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Elessar

A Bond of Faith [Retro] (attn. Kathleen Sedai)

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OOC: This is a WT approved Retro-RP taking place after Kathleen Sedai takes over Elessar Gaidin’s Bond from Carys Sedai IC but before they head out on their Borderland-journey in the previously posted RP “A Bond of Emerald Grace”, and much before Elessar’s later adventures. The Prologue below (which consists of several re-posted former IC-posts) sets the stage for this new Retro-RP.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

To Pass A Bond: Part 1

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Elessar’s life was filled with dreams.

 

Or so it felt.

 

Much more so than normal. And he wondered why.

 

Perhaps it was all a result of his constant restlessness these days. His feeling of stagnation as a Warder in the White Tower. His need for some action.. to do something.

 

Anything.

 

His worry about Carys. Thinking about her, made him aware of the emotion that was her at the back of his head, and as so often these days she felt weary to him. He shook his head in concern and placed his sword, which he had been sharpening, beside him on the bench there at the outskirts of the Warder’s Yard.

 

Clouds were spreading across the sky above Tar Valon that early afternoon, mirroring his troubling thoughts. A soft wind was rising from the south, making the banners atop the Tower walls slowly ripple, and it seemed that a storm was coming.

 

Looking up at the grey sky, the Gaidin waited.

 

He was a man six foot three tall with a fairly dark complexion, short dark hair and hard dark eyes. He had a strong build (a result of hard physical training over many years) and also some battle-scars, most prominent was one across his abdomen. In fury over the death of his mother and his inability to prevent it, he had shaved off his forked beard (so common in Kandori men) long ago and had never re-grown it.

 

Touching his bare chin, as his eyes roamed the heavens for a long time looking for the bird of prey he seeked, he wondered if he ever would re-grow his Kandori forked beard. He did not think he would. He had made his choice and he would abide by it. There! High above, coming in from the east, he saw the bird float on the currents high above the Aes Sedai city, as he had seen it on several occasions in the past three days. He followed it with his eyes as it flew off into the west. A bird of prey.

 

A free soul.

 

A small smile touched his lips and he reached for his blade.

 

To be out in the world again. Doing his Warder duty. Carrying out his sworn service.

 

Outside. Where he could contribute. That was his inner wish.

 

To feel needed.

 

 

Carys.

 

His thoughts often stayed on her.

 

And on them.

 

On their Bond. On his worries. On his frustration that there seemed nothing he could do to change things.

 

He was dutibound to serve Carys in whatever capacity. Part of him felt it was wrong to even question this. Wrong to complain. Do your duty and stop whining! that little voice in the back of his mind said. He listened only partially to the voice. This was complicated. As things often were in life.

 

It had been days since he’d last seen Carys - a quick hello as she was instructing an Accepted on how to set a broken bone - but it felt like months in truth. If he were honest with himself, the closeness that they’d acquired on their travels had now melted into an awkward acquaintance type feeling.  The distance between them was palpable and he didn’t know how to fix it. So, in a way, it seemed to him that they avoided each other. She stayed busy in the Infimary - and he spent his time…anywhere else.  It was, Elessar thought, almost as if the memories of their time together - their travels and adventures in Cairhien, Ebou Dar, and with the Sea Folk - had happened in another life. And, he supposed, perhaps it had.

 

It was different then, he thought, as he stared silently out at the ever darkening sky from the window in his Tower room. Out on the road, I was needed. I could carry out my duty and service - and I did not feel restrained. She needed me back then.

 

He truly missed those days. With Carys at his side, as it had been with Leandreen many years before, he had felt as if he could make a true difference in the world. That he could excel as a Warder. Now, trapped in the Tower, he felt almost useless. That was, perhaps, an unfair notion and he would never say anything like that to Carys, of course, but recently he had struggled to suppress the feeling.

 

 

Shifting his gaze to a pair of young Warder-trainees going through the forms some way off to his left, his mind returned to the present.

 

To his concerns.

 

To his tension.

 

To his growing unease.

 

His mind was occupied with heavy thoughts that burdened him and so he turned away from the trainees, taking with him the blade he had trained with that afternoon, and headed resolutely for his room.

 

It is going to be awkward. The thought bustled in his mind as he walked. For both of us. He and Carys were going to dine together this evening. She had invited him. And he had known straight away that this was going to be more than a mere meal shared together. They had avoided each other for too long and it was time to speak out. She had not said as much, of course, but he felt sure this was the case. They had, after all, not spoken for what seemed ages.

 

How did we drift so far apart? he wondered for the hundreth time. When did we stop confiding in each other? Inside he knew the truth. He had admitted it to himself a few times, but still part of him denied it. Her work in the Tower takes all her time now. And I cannot function well locked up. I need to be outside. In the open. Only there can I do my duty: to protect and serve. That is my life. Even so, he was bound to Carys and his duty lay with her. I swore on my life. I will not break my oath. It seemed hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing to do but grit his teeth and steel his heart and serve as he was honour-bound to do.

 

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To Pass A Bond: Part 2

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In the early hours of evening, Elessar walked quietly up to Carys’ quarters and knocked on the door. He knew that she would feel his presence through the Bond, as he felt hers, and entered the room shortly after her voice bade him do so, seating himself in the offered chair.

 

Meeting his Bondholder’s eyes, trying to keep his inner frustrations at bay, he remained silent until she was ready to speak.

 

This was not going to be easy for either of them.

 

Life never is.

 

 

“What!?” Elessar burst out. “What did you just say!?"

 

His Bondholder had just told him that it was for the best that she ‘passed him on’ as she called it.

 

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and as he came to his feet with abruptness, his plate of soup rattling on the table as his knee crashed into one of the table-legs, he flashed her a shocked - almost angry - stare, before turning resolutely away from her, face reddening, clenching his fists, trying hard to calm his temper.

 

His mind was awash in a multitude of emotions.

 

 

He felt anger and disappointment. Sadness but also a kind of relief.

 

                                                                                                                       

Anger that she would consider ‘passing him on’ - even for ‘good reasons’ - to another Sister almost as if he were a ‘sack of potatoes’. He knew that as a Warder he was dutibound to ‘obey’ and ‘accept’ whatever his Sedai decided as regards his service, and a Warder-Bond had been known to be ‘passed’ on occasion though it was not that common, but even so it left a sour taste in his mouth. ‘To death and beyond’ a Warder served, that was what he had promised his Bondholders. That was what he had promised Carys. That was what she had accepted.

 

He felt disappointment because it meant he would not be able to fulfil his duty and service to her as he had promised he would. She would not let him. It was like a broken pact.

 

There was sadness because of their close friendship - and ‘partnership’ - as Warder and Sedai, a friendship which had strengthened as time had passed, a friendship which meant much to him, and - he knew - to her.

 

But there was also a sense of relief, because giving him a new Bondholder would solve his frustrating situation, would give him the chance to shed his current anguish and make it possible for him to fulfil his Warder-duties out in the world, out of this ‘cage’ which the White Tower had become for him. He felt a little shame to think so, considering he was as a Warder dutibound in whatever capacity was needed, but he could not quite help himself.

 

 

All these thoughts went through his mind, back and forth, time and again, as he stared silently at the wall before him, seeking the calm of the Void within, that place deep inside him where he could direct his feelings and passions and find peace. It took a few long moments but he slowly regained a sort of equilibrium.

 

Unclenching his fists, he turned and faced Carys from across the room.

 

“I apologize for my outburst, Carys Aes Sedai”. The words were formal, but that was his nature. Also it seemed appropriate to him in view of her words. “Your.. suggestion” - it was more than a suggestion, he knew, but that was the word he used - “took me very much by surprise, that is all.”

 

His pulse quickened somewhat. Perhaps he was not as calm as he had thought.

 

There was a silence after his words.

 

Her words echoed in his mind.

 

 

“Elessar, Carys began, “I owe you an apology..”

 

“..Before you chime in about a Warder's responsibility, Please let me get this all out before you chime in. Otherwise, I don't know if I'll get through all that I want to say. I want to start with saying I'm sorry. Not something one normally hears from an Aes Sedai, but given our history, you deserve to know that I am sorry. Sorry that I was called back to the Tower, I am sorry that I haven't made time for you, for us. I am sorry that I let the distance between us grow so far. Mostly, however, I am sorry to be the cause of your unhappiness..”

 

“..You have fulfilled my every command and request as Warder, of course. Perhaps unknowingly, you also became my dearest friend. Your pain is my pain and it's crippling us both. Each going through the motions but unable to truly commit to how our lives have changed due to the missive I received.. more simply put, Elessar, I hate seeing you this way. I hate knowing that I'm the cause..

 

..But I think I may have found a solution, short of death.. I think I have found a way to pass the Bond to another, willing, Aes Sedai..”

 

 

The room had been deathly silent after his arrival, a silence only occasionally broken by the clinking sound of spoons in motion, as they had started eating the warm soup from bowls in front of them on the table. The air had been thick with tension as the two of them sat across from each other but spilled no words from their lips.

 

Elessar had waited for Carys to break the silence, and when she had not he had been content to focus on the meal until she was ready. He had gone over in his mind how to explain his feelings in a proper way, without there being any inherent criticism of her or any complaining on his part regarding his duty to her as a Warder, but had not really arrived at a good explanation by the time she finally broke the silence.

 

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To Pass A Bond: Part 3

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Meeting his Bondholder’s eyes now, he heard himself say: “No apology needed, Carys Sedai”. Part of him believed so, part of him appreciated the apology, and a small part thought it was his due all things considered. He felt confused. Normally in full charge of his emotions, this shocking development had rattled him. He had never seen this coming. He knew they needed to talk and that it might come to some ‘verbal strain’ between them and, perhaps, some changes between them in the way they worked together and related, but he had never considered this possibility.

 

As he calmed further, he felt a sense of shame. She had in an un-Aes Sedai way spoken openly and had apologized with dignity and earnestness. She had offered a difficult but workable solution - one that pained her - to resolve their situation, but mainly to ease his pain. She deserved much better from him.

 

“I appreciate your words and your caring, Carys.” He deliberately left out the ‘Sedai’ this time to show that this was personal. “I accept your apology, though none was really needed.” He said. “I apologize too. For your pain. For my part in all of this.” A slight pause. “And much of what you say makes sense”, he added. “I am just.. somewhat shocked by your.. solution, that is all. Though things have been awkward and somewhat strained lately between us, it had never occurred to me that I would not continue to carry out my duty, responsibility and service to you as I swore on my oath.”

 

 

He sighed and looked away, his fists slowly clenching again. The Void inside him almost shattered and he struggled mightily to come to terms with this new situation.

 

Gradually, through force of will, bringing his emotions under control, a few moments later he turned to face his Sedai again.

 

“I have served three Sisters of the White Tower in my many years as a Warder”. He said with rememberance in his voice. “Not many Tower-trained men can say that.” A longer pause followed and his eyes took on a pensive cast. “I was certain that you would be my last”, he almost whispered.

 

There was a moment of tense silence between them. Their eyes met, his dark and her blue.

 

Then he nodded respectfully to her - and it was as if they had reached an understanding.

 

Elessar knew that it would take time for him to accept this decision. It was very complicated for him, painful in many ways, and his many conflicting emotions buzzed around in his head. He saw no other solution than to accept and move on, though. He would have to deal with his discordant emotions later, whatever they be.

 

He was sure that Carys felt his emotional disarray through the Bond, and through her intuition and understanding of the situation, so he felt no need to explain further.

 

The next step then..

 

Neutrally, his mind still somewhat befuddled by it all, he said:

 

 “I presume you have someone suitable in mind.”

 

 

Elessar knew that there was some ‘bite’ in his words, perhaps unfairly spoken, but he could not quite stop himself and it was too late to take them back. Carys seemed to wince at his tone and he saw her close her eyes and scrub a hand across her face. He half-cursed inside, disliking the tension between them. Clenching his fists he felt the tenuous hold on his emotions start to slip and he had to get a grip on himself to stay in control. He waited in silence for his Bondholder to reply.

 

Then she spoke. “It was not my intention to choose for you,” Carys replied, her eyes still closed , “but yes, I believe I have found someone for this delicate situation.”

 

Elessar shifted in his seat, processing her words in his mind.

 

So she had intended for him to have a choice in the matter of new Bondholder? Elessar appreciated the gesture but was not sure if he would have taken the offer if it had been given, he might have insisted on fulfilling his duty to her, and he presumed that Carys knew him  well enough that she had decided against the idea in the end.

 

Who had she found then?

 

 

He had no idea. While being far from happy with the whole idea of being ‘passed’ to another Sister, although a small part deep inside him rejoiced at the opportunity to escape the ‘cage’ that the White Tower had become for him, he knew that he would do his duty no matter what. And that would be the case whomever Carys had found for him. Some Sisters would be easier to work with than others, though. That was always the case.

 

Who?

 

Like most Warders Elessar knew fairly little of Aes Sedai business and inter-Ajah customs, but from his many years as a Bonded Warder he had learned enough to understand that interaction between members of different Ajahs was not that common except when Sisters had been friends from their Novice-days in the Tower or such. It could, of course, be that Carys knew of such a Sister, that she was a friend of hers from another Ajah, and that she knew that this other Aes Sedai was looking for a Warder. Passing a Bond was not common at all, Leandreen had told him many years ago, though it happened on occasion, and he presumed it was the same still.

 

The silence between them deepened.

 

Then Carys opened her eyes, and stared into his dark pupils as she spoke the name, “I believe you know Kathleen Sedai.”

 

 

The spoken name made him react in different ways.

 

First there was relief, because this was the one Aes Sedai he actually had had some pleasant contact with, conversationally, besides his Bondholder. He recalled their talks. There was also contentment because she was Green and he had felt some kind of bond - an affinity of sorts -  with the Battle Ajah ever since his Warder days with Leandreen. Also he had met Kathleen Sedai’s Borderlander Warder and liked him from their few moments together.

 

At the same time there was something in Carys’ voice.. something undefinable.. a touch of bitterness? a slight touch of jealousy? He must have imagined it, but there was something in the way she spoke those words that made him.. weary. He did not flinch from her direct stare but stared back in the same way.

 

I never told her about my conversations with Kathleen. He thought to himself. She probably knows about them now. I know I should have, but we were drifting apart and I needed someone to talk to, I needed to get out of that ‘cage’ even if only for a few hours. How can I explain so that you will understand, my friend?

 

He shifted his eyes away from Carys’ face and got to his feet. He walked off to the side, feeling Carys’ eyes at his back. She said nothing, waiting for him to speak.

 

Finally he turned around and faced her. “Yes, I know Kathleen Sedai.” He said. There was a slight edge to his voice, as if in reply to an unspoken accusation.

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To Pass A Bond: Part 4

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He calmed his voice and continued. “As she may have told you, we have had several conversations in the past weeks. I have enjoyed our talks, also with her Borderlander Warder.” He paused for a while, then went on. “I needed a break from my daily routine, to tell the truth, and she seemed to enjoy the conversation.”

 

He spoke quickly about how they had met in the Warder’s Yard that time and that she had invited him for a talk.

 

“I know I probably should have told you,” his eyes met hers, “but as things have been lately we haven’t had much time to talk.. and to be honest, I didn’t think my visits would be of any harm to anyone.”

 

He knew from Leandreen that Aes Sedai could be quite protective of their Warders, and in hindsight he realized that the whole situation could easily (have) be(en) misinterpreted.

 

I should have reached out to Carys, my own Aes Sedai. He now thought introspectively, with regret. But she was never there..

 

Well, done was done.

 

 

His mind turned to the Aes Sedai in question.

 

A Sister of the Green.

 

A Sister not Bound to the Tower.

 

Kathleen.

 

He liked her. There was a.. connection with her that felt right, something akin to what he had felt with Leandreen the first few times he had spoken with her. Having such a good connection would always benefit both Sedai and Warder in a Bond, Leandreen had said to him on more than one occasion.

 

Leandreen’s emerald green eyes flashed in his mind for a moment - and as always when he thought of her, it was a memory filled with happiness and sadness.

 

Oh Leandreen.

 

One did not have to get along with one’s Bondholder to carry out one’s sworn duty as a Warder, of course, but it sure made things easier. He could do a lot worse than get Kathleen Sedai as his new Bondholder, he felt sure of that.

 

He would have preferred to stay in a Bond with Carys had that been an option, but it was no longer one. From what Carys had said, she would pass the Bond to another Sister for his sake , perhaps also for her own, and there was nothing he could do about it. He would have to face that fact and the sooner he did the better.. for them both.

