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A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
Elessar

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

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.. ‘Carrai an Ellisande!’ Among Whispers from the Past ..
►▼◄

 

Enjoying the warm bath at the ‘Fallen Mermaid’ inn, a content sigh escaped Elessar’s lips.

 

Myrrhi’s rather blunt comment and sniff, hinting that he smelled after their long ride and ought to take a bath, had brought a grin to his face. She liked teasing him and she was propbably right; one did not smell of Red Roses after a long ride along dusty country roads with few opportunities to wash. He had planned to take a nice long bath in any case, but she did not need to know that.

 

He felt her through the Bond, moving away northwards in the city, and the thought of her made him smile. She had some errands, she had said, and he imagined she would get herself some new clothes. Perhaps something Red? A wild thought entered his mind. No, he guessed that colour better suited her Red Ajah Sisters. The colour of Blood. A distant thought. Green would be more appropriate for her, and he had noted the many different shades of Green in her attire.

 

Thinking of the Green made him think of Kathleen. His former Aes Sedai Bondholder. How was she doing? Was she well?

 

I hope, he thought, you are well, Kathleen.

 

 

They had parted in difficult circumstances, the Bond released, and had not talked much in the White Tower since. Their paths had not crossed, and it had, perhaps, been for the best. He thought of her explanatory letter.. an apology .. that he had received some time later.

 

He had appreciated her words, her explanation. She was a Sister of great integrity and respect and he smiled as he thought of her.

 

Sometimes he felt regret that it had not worked out.. but then again he felt the same with regards to all his former Sedais, whom he had ‘lost’ in one way or another.

 

Carrain. Carys. Kathleen.

 

And then there was Leandreen..

 

Thinking of her always brought a blend of joy and sadness in him.. and pain inside.. and he quickly changed his train of thought and began considering the next part of their journey eastwards.

 

 

His thoughts soon returned to the past, however. As he washed himself with the soap - he had to smell nicely for his Aes Sedai, he reminded himself with a grin - he recalled the previous visit here in Ebou Dar. It had not been without some.. drama. And challenges. A difficult time. Putting the bar of soap aside, he remained in the warm bath a while, thinking back on one incident.. He remembered every detail as was his way.

 

He was back in the Rahad.. its smells and sounds enveloped him..

 

..There was little apparent activity, but he saw movement in the Shadows and knew he was being watched. His confident steps and lithe movement combined with his stone-faced look made several bystanders think again before approaching him; there was no hiding that here came a very dangerous man. Some of the buildings the Warder passed were abandoned, worn down shells in truth, while others were occupied by very dubious tenants. He locked his eyes on a figure standing on dark stairs leading up to the building from the street and the figure averted his eyes as Elessar walked by.

 

A cat suddenly rushed across the street in front of him and he followed it calmly with his eyes as it disappeared around a darkened corner. A middle-aged man in rugged clothes shuffled past him on his way to some errand or other, while another - this one younger and with hard eyes and the look of a back alley mugger or thief - watched Elessar carefully from a shadowed doorway. The Gaidin rounded a corner and crossed the street to his right. He walked along the pavement for two blocks before heading down another alley, this time on his left. There was the sound of running feet down a smaller alley further to his left but soon that sound too was gone. So far no trouble and that was to the good, he thought. I wonder if my luck will last, he mused as he walked vigilantly down the Shadowy paths of the infamous Rahad.

 

Suddenly, another block further along, there was a shout .. almost like a scream .. coming from the adjacent street. Normally this would not have bothered the Warder, shouts and screams were common place in this part of town, but he actually thought he recognized the voice! He turned his head..

 

 

It sounded almost like..

 

It can’t be..!

 

But there it was again!

 

It was either the Aes Sedai, or someone very much like her.

 

He rushed around the corner, keeping his eyes watchful and his whole body ready for an attack that could come. A little ahead he saw a figure lying on the ground and as he ran forwards and coming closer, he saw that it was indeed his Aes Sedai friend in her green dress.

 

It is her!

 

He could not see anyone else about.

 

What is she doing here!? He wondered.

 

“Myrrhi!” He shouted, forgetting in his hurry to add her title, and she turned her head as he ran up to her. “Are you ok?” He asked, helping her to her feet, while at the same time looking around for any sign of danger. She replied that she was fine, but it was hard to read her face from the little light coming from the windows along the alley. She seemed just as surprised to find him there though, as he was to find her. He wondered silently what had happened to her, but the question would have to wait.

 

 

He checked again their surroundings but could not see any imminent threat anywhere. He did not feel comforted though, not in this Dark place, it was best to get her safely away as quickly as possible. “Can you walk?” He asked. She replied that she could and so he lead her carefully, silently, down the street, keeping to the Shadows as much as possible. They covered some distance, several blocks, before Elessar stopped and pulled her into the lee of an old building.

 

Looking carefully into her blue eyes, ignoring the complicated, strained and very ambivalent feelings he had inside with regards to her, he asked what she was doing there, in the Rahad, at this time of day. In such a rough and dangerous place, his eyes and voice implied.

 

And what had happened?

 

She met his eyes squarely and started to explain.

 

She had been caught unawares..

 

 

When he was finally done with his bath, feeling much fresher, he returned to his room, dressed himself and sat down on his bed to read for a while. Myrrhi was still out in the city and he had time to enjoy some of the poems from his treasured book which he always carried among his belongings. Leafing through the pages, he soon found the poem he was looking for. He knew it by heart, having read it countless times as well as having seen it performed by gleemen many times over the years.

 

The Fall of Manetheren.

 

He had often wondered what it must have been like to have lived back in those times, and as the words of history and myth swirled in his mind, it was almost as if he were back with the proud, valiant soldiers of Manetheren, resolutely fighting the Shadow.. Carrai an Ellisande!

 

 

►▼◄

Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)
 

“Carrai an Ellisande!” For the honour of the Rose of the Sun!
The Shield against the darkness, the Hammer weight to Stun.
The Sword that could not be broken. Was shattered in the End.
As valiant Manetheren, no longer could Defend.

Brave fighters of the land. Fought with pride and with Heart.
Under Red Eagle banner, they resisted Shadow’s Start.
Until Mountain Home was taken. No one came to their Aid.
Weep for Manetheren!, all their allies were Afraid.

King Aemon and his men ran to aid from Field of Blood.
Countless miles they covered, daring river huge and Flood.
Slaughtered beasts of Shadow. Crying battle cries of Might.
“Carrai an Ellisande!” echoed everywhere in Sight.

Brave warriors, brave King! They fell to Darkness’ Yoke.
When Aemon husband died, Queen Eldrene’s heart Broke.
Woe to the Shadow! With anger, grief and Pain.
An Aes Sedai of might, she struck out like Insane.

She filled herself to bursting. The Power oh so Sweet!
The Sa’angreal beside her, glowed brightly with its Heat.
She was an awesome figure. Her arms she lifted High.
And then she threw her Balefire and Storms of Lightening Nigh!

A harbinger of death. She destroyed the Shadowspawn.
The messengers of Darkness disappeared from Battle’s Lawn.
But her body came on fire. Flames of Saidar burned her Soul.
In her agony she cried out, for Manetheren, her Goal!

The destruction levelled all. Old Manetheren was Dead.
The Rose of the Sun, she was gone, it was Said.
But she would live forever. In many people’s Hearts.
And Manetheren’s bravery, is eternal in its Parts.

Oh Ellisande! Greatest Queen, we won’t Forget!
Your fight against the Shadow and the death you Met.
Mourn for Manetheren! The bravest place of All.
Honour to the Mountain Home! Your enemies shall Fall.

►▲◄

 

 

  ▀▄ 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Elessar

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The weather is warm, and Myrrhi is happy that she's now Aes Sedai. Thanks to the tricks she learned she doesn't even mind the long sleeves of her linen dress. Many shops attract her attention but the one that really pulls her out of the street - after the one where she bought her books - is the one neighboring a blacksmith workshop.

 

The small building is cute in a very strange way. It offers to the customer a series of brooches, tiaras but also daggers, knives and strange needles that can be used to pin one's hair. The Green Sedai has to use all of her willpower not to buy everything that is on display.

 

She feels particularly "called" by one of the daggers. The weapon is as long as her forearm and extremely well balanced. The blade is everything but straight. It looks like the body of a moving serpent. Its creator carved something on each of its sides, something, a word it seems. Before Myrrhi has the time to decipher it, she feels a hand on her shoulder. Immediately she turns.

 

"Can I help you, dearie?"

 

Dearie... this is certainly not the way to call an Aes Sedai. Myrrhi blushes as she raised an eyebrow.

 

"I beg your pardon?" The man standing in front of her is so strange that she loses her composure. Her voice is no where as imperious as she wants it to be. The man grins.

 

"That's a very nice dagger, very pricey as well."

 

"It is a very nice once indeed," she dryly replies. "But its shape is very unusual. I'm not sure I'd know how to fight it." The Green turns and twists her wrist.

 

"You could learn..." the man flashes his golden teeth.

 

 

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.. Another Moment of Rememberance ..

►▼◄

 

Time passed, as the afternoon wore on, and Myrrhi was still somewhere out in the city.

 

Elessar was not concerned. There was nothing fearful or threatening coming through the Bond from her, rather interest and curiosity though it was often hard to tell since emotions were often muddled. He was pretty sure that an Aes Sedai got a clearer picture of her Warders’s mood and emotions through the Aes Sedai-Warder Bond than the other way around. When he had mentioned that to Leandreen many years before, she had given him no answer, though her smile had seemed somewhat wry and secretive.

 

Elessar’s head rested on the pillow in the bed, his hands relaxed at his side, his book of poetry on the small bedside table.  His eyes were closed and he enjoyed the rest and relaxation. Thoughts of his past returned to him as they often did.

 

With all my years and experiences as a Warder, he thought, it is perhaps not so strange..

 

 

He was suddenly back in the city with the Red Sister and Myrrhi who had been an Accepted at the time.. and in his mind and memory he almost re-lived what had happened a long time ago..

 

Another Moment of Rememberance.

 

The danger..

 

Whispers of danger..

 

And Shadows..

 

..As he gazed intently into the face of the young Andoran woman, considering her words and tone, he thought that she seemed a little.. different somehow; less demure, more confident or even arrogant, more Aes Sedai-like in fact, when he came to think of it. Was it an act in front of the Red Sister? An attempt at youthful bravura perhaps? Or had she spoken to the Aes Sedai and been instructed to use a different, more direct, approach with him? He could not tell. But he noted the difference. As for her suggestion to improve his plan, he was fine with it, as long as she remained in the background. He did not approve of it if it put her at the forefront of the action to come, One Power weaves or no; that had never been his intention.

 

Using her as ‘bait’, as she had so eloquently put it, had meant having her appear in the alley for a moment so that she would be seen by the approaching men, but then having her move back into the Shadows, not putting her in any further danger. He was going to take care of this threat, and the women would - as he had told her - stay hidden in the background, only coming to his aid if it should be absolutely necessary. There was no need to endanger more of them than required. Now then, how do I explain this to her, he thought, as he met the Accepted’s unusually cold eyes, so that she understands?

