. Elessar was riding ahead. Even if he couldn't see her face, he would feel her amusement through the bond. Thinking it was time to become a bit more serious, she sighed looking towards the road ahead wondering what Mayene would bring them.

 

 

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.. Enveloped in the Motions of the Blade ..
►▼◄

 

“That was a good move”, Elessar said approvingly as Myrrhi moved back to guard stance, her sword at the ready. “But be careful not to overextend yourself, or an opponent can slip inside your guard.”

 

Her Warder showed her how to do it, first in the proper way and then how not to do it and she repeated his moves with eagerness and seeming enjoyment, her blue eyes sparkling strongly.

 

Nodding, satisfied with his Aes Sedai’s gradual progress with the blade, Elessar met her eyes for a moment.. and then attacked anew.

 

Attack. Block. Move. Swing. Deflect. Attack. Deflect. Counterblow.

 

 

He flowed in the motions of the Dance and Myrrhi was hard put to keep up. His far superior skill and experience with the sword showed, even now that he was going slower for her benefit. Even so, she was picking up pieces of advice he had given over time and fought back bravely, he thought. She has got some aptitude, he told himself as she attacked him with fervour and some good moves, her footwork and reaction time having improved since their first ‘lessons’. He deflected the strikes and countered, attacking hard and combining moves in an innovative fashion which took her unawares. She struggled hard to defend herself and when he suddenly moved forwards and performed a vertical slash, high to low, but which altered course in midswing, she was a little slow to parry and almost lost balance.

 

Then Elessar changed form, performing a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly and on the return swing began a series of powerful overhand blows. This took stamina and strength and thus the Warder knew he would be unable to keep it up for long, but Myrrhi was tiring fast and finally was unable to withstand the pressure, her sword flying out of her hand as she stumbled backwards. Elessar’s mock-blade pointed at her throat and the spar was over.

 

He stepped back, sweat bathing his bare chest, and gave a bow of respect to his Bondholder. He smiled. He was proud of the progress she was making. Of course, she was still a novice with the sword compared to Warders and other experienced fighters, but her skill was slowly improving and with a lot more training and experience he thought she might one day approach the level Leandreen, his first Sedai of the Green, had reached in her time. From the smile she gave him as she picked up her mock-blade from the forest ground, it was clear she was satisfied too with her gradual progress. Sweat beaded her forehead and ran down her bare arms (she had folded up the arms of her shirt before the session) and her breath was heavy, but she looked very pleased indeed. They shared a knowing smile.

 

 

They were in a small woodland area a few miles west of the town of Elmora. They had ridden for days since leaving Tanchico, one day flowing seamlessly into the next, only taking breaks when necessary, wanting to cover as much distance as possible. Both were eager to get to where they were going, and though they both knew they had a long journey ahead of them - weeks and more - they pushed on, Elessar feeling Myrrhi’s restlessness through the Bond. Making camp in woods at night, they rose each time at dawn and quickly remounted for the next stage of their journey. Finally they stopped in this forested region some way from Elmora and decided to stop for the day. It was late afternoon and beneath a blue sky above they tethered their horses to some trees a way from the main road, brushed them down and gave them some carrots to enjoy. They had come across travellers to and fro Tanchico, both afoot and in carriages and behind cattle-carts, but for the last few hours the road had been almost empty except for them.

 

Having set up camp with a small campfire in the center, they ate some dried beef and bread which they had brought with them, flushed it down with some water from a flask, and then Myrrhi suggested that they have a sword training session. Seeing the eagerness in her eyes, and recalling that it had been some time since their last session, Elessar nodded and unpacked the pair of mock-blades he carried in his belongings. Stepping out of the immediate campside-area, they walked across to open ground in a field a stone’s throw away and faced each other. He could see the excitement in her blue eyes and also felt similar emotions through the Bond. Smiling himself, he brought the blade up and simply said,

 

“Let us begin.”

 

The swords clashed and they were soon enveloped in the Motions of the Blade.

 

 

After the sword training session was over they walked back to the campsite and washed themselves in a small brook nearby. Then they sat down by the campfire as darkness gradually enclosed the forest, talking about the session. Myrrhi asked many questions and Elessar answered as best as he could. When at one point she, a little overeagerly and a touch optimistically, claimed she could soon best any Warder-trainee out there, he told her with a straight face that her skills were so far quite pitiful and she could only be trusted not to stab herself in the foot. Her mouth opened and eyes widened for a long moment, until she saw his teasing grin and threw a piece of wood at him, chuckling and saying something unintelligible under her breath. His dark grin widened and he joined in her laughter, admitting finally that he was pleased with her progress, but - he added - she still had a long way to go. She nodded, somewhat mollified.

 

Some time later, as darkness lay like a canopy above them, the forest trees shadows in the wilderness, after Elessar had scouted the nearby-area as was his routine, they lay down in their blankets and let sleep slowly draw them in. Before he entered a dreamless sleep, the Gaidin reflected on their last days’ journey and what had transpired. His thoughts returned to the reception at the Panarch’s Palace. Myrrhi had told him that it was important that the Aes Sedai were visible on such occasions, in a position of trust and strength, and being “there” among them, to fight and protect the ones who needed it. She had worn a beautiful green dress that evening and had very much looked the part of an Aes Sedai of the Green, and he too had looked stylish in his Warder finery or so she had remarked.

 

The reception had lasted longer than anticipated but, as she had disclosed to him afterwards, it had allowed her to mingle and observe well (and with some waltzing, something of a favourite activity if he read her correctly). It also gave her the opportunity to get the information she needed about their mission to Mayene. Indeed one of the guests had had particularly interesting information to share.. She had really enjoyed the evening event and though he had been fine with it as well, moving about inconspicuously, it seemed clear to him that she was more at ease at such occasions than him. She had teased him a little about it afterwards and they had shared grins, comments and banter on their way back to the inn.

 

 

The friendly banter and teasing had continued as their journey south-eastwards had begun and they both seemed to have much fun with it. At one point, when he had teased her about the extra packs they had to bring on horseback, she had teased him back, telling him that there were shirts with ribbons in her bags as well. She had added that those were not for her. His eyes had widened a fraction of a second before realizing she was joking. "So you don't like ribbons," the young Green had asked with a grin on her face and he had swallowed his grunt. He had ridden ahead, feeling her amusement through the Bond. It made him smile now, a grin spreading over his lips.

 

She is impossible, that one, he mused grinning, as he turned his thoughts to the next leg of their journey.

 

Minutes later he was asleep, his eyes closed, his body resting in that semi-slumber (in a sleep state but still partially aware) that Warders were so good at, the night claiming them both.

 

  ▀▄ 
Edited by Elessar

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Myrrhi wiped her brow with her sleeve and pouted.

 

"Yes, sir!" she answered to her Warder before resuming a guarding position. "I'll be more careful."

She waited a couple of seconds before Elessar made a step forward, ready to attack her once again.

 

Time passed too fast. As the young Green blocked, attacked and counter attacked, she saw the sun moving in the sky. Soon it would be time to light a fire and to settle for the night. But we still have some time, she told herself. She would never be able to surpass her Warder but she hoped that one day she'd look as graceful as him when wielding a sword.

 

As long as her companion kept to the more "classic" attacks, she managed to parry every hit that came her way.  Elessar knew it and more and more often he'd changed the course of his weapon in the middle of a form. She had protested, telling him he was being unfair. The man had laughed. "Do you really think that your opponents will want to be fair in a fight with an Aes Sedai?"

 

***
 

"I yield," Myrrhi said at last trying to catch her breath. She had pushed herself as far as she could. It was time for her to stop and to get some rest. A quick look toward her Warder told her that Elessar was definitely in a better shape than she was. Years of practice and wardering were probably the reason why he still look so "fresh".

 

Behaving like a real gentleman he even extended an arm toward her at the end of the lesson, offering to help her walk back to the small brook near their campsite where they quickly washed themselves. The coolness of the water helped the young Green to find back some of her energy.

 

They chatted agreeably, teasing each other over diner until the time came for Elessar to scout the surrounding area. Myrrhi had wanted to follow him but she had decided against it, in the end. She was not sure she'd be very effective at walking discreetly in the dark... not yet at least. 

 

The Warder came back after a good half an hour that Myrrhi used to train some of her weaves. She still felt clumsy with some of them particularly the ones that involved Fire. She had paid attention not to burn anything important and had been quite happy with the result of her weavings. "Is everything alright?" she had asked. Elessar had nodded, before settling himself under his blanket. They exchanged a couple more words before the young Green fell deeply asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. ‘Tarabon in the Light’ ..
►▼◄

 

The following morning, after a quick breakfast, Myrrhi asked Elessar if they could go another round with sword practice before they continued their journey. He saw the eagerness in her sparkling blue eyes and felt it also through the Bond and though his initial thought was to decline, since he wanted them to leave as soon as possible, he changed his mind. When he nodded, her smile broadened and he could not help but grinning himself either.

 

They had another good training session, at the end of which Myrrhi faced her Warder, her mock-blade loose in her hand, sweat running down her brow. She was improving a tiny bit with every session, something which pleased her no end, but deep inside she understood her limits even were she to practice with the sword in between her Aes Sedai duties for a generation. She knew too, without being told, that Elessar was going slower for her benefit. She had seen Warders at full speed in the Warder’s Yard in Tar Valon.

 

“You are going slower for me, aren’t you?” She asked suddenly, the hint of a mischievous grin upon her lips, though she knew the answer.

 

 

He nodded with a small smile, hearing no criticism in her voice. “It is better this way in our training sessions.” Elessar replied. “Were I to go at you at full speed, you would not stand a chance.. and would learn very little in the process.”

 

She grinned, nodding with understanding, but then on impulse asked him to show her. She felt an urge to have a go, come what may! Elessar considered for a long moment whether doing so would motivate her for her future training (to strive for better skill even if she knew she would never gain anything close to his skill in her lifetime) or simply make her disspirited, seeing openly how inferior even her improved skill was compared to his. In the end he decided to show her what an experienced Blademaster level Warder’s skill meant in practice.

 

Standing opposite each other, swords at the ready, he nodded to her and after a few tentative feints she attacked. He blocked easily, drove her back and this time he moved so fast and with such deadly precision that she was unarmed, her blade flying out of her hands, within a handful seconds. She looked back at him with admiration, stunned by how easily he had beaten her. Knowing how good a person was, was not the same as experiencing it. The Gaidin smiled at his Bondholder and picked up her blade and handed it back to her. She returned his smile, thinking that if she ever became half as good as him with the sword, she would be overjoyed. She would keep improving, she swore to herself! When she complemented him on his skill with the blade, as they walked back to the campside, he shrugged and said it was nothing. The confidence in his step and the way he carried himself, however, told another story.

 

They quickly washed themselves, then cared for the horses before breaking camp and heading towards the town of Elmora. The sun was rising in a blue morning sky, a soft breeze coming in from the north, as their horses galloped along the dusty roads, putting that forested region far behind them.

 

 

The days flew by as they made their way across Tarabon, stopping at intervals in small towns and villages and making camp in wood-regions and also some hill-country. On a cloudy afternoon manye leagues later, far to the south-east of Elmora and only a few days’ ride from the border to Amadicia, they arrived at the village of Achta.

 

It was a desolate place with one dusty street running through the whole village, houses in partial disrepair on each side, a couple of dreary-looking shops, a blacksmith’s place and with a worn down inn at the end. A few villagers stared at the two riders as they rode past but for the most part few cared, their heads bowed and bodies moving tiredly, disspiritedly and almost aimlessly on their various daily errands. Myrrhi and Elessar took in the scene wordlessly as they led their weary mounts in the direction of the inn. A scruffy-looking girl of six years or so, standing by the dirt-ridden picket fence of her home, looked wonderingly with wide eyes at the big powerful-looking man and majestic-looking woman, their travelling cloaks billowing behind them in the strong wind, riding past on their big beautiful horses. It was a wonder to the little child.

 

When the Warder and Aes Sedai stopped before the worn building, they wondered for a second if it had been a good idea to stop at this place. There was no sound coming from inside the inn and the painted sign above the door, proclaiming this to be the “White Badger inn”, seemed to be about to fall down. Even so, after days on the road and stops mainly in makeshift camps in the woods, they both looked forward to staying a night in an inn, to a warm bath, a good meal and a soft bed.