 

He sighed deeply, considering his next words.

 

 

“If it is Kathleen Sedai we are speaking of, the Sister that you have found,” he started, ”I am sure..”

 

His words broke off as there was a knock on the door to Carys’ room. His eyes met hers and she nodded for him to go open the door. He could not read from her look, neither get any impression through the Bond, if she was surprised by the knock or if she had expected it.

 

Elessar nodded to Nevuel Gaidin and gave Kathleen Sedai a respectful Warder’s bow when they entered the room. Carys spoke words of welcome and he closed the door behind them and watched as they seated themselves at the table. He then joined them, taking the remaining chair.



 

It was done.

 

Elessar’s Bond was passed to Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah.

 

He was now Bonded to his 4th Sister of the White Tower..

 

Leandreen

 

Carrain

 

Carys

 

And now Kathleen

 

..and as every time before, the setting - and the way it had happened - was different.

 

The same strange, almost undescribable feeling of having someone else in the back of one’s head and thoughts was the same, however.

 

 

Elessar remembered how the Bond had been described to him, somewhat drily and factually, in class by his Warder teacher many years before:

 

‘..The Warder Bond - a Saidar-wrought connection between Sedai and Warder - has distinct benefits for both parties. The Bonded party (the Warder) gains greater stamina and physical prowess, a greater capacity to resist evil, and greater resistance to injury. The Aes Sedai, for her part, gains a bodyguard, confidant and ally-in-schemes who is intrinsically linked to her and whose behavior can be controlled (to some extent) through the Bond. She is also able to draw on the Warder's strength if needed. Both parties are able to sense the other's general location, physical well-being and, to some extent, emotional state. If one member of the Bond is killed, the other suffers extreme emotional trauma, to the point that most orphaned Warders lose all will to live, and often throw away their lives in a berserker rage..’

 

 

In some ways that was all true.

 

In other ways, it was something one had to experience to really understand.

 

And though this was, alas, his 4th time being Bonded, Elessar doubted he was much the wiser when it came to many aspects of the Bond.

 

It was unique. And complicated. And, yes.. almost beyond words.

 

 It is so hard to explain indeed.

 

 

He felt Kathleen in the back of his head - and he smiled.

 

He would deal with the multitude of emotions - some conflicting, some hard, some less so - that he felt inside later.

 

His mind was filled with images.

 

Carys.

 

Kathleen.

 

His new path.

 

The future.

 

It would take some time to get used to a new Bondholder, to a new Bond, but he was a Warder and this was his life now, this was his service and duty, and he embraced it the best way he could.

 


 

It was on a sunny afternoon with a soft breeze blowing from the north-west, several days after his Bond had been passed to a new Sedai, that Elessar found himself in the Warder’s Yard, going fastidiously through the swordforms.

 

Unfolding the Fan, the 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.

 

He moved with efficiency and experience, the sword an extended part of his arm, flowing back and forth - thrusting, blocking, slashing - against his imaginary opponent, in what was almost a deadly Dance of the Blades. Some time later he stopped and sheathed his blade in one fluid motion. Sweat ran down his neck and arms and he used a towel to dry himself. A Bird of Prey passed far above Tar Valon, floating elegantly on the breeze, and the Gaidin nodded in respect for its deadly grace and majestic flight.

 

Fly, Master of the Skies, he thought musingly, as he watched the bird soon disappear in the horizon. Fly well - and fly Free.

 

Elessar Telcontar, Bonded Warder to Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, turned to face the White Tower - and smiled.

 

This was a New Beginning in the Light.


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CHAPTER 1

 

 

.. Beginning a New Journey  ..

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The proud banners of Tar Valon - wonderous city of the Aes Sedai -  rippled strongly in the wind atop the huge city walls as Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah and her newly Bonded Warder Elessar Telcontar of Kandor rode out of the city and soon onto one of the six majestic bridges, more than a mile long and gracefully arching from the island to the shore, connecting the isle to the mainland.

 

The River Erinin, within sight of fabled Dragonmount, flowed by below, with urgency and intent, and reflected some of the sun's rays falling down from a cloudless blue sky above. Had it not been for the strong breeze, which made their garments - Elessar's colour-shifting cloak and Kathleen's green travelling cloak - flap behind them, it would have been perfect travelling weather.

 

They were beginning a south-westward journey into Andor toward the town of Whitebridge. Their mission was only partially known to Elessar but he did not mind. Kathleen would explain in due course. Nevuel Gaidin would not be joining them on this journey. He had some other errands to carry out elsewhere.

 

 

Seated atop his faithful black stallion Stormbreaker, feeling the life pulsating in the graceful beast beneath him, Elessar's mind was partly on the journey ahead, and partly on his new Bond and its consequences.

 

It was only a short time - .. how much time had truly passed? time was somewhat muddled for Elessar.. - since his Warder Bond had been passed from Carys Aes Sedai to his new Bondholder Kathleen, and the multitude of strong, sometimes conflicting emotions that he had felt were still inside him, though presently buried under the surface. He would have to deal with them at some point, he knew, but for now he was content to focus on the pleasure he felt to be out on the road again, to be 'Free', to feel Needed again, and to be Allowed to carry out his duty and service as a Gaidin of the White Tower.

 

He felt Kathleen in the back of his head - and he smiled inside.

 

So many changes in his life, so many paths he had walked. Now he was upon another new path - and in his mind's eye he thought he saw a Light of Destiny.

 

Once again the beautiful - and telling - poem ‘A Mirror of Emotions’ resurfaced in his mind. It spoke of life-changes. Of decisions. Of Fate. And of New Beginnings.

 

He remembered the words well, and they echoed anew in his mind:

 

 

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 A Mirror of Emotions

 

Look into the Mirror of your Soul

Gaze at the Reflections of the Past

Making good Decisions is your Goal

Finding sound Solutions that will Last

 

Break the Glass of Wisdom if you Must

Do what must be Done, who can Foretell

Fate may guide your Hand and garner Trust

Throw your Darkness into Mirror’s Well

 

Listen to the Echoes in the Night

Borne on Winds of awe-inspiring Grace

Start a New Beginning in the Light

Feel the Peace within your Soul Embrace

 

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This is indeed a New Beginning. Elessar thought. My life before yours, Kathleen Aes Sedai. To death and beyond.

 

Their Bond was one of Faith and he embraced it to fill his Soul with Light.

 

An image of Leandreen's green eyes appeared in his mind for a moment - and in those deep pools of emerald he thought he saw a smile of approval.

 

And forgiveness.

 

He suppressed the emotion he felt - and cast a quick glance across at Kathleen, who rode slightly behind and to his right. He hardly knew her at all, in truth, despite the many pleasant conversations they had had, but this Bond felt right somehow, and being among the Green again, out in the world, felt like he was 'coming home'.

 

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The reins twisted away from Kathleen's fingers as she absently raised her right hand to twist newly around a lock of hair which had flown annoyingly into her face as a gust of strong wind blew it into her view and held it against her cheek. Her left hand held firm on the rein and the horse stayed its path true, following calming behind Elessar's horse as the two rode through the City streets as they left the White Tower behind them.

 

The Green sister fixed her eyes firmly on her warder's back. Her warder. She instantly reached for the bond. It was there, but it was faint. She rode so close to her warder, but the bond she reached to was miles away and getting further. She knew there would come a time when she would reach for it and it would escape her. She feared that day more than she feared the day she would die.

 

The man riding before her, leading her way, had a warder's cloak, a warder's training, and more warder experience than any man she knew. She felt safe with him, comfortable with him, and she knew they had a bright future, but he had yet to become 'Her Warder'. 

 

The guilt of that thought ate at her. He had earned that title. He had earned that position. He far more than deserved that honour. What would he have to do for her to think of Elessar first when she thought of Her Warder? 

 

Neveul was first. Perhaps he will always be My Warder. It was unfair, but she couldn't help how she felt, how her instincts made her think. Other Greens have other warders. It is necessary. I can't go into this mission alone and I surely will not sit idly in the Tower waiting for Neveul to return. He will be years away. 

 

She hated that she couldn't just jump into this new bond with the excitement and pride she had jumped into her first bond. She should be beaming with pride and excitement for having this new bond with a man she had become close enough with to call friend before the idea of bonding ever came to mind. That was a rare phenomenon for an Aes Sedai to be friends with someone with no politics or power behind it, but she had had that with Elessar. They were friends. They had been friends and they still were friends. Somehow though the bonding had changed something. She felt guilty, and angry, and under everyone else's thumb as though she had no control, though she knew it was for the best for all. She tried to hide all this of course, but she couldn't hide it from her thoughts and her heart. 

 

She felt guilty for taking the warder from Carys. It had been the other woman's idea, more or less, but as hard as Kathleen tried to tell herself she was doing the woman a favour, and doing the warder a favour at that, she couldn't help but feel as though taking that bond was taking away the most important and brilliant connection from another human and leaving them both empty and lost. She couldn't imagine what would it be like for another woman to walk away with the bond she had with Neveul but she knew she could never truly be alright with it at her core. She knew Carys couldn't lie, but she couldn't understand how the woman could go on as if all was okay when Kathleen took something so personal from her. And she couldn't see how Elessar didn't resent her for it.

 

She felt babied and angered with Neveul. It was one thing for him to take a leave of his duty - a highly unheard of thing, but one she had been open to. It was a temporary dismissal and he would return. It was another thing all together for him to demand - in the oh so humbly suggestive way that Kathleen was sure the Warder's Training had detailed courses in how to order their Aes Sedai around and make them think it was the Sister's plan all along- that she take another warder to babysit her. Of course he hadn't said babysit, he had said something more along the lines of her taking on a new charge to aid her with the menial tasks and heavy lifting or some other suggestion that came off as a having extra eyes and hands would help her. However he worded it, she had felt like he was demanding she take another on to babysit her. Of course Nevuel wanted her to be safe, of course he had felt guilty for going so far from her and leaving her vulnerable. Of course he would want someone there to protect her when he couldn't. If the severed bond didn't make him go mad, the guilt of leaving her to walk into danger alone would surely kill him if she died without him.

 

Still, it was easier to be mad at Nevuel for forcing her to take a new warder instead of being hurt and sad that he was gone. Anger was easier to channel and deal with than sorrow. And if she could deflect her anger at him for leaving onto something else like bullying her into a new bond she would happily take that distraction. Though that did make it hard for her to happily accept Elessar's bond in full. If she was mad about it she could ease the pain of being so far from Nevuel, but if she was mad about it she couldn't let herself enjoy the new bond as she should.

 

It was also hard to enjoy the bond in these early times when she felt like a consolation prize to Elessar.  He had never said it or shown it, and she wasn't even sure if he felt it, but she couldn't help thinking how she could be anything other than a consolation to him after the life he had lived before her. For one, he had come off so many adventures and Carys, a sister that Kathleen had a great respect for and had heard stories of that she would almost feel jealous of if she hadn't had her own adventures just as grand. Kathleen's adventures weren't Elessar's adventures though and she had no illusion that the man would be impressed simply by what she had done in the past. Only time and joined experience would see if she would be more than a consolation.  

 

Carys was never a Green. She wouldn't think and act the way Kathleen would. Even in that Kathleen knew she would never be His Green - that would always be Leandreen. How can she compare to the woman he had served first and for so long? The woman who had done the duty of an Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah to the moment of her last breath with all the grace and glory that could ever hope to be achieved - at least that's how the history books of the Green Ajah held her memory and she was sure that is how Leandreen's memory was burned into Elessar's heart too. There was no way to out do that woman and walking in her shadow with Her Warder was one of the major factors that kept Kathleen from being able to truly let him in. 

 

I'm going to disappoint him. I'm going to let him down. I'm never going to be able to live up to the legend he had. I'm going to hurt him like all the others. I don't want to be another thorn in his side. Light, but it was so much easier to be his friend when I didn't have the responsibility of the bond. How will I ever earn the honour that was given to me in this bond?  

 

Kathleen tried to force the thoughts out of her mind as they left the City behind them and started out into the world. She turned her mind back to the message she had received that had sent them out this way to begin with. She had been processing it for a few days as she had prepared to leave. She never spoke about missions before she left. She didn't need eavesdroppers getting ideas and she didn't like to talk about when she couldn't do anything. Plus, the plans made in Tower walls often crumbled when they got to the first hurdle. It was easier to work on the move and she would need something to talk to Elessar about around the fires at night. It is new. Give it time. He is your warder and your friend. Build on that. You have years to prove yourself and strengthen your connection. Perhaps he will yet be My Warder. He wants grand adventures. Let this one begin them all.

 

The reins twisted away from Kathleen's fingers as she absently raised her right hand to twist newly around a lock of hair which had flown annoyingly into her face as a gust of strong wind blew it into her view and held it against her cheek. Her left hand held firm on the rein and the horse stayed its path true, following calming behind Elessar's horse as the two rode out of the City and into their journey.

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.. A Reflection of Emotional Scars  ..

►▼◄

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Utter and incredible shock.

 

And disbelief!

 

His world came crashing down upon him.

 

 

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

 

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

 

It couldn’t be.. it just couldn’t be!

 

Oh dear Creator. Noooooo!

 

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

 

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

 

 

Staring into her face, the face that had laughed with him so many times during their travels, the face that had scolded him at times, the face that had set him in his place when he had overstepped himself but which had always looked upon him with respect and friendship, he saw that he hardly recognized her now. It was almost as if this was some other woman. Almost as if this was a nightmare from which he would soon awaken. But he knew better. Even now, on the brink of insanity and a path into blackness, he knew.

 

Oh Leandreen.. I am so sorry.

 

The bitter irony of it all was that they had chanced upon this group of trollocs - and their allies - by accident there in the foothills north-east of the Arafel city of Shol Arbela. On their way toward northern Shienar, on a mission for the White Tower, they had followed some tracks and had stumbled upon the creatures, heading foolishly into an ambush - and battle had arisen. Elessar had felt the taint of the Dark One from a way off, as Warders were gifted with through the Bond to a Sister, but partially distracted by something Leandreen had commented on, partially focused on the next part of their mission,  he had misinterpreted the direction of the danger - a fatal mistake - and before he could assess the situation further it was too late.

 

Leandreen was a proud and capable Sister of the Battle Ajah and had fought valiantly against the Shadowspawn, shielded but on the attack, felling a good number of them with the One Power just as others fell to Elessar’s deadly sword-action some distance away. He was driven apart from his Bondholder but there was nothing he could do about it as he fought hard with the Shadowspawn before him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her fight proficiently as well and seemed more than capable. A momentary lapse of concentration due to exhaustion, however, made her almost trip over a fallen body and that was enough for her to let her defences down for just a second; two deadly poisoned arrows, whether by intent or sheer luck, found their mark in her upper torso, her Warder too far away to intervene. Death took her swiftly.

 

Oh Leandreen.. I have failed you. Forgive me..

 

 

Sadness was replaced by grief for Elessar.

 

Utter grief and a feeling of desolation.

 

Grief quickly turned to anger. At himself for failing her. Unforgivable At the Shadow. At the World.

 

Anger turned to hatred and all the blackness buried deep within him erupted in a roaring scream of incredible fury.

 

His eyes blacked over.

 

And laying his Sedai carefully to rest on the bloodied ground, he picked up his sword and turned to face the remaining half-standing trollocs some way off to his left. There was death in his dark eyes and death in his blows as the whirlwind that had once been Elessar Gaidin threw himself into the Shadowspawn with no regard for his own safety.

 

He was a harbinger of death..

 

 

Crashing out of the painful dream-memory, Elessar had to focus hard to lower his pulse and heart rate and regain his equilibrium.

 

His eyes were wide and sweat beaded on his upper body and brow, as he raised himself from his blanket and stared long and hard into the darkness of the surrounding night. Their small fire was burning low in the middle of their camp, red embers shining in the blackness of the woodland trees close by, and the Warder saw Kathleen move slightly in her blanket a little to the side, probably having awakened, sensing his strong emotions through the Bond. She kept silent though. Unclenching his fists, Elessar walked the short distance over to their tethered horses by some tall oaks, trying to gather his thoughts.

 

Why now? He wondered. Why did those painful memories return to plague him now?

 

As his breathing slowed, his flustered thoughts gradually cleared and he was able to think straight again. Stroking Stormbreaker’s nose and flank affectionately, speaking some soothing words to the beast, he also gave Kathleen’s horse some affectionate pats on the back.