 

Peering hard into the Shadows for a moment to see how far away the men were, he turned to face Myrrhi again. The Aes Sedai remained silent, her hard face never changing. He wondered, with some amusement, if it ever did. The Warder presumed, knowing Aes Sedai, that she would give him a tongue-lashing if she were sufficiently displeased by his decisions. So he focused on the younger girl. “Accepted Morrigen, on the whole it sounds like a good solution to me.” He said carefully. “However, I insist that you stay in the background, out of immediate danger; it is safest and prudent in this situation.“ He thought her eyes tightened a little at his words but he could not say for certain in the near-dark. “It is my intention to take care of this threat.” He added decisively before she could retort. “But if the opposition is stronger than expected, or if things for some reason don’t go according to plan, any assistance you”, he indicated them both, ”can provide will be very helpful. Those weaves you mention, Accepted, would then give valuable added protection.” He nodded at the knife she held, his eyes tightening slightly. “And that knife.. might come in handy as well.. but let’s hope it does not come to that..”

 

 

The looks he received gave him the impression that they were not totally happy with his final, military, decision - perhaps also because he had taken command of the situation? -  but that they would go along with it. He ignored the Aes Sedai’s constant glare as he put his plan into place. It was a pretty simple plan, actually. He went over it again in his mind. They would lure the men into a dark space by an alleyway corner, have the two women stand in the Shadows on either side and Elessar a few paces closer. Myrrhi would then appear in the alley for a few moments, just long enough to be seen by the men, before returning to her hiding place. When they came close enough, the Warder would jump them. With luck, the element of surprise would give him an added edge and would increase the chances of success. It could be all over before they knew what had hit them.. Things could also go wrong, of course. Elessar knew that from years of experience in combat situations of different kinds. Unforseen variables could influence the outcome. There might be need for improvisation or adjustments. Still, he felt fairly confident with the plan. It was simple, effective and in truth the best he could think of on such a short notice.

 

If only, he thought, they do what I have told them to..

 

The Aes Sedai did not worry him. She would have enough life experience and sound judgment to not make a stupid mistake. She might not be overjoyous at his military decision and at his assuming command, but she would see the wisdom of it even so, of that he felt fairly sure. The Accepted’s words - and the way she spoke them -  however, made him a little uncertain if she might try something unexpected.. something bold perhaps.. with good intentions but still.. dangerous. He understood well that she wanted to help out, to assist, but he did not think she was aware of the risks involved. She was young, inexperienced, and perhaps also with a wish to prove herself, also in the face of the Red Sister.. ? He could be wrong, of course, but he had seen similar behaviour and somewhat naive overeagerness and overexcitement in the eyes and faces of young men and women before in combat situation for the first time. It sometimes ended.. badly - and Elessar was going to do all he could to ensure that that did not happen here.

 

 

He directed the Accepted to one side of the dark alley and the Aes Sedai to the other and was pleased - and relieved - to see both comply. He saw them exchange a few words but could not discern them. He unsheathed his blade and crept up to the place by the corner he had chosen for himself. It was partially hidden and would give him a good view of the alley as well as the surrounding area, and thereby a better chance to improvise if things did not go according to plan. He knew indeed from experience in battle and skirmishes that the best of plans need sometimes be changed once battle commences. And though this was a danger-situation on a much smaller scale, the same principles applied. Have a plan. Carry it out. Change it if needed. Be ready to improvise.

 

He waited silently in the darkness. Soon the sound of footsteps came closer. He peered up the alley and there he saw the two men coming, as expected. There was no sign of the third man, and Elessar considered that being injured that man might very well have disappeared. The approaching men were studying the buildings and pathways they passed intently, expecting perhaps an ambush but not knowing where. That gave Elessar and the Tower women the upper hand. Soon the trap would close on them. Soon..

 

A few moments later Myrrhi appeared, as planned, in the middle of the alleyway and one of the men gave a shout, spotting her, and they hurried toward Elessar’s hiding place, with less caution in their steps just as he had hoped. The Accepted disappeared swiftly back into the Shadows - and Elessar was again relieved that she had done as he had instructed. Closer.. closer.. they were almost upon where he hid now. A few moments more…

 

And then Elessar jumped them!

 

 

With a massive leap he threw himself at the two men and his great momentum and speed carried them both crashing to the ground, with the Warder partly atop, grunting and cursing as they tried to gain their feet. The Warder was faster though. Half-crouched he smashed a fist into the head of the larger man who slammed into the stones beneath him, and landed a blow in the stomack of the second, smaller man before he could get his balance. The man stumbled backwards but kept his feet. There was an undefined sound a little further back in the alley, where the women were hiding, and as Elessar turned in that direction for a split second, the first man gained his feet and slashed at the Gaidin with his short sword which he had managed to pick up from the ground.

 

It was only a Warder’s instinct and reflexes which prevented the blade from drawing blood, he managed to twist aside at the very last moment, but he was carried off balance and had to shift his weight to regain it. As he faced the large brute, his own blade striking out, he saw from the corner of his eye the other man disregard him and move down the alley toward the Accepted and the Aes Sedai. Elessar cursed inwardly. He had expected that the two men would come at him together and try to eliminate the threat he posed before going after the women. There was nothing he could do about it now, however. He had to take care of this bigger threat. This man, a big bearded man with a long scar along his cheekbones and a weathered face, obviously had some sword skills and took advantage of his shorter, lighter sword in several attack moves aimed at the Warder. He was more proficient than Elessar had presumed - and the Gaidin had to use his experience, deftness and skill to defeat him.

 

 

He could only hope that Myrrhi and the Red Sister were able to defend against, perhaps even defeat, the other man. He was certainly armed and dangerous, but the Accepted had the knife, after all, though she had little or no experience wielding it.. And she had the One Power weaves she had mentioned. He presumed the full Sister would be even better prepared. As if conjured by his thoughts, a shout, loud curse or a scream perhaps? came from back where they hid, but he could not tell who’s voice it had been, or deduce what had happened, totally focused as he was in the calmness of the Flame and the Void.

 

One with his sword, Elessar moved back and forth, slashed and parried, and was rewarded when a deft downward swing with his longer blade drew blood from his opponent’s left thigh. The brute cursed, staggering slightly, but shrugged off the slight injury and did not show any intention of giving up. He bared his teeth at the Warder in a malicious grin and Elessar saw his hard, determined eyes mirrored in the weathered face before him..

 

 

The episode had ended well in the end.. but he had often thought of that evening, of the danger, of decisions made.. in the dark city alleyways with Myrrhi and the Red Aes Sedai.

 

It made him think now how much she had grown in the years since, both as a person and as a Sister of the White Tower.

 

Even so, he thought with a lopsided grin, some things never change.

 

It was his job to pull her out of danger.

 

Even when she did not want to.

 

Especially then.

 

Nothing is ever easy, the Warder thought wryly as he opened his eyes and picked up his poetry-book to read a final poem.

 

  ▀▄ 

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"Oh, no!" Myrrhi shakes her head. The sun is now very low in the sky, which means that she has spent way too much time in the city. She hopes that her Warder is not mad at her. She left him alone at the inn without asking him whether or not he wanted to join her, and so she's afraid that he expected her to come back after only an hour or two. 

 

The young Green presses her books against her with her right hand. With the left, she pulls her skirts high enough so that she can run. She doesn't run for long though. When she notices people looking at her, she decides to slow down. Maybe they don't recognize her as an Aes Sedai but they do see that she is not just a regular woman. From the quality of her clothes and the way her hair is braided, she could be the daughter of a rich merchant or even a lady. And the daughters of merchants or of noblemen, they don't run. They never run...

 

Taking a deep breath, she peeks through the bond. Nothing to be worried about, she tells herself a bit reassured.

 

The inn is further than she thought it would be.  The frustration makes her want to curse aloud, but again she tries to calm down. I am an Aes Sedai, I should behave as such!. 

 

When she pushes the door, she smells a wonderful mix of grilled meat and herbs. Her heart tightens. Is it dinner time already?  She wonders. She still can't judge how late it is by watching the sun. It is usually Elessar who takes care of the planning. Without the Gaidin at her side or a clock on a nearby wall, she's completely lost when it comes to guessing what the time is.

 

The inn is quite busy. Patrons fill most of the tables and seats at the bar. Since Elessar doesn't seem to be in the common room, she immediately moves towards the stairs leading to their rooms. 

Edited by Chaelca

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.. Always ready for a Surprise ..

►▼◄

 

As time passed, Elessar got restless and decided to have a training session by the stable at the back. Bringing his blade, he positioned himself before the stable, the stableboy watching from the side with huge eyes. The Warder then, enveloped in the Flame and the Void, lost himself in the Dance of the Blade.

 

Unfolding the Fan, the smooth opening move, which flowed into Low Wind Rising, a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly, followed by The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, a vertical slash starting high and which in this case altered course in midswing, paired with Tower of Morning, a verticle slash but this time beginning low and ending high.

 

Combining forms in both traditional but also often innovative ways, using all his experience and skill,  he flowed in the movements, almost as if he were outside of time and space. He varied the forms and improvised, the true sign of a master Swordsman. Finally he came to a standstill and sheathed his sword in one smooth motion, Folding the Fan.

 

Breathing heavily from the exertion, but very pleased with the workout, Elessar headed up to his room, had another quick bath to remove the sweat and stain from his body, then got dressed again and sat down to wait for his Bondholder. She was still some distance away, he felt, but he did not mind. They would soon be on their way and it might be a while before she would visit such a grand city again.

 

 

It was much later in the day when Myrrhi finally returned to the ‘Fallen Maiden’ inn. She had been gone longer than she had planned. The aroma of food, a wonderful mix of grilled meat and herbs, met her as she walked through the Common Room. The inn was quite busy, she saw. Patrons filled most of the tables and seats at the bar, but she did not see her Warder anywhere.

 

Nodding to herself, she moved toward the stairs leading to their rooms. Elessar met her outside his room, having felt through the Bond that she was returning and coming close, and they exchanged a few words and a smile before she went to enjoy a nice warm bath.

 

 

Meanwhile, Elessar went downstairs and headed out into the street to have a look around. He found a bookstore which was still open despite the somewhat late hour and went inside to check on some books. An older local man of some size with grey in his hair and questioning eyes wearing Ebou Dari attire approached him as he stood by a bookshelf considering a local book on history.

 

“May I help you, Sir?” asked the store owner, his eyes appraising the powerfully built man before him.

 

“Thank you”, Elessar replied, giving the old man a small nod. “I was looking for a book on Altaran history. I see there is one here”, he pointed at a book, “or is there an other you would recommend?”

 

The store owner swiftly produced another book on a neighbouring shelf. “I recommend this one by Ceran Telegari”, he said and handed the book to the Warder. “It has more detail and.. less speculation I would say”. He grinned slightly at his last words and Elessar grinned politely back. It could be that the man was right, but it could also be that he wanted Elessar to purchase the far more expensive book. Leafing through the book, the Gaidin found it very promising.

 

“Sir, a man of years and history such as yourself”, Elessar said smoothly with a knowing look, “I am sure you hear many things.”

 

The man looked shrewdly at the Warder. “I know some things, yes. What did you have in mind?”

 

 

Elessar shrugged. “Nothing much, my good man. I just wondered if you know if it is safe to travel by sea these days. We hear all these things..” He looked questioningly at the store owner.

 

 

The man looked speculatively back at the Warder and took a moment to consider the question. Finally he replied, another shrewd look on his face. “I am no sailor..”, he began, “..but I hear that there are storms brewing.. and the seas are not as safe as they used to be.”

 

Elessar nodded but said nothing more. He stared intensely at the Ebou Dari store owner, waiting for any additional information.

 

The man shrugged. “I know little else.” He said. “But perhaps they know more down at the quay..”

 

The Warder nodded. “I am sure you are right, my good man.” He added, “Thank you for your information.. and I’ll take this book.”

 

He nodded at the history book, the most expensive of the two, in his hand and the store owner’s smile broadened. “A good choice, Sir”, he said smoothly. “If I may say so, a very good choice indeed.”