 

 

Dismounting quickly, the Warder caught the reins for Myrrhi’s mount and led the two valiant horses to the back of the inn. With the apparent poor state of the establishment, he was almost surprised to actually find a stable there and he handed over the reins for both mounts to a scruffy-looking young stable boy, throwing him a copper-coin. “You take good care of these horses, my boy”, he said as he turned away. “Brush them down and give them a carrot or two. Make sure they are well cared for.” The stable boy nodded, seeing the Warder’s hard eyes, knowing that he would be in big trouble if anything happened to those horses. Looking down at the copper-coin in his hand, his weary features brightened slightly.

 

Returning to the front where Myrrhi waited, Elessar picked up their belongings, their many packs and walked after her inside. Soon they were upstairs in two adjoining rooms, having been greeted politely but somewhat coldly by the golden-haired, sharp-eyed fat innkeeper. Elessar guessed it could be because they were not that far from Amadicia, and though he did not know for certain he suspected this innkeeper either heralded from that country or at least shared that country’s prejudices against the White Tower. When they passed the border, Myrrhi and Elessar would (re)assume the role of noblewoman and guard, an alternative version of what they had used before, but while in Tarabon they had concluded that it was safe - and practical - to travel as they were, Aes Sedai and Warder.

 

 

The warm bath was invigorating and Myrrhi almost glowed with pleasure when he saw her a little later. They met up down in the Common Room and were pleasantly surprised to see it more than half-full with the usual activity of early evening inns. The inside of the inn shared some of the shabby look of the exterior, but it was reasonably clean and the innkeeper and three efficient serving girls kept the place running fairly smoothly. Elessar found a table for them in a corner, where they had a good view of the whole room, and at the same time could talk in private. Sitting down, they ordered something to drink and an evening meal which turned out to be better than expected. It was not the most delicious they had ever eaten by a long mile, but after days of bread, dried meat and cold vegetables, the spicy meat stew of local origin with roasted potatoes and several kinds of boiled vegetables was a treat.

 

The inn filled with locals, some rowdier than others, as the evening progressed. The Warder could see very few foreigners, or what some local villagers would call an ‘Outlander’, and guessed this was not exactly a crossroads in the land. The village lay several miles south of the main road into Amadicia, which was exactly why Myrrhi and Elessar had chosen to come here. They did not want to pass into Amadicia through the main border crossing which might now be guarded, considering that a risk too big in their present circumstances. A map he had bought in Tanchico had shown that it was possible to cross much further south, nearer to the hill-country of the Shadow Coast region that he had read about. The plan was to cross the frontier there, quickly and silently, with no one the wiser.

 

 

Their pleasant chit-chat and talk about the journey ahead was interrupted when suddenly a gleeman entered the room and walked up to a small stage at the end. The noise in the room changed as focus was directed at the middle-aged, brown-haired man wearing a cloak made of many colourful patches and with a flute in one hand. Elessar had not expected entertainment in this place, for several reasons, and was pleasantly surprised. Together with Myrrhi he waited expectantly as the gleeman drew in his audience with grandiose gestures and words. Lifting the flute to his lips, all attention in the room now on him, he started playing and the sound of melody filled the large room. Afterwards, after much applause, he started singing and his tenor voice made an impression on everyone present.

 

The song he sang - ‘Tarabon in the Light’-  was known to Elessar; it was a tribute-poem written several generations ago by a Taraboner poet of some renown. And he listened attentively and appreciatively, mirroring the rest of the crowd, as the gleeman told his story - creating powerful imagery in their minds - out of history and myth..

 

 

 

►▼◄

 

Tarabon in the Light’

 

It started with a sigil of a thick boled Golden Tree

Spreading its wide branches for all there to See

Below deep Roots, and then a Banner red and White

Striped for Tarabon, a new Nation in the Light

 

Founded FY 1006 by three Nobles of Wealth

Lords Haren and Boral were Masters in Stealth

Together with Lady Tazenia, for Power they Aimed

And from Tanchico the Nation of Tarabon they Proclaimed

 

Adopting a form of Government with Dual Reign

With a King or Queen and a Panarch, balanced Chain

And Assembly filled with nobles, wealthy merchants and Guilds

It was a formal structure given Strength that Builds

 

Lord Boral was the leader, former General, Governor Too

From  the years of Hawkwing, now he ruled among the Few

But when he then was murdered, Lady Tazenia became the Queen

While Lord Haren became the Panarch, finest ‘deal’ you’d ever Seen

 

Plots and schemes abounded as the nobles fought for Gain

Warring fractions quarelled, causing deaths and blood and Strain

Deals were made and broken with Lord Boral’s men’s last Breath

In vain, they never managed to avenge their leader’s Death

 

Tarabon then went through many years of Strife and War

Attacked by hardened forces whose dreams would build and Soar

To reestablish Balasun, a nation Gone to Dust

But Tarabon survived, strong and fighting as it Must

 

It did, however, take until War of the Hundred Years

Before the nation grew to a stable size, to Cheers

Changes were made in the government in Time

The ruler now a King, and the Panarch female Prime

 

Together they ruled for Ages and More

Based in Tanchico, it was their power’s Core

Providing for its people, working hard to build its Might

Living and Dying, for Tarabon in the Light

 

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Edited by Elessar

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"Are you sure the place is safe?" Myrrhi asked looking once again towards the “White Badger inn”. She shook her head. Never had she seen an inn in such a bad state. 

 

Elessar reassured her with a grin and a witty comment which made the Green roll her eyes.

 

"If the roof falls down on us, I'll be mad at you!" she whispered, hoping that no stable boy had heard her.

 

"Of course, Aes Sedai..." the Warder replied punctuating his words with a mock bow. He grabbed her reins and led their mounts to the stables as Myrrhi carefully stepped towards the inn's entrance. She didn't dare to enter on her own. What kind of people would eat and drink in such a place? She wondered. Even in Caemlyn, the city where she had grown up, the worst taverns didn't look like the White Badger.

 

Elessar arrived a couple of minutes later, carrying some of their many packs. Guilt rose up in her heart. She was the reason why they had to bring along so many things with them, dresses, shoes, accessories. Maybe she should have waited a bit before emptying the last seamstress's shop.

 

Like many other innkeeper, the White Badger's owner was fat. But this one didn't act as politely as the others. The young woman could almost feel the coldness of his words. A quick look at her Warder told her that there was nothing to worry about. The bond was as calm as Elessar's face.

 

They were quickly led to the rooms where they would spend the night. Before passing through the threshold, Myrrhi asked for a bath to be prepared for herself as well as for her Warder, and used the occasion to tease him about his smell. She didn't leave Elessar the time to counterattack by jumping in her room and closing its door behind her.

 

***

 

What seemed to be only a moment later, Myrrhi joined her Warder in the common room. The place teemed with patrons, most of them looking like they were in a good mood. Music could be heard from a far side of the room - one of the serving girl was having a try at a harp but it was partially covered by the not-so-low voices from the customers who seemed to be quite thirsty.

 

The Green sat down opposite the Gaidin, wishing him a good evening before asking him how he had enjoyed his bath. They exchanged a couple of pleasant comments until a serving girl arrived to take their order. Surprisingly the meal she brought was good and the ale fresh and nicely spiced.

 

More and more customers came in and with them the volume of the voices became higher and higher. Myrrhi had to bend to be sure to hear Elessar's words. But before she was tempted to use the One Power to improve her hearing, a gleeman made his entrance. He walked to a small stage and bowed with a large smile on his face.

 

 

 

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.. ‘Not everything always goes according to Plan’: Part 1 ..

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They had left the “White Badger inn” in the worn-down Taraboner village of Achta earlier in the day, reasonably rested and - in Elessar’s case - fresher smelling (or so, at least, his dear Bondholder told him with her teasing smile) and were a mile or so from the small, inconspicuous crossing point at the border between Tarabon and Amadicia when suddenly from out of the eastern hills nearby they were set upon by two squads of Whitecloaks!

 

“Blood and ashes!” Elessar swore as he shouted over his shoulder to Myrrhi to leave their intended path and head overland.

 

Where the hell did they come from?

 

“They are too many”, he shouted, “we have to flee!”

 

It was the only sensible thing to do. One had to pick one’s fights.

 

She turned partly in her saddle and spotted the soldiers in their billowing shiny white cloaks and conical helmets in the distance. She may have cursed as well, Elessar could not tell for certain as the sound of their horses thundering onwards rang in his ears. Their mounts picked up speed as they flew down the hill-country, up small elevations and down the other side, across a hardened meadow and past small patches of thicket, a highland stream and several hillocks, the Children of the Light ravenously on their heels a few hundred or so paces behind!

 

 

A little later Elessar slowed his warhorse a touch, letting his Aes Sedai get in front, as he considered their situation for a moment. The Whitecloaks were gaining on them but not dramatically so far. Even so, the Children would catch them if they did not do something unexpected. With adrenaline flowing through him, focused in the Flame and the Void, he spurred his mount on and finally caught up with Myrrhi. As he came abreast of her, he shouted for her to turn east and pointed toward a hilltop some distance ahead. She nodded and he felt a rush of emotions coming through the Bond, particularly that blend of exileration, focus and concern that everyone felt in such a situation. Taking the lead he let Stormbreaker, his valiant stallion, set course for the hilltop with Myrrhi on her mare just behind.

 

They reached the hilltop in a rush, or so it felt, and Elessar turned in his saddle to see how far behind the Whitecloaks were. He could still not understand how on earth those Children had known where they would cross the border, but there was no time to consider it further. He was pleased to see that they had gained some ground on their pursuers but it was only a short respite.

 

Exchanging a quick look with Myrrhi he saw in her eyes that she would follow his lead. Turning his horse he looked east and west but only saw similar hills. There would be no place to hide there. That left the south: the unknown hill-region of the Shadow Coast. They had agreed to avoid that dangerous region, but it seemed they no longer had a choice. Hopefully the Whitecloaks had little or no knowledge of that country and would struggle to follow them there.

 

“We have no choice”, Elessar spoke squarely. “We have to try and rid ourselves of them in the unknown region, south.” He nodded in that direction. She looked at him, some doubt in her eyes, but hearing the oncoming Whitecloaks in the distance she understood that the decision had, in fact, been made for them.

 

Nodding her agreement, she said, “Let’s go!” and kicked her mare in the flanks making the mount jump forward and soon assume a full gallop southwards, Elessar atop his warhorse by her side.

 

 

As they crossed another unfamiliar hill and headed onwards at close to full speed, the late afternoon sun moving ever downwards in the horizon, Elessar looked quickly over his shoulder and was relieved not to see any white cloaked soldiers right behind. He heard the sound of galloping horses on the wind, however, and knew they were back there still. Down another meadow, this one of softer ground and dried grassland, they pushed their mounts on even though they were beginning to tire.

 

Shouting for Myrrhi to swerve to the right, he followed her lead as they changed direction in an effort to confuse their adamant pursuers. Far ahead they suddenly saw what looked like mountains and before them what looked like large twin hills with a pathway leading between them.

 

Elessar pointed, shouting for her to head for that pathway which seemed to be in a small vale and depression and she nodded as she rode on, her much improved riding skills assisting her in this relentless run. The vale was further away than it had seemed but finally they reached it without being caught. A young whitecloak scout was only forty or so paces behind them at this point though, which made the Warder understand that the Children had not been fooled, and seeing the danger Elessar halted his horse, shouting for Myrrhi to continue. Drawing his sword he spurred his warhorse on and his blade flashed in an arc as he passed the Child of the Light, evading the young man’s swing and cutting deeply into the soldier’s shoulder, making him tumble screaming off his horse.

 

 

Turning his mount around swiftly, seeing a second scout sixty paces or so away, the Gaidin stormed back past the badly injured soldier on the ground and flew like the wind toward Myrrhi in the distance. She had slowed her mare as they neared the depression between the two hills and looked back over her shoulder as her Warder neared. She felt no injury from him through the Bond and felt relief among all her other emotions. Finally he caught up with her and together they sped ahead, their pursuers closer behind now, screaming for blood!

 

 

The middle-aged, experienced squad-leader, Lieutenant Severick of the Children of the Light, his eyes glowing with the Light of Truth, his white cloak billowing behind him in the northern breeze, spurred his horse onwards as they pursued the White Tower witch and her Darkfriend Warder.