 

Oh Leandreen.

 

Thinking of her always brought a mixture of happiness and sadness. He feared that would never change.

 

Shaking his head, he wondered if she would ever leave his soul.

 

And the guilt he had always felt for his failure to save her, that piercing guilt that had gradually replaced the madness that had arisen in him after her death, had never truly gone away. Oh, he had been good at hiding it even from himself, ignoring it, almost pretending that it had never been there in the first place, but it was there - like a thorn in his foot - never truly going away, hiding under the surface like a predator, waiting to spring.. waiting..

 

 

Staring into the silent black woods around him, he swallowed hard.

 

He did not know what had triggered it this time, but he guessed it probably was the upheaval of the past period, his Bond being passed and his underlying conflicting emotions coming to the fore. Anger at Carys, disappointment, guilt at feeling the way he felt, understanding, relief.

 

Once the euphoria-like emotion of being Free, out of the White Tower and Back on the road again as a Warder to a Green Sedai had worn off, a couple days after their departure from Tar Valon, his conflicting emotions had gradually taken over and his mood had become more pensive and almost brooding. He had sensed similar emotions from Kathleen as well though she hid them well, being kind and forthcoming toward him whenever they spoke as they travelled south from Tar Valon.

 

Truthfully, he did not know how she felt about the whole business of being passed his Bond to begin with, whether this had been Carys’ idea or if Kathleen had offered. Those were things Elessar guessed the two Aes Sedai would never share with him, it was very personal for the Sisters he felt sure. Kathleen also had another Warder, her first Warder, who was gone somewhere. She had not said anything to Elessar, but her eyes and face when on occasion he had mentioned his name gave him the impression that there was some unfinished business there, something to be dealt with..

 

Staring across the darkness to where Kathleen lay unmoving, Elessar sighed. He felt comfortable with her. They had become friends in a way during their many talks in the Tower, and it did remind him of his early days with Leandreen. At the same time though he thought she was somewhat.. closed off.. to him. He could not pin-point what it was but she felt a little.. distant at times, more so than he would have expected. Perhaps it was because they were new in their Bond and she needed some time to adjust, it was early days after all..

 

Perhaps it was something else..

 

Perhaps she is unsure how to deal with me.. The thought popped up in his head and lingered. I am not the easiest of men to handle, I guess. With my many years as a Warder, with my many Sedais.. with my..difficult past..

 

 

For whatever reason, it tempered the excitement he should have felt over this new Bond to a kind, dignified Aes Sedai of the Green who had also become a friend. It frustrated him, and it felt unfair toward Kathleen, but the feeling remained.

 

 

He closed his eyes with another sigh, reflecting for a moment over his life as a Bonded Warder of the White Tower.. but instead of Kathleen’s face surfacing in his mind, or Carys’ blue eyes, it was Leandreen’s glittering emerald green eyes that were before him, her smile and fiery-red hair..

 

My Aes Sedai.

 

He felt guilt at the thought. Kathleen was his Bondholder now and Carys had been so until very recently. So what was dead Leandreen doing popping up at the forefront of his thoughts? He could not say.. but he could not help it.

 

There was forgiveness in Leandreen’s eyes.. but also sadness.

 

His heart clenched with unresolved emotions and his soul cried out, as it often had done in the many years since she had passed away.

 

Darkness and Light intermingled in the imposing Warder from Kandor, as if he were stuck in a never-ending Twilight.

 

He slowly opened his eyes and walked resolutely back to his blanket, lay down and attempted to get some needed rest.

 

His last thought before he entered a thankfully dreamless half-sleep - that half rest, half aware state Warders were go good at - was of her.

 

Leandreen.

 

My Sedai.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Kathleen moved slowly and silently through the trees as she made her way out of sight of her camp. She made sure to stay well inside of the perimeter that Elessar had scouted the night before, but she had to get some distance. She hadn't slept well and she knew the warder hadn't either. When she woke he was still resting but she knew hadn't been down long. She had sensed him up around the camp through the night. She had momentarily thought there was an ambush but there was no urgency in the bond and no action came. She had debated getting up with him, but decided against it. If he wanted to talk he would know she was awake and he could initiate the conversation. He didn't and that was enough to keep her from rising. Perhaps he was a night owl wanting a few hours on his own; if that were the case she would be out of line in intruding. Perhaps he heard something and was checking it out; ; if that were the case he wouldn't need her undermining him by following him about. Perhaps he had something on his mind, and that brought it back to him coming to her. She would leave him to it for a while, but if it carried on she would address it if only to put her own mind at ease. 

 

She had rested a few hours and rose just before the sun. This was her favorite time of the day. It was the only time she had to herself. She always carved it out when she could and took great joy in it. The events and length of the carved out time varied on the location and pressing day's tasks ahead, but sometimes she would simply sit and watch the sun rise, sometimes she would read a book or play her harp, sometimes she would grade papers, but when she traveled this time was almost always devoted to practicing weaves. 

 

She stood where the trees thinned out and stretched her arms before her studying the terrain. She emptied her mind and focused. Just as a warder practiced his formations she had taken to practicing her own skills. Sometimes she would open herself to saidar and fully let fly the weaves, but like today, she often went through the motions without allowing herself the pleasure of harnessing the one power. Sometimes it was for safety in keeping her location hidden, sometimes it was simply to keep the landscape in tact, sometimes it was keep from exerting the energy of channeling and reserving her strength for when it may be needed later on.

 

Today she went through the motions. She started as always with the 100 weaves. She had practiced these so often in her Accepted years that she could go through the motions without any real concentration anymore. She then would move in to the weaves she learned in more advanced courses, and then into the ones she had picked up in her travels since being raised. Things she had watched other sisters weave that she had not thought of or been taught.

 

She had to think to recall these and her motions slowed as she concentrated on the weaving the imaginary threads. She knew that the motions she made with her arms and fingers, elaborate as they sometimes were were not necessary in theory, but she found in practice that they were every bit as important if only to remind her how to do it or to make it happen without having to devote every thought to it. Muscle memory helped her to create the weaves while she used her brain to assess the situation. These weaves had to come naturally and without thought. So she practiced diligently.

 

When she got through the learned weaves of other sisters, she turned her mind to the most important of all the weaves. The ones known only to sisters of the Green Ajah. She put special thought into each motion of these. Walking herself slowly through them in detail. She visualized each weave and the pattern they mixed in. She visualized her targets and the timing of each attack and the result each one would have upon impact. She made each one textbook perfectly to ensure she could pass the knowledge on. These weaves were the most important. Only a handful of Sisters in the world had this knowledge and it wasn't readily available. Should the Green Ajah fall these weaves would be lost and Kathleen would not let them be lost save her death and the death of all Greens. An unlikely event, a hypothetical call that kept her well practiced in the weaves. When she had gone through them once in slow deliberate detail she went through them faster, the way she would need them in practice. When she was satisfied and her mind was clear and still the sun had made its early appearance and Kathleen crept back to the campsite. 

 

Elessar was up and most of the camp was already packed. The fire was out so Kathleen made two cups of kaf without it. While it was heating she jumped in and helped with gathering the last few things and when it was ready she prepared a cup for Elessar and one for herself.

 

"I know the traveling can take the taste out sometimes, but I hope the cup isn't too disappointing." Kathleen handed a mug to the Warder and sat on the ground with her back leaning on the trunk of a tree, and her knees steepled in front of her, cradling the hot cup she kept for herself in her hands before her face as she smelled the aroma rising from it. It wasn't the same as she could get in the City, but it wasn't all that terrible. 

 

"Travel wasn't bad yesterday, lets hope its just as easy today." She sipped at her kaf, taking a small amount into her mouth. Still too hot. "Time to take stock, I suppose. Did I miss anything between bed-fall and my return this morning? Where do you expect we'll be tonight and how would you like to get there? Is there anything I need to know before we leave this morning? Do you have any questions for me?"  

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.. ‘Tarabon in the Light’ ..

►▼◄

 

"Travel wasn't bad yesterday”, Kathleen said, “lets hope it’s just as easy today."

 

 

 She sipped at her kaf, taking a small amount into her mouth. Still too hot. 

 

"Time to take stock, I suppose.” She added. “Did I miss anything between bed-fall and my return this morning? Where do you expect we'll be tonight and how would you like to get there?” She asked.

 

The questions kept coming.

 

“Is there anything I need to know before we leave this morning? Do you have any questions for me?"  

 

Elessar had questions too. And wanted answers.

 

But he was not ready yet to ask those questions.

 

 

Some time earlier, just before sunrise, he had been aware when Kathleen had gotten up and then left camp. She had moved slowly and silently through the trees as she had made her way out but in his half-resting, half-awake Warder state he had not missed it. He had not been concerned though and so he had kept on resting as she had moved away. Though his sleep had been dreamless after the incident during the night, it had been restless and he hadn’t slept that well. He had scouted the camp-area the night before though and there had been no sign of any threats anywhere.

 

A little later he had gotten up and had subsequently packed most of their things so they would be ready for a swift departure. He had extinguished the camp-fire and then waited for Kathleen to return. He had felt her some distance away through the Bond and while waiting he had thought more about his life as a Warder.

 

And about Leandreen.

 

Those emerald green eyes of hers had stared at him from beyond the horizon of his mind.

 

And he had stared silently back, as always caught between joy and sadness. And guilt.

 

When Kathleen had returned, he had given her a polite nod and a smile. She had helped with gathering the last few things and had made two cups of kaf for them. She had used Saidar to heat them since the fire was out and when it was ready she had prepared a cup for him and one for herself. Then she had observed that she knew the travelling could take the taste out sometimes, but that she hoped the cup was not too disappointing. She had handed the mug to him and had seated herself with her back leaning on the trunk of a tree, her knees steepled in front of her.

 

Elessar had thanked her and had sipped from his cup, enjoying the kaf.

 

Not long after, Kathleen had started to speak -  and began asking her questions.

 

 

Considering her questions, Elessar waited a few moments before speaking. He sipped some more from the kaf - which was not bad at all, he thought - as he went over in his mind how to respond. Not that the questions were that difficult to answer. It was more a question of how much he wanted to share with her.. now. A Warder and Sedai had to trust one another for a Bond to work well. That he knew from his previous Bonds. But this Warder-Sedai partnership was very fresh between them and he was sure that she had some secrets just like he had. He did not want to lie to her, but at the same time he was not ready for all ‘truths’ to come out. Neither did he suspect she was. They needed to take things one step at a time, his intuition told him. That would be advantageous for them both. At least that was the way he tried to persuade himself. Part of him felt guilt over this, but part also felt it was a necessity. And so he answered as he did. Telling the truth.. but not the whole truth.

 

“I was up last night, had some trouble getting a decent rest.” Elessar began. “I tried not to wake you. I saw to the horses while I was up. Got some rest afterwards but it’s been a restless night for me.”

 

His eyes took on a pensive look, as emerald green eyes echoed in his mind for a moment. Shaking his head slightly, he added “I sensed when you left this morning, and after some more rest I got up and started packing things here.”

 

 

“As for today’s journey”, he continued, meeting her eyes, “I suggest we travel straight south along the main road.”

 

That road was some distance from where they had made camp, but he knew the way having travelled that road on many occasions through the years.

 

“If I remember correctly”, he added thoughtfully, “we will reach the village of Stounton before nightfall. We could stay the night at the local inn there if you wish. I wouldn’t mind a night in a bed myself”, he grinned. “We will sleep enough times in woodland-camps like this during our journey.”

 

Kathleen nodded her assent. Elessar did not say so, but he was pretty sure that his Bondholder would enjoy a nice hot bath too. He had never known a woman - Aes Sedai were no exceptions in that regard - who did not appreciate a nice hot bath, especially after several days on dusty roads.

 

He added that he could not think of anything else she needed to know before their departure, and that any further questions could wait. She nodded and continued sipping her kaf in silence. Her face gave no indication of what she thought of his answers, and he presumed she was content. It would do for now.

 

He finally finished his drink and then got to his feet and walked over to their horses. He gave them a quick brush-down, checked that the saddles were safely fastened, and spoke some soothing words to them both. He also gave them each an apple to enjoy. He did not know the name of Kathleen’s mount, but Stormbreaker - his faithful black stallion of many years - munched contentedly on the apple and enjoyed Elessar’s pats on his back and side. The Warder returned to where his Aes Sedai waited, took their packs and fastened them to the horses.

 

Soon they were ready to leave. At a nod from his Bondholder, he held out the reins of her horse to her and watched as she mounted. He then mounted the stallion and took the lead as they slowly headed out of the woods and back toward the road leading southwards. The sun was slowly rising in a partially blue sky and a soft wind brushed their travelling cloaks as they pushed their mounts onwards.

 

 

One hour or so before sunset, as the region was entering twilight, Elessar and Kathleen rode into the small village of Stounton. It was very small indeed. It seemed to consist of only one main road with gardened houses on each side with a few shops, a blacksmith and an inn at the end of the street.

 

A dusty worn sign by the roadside told them they were entering the village bounds. A few people standing by their houses stared silently after them as they passed, and the Warder noticed a scruffy-looking young girl of about seven or thereabouts who looked with awe in her eyes at the figure of the Aes Sedai riding by. He had seen such looks given to Aes Sedai before; in some places he had also seen more hateful looks. Sisters of the White Tower were not welcomed everywhere. Neither were Warders.

 

Elessar had been in this village before, but it was a good while ago and it seemed to him smaller than he could remember. And shabbier. In these times of change perhaps this village had changed too. That was his thought as he finally stopped before the inn at the end and dismounted. Above a shabby-looking entrance a dangling weathered wooden sign said “The Wild Boar inn”. Nodding to himself, Elessar took Kathleen’s reins and unfastened their packs. The Aes Sedai stared at the building before them but said nothing as the Warder, with a quick nod, took the horses to the back of the inn to place them in a stall for the night.

 

A scruffy-looking brown-haired boy of twelve or so jumped when the imposing Warder-figure came upon him resting at the back, but his sudden apprehension turned to a pleased and approving grin when Elessar threw him a copper coin and told him to take good care of their horses. The boy led the mounts into a stall, throwing some glances of awe back over his shoulders at the Warder as the latter walked away. Kathleen was waiting patiently where he had left her. He gave her a quick nod to let her know that the horses had been taken care of, then he picked up their packs and followed his Aes Sedai into the inn. A huge stuffed wild boar’s head hung prominently on the wall above the counter, welcoming them to this establishment. Elessar could do nothing but grin at the sight.

 

 

Later that same evening they were seated down in the Common Room waiting for their meal to be served. They had each enjoyed a nice hot bath and a little rest before agreeing to meet downstairs. The bed in his room had felt comfortable to the Warder and he was looking forward to - hopefully - a better night’s sleep. You are becoming weak, a small voice at the back of his mind accused, but he tried to ignore it. He had slept in woodland camps on countless occasions on missions through the years, but could not but admit - at least to himself - that he enjoyed the luxury of a proper bed whenever possible. I am getting old, he thought with a rueful smile. His room was beside Kathleen’s. She had, of course, gotten the bigger room. The fawning innkeeper had insisted on it.

 

“A good meal will sit well with us both, I think”, Elessar said now as he sipped his ale. He smiled at his Aes Sedai and nodded at the next table. “Look at those portions”, he added with mirth. “Larger than I would have expected in a place such as this, these days.”

 

His stomack looked forward to the food while his watchful eyes subtly swept over the half-full Common Room, as it so often did almost automatically with any crowds in the way of Warders, measuring the populace and looking for any potential threat. He saw many Andorans seated there, several locals and some travellers from distant lands. He also recognized several Borderlanders by their complexion and attire. Nodding knowingly to himself, he watched and listened to the conversations around him without seeming to do so, wondering at the same time if this inn would have a gleeman performing that evening. He got the answer to that question more quickly than he had anticipated.

 

 

As a rather voluptuous blond-haired serving girl in her early twenties with a teasing smile and a twinkle in her blue eyes came with their hot meals, which consisted of meat and roasted potatoes with vegetables and gravy, a man they had not seen before walked slowly down the room and onto a stage at the end. He was well-built, brown-haired, middle-aged and wearing a cloak made of many colourful patches. It was a gleeman. Elessar smiled contentedly, always enjoying performances of songs and poems, stories, myth and history, his passion of many years. A cheer went up from several of the locals and the gleeman put aside the instrument he was carrying and prepared himself for his performance.