 

 

A little later, as the darkness of evening was descending on the Altaran Capital, Elessar and Myrrhi shared a tasty meal (of grilled meat, roasted potatoes, some vegetables, gravy and herbs) in the inn’s Common Room and talked for a while. They chitchatted a bit at first but also discussed the next stage of their journey to the east. There were several alternatives but the question was what appeared the safest route - and which did they prefer? There were storms upon the oceans these days, storms of different kinds in a changing world, and it could be that travelling over land would be safer than sea-travel. Going by ship would be faster though, and they wanted to reach their destination in the east as fast as possible. They agreed that Elessar would go down to the quay the next morning and speak to some boat captains and visit some inns along the sea side and speak to sailors there to get an idea of the risks and dangers upon the Sea of Storms at the moment.

 

Afterwards, as they were enjoying a decent performance from a young southern gleeman, a letter was hand-delivered to the Aes Sedai. The well-dressed middle-aged Ebou Dari man bowed respectfully to Myrrhi, who nodded slightly back, and then left as swiftly as he had arrived.

 

Myrrhi opened the letter carefully. There was an insignia, a waxed emblem, on the back of the envelope that she did not recognize, a large A intertwined with some Oaks and a Gate, but from the style and form she understood that it had to be from Ebou Dari nobility.

 

The front of the envelope simply read

 

 

To

Myrri Morrigen, Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

 

 

What was inside, was what she was interested in.

 

Taking out the piece of paper, curiosity building within, she began to read. The letters were in a flowing script and obviously done by a woman’s hand.

 

 

Myrrhi Morrigen Aes Sedai,

 

We would like to have the pleasure of Your company.

 

There are certain matters that have come to our attention,

that it would be wise to discuss for our mutual benefit. We are

always ready to listen to the wisdom of the White Tower.

 

You are Welcome to a Social gathering and Ball we are having

at the Asnobar Manor House, Tomorrow evening at eight.

 

In deepest respect,

 

In the Light,

 

Cyrelle Miriahna Asnobar

High Lady of House Asnobar

 

 

Handing the letter to Elessar to read, an excited grin blossomed on the young Green’s face, her blue eyes sparkling intensely.

 

Her grin grew ever wider, her pulse rising, as she considered the invitation.

 

They were going to another Ball!

 

  ▀▄ 

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It is late, but the inn is as full as an egg. The patrons drink to their heart content and accompany the gleeman's songs with their voices or their hands. Myrrhi enjoys the show, the lyrics may often sound foreign but she recognizes most of the tunes. 

 

She's chatting with Elessar about one of the songs when an Ebou Dari man comes to their table. The newcomer bows respectfully before handing the Aes Sedai a letter. "Thanks you," Myrrhi says as the man already turns to leave the inn. 

 

The letter looks mysterious, and Myrrhi doesn't know who could have sent it. She's not waiting for more news from the Greens nor from any of their Eyes and Ears. Strange, she can't help but think. 

 

Elessar looks as surprised as she is. And so she decides to open the letters straight away. She could wait to be back in her rooms... but what if it is an urgent message?

 

The young woman opens the letter carefully. There's a wax emblem on its back that should indicate who the writer is, but it doesn't ring a bell to her.

 

***

 

"By the Creator! It is an invitation... to a ball!" Myrrhi shows the letter to her Warder, a wide grin on her face. "I never thought I would attend so many balls as an Aes Sedai", she squeaks. 

 

"Let me see," the Gaidin grabs the letter and quickly reads it.

 

"Now, it won't be all dances and appetizers, it seems that there are matters to discuss... " Myrrhi nods, trying to summon a more serious face. "We are to present ourselves at Asnobar Manor House, tomorrow at eight in the evening. Do you know where it is?"

 

***

 

The next day is filled with preparations for the ball and training. Myrrhi wakes up at dawn and doesn't manage to fall back asleep. The excitement for the coming event was just too strong. She quickly refreshes herself before choosing the dress she would wear for the evening.  A simple dark green dress with tight sleeves and made of silk. The bodice is ornated by series of small black orchids embroidered in the fabric. So far, she hasn't dared to wear it, black is often said to be an unsuitable colour for an Aes Sedai but today she wants to make an exception. This dress is too pretty to keep folded in her bags.

 

She doesn't put it on immediately, though. First, she dons her riding clothes, pushes some of the pieces of furniture away from the centre of the room so she can practice some of her favourite sword forms. Half an hour has passed when she hears someone knocking at her door. From what the bond tells her, she knows who her visitor is. Red comes to her cheeks as she quickly prays that the noises she has made while training - oh dear, she did curse a lot - have not pulled her Warder out of his bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. A Prelude to a Nobility Ball ..

►▼◄

 

Elessar grabbed the letter and read its content.

 

Myrrhi’s enthusiasm was still ringing in his ear and he felt some of it also through the Bond. She loves going to Balls, he thought with an amused grin, recalling well the last Ball they attended in Cairhien. Dressing up in finery, mingling with the nobility.. guess most women would love that sort of thing.

 

He looked at the name and signature in the letter and considered what he knew of Ebou Dari nobility. Which was, in fact, not much. But he did recognize the name of this noble house.

 

“So it is.” He said with some amusement. An invitation.

 

“Another Ball to enjoy, my Aes Sedai”, he said, winking at her. “Some more dancing perhaps, on a chivalrous nobleman’s arm..?”

 

She almost stuck her tongue out at him but resisted the temptation. Instead she raised her eyebrow in a very Aes Sedai-like fashion but spoiled it by a small grin she was unable to hide.

 

"Now, it won't be all dances and appetizers, it seems that there are matters to discuss... " Myrrhi added, nodding, as she tried to summon a more serious face. "We are to present ourselves at Asnobar Manor House, tomorrow at eight in the evening. Do you know where it is?"

 

 

Handing the letter back to Myrrhi, Elessar nodded to himself.

 

“No, I don’t”, the Warder replied. “But I’ll hear with the innkeeper.. I am sure he will be able to point us in the right direction.”

 

“As for House Asnobar”, he added meaningfully, “I know that is one of the major noble houses in Ebou Dar.” He mentioned some of the others, including the famous House Mitsobar, to which she only nodded. “This High Lady Cyrelle is obviously head of House Asnobar at this time.” He said.

 

“We shall see what kind of lady she is.. and if her words in that letter are honey-tongued for the opportunity and added status of having an Aes Sedai visit, or if she indeed has important matters to discuss.”

 

Their eyes met and she nodded with understanding, having of course had the same thought.

 

 

That night Elessar had a restless sleep, waking several times and his dreams filled with memories of that last Ball in Cairhien and what had happened afterwards. It was, however, somehow twisted so certain events took place in a different manner and way, also with added events that had never taken place, as often was the case with dreams.

 

When he woke in the morning, he did not feel rested in truth but be that as it may he got out of bed and washed himself and got dressed. He felt through the Bond that Myrrhi was already up next door, he felt some excitement coming through and her pulse was racing. He did not feel any danger though in those slightly muddled emotions and guessed she was perhaps having a morning-workout. This was unusual for her, he was the one who often worked out in the mornings, but it had happened on occasion.

 

 

Walking across to the small window on the far wall in his room he stared out into the Ebou Dari morning. The sun was slowly rising in a blue sky that had some patches of clouds here and there. He saw what looked like large ocean-birds in the far horizon.. it was difficult to judge size from such a distance and elevation but they seemed unsually large..; with all the strange things he had seen in his many years as a Gaidin, not the least this past year, this was simply another strange addition to a changing world. His hands on the side of the small window, he stared out at the neighbouring buildings and the side-street, which was coming to life, his mind already on the Ball they were attending that evening.

 

Increasingly he felt some agitation coming through the Bond and finally he decided to go and make sure Myrrhi was alright. He felt pretty certain that she was fine, just caught up in her arduous workout and her pursuit of competence, but it was only prudent to make sure. Stepping out of his room, he entered the corridor behind and stopped outside Myrrhi’s room. He felt her exerting herself inside. Knocking on the door, he waited for a reply.

 

“Come in, Elessar”, he heard her say from behind the door in her almost-out-of-breath voice.

 

Opening the door, he found her in her riding clothes, her cheeks redder than normal, her breath heavy, obviously having finished a sword form. He saw that she had pushed some of the furniture away from the centre of the room to have more space for her workout. Seeing that she was indeed alright, as he had suspected, he gave her a grin.

 

 

“Still eager to become another Rashima Kerenmosa, I see”, he said with kind amusement, hinting teasingly at the legendary and heavily decorated Sister of the Green, ‘the Soldier Amyrlin’, a true heroine of the White Tower and the symbol of all it means to be a Green Aes Sedai, as he closed the door behind him. She gave him a lopsided grin back. “Well, if you keep practicing those sword forms for another hundred years or so”, he added, “and gain the leadership skills to match, you may succeed one day.”

 

She saw the glint in his eyes, heard the resonance in his voice, and knew him well enough by now to know that he was not mocking her in any way, rather it was his humourous, teasing way of showing approval for her tireless efforts.

 

 

“Well, when I do”, she replied catching her breath, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement, brushing some sweat from her brow, “I will certainly need to get myself a dozen other Gaidin as well. Nothing less would do in my.. esteemed role.” Her grin widened and she enjoyed seeing his eyes widen ever so slightly for a moment before he returned her grin and gave her a small bow.

 

“First though”, she said, “I need to get myself cleaned up and have a bath.” Her eyes sparkled anew as she added, “For we have a Ball to attend this evening.. and we must look presentable. And that means you too.”

 

She enjoyed the momentary slight squirm in his face at the mention of the ball, knowing full well that he enjoyed such formal events far less than she did. “You better put on your finest, Warder of mine”, she said as her eyes twinkled but also with a serious edge. “We are the White Tower this evening.. and must impress them.”

 

 

She wore a simple dark green dress with tight sleeves and made of silk. It was elegant, Elessar thought as he looked her over. He noted that the bodice was ornated by a series of small black orchids embroidered in the fabric. It was a nice touch. He could not recall having seen her wear that dress before. He nodded approvingly as he met her eyes. “Very elegant, my Aes Sedai.” He said with a smile, a glint in his eye. “Very elegant indeed.”

 

Her blue eyes twinkled and she nodded approvingly back at him, pleased at his remark and that he had indeed put on his finest and looked rather dashing in his stylish black attire she had to admit. “You don’t look so bad yourself”, she replied with a small grin, pretty certain that he would draw the attention of more than a few noblewomen at the Ball. “Come on, let’s go and meet this High Lady.”

 

Elessar had spoken to the innkeeper earlier in the day and received directions to the Asnobar Manor House. It was, apparently, one of the largest and best known noble manor houses in Ebou Dar, situated on the western side of the Capital, and the Warder had ordered a horse-drawn carriage for them. It was too far to walk, he had surmised, and he also wanted his Aes Sedai to arrive in some state which fit the occasion.

 

Myrrhi had nodded approvingly, and she smiled now as she stepped into the carriage with her Warder right behind her. The coachman, a middle-aged Ebou Dari man with dark hair, almost hollow cheeks and a big moustache, shut the carriage-door and soon they were on their way. Four black horses pulled the carriage westwards towards the manor house, the experienced coachman keeping to the middle of the street whenever possible. Myrrhi pulled aside the carriage-curtains from time to time to look outside as they travelled, her mind at the same time at the evening’s event, her excitement growing.