 

He shouted for his soldiers to move faster, or their prey may escape. They were gaining but not by enough!

 

“Forth the Light!” he screamed jubilantly, lifting his sword high in the air as he rode, thrilled by the chase and by the sight of a sea of white cloaks and shining swords around him as they thundered forth.

 

It warmed his soldier’ heart to know that he was on the side of Right, in the Creator’s Light!

 

This time, he thought eagerly, the Tar Valon Darkfriends would not escape justice!

 

 

As the Warder and Aes Sedai drove their mounts through the depression, realizing that the passage was climbing uphill, Elessar had a sudden thought that if somehow the Whitecloaks waited on the other side they would be trapped. But he could not understand how some of the Children might have circled them, crossed the hill to wait in an ambush; nor did he believe that the Whitecloaks had expected this sudden change of direction, so he discarded the thought.

 

The hillside was high and fairly steep on both sides with very tall boulders, darkening the late afternoon. And the upward-sloping path was rugged in places as they slowed slightly so as to avoid any injury to their horses. Shouts and swearing from some way behind could be heard but Elessar was pleased to note that the Children were still a way back. If there was some path or way to confuse their pursuers on the other side, they might stand a chance of escape!

 

 

They finally reached the end of the depression and saw what looked like emptiness ahead. Rushing past heavy boulders on each side, careful not to stumble on some larger stones now in their pathway, the Warder stared fixedly ahead, trying to figure what was there on the other side. There was light and… Taking the lead, he drove Stormbreaker onwards.. but then came to a very abrupt stop, his black stallion rearing as Elessar stopped their forward motion!

 

Blood and ashes!

 

He shouted behind him for Myrrhi to stop too - and she just managed to halt in time!

 

They were, they saw, atop a cliff-face of a mountain - and fifteen or so paces ahead of them the path abruptly ended.. leading into empty! They could see another, larger mountain in the far distance across a vast expanse, but the pathway stopped at the cliff’s edge.

 

It was a Precipice: a Dead End!

 

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.. ‘Not everything always goes according to Plan’: Part 2 ..

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Elessar heard shouts some way back and looked quickly about them for any way out. He exchanged a concerned look with Myrrhi and then turned to stare about him more thoroughly, cursing inside.

 

Was there any way out from this trap? For a trap it had become. A deadly one at that!

 

It looked an impossible situation.. but..

 

Shaking his head, his eyes swept across the cliff face, the precipice.

 

There has to be a way..

 

Just as he was about to give up any hope of escape, and readied himself mentally to take as many Whitecloaks with him into death as possible (there was no other realistic solution in his mind; letting themselves be arrested and, probably executed, for their ‘crimes’, was not an option), he suddenly saw something off to his left..

 

Could it be..?

 

 

Motioning for Myrrhi to wait, he jumped off his horse and walked carefully toward the edge of the cliff. Staring downwards he saw that it was a sheer drop of several hundred paces, making it hard to see what was down there at the bottom. But looking more carefully on the far left edge, he saw that there was actually a small, narrow path leading off the ledge, meandering downwards from the side of the cliff-face. It was almost hidden from view (his Warder’s eye for detail had spotted it) and could easily be overlooked by an untrained eye. It also looked exceedingly dangerous from what he could see, but no more so than remaining to fight a lot of fanatical Whitecloak soldiers there on the steep cliff.

 

“There is a small pathway downwards from the side of the cliff”, he shouted to Myrrhi as she dismounted and came towards him, a sceptical look on her face. “Yes, I know it’s not a walk in the park”, he added earnestly with a good portion of grim understatement as he saw her look with somewhat wide eyes at the narrow path leading off from the main part of the cliff, “but we have a bigger chance that way than facing all those Whitecloaks up here, that’s the truth of it.”

 

 

She nodded, perhaps a touch resignedly, seeing his point, adding though that since she was so tired after the day’s long ride and it would be too difficult to use the One Power to keep both of them and their horses safe on the path, they better use a rope for safety. The Gaidin nodded, seeing the sense of that. Shouts were coming nearer now and they had little time, he knew. Elessar only hoped their horses would manage this dangerous trail down the side of the steep cliff. He took out two pieces of cloth and bound one around each horses’ eyes, then spoke softly to his mount as Myrrhi did the same to hers. Binding a rope around his own waist and then Myrrhi’s, thinking for a horrified second that despite her aid of Saidar if he fell and stumbled he might very well drag his Aes Sedai to her death - No! Don’t think of that! You will manage. You will be safe! - he smiled what he hoped was a reassuring smile to his Bondholder.

 

Then they moved slowly toward the cliff’s edge, facing the precipice head on, walking carefully beside their mounts and holding tightly to the reins, their hearts almost missing a beat in the nervous exileration they both felt. Reaching the edge, their horses edgy, Elessar led Stormbreaker onto the narrow pathway on the side, if pathway it could be called. He tried to look ahead to see where the path led but all he could see was that it spiralled downwards at an angle. Taking a few tentative steps he whispered soothing words to his mount. Stopping after a dozen steps to look behind, he saw a somewhat concerned but stoic Sister of the Green behind him. She probably mirrored his own face at that point, he guessed, as he turned forwards again, trying to ignore the sounds of scouts close to arriving at the cliff’s edge.

 

 

Thankfully their path soon went around a curve or bend in the rocks and they could, he saw, no longer be spotted from up at the cliff. The Children could, however, find the path and come after them, he thought, but if they did they could only come slowly and one at a time. As he concentrated on their steps, one after another, down the spiralling pathway, he threw all thoughts of pursuit out of his mind as he focused on making safe progress. He tried to ignore the almost vertical drop hundreds of feet down into oblivion only three feet or so to his right, ‘pretending’ in his mind it was a wider neighbouring path. More voices were now heard from above, and much cursing. Elessar could only hope that they believed Myrrhi and he had gone over the cliff and lay dead at the far bottom.

 

Halting again a few moments later, he turned and looked at Myrrhi. She nodded as if to say that she was alright, understanding from the sound of voices from above that they ought to keep silent for the moment. The Warder felt encouraged that his young Aes Sedai was keeping up so well, though he felt her jumble of emotions through the Bond as was to be expected, One Power or no. Sharing a small smile, they soothed their mounts softly and then Elessar led his horse forwards anew, one careful step at a time.

 

 

Time had little meaning at that point, seconds and minutes tumbling around in inconsequentiality, as they moved ever so carefully forwards, doing all they could to avoid any fatal missteps. Elessar was grateful that the path was dry. Had it been raining recently, they would not have managed this feat on a slippery slope, of that he felt pretty certain. He was also grateful that full darkness had not come upon them yet. After a while the sounds from above receeded and then were gone alltogether. Either the Whitecloaks had left, he thought, believing them dead, or some of them were coming after them down this narrow, dangerous path. Stopping again to listen, the Gaidin heard no sound at all except a soft nicker from their horses (who though they could not see the sheer drop, probably felt it to some extent). He patted Stormbreaker softly on the side in encouragement, staring fixedly ahead, wondering at the same time who could possibly have made this narrow, spiralling path down the cliff face. It was not a general feature of nature, he had seen that straight away, and it must have been quite laborious - never mind dangerous - to shape.

 

His mood darkened as he walked, holding tightly the horse’s rein in his hand.

 

If we could only get safely off this blasted cliff face, he thought with some exasperation as he led his horse downwards around another bend, cursing inside.

 

Bloody Shadow Coast - and Bloody mountain!

 

 

It was slowly becoming darker as day was nearing the eves of twilight. He did not know how far they had gotten down the spiralling path, but he knew that they had been moving - inch by inch, step by step - for a good while. Concentrating so hard on avoiding any misstep there at the side of the steep cliff was becoming a real strain and he felt the same through the Bond from Myrrhi. They needed to stop soon, and he looked carefully ahead, trying to see if there was a wider ledge where they could take a break, when he suddenly sighted something in the wall of rock a little further along.

 

Is it possible..?

 

He turned to Myrrhi and whispered that she stop and wait, he would go a little ahead. It felt like an eternity and he almost slipped once, but finally he reached the point he had seen from slightly above and saw to his great relief that it was indeed a cave in the side of the rock, what he had hoped. Leading Stormbreaker forwards he stopped before the entrance to the cave and looked inside. The dying light could not penetrate far into the cave but he saw that it was big enough for them both to get safely inside and also with their horses. What luck!

 

 

Nodding in satisfaction, thanking the Creator for this (momentary) respite, he withdrew his sword, whispered to his horse to stay calm, and then walked a few feet inside the cave. All was quiet as he surveyed the place. Walking further in he realized that it was deeper than he had first anticipated, and it seemed empty from what he could see. His lips curling into a small smile, he walked back to the entrance and led Stormbreaker safely inside. He then came out again and walked carefully upwards to Myrrhi and her mare waiting, whispering that he had found a cave where they could stay for the night. She smiled and he felt relief through the Bond and he led the mare down the last part of the path and into the cave.

 

Myrrhi immediately used Saidar to give them some light and they saw that it was indeed empty and what looked like an abandoned eagles’s nest further in. Tethering the horses by a rock, removing the blindfolds, they spoke soothingly to their valiant travelling companions and Elessar removed a couple of carrots from their saddlebags and gave it to the horses who gradually calmed. They then crouched on the flat, dry rock surface of the cave, mentally tired and physically weary, each lost in their own thoughts.

 

A few minutes of a grimly contemplative silence followed.

 

 

Was it pure chance that the Whitecloaks had known where they would attempt a border crossing, he wondered? Or had they, somehow, been betrayed?

 

Having time to consider it more properly now, Elessar found it very improbable that those two squads of Children of the Light just happened to be in that pretty much deserted part of the land, a kind of no man’s land, at that exact time.

 

We were betrayed alright, he thought angrily, more and more certain of this with each passing second. I don’t know how or where, but I can see no other answer.”

 

He did not speak of his assumptions though, keeping his dark thoughts to himself for the time being. There would be ample time for that later.

 

The Warder also considered whether to keep watch or check outside for any following Whitecloaks, but decided there was no need. He was fairly certain that if any of the Children had followed them down that steep, downwards-spiralling path on the side of the mountain they would have heard. In this precarious and cut-off location, without possibility of escape, there would have been no need - or any advantage - for any pursuer to stay silent.

 

 

Finally Elessar spoke, his voice darkly amused and filled with gallow’s humour.

 

“Perhaps that scruffy inn was not so bad after all, or what say you, my dear Aes Sedai”?

 

Her Warder suggested, thinking of the dire straits they were now in, as he stared thoughtfully out through the mouth of the cliff side cave into the mounting darkness outside.

 

“Also,” he added a moment later, with a dark twinkle in his eye and a chuckle under his breath, “perhaps we should make it a yearly tradition and activity, this exilerating trek down the cliff side of this wonderful mountain, don’t you think?”

 

Myrrhi almost choked on her reply.

 

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Myrrhi pushed her mare forward. She focused on the entrance of the cave they had just discovered. She couldn't fall. She had to do everything she could for her mount to stay on the small path that would lead them to safety. The sun getting so low in the sky. Night would be there soon.

 

The Green had to wipe her brow when they reached the threshold. She hadn't felt so close to injury in a while. The sword training, fighting bad guys was nothing compared to this. "Wait," she said to her Warder, opening herself to Saidar. The flow of the One Power warmed her heart as she summoned a small ball of light.

 

After a quick exploration, they tethered the horses and removed their blindfold.

"It's ok," Myrrhi told her mare before patting on her flank. She was happy to see that they still have carrots in one of their bags to treat the horses.

 

For a while the Aes Sedai and her Warder stayed silent. Myrrhi concentrated on helping Elessar to ready a makeshift camp for the night, then on preparing tea. She poured the warm beverage in two mugs, one she handed to the Gaidin.

 

"Perhaps that scruffy inn was not so bad after all, or what say you, my dear Aes Sedai"? Elessar said at last.

Myrrhi shook her head but before she could answer, the Warder went on. "Also, perhaps we should make it a yearly tradition and activity, this exhilarating trek down the cliff side of this wonderful mountain, don't you think?"

 

"You're funny" she replied right after having almost choked on her last sip of tea. "I am not doing this ever...again."

 

She looked around. "I guess we won't be fencing today? I guess that the Whitecloaks will either hear the clanking of our weapons either my curses."