 

Bowing extravagantly to his crowd, in the familiar manner of his profession, he then proceeded to play the flute he had brought with him. He played a jaunty tune which the locals recognized and they joined in, following the rhythm with feet, hands on tables and whatever else they could use. The gleeman bowed for the applause after he was finished, obviously pleased by the response, then he played another tune and after that a third one.

 

When he was done, putting the instrument aside, he took a short break sipping some ale at the side of the small stage while the guests shouted for more. Soon he returned but this time he sang a song. It was a Murandian melody, a humourous little piece about a somewhat dubious serving-girl at a small inn who had her hands full with a couple of very drunk and lustful men. This too appeared to be a very popular choice and many cheered in appreciation, banging their tables. Elessar grinned from where he sat further back near a wall and Kathleen seemed to appreciate the entertainment also though she spoke little as they ate.

 

Now the gleeman was to tell a story out of history or myth, or so he said, and the Warder’s attention focused closer on the man. These were the kind of stories he always enjoyed the most. He wondered which poem, which song this gleeman was going to perform.

 

“I will sing of history, or be it myth”, the gleeman whispered dramatically and conspirationally in a voice that everyone heard, “of political intrigue, deadly plots, drama and of strife. All in a nation called Tarabon.”

 

As the cheers died down, the man began to sing. His voice was a tenor and Elessar had to admit he was pretty good. The song he sang - ‘Tarabon in the Light’-  was known to the Warder though it was not among those most commonly performed in his experience. It was a tribute-poem written several generations ago by a Taraboner poet of some renown, or so the tale went.

 

And the Warder from Kandor, seated beside his Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah, listened attentively and appreciatively, together with the rest of the crowd, as the gleeman told his story, creating powerful imagery in their minds, as whispers out of the Past enveloped them..

 

 

►▼◄

 

Tarabon in the Light’

 

It started with a sigil of a thick boled Golden Tree

Spreading its wide branches for all there to See

Below deep Roots, and then a Banner red and White

Striped for Tarabon, a new Nation in the Light

 

Founded FY 1006 by three Nobles of Wealth

Lords Haren and Boral were Masters in Stealth

Together with Lady Tazenia, for Power they Aimed

And from Tanchico the Nation of Tarabon they Proclaimed

 

Adopting a form of Government with Dual Reign

With a King or Queen and a Panarch, balanced Chain

And Assembly filled with nobles, wealthy merchants and Guilds

It was a formal structure given Strength that Builds

 

Lord Boral was the leader, former General, Governor Too

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

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

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

 

Plots and schemes abounded as the nobles fought for Gain

Warring fractions quarelled, causing deaths and blood and Strain

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

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

 

Tarabon then went through many years of Strife and War

Attacked by hardened forces whose dreams would build and Soar

To reestablish Balasun, a nation Gone to Dust

But Tarabon survived, strong and fighting as it Must

 

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

Before the nation grew to a stable size, to Cheers

Changes were made in the government in Time

The ruler now a King, and the Panarch female Prime

 

Together they ruled for Ages and More

Based in Tanchico, it was their power’s Core

Providing for its people, working hard to build its Might

Living and Dying, for Tarabon in the Light

 

►▲◄

 

 

  ▀▄ 

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The ride to Stounton was smooth and almost enjoyable. She fell into a rhythm trotting down the road behind Elessar. She let herself get lost in thought again as the pair made their way toward the tiny village. This time the thoughts stayed closer to her, not turning to her distant warder, but to the possibilities of all that could happen between here, the mission, and the return to the Tower. The sun was low as they made their way to the Wild Boar Inn, as Kathleen dismounted she began to feel the aches and pains that had been building on the long ride. She watched Elessar as he lead the horses away and couldn't help but think how good he was with them.  She remembered a time when she was more compassionate toward the animals herself, but it was a foggy memory. She had changed so much through the years, perhaps not every change was for the best.

 

She watched the townsfolk lingering in the streets, the adults studying her discreetly and the children with no discrestion. She was used to being stared at when she entered a new town, it came with the shall - the stares of either fear or awe. But most of the people didn't blink here, some didn't even look her way. The ones who did mostly looked with the subtle curiosity at the fact that they were strangers. Aes Sedai were not uncommon traveling through this road and it seemed no one really cared. She felt safe in this town and that was truly rare outside of Tar Valon. 

 

Kathleen shifted from being the follower to the leader as Elessar returned from the stables. It was a delicate relationship between a Sister and a Gaidan. From the perspective of the rest of the world it was always the Aes Sedai making the moves and calling the shots, while the Gaidan did their bidding, but Kathleen knew better. Her life would often be in his hands and things would go easier if she let him take the lead most of the time. He was sworn to keep her safe, but she didn't have to make it hard for him. She would do her best to make it easy when she could.

 

Elessar returned and Kathleen lead them inside, hiding her surprise at the name-sake mounting on the wall. She was happy to get up to the room she was given and lingered in the bath longer than she should have. It was early days and her muscles had forgotten that strain of a full day's ride. The bath worked out the kinks and refreshed her. Her stomach rumbled as she pulled a new dress out of her bag. She hated to put on something fresh so close to bed, but she couldn't get out of a bath and get back into the dusty clothes she had worn all day. She had tried to travel light, but an Aes Sedai had to always have a range of clothes. She could never be sure what kind of work she would get pulled in to in her travels and she had to be prepared. Tonight she put on a simple comfortable dress and hurried down to the common room to enjoy a hot meal and a show.

 

Elessar was already seated with Kathleen joined him. “A good meal will sit well with us both, I think”, Elessar said now as he sipped his ale. He smiled at his Aes Sedai and nodded at the next table. “Look at those portions”, he added with mirth. “Larger than I would have expected in a place such as this, these days.”

 

"I would ask you to save me the disgrace of looking like a like a glutton if I ate all of that in front of these people in one sitting, but I fear I may fight you off if you tried to take the plate before it was cleared," Kathleen laughed quietly. "I won't ask how they came about having it, but I will appreciate it while we can get it." 

 

Kathleen watched the room fill up around her, watching the faces of the strangers and friends and the staff as they moved between them. She loved the feel of a common room, the underlying excitement and buzz of people sharing their stories. She loved to watch the lives of people unfold around her. She envied the lives of simple village folk and tried to take what joy she could in watching them live oblivious to the freedom they had. She studied the faces of the Borderlander's searching for one she knew wouldn't be there, she couldn't help but search though. She wanted to enjoy her little moment of normalcy in this world, sitting among them. She almost clapped when the gleeman walked up to the front of the room and the locals gave their boisterous approval, but restrained herself. She loved a good show and this man looked like he was well seasoned. When he pulled a flute to his lips Kathleen settled back. She loved music and it had been too long since she had heard it done well or by anyone other than herself lately. She let herself get lost in the tunes and even tapped along with her hand on the table when the crowd joined in with the beat. It may not have been the proper thing for a Sister to do, but it was an enjoyable thing and no one here would be bold enough to call her out for it. And it wasn't as if she stood on the table dancing. She simply showed her appreciation for a good a performance.

 

 

 

When the gleeman took a short break Kathleen searched the eyes of the warder across from her to attempt to read his judgment. To her pleasant surprise, she saw no poor judgment or regret for her action, she simply saw a man having a good time and prepared to allow her to have a good time too. She smiled at him as the plates came and went and continued to enjoy the evening to its fullest.

 

She watched as Elessar was drawn into the gleeman's stories, truly appreciating them. This was something they had found in common all those months ago. Poetry and stories, the power and magic of words. This was a shared passion. 

 

As the night wound down, Kathleen looked across the table - her eyes twinkling. "I wonder how the stories of our histories would go. After hearing most of these I can't help but think I wouldn't even recognize my own past. Their would be such embellishment and out right additions I bet the real people would be more filled with shame than pride hearing the tales retold."  Kathleen drank from her refilled mug, beginning to feel the warmth of the alcohol, but not feeling the full effects that would come if she had another glass, "It's like how one often wonders what others say about them when they aren't around, but fear they would be unpleasantly shocked by the truth of what they say." 

 

When the two retired for the night, Kathleen couldn't settle to sleep. She sat at the small table and smoothed out a sheet of paper. She thought for a moment about what her story would say if she were to write it herself. She saw herself as a child on her family's farm in Amadecia and ran through her life as she started her path, then she wrote in the style of one of the gleeman's performances.

 

 

 

 

 

Sister in the Light’

 

 

 

It started with a secret of a shamed Family Tree

 

Pruning its unseemly branches so no one would See

 

Below deep Roots, covered over in the Night

 

A proud people living Highly in the Light

 

 

 

Founded by the marriage of a Good man and his Wife

 

Raising well born babies to live a good Life

 

For Simple Honesty in the Light they Aimed

 

For righteousness and truth they Proclaimed

 

 

 

The Townsfolk fooled and the secret Maintained

 

Future generations to be shielded from the Shame

 

But the Secret was uncovered when the End was Met

 

For the weakest link was broken and a Promise must be Kept

 

 

 

For a family so cloaked in Light and Pride too

 

The youngest of them all was the only one who Knew

 

She ran in the Night - Darkness to cover a Dark Deed

 

To hide the only evidence of a past Not Believed

 

 

 

Plots and schemes abounded as the Family fought for Gain

 

The Family was divided, causing Heart Ache, Shame and Strain

 

The child turned her back on the ones who gave her Breath

 

In vain, they tried to save her, but now fear they caused her Death

 

 

 

The girl went through many years of Trial and internal War

 

Learning what she believed was evil was settled into Her

 

To have the future destined she'd leave her Family in the Dust

 

She would turn her back on her beliefs and fight for what she Must

 

 

It did, however, take until the training was taught for Years

 

Before the Woman dropped her stripes and bared herself to Cheers

 

Changes were made to the Woman's life in Time

 

The Family denied her fully now both Pretend all is Fine

 

 

 

She will live for Ages and More

 

Her family, while wrong, still at her Core

 

Providing for all people, working hard to build her Might

 

Living and Dying, now in Truth as well as the Light

 

 

Kathleen left the paper on the table and finally did fall to sleep. She woke in the morning and left the room as it was, washing up quickly and heading down to the common room for breakfast before she and Elessar were to move on in their journey.

 

 

 

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.. ‘To Walk in Darkness and Light’ ..

►▼◄

 

The darkness of the night matched the darkness of Elessar’s soul.

 

He had entered the Blight a few days before, that nightmarish land north of the Borderlands which was corrupted by the nearby influence of the Lord of the Grave, the Shepherd of the Night, the Dark One. It was a region where all the vegetation was toxic and home to insects that could cause a hideously painful demise. There were other dangers there too and any traveller had to tread carefully in this land to avoid a quick and sudden death.

 

Death was what Elessar sought, in fact as many deaths as possible.

His own would be among them.

But he could not die before he had his vengeance.

 

Though walking a thin line between sanity and madness, reason and rashness, he was not so lost in himself that he did not take some care of his movements. As the days and hours had lengthened his outward fury had subsided somewhat, changing from a frenzy of ideas and confusion and hate and grief into a single-minded fiery dark purpose of how he would inflict as much damage as he possibly could when he brought his wrath upon the Shadow. For his wrath was not gone, though it lay dormant inside him now, like an animal of prey. Waiting. For release.

 

 

They will pay. They will all pay.

And that will be the end of it.

 

At night, in that half-awake, half-sleep state Warders were so practiced at achieving, never losing total vigilance even when resting, his thoughts went often to his many years protecting his Sedai. Other times he thought of his years in Warder-training, and how hard he had worked to excel, to become the best. He had worked relentlessly toward that end.

 

But still I failed you, my Sedai, he thought with anger and bitterness as he clenched his fist, staring darkly into the night.

 

For that, forgive me. But I will avenge you!

 

The following day he saddled Stormbreaker early and set off toward the north at a gallop. His bottled up rage threathened to erupt as he raced across the desolate lands, Death’s Messenger. His eyes had become almost feverish again and he felt his tight reign on his sanity begin to slip. Not that far now, he thought to himself, trying to focus his anger. Soon now. The trail he had found a few days before had been clear and he thought it unlikely they kept lookouts. Why should they? Only madmen travelled these lands of death and none survived long. When he overtook them he would bring death to them all. His eyes intensified and his inner fire blazed.

 

To death!, a scream came from within his soul. To death and vengeance!

 

 

He was riding at a hard gallop, just topping a small rise and still half a mile behind his prey, his body almost trembling in anticipation! of what was to come, when abruptly a heavy shadow came at him from the side, brushing his horses’ flank, making him swerve in his path and forcing him to slow down. Only as Elessar swung his mount angrily around and, with death in his eyes, brought out his sword to strike, did he see that it was another mounted rider!

 

The rider hailed him but it took him a moment to register what was being said. He did not lower his blade but frowned with strong suspicion - and undisguised anger - at the woman, for it was a woman rider who faced him from across her own mount. And not just any woman rider, but an Aes Sedai. There was no doubt.

 

Her commanding words echoed in his turmoiled mind.

 

“Halt! Gaidin, halt!”

 

 

..Carrain Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah looked at her newly bonded Warder, feeling his pain. She had Bonded him forcefully to save him from throwing away his life in a futile death at the hand of the Shadow. She did not know if he would thank her for it, though. Perhaps he would have preferred death. Perhaps he would never truly heal from this deep wound of the soul.

 

She kept her thoughts to herself, however. "You share your Leandreen's loyalties, I see." She said.

 

His eyes met hers and his unbalanced gaze intensified as he said, with strong emotion, ”I hate the Shadow, always have, always will. So did Leandreen. Our lives were formed around fighting the Shadow at every step, every corner. And in the end, she died fighting the Shadow. Those trollocs and their human allies, Darkfriends!. I just wish I had killed them all.”

 

I should have saved you, Leandreen. My life before yours. Forgive me.

 

 

Later..

 

He stood together with Carrain Sedai watching Leandreen’s burning funeral pyre lighting up the darkness. She seemed so regal laying there, her emerald green eyes closed and her fiery red hair embracing her so familiar face, ready for the final journey. Soon she was enveloped in flames, in a blaze of light that defied the night.

 

Oh Leandreen, forgive me.

 

...Words whispered on the winds of time…

 

“You were a brave fighter, Leandreen”, he said, speaking words of strong emotion. ”As brave as they come. You fought the Shadow ‘till the end. Just as you always promised you would.” A short pause followed. Then he added, “Your courage shall not be forgotten, your sacrifice will be remembered. You will be remembered. Rest in peace, Leandreen Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah. May the last embrace of the Mother welcome you home.”


Goodbye Leandreen.

                                         

 

Elessar crashed out of another painful dream-memory and shook his head. His eyes were wide and his hands trembled slightly, sweat beading on his brow, as he tried to collect himself.

 

Leandreen.

And Carrain.

 

Staring intensely into the blackness surrounding their woodland camp, the darkness of the night a canopy above the majestic oaks that ringed them, the Warder breathed slowly in and out to regain his equilibrium. Gradually his pulse slowed and he lay his head back again on the small pack that served as his pillow out here in the wilds.

 

Echoes of the dream.. of that former dark reality.. of what felt like a previous life.. lingered for a while in his mind but finally lessened and he could breathe a little easier. Casting a quick glance across at Kathleen off to the side, he saw no movement from her blanket. He did not know if she had sensed his reaction and emotion through the Bond.. he hoped not since he wanted her to get as much sleep as possible on this journey southwards which consisted of long and hard days of riding.

 

Leandreen.

And Carrain.

 

My Sedais.

 

The Warder from Kandor sighed and closed his eyes, pushing away more vestiges of those painful dream-memories that would never completely lose their grip on him. Instead he focused on other things, to get his mind to circle in on the here and now.

 

To his life and service with Kathleen.

 

His Aes Sedai.

 

 

It brought back thoughts and memories of their time in the ‘Wild Boar inn’ in the village of Stounton a week or so earlier. The delicious meal. Their pleasant talk. The wonderful performance by the gleeman. The poetry-song of Tarabon.

 

And Kathleen’s poem.

 

He had come upon it by chance in the morning following the gleeman’s show. Kathleen’s door had been open as he had been about to head downstairs to the Common Room to have breakfast, and having felt Kathleen leaving her room earlier he had walked over to her door to check. Stepping inside her room he had looked about and had seen a cleaning girl making the bed. Nodding to himself he had greeted her politely and had been about to leave when his eyes had caught sight of a piece of paper, beside a pen, on the small table in the corner. It could be private so he should just leave it be, he knew, but something drew his eyes to the flowing script and he saw himself walk across and pick it up.