 

 

Elessar’s mind was also on the coming Ball and festivities, but he was, as so often, focusing on potential dangers and how to keep his Bondholder safe. Could this invitation be a trap of some kind? Can it be? he wondered silently. He could not really fathom how it could be - they did not have any enemies in Ebou Dar as far as he knew - but with the often dangerous way nobles played Daes Dae'mar, The Game of Houses, even to some extent here in the South, one could never be certain. Remembering the intrigues and power-struggles in Cairhien, as well as the agents of the Shadow who were drawn to power everywhere, he prepared himself to be ready for anything.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Who could have guessed that practice could make an Aes Sedai suffer that much? Muscle pain is definitely not like the cold or the warmth. It can't be ignored unless one has the right herbs at her disposal or a Yellow Sister in the neighborhood. Myrrhi winces as she moves to Elessar's side.

 

If her Warder noticed how hard it is for her to walk, he doesn't show it. Instead he gallantly compliments her for her outfit. His words bring a smile to her lips. "You don't look so bad yourself," she replies. Indeed, the Gaidin looks dashing in his black attire. She's certain that he'll draw the attention of the many females present at the ball and that again she will probably feel that pang of jealousy she so desperately tries to mute.

 

Luckily, the Asnobar Manor is far enough from the inn that Elessar ordered a carriage to bring them to their destination. Myrrhi is so happy to see it waiting for them right in front of the door that she almost applauds her Warder. She doesn't go that far though, because she doesn't want to admit that she trained too hard in the morning. Instead, she only nods and smiles.

 

The Asnobar Manor is not hard to find. It is one of the biggest building on the western side of the city. Following the innkeeper's directions, Elessar and Myrrhi reach their destination right on time. Many of the guests have already arrived, but some of them are still waiting outside chatting and laughing noisily. Servants bustle around them hands filled with kegs and boxes. It seems that some of the food and drinks arrived belatedly. The Green exchange a quick look with her Warder. Late deliveries are not unheard of, but they are rare when it comes to balls or events of size of what House Asnobar has planed.

 

A young woman with red hair and freckles comes to meet them as soon as they reach the manor's entrance. Even if the newcomer wears a beautiful blue Ebou Dari dress, she's clearly a foreigner. Myrrhi can't help but hope that her lack of tan is due to the fact that she only arrived recently in the city... and not to the fact that her work prevents her to enjoy daylight.

 

The young woman introduces herself as Alyssa and invites Elessar and Myrrhi to follow her inside. The Green raises an eyebrow. Usually, people who invited them to a ball didn't scoop them away that fast.

 

The place is flamboyant. The walls and floors are painted in rich colours ranging from turquoise blue to the most shiny orange, but only some part of them can be seen as most of their surfaces are covered by carpets, tapestries, flowers or simply curtains especially brought in for the ball.

 

After crossing a couple of corridors and a very lighted courtyard, they arrive in front of a large wooden door on which blue moons have been painted. Alyssa knocks three times.

 

"Come in!" someone answers.

 

 

 

 

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.. Arrival at the Asnobar Manor House ..

►▼◄

 

They arrived at the Asnobar Manor without incident.

 

When the coachdriver opened the door to let Myrrhi step out, Elessar noted that she did so ever so slightly wearily, as if she felt stiffness in her joints. She was probably feeling her training session more than she had thought and he had observed. Elessar followed her out and remained by her side as the coach pulled away.

 

The Manor was imposing, clearly one of the biggest buildings on the western side of the city. The Warder studied it quietly as Myrrhi composed herself. Many of the guests had already arrived and were standing outside chatting and laughing noisily. Servants bustled around them, hands filled with kegs and boxes. It seemed that some of the food and drinks had arrived late. Myrrhi exchanged a quick look with Elessar. They both knew that late deliveries were not that uncommon at festivities, but rarer at official balls and events of the size planned by House Asnobar.

 

The Gaidin studied the activity with querying eyes, considering in his mind whether this anomaly, if it could be called so, was of any import. He saw from Myrrhi’s facial expression that she was considering the same. Their train of thought was interrupted then, however, as a young woman with red hair and freckles in her face wearing a beautiful blue Ebou Dari dress came to meet them as they approached the Manor’s entrance. From her somewhat pale complexion and the way she spoke, Elessar understood that she was a foreigner here just like them.

 

 

“Aes Sedai”, the young woman welcomed them on behalf of House Asnobar, bowing deeply. Myrrhi gave a small nod back as befit a Sister of the White Tower. “Gaidin”, the woman added, giving him a nod of respect which he returned. She turned toward Myrrhi then as she continued. “My name is Alyssa. Please follow me.”

 

Myrrhi raised an eyebrow, a little surprised that they were being ‘scooped’ away that quickly, but followed the young woman as they entered the large building. Her Warder walked half a step behind her, his eyes everywhere, always looking for any potential dangers, as they went further into the Manor. The place was.. flamboyant. That was perhaps the best word that could describe it. The walls and floors were painted in rich colours ranging from turquoise blue to the most shiny orange, but only parts could be seen since most surfaces were covered by carpets, tapestries or simply curtains brought in for the ball. Elessar recalled having seen Manors and smaller palaces in the same opulent style and wondered whether House Asnobar was as rich and affluent as the décor could indicate or if they only tried to make it seem so. He knew well the importance of appearance for nobles and the power-struggles of the Nobility everywhere, which included endless striving to gain power and influence with the ruling King or Queen. It would be no different here in Ebou Dar.

 

After crossing a couple of corridors, walking in silence behind the red-haired young attendant, they passed through a door and came to a very lit courtyard which they walked along before entering another door at the end. Soon they arrived at a large wooden door on which blue moons had been painted. It was a tall door of solid oak and Alyssa the attendant stopped before it. She turned sligthly to the Aes Sedai and Warder and gave a quick but respectful nod before knocking three times on the oak door. There was a short silence, then a voice behind the door answered, “Come in!” Alyssa pushed the door open, stepping swiftly through and standing to the side, allowing the Aes Sedai to enter. Myrrhi walked into the chamber beyond and saw that it was in fact an antechamber, a room that served as a waiting room and entrance to the larger ballroom behind. An Ebou Dari attendant of some stature, this one formally attired in a long golden robe and his weathered face and grey hair showing his age, gave a bow to the Sister of the White Tower and a respectful nod to her companion.

 

 

“Welcome, Myrrhi Aes Sedai”, the old man said as Alyssa was ushered out of the chamber. “I am Kaslan, Master of Ceremonies for House Asnobar.” He gave another small bow. “The High Lady will be most pleased to meet you.” Myrrhi gave a respectful nod back, smiling.

 

Elessar studied the tall staff the Master of Ceremonies held. It looked old and was heavily decorated in what looked like gold though the Warder doubted it was the real thing. It looked imposing, however, and the Ebou Dari man held it with reverence. The Master of Ceremonies turned toward the large double-door behind him. It was also decorated with the blue moons, which they took to be sigils of House Asnobar. He nodded and they followed him toward the huge door. He opened it carefully and swept through. His voice boomed out as Myrrhi stepped into the ballroom, a huge richly decorated chamber, which she now saw was partially filled with nobles in their finest.

 

“Myrrhi Morrigen, Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah!” He announced, hitting the tall staff heavily three times on the floor. All eyes in the ballroom went to the entrance.

 

The Aes Sedai swept past the old Ebou Dari man looking regal and self-assured in her beautiful green dress, as the Master of Ceremonies added her companion’s name and title. Myrrhi glided down the ballroom, head held high, past dozens of nobles who moved aside with swiftness, like a queen in her own palace, with Elessar striking an imposing Warder-figure in black a step behind her.

 

At the end of the ballroom, a small dais had an opulent chair upon which sat an Ebou Dari woman well past her middle age, with long hair and shining eyes, who wore much jewelry, a beautiful dress and a shrewd, calculating face.

 

The High Lady Cyrelle Miriahna Asnobar.

 

 

The smile she gave Myrrhi as they neared the dais was one of many undercurrents. Bowing correctly from her seated position but with the barest minimum of decorum towards the Aes Sedai, the High Lady smiled shrewdly and welcomed them to Ebou Dar and these festivities. Myrrhi nodded politely back, but as a queen would to a noble. She was Aes Sedai.

 

 

“I am glad you could accept our invitation. We are honoured by your presence, Myrrhi Aes Sedai”, the High Lady of House Asnobar said smoothly, as the nobles returned to their chatting, mingling and scheeming in the ballroom. At least that was how the Warder saw it.

 

“I hope your coming will be of mutual benefit.” The Ebou Dari woman added. “It can serve us both.”

 

Myrrhi’s smile was equally many-faceted. “So do I.”, she said, in a no-nonsense but polite voice. Her blue eyes sparkled. “The White Tower’s time is valuable.”

 

The High Lady’s black eyes glittered in response.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Even if Kaslan's face gave up his age - he must have been past fifty - his body was telling another story. The man was no stranger to daily exercise Myrrhi noted and wondered whether this was a bad sign. Usually attendants like him grew fat and lazy after a couple of years in service.

 

The air was clear though. She didn't feel any threat coming from the Ebou Dari man nor any sign of incoming danger. She patiently waited for him to finish the introductions allowing her mind to wander. What will this night bring?  I hope we'll be allowed to enjoy the festivities...

 

The bond told her that Elessar was studying the room and the Master of the Ceremonies himself. Her Warder's eyes and hers a minute later fell on the tall staff Kaslan was holding. It looked heavy and imposing, and would surely be sold for a very good price if it had been made of real gold. The Green hid a smile as the man pressed her and her Warder to follow him to another set of large doors. These like the previous ones where also decorated with the blue moons of House Asnobar.

 

Myrrhi bearly had the time to see what was beyond them that the Master of Ceremonies' voice boomed announcing their name to the audience. She managed to fight her surprise and to school her face so that she would appear like the Aes Sedai she was.

 

Three blank seconds passed, then she took her Warder's arm and glided down the ballroom head high. Her eyes swept over the faces of the guests before stopping in the occupant of the opulent chair at the far end of the room.

 

***

 

The High Lady saw herself as an equal to Myrrhi or at least as someone very close to her stature. The bow she gave and her words of welcome weren't showing the gratefulness that most of the nobles felt when an Aes Sedai positively answered to one of their invitations.

 

"I hope your coming will be of mutual benefit. It can serve us both," the High Lady said with confidence.

 

"So do I." Myrrhi's answer was polite enough not to create an incident but it indicated that what she thought of Lady Asnobar's proposal. How could a noblewoman know what an Aes Sedai needed, or what would serve her?

 

"The White Tower's time is valuable," she added aloud - then, silently and some knowledge could bring you more troubles than rewards...

 

 

 

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.. Where there is Danger ..

►▼◄

 

The High Lady Cyrelle Miriahna Asnobar was a confident woman.

 

She always got her way. One way or another.

 

As she carefully studied the Aes Sedai before her, taking in her light brown hair, blue eyes and steady look, noticing the Sister’s simple but elegant dark green silk dress with tight sleeves which fit her well, she considered how she would be able to take advantage of this.. unexpected situation.

 

She had deliberately given a bow which many Sisters would have been offended by, the bare minimum of respect that was an Aes Sedai due, just to see how this Green would react. She liked taking risks, Cyrelle did, and there was a dangerous glint in her eyes as she smiled back at the Aes Sedai’s last comment.

 

“Of course”, she replied after few moments, her hand indicating that the Sister come closer. “And my.. information”, she added softly, “is as valuable.. to the right person.”

 

Her last words were spoken almost like a whisper.

 

 

Myrrhi stared shrewdly at the High Lady but remained silent, wondering inside if this was something important or just more intrigue among the nobility.

 

“The White Tower is always ready to listen”, Myrrhi replied after a few moments silence. “As long as our time is not wasted.” Her voice hardened a little as she added the last bit, but the High Lady did not seem to take any offence.