 

***

 

Myrrhi wanted to see what was happening outside, she wanted to know whether or not it was safe for them to leave the cave they had occupied for the night. Her Warder had tried to convince her that patience was the key and that he needed to scout the area before allowing her outside but hadn't satisfied her. Especially since the man had decided that he needed to hone his blades before doing anything.

 

"An hour or two won't make a difference", he told her, once again. "The longer we stay in here, the more chances we have to leave the place unharmed."

 

"But we can't stay in here forever," the Green Aes Sedai insisted, raising her right eyebrow mimicking a no-non sense attitude she had seen in one or two of her Sisters.

 

"We won't stay here forever," Elessar replied. "I just need to..."

 

Before he had the chance to finish his sentence, Myrrhi moved toward the entrance of the cave. She felt indecision through the bond and grin. Quickly she ran out. This could may be the chance that she was a good scout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Extreme Strain in the (cliff)face of Danger ..

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He did not have time to finish his sentence.

 

Blood and ashes! Elessar cursed inside, as Myrrhi rushed toward the entrance to the cave to have a look outside. Foolish, impetuous woman!

 

A moment of indecision, but then Elessar put his sword swiftly aside and in three great leaps almost caught his Aes Sedai as she swept out of the cave. Catching up with her outside he grabbed her arm as she almost seemed to slide toward the edge of the small ledge outside the cave and pushed her back, his face darker - and far less amused - than usual.

 

“Stay back!” He said in a harder voice than intended, and as he shared a look with her in the morning light his eyes softened. He apologized for his hard tone, but still looked less than pleased as he kept her safe behind him and looked up and down the narrow path leading up and down the mountain.

 

It was a clear day and he neither saw nor heard anything to indicate that their Whitecloak pursuers were nearby, but he would take no chances.

 

Shaking his head, he wondered for the hundreth time how in the world they had managed to get in such a pickle.

 

 

They had not slept much the night before there in the mountain cave. The slow, dangerous trek down the side of the steep mountain cliff had taken a toll on them both. It was a different kind of stress and mental pressure than they were used to, and thereby more difficult to adjust to, and he had felt through the Bond Myrrhi’s weary condition. They had both been relieved to find the cave and had made a kind of simple makeshift camp, if it could be called that, inside to rest and regain strength of every kind. They had sat in silence for a while, thinking about their predicament, and then Myrrhi had prepared some tea which she had brought and heated some water from one of their flasks. She had poured the warm beverage in two mugs and they had enjoyed the tea while gathering their thoughts.

 

He had then joked about the state of their present abode, which made their previous stay at the scruffy inn in Achta seem almost a luxury, and that they ought to make a yearly tradition of this ‘exilerating’ trek down the cliff face. She had almost choked on her tea, had then added somewhat darkly that she would never do this again. He had only shaken his head in bewilderment when she had mentioned that she guessed there would not be any fencing that day, believing that any Whitecloaks nearby would either hear the clanking of their weapons or her curses. He presumed she had brought it up as a way of taking her mind off their precarious situation. Before going to sleep, or rather deep rest, the Warder had checked outside but had seen no danger in the darkness. Lying down in his bed roll, he had stayed half awake all night until dawn.

 

As soft light had seeped into the dark of the cave in early morning, they had stretched their legs a little before settling down. Or rather before Elessar had settled down. Myrrhi had been extremely restless and impatient, while the Gaidin had wanted to take some time to think their situation through. He had tried to convince her that patience was the key, that there was no need to hurry - an hour or two would make no difference - and he would in due course check outside but he thought they were safe for the time being, but he had quickly understood, from her words and body language, that she was not satisfied with that. She had kept pacing back and forth and he had felt her unease through the Bond. Believing she would finally settle down, he had retrieved his blades and started honing them, going through in his mind at the same time what options there were for them, but she had not managed to calm down, wanting to go outside to make sure it was safe, and had finally laid all caution aside and acted. And so he had rushed after her, concern and some exasperation in his face!

 

 

Checking the narrow path carefully again now as it meandered up the mountain, he wondered if the Whitecloaks truly were waiting at the top. He doubted it, but one could never be certain. Turning to gaze down the mountain, he felt intuitively that that was the way to go. Even if they could not be certain that the downward path would lead them to safety - there was no guarantee in fact that it did not stop half way down the cliff face - it seemed to him the better - and safer - option. It stood to reason that whoever had made this path in the mountain side had made it for a reason and it seemed likely that it led down to an exit far below somewhere.

 

He shared his thoughts with Myrrhi once they were safely inside the cave again. She did not seem too pleased by the way he had stopped her outside, a mischievous grin on her lips also unless he were mistaken, but when he pressed upon her the importance of caution, emphasizing that scouting and keeping her safe was his Warder duty, she nodded in acceptance, the small grin disappearing, though it was hard for him to know how she truly felt. He hoped it was this stressful, unusual situation that made her especially edgy and impulsive and that she would not take unnecessary risks in the future or think to take upon herself duties which he as a Gaidin was ‘bred’ for, so as to speak, better suited for and therefore his to carry out.

 

She agreed that continuing down the mountain, provided that it was possible to walk the narrow path safely, was the prudent course, adding that there had to be an exit of sorts some way down or at the bottom. He nodded, believing it very likely. He did not add though that there was a possibility that the Children of the Light knew about that exit and could lie in wait there. He did not, however, find it probable, and in any case they needed some positive hope now and not more pessimism. Should there be any danger below, they would deal with it then.

 

 

A little later they stood outside the cave, as the sun was slowly rising on the horizon. They watched The Expanse before them, enveloped by sapphire-blue skies and the tall mountains in the distance. They tried to avoid looking down the very steep cliff face towards the bottom far, far down.. and instead kept their eyes on the narrow path snaking itself down the mountain. Their horses, once again blindfolded, stepped ever so carefully along the path while Myrrhi and Elessar walked beside them, whispering soothingly to their weary mounts. The rope binding the Warder and Aes Sedai gave them some reassurance but neither felt safe, far from it, walking along the precipice. Again Elessar thanked the Creator for it not being slippery on the slope, and kept his eyes on the path just ahead as he led Stormbreaker slowly down the meandering path. There was no sound from above for which he felt relieved and except for an eagle or two flying close to the cliff face on a few occasions they did not see or hear anyone as they moved ever downwards.

 

At intervals they stopped, sharing a strained look, speaking softly words of encouragement to one another, and then they carried determinedly on. As on their downward trek the day before, time stopped having any meaning after a while and it was only by the sun’s position in the sky that they got an impression of time passing.

 

At one point, a stone of some size in the path made Elessar’s stallion take a misstep which almost threw them all over the cliff face! Thankfully Elessar managed to pull his horse back just in time and with Myrrhi pulling on her rope they managed together to make sufficient weight so as to keep them all safely on the path. They remained rooted to the spot for several minutes after that, counting their blessings and regaining some sort of equilibrium. With hearts in their throats it had been a frightening experience and he felt strong emotions coming through the Bond from Myrrhi. He spoke words of reassurance, feeling not that confident himself if truth be told, and then they moved on again, hoping this endless trek down the steep cliff face would soon be over.

 

 

It was well past midday when they finally reached the bottom and could breathe a little easier.

 

The path had widened somewhat in the last hundred paces, but even so they were very content to have reached the end. They could see before them a rocky path on the ground which led out into the dusty wilderness between the mountain-ranges of the Shadow Coast. There was no path they could see through the mountain to the side they had come from, so they had no choice but to head into the unknown wilderness. At least there were no Whitecloaks to be found anywhere near, which was a relief, though these were dangerous lands they were heading into and they would have to travel carefully. First though they needed a rest, physically and emotionally, and untying the rope between them, tethering their horses to a jagged rock, they saw down with their backs to the mountain rocks breathing in the afternoon air, gathering their wits and their strength.

 

“We made it”, Elessar said with a weary smile as he met Myrrhi’s blue eyes. She nodded back, her smile mirroring his.

 

Mentally exhausted, they needed some time in silence and solitude, and so they just sat there quietly for a while, feeling the soft breeze on their skin and the golden sun on their face. Myrrhi drew her legs up and sat with her hands on her knees, looking pensively into the distance while Elessar held a small stone in his hand and let it run between his fingers as he considered their next step.

 

He had faced many dangers through his years of service as a Bonded Warder of the White Tower but he had to admit that he had seldom experienced such extreme emotional strain as he had during this dangerous trek down the steep cliff face of this Shadow Coast mountain. Echoing Myrrhi’s sentiments of the previous evening, he hoped he would never have to go through this again.

 

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OOC - I wanted to change the tense to see whether or not it makes it easier to write

#letsexperiment

 

Myrrhi looks around, a wide smile on her face. She opens herself to Saidar knowing it will heighten her earring. Unfortunately the noise made by the waterfall covers more than she would have expected. She barely has the time to make a step outside when she feels her warder's hand around her arm and her feet slip. Or maybe it is the other way around. She's pushed back ... strongly. A bit too strongly for her taste.

 

"Stay back", Elessar says with the hard voice he usually uses when addressing an opponent. It makes her scowl. She definitely doesn't like to be addressed that way. Her hearts starts to beat faster as she readies herself to lash something at him. Isn't time for her to do her share of the work ? Was she made Aes Sedai to prepare food and warm water for the tea each time they would make camp.

 

She doesn't have the opportunity to say any of these things. The look the Gaidin and her share tells her that it is better for her to stay quiet, making her wonder if how much she had scared the man by rushing away like she did.

 

"Fine, I'll stay." she answers a bit too dryly and goes back to the fire. The waiting bothers her.  The cave seems to be closing in on her. There are no hole, no sound coming from the exterior. Wouldn't this be a very good trap? The Whitecloak could be approaching, if they aren't already surrounding the place.

 

Taking it all on the Gaidin is not fair, though. She knows it. And so, to avoid talking to him, she opens a book and try to concentrate on her reading. It is not an easy task, she has to admit it after having read the same paragraph five times in a row. The adrenaline is coursing through her veins begging her to do something. She has never suffered from claustrophobia before. Her mother's house was very small - was she still leaving there? - and the Novices' rooms even smaller than her childhood's dwelling. They never caused her any kind of distress. Then the image of the Green Sister they saved a couple of weeks before flashed through her mind. Is it because of her? Of the hell she lived in that small cell that I feel like this?  Of course, this is the kind of question she herself can't answer.

 

Elessar deems at last that the time is right to have a peek outside. Myrrhi fights not to look to sour when then man leaves her to scout the area. She waits for him to be gone a few minutes before starting to ramble aloud. "Bloody man," she mutters before cursing.

 

Not wanting to stay idle, she tidies up the camping area, cleans what they used to eat and fills their waterskins. After what seemed to be ages, the Warder reappears. He tells her that things seems to be safe outside before insisting on the fact that the scouting and keeping her safe are his duty.

 

She wants to ask him whether he's afraid she's going to steal his job but again she stays silent. She simply nods and goes back to their bags keeping an ear on the Gaidin's speech. He concludes it by telling her that continuing down the mountain is the safest path.

 

"Do you agree?" he eventually asks her. Somehow the question calm her heart. The fact that he is asking for her opinion is a sign that he's still considering her as some sort of equal. Or at least not as a child.


***

 

The climb down the mountain is not an easy one. Myrrhi has to fully concentrate on it, and so she forgets about what has angered her. All her thoughts go to her mare and her Warder a couple of steps in front of her. She wouldn't want him to fall, especially since her last words to him weren't very nice ones. They weren't mean ones either, but it was clear from her tone that she wasn't her usually happy self.

 

When they reach the end of the path, they have a welcome break. The Green's eyes feels dry, as if she had not allowed herself to blink from fear that something wrong would happen during the fraction of a second her eyelids would be closed.

 

"We made it," Elessar says a weary smile on his face. Myrrhi nods back, smiling as well. The only thing she wants to do is to lay on the ground arms wide open for a full hour but she knows she won't be able to do so, at least not immediately. First they need to take care of their mounts. The Green tethers Tempest to a rock, pats her on the nose in a way to thank her and only then does she allow herself to have a sip of water.

 

The liquid is warm but still refreshing. It feels good and she has to stop herself before she finishes the whole water skin. Who knows when they'll find the next source of water? Myrrhi carefully tucks the skin back in her bag before slowly walking to a small patch of grass. She kicks away her shoes in a very unSedai-like way and draws her legs up. She knows her Warder is somewhere behind her toying with a stone. It pushes her to pluck a flower and play with its petals.