 

It was a poem and a well-written one at that. Feeling a little guilty, the Gaidin read through the whole piece and was unable to put it down. Finally he did so and turned quickly to see if the cleaning girl had observed him. She seemed busy with her work and so he left the room swiftly, his mind going over the words in the poem time and time again. He had always had excellent memory for detail and poems stayed in his mind for ages. He could not quite say what was so special about Kathleen’s poem but there was.. something about it that made him curious, made him think..

 

He had known from their earlier talks that she shared his passion for poetry and stories: for ‘the power and magic of words’, as she had aptly called it. He had, however, not seen one of her own written poems before. Elessar too dabbled in poetry now and again, but mostly he enjoyed the poetry of song and stories and history written or performed by others. He quickly decided he would not tell, or ask Kathleen about her poem, at least not yet. It could, after all, be private, for her eyes only, and he still felt some guilt at having read it without her permission or knowledge.

 

 

Turning his thoughts to the road ahead, he considered the next part of their journey. They planned to follow the main road south into Andor and to the Capital of Caemlyn. They needed to buy some new provisions there. Then they would head straight westwards past the historical town of Four Kings and all the way to Whitebridge. Their destination. It was a long journey and he did not know how long it would take, that would depend on the weather and riding conditions and on how many stops they made along the way. Their first aim now was to reach Caemlyn and to rest there a couple of days before going onward.

 

Caemlyn.

 

Elessar had many memories of the Andoran Capital, having visited it many times through the years on missions with his several Sedais. The last visit had been with Carys, his former Bondholder. He recalled it well. A beautiful city, well worth seeing again.

 

Calmer now, the Borderlander-Warder entered the half asleep, half resting state he had become so used to over the years in service, and the painful echoes of the past were gone, at least for a little while.

 

 

The following morning, as they faced each other over the small campfire, munching small bits of dried beef and drinking some kaf, Elessar asked Kathleen:

 

“Have you visited Caemlyn many times over the years?”

 

“I recall the poetic way some historians describe the Andoran Capital”, he added with a knowing smile, waiting for her to reply.

 

‘..Like a gleaming crown upon its gently rolling hills, the City of Caemlyn, with its beautiful ancient Ogier-built Inner City, impresses immeasurably, there with its towers and domes gleaming white and gold in the sun..’

 

“They are not far wrong”, the Borderlander Warder said and his eyes glinted.

 

  ▀▄ 

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The Green sister usually had little trouble sleeping while traveling, but this trip was different. There were quite a few factors that were weighing on her and making sleeping on this trip more difficult than any of her many others.

 

Firstly, she didn't have Neveul watching her back. She wouldn't admit that stressed her, but she was only now realizing just how much she relied on him and blindly trusted his judgment. She knew his habits and they had a rhythm that eased her. She had lost that and it was hard to find a new rhythm. 

 

Secondly, she had been shut up in the Tower for many recent years, serving as a teacher to novices and accepted. She hadn't realized in those years just how accustomed she had come to the comfort of her bed and rooms in the Green Halls, the company of the other sisters and the hustle and bustle of the workings of the students trying to learn and grow.

 

This second factor caused multiple problems: She hadn't used the skills so necessary in new environments in so long she wasn't confident in herself like she used to be; and less important but just as troublesome for sleeping, she was really finding she missed the comfort of the mattress and the silence and stillness afforded by the walls. The woods let wind and distant noises surround her all night long. It kept her up longer than usual, and it woke her in the night.

 

Thirdly, her mind would not settle. Worries, plans, queries, some to do with the mission, some to do with the future, some to do with figuring out how to approach her new warder, all swirled through her head and with only darkness and silence of night to combat it night often weren't enough to stop her from thinking when she should be sleeping.

 

Fourthly, Ellessar's bond was new and Kathleen found herself studying it and being more alert to it than perhaps she should be. She watched closely how he held himself, how he conducted himself, when he thought it was being watched and when he didn't. Outwardly in his physical presence and inwardly in the mental bond they held, she studied it and tried to determine what each reaction meant, how much weight to put on each thing that tugged at her. Something was troubling him, but it wasn't surprising and while there was often strong emotion from him there was nothing ever pressing in the way of urgency or immediate actionable distress.

 

He had given her leeway when she was sure her own stresses fed through the bond so she gave him the same peace and distance when his bled through to hers too. He would come to her if he wanted to, when he was comfortable enough with her, and none of this would happen overnight. It would only come in time if it ever came at all. She wouldn't rush it. There was no need. They would have a life time to get there.

 

She would sleep as much as she could when she could and she would do without when she couldn't. Kaf would help, and she had other tricks up her sleeve if it added up too much.

 

***************************************************************************************************

 

As they sat around the small campfire Kathleen savored her kaf as some would a fine wine. She enjoyed sharing the meal with Ellessar and she tried to draw it out as long as she could without making it too noticeable or awkward. Conversation came easy. She was looking forward to getting to the city and playing tourist. 

 

“Have you visited Caemlyn many times over the years?”  Ellessar asked with a smile from across the embers. “I recall the poetic way some historians describe the Andoran Capital: like a gleaming crown upon its gently rolling hills, the City of Caemlyn, with its beautiful ancient Ogier-built Inner City, impresses immeasurably, there with its towers and domes gleaming white and gold in the sun. They are not far wrong”.

 

Kathleen listed to the description her warder gave of the city and found herself visualizing the place as he spoke. He really had a way with words. "This will my first trip to the city," the Green admitted, "I have always wanted to go but haven't found a reason yet. I was quite hoping, if you wouldn't mind of course, to spend some time playing the tourist if we could. I know we have to get on with the mission and the city is on the way to the destination, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the journey getting there. How familiar with the city are you? I would love to see the sights and hear some history. I know you a wealth of historical knowledge. Did you know that even the night before my raising I spent the hours debating if I would take the Green, or the Grey, or the Brown shawl? Information, history, trivia and stories all fascinate me. This city will be teeming with it and I'd enjoy hearing about and experiencing a part of it.

 

Kathleen Vandiar

Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

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.. ‘Destination Caemlyn: a Journey and History - Part 1’ ..

►▼◄

 

The sounds of the waking woodlands surrounded them as they talked around the small campfire that morning.

 

Elessar sipped from his cup of kaf as he listened to Kathleen speak. He enjoyed kaf but Kathleen truly loved it. She had not said so, but the way she savoured her kaf as some would a fine wine, her eyes almost lighting up whenever she had a cup, made him certain of it. Ale was the drink he preferred, but never in the morning. Kaf would do nicely.

 

Watching his new Aes Sedai, he wondered again what kind of person she was. Yes, they had talked many times and shared some experiences and he did feel a kind of ‘rightness’ about this Bond same as he had felt with Leandreen many years ago, but he did not really know her. That would take time.. time and shared experiences. The Bond did not tell him much about her. Strong emotions came through, as had been the case with his former Sedais, but as for the rest, those tentative sensations or feelings..it was hard to describe them.. that came through most of the time told him very little about how she felt. He was positive that she as Sedai felt - and understood - more of his emotions through the Bond than he did hers, he had suspected so ever since his first Bond to Leandreen, but none of his Sedais had ever answered him when he had asked that question though their faces had looked at tad secretive, if such could be said, and with a hint of amusement which had reinforced his suspicion.

 

Some impression of stress and restlessness had, however, bled through the Bond from her at times which made him suspect that she too could be carrying concerns or burdens. He did not know what they were, and he felt he needed to know her better before approaching her about them, but perhaps she felt less comfortable on the road without her usual companion and Warder Nevuel, or at least that was a thought he had. He hoped in that case that he, Elessar, would fill the role on this journey and that she would adapt to the situation.

 

He too had to adapt, of course. A new Bondholder, a new mission, and out in the world again. No longer trapped in the Tower. That made him think of Carys, his previous Sedai, wondering how she were doing with her busy life in the Infirmary in the White Tower. I hope you are happy, Carys. My friend. He felt a moment of sadness thinking of her and of what had happened, then his attention re-focused on the here and now and something Kathleen had just said.

 

 

She had mentioned, to his surprise, that this would be her first trip to Caemlyn. He had been used to Green Sisters travelling the world on missions from his time with Leandreen so this was unexpected, but from what Kathleen said it was clear that not all Greens were as well travelled, perhaps having duties in the White Tower same as Sisters of other Ajahs. She had added that she had always wanted to go but hadn’t found a reason yet. She had been hoping, if he did not mind and they were able to, to spend some time in the city as a ‘tourist’.

 

Now she added: “I know we have to get on with the mission and the city is on the way to the destination, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the journey getting there. How familiar with the city are you? I would love to see the sights and hear some history.”

 

He nodded with a smile. He too wanted to spend some time enjoying the sights of Caemlyn. Their mission would allow it and their valiant horses needed a couple of days rest before the next stage of their journey toward Whitebridge.

 

“I know you a wealth of historical knowledge.” She added. “Did you know that even the night before my raising I spent the hours debating if I would take the Green, or the Grey, or the Brown shawl? Information, history, trivia and stories all fascinate me. This city will be teeming with it and I'd enjoy hearing about and experiencing a part of it.”

 

“Sure”, he replied, giving her a broad smile. “Caemlyn is a city worth spending some time in. And our mission will allow some time spent there as you have described it.” He took another sip from his kaf. “Also, I think our valiant mounts will appreciate a couple days rest after all the hard riding since leaving Tar Valon.”

 

The two horses, safely bound to a tree not far away, whinnied in agreement.

 

 

The Warder’s eyes took on a faraway look for a moment. “I have been fortunate enough to visit Caemlyn several times in my years as a Gaidin, with several of my Sedais, and I have treasured every visit. Caemlyn is a beautiful city well worth a visit. I know it well.”

 

His eyes met hers again across the embers of the small campfire. “I am no historian”, he said with a lopsided grin, “but I have long been a student of history if you will, and I have acquired a good share of historical knowledge over the years, yes. I will be happy to share some of the history with you as we get nearer to the city.”

 

Not for the first time he thought of how pleased he was that she shared his passion for stories, poetry, fact and history. He had had that passion from his early years and it had never stopped. Listening to her tell how she had been uncertain right up until the last minute which Ajah to choose, echoes of a previous talk in his mind, and that she had almost become a Brown Sister instead, made him wonder if his former Sedais had had the same uncertainty. He could not recall either of them ever speaking about it, but perhaps he had simply forgotten.

 

In some ways he could almost picture Kathleen as a Brown; she did not seem, from their time together, to have the fiery nature often seen in Battle Ajah Sisters, of which impulsive and temperamental Leandreen had been a good example, nor have the flamboyant and frivolous character that Greens often were associated with. Then again, it was very easy to stereotype. He had not known that many Greens, in truth, and despite the stereotype they probably differed (somewhat at least) in temperament and behaviour like all other Sedais and women in general.

 

That said, every single White Sister he had ever come across, be it in the Tower with his Sedais, in Tar Valon city streets, or out on missions in foreign lands, had been just as cold and deafeningly, logically serene as the White Ajah Sister stereotype. He sometimes wondered if there was any other kind.

 

 

“In a way I can almost picture you as a Brown”, he said. “You seem certainly calmer in nature, less impulsive than some Greens I have come across in my time” - he did not need to name the one Green he especially had in mind - “and seem to me to have greater patience for, and interest in, history, facts and stories.”

 

Leandreen had had very little patience for such things, her interests lying elsewhere and primarily to do with hunting Darkfriends, battle and fighting skills. She had teased him on several occasions, calling him ‘her Warrior-Poet’, to which he had teased her about her utter lack of patience and tact. The memory was bittersweet as always. Carrain, being a Yellow Sister and healer, had focused on healing and remedies and such and had had little interest outside that area, very much like her Ajah-Sister Carys in fact. Elessar recalled though Carys intermittently drawing in a notebook she had carried with her on their early journeys, but it had been private and she had kept her drawings to herself.

 

“But I think you chose correctly in the end”, he added with a small smile and a glint in his eyes, always having had a special affinity for the Green Ajah.

 

“We stand ready”, he whispered, and Kathleen gave him an affirmative nod.

 

There was pride in her eyes.

  ▀▄ 

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.. ‘Destination Caemlyn: a Journey and History - Part 2’ ..

►▼◄

 

The words reverberated in his mind.

 

We stand ready.

 

It was one of the first things Leandreen had said to him after they were Bonded those many years ago. 

 

He remembered her words, her voice, the intense sparkle in her eyes, as if it had been yesterday.

 

“To be a Green,” she had said, “means to Stand Ready. In the Trolloc Wars we were often called the Battle Ajah. All Aes Sedai helped where and when they could, but the Green Ajah alone was always with the armies, in almost every battle. We were the counter to the Dreadlords. So we Stand Ready, for the time when the Trollocs come south again, for Tarmon Gai'don, the Last Battle. We are the Battle Ajah. We will be there. That is what it means to be a Green.”

 

His eyes lost their distant look and he focused again on Kathleen.

 

“As for the Brown, I am not sure if you recall,” he said, “but in one of our first conversations in the White Tower I told you of an.. interesting experience with a Brown Sister.” He grinned in rememberance, as Kathleen gave a small nod and a touch of a smile, sipping to her kaf. He retold the episode, trying to recapture the slight hilarity of the situation, his voice filled with amusement as he reminisced.

 

For a Brown Sister had a long time ago ‘pounced’ on him when she had discovered him in the History section of the great Tar Valon Library, seated at a table all on his own with six thick volumes of Sethad’s grand “History of the World: Truth and Myth” before him, intently reading. Whether her interest came from the oddity of seeing a Warder in the library with a nose deep in a set of thick books, something which might give her reason for intense study for the next few years, or from his impressive memory when he recited a long and intricate poem by heart when she asked, something which also would make for a deliciously long period of study for the Brown, Elessar did not know. In truth, he was just as glad when she was gone. Being Warder to a Brown had to be a very.. interesting.. experience.. but Elessar was frankly not quite sure he was up to it.

 

 

It was many days later, with the sun shining down on them from a partially blue sky, a soft northerly wind in their backs, when they finally got Caemlyn in their sights. The sight of the splendrous city never ceased to amaze him. They rode very slowly along the main road, Kathleen’s horse walking alongside Elessar’s warhorse, the Warder speaking as they rode, sharing his knowledge of the city and history, Kathleen listening with interest.

 

“Many consider Caemlyn the second grandest city in the lands”, he said as they passed some weary-looking people heading toward the Capital, “only eclipsed by Tar Valon, if not its equal. The city is actually made up of two sections, the New City, built well under two thousand years ago by the hands of man alone, and the ancient Inner City, much of which bears the mark of Ogier stonemasons. A great fifty-foot wall of silver white stone surrounds most of the official perimeter of the city, broken by tall round towers that flank massive arched gates.”

 

It was clear from the way he spoke that this was a subject of great interest to him. Kathleen smiled to herself as she listened.

 

“Outside the wall,” he continued, “buildings cluster thickly like lichen to a log, spreading outward from the glittering mosaic of the city in a gradual dispersion. Within its outer walls the city is laid out in a crazy quilt of streets and byways, with its respendent towers and domes. You will enjoy the sight, of that I am sure”, he said with a knowing smile as they continued down the road.

 

 

They rode for a while in silence, contemplating his words and casting glances at the city in the distance, and then Kathleen asked if he could tell her some of Caemlyn’s and Andor’s history. Elessar nodded approvingly, saying that he would tell her much.

 

“It is a story worth telling.. an important part of Andoran history that I have come acoss several times in my reading.” He smiled. “A lot happened in those bygone years, and there are people and episodes and facts and trivia aplenty, but since you confirmed that you share my interest in these things, I am sure you will not be bored.”

 

They passed a slow-moving ox-cart driven by what looked like a local farmer and some more travellers walking in the direction of the city, before the Warder from Kandor stepped back into the echoes of history..

 

“During the first millennium after the Breaking”, he said to Kathleen, “the territory of Andor was held by two of the Ten Nations, Manetheren in the west and Coremanda in the east. The city of Hai Caemlyn was founded as one of Coremanda's major strongholds, a large city close to the River Erinin, which was important for trade. During the Trolloc Wars both kingdoms were destroyed. After the conclusion of the wars, the kingdoms of Farashelle, Aldeshar, and Caembarin arose out of the ruins of the two older kingdoms. Aldeshar and Caembarin, named for its capital at the rebuilt city of Caemlyn, were two of the most militarily powerful nations of their time and sent armies against the false Dragon Guaire Amalasan in the War of the Second Dragon, although it was actually King Artur Paendrag Tanreall, known as Artur Hawkwing, of the small kingdom of Shandalle, east of Caembarin, who defeated Amalasan.”