 

“Of course, Aes Sedai”, the High Lady replied smoothly, her black eyes glittering almost with amusement, as she waved to a nearby servant.

 

She leaned forward and whispered something in the middle-aged man’s ear, then got up from the chair and asked the Sister to follow her. Myrrhi nodded, her face betraying none of her thoughts, then followed the High Lady towards a door at the back.

 

Elessar was two steps behind her, having stood a little off to the side while she talked to the Head of House Asnobar. He surveyed everything vigilantly in the way of Warders as he walked, wondering if they were heading into danger.

 

 

He felt no strong emotions coming through the Bond from Myrrhi, however, more a sense of curiosity if he read her right, and when the High Lady opened the door he followed his Bondholder through to another smaller chamber. It looked like a private library with bookshelves, a few paintings on the wall, a table with four chairs, and two outfacing windows at the end. An opulent carpet gave the room some splendour, but otherwise it was decorated in demure colours and an uncommonly neutral style. The room was empty and the High Lady bid them sit by the table. She walked slowly over to one of the shelves and picked up an old book. Leafing through the pages, she quickly found what she was looking for: a letter.Turning toward Myrrhi and Elessar, she smiled somewhat shrewdly.

 

“Ah yes, here is it is.” Her voice sounded almost mysterious, as if she had a secret to share. Putting the book aside she brought the letter to the table and sat down opposite them, the letter facing downwards. Elessar looked speculatively at the letter but remained silent. Myrrhi glimpsed once at the parchment but then stared cooly at the High Lady, waiting for her to speak.

 

The High Lady of House Asnobar studied her two ‘guests’ closely, considering how to go about this. Obviously, her information would not be given without something in return. She was not a fool, after all. No fools managed to rise to the position of Head of a Noble House - and remain there over time. At the same time it was difficult to know how to approach such a subject matter.. delicately. She did not want to insult this Green Sister, after all. To be a little.. impudent was one thing; to aggravate an Aes Sedai was something entirely different.. and not wise if she were to benefit from this situation which she found herself in.

 

 

She chose her words with care, taking her time to get to the point.

 

“The Noble Houses of Ebou Dar go on about their own business”, she began, “interfering as little as possible with each other’s activities. Unless we compete for attention from the rulers of the land, of course” she added as if that was obvious considering her station, “or hope to gain some advantage in our game for power.” The High Ladty met Myrrhi’s eyes squarely. “I am sure it is the same up North.”

 

She could have meant up north in Andor, Cairhien and even in the Borderlands, but Elessar was pretty sure she also meant in the White Tower with the various Ajahs in their own Game of Houses. Myrrhi gave no hint either way and continued staring back at the High Lady with a neutral face.

 

“But now and again a matter arises when the competing Houses see a mutual benefit of cooperation and decide to work together”, High Lady Cyrelle ended, “and this is such a time.”

 

Elessar felt a touch of impatience coming through the Bond from Myrrhi, but her smooth face showed nothing of her feelings, as she waited patiently for the High Lady to come to the point.

 

 

“This is a matter that I.. we.. feel is of great interest, and importance, also to the White Tower”, the Noblewoman added smoothly though her voice changed slightly as she spoke. “And the White Tower’s.. gratefulness.. will be appreciated.. in the Light.”

 

The High Lady stopped there, to gauge Myrrhi’s reaction to her words.

 

The Aes Sedai stared somewhat sharply back. “Let us first hear what you have to offer”, she said pointedly, “before we talk of any.. gratefulness.. in the Light.”

 

The High Lady managed a blush in response which impressed Elessar with its obvious falseness. Her features smoothed quickly, however, and she gave a polite and respectful nod to the Sister of the White Tower.

 

“Of course, Aes Sedai”, she replied sleekly. “I was not insinuating anything improper.” Her eyes went to the letter before her and her face took on a more serious expression. A touch of uncertainty showed in her eyes as she faced the Sister again, or at least that was Elessar’s impression. He wondered if she were, in truth, not as calm and collected as she (had) seemed.

 

 

“You see..”, she began a little hesitantly, “we have been warned of.. danger.”

 

The High Lady’s face betrayed little, but Myrrhi and Elessar both noted the cautiousness in her voice. “Not that we are unaccustomed to danger here in the South..”, she pointed out with determination and a harder edge, “.. but this matter is of a.. different kind than we are used to.”

 

There is some fear in her, the Gaidin thought to himself as he studied the Noblewoman, though she is trying hard to hide it.

 

Turning the letter around so that it faced upwards, High Lady Cyrelle held it loosely in her hand as she went on. Elessar saw flowing script of letters on the parchment but was unable to read what it said from where he sat. Myrrhi glanced at the letter anew but said nothing. The High Lady’s voice filled the chamber.

 

“We have been warned..”, she said, “that three Heads of Ebou Dari Noble Houses will be assassinated by the next full moon.”

 

The High Lady’s voice tightened as she added,

 

“Assassinated by.. Darkfriends.”

 

 

There was a long silence as Myrrhi and Elessar exchanged a look, then Myrrhi nodded towards the letter on the table.

 

The Noblewoman handed her the letter in silence, looking away.

 

Though some in the South were distinctly skeptical of Aes Sedai, some even thought of them as Darkfriends, High Lady Cyrelle had always believed the White Tower, despite its many faults, a bastion of the Light which hunted the Shadow wherever it was found. The Aes Sedai’s hardened eyes as she was informed that there could be Darkfriends involved, reinforced the High Lady’s belief.

 

While Myrrhi read, Elessar studied the High Lady anew. The Noblewoman was facing one of the windows, her face stern but steady. He judged though that her appearance hid her intermingled feelings: a mixture of fear, caution, excitement and cunning. No matter the danger involved, a Head of a Noble House would always look for an advantage to - and gain from - any situation, for herself and for her House. This was inherent - inbred - in all Nobility from Elessar’s year-long experience. There was no reason to believe this High Lady was any different.

 

He finally turned his gaze from the Noblewoman to his Bondholder but her face - and emotions through the Bond - showed nothing as she read the letter. Some moments later she finished reading and handed the letter to Elessar to read, her eyes noncommittal.

 

The letter was addressed to: the Heads of the Noble Houses.

 

He studied the flowing script carefully - was it in a woman’s hand? - taking in its message.

 

 

The Shadow is Rising in Ebou Dar.

 

This is a warning.

 

Before the next full moon, three Heads of Ebou Dari Noble Houses will be assassinated by Darkfriends..

 

..Minions of the Shadow.

 

Yes, they are among us, hiding in the mists and darkness, ready to spring.

 

Take whatever precautions you can.

 

It can be costly not to do so.

 

You have been warned.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

In the Light,

 

 

-a Kindred Spirit

 

 

  ▀▄ 

 

 

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So many books, Myrrhi was tempted to have a look at the shelves, to touch the leather covers and to see whether this library might contain stories she hadn't read yet. Unfortunately this was not the place nor the time to listen to the little voice pressing her to succumb to her curiosity.

 

The High Lady was studying her guests, proud of the letter she had placed on the table between them.

 

The Green could see what was happening in the High Lady's head. It was easy to see that the woman liked to be in charge and to impose her will. She'll surely want a reward, a good one... but she doesn't want to appear like a beggar.

 

"The Noble houses of Ebou Dar go on about their own business, interfering as little as possible with each other's activity," she started. "Unless we compete for attention from the rulers of the land, of course, or hope to gain some advantage in our game for power. I am sure it is the same up North."

 

Myrrhi fought not to exchange a quick glance with Elessar. What does she mean, she wanted to ask her Warder. There were many places up North. Camelyn, the Borderlands, the White Tower. Was the High Lady trying to send a personal message to one of them? Even if it was the case, the Aes Sedai hoped she'd get to the point.

 

"But now and again a matter arises when the competing Houses see a mutual benefit of cooperation and decide to work together and this is such a time. This is a matter that I ... we ... feel of great interest, and importance also to the White Tower.... And the White Tower's ... gratefulness... will be appreciated ... in the Light."

 

At last the High Lady stopped talking. Myrrhi still didn't know what this was all about which highly frustrated her. She felt Cyrelle's eyes on her, trying but failing to gauge her reaction.

 

"Let us first hear what you have to offer, before we talk of any... gratefulness... in the Light."

 

It was an ordeal not to roll her eyes. The High Lady summoned a blush that slightly reddened her cheeks. This one should be an actress...  Myrrhi innerly shook her head as she heard her host's reassurances. The woman gave a quick and fake-sounding apologize before looking at the mysterious letter.

 

 

***

 

"We thank you for bringing this to us," Myrrhi replied with a face as smooth as ancient marble. "As well as for tonight's invitation. Unfortunately, we can't stay much longer as you surely understand. An Aes Sedai duties often prevents her to enjoy events like the magnificent ball you are holding today."

 

The High Lady's eyes grew as big as saucers. She hadn't expected such a reaction from her guests. She slowly opened her mouth either to beg the Aes Sedai and her Warder to stay longer, or to tell what they thought of the letter but the Green didn't leave her the chance to utter a word.

 

"We will see each other soon. Again, we thank you." Myrrhi turned and glided to the door happy to feel her Warder right behind her. She gave polite nods to the people she passed on her way to the exit. It was hard to stay silent, she wanted to discuss the whole thing with her Warder but didn't dare to, not when they weren't sure that people could eavesdrop on them.

 

The Green waited for them to be back at their inn to ask Elessar what his opinion on the letter. They had chosen to retire to the Warder's bedroom instead of risking the common room. Even if it was half empty at this hour it was hard to know what were the patrons true intent. Before sitting comfortably on a chair facing her Warder's bed, Myrrhi summoned enough wards to make sure no one would know what they were talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Saving important Deliberations for a private Moment ..

►▼◄

 

“We thank you for bringing this to us," Myrrhi replied with a face as smooth as ancient marble.

 

She added that they appreciated that evening’s invitation, but that unfortunately they could not stay much longer. She said she were sure the High Lady understood. Seeing High Lady Cyrelle’s eyes growing as big as saucers, Elessar was pretty sure the woman did not understand at all, or at least was supremely disappointed with the turn of events.

 

And it was true, the High Lady had certainly not expected such a reaction from her guests. As Myrhi added that an Aes Sedai’s duties often prevents her to enjoy events like the High Lady’s ‘magnificent ball’ as she called it, High Lady Cyrelle’s mouth slowly opened as if to reply, possibly to beg them to stay longer - Elessar thought - or at least give their views on the letter and the danger it represented.

 

Myrrhi, however, did not give her a chance to utter a word.

 

"We will see each other soon.” The Aes Sedai said, her voice smooth. “Again, we thank you."

 

 

Myrrhi turned and glided to the door, happy to feel her Warder right behind her. Elessar gave a polite nod to the High Lady of House Asnobar - whose face was one of shock but also with a hint of growing anger, feeling no doubt that she had received none of the ‘gratefulness’ either she had expected - as he followed his Bondholder out the door.

 

He was, in fact, a little surprised that Myrrhi had ended the conversation with the High Lady so abruptly - they could, perhaps, have tried to get more information out of her before leaving - but he trusted his Aes Sedai’s instincts and judgment, and sensed and understood that this matter of possible Darkfriends in Ebou Dar was so important that Myrrhi wanted to talk to him about it quickly - and privately.

 

Walking a step behind and to the side of her, he watched her give polite nods to the people - nobles mainly - they passed on their way to the exit. She gave no hint of it, but he knew she was disappointed that she would have to forego the Ball, the dancing and all - she had looked forward to it - but this matter was more important, more urgent and rightly so. He felt some impatience in her through the Bond as they stepped outside and guessed she was eager to discuss this new development with him, but it would be safest to wait until they were back at the inn.