 

There are so many things that she wants to say but none of them would lead her to an apology. She wants to be a full warrior and be ready to do whatever is necessary but she doesn't want to start an argument. She is bad at arguments. Her mind dwells on the last one she had, the one that led her to the White Tower so many years ago. She hadn't hesitate to cut herself to make a point. Her hand goes to her arm were the old wound has left a scar. The White Tower has muted all that fire, all that passion, to make of her a perfect little sheep happy to please her betters. Was it enough to change her completely?

 

Or... she thinks I just want to learn how to scout....

 

She laughs at her own thoughts and starts wiggling her toes in the grass. As she made a move to grab her socks back, she hears a twig breaking under the weight of something. It made her whirl towards her Warder.

 

 

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.. Heading deeper into Unknown Territory ..
►▼◄

 

There was the sound of a twig breaking.. and Myrrhi whirled towards her Warder at the same time that he sprang to his feet, sword in hand.

 

He looked in the direction from which the sound had come - a little off to the left from where they had been sitting - his sword at the ready. His gaze fastened on a shadow beside a large rock about twenty paces away and he took two steps forward before he stopped.

 

Enveloped in the Flame and The Void, he was totally focused as he considered this potential threat. He heard Myrrhi shuffle behind him but she remained in the background. Their horses whinnied, also smelling something on the wind. The shadow did not move and gave off no sound. Elessar took another step towards it, his eyes narrowing.. and then suddenly something - he could not say what but it had to be some kind of animal..- rushed away in the opposite direction, an animal grunt piercing the stillness. The Warder ran after it, whatever it was, but it quickly outdistanced him and so he finally stopped and turned, his eyes sweeping right and left, ensuring that there were no more hidden animals or other dangers nearby.

 

As he returned to Myrrhi’s side, nodding in confirmation that it was gone, he wondered what kind of animal it had been. It had been vaguely boar-like in form from the little he had glimpsed but at the same time different.. a little larger and.. He said as much to his Bondholder, adding that wild boars were more common in forested regions. Myrrhi nodded and said that she did not either recognize the animal from his vague description. These were in many ways unknown, unpopulated lands from what he had read and perhaps this mountainous wilderness region near the Shadow Coast had animals of many kinds, especially suited to this highland terrain. Making sure Myrrhi was safe and comfortable, he then proceeded to scout the nearby area, wanting to make sure there were no threats about. He checked the area very carefully before returning to his Aes Sedai’s side.

 

 

“I saw no threats”, he said to her as he went to take care of his black stallion. “A few small animals  - some kind of rodents I think - in some brush a little to the south, but nothing else. No sign of the.. creature.”

 

She nodded back, her blue eyes staring thoughtfully into the distance, and then went to care for her mare. He did the same with Stormbreaker, brushing him, giving him a carrot and patting him affectionately on the side. His valiant stallion had been his trusted companion on the road for many years, and he knew the importance of taking good care of him. Whispering some soothing words to his mount, he walked across to his Bondholder. They agreed that it was best to get going as soon as possible and to try and find a safe place to camp for the night. They had some decisions to make come morning.

 

There was no sign of any Whitecloaks and Elessar was now confident that they had not been followed down the steep mountain path. As to what awaited them out in this mountainous wilderness, who knew.. There was a meadow some way to the south-east, he explained to Myrrhi, and then highland country after that. The faster they could reach the meadow, the better.

 

 

Mounting their horses, Elessar led the way with Stormbreaker while Myrrhi followed close behind on Tempest. They rode carefully at first since the path they were taking was partly filled with rocks and other debris but as soon as the path widened and then expanded into an open area they picked up speed, soon galloping in the direction of the meadow Elessar had spotted in the far distance earlier on his scouting round.

 

It took longer to reach the meadow than expected, since the ground gradually became trickier to get across than anticipated. There were few trees at this altitude but some brush here and there, small hillocks and rocks and stones aplenty on the ground, so they had to slow down at intervals, but finally they reached it. The grass was dry and the ground hard, spreading out in all directions, and they stopped to rest the horses for a short while before continuing. The sun was past midday now and the sky above was getting darker and cloudier by the minute. Elessar, shaking his head, expected rain in an hour or two and Myrrhi agreed that they hurry on so they reach the hills in the distance. If they could find a safe and reasonably dry place to camp in those hills, they would stop for the day and take a longer rest as they considered the next step of their journey. The Gaidin believed there would be a few places to camp fairly well suited to their needs, but there was, of course, no guarantee.

 

“Let’s ride on”, Myrrhi said as she mounted her horse. Elessar nodded and soon had Stormbreaker in the lead again, the warhorse’s powerful muscles building speed and driving them across the meadow, heading determinedly towards the hills.

 

 

They reached them just as the first drops of rain fell from the sky and the Gaidin immediately began looking around for a suitable campsite. They were lucky. After a short ride in the passage between two hills Elessar glimpsed a small glen off to the side. It was in fact a narrow, secluded valley with  some brush on the right side leaning into a rockside with a small overhang. It was no cave but as Elessar dismounted and looked more carefully he saw that it would keep them reasonably dry and partially out of the cold wind that had risen in the past hour or so. Myrrhi nodded as she took in the scene and quickly dismounted. He could not judge her mood from her emotions through the Bond, but she seemed pleased that they had found a place to camp and the anger he had felt in her earlier during their downward trek along the side of the steep mountain, was not apparent now.

 

He had been a little surprised by that anger, since he had only done what he had done to protect her and keep her safe, and he had wondered what had brought it out in her. He knew that she was ambitious when it came to her sword skill, and perhaps a little touchy when it came to some of his.. Warder mannerisms.. but she was no fool, and behaving rashly and, for instance, wanting to take on Warder-duties like scouting would be foolish in the extreme. He sincerely hoped she understood that, and that she would keep any such.. impulses in check, so as to not endanger herself unnecessarily. Outsiders might think Warders overprotective when it came to such things, but Gaidin would do whatever was necessary to keep their Aes Sedai safe. Elessar was no different. Far from it. He had lost an Aes Sedai who was dear to him.. gone to dust, on his ‘watch’, the pain of it never disappearing entirely from his soul.. and he would make damn sure it did not happen again. No matter what.

 

 

They used some twigs they had brought to make a small fire by the rockside overhang and they tethered their tired horses close by. Elessar scouted the hillside while Myrrhi laid out some food for them and when he returned, nodding that there was nothing to report, they sat down to eat a little and wash it down with something to drink.

 

“There’s nothing around in this hilly wilderness”, the Warder said after they had eaten and were seated around the small fire. “At least of the two-legged kind.” Myrrhi nodded but did not immediately reply. “I think we can safely assume those Whitecloaks will not bother us anymore”, he added with a satisfied smile as he toyed with a small twig. “They did not follow us down the mountain, or we would have seen them by now. And I strongly doubt they have another entry into this region.”

 

He stared at the hills at the end of the glen, his eyes pensive. “As to what else is in this wilderness land”, he said carefully, “who knows.. The books I read only gave a few details, warning people to keep out of the region.” He threw the twig away. “That boar-like strange creature we saw before.. “, he began. “It crept up with stealth. I did not get to study it closely before it rushed off, but if it has.. sisters and brothers.. as it were, it could become a threat up here.” Myrrhi nodded, seeing the sense in his words. “We will have to stay vigilant.. and be careful”, the Gaidin concluded. And not do anything foolish, he added silently, in his mind.

 

She gave him a penetrating look, almost as if she had read his thoughts. He responded with the hint of a lopsided grin, his eyes narrowing slightly, and then turned away to clean his blade, feeling her eyes upon him still. She kept silent though and it was impossible for him to know what she was thinking. If Bonded Aes Sedai were indeed mind-readers, as he had suspected on more than one occasion through his Warder-years, it certainly did not work the other way around.

 

 

Twilight was still an hour or so away when the rain increased and soon fell in buckets just outside the rocky overhang which sheltered them mostly from the bad weather.

 

The cold wind was felt, making them huddle underneath their coats and blankets, but they were grateful to be out of the pouring rain. All the while Elessar kept thinking how fortunate they were that this downpour had not come during their descent down the steep mountainside. It could very well have ended in their deaths.

 

Yes, we have had fortune on our side, he thought to himself as he sat in silence, enjoying temporary Serenity, with his back to the rock formation, the blanket over his knees and legs.

 

May it continue on our journey out of this unknown highland wilderness.. and into the east.

 

 

His thoughts made him recall a northern proverb he had once read somewhere. The words whispered in the back of his mind now, as he stared pensively, for a long, long time, at the pounding rainfall.

 

 

Walk carefully, Wanderer if Fortune is your Guide

For you may Unwittingly step into The Abyss

-Old Saldaean proverb

 

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Edited by Elessar

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The rain is almost as cold as the wind. Too cold for the riders to keep moving foward. Since they have nothing to protect themselves against the elements, Elessar starts looking for a suitable campsite. Myrrhi follows him, paying attention to every single detail. She tries to guess which place her Warder will pick for them to rest.

 

Even if she was born a city girl, the time she has spent on the road taught her enough to survive. Maybe not on her own - she is still not feeling very confident about her own skills - but as a useful member of a group. Still she wants to challenge what she knows, what she had learned. She fully trusts Elessar but who knows what can happen? She has to be ready to act would he be injured or catpured.

 

The images of her arches flash back in her head. In one of the dreams - for the lack of a better word - given by  the arches, her Warder died because she was not able to join his side soon enough. And even when she reached him, the few kills she managed to make don't count for much. These dreams though are no foretelling, she has made enough researches to allow herself to believe it.

 

A smile appears on her face when she sees Elessar moving towards a small passage between two hills. She would definitely have gone that way. What they find beyond the passage is far from perfect but good enough to spend the night. The site is cozy and will protect them against the gloomy weather. A small bush of bluberries will even offer them some sort of dessert after dinner.

 

The fire they make is a welcome source of heat. Myrrhi amplifies its warmth with the One Power, taking away the humidity from their clothes and bags. She decides to keep her Weave away from their horses, afraid it would scare them.


As usual, Elessar leaves to scout the area while the Green takes care of the food. There's nothing much to prepare. Just bits of bread and dry meat to lay out and water to boil for tea.


They eat and talk. Night falls and they stay where they are. The rain doesn't stop, making it impossible for them to go forward with their journey.

***

The next morning is cold but not as cold as the previous day. Myrrhi can still feel humidity in the air but the clouds she sees in the sky look reassuring.

 

"What do you think?" she asks her Warder. "I don't think we are going to have rain before midday..."

 

Elessar nods and the Green wonders if he has noted that she has tried her very first weather prediction. She smiles proudly waiting for a further reaction.

 

***

 

Time passes and Myrrhi's predicition becomes true. The sky is still clouded but not a drop of rain has fallen since the morning. From the grumbling sounds coming for the Green Sedai's stomach, she guesses it must be close to noon.

 

She looks up, checking for the sun. It takes her a couple of seconds to eventually find its yellow glow behind the grey veil that stretches to the far away horizon. Even if she has improved some of her skills, reading the time from the sun's position is not one of them. Her stomach is a better indicator, even if she had to admit that sometimes it starts its protest no later than 10 o' clock.

 

"How long before noon?" she asks biting her lower lip. The question makes her think of a child. How many time her younger sisters asked that question...

 

Before her Warder answers, a black dot appears uphill. The dot slowly grows becoming a man and a cart full of trunks and fruits.

 

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.. Painful Memories of the Past & Wonders in the Present ..

►▼◄

 

Lost in intense, vivid, and powerful Dreams.. - painful, ever so painful Memories of the Past flashed again in Elessar’s mind..

 

 

…Memories…

 

..In that timeless period between one second and the next, the Warder-Bond snapped, like a razorsharp knife slicing through the thinnest of paper, leaving only emptiness behind.

 

Of a multitude of emotions filling Elessar’s mind right then, above all he felt shock.

 

Utter and incredible shock.

 

And disbelief.

 

His world came crashing down upon him.