 

 

“Too many facts for you?” The Warder asked with another grin. This pleasant telling of history had certainly lightened his mood, something he were sure Kathleen felt. She gave him a small grin back and told him to please continue. It pleased him to note that she was interested in all the facts of history, facts others might have found tedious and complicated, and that she appeciated his telling of the story.

 

“Alright then”, he went on. “What happened next is that Caembarin attacked Shandalle a few months later and Aldeshar followed suit the following year, allegedly due to the manipulations of the Amyrlin Seat, Bonwhin Meraighdin.” His eyebrow rose slightly and he glanced across at the Green Sister, knowing that she probably knew even more of (secret) Tower History - and of the infamous Bonwhin, one of a very few Amyrlins ever stripped of stole and staff - than he did from his Warder training many years before. “During the Consolidation”, he continued after a moment, “Hawkwing conquered Caembarin early in his campaign, but Aldeshar did not fully surrender until FY 963, the last nation to be added to his growing Empire.”

 

“Blaming King Joal Ramedar of Aldeshar for the murder of his wife, Amaline Paendrag Tagora, three years previously, Hawkwing put Ramedar to death and scattered the people of Aldeshar across the Empire. This period of rage, the Black Years, ended after Hawkwing's aborted invasion of the Aiel Waste and his marriage to the lady Tamika. Hawkwing set about organizing his Empire into provinces. The Imperial Province of Andor was created early on, spanning the central regions of the Empire. The precise borders of Andor Province are unknown, but Caemlyn was the ruling city. The first governor was Jeorad Manyard (who, it was speculated, was more interested in creating a translation of The Prophecies of the Dragon), but his rule did not last long.”

 

 

Elessar paused there, letting all the facts and trivia sink in. They were getting closer to the city gates now, the wind was picking up with dust flying about and more people, both locals and foreigners, grown ups and children, were on the road, some also coming from the city. Kathleen was very impressed by Elessar’s knowledge and memory for detail and though she knew some things from before there was plenty of new knowledge to absorb as well. She rode mostly in silence, asking a question now and again, but he could hear in her voice when she spoke that she was captivated by his story.

 

“Alright, the last part now”, he said. “Displaying regret for his harsh treatment of Aldeshar, Hawkwing permitted its people to return home and appointed Endara Casalain, King Ramedar's daughter, as the Imperial Governor of Andor in FY 967. In FY 975 Hawkwing's armies besieged Tar Valon,” - they exchanged a quick glance again, both knowing this part of Tower History -  “a siege that was to last for the remaining lifespan of the Empire. Endara's daughter, Ishara Casalain, began an intriguing - and ultimately defining - romance with General Souran Maravaile, the Commander of the siege, in the early FY 990s.”

 

“After the death of Artur Hawkwing in FY 994, Ishara and the new Amyrlin Seat, Deane Aryman” - another shared glance - “persuaded General Souran Maravaile to lift the siege of Tar Valon. Ishara and Souran returned to Andor and subsequently married. Endara withdrew any claim to the governorship or crown and swore fealty to her daughter Ishara. Ishara then declared herself the first Queen of Andor, establishing an unbroken bloodline of female rulers.”

 

“And that’s the short version”, the Borderlander Warder added with a chuckle. He could not say for certain but he thought he heard a slight chuckle coming from his Sedai, though it could have been the wind.

 

Kathleen thanked him for the story and for his attention to detail, thinking about all she had been told as she rode beside Elessar as they approached the Capital of Andor.

 

 

Soon the Warder and Aes Sedai, their travelling cloaks flapping in the wind, rode through the city gate, beneath banners of the White Lion of Andor rippling proudly on the walls, and headed into the center of the Capital.

 

Good to be back, Elessar thought silently, not for the first time, as they rode slowly into Caemlyn.

 

And like a whisper out of history, carried on winds of rememberance, he almost thought he heard the words Forward, the White Lion of Andor!, the famous battle cry of the Queen's Guard, pass through the air behind him as he guided his warhorse down the city streets with his Battle Ajah Aes Sedai riding by his side.

  ▀▄ 

 

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Kathleen lay in her makeshift bed long after sun was down and Elessar and she had said their good nights. Their conversation had stayed with her and infiltrated her dreams. She found herself back in the tower standing deep under ground facing sisters of every Ajah but the  shall that draped around her shoulders was brown.

 

The scene shifted to the library where Kathleen found herself behind the private door in an imagined room filled with ancient books. She was sitting among them, devouring information that was held back from the rest of the world. Everything shifted again and she stood in a sectioned off part of a long settled ruined city, squatted down dusting dirt as treasures appeared from the rubble. Another shift returned her to the tower where she found herself in the Brown Ajah halls leaving her room filled with shelves full of artifacts and books and hand written notes of her own personal studies, she was walking to a class room where she would be teaching the Accepted on a topic that she knew they would all be interested in learning about and she never felt more prepared to teach than she did in that moment.

 

The dream shifted back to the circle of sisters and a grey shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She was transported out of the depths of the Tower's lower chamber and far off into the world standing in a luxurious dress at the side of a king she had orchestrated the rising of. He was holding court and should had the smug satisfaction of knowing that she held the reins of all things being achieved in this country. She was as good as queen with none of the pesky blame when things went wrong. Another shift came and she found herself in a closed off room with serious faced leaders, clearly at odds on the brink of a war. She had to think quickly, but she was the one who ultimately smoothed the waters. Another shift took her to the Grey halls, in her room surrounded by books on the various laws all around the world. She was preparing to run a mock trial based on the laws of Murandy. 

 

She awoke and the memories of the dream filtered back into her mind. Kathleen lay silent confused about what all this meant. After years of serving the greens was she really questioning her choice? I can have other interests. That does mean I am any less devoted to the Greens. In fact, it my love of history, knowledge, and justice that solidifies my place among my Green sisters. 

 

Her memories filled in with all of her experiences as a Green. From gaining the shawl and having it ripped away the same day, being told she had more training after being called Aes Sedai before being called Sister of the Green. She recalled the books surrounding her in the secret Brown library in her dream and then thought of the books stocked on the shelves in her own Green quarters on battle and strategy that she had devoured over the years. The knowledge she had soaked up about the histories of fallen territories and disasters that ravaged the lands and the heroes who had arrived on scene to help rebuild. She had been among crews first on scene for disasters herself. She recalled the portion of dream where she dug through ancient rubble finding long lost artifacts and feeling like she was preserving knowledge that would save the world someday. She then thought about all the time she dug through the rubble of a building that had collapsed before her eyes searching for survivors. She had pulled two people out of that tragedy. Those were lives she preserved who could go on to save the world. 

 

She remembered studying the laws of so many countries. She had found it fun and quite interesting, but it proved useful on many trips too. She remembered traveling with some of her green sisters to Murandy prepared to do whatever they must. It was peaceful negotiation that won the day, but it was Greens who went, not Grey. The Greens could do what the Greys would have done, but they were prepared to do more than a Grey would have been if the need arose.

 

She remembered going over all of her options for months before her raising. She knew she could be a great asset to any ajah, except maybe the white - logic puzzles and philosophy with no practical application never intrigued her. The deciding factor had always been in the knowledge that she could pursue all of her passions, all of her skills, and make the biggest difference in the world with the Greens. Anyone could study, teach, and dig for buried treasure, anyone could advise kings and queens and negotiate deals, any one could heal people after the damage is done, but there were only a select few who were willing and capable of running headfirst into danger, standing between monsters and the innocent people they intend to harm. It took something not everyone had to train your body and your mind and prepare yourself to kill or be killed, to stand between ready for the end of the world in the knowledge that you are the last defense. She had the other skills, and she would use them when she could, but she had something more that would be ready at hand when the other options failed. When the time came and peace, justice, knowledge, and logic where not enough, she would ready to fight, protect, and save the world. Until that time, she could still enjoy her other passions, even if they weren't always passions shared by her other Green Sisters. She dedicated her life to saving the world and protecting the people so they could live enjoyable lives. She may as well enjoy her life too before she rode off into what she believed would be terrible bloody end.

 

***************************************************************************************************

 

The day was beautiful like a dream as Kathleen followed Elessar down the main road toward Caemlyn, a gentle breeze bringing just enough reminder that it was real.  She was excited to be heading there, more excited than she had expected. It was far from the first time she had set out into the world, but it was the first time she had found her way to what was widely considered the second most breath taking city.  The pace the war horse trotted was a slow comfortable one and Kathleen pulled her mare up alongside it to speak with Elessar. This was going to be as close to a vacation as she she had ever been on and she intended to enjoy every minute of it.

 

The warder began divulging his knowledge as they approached the city and Kathleen happily listed along. She knew he was a vault of interesting historical information and she had hoped that he would know that her request for him to share it with her was truly sincere.

 

             

“Many consider Caemlyn the second grandest city in the lands”, he said as they passed some weary-looking people heading toward the Capital, “only eclipsed by Tar Valon, if not its equal. The city is actually made up of two sections, the New City, built well under two thousand years ago by the hands of man alone, and the ancient Inner City, much of which bears the mark of Ogier stonemasons. A great fifty-foot wall of silver white stone surrounds most of the official perimeter of the city, broken by tall round towers that flank massive arched gates.”

 

Kathleen knew he had a tendency to get on a role when he found a topic he enjoyed or had a lot of knowledge on, but was something she found quite endearing. She was truly looking forward to her little personal history lesson. She hoped Elessar would enjoy it too.

 

“Outside the wall,” he continued, “buildings cluster thickly like lichen to a log, spreading outward from the glittering mosaic of the city in a gradual dispersion. Within its outer walls the city is laid out in a crazy quilt of streets and byways, with its respendent towers and domes. You will enjoy the sight, of that I am sure”, he said with a knowing smile as they continued down the road.

 

Kathleen held her composure as she rode silently beside Elessar, watching the other travelers keeping their distance and going about their own business. She let herself think breifly of how their lives must be as she passed them by. But there were people everyone she could ponder about, and she wanted to hear more of the land they were entering. She pressed the warder for more history and he happily obliged.

 

“It is a story worth telling.. an important part of Andoran history that I have come acoss several times in my reading.” He smiled. “A lot happened in those bygone years, and there are people and episodes and facts and trivia aplenty, but since you confirmed that you share my interest in these things, I am sure you will not be bored.”

 

“During the first millennium after the Breaking”, he said to Kathleen, “the territory of Andor was held by two of the Ten Nations, Manetheren in the west and Coremanda in the east. The city of Hai Caemlyn was founded as one of Coremanda's major strongholds, a large city close to the River Erinin, which was important for trade. During the Trolloc Wars both kingdoms were destroyed. After the conclusion of the wars, the kingdoms of Farashelle, Aldeshar, and Caembarin arose out of the ruins of the two older kingdoms. Aldeshar and Caembarin, named for its capital at the rebuilt city of Caemlyn, were two of the most militarily powerful nations of their time and sent armies against the false Dragon Guaire Amalasan in the War of the Second Dragon, although it was actually King Artur Paendrag Tanreall, known as Artur Hawkwing, of the small kingdom of Shandalle, east of Caembarin, who defeated Amalasan.”

 

“Too many facts for you?” The Warder asked with another grin.

 

Kathleen could sense the enjoyment this telling was bring to the warder and she knew he could sense the same joy in herself. This was exactly she was hoping would come of this trip. She had studied a lot of the histories over the years, but it was a long time ago and it was certainly better to hear it than read it in a book. She was due for a refresher and it would help to have it newly on her mind as the city unfolded around her. She was quite impressed with the details he could recall on the fly, though it was fascinating enough that it wasn't a surprise that he would remember it.

 

“Alright then”, he went on. “What happened next is that Caembarin attacked Shandalle a few months later and Aldeshar followed suit the following year, allegedly due to the manipulations of the Amyrlin Seat, Bonwhin Meraighdin.”

 

At the mention of Bonwhin Kathleen unconsiously stiffened, until she met Elessar's eye who had clearly picked up on the touchy subject. She relaxed herself as he tentatively continued.

 

“During the Consolidation”, he continued after a moment, “Hawkwing conquered Caembarin early in his campaign, but Aldeshar did not fully surrender until FY 963, the last nation to be added to his growing Empire.”

 

“Blaming King Joal Ramedar of Aldeshar for the murder of his wife, Amaline Paendrag Tagora, three years previously, Hawkwing put Ramedar to death and scattered the people of Aldeshar across the Empire. This period of rage, the Black Years, ended after Hawkwing's aborted invasion of the Aiel Waste and his marriage to the lady Tamika. Hawkwing set about organizing his Empire into provinces. The Imperial Province of Andor was created early on, spanning the central regions of the Empire. The precise borders of Andor Province are unknown, but Caemlyn was the ruling city. The first governor was Jeorad Manyard (who, it was speculated, was more interested in creating a translation of The Prophecies of the Dragon), but his rule did not last long.”

 

They were getting closer to the city gates and the wind, as well as the company along the roadway, was increasing. Kathleen adjusted her riding cloak to brace against the dust and she adjusted her posture to ensure that she while she felt like an excited child mesmerized by a gleeman in the middle of rivoting tale she didn't look like one to the people she was approaching. She rode mostly in silence, but she couldn't help but ask a few questions now and again.

 

“Alright, the last part now”, he said. “Displaying regret for his harsh treatment of Aldeshar, Hawkwing permitted its people to return home and appointed Endara Casalain, King Ramedar's daughter, as the Imperial Governor of Andor in FY 967. In FY 975 Hawkwing's armies besieged Tar Valon,” - they exchanged a quick glance again, both knowing this part of Tower History -  “a siege that was to last for the remaining lifespan of the Empire. Endara's daughter, Ishara Casalain, began an intriguing - and ultimately defining - romance with General Souran Maravaile, the Commander of the siege, in the early FY 990s.”

 

“After the death of Artur Hawkwing in FY 994, Ishara and the new Amyrlin Seat, Deane Aryman” - another shared glance - “persuaded General Souran Maravaile to lift the siege of Tar Valon. Ishara and Souran returned to Andor and subsequently married. Endara withdrew any claim to the governorship or crown and swore fealty to her daughter Ishara. Ishara then declared herself the first Queen of Andor, establishing an unbroken bloodline of female rulers.”

 

“And that’s the short version”, the Borderlander Warder added with a chuckle.

 

As if released from a spell, Kathleen came back to her senses at this comment and she couldn't resist a quiet laugh in response to Ellesar's own chuckle. 

 

Kathleen thanked him for the story and for his attention to detail, thinking about all she had been told as she rode beside Elessar as they approached the Capital of Andor.

 

Soon the Warder and Aes Sedai, their travelling cloaks flapping in the wind, rode through the city gate, beneath banners of the White Lion of Andor rippling proudly on the walls, and headed into the center of the Capital.

 

She had grown accustomed the stunning features of Tar Valon, and she wasn't sure if it was simply because of the wonderful introduction dragging her mind back in to the early days of the city that made her study the surroundings and see the beauty, even in the newer parts as they entered, but she found herself marveling at the gates and all that laid beyond them. 

 

 

 

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.. Echoes from the Past: ”Carrai an Ellisande!” ..

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Riding through the streets of Caemlyn, Elessar was hard pushed to hide a grin at Kathleen’s obvious pleasure at being in this wonderous city. Not that she showed it openly, her facial features as smooth as that of any Aes Sedai, her posture proper and regal. But through the Bond the Warder felt some of her excitement, and he remembered how in awe he had been the first time he had visited the spectacular Capital of Andor.

 

The city was a wonder - and Elessar could imagine how Kathleen looked forward to seeing the city sights and learning even more of the city and country’s history. He looked forward to this time in Caemlyn too; no matter how many times he visited the city, it never ceased to amaze him.

 

 

Finally they reached the Rose Crown inn. They dismounted outside the building, which had a painted sign depicting said rose and crown above the entrance, and Elessar took their horses back to the stables behind the establishment. Stormbreaker and Kathleen’s mount were ushered into stalls under the watchful eye of a young Andoran stableboy, and then the Warder returned to where his Aes Sedai waited.