 

 

They swiftly returned to the ‘Fallen Mermaid’ inn, their coachdriver making good speed with the horse-driven carriage through the streets of Ebou Dar, and decided to retire to Elessar’s bedroom to talk. They did not want to risk the Common Room and unfriendly ears picking up on their conversation. Even if the Common Room was half empty at this hour, and the remaining customers seemed lost in conversations and beer, it was prudent to take no chances. They arrived at his bedroom and the Warder held the door open for his Aes Sedai to enter. Taking a quick look down the corridor, he closed it behind them. She seated herself comfortably in a chair facing Elessar’s bed and though he could not sense anything happening he knew she was putting Saidar-wrought Wards in place to ensure no one was eavesdropping on them. Better safe than sorry indeed.

 

Elessar sat down on his bed and faced his Bondholder. Finally she met his eyes.

 

“Soo..”, she whispered, her blue eyes emitting a dangerous gleam. “Darkfriends again.”

 

Elessar looked back at her and nodded.

 

“So it seems”.

 

There was a hard edge to his voice, as always was the case when Darkfriends and Minions of the Shadow were spoken of. Myrrhi knew how much he hated the Shadow - he had spoken of it many times in the time she had known him.

 

 

 

“Perhaps it is no surprise that we come across Darkfriends here in Ebou Dar as well”, Elessar said clenching his fists. “They are everywhere these days, hiding in the Shadows..” He paused and his dark eyes tightened. “These are dangerous times.” She nodded, her blue eyes mirroring his.

 

“That being said”, the Warder added cautiously, “we don’t really know the situation here. With the letter and all.”

 

He unclenched his fists but his seated posture was still rigid.

 

“It could be a fake, the whole matter could be an attempt to.. lure us into something here, something that is not our business. Nobles, as we know well, love playing their Games of intrigue and power.. often dangerous ones at that.”

 

He stared thoughtfully past Myrrhi for a moment, his eyes going to the small window which only showed darkness at that hour, as if trying to penetrate the shadows for truth. Then he met her eyes again.

 

“One thing though I am pretty certain of”, he said in a careful voice. “High Lady Cyrelle believes the danger is real. Though she hid it pretty well, I noticed there was some fear in her eyes as she spoke.. and I think her appeal for help in the matter was genuine.”

 

He remained silent then, waiting for Myrrhi to share her thoughts.

 

 

Outside, amidst soft winds blowing from the north-west, a blanket of Darkness enveloped the city of Ebou Dar, the southern Night cloaking the Light.

 

  ▀▄ 


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"There was a female channeler at the party, she was close enough for me to feel her. She didn't use Saidar for long, just a fraction of a second, as if something or someone had frightened her out of her wits." Myrrhi took a deep breath. "I know we could have stayed longer to get more information out of the High Lady... but she was on her grounds, surrounded by her people. If she's really scared of something, we'll have better result interrogating her when she least expects it."

 

The young Green toyed with her hair, gathering them in a bun that she let go after a while.

 

"I just don't want to play her little game. Straight answers are the best if we face a big threat, don't you think?"

 

What she had felt earlier that night was truly annoying. Who was that mysterious channeler? An Aes Sedai? If it was the case, then she and her Warder would probably have an ally to count on. If it wasn't ... then it was better for them to think about the worst.

 

Myrrhi had no doubt she could defeat one fellow user of Saidar. Defeating two would be hard work, but possible. Defeating three was a completely different story. She would have to rely on Saidar but also on another set of skills. Like the ones she had learned from her Warder. Females who didn't want to soldier were seldom trained in the art of sword fighting by men as good as the Gaidin.

 

Her hand slowly brushed the little dagger she had hidden under her skirts nicely tucked against her thigh. She would have to keep it close. Already her mind envisioned the set of weapons she would  carry the next day. A dagger in each boot, one on her hip.  Her throwing skills were a bit rusty but she would train them before going to sleep. She promised it to herself.

 

The fact that the Power had flared only to disappear again led to a thousand different scenario.

 

 

 

 

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.. Difficult times, Difficult choices ..

►▼◄

 

"I just don't want to play her little game.” Myrrhi added. “Straight answers are the best if we face a big threat, don't you think?"

 

Her blue eyes met Elessar’s dark brown and stayed for a few seconds, then she looked away as if she were in deep thought about the matter.

 

 

A little while before, she had explained to her Warder that she had sensed another female channeler at the party. She said that the woman had not used Saidar for long, just a fraction of a second, but long enough for Myrrhi to recognize it. Her description of the incident had brought a pensive look to Elessar’s eyes. Myrrhi had added that she knew that they could have stayed longer to get more information out of the High Lady, but had felt they could get more and better answers out of her on.. safer ground. Elessar had nodded, understanding her reasoning.

 

Considering his Aes Sedai’s words now, and what she had explained before, Elessar rested his eyes on the swordblade by his side. Would it be necessary to use it soon, he wondered?

 

Not meeting her gaze, he replied. “Yes.. and no.” Myrrhi raised an eyebrow, in a very female - and very Aes Sedai-like - fashion - but said nothing in response, waiting for him to elaborate.

 

“Straight answers are best”, he added carefully, “but often answers are hidden, is my experience, and need.. coaxing.. to appear. We could have worked harder on the High Lady.. but maybe like you say, we will have more success if we do so in a place of our time and choosing.”

 

Myrrhi looked at her Warder as if attempting to gauge whether there was any disagreement or criticism in his words, but she saw and felt only honesty in and from him. She nodded in silence.

 

“What you say about this.. other female channeler”, he added, “makes the situation even more.. intricate.”

 

 

He chose his next words with care, knowing that all Aes Sedai were somewhat.. touchy when it came to outsiders (anyone not Aes Sedai) talking about Ajah-intrigues and.. competitiveness.

 

“We presume it was an Aes Sedai”, he began, “who may be of some assistance.. but perhaps not, perhaps she was on business of her own..” Myrrhi’s face remained smooth as he spoke, a beacon of seeming neutrality.

 

“Now I recall”, he added, “Leandreen telling me years ago about.. competition between the Ajahs and having different.. interests.. She did not say much about it, it was Aes Sedai-business she said, but mentioned that much when I had pestered her about it for a while.”

 

A grim smile came upon his lips for a second, in fond but also somber rememberance.

 

“I therefore assume that it could be that this other Sister is not necessarily someone we can count on. Even in these potentially dire straits.”

 

If she was a Sister of the White Tower at all.

 

Elessar knew there were other female channelers as well abroad, among them Windfinders of the Sea Folk whom he had met himself years before on a mission for the White Tower with his Bondholder at the time, Carys of the Yellow Ajah. Why a Windfinder should find herself on land, at a party for noblemen- and women, though was not easy to understand for him. They seemed tied to their ships and the open ocean in more ways than one.

 

 

Myrrhi stared thoughtfully at him for a long moment, thinking about what he had said, then she turned around and stared out the small window into the evening-darkness beyond.

 

It is always a question of who we can trust, she thought to herself as she placed her hands on the windowsill and gazed pensively out at the blanketing dark covering the southern coastal city of Ebou Dar.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Sleep didn't come easily that night, probably because none of them had come up with a plan. Myrrhi could hardly hide herself to another channeler and her whole behaviour - the way she talked, the way she moved or glared sometimes at people - would definitely give her away would she face someone acquainted to other Aes Sedai.

 

She also felt quite guilty for leaving the party so early. She knew that Elessar would have wanted to stay longer, to gather more information either from their host, either from her guests or maybe both.

 

I screwed this up, she said aloud. The bedroom was dark but not so that she couldn't see the poor pieces of furniture around her. The dress she has placed on a faraway chair looked like a bizarre monster ready to jump on her. The trees on the other side of the shutters made her feel like someone was spying on her. She would see shadows moving from in between the planks of wood.

 

Why am I so scared all of a sudden?

 

She picked up her cover and wrapped it around her. Part of her wanted to go look for the innkeeper and order a big cup of tea full of honey, the other wanted her to man up and shut her eyes once again. How would she be able to defend herself if she was exhausted?

 

As it had become a reflex she peered through the bond. There was nothing there to worry about. Elessar was quiet and calm. Was he asleep? It was hard to tell. Even when he was sleeping he was aware of his surroundings. It was as if he was going through a phase of semi-consciousness as soon as he hit his pillow, which had always impressed impressed her. The young Green had a very deep sleep.

 

The floor on the other side of her door gently creaked. Warmth flashed through her body. Another creak made her open herself to Saidar. She didn't dare to move though. Old buildings creaked, and three cats lived in this one. How silly would she appear if she'd start to channel at no-existing threats?

 

What is happening to you Myr? She asked herself.

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.. The Equinox of Fear ..

►▼◄

 

What is happening to you Myr? She asked herself.

 

 

There was another creak in the floorboard outside in the hallway.

 

Myrrhi held onto Saidar, fear spreading through her. Not just concern, but fear.

 

She had no idea why it was so; she had the One Power, Elessar was nearby and she was Aes Sedai for crying out loud!

 

She did not understand it and it made her angry.

 

Another creak.. and she considered moving.. but she did not dare.

 

It was probably nothing, she told herself.. unconvincingly.

 

 

In the next room Elessar woke from his half-sleep. He had been in that half-sleep, half-awareness state that Warders were so good at. It was a kind of light sleep or slumber where one could dream but most often just rested, instantly aware though if there was any danger close by.

 

A feeling through the Bond from Myrrhi made him open his eyes. The feeling was one of concern.. perhaps even fear though he did not expect that emotion from his Bondholder. She was made of sturdy stuff, despite being young for an Aes Sedai, and he seldom thought she was afraid of anything. Concerned and wary perhaps, yes. Scared? Not really. Now he felt something more than concern from her though.

 

He stepped out of his bed, quickly put on his shirt and pants and moved silently toward the door. There was a creak in the floorboard from the hallway outside.

 

It could, of course, just be the wooden boards adjusting as wood in old houses sometimes did.. but then again it could be something else..

 

Or rather.. someone else..

 

His swordblade was in hand as he softly, silently pushed the doorknob down and opened his door. The feelings of concern through the Bond rose and the Warder opened himself to the Flame and the Void, entering that state of emptiness and cold focus which enabled all his senses to function at their optimum.

 

Another creak..

 

Peering into the dark corridor, adrenaline flowing through his veins, Elessar saw slight movement outside Myrrhi’s door. His eyes became gradually accustomed to the darkness and he studied the shadows, looking for the possible threat.

 

 

Through the Bond, Myrrhi felt Elessar move from his bed. He was definitely awake now. Her attention went to the door again.. she was almost expecting the doorknob to move.

 

The door was closed, she knew, but even so she remained where she was, almost paralyzed by indecision..

 

She hated the feeling.. but was helpless to do anything about it.

 

Another creak..

 

 

Peering into the darkness, Elessar took a soundless step into the corridor.

 

Holding onto his blade, he readied himself to act.

 

A small movement outside Myrrhi’s door..

 

A shadow among shadows..

 

Elessar was a miniscule moment away from leaping toward whatever or whoever threatened outside his Aes Sedai’s door when..

 

Another small movement..

 

 

Myrrhi felt Elessar moving into the hallway and her pulse rose further.

 

She considered whether to act or to wait..

 

Perhaps Elessar would handle whatever threat there was.. if there was any?

 

But perhaps he would need help..

 

Her indecision tore at her..

 

Holding onto Saidar and almost ready to act.. she suddenly heard added movement and a sound..