 

He swayed where he stood above a fallen trolloc, his sword deeply embedded in the creature’s side. The Shadowspawn, a twisted blend of animal and human stock, with a wolf’s muzzle and beastly features, was huge in stature and like all his kindred had been a ferocious fighter. Though far from bright, trollocs were sly creatures as Elessar and his Sedai had experienced several times over the years. This one would reap no more havoc in the Borderlands.

 

Rage and anger swept over him then, replacing the shock, and roaring in defiance he moved like a madman, with surprising agility considering his many wounds, swinging his sword in widening arcs, clearing a path to his Sedai. He was unaware of the bodies he left behind, some also human - Darkfriends! - , of the redness painting the landscape in the colour of death. All his focus was on reaching his Sedai. All his focus was on reaching her.

 

It couldn’t be.. it just couldn’t be..

 

Oh dear Creator. Noooooo!

 

Cradling her head in his arms, a moment later, wetness on his cheeks, he saw the lifeless Emerald-green eyes staring into nothingness, the deadly arrows protruding from her body.

 

Too late.The thought registered in his mind but he barely noticed it. I am too late.

 

 

Elessar crashed out of his dream-memories, gasping - half upraised in his blankets, his arms pushing him up, as he stared wild-eyed about him in the darkness, every hair on his body standing on end. He made a choking sound in his throat, his heart and pulse thumping, as he tried to get a grip on himself. Slowly, as his memories started to drift away from the present, he began to breathe a little calmer and focused on their small campsite, the rain dripping just on the outskirts, and on Myrrhi who had awakened and was looking cautiously at him, some concern coming through the Bond. Had he shouted? He could not tell. He whispered that he was fine, there was no danger, and she seemed to relax as she lay her head back down. He was sorry he had awakened her, but his main concern was for that dream. It was a memory in fact and the most painful memory he had. Shaking his head, staring out into the darkness from his half-raised position, he wondered, why now? He had not had those painful, soul-wrenching dream-memories for a very long time, for which he had been very grateful.

 

Leandreen.

 

Her emerald-green eyes flashed in his mind. Closing his eyes, he pushed the painful thoughts away as he lay back on the ground. He felt his pulse lowering and his heart slowly resuming its normal rhythm, beads of sweat glistening on his skin in the pale moonlight. It is probably the stress of the moment, the danger of this mission and my worry for Myrrhi’s safety, he thought as his body relaxed. Here in this uknown wilderness, who knows what might come upon us..

 

He had had those painful recollections of his dear Leandreen’s death many times through the years, adding bricks to his wall of guilt and shame, but less so of late and had, perhaps, hoped they were over and done with. A foolish hope, he knew. The incredible pain and loss.. were an integral part of him.. that would never completely go away. Clenching his fists, he opened his eyes to the darkness without. A teardrop ran down his chin, like an echo of a torn soul. He had survived the near-madness of the Broken Bond and her death.. he would handle this inner pain as well.

 

Moments turned into minutes.

 

Finally his body and mind relaxed, as he pulled the blanket over him and gradually entered that half-awake, half-sleep concious state that Warders were so good at. A last whisper in his head lingered.. like an eternal echo.. as he closed his eyes again to rest.

 

Forgive me, Leandreen. Please forgive me..

 

 

When Elessar woke some time after dawn, as the sun was beginning its long journey upwards in the partially clouded horizon, Myrrhi still slept. He tried to be as quiet as he could as he threw some water on his face and upper body from a flask he carried and dried himself with a towel from his belongings. He then threw on a shirt and pants and sat for a moment in silence on the rockside staring pensively into the distance. Wisps of his dreams remained in the back of his head but he shut them away for now. It was a cold morning but it seemed a bit milder than the day before. He turned to stare toward his Aes Sedai and at that moment she began to stir in her blankets. He nodded to himself, picked up his sword and walked out from the overhang and down a small path toward the ground beneath, leaving Myrrhi to get dressed. He gave her a small smile and a wave when she looked in his direction, then walked further down the path to scout the area.

 

A little later he returned to their makeshift camp, having not come upon anything worth reporting. Myrrhi gave him a smile as he sat down by the small fire and handed him some bread and water. They ate in silence, content in each other’s company. She did not bring up the episode in the night and he kept quiet about it as well. Though he had told her much of his backstory, this was just too personal. When they were finished, they cared for their horses, and then stood together by the rockside, staring quietly into the sky for a while. Finally Myrrhi spoke, asking him what he thought, if he thought they were going to have rain before midday. She added that she did not think so.

 

He gazed at the clouds far above, considering her question. Recognizing some cloud-patterns from his many Warder-years, he nodded to her, believing that she was right in her prediction. Her eyes stayed on his face, as if she were waiting for something more.. there was pride in her smile, he thought, and he wondered what it was that he had missed.. He looked at her a bit perplexed, not knowing what to say.. and her proud smile slowly withered, to be replaced by.. disappointment? A touch of frustration? He could not be certain, but so it seemed to the poor man. From the Bond he felt the same and he shook his head softly, wondering inside what he had misinterpreted.

 

He was not the first man, and certainly not the last, to be flummoxed by a woman’s reaction or expectation. It was, some men said with a wide knowing grin (usually with no women present), every man’s lot in life.

 

 

Myrrhi did not seem best pleased by his lack of reaction, if he did not misread her, but joined the conversation as Elessar spoke of their alternatives now for the next stage of their journey. There were three alternatives as he saw it. The first, to return up the mountain and hope the Whitecloaks were gone, then head toward the Amadician border and continue eastwards. They agreed that was out of the question. Neither relished walking along that steep cliff-face again, be it upwards this time. Added to the possibility that the Whitecloaks could be waiting at the other side of the mountain. The second option, Elessar said, was to head for the Shadow Coast and hope to find a ship that would take them east. The problem with that alternative, besides a long trek across several mountains if their maps were correct, was that there were no ports along that coastline from what knowledge they had so they could end up stranded down there. The third option was to head south-eastwards along the hills and mountains, still a challenging journey but more doable, towards southern Amadicia and Ebou Dar. It seemed the best choice in the circumstances and Myrrhi agreed. They decided to wait some hours before leaving, however, wanting their mounts to be well rested for the journey ahead.

 

Time passed and as they approached midday it seemed Myrrhi’s weather-prediction had been true. The sky was still partially clouded but not a drop of rain had fallen since early morning. From the grin she gave him and her sparkling blue eyes it was obvious that she was very pleased, almost as if she somehow felt vindicated. He was still puzzled by the whole thing but shared her grin, always pleased when she was in a good mood. He watched her staring up at the sun, a yellow glow behind the grey veil that almost stretched to the far horizon.

 

“How long before noon?” she asked him, biting her lower lip. He turned from her face to stare up at the sky again, seeking the golden disc among the clouds, gauging how far along its daily path it had come. Making a prediction in his mind, he turned back to her to answer.. and then instinct made him look in an other direction, his body tensing.

 

 

He stared intensely as a black dot appeared uphill. Myrrhi was gazing in that direction as well and he felt her tense as well through the Bond. The dot slowly grew, gradually becoming a man and a cart full of trunks and fruits.

 

What the..! Elessar almost burst out in great surprise, as he watched the man come closer, pushing his small wheeled cart. He was a tall, heavily built older man with a long grey beard, a bald head and wearing a strange overcoat seemingly made of animal-skin and haphazard cloth. The Warder looked in amazement as the stranger stopped fifteen or so paces above them on the hill. Of all the things Elessar had expected to come across here in this wilderness, this was not one of them!

 

The man seemed to be grumbling to himself and Elessar exchanged a quick look with Myrrhi who now seemed as puzzled as him. They turned back to stare at the grumbling old man, waiting for him to speak. He stared at them strangely, as if he almost but not quite could remember having seen them somewhere before, and then waved in their direction.

 

“Let’s see who these two wanderers are”, he mumbled finally and came another few steps closer. He did not appear threatening but even so Elessar held his blade in one hand waiting, guessing that Myrrhi also was prepared. “Ah, they are strangers, my love” muttered the old man and then he began to chuckle. “They are lost in the wilderness, dear one. Lost like leaves on the wind..”

 

The Warder and Sedai exchanged another quick glance, eyebrows raised and lips pursed, wondering if the mysterious old man was totally sane, seeming as he appeared to be speaking to someone beside him. The old man chuckled some more. “They think I do not know, but I do know.” He touched the side of his bald head and laughed. Then he pulled on his long beard, his eyes focusing as he mumbled some more.

 

“We will not be fooled so easily, my love. Oh no, not this time. Not this time.”

 

 

Elessar watched him in silence, taken aback. The moment stretched - and just as the Warder considered confronting the old stranger, to get some answers or clarifications, the old man’s face suddenly became more serious, focused and his dark eyes more intense.. more aware.. more sane.

 

“Perhaps old Chunuk knows the path”, he said and his voice was clear and serious now, filled with authority and purpose. His eyes glinted, his body posture straighter and full of confidence as if that of a much younger man. He met Myrrhi’s querying eyes and smiled a strange smile.

 

“For you are lost in the wilderness,”, he said, “are you not.. Myrrhi Aes Sedai of the Green?”

 

For a moment, Myrrhi and Elessar could only stare back at him - in wonderment. The Gaidin’s dark eyes widened. How..?

 

The old man’s smile broadened, a hint of amusement shining through, as he gave a small bow.

 

He then whistled once, turning his face upwards, and a black dot in the sky, a shadow came ever closer from high above, speeding toward the ground; a bird of prey of some size, a brown-feathered eagle it turned out, swooped down and landed on the old man’s shoulder. The large bird stared fixedly at the two persons from the White Tower, screeching for a few moments before settling down, the old man’s hand caressing its feathers. Somehow the fairly sizeable bird fit there on the old bearded man’s shoulder - as if it belongs there - and the Warder could only shake his head in amazement.

 

 

Who was this man? What was he? A hermit here in this unknown wilderness? A wanderer? Or was he something more?  A threat perhaps?

 

How does he know?

 

The questions buzzed in Elessar’s mind as he gazed long and hard at the old stranger above him on the hillside and at the eagle perched on his shoulder.

 

“Aes Sedai”, the old man said then, his masculine voice carrying in the soft breeze, as he pulled something from his small cart. “Fairest lady.. Would you like a juicy Red Apple?” His smile widened, his eyes glinting as he held up the large fruit for her to see.

 

At that moment, the first drops of Rain fell from the darkened sky, and a sound from the canopy of clouds above, almost like Mirrors cracking, was heard in the far, far distance.

 

  ▀▄ 
 

 

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.. Faced with a Mystery beyond Understanding ..

►▼◄

 

“How do you know my name?”

 

Myrrhi’s voice was steady but inquisitive as she studied the old man before her a few paces away. Elessar stood beside her, his hand still holding his sword in case it were needed. He did not trust this strange old hermit even though the man had made no threatening gestures so far or done anything threatening. Better safe than sorry, he thought, as he gazed at the eagle still perched atop the old man’s shoulder. The eagle stared back at him malevolently.

 

“I know many things, Fairest lady..” the old man replied with a cackle.

 

His eyes seemed unfocused again, as if they were far-away.. “They don’t believe old Chunuk, dear one..” he added as he shook his head, his eyes full of glee. “Nobody does, nobody does..” His expression sobered a little as he held the large Red Apple up in front of Myrrhi. “This juicy apple is especially for you.” Myrrhi stared long at the apple and Elessar recognized her dubious look, almost as if she feared the apple somehow was filled with poison or something. The small cart before the old man was filled with fruits - mostly apples and pears - and trunks, small logs.

 

What was the old man doing up here in this rocky wilderness? Did he actually live up here somewhere?

 

Elessar still buzzed with questions but kept quiet as Myrrhi confronted him.

 

 

The Warder felt several emotions coming through the Bond, concern but also.. curiosity. He exchanged a quick glance with his Aes Sedai.

 

“Thank you, but not quite now” Myrrhi replied, declining the offer of the red apple. The old man chuckled, as if he found her words funny in some way, but nodded as he placed the apple back in the cart. “Perhaps later, Fairest lady..” he mumbled as he stroked the eagle on the back. He cackled some more and began talking under his breath.

 

“They do not like our apples, dear one.. never good enough.. they disbelieve, yes they do.. they always disbelieve.. the sky is blue but they disbelieve.. the storm is coming and the wind sings.. but still they disbelieve.. no one believes old Chunuk..”

 

Suddenly then, he raised his head to stare fixedly, clearly at Myrrhi. All lack of lucidity was gone. There was power in his voice.