 

“Our horses will be taken good care of”, he said to Kathleen as he walked up to her. She had appeared a little.. distant - that was the best word he could find to describe it - with the animals during their journey, but perhaps she was not as used to horses as he was. Even so, he knew that she also cared that their valiant mounts were looked after. “Did you ever tell me the name of your horse?” he asked, as he picked up their belongings “I am glad that your mare gets on well with Stormbreaker”, he added with a small smile. “Being a warhorse, he can be a little feisty at times.”

 

He carried their packs and supplies as he followed his Bondholder into the building. They quickly found the innkeeper, a slightly balding man of above average girth wearing an apron. He had a rugged face that had a small scar on the side. His eyes were deep-set in his face but he had a friendly if somewhat smug smile. He was standing behind the bar watching his staff cleaning tables, serving food and drink and doing all the little things that needed to be done to keep an establishment of some repute running smoothly and well. The innkeeper recognized the Aes Sedai and Warder for what they were and greeted them politely.

 

Soon they were upstairs in adjoining rooms unpacking. Kathleen did not hide her contentment at being able to sleep in a bed again after many days on the road and sleeping in makeshift camps in woodlands, and Elessar was not unhappy either. Not for the first time he thought he was going ‘soft’ in his ‘elder’ days. They agreed to meet downstairs for a meal in the evening.

 

Throwing himself on the bed in his room - a smaller room but with a southern-facing window, a cupboard in the corner and a shelf with a couple books on the wall - the Warder from Kandor closed his eyes and reminisced. His thoughts went back to another visit to Caemlyn. A visit made with Carys, his former Aes Sedai and Bondholder.

 

And to their meeting with dear Old Celter.

 

A smile came upon his lips as he re-lived the moment in his mind.

 

 

..A tiny bell had sounded as the door to the Caemlyn Antiques-shop had clicked shut. Carys had looked around, her nose twitching at the dust in the air. There were objects on tables all around, small plaques in front describing why they were important. Paintings had hung on nearly every inch of wall space, making the small shop seem even smaller. The Aes Sedai had begun speaking, and then the shopkeeper had come upon them. He had been whistling a tune, unknown to Elessar, and now he stared at them with wide eyes, holding tightly onto a plate of steaming food, his words drifting away like whispers..

 

He was a very old man, wearing a woolen shirt which had once been colourful but where the colours had faded over time, and trousers which had not been in fashion for over a century. He had a prestigious girth, and a wrinkled old face, grey hair, crystal blue eyes with bushy eyebrows, big ears and a large nose. He wore ancient glasses -and- he looked positively shocked to see them there.

 

Elessar and Carys exchanged a quick look and the Warder tried for the second time that morning not entirely successfully to hide a grin. Light, the man looks like an ancient scholar! he thought with kind amusement. He must be as old as some of the books in here! Carys met the old man’s eyes and answered him that they were visiting the city and had seen his shop as they were walking by. “We’re students of history, my good man” Elessar added, his gaze eagerly taking in the room with all its objects of great age. “We’re interested in Andoran history and traditions”, the Aes Sedai said and smiled.

 

The old Andoran scrutinized them, noticing the woman’s fair skin and complexion, then nodded to himself, murmuring under his breath. “History and traditions you say?” he said and a wide grin came upon his lips. “Well then, come in, come in strangers”, he said as he started to walk back in the shop, bidding them to follow. “Old Celter will give you some of our history”. He chuckled a little, then added: ”Come now. Hardly anyone visits my shop nowadays anyway, so little chance we will be disturbed. Come follow me. Follow me to the back. Follow old Celter.” They exchanged a quick glance, shrugged, and followed the old man to the back of the shop.

 

He placed the plate of steaming food on a shelf in the back room and it was soon forgotten as he motioned for the two of them to sit down in a pair of heavily decorated brown wooden chairs that looked as old as the Trolloc Wars. The ancient chairs creaked slightly as they seated themselves and Carys and Elessar exchanged a silent glance which read: ‘please, let these antiques carry our weight!’ “Traditions... yes”, the old man mumbled to himself as he ran a finger down the side of his chair. “I don’t often get visitors”, he said and he pushed up his glasses that had fallen down on his nose.

 

“History is all about us here”, he said, “but no one seems to care.” He shrugged. There was regret in his voice, but then, as if a switch had been turned, his eyes lit up and he studied them closely again. “But you do, strangers”, he said and a playful grin came upon his lips. “So all hope is not lost.” He smiled in a strange way but Elessar was charmed by this old man, who, he somehow felt, was more than your everyday shopkeeper and antiques-dealer.

 

What is your history, old man, I wonder? the Warder thought to himself. I bet you have seen many things in your long life..

 

 

They met up downstairs at the appointed hour that evening. Taking a table at the back, they waited for the serving woman to come with drinks and a meal. The place was slowly filling up with a mix of locals and strangers (some more boisterous than others) and Elessar and Kathleen made some small talk as they waited. A smiling young woman with long blond hair, a lopsided saucy grin and a twinkle in her blue eyes served them drinks (Elessar winked back at her which made her grin broaden) and left to sort their meal-order. Meanwhile a gleeman entered the Common Room from the side door and stepped up to the stage at the end. He bowed to those sitting closest and received cheers from several. Soon Elessar and Kathleen got their meals. It was roasted meat with potatoes, vegetables and gravy and the Borderlander Warder found it quite delicious. 

 

The gleeman, a young blond and blue-eyed man of Andoran origin, wearing the cloak of many colourful patches of his profession, turned out to be more talented than his fairly young years might indicate. He played several jaunty tunes on his flute to great applause (and some banging on tables from some of the rowdier guests) and then sang several songs which the locals obviously knew and appreciated. Elessar, sitting at the back with Kathleen, clapped as well, always enjoying entertainment of this kind. After a ten minute pause or so the gleeman returned to the stage and, with some dramatic hand gestures and a theatrical voice, said he would now sing a song out of history. New cheers followed this pronouncement. When he said the name of the poem and song, Elessar’s smiled broadened. This was one of his favourite poems which he would never tire of, no matter how many times he read it or saw it performed.

 

“I love this poem”, Elessar whispered to Kathleen with a glint in his eyes. “It never ceases to move me.”

 

 

It was called “Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)”, author unknown, and was an old heroic and sad story about the ancient nation called Manetheren, in what was now a region of Western Andor, and its legendary Aes Sedai Queen Eldrene ay Ellan ay Carlan (the “Rose of the Sun”) who led them in their valiant fight against the Shadow. Not all historians considered it fully authentic material, but whether fact or myth, or a mix of the two, it was a great story, Elessar thought. He was pretty sure Kathleen, with her similar interest in history and stories, not to mention her Aes Sedai background with regards to the subject matter, would enjoy this performance as well.

 

Echoes of the Past reverberated in the Common Room as the talented young gleeman wove his tapestry of history and myth, drawing in his spellbound audience.

 

 

►▼◄

 

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. Noone 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.

 

►▲◄

 

 

  ▀▄ 

 

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The city was everything Kathleen had anticipated and more. The ancient structures, some Ogier built some just maintained throughout the years, were so enchanting they threw her back in time to when they were first erected. The history radiated off of them into her soul even as the people moved ordinarily through the streets completing their menial daily tasks taking more time to notice the presence of the Aes Sedai and Warder among them than the built in beauty surrounding them. She knew that people coming to Tar Valon must feel the same way about the people frequenting the markets there as she was feeling about the people in the markets of Caemlyn. That thought made her laugh to herself, how similar we all are. How granted we take everything, how much we dismiss or overlook simply because its accessible. As soon as it is far away it become curious and mesmorized, but if we can touch it it looses it's power.

 

When the pair arrived at the Rose Crown inn, Kathleen felt a little disappointed. Her tour was concluded and she would have to return to the mundane tasks of booking in, unpacking, and settling back to business. It was one thing to let herself enjoy a little time out, but vacations can't last for ever and there was work to be done.  

 

Kathleen awaited Elessar's return from the stables and informed the Aes Sedia that the horses would be well cared for. She was pleased at this news, but expected no less from an estabilisment set in the capital city. There was more worry over poor care from less frequented inns set far from sight. That was a broad generalization but it was one she had set and believed. When the warder asked if Kathleen had told him the name of her house she let a sudden burst of guilt flit through her and she was sure it he had noticed it.  She simply answered, "No, I don't believe I have." With that dismissive remark, Kathleen lead the way into the inn. The truth was she had lost too many steads in  her years that she had stopped letting herself get attached to them. She had truly loved them at one point. The reminded her of her roots and simpler times. And she had ridden too many of them to death or into danger they had no say over, she had abandoned a few in times of need, and she had watched her first horse, the one she had stolen from her father to run away to the Tower in her youth, die of old age and she had had to steel her heart. She had forgotten the name of the mare she was currently using, but she didn't want to simply place a name on it in a whim to answer Elessar's question. If she would name this horse it would be done with honour, not in a flash. Seeing Elessar's respect and love his steed had made Kathleen feel remorse for her lack. 

 

Kathleen enjoyed the quiet atmosphere in the entrance and lobby of the inn. Workers set to task, clinking of items being set out and arranged, people moving around one another in deliberate routine, soft chatter as they worked it was clear they all knew their place and enjoyed their work. It seemed a well oiled machine. The innkeeper was kind though his appearance showed a history hidden behind the humble task of passing keys across a desk. Kathleen thanked him allowed Elessar to bring her bags to her room, though she realized as he brought them that it was a task they had not discussed. He had simply taken it upon himself one day and she had allowed it without thought. It wasn't an uncommon thing, in fact it was her understanding that most warders did this sort of thing. She had been young when she had bonded her first Warder and it had been important then to establish her role and her presence as the leader, the one in charge, the one in command. She did not have the ageless look yet and even other Sisters looked at her like a child with no say. She had an image to prove to the world and Nevuel understood that how he presented himself would reflect on how she was seen and he had understood how important those appearances were. Because of this he naturally went out of his way to make her look the part even when she hadn't realized he was doing it in the early years. Over time as her own confidence grew and she resembled the public's perception of Aes Sedai the dynamic changed.

 

As she watched Elessar carry her load she wondered how he truly felt about it. In some ways a warder was a servant. He served the Sister, but in the way that a second set of eyes or an extra hand for a sword served. He was a protector and he was a tool to be used to do important work that needed to be done that the Sister could not do herself. He was needed for his brain, his strategist skills, his fighting skills, and to be in the places someone needed to be in when the Aes Sedai was needed elsewhere. If she wanted to someone to stable her horse or carry her bags or make her a cup of kaf she could find someone far less valuable to do those things. Had she been taking advantage of Elessar in this respect since they had bonded? He had done so much by way of setting up camps after scouting them, packing up and preparing the horses, did he do these things because he found honour in them. Did it give him a sense that he was doing his duty and being a help, or did he do it because he thought it was expected. Would he rather not do those things? Kathleen was a grown woman now and could and would happily do those more personal servant tasks herself if Elessar preferred it. But she didn't want to overstep on his sense of duty either. If he saw it as is place and he felt that by doing these things he was doing his duty she would not want to take that pride from him.

 

She thought over all of this as she unpacked a few of the items she would want overnight, a book, her hair brush, her journal and clothes for the night and next day. She sat down and wrote four letters. Two would be sent ahead on the path they would travel to complete their mission. One would be sent back toward the Tower as an update. The last would sent off to the North in search of Nevuel's hands. She wasn't sure if that one would make it, but sent one off at every chance she could. She would send the letters out before bed in hopes they would arrive well ahead of her.

 

She changed into a new dress to meet with Elessar at supper as they had planned. The night was another pleasant experience and Kathleen found herself watching Elessar closely across the table all night. She reached out through the bond trying to read a closer glimpse, trying to get a feel for her new companion. He was enjoying this place, the city, the inn, the journey, as much as she was. She saw the way his eyes lit up as the room filled with patrons and the servers came around. He really saw the people around him, not just in their roles but as the people they were. He made a connection with each one he interacted with, it was all so genuine. No one was just the hand that set the plate in front of him, they were a vital human who took the time to acknowledge. This was a skill she had found herself pulling away from. She had once been like that, but through the years she had changed. The innkeeper was an innkeeper. The serving girl brought the food. And she could give a profile of each person in the room, but it would be based one who could kill her first and how and nothing more. The stories they told could take her attention, but who was telling them was not all that important to her. She wasn't sure what point in her life had made that change begin, but it was set now for some years. 

 

Out of respect for him and in an attempt to gleam more of an idea of what was important to him on a personal level, Kathleen listened with deep intent as the poem Elessar had shared his love for. She let the words take her on their journey and she too was moved. When the grief at the loss of the great nation passed, she thought of the lesser undertones. Perhaps it was that the story was so strong, but she thought more that she could see herself in it. She had long assumed her death would come in the throws of battle against the Shadow, but she hoped as all warriors do that it would come in the making of a victory, not in the realization that the battle was done and all was lost. That she had led good people to their deaths for nothing. People who followed blindly and loyally and then were slaughtered because of their devotion. 

 

Her thoughts turned back to Elessar and the bags. She expressed her thoughts to him on Tower expectations, public perception, and personal preference, the differences between personal service and professional service and asked his thoughts on the subject. 

 

 

 

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.. The Complexities of Service ..

►▼◄

 

"No, I don't believe I have."

 

Kathleen’s dismissive remark when he had asked her about her mare’s name, stuck in his mind.

 

He could not say why, but it did.

 

Perhaps it was because he himself felt such respect and, in a way, love for his valiant warhorse of many years Stormbreaker. Perhaps because he had expected her to give the name of her mare and she did not. Perhaps because he began to wonder if she had named her mount at all. Not that this was very important in the grand scheme of things, but for some reason it mattered to Elessar. He thought their horses were like close companions on the road, companions who deserved respect and friendship. And the least they deserved was a name. It was what friends had. It was part of their identity.

 

Kathleen’s remark had certainly taken him by surprise. But there was a story there, his intuition told him. A reason. He guessed that Kathleen had perhaps had experiences with horses before, as most Green Sisters had, perhaps riding them into danger as would often be the case for the Battle Ajah. Perhaps the loss of horses had made her steel her heart against them, a kind of emotional defence-mechanism? It would not be surprising after all. He decided not to probe Kathleen about it; if she wanted to tell him at some point, then that would be her choice.

 

The Warder stared out of the small window in his room in the Rose Crown inn. It was early afternoon and the sun was shining above the Andoran Capital of Caemlyn. Some clouds were drifting in from the south but much of the sky was blue. A large bird of prey floated on westerly winds as it flew across the city high above and Elessar watched it as it gradually disappeared in the horizon. His hands placed on the windowsill, he gazed at the buildings across from the inn. In one of them he saw a young child leaning over the edge of a small terrace, staring wideeyed at the buzzing activity in the sidestreet below. He smiled to himself, thinking of the innate curiosity of children and also of the innocence they displayed, an innocence that often was destroyed when they came into contact with the dangers of the world later in life.

 

 

“Nothing is ever easy”. He mumbled the words almost like a whisper as he turned away from the window and stared at the wall separating his room from Kathleen’s. He felt her there on the other side through the Bond. Sighing to himself, thinking of the complexities of openness and trust, of shared emotions and feelings through the Warder-Sedai Bond, he lay down on his bed and closed his eyes for a moment.

 

There was a.. distance between them.

 

He had felt it on their journey south into Andor and he felt it now. Despite their talk. Despite everything. He had studied her during their journey when she was not looking, trying to get an insight into her, but she was not easy to read. Not that she was ever unkind in any way, or that she was not polite, and he did enjoy the journey, being on the road again and being in this new Bond, but he sensed that she was a little.. closed off from him in a way. Not for the first time he wondered why. Perhaps she was a little uncertain, he thought, when it came to their new working partnership, or perhaps it was just the way she was, he did not know. This was, after all, a new situation for them both. Though they had developed a kind of friendship over time in the Tower, with several pleasant and interesting conversations, it was something different with a Warder-Sedai companionship and the mutual responsibilities of a Bond. He knew it and he felt sure she did too.

 

Also, he guessed that the matter of her other Warder, her first Warder, was playing on her mind. He did not know much beyond the fact that Nevuel Gaidin, a fellow Borderlander, was off on a matter somewhere in the North - Kathleen had not shared any details and he had not asked - but he sensed that this made her uneasy somehow or at least less comfortable with the situation than she would have been with him also by her side. Elessar liked Nevuel, they had talked in those several visits he, Elessar had made to Kathleen’s quarters for conversations, they both were Northerners and shared the same sense of humour, and he hoped the man was well.

 

It will sort itself in time, he thought to himself with some confidence, putting the matter of the seeming distance between himself and his Aes Sedai out of his mind for the moment, as he opened his eyes and got up from the bed.