 

 

Just as the Warder began his movement forwards, carrying his momentum into whoever was in the blackness outside Myrrhi’s door, the shadow detached itself from the shadows around..

 

A sound erupted from the black creature’s mouth..

 

Tiny globes of half-light where its eyes were..

 

And it leapt straight at Elessar!

 

He jumped in spite of himself, a gasp of surprise! escaping his lips .. his dark eyes widening..

 

 

In her room, Myrrhi heard Elessar’s gasp of surprise.. and she was halfway out of her bed when she heard a strange sound.. what almost sounded like.. chuckles coming from the hallway.

 

Her eyes widened.

 

 

It was only as the creature sped past him with a feral scream, that the Warder realized that the intruder, their dangerous foe this dark and creepy night, was in fact.. the innkeeper’s huge black cat Scatterbits.

 

Chuckles of mirth escaped his lips and he shook his head, his pulse slowly going down.

 

Dangerous foe indeed!

 

The cat had disappeared down the corridor and would probably not return. At least not at once. Perhaps it had been terrified of the lurking giant with a deadly blade standing there in the dark corridor. Or perhaps it had just been amused that this human creature would be interested in his, Scatterbits’, nightly hunt for mice in the deserted hallways of the inn. Who knew the thoughts of cats.. They were, after all, Masters of the Universe.

 

Still chuckling wryly to himself, the Warder knocked softly on Myrrhi’s door and when he heard her say enter, he opened the door and stepped inside. Myrrhi had swiftly pulled on her dress and stared back at him, a candlelight on a small table in the background flickering, giving off some light. She had not let go of Saidar yet.. just in case.. though Elessar could not feel this, though he suspected it seeing her uncertain facial expression in the semi-light.

 

“No danger, all’s fine”, he said at once, wanting to put her at ease. “It was just the innkeeper’s huge black cat.”

 

 

Myrrhi relaxed somewhat though her eyes were wider than usual. So it was one of the cats, she thought to herself, as she tried to settle her emotions. A small chuckle escaped her lips but she thought it sounded forced.

 

“That huge monster weighs a ton though”, Elessar added with some wry amusement, “I think it is the largest housecat I ever saw, so it’s not strange that creaks in the floorboard made by Scatterbits were heard by us both.”

 

“I know..” Myrrhi began, trying to explain her complicated emotions. “But I still felt..”

 

She was unable to complete the sentence. She bit her lip, not wanting to admit to her fear.

 

Elessar understood though, seeing her face and her blue eyes which still had a touch of anxiety.

 

 

“You are probably just wary, that is all”. Elessar said with empathy. “With all that’s going on, these Darkfriends that are said to be around and everything, it’s no wonder one gets a bit on edge.”

 

Studying Myrrhi’s face though, she seemed to him frustrated at the way she had reacted, perhaps even surprised; that was his impression but he could be wrong, it was not easy to tell. It did make him a little concerned although he did not speak his mind. She was hardened as most Aes Sedai, and in their time as Bonded in the Light they had seen some tough times, but they were only human and sometimes it could all become a little too much. He wanted to assure her, but was unsure how to do so in a way that would be productive to the situation, so he kept silent.

 

She gave him a small smile as if to say don’t worry and he returned the smile, giving her a small nod in return.

 

 

Humour was, in Elessar’s experience, often the best medicine in somewhat vulnerable, awkward situations like this.

 

With that in mind, he said with a lopsided grin: “They will make a story of this fearsome encounter one day, you know”. He said. “How the valiant Warder and brave Aes Sedai of the White Tower were scared out of their wits by the ferocious Beast of Darkness one night in an Ebou Dari-inn.”

 

Myrrhi could not help herself and a grin began to grow on her face.

 

“We will certainly disavow any such knowledge of said encounter.” Elessar added with undisguised mirth. His grin broadened. “It surely had to have been an erratic Blue with her Warder, no doubt about it!”

 

They shared amused chuckles, swept up in the hilarity of his comments - and it made the somewhat awkward moment a little easier to bear.

 

  ▀▄ 

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A noise like she has never heard before pulls her out of her paralysis. Immediately her hands start moving guiding the threads of Earth she just channeled to create some kind of elemental armour around her shaking body. The Weave is not one she learned in the White Tower but one she read about in a dark Ebou Dari library. She has never practiced it before and the uncertainty about its efficiency leaves a sour taste in her mouth. Still, she crosses her fingers hoping it would be enough protect her against the mysterious intruder. Then... something completely unexpected happens. Chuckles. Her warder is actually chuckling! A flash of anger courses through her veins. Is he kidding me? Was he making some kind of sick joke? Or... maybe he's become mad and this creature has terrifying powers.

 

The questions slowly filling her skull make her forget about her fears. Curiosity pushes to step to the other side of the room a shawl - not her Aes Sedai one but a large square of Green wool that sometimes doubles as a blanket - on her shoulders.

 

"Is everything alright?" she croaks but the Gaidin doesn't answer.

 

Her hand moves towards the door know. "Elessar?" she tries again. Her voice is way too low, she knows it. There is no way someone would hear her on the other side of the wooden panel that faces her.

 

The knock on her door surprises her but not for long. They are so soft that they definitely can't be the sign of any incoming danger.

 

"Enter," she says - louder this time - after having pulled on a dress . Her Weave is still active though. Better safe than sorry is after all her new motto.

 

“No danger, all’s fine”, Elessar says at once, wanting to put her at ease. “It was just the innkeeper’s huge black cat.”

 

The innkeeper's cat? Really? Myrrhi doesn't dare to say anything. She feels stupid, completely stupid, for having reacted that way because of a silly cat. I should hide myself. How will my Warder think of me as a real warrior if I get scared that easily. A quick peek into bond partially reassures her. The Gaidin is amused but he doesn't seem to feel ashamed or angry.  Relief brings a small smile to her lips.

 

***

 

It takes the young Green quite some time to feel at ease. She tries to pay attention to Elessar's words but her mind pulls her back to the mysterious cat and the strange fear she felt. Life in the Tower is a sheltered one. A Novice is supposed to stay on the Tower grounds and an Accepted never ventures very far. Her first real mission that really made her travel was given to her only after her raising and that was not that long ago. Am I still a child, she wonders. It is hard for her not to start doubting about her skills, the small experience in the field she now has.

 

After all, even after her Oarths, the Greens insisted on making her going through even more trainings and lessons. It was like all the years she had spent as a Novice or as an Accepted didn't count. She felt very humiliated by these extra requirements. They were supposed to create an extra bond between the Green Sisters but where are these Sisters now? She has not met any for ages, except during that rescue mission. She sighs.

 

Dark thoughts slowly gathers but they don't stay for long. As if the Gaidin know exactly what is going on inside of her brain, he finds way to make her smile, then chuckle and grin.

 

"Thanks my Gaidin," she eventually says. "This means a lot to me."

 

 

 

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.. An Element of Reality: Part 1 ..

►▼◄

 

Lightning flashed across the heavens!

 

And thunder crashed..

 

.. shaking the world in its inner folds, as the mounts bearing Oceans of Green Ajah Sisters to War, their green cloaks streaming behind them, and a hundred Warders or more at their side, thundered across the barren lands of the Blight!

 

Before them awaited a Battlefield of Death, but they rode on proudly, strongly, unyieldingly, the vanguard of the main White Tower Forces, their Battle Ajah banners held high, ready to fight for the Light and destroy the Shadow in this long prophesized Last Battle!

 

Tarmon Gai'don!

 

Opposing forces of Dreadlords, Darkfriends, Trollocs and Myhrdraal in uncountable numbers met them head on, like an avalanche of Darkness, and the Power unleashed as swords clashed with swords and fires of the One Power crashed in the skies above made the earth tremble in its heart.

 

This was what they had trained for.. what they had lived for.. what the Green Ajah, of all the various Ajahs of the White Tower, had always stood in readiness for.. and for Myrrhi and Elessar too, amid the Green Aes Sedai horde, this was the culmination of their existence.

 

Elessar’s blade was raised high as he screamed proud and fierce battle cries of Kandor, his nation of origin, and Myrrhi’s blue eyes sparkled as never before, her whole face elated and so filled with determination and steely purpose that it almost shone. Finally the time had come!

 

Finally!!

 

 

Galloping into the horde of Evil, the Kandori Warder’s sword sliced into a trolloc as he passed and almost removed it’s arm. His warhorse, trained for battle, stormed into the melee and trampled a Darkfriend in the passing as Elessar’s blade struck out at more foes, left and right. Balls of fire streamed across the skies, Dreadlords hurling them at the Aes Sedai who deflected them using various combat weaves and who retaliated with deadly lightning bolts that struck down amid the Forces of the Shadow.

 

Several trollocs exploded before him, blood and guts and bodyparts raining down on him as he rushed by, his sword moving in another arc to behead a brute of a Darkfriend who tried to thrust his sword into Stormbreaker’s side. The evil minion managed to duck just in time, the Warder’s sword cutting the air above him, but then he was destroyed by a Green Sister’s deadly weave of the One Power.

 

A little further ahead a trolloc with its animal snout suddenly stepped into the horses’ path and swung its huge battle-axe in an arc and smashed in the face of an oncoming Warder, but was then engulfed in flames from a furious, screaming Aes Sedai who threw lightning bolts at the trolloc until it was utterly destroyed. The Aes Sedai, a tall, regal woman with flowing hair the colour of flame, threw herself into a cluster of nearby Shadowspawn, leaving Death in her wake.

 

 

Across the Battlefield there was Death and Screams.

 

Flames ablaze.

 

Also Sisters of the White Tower and Warders were slain, mostly by Dreadlord attacks but also by Myhrdraal and trollocs when they were simply overwhelmed by numbers.

 

Blood filled the barren slopes of the Blight.

 

A Sea of Blood.

 

An Ocean of Death.

 

 

Myrrhi, in the middle of the Chaos, hurled Flames of Saidar at an oncoming Myhrdraal and it’s black flowing cloak came afire with deadly shrieks. She deflected weaves hurled at her by Dreadlords some way off, shielding herself and her Warder, and used all her learned combat weaves to fight the Shadow.

 

Another Green Sister, a blond-haired aged Andoran woman with a short temper, threw a fireball towards a cluster of trollocs and Myhrdraal and saw to her great satisfaction that they screamed and howled in death. Her three Borderlander Warders raised their fists high in the air, crying out in celebration of their Aes Sedai’s successful strike, then swung their swords at the attacking trollocs.

 

The earth then exploded off to the left, several paces away from Myrrhi and Elessar, and an Aes Sedai, a dark-haired Sister unknown to her, fell screaming to the ground while her Warder threw himself from his galloping horse, rolled and came to a sudden stop beside her. She lay still on the ground, her life force quickly pouring out of the huge hole in the middle of her chest. Her Warder held her close, his eyes wide..

 

.. and soon, very soon, those Warder’s eyes were filled with death.. and wrath..unending wrath..

 

Death!! I will destroy them all!!

 

He slowly closed his Bondholder’s dead eyes, kissed her forehead a final goodbye, brushed his silent tears away, then turned and with fury and almost madness in his eyes and a feral scream escaping his lips he almost decapitated the oncoming Darkfriend before throwing himself into the nearest cluster of trollocs, uncaring of his own life, his soul crying out for vengeance, for death.. for oblivion.. his blade swinging in deadly arcs time and again, becoming the deadliest Shadow among Shadows..

 

 

Elessar, his side bloodied but not lethally, fought the Shadowspawn from atop his warhorse, his sword rising and falling with deadly precision, but the path of Death swerved away from his Bondholder and.. suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Elessar saw - almost as if in slow motion, time slowing down - Myrrhi scream and fall out of her saddle some way off to his side.