 

“What are your greatest fears, Aes Sedai of the Green?”

 

His eyes glinted.. with knowledge? Insight? Premonition? Myrrhi could not tell, but she took a step backwards feeling uncertainty of a sudden. Elessar tensed beside her and his dark eyes narrowed as he stared at the old hermit.

 

“Stranger”, he said not unfriendly but with some iron in his voice, “we are wanderers in this barren land.” His arms indicated the hilly wilderness around them. “Perhaps we should be on our way.” He gave the old man a no-nonsense look, but the man only looked back at him calmly, still lucid as far as Elessar could tell. “Though”, he added squarely, “we do want to know how it is you know this Sister of the White Tower’s name.”

 

 

Old Chunuk stared long and hard at the Gaidin, as if seeing him for the first time. “Warrior are you.. a protector of Aes Sedai..” he mumbled as his eyes took on that far-away look again. A small chuckle escaped his lips as he saw the Warders’s face darken.

 

“What are your greatest fears, Gaidin? Oh I know.. old Chunuk knows..”

 

He cackled and his arms swung about him in hilarity. Elessar shook his head, almost certain now that this old man was at least partially mad. Myrrhi turned toward him and her face seemed to indicate she was thinking the same thing. Finally the old hermit sobered up again and his face met the Warder’s again. The old man’s eyes were clear and lucid once again.. and there was a hidden strength there that made the Gaidin clench his blade even harder.

 

“Face your fears.. Elessar of Kandor.”

 

Elessar’s eyes widened and he sucked in his breath.

 

He knows my name too? How does he know? Who is this old man?

 

 

The questions tumbled upon one another in his mind as he stared at the bearded stranger, wondering if they were in danger with this mysterious man. He presumed Myrrhi was filled with the One Power, just in case, and his deadly sword was at the ready, but even so there was something about this old man, something.. dangerous. His instincts told him to retreat.. and he trusted those instincts. He leaned toward Myrrhi, whispering softly in her ear, and she nodded.

 

“We thank you for your.. advice - old man”, said the Warder as he gave the stranger a small bow. “But we must be on our way.” Myrrhi nodded also, giving the bearded man a polite smile. “Safe journey, stranger” she said as she gave the eagle a final glance before turning. Elessar turned also and started making his way down the hillside toward their camp. He half-expected the old hermit to follow them, and considered in his mind what he would do then, but thankfully the stranger remained behind, whispering softly to the eagle on his shoulder, staring fixedly at the departing man and woman. “Nobody ever listens to old Chunuk”, he mumbled as he turned his cart around and started moving in the other direction. He began cackling again, now hitting the side of his thighs with his hands, his head shaking from laughter.

 

Moments later his face became clear, lucid and serious again. His eyes glinted as he stared down at the Red Apple he had offered the Aes Sedai. An old children’s rhyme he had heard many ages ago, back when he was a child in what felt like a different life in a different place, popped into his head.. a smile came upon his lips then, and his eyes narrowed shrewdly..

 

’Mirror, Mirror on the Wall..’

 

 

Myrrhi and Elessar were on their way quickly, wanting to put some distance between themselves and the mysterious stranger. They broke camp, collecting all their belongings, and headed south-eastwards through the rain and distant thunder, cantering along small paths towards hills in the far distance.

 

From the few words they had exchanged as they had packed their things in a hurry and prepared their horses, Elessar had understood that Myrrhi too felt the hard-to-define unease he did with regards to the stranger and wanted to be gone as quickly as possible.

 

There were many mysteries here: who was the old man? What were his secrets? Was he at least partially mad, as he seemed, or could it somehow be an act? How did he know their names? Did he also know their mission, perhaps? How, if so?

 

Many questions that needed answering, thought Elessar when they made a short stop several leagues to the south-east, and though part of him insisted they should have stayed with the stranger to get some of those answers, a greater part agreed with the wisdom of leaving him behind and be on their way. The man had posed a hidden danger, his intuition had told him, and when he spoke his thoughts to Myrrhi she nodded. She trusted his instincts, he thought, and knew he was far from a coward and would only retreat from a situation where they could get some useful answers if he deemed it absolutely necessary.

 

The rain picked up as the afternoon wore on and Elessar started to look for a new temporary shelter. Between two hills he found a small ravine and another rockside with an overhang which would keep them out of most of the rain. Poining towards the rock as he steered Stormbreaker that way, he saw Myrrhi nod atop Tempest as she too headed in that direction. Soon they were there and both dismounted, tethering the mounts to a smaller rock with a crack running through it. They sat down with their backs to the larger rock, sipping from water flasks and chewing on some dry sandwiches. The rain was heavy now and the sound of the rain pounding down on the ravine echoed in Elessar’s mind as he considered their situation.

 

 

After several minutes in contemplative silence, he turned towards his Aes Sedai.

 

“There was something about that old man”, he began. She met his eyes. “A mystery.. and I can’t define it.. but my gut screamed danger.” Myrrhi nodded, though it was hard to tell what she really felt. “I think he was more than he let on..”, added the Gaidin as he turned to stare into the rain. “I have learned to trust my instincts”, he said, his right hand clenching. “And to choose my battles.” He nodded slightly. “I know we missed an opportunity to get some answers”, he added meaningfully, “but I cannot but feel that we made the right decision.”

 

“I trust your instincts, my Gaidin”, Myrrhi said as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself.” She smiled and he was grateful for her supporting words. “We have a mission to complete, that is most important.” He nodded back at her, as she placed her hand in her lap again. “Though I do wonder”, she added with a fixed stare, “how that strange old man knew our names and station..” Elessar nodded. “I wonder too.. and I wish I knew.. but somehow I can’t make myself believe he was connected to those Whitecloaks in any way..” He paused for a moment. Meeting her eyes again, he added, “He could be following us.. the few times I stopped and checked I saw no one, no eagle in the sky either, though in truth he would have had to discard that cart and have a horse nearby to have any chance of catching up.”.

 

Staring thoughtfully into the dark sky above, hearing thunder nearer now, he considered.

 

“Still, I doubt he would let us ride away if he had maliscious intentions”, said the Warder. “I guess this is one of life’s many mysteries that we will never get an answer to.”

 

Myrrhi stared for a long time into the pouring rain, lost in thoughts.

 

 

When the weather finally cleared, they continued their journey south-eastwards along the hills and mountains that covered the region inland from the Shadow Coast. Part of the way they found paths between hills where they could ride swiftly, at other times they had to slow down as they passed ridges and hillsides with stones and rocks aplenty. A few times they had to dismount and lead their horses carefully down mountainsides, though none were as steep and as long as that first cliff-face for which they were very thankful. The days passed, they made camps wherever they could (Elessar showed his knack for finding good campsites) and they made good progress.

 

From the maps they carried, the Warder estimated that they had completed a fair distance south of the Amadician border and were only a few days away from the Altaran border in the south-east. If all went as planned, they would not need to re-enter Amadicia at all, Elessar thought with satisfaction, and from the Altaran border it would be a relatively short distance to Ebou Dar. He spoke of this to his Aes Sedai one afternoon, under an azure-blue sky, as they sat by a rockside eating what functioned as lunch. She nodded back at him, pleased to hear that they were closer to the end of this mountainous wilderness trek.

 

They had neither seen nor met anyone since their encounter with the old stranger what now seemed long ago. A few mountain goats, a mountain-lion (seen from afar) and smaller hillside-rodents aside, they had been all alone in the wilderness. Elessar was glad of it. At intervals he found himself gazing up in the sky, looking for a certain eagle, but he saw nothing and was certain now that the old hermit, if hermit he was, was a thing of the past. He was by now very much looking forward to getting out of this mountain-region and back to flat country and civilization again. Myrrhi felt the same and he sensed impatience building in her again as the days went by and they came ever closer to the Altaran border.

 

 

Finally on a mild late afternoon, as the sun was slowly descending in a blue-ish sky interspersed with some intermittent clouds, Myhrri and Elessar rode across the border into the nation of Altara leaving the Shadow Coast region behind.

 

Myrrhi’s smile mirrored Elessar’s as they followed the hillpaths downward into flatter country, picking up speed as the paths broadened and hills slowly were replaced by meadows and farmland. That evening they made camp in a woodland-area and after the many days and dangers (faced and felt) in the mountains and hills above the Shadow Coast it felt like a relief, somehow, to be back  in more familiar surroundings again.

 

That night, as darkness enveloped the woodlands of south-western Altara, Elessar of Kandor embraced the night, entering the half-sleep of Warders, his dreams filled with eagles and memories of a very familiar face with Emerald-green eyes.

 

  ▀▄ 
 

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“How do you know my name?”

 

Myrrhi tries to hide her fear. She won’t be scared by the old man. She is Aes Sedai. He should be afraid of her, not the opposite. But, how can he know my name? She wonders. Maybe she has met him before, but she can’t place his face, nor his cart, nor his strange bird and something tells her that she would remember a man like him. Even a it was a man from her past.

 

Elessar stands next to her, his hand is resting on the pommel of his sword. The bond and his position tell her that he doesn’t trust the stranger, but no more or no less that he would any other man they would meet on the road.

 

 “I know many things, Fairest lady...” the old man replies with a cackle. He says and repeats that no one ever believes him. He doesn’t want them to pity him, though. The more he complains about it the more his eyes shine, making the Green’s toes curl up in her boots. Is he mad? No, or maybe yes but there’s something else … there’s something more. Madness would not explain why he knew her name. He doesn’t look like a Green Eyes and Ears nor does he sound like one. So far, he hasn’t even made any useful sign that would identify him as such. 

 

Before Myrrhi can ask her question once again the old man makes a small step towards her. “This juicy apple is especially for you,” he says holding the fruit right in front of him. The apple indeed looks juicy and very sweet. Its skin is of a deep ruby-like red that makes the young Green’s mouth water. She stares at it imagining herself biting in it.

 

Elessar makes a small sound as if he needs to clear his throat. Now is the time for her to make her mind about what she should do. As much as it is very impolite to refuse a gift, it is also very dangerous to eat food offered by a complete stranger. In many stories, young maidens were tricked by man like this one and suffered for it…

 

The bond doesn’t give her any more clues about the man nor his fruit. Myrrhi knows that if Elessar was convinced the apple was poisoned she would have felt something. An urge not to touch it. But the bond stays silent, and so she takes a deep breath.

 

 “Thank you, but not quite now” Myrrhi replies with a smile.

 

The old man chuckles and the young Green wonders whether he’s laughing at her or guessed that this would be her answer. She has not refused his apple, just told him that she didn’t want to have it right now.

 “Perhaps later, Fairest lady...” he mumbles, petting his eagle on the back. 

 

“They do not like our apples, dear one.. never good enough.. they disbelieve, yes they do.. they always disbelieve.. the sky is blue but they disbelieve... the storm is coming and the wind sings.. but still they disbelieve.. no one believes old Chunuk...”

 

 The Green shakes her head and places a light hand on Elessar’s arm. It is enough for him to understand that she needs his advice. Their eyes meet for a fraction of a second and she sees that they are both of the same mind. They need to leave but before that they need answers.

 

The Gaidin turns back towards the old man and focuses on him. Myrrhi follows his gaze and can’t help but notice that the stranger has changed. His face looks stronger, determined, just like his voice that she now hears.

 

 “What are your greatest fears, Aes Sedai of the Green?” He asks.

Myrrhi’s eyes grow wide. She fights against the waves of emotions and old memories that the question sends crashing in her mind. She fears many things for herself and for others, her siblings, her Warder and… her soul.

 

 Chunuk laughs as if he knows something, something about her arches. How can he know? Myrrhi asks to herself again and again. She has kept it all secret and never talked about it with anyone. The fact that she thought about them only a couple of hours ago pushes her wonder whether this is more than a coincidence. Maybe what she was in the arches is actually a premonition… It takes all her willpower not to grab the man by the collar and shake him like a prune tree. Again, she’s Aes Sedai and she should behave like one.  

Elessar saves her just in time.

 

“Stranger”, he says “we are wanderers in this barren land . Perhaps we should be on our way. Though”, he adds squarely, “we do want to know how it is you know this Sister of the White Tower’s name.”