 

It happened so quickly that he barely had time to react - was it a lethal weave aimed at her? - as he shouted in her direction and then turned Stormbreaker sharply toward her. A few moments later - but it felt like an eternity - he was beside her, dismounting hurriedly and throwing himself to the ground beside her. The battle crashed on around them, the skies filled with fire and lightning, but for Elessar it was if the whole world was gone. All that was left was Myrrhi. She was all that mattered to him right then.

 

Shouting worriedly to her if she was allright, looking for any signs of injury though she lay on her side and it was difficult for him to tell, he took her in his arms and cradled her to his chest. She looked paralyzed, her body limp, her pulse slowing.. and she only stared up into his dark brown eyes, a solitary tear running down her cheek.. then another.. her eyes sad.. oh so sad..

 

She tried to speak.. a whisper to him.. but no words came forth..

 

Oh Myrrhi! Elessar thought, his soul dying.

 

His heart bled tears.

 

He held her close.

 

In the Storm of Death around him, he was alone.

 

Oh, my Myrrhi..

 

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.. An Element of Reality: Part 2 ..

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Elessar crashed out of the Dream with sudden abruptness, his eyes wide and hurting, his heart beating hard and his pulse racing, sitting quickly upright in bed, as he tried to get his bearings!

 

What..!?

 

 

Staring wildly around him, cold sweat running down his back, it took some moments to realize it had all been a dream.

 

The same dream!.. he thought as he tried to calm his heavy breathing. The same one.. again!.

 

There was no doubt.

 

He shook his head trying to get the screams and crashing sounds of battle out of his mind.

 

The same one..

 

Those few words echoes in his mind..

 

 

The room was dark and through the small bedroom window to the side on the wall he could see that it was still night outside. This was Ebou Dar. Their inn. This was real.

 

Of course.

 

Some of the tension left his muscles.

 

He remembered his reactions when he had had this incredibly intense dream the first time - so vivid in every little detail.. in smell, sight, colour, sound and touch. It had been in Cairhien, if he remembered correctly, a good while ago or at least so it felt. It had moreover felt almost like a premonition, an Omen, a sign of things to come.

 

The same thought went through his mind this time, and this second experience only strengthened the feeling. Could it be!? Laying his head back on the pillow, his breathing slower now, he closed his eyes for a moment, thoughts swirling in his head.

 

He felt Myrrhi stir slightly in the next room, probably having felt his strong emotions through the Bond, but he could not tell whether she was awake or just restless in her sleep.

 

 

..the Glory of Battle for the Light.. intermingled with Death, Screams and Sadness..

 

The echoes slowly receded in his mind, but small wisps of memory remained as he opened his eyes and stared silently into the darkness. Myrrhi seemed to have relaxed in the next room, feeling, he guessed, through the Bond that all was fine and probably presuming that he had had a nightmare of sorts, and he thought she had fallen asleep again.

 

Good, he thought to himself. He did not want to worry her.

 

It took him quite some time to fall asleep again, but finally he managed and this time his slumber in his typical half-awake, half-sleep Warder state was normal and he was blessedly free of dreams or nightmares.

 

 

The next morning he met Myrrhi downstairs in the Common Room for breakfast. As he walked down the stairs from the floor above, he thought of the intense dream he had now had twice. It seemed so real.. he mused for the twentieth time. Shaking his head again, he deliberately changed his train of thought.

 

Thanks my Gaidin.. This means a lot to me."

 

Myrrhi’s sincere words of thanks after the incidence in the night with the cat upstairs, where he had made her smile and laugh by lightening the mood and thereby ‘solving’ an awkward moment, made him smile. She was, in many ways, an enigma to him; sometimes she seemed so young, other times older; sometimes confident, other times vulnerable. In some ways Leandreen had been the same way, though she had, perhaps, hidden it better. Perhaps it was the way of Sedais as they grew with the role.

 

Leandreen and Myrrhi share another trait as well, the Warder thought smiling to himself as he walked into the half-full Common Room. Dedicated women both, with their hearts in the right place.

 

Myrrhi and Elessar did not speak of his restless sleep the night before, though the Gaidin thought he saw some questionmarks in her eyes. He had told her before of his intermittently recurring difficult dreams and she probably did not wish to drag up painful memories. They chatted a little as they ate, and afterwards went out into the city for a walk in the fresh air. The sun was shining over the capital of Ebou Dar, bringing Light into Shadows in the white city, and a soft breeze from the south made the small banners above several shop-entrances dance in the wind. Heading past main streets and across several plazas they finally stopped by a marble monument - it was of an ancient but beautiful dolphin with water spiralling out of its upturned mouth - and sat down on a bench nearby, a little out of the way.

 

They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the morning. People of all kinds walked past the monument and Elessar also recognized several Northerners by their attire. Then they started talking about what to do next. Myrrhi wove a Ward against anyone listening (not that they really expected anyone, but better safe than sorry) and they spoke for a long while of their alternatives. There were many options to consider and difficult decisions to make. Finally, a while later, they rose from the bench and walked back toward the inn, stopping at several vendors and shops on the way.

 

 

That evening as they ate supper in the inn’s Common Room, a well-built, brown-haired, middle-aged gleeman wearing his cloak made of many colourful patches entered from a side door and walked up to the small stage at the end of the room. A cheer went up from the locals - and also some foreigners - when they spotted the gleeman and they watched eagerly, as the ale was flowing, as he prepared himself for the performance. Myrrhi and Elessar also watched from their table at the back, the Warder eager, as always, to hear what songs this gleeman had on his repertoire. The man, a Murandian by his looks, first picked up his flute and played a few jaunty tunes that had many of the locals cheerfully joining in.

 

Then he put his instrument aside and sang an Altaran song, a humourous piece about a somewhat dubious serving-girl at an inn who had her hands full with a couple of very drunk and lustful men. This appeared to be a very popular choice and many cheered in appreciation, some also banging their tables, when he has finished. He bowed in return, happy with the response.

 

The gleeman took a sip from an ale, put the glass down and then faced the crowd. Then he spoke of his next song. It was a poem from history, he said, a ballad of important rememberance. He motioned for quiet with dramatic hand-gestures so common in his profession and then, as most in the crowd quieted, he began to tell his story. His voice was deep and resonant and everyone was caught up in the song as he began the telling of the ‘Ballad of ‘The War of the Hundred Years’’.

 

Elessar had seen this piece performed many times before, but he enjoyed every re-telling - and with echoes of his war-like dreams.. or premonitions, if he could believe so.. still ringing in his ears, like faint whispers that would not totally go away, he thought it was somehow fitting with a song and poem of this nature this night.

 

They were all caught up in the story, and it was as if Past met Present, Dreams and Visions became Reality, and History was Made before their very eyes..

 

 

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Ballad of ‘The War of the Hundred Years’

 

Remember the Days of War and of Strife

After Hawkwing the High King lost his Life

When Brother fought Brother for Power, for Land

As Blood flowed in Rivers, on Meadows, in Sand

 

The Empire Collapsed with no designated Heir

Fragmented, Torn apart, more than one could Bare

The Disorder and Conflict brought Tears and Stares

It was named ‘The War of the Hundred Years’

 

Plotting and Scheming arose in the Lands

Positions and Wealth swiftly changed Hands

The Stone of Tear was taken by Force

In Andor Ishara seized Throne at its Source

 

In the Swirls of Chaos, the White Tower’s Attempt

To end the Conflicts, civil Wars that had Rent

Met with no Success, despite years of Toil

As the Troubles escalated, with Bloodied Soil

 

On the Steps of Tar Valon heavy Storms Raged

As Hawkwing’s Army a grand Siege Staged

Then General Maravaile the Shining Walls Freed

When the Amyrlin Seat and Queen Ishara Agreed

 

In the Borderland Provinces Five Governors Met

To discuss the Situation, new Borders to Set

Proclaimed their free Nations, as Kings and Queens

And pledged an Alliance, a Pact strong at Seams

 

Cairhien was conquered by Deftness and Strength

By Nobles and Lords, using subterfuge at Length

In Tanchico the Kingdom of Tarabon Arose

As History was Made, in Stories and in Prose

 

Twenty-Four Nations from the Embers were Born

After a Century of Conflict with the Continent Torn

Few remnants of Hawkwing’s Empire were Left

His Statues and Monuments by changing Winds Swept

 

Remember the Days of War and of Gloom

When Hawkwing’s Empire fell to its Doom

Remember the Nations that rose to the Light

Reborn from the Ashes of Struggle and Fight

 

►▲◄

 

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.. A Change of Plan: Returning to Tar Valon ..

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They had difficult decisions to make.

 

Having discussed the matter the day before, they went over it another time over breakfast the following morning. The Common Room was half-empty and none of the other guests were close enough to hear what they were saying.

 

Should they pursue the dark matters they had been informed of here in Ebou Dar, or should they continue eastwards towards their intended destination?

 

Elessar drank some water from a glass as he listened to Myrrhi’s arguments. His eyes studied a man slouching by the entrance, a disreputable fellow with unkept hair and watchful eyes, but when the man noticed the Warder’s hardened gaze he swiftly turned and departed the Common Room. Elessar’s attention returned to Myrrhi. He did not suspect the stranger to be a threat but he would keep a look-out in the streets, in case.

 

 

A little later they were standing outside the inn, enjoying the sunshine and the blue skies, when an Ebou Dari man who looked like a local shopkeeper approached them, giving a nod to the Aes Sedai. Myrrhi followed the man inside and was not seen for several minutes. Elessar, meanwhile, studied the busy streets, taking in the sounds and sights of this beautiful Capital here in the far South. His eyes were also on the look-out for the slouching man of before but he did not see him anywhere. When Myrrhi finally appeared, the Ebou Dari man giving a quick nod toward the Warder as he quickly passed, she had a strange expression on her face. No strong emotions came through the Bond, but Elessar sensed surprise in her and, perhaps, some uncertainty. As Elessar came up to her, his eyes questioning, she leaned over toward him and whispered in his ear.

 

It appeared, the decision of where to go next had been taken from them.

 

Myhhri had been ordered back to Tar Valon.

 

At once.

 

 

The journey northwards was, not surprisingly, something of an anti-climax.

 

They had looked forward to continuing their Tower mission, either toward their destination east or by trying to sort things in Ebou Dar, and instead they were returning to the White Tower, mission uncompleted.

 

It was a long journey with many stops, north through Altara, across Murandy - with a short stop in Lugard - and northeast along the Lugard Road into Andor, through the historic village of Four Kings and onward to Caemlyn. They stopped a few days in Caemlyn to rest their horses, Elessar as always enjoying a visit to this jewel of cities, and then headed into Cairhien. Their previous experiences there stayed upmost in the Gaidin’s mind as they travelled northwards but nothing untoward happened.

 

He and Myrrhi talked little along the way, sharing a few words now and then but often riding in solitude. Myrrhi seemed to him preoccupied, as if her mind were on matters she would or could not share with him (she did not give any more details regarding their sudden return to the White Tower and he did not ask), and he focused on his Warder-duties, his eyes on the road and ensuring they stayed safe and secure on their journey.

 

 

Finally, many days later, on a windy but sunny afternoon with partially blue skies, Elessar Gaidin and Myrrhi Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah came in sight of the Shining Walls of Tar Valon. Soon they rode slowly across one of the many magnificent arching bridges over the River Erinin connecting the island city to the mainland. Fabled Dragonmount rose in the distance, and on the city walls high above them the proud banners of Tar Valon - wonderous city of the Aes Sedai -  rippled strongly in the wind, as if welcoming them home.

 

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