 The old man doesn’t reply immediately. He stares at the Warder, then chuckles. Warrior are you.. a protector of Aes Sedai... What are your greatest fears, Gaidin? Oh I know.. old Chunuk knows..”

 

Elessar shakes his head. Myrrhi turns towards him raising an eyebrow. Again their eyes meet showing they are on the same page. The Green sighs. They will never get anything out of this man.

 

“Face your fears... Elessar of Kandor,” Chunuk says before Myrrhi has the time to react. The old man knows the name of her Warder as well. The Gaidin doesn’t seem as shaken as she is. He thanks Chunuk for the advice and announces they have to be on their way. Not finding anything better to say, Myrrhi smiles to the stranger and wishes him a safe journey. Chunuk answers with a cackle and waves.

 

***

 

Myrrhi knows that they don’t have to hurry. Still, they move pretty fast, only making small breaks for their horses to rest. There’s no one behind them, not anymore. Elessar checked, the old man is definitely not following them.

 

The Green finds herself at a loss for words. She wants to talk about what happened with Chunuk, to talk about her fears but she doesn’t dare to. Her arches are sacred – she’s not supposed to talk about them, especially to someone who is not an Aes Sedai - and she fears Elessar’s reaction would he know what she saw during the ritual. He would probably see her differently… very differently.

 

Rain falls, the drops are cold and Myrrhi shivers. Elessar is already looking for a temporary shelter that he finds between to hills. They dismount and tether the horses. The Green rearranges her hair, pushing away the strands that stick to her face. “I hate this weather,” she says as she sits on one of the larger rocks. The Gaidin takes a sip from his water flask, then hands it to the Aes Sedai. “It will be over soon” he replies with a smile.

 

***

 

Myrrhi closes her eyes, hoping that sleep will come soon. She has turned and turned but it hasn’t help. The face of old Chunuk occupies most of her thoughts. His face … and his words. Elessar and she have talked a lot about the old man, about who he might be and whether what he said could be some kind of premonition but none of their questions received an answer. They could have stayed and talked further to the man. They could have. But both agreed that the man wouldn’t have told them a single useful thing. He would have teased them over and over again, forcing them to have a try at stronger means of interrogation… Leaving was the safest course of action.

 

Still, the Green wants to know more about the stranger and the reason why knew her name. Was he a male channeler? She felt nothing emanating from him but then it was said that females could not detect a male channeler. Or, maybe he was channeler who got gentled? She shakes her head as she fights to push away the thought.

 

She has to concentrate on something else. Anything… She tries to summon the last chapter of the book she’s reading open it will help her relax and repeats to herself that tomorrow will be a long day, that she needs to be rested. Time passed and she can’t stand the cover on her shoulders. She pushes at way and curses as quietly as she can hoping it will not wake her Warder.  

Edited by Chaelca

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.. Revisiting the wondrous Capital City of Ebou Dar ..
►▼◄

 

As Myrrhi Aes Sedai and Elessar Gaidin rode through a foggy late morning landscape toward the Altaran Capital City of Ebou Dar, the Warder felt as if he were walking in his own footsteps. He recalled how on a similar morning several years before he had ridden into the Capital on such a day with his then Aes Sedai Bondholder Carys of the Yelow. He had been a different man then, but also the same. In some ways, life consisted of retracing one’s steps.

 

His thoughts returned to that morning years past as he and his current Bondholder Myrrhi rode towards the city in the distance. They rode in silence, the clinging mists taking hold of their travelling cloaks. The gray fog whisked around the horses’ hooves for a long time before it finally melted away. A western breeze picked up as they neared the city  - and the road filled with travellers of all kinds heading to and from the Capital.

 

The sky was clearing, a canopy of azure-blue gradually extending as far se the eye could see. And so it was, like an echo from Elessar’s past, that they finally rode through Dal Eira City Gate and into Ebou Dar, below Altaran banners - rippling softly in the wind - depicting two Golden Leopards running on a field checked four-by-four in red and blue.

 

 

Riding through the awakening city streets, Elessar thought about this city which he had visited several times through the years, most recently with Myrrhi.

 

Ebou Dar was, in truth, a beautiful city, straddling the River Eldar, with pale white buildings - of pale stone or pale marble - and plenty of canals. Transportation was easy on the passenger canal boats as well as on the broad streets and bridges. Large buildings and palaces were scattered throughout the city, the palaces richly decorated with tall spires or domes in the shapes of turnips or pears, emblazoned with bands of crimson, blue and gold. The city was surrounded by a very thick white wall, which had three main Gates: the Moldaine Gate, the Three Towers Gate, and the Dal Eira Gate, which they had just passed through, as well as several minor ones. Throughout the city paved squares were very common, often containing a fountain bubbling water, a large statue, or both. Out of these squares, the Mol Hara square was by far the largest and most famous. At its center stood a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea, the heart of Ebou Dari trade. One entire side of the Mol Hara square was dominated by the gleaming white domes and spires of the Tarasin Palace, home of the current ruler of Altara.

 

In contrast, on the other side of the River Eldar the Rahad, the section of Ebou Dar where the less fortunate in life - the poor and others shunned by society - made their living. The streets in the Rahad were often narrow alleys, with buildings  - often painted white though with the paint dirty and flaking, or with large chunks of plaster having come loose to reveal the coarse brick below - standing as high as five or six stories above the ground. The streets were filled with the refuse of the inhabitants and the stench of decay filled the air. The Rahad was no doubt a very dangerous place, as he also recalled himself. Not only were duels very frequent, many adversaries did not even bother with the formalities and simply stabbed their victims in the back..

 

 

They passed many Ebou Dari men and women of all ages in the streets. They were dark-haired, had dark eyes and an olive complexion. Many of the Ebou Dari women’s dresses were pale in colour with snug bodices and full skirts over bright petticoats. Elessar noticed again that most of the women and even some of the men wore large hoop earrings. And that men and women alike wore curved daggers through their belts or sashes. Myrrhi also spotted a Marriage Knife hanging hilt down from the neck of a woman who hurried past them intent on her errand. Several Ebou Dari men walked by, throwing them a quick glance. It felt very much like the last visit.

 

Again Elessar studied the men’s attire with interest, the trademark Ebou Dari vests, long and elaborate. They were brightly coloured and were worn over pale shirts with wide sleeves. Two of the men, of wealth, Elessar noted, had added a decorative silk coat slung about their shoulders. It was held with a chain of silver strung between the narrow embroidered lapels. The men also carried a long narrow sword, in addition to their dagger. The Warder’s eyes appraised the swords as he rode past.

 

There were, as before, a fair amount of foreigners in the streets as well. Elessar recognized many of them by their complexion or by their attire. Murandians and Illianers. A few who looked Cairhien and even a couple of Borderlanders, Saldaeans if his eyes were not misleading him. There were merchants and shopkeepers, nobles in carriages, mysterious strangers watching from street-corners, and those less well off. There were the sights and sounds always found in big cities. And the splendour. And this city, Ebou Dar, was certainly one of the most beautiful in the southern lands.

 

 

Riding carefully down the city streets, past the infamous Mol Hara square, Myrrhi slightly behind and to his right, Elessar kept thinking of that strange old man, old Chunuk - a puzzle that might never be solved - but also kept an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. It was wise to be alert in a large city and in Warders that ability was almost inbred. His eyes swept across rooftops and along alleyways, over buildigs, pathways, people and carriages, shops and squares and fountains. It felt good to be back in a city again, he thought, after their many days in the wilderness and he thought he felt similar emotions coming through the Bond from Myrrhi though he could never be totally sure; emotions through the Bond were often muddled, he found. They had spoken little on the road, both lost in their own musings and intent on reaching the city as swiftly as possible. They intended to stay in Ebou Dar some days as they considered the next part of their journey. Staying at an inn with a soft bed and a warm bath after their many nights outdoors lately was something they both looked forward to, and Myrrhi’s blue eyes had sparkled when he had mentioned it. They also had some errands to take care of and new provisions to gather.

 

They were staying at a different inn this time, a smaller establishment on the west side of the Capital. It was situated in a side street and they dismounted in front of the old white building. ‘The Fallen Mermaid’ was the name on a decorative sign hanging above the main entrance. An alluring mermaid with fiery red hair and large blue eyes stared down at the visitors from above. Elessar grinned at the sign, pretty certain that the ‘fallen’ in the name meant ‘fallen from grace’, then led both horses to the back of the inn and a small stable. He found a young stableboy sitting in the corner, a dark-haired lanky lad, who jumped to his feet when he saw the Warder. He promised to take good care of their horses, his eyes wide as he studied the tall warrior before him, and Elessar threw him a copper-coin before returning to the front of the building where Myrrhi waited.

 

 

 

“Done?” She asked, as he came up to her.

“Done”. He replied. “A young lanky lad, local, but he seems fond of horses. They’ll be fine.”

“That is good”, Myrrhi replied with a smile. It was important that their mounts were taken good care of.

“Now then”, Elessar said as he pointed up at the sign. “A Fallen Mermaid.. a sign do you think?”

“Fancy going for a swim, Elessar of Kandor?” Myrrhi said with an amused smile.

“Only if you join me, Myrrhi Aes Sedai of the Green”, the Warder replied with an amused grin.

Myrrhi chuckled, rolling her eyes softly. “I think I’ll have that swim in the bath.. if you don’t mind”.

“I understand”, Elessar replied with a half-mocking bow. “Be sure the currents don’t pull you down.”

 

Myrrhi’s sniff would have done any Sister of the White Tower proud, but she grinned to herself as she entered the establishment.

 

 

Grabbing their belongings, the Gaidin - trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin - followed her through the door and up to a counter where stood a dark-haired tall but quite fat Ebou Dari man wearing a white apron. He had the look of someone used to being in charge. It was obviously the innkeeper - and his face smoothed in a customer-friendly way as he faced the Aes Sedai before him.

 

  ▀▄ 

 

Edited by Elessar

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"The Fallen Mermaid," Myrrhi reads the sign aloud. The name sounds mysterious and a bit sad. Why would a mermaid fall? Did she fall in disgrace at the mermaids' court? Or, like in the fairy tales, did she get legs and didn't manage to use them immediately? Hence the fall. The young Green swears to herself that she'll ask the innkeeper about his choice of words.

 

As it has become a habit, Elessar takes the reins of Myrrhi's mare and guide her to the stables, along with his horse. During the few seconds that she's left alone, Myrrhi looks around and sighs. She has mixed feelings about the city. Many things happened here... some pleasant, some less amusing. The memories flash in her mind but she eventually pushes them back as her Warder joins her.

 

 

“Done?” She asked, as he came up to her.

“Done”. He replied.

 

***

 

The innkeeper is almost as large as he's tall. When Myrrhi sees him at first she wonder whether or not she should inquire about anything relating to the inn but his scowl disappears as he recognizes the two newcomer. He immediately sets the bottles he had in his hands aside.

 

"Welcome to my humble inn", he starts before depicting everything he can offer to Myrrhi and her Warder, artfully neglecting to tell how much it all would cost. They eventually pick two comfortable rooms - not the most expensive but the not cheapest either - and Myrrhi ask for a bath. The innkeeper bows and smiles, promising to have it ready at once.

 

With a quick clap of his hands, he calls for a serving girl who looks young enough to be his daughter. "Emeltha will show you your room," he says with a honeyed voice. "And don't hesitate to ask her any question you may have."

 

The girl curtsies as deeply as she can then invite Elessar and Myrrhi to follow her. They don't have to walk much to reach their destination. The two promised room are right after the stairs leading to the first floor.

 

"Is there anything I may do for you?" Emeltha asks.

"No, thank you," Myrrhi replies with a smile. She offers the girl a silver coin. "Besides the bath, there's nothing we need right now." It is only when they are alone again that the Green turns towards the Gaidin. "You'll take a bath as well, right?" she asks sniffing loudly. Not waiting for Elessar to reply she disappears in her room a big smile on her face.

 

***

 

As soon as Myrrhi finds herself bathed, combed and dressed, she rushes out of the inn. Since the bond tells her that her Warder is busy with his own bath, she has enough time to visit some shops. Her first stop will definitely be one that sells books. She has read multiple times all the ones she has brought with her and wants to have fresh material.

 

It doesn't take her long to find the right shop but deciding what to buy is a very difficult task. So hard, that she doesn't manage to make a choice between the four "bricks" that caught her eye.

 

 

 

 

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