 

It was time to do some sightseeing in Caemlyn.

 

A smile came upon his face. He knew Kathleen had been looking forward to it.

 

 

The evening before, after the gleeman’s performance of the moving poem of bygone Manetheren, Kathleen and Elessar had retired to the small private library at the back of the inn. It was a small room but it was empty, and private, and had several bookshelves with a few dozen books, maps and other artifacts from history. As they seated themselves in a couple of wooden chairs, they chitchatted a little first, talking about the story of doomed Manetheren and of the heroic desperation of its Aes Sedai Queen, echoes of the poem they had just seen performed in song still in their minds, before moving onto other subjects. They talked some about the coming journey westwards past Four Kings toward Whitebridge and of the provisions they would need to buy.

 

Then Kathleen paused for a moment, and seemed to weigh her words. She went on to express her thoughts to him on Tower expectations, public perception, and personal preference, the differences between personal service and professional service and ended by asking for his thoughts on the subject. 

 

He considered what she had said for a moment before replying. He then thanked her for her words - and thoughts - on Tower expectations and public perception. He recalled a similar conversation with Leandreen many years before, as well as with his other Sedais. Though they had said much the same things, there was some difference in emphasis and presentation as was to be expected from women with different personalities. Leandreen’s more exuberant way of expressing herself was a contrast to Kathleen’s somewhat colder, more factual way. He replied honestly, as he had done with all his Bondholders, sharing his thoughts and values. He spoke of the importance of duty for a Warder, that he did feel it right that he besides protecting her from all threats as was his paramount duty he also took on menial but necessary tasks such as carrying her bags and their packs, seeing to their horses when out in the wild, setting up camp, patrolling the camp area and so on. As Aes Sedai she had more important matters to focus on, he said.

 

 

“As for the Warder being a servant”, Elessar added with some amusement in his voice, “that reminds me of a lesson I once had as a Warder-trainee. The class was discussing what it means to be a Warder.”

 

Kathleen could see that he was going to enjoy telling this story.

 

“It was many years ago”, the Warder said, reminiscing, “but I remember it as if it were yesterday.”

 

His dark eyes took on a faraway look, bringing the past into the present as it were, as he shared the details from his memory with his listening Aes Sedai.

 

 

..Facing the class, the old Gaidin-teacher began. “The lesson today is the history of the Gaidin. Tied in with this is the question of what it means to be a Warder”.

 

He spoke in a lecturing tone and it was obvious he had long experience on the subject. The Warder-trainees listened attentively, or at least some more than others. A young Elessar was seated off to the right in the classroom and was the first to raise his hand when the teacher, some way into the lecture, asked for an opinion. “Yes, Elessar isn’t it?” the teacher said. Elessar nodded and then spoke. “From what you have said, Master Gaidin, it seems unsurprising that some would have looked at the Warders as slaves to the Aes Sedai.” Someone made a gasping sound, it was hard to tell who, but Elessar went on without stopping. “To obey commands without question, to lay one’s life on the line for someone else, to give up one’s own freedom for someone else would by many be seen as almost becoming a slave to them. At least a servant, and much inferior than whom he serves.”

 

The old Gaidin came across to where his student sat and stopped before him, looking long and hard at him. “Even today, some think so, you know. That we are bowing servants to the Sisters. Those who do not understand that we give willingly, protect proudly, serve humbly but strongly.” There were nods around the room, it was obvious many of the other students agreed and liked what they heard. “In our service we are dutiful and strong, we serve indeed and humbly, dutifully, loyally, but through our protection we give the Aes Sedai the opportunity to serve the Light and the World.. and to fight the Shadow.”

 

“We all bring what we are into the role of the Warder”, the teacher continued after a pause. “We are all individuals and that diversity enriches us, it makes us stronger, it makes us wiser. And then through training we learn more and gain experience and wisdom in all the ways important to make a good Warder”. “And in case some of you think all that matters is to be proficient with a sword”, he added as he raised his eyebrows, “think again. A Gaidin must besides being a proficient fighter and warrior be knowledgeable about the world since he and his Sedai will travel often in their service, he must know first-aid, several languages, history, politics and all the other things necessary to become a Sedai’s protector, advisor and trusted friend. That is why Warder-training is rigorous and only the best of the best manage to come through it to gain the Gaidin’s fancloak.”

 

 

Looking at his students he could see different reactions. Some were unsurprised, others not. Others again seemed slightly bored. As was to be expected. He had just spoken about diversity, and here his words were manifested in reality.

 

“Ok then, who here thinks a Warder’s chief attribute is his strength with a weapon?” He saw several hands in the air. “You are young and inexperienced so you can be forgiven for that view. Others, supposedly wiser, also make this mistake. The Warder’s chief attribute”, he said this with emphasis, “is .. his mind.”

 

There was silence though a few heads nodded in understanding or perhaps it was wonder.

 

“Your mind is your strongest weapon”, he went on. “With your mind you can reflect, you can make a decision, you can act and choose a path, you can control your passions, you can make for the best protection of your Bondholder and the wisest course. With your mind you can control urges of endangering pride or ferocious viciousness; you can keep fear and emotions in check; with your mind you can focus on the task at hand and nothing else .. and cloaked in the Oneness, the Flame and the Void, at least for those of you who choose that path, you can direct you sword where you want, in the perfect and controlled execution of the Dance of the Blade.”

 

“The Strength of a Gaidin comes from his mind .. and it flows into his Sword”.

 

“Remember that”, he ended, “if you remember nothing else from this lesson. It is who We are..

 

 

A couple days later Kathleen and Elessar rode out of the Capital heading westwards. It was late morning and the sky was grey. There would be rain later in the day, of that the Warder felt certain, but for now it was decent travelling weather and they wanted to cover as many leagues as possible before the weather turned. They had collected provisions in Caemlyn and their valiant horses were full of energy and pleased to be on the road again. Elessar could feel Stormbreaker’s pleasure at running again as they galloped along the western road and a smile came upon his lips. Kathleen rode just behind and to his right, her green travelling cloak billowing out behind her. Glimpsing her face out of the corner of his eye, he was reminded of her pleasure as they had visited all the famous - and also some less famous - sights in Caemlyn. Not that she had shown it, her face Aes Sedai-smooth as always, but he had recognized the glint in her eyes and felt her excitement through the Bond as they had walked the streets of the Andoran Capital. There were many things he did not understand about his new Bondholder, and there was that distance between them that he often pondered on, but he was starting to pick up on some small things, and hoped - in time - to know her better.

 

 

On a late afternoon some days later, under a partially blue sky and with a soft wind in their backs, they reached the village of Four Kings. It was located at the junction of the Caemlyn Road and the road leading south to Lugard. The village had a proud history, Elessar knew, but it still looked the same drab, careworn place mostly used as a stopover by merchants’ wagon trains that the Warder remembered from previous visits.

 

They stopped by a merchant’s shop at the end of a dusty street to rest their horses for a few hours. Dismounting quickly, Elessar took Stormbreaker’s reins as well as those of Kathleen’s mare and tied them to a pole nearby while Kathleen studied their surroundings.

 

The village was certainly quite a change from the splendour of Caemlyn.

 

“So what do you think?” Elessar asked with a lopsided grin as he joined her. “Not quite as dazzling as Caemlyn perhaps”, he said as he stared at the shabby-looking buildings opposite them, “but it certainly has potential.”

 

His grin widened as he half-turned to see her reaction to his words.

 

  ▀▄ 

 

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.. Echoes of “The Battle of Four Kings” ..

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 “This is a famous place in Andoran history”, Elessar said a little later as he looked around him. “Truly not much to look at right now”, he added smoothly, “but once it was a place of a famous battle.”

 

Kathleen saw that he was eager to tell his story and asked him to tell it. He grinned back at her and began, his eyes lighting up at his passion for history and stories.

 

“Well”, he said,”Maragaine was the fifth Queen of Andor, succeeding Queen Termylle in FY 1054.”

 

The Warder’s voice took on a lecturing tone as it often did when he spoke of history.

 

“There is uncertainty as to whether Maragaine was Termylle's daughter, but she was without doubt a descendant of Queen Ishara Casalain, the founder of the Kingdom of Andor. In FY 1063, during the War of the Hundred Years, Andor faced the gravest threat to its survival since its founding when four rival kings, envious of the growing power of Andor, united their armies and invaded the kingdom from the west, marching on Caemlyn.”

 

 

Elessar stopped for a moment as a carriage drove past driven by four black horses. Dust rose in swirls in the road behind them and the Warder gazed at the driver, a middle-aged man with a hat of sorts and a whip in his hands, as he passed them by. Perhaps it was a local nobleman on his way to some errand or other, he thought, as his attention was grabbed by a small child walking towards them.

 

It was a blond-haired girl of five or thereabouts and she came forward hesitatingly, eyes big as saucers as she watched the Aes Sedai lady by his side. A woman in her early twenties, the child¨s mother apparently, ran forwards to catch the girl as she was half-way across the street, casting a quick glance at the imposing man and elegant woman standing on the other side, then hurrying back to the other side. Elessar and Kathleen watched as the mother and child disappeared swiftly into a building.

 

 

“Now, where was I..” Elessar began, as he faced Kathleen again. “Oh yes, the battle. The battle that ensued was to be known as “The Battle of Four Kings”. Queen Maragaine bravely led the Andoran army into battle, meeting them some distance west of the River Cary.”

 

“In a furious battle, in which Queen Maragaine is often depicted personally leading a charge”, he continued, “the Andorans broke the invading force and routed it, securing the future survival of the kingdom.”

 

“The battle is, furthermore, noteworthy as one of the two most serious recorded threats to Andor's survival during the War of the Hundred Years, the other being the invasion of Andor from the south thirty years later by Esmara Getare, a southern noblewoman who succeeded in conquering much of Illian and the Plains of Maredo before setting her sights on Andor; she was defeated in battle with the Andoran army and became a prisoner of the Andoran Queen Telaisien, it is said.”

 

“The Andoran village of Four Kings later grew up on the site of the battle”, Elesar ended, “thereof its name. Maragaine of Andor ruled for nineteen years (FY 1054-73), and was succeeded by Queen Astara .. but that is another story.”

 

“So we are actually standing in the middle of history as it were”, the Warder added with a small grin, “and it is filled with memories of the past..”

 

 

He turned his head upwards for a moment, gazing long and hard into the sky, and for a moment it was almost.. as if whispers from the past embraced the present, echoes lingering on the winds of time.. 

 

“Forward Andor!” Maragaine, sword at the ready, shouts mightily as she grabs the White Lion banner and raises it high..

“Forward! To our Queen!” her first officer bellows, as he tries to gather their forces..

“To me!” Maragaine screams, as she charges forward, long blonde hair streaming in the wind behind her, a storm unleashed on their enemies..

A Warrior Queen, eyes blazing, she storms forward to save her kingdom..

“For Andor! For the White Lion! Chaaaaarge!” her first officer shouts..

 

Battle-cries roar across the field as her army responds, following their brave Queen in a charge to the death.. a thunderous sound is heard as the armies clash, the proud banner of Andor flying high..

 

 

They continued their journey westwards in the direction of Whitebridge. Many days on the road lay ahead of them but as the leagues passed by he felt excitement building for reaching their destination. He thought he felt something similar from Kathleen through the Bond but it was always difficult to say for certain since emotions through the Bond often felt muddled to him. They did not speak much as they travelled, exchanging some words during their intermittent stops but hurrying on as swiftly as need be, and they covered a fair distance in the days that followed. The weather changed from sunny blue skies to clouds and rain with the wind picking up at times and the road went from dry to muddy and back to dry again during their journey.

 

On one late afternoon, around halfway between Four Kings and Whitebridge, they stopped near some woods and led their horses away from the road and in among the bushes and tall trees. Kathleen followed Elessar as he led the way towards an area apt for making their makeshift camp. The Warder tethered their horses and brushed them down before joining his Bondholder around the small campfire. They all needed a rest having travelled hard the past days. Stopping early that day would give them time to rest, eat, drink and sleep before continuing the next day. Perhaps it would also give them some time to talk as well, Elessar thought as he accepted the cup of kaf from Kathleen. They had spoken very little of her mission in Whitebridge and now that they were closer to their destination he felt the time had come for her to give him some more details. He did not ask straight away, however, but ate their meal in silence, sipping from his drink, thinking about their journey so far.

 

When they had eaten, he went to see to their horses again to give them an apple each. He smiled to himself as he saw the mounts munch hungrily on their treat, giving them each a fond pat on the back, then returned to the fire and his Aes Sedai. Sitting down opposite her he picked up a twig and rolled it between his fingers for a while. Twilight was approaching, day gradually turning into evening and night. Embers glowed in the fire, sparks intermittently flying, as his eyes met Kathleen’s.

 

 

“We are getting closer to Whitebridge”, he began as he sipped some more from his drink. Kathleen nodded but said nothing. “Still many days of riding ahead of us, but we have covered a good distance in the past days.”

 

“Our horses needed a little rest now though”, he added, “so it was a good idea to stop early today.” He kept rolling the twig between his fingers, almost as if it were a ritual. “Our provisions are holding up”, he continued, “and we will only need to re-supply once before Whitebridge. There is a small village a couple days down the road which will serve our purpose.”

 

Kathleen nodded again, sensing that he had more on his mind. She let him talk, sipping from her kaf.

 

“The weather seems better now, more stable if such can be said.” The Warder said as he looked up through the branches of the overlaying trees to the sky above. “If we are lucky, perhaps it will remain so until we reach our destination further west.”

 

“As for Whitebridge”, he added after a short pause, “perhaps this is a good time to share some more details about what lies ahead of us.”

 

He phrased it carefully as a suggestion, which it was. It was her choice though, if she wanted to share more information regarding their mission. Perhaps she wanted to wait until they arrived in Whitebridge, but he thought it wise to be prepared and hoped she would see the wisdom in discussing the task at hand now.

 

He took another sip from his drink as he met her eyes across the glowing fire, waiting for her reply.

 

  ▀▄ 

 

 

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The world faded in and out of focus as the days came and went and the miles passed beneath the hooves of the horses Kathleen and Elessar rode atop. The city was incredible and a great distraction, but it was that - a distraction. She had wanted it, encouraged it, and enjoyed it, but the further it fell behind them the more the Green focused on the mission. They were getting closer with every step and though she had sent messages ahead she had received a reply to less than half. She had hoped there would be more news, something more to plan ahead for, but she had known it would be unlikely. The letter she had received to start it all had been vague and Kathleen had hoped it was simply so from necessity. She hadn't expected more detail to come, and it hadn't. The letters were more for assurance that her contacts were still alive and uncompromised when she arrived. There was no point walking into a trap upon arrival if it could be avoided. So far she felt confident that at least the getting there would be successful. 

 

As they rode on the conversations turned from the histories to more personal topics and Kathleen enjoyed those chats just as much. She had learned a lot of Elessar in their time in the Tower, but there was something about traveling rough with someone that had a way of bringing you closer together and really helped to get to know someone if  you took the time. They would be spending much time together and relying a great deal on each other for years to come so while she sometimes felt there would be time to learn to connect she also knew they would be walking into danger  soon and they would need to rely on more than just the  bond. She knew  that the fear or panic would get an immediate response but there were nuances too that she wished she already knew like facial expressions  and other subtle cues. She hoped that her frustration and flip-flopping on patience wasn't too trying  on Elessar,  but she knew he sensed it.

 

One night they were sitting around  the fire before bed as they had taken to doing most nights. Conversation turned in a subtle yet predetermined way as Elessar spoke, “Still many days of riding ahead of us, but we have covered a good distance in the past days.”

 

“Our horses needed a little rest now though”, he added, “so it was a good idea to stop early today.” He kept rolling the twig between his fingers, almost as if it were a ritual. “Our provisions are holding up”, he continued, “and we will only need to re-supply once before Whitebridge. There is a small village a couple days down the road which will serve our purpose.”

 

Kathleen nodded again, sensing that he had more on his mind. She let him talk, sipping from her kaf.

 

“The weather seems better now, more stable if such can be said.” The Warder said as he looked up through the branches of the overlaying trees to the sky above. “If we are lucky, perhaps it will remain so until we reach our destination further west.”

 

“As for Whitebridge”, he added after a short pause, “perhaps this is a good time to share some more details about what lies ahead of us.”

 

As Elessar took another sip from his drink his eyes met Kathleen's across the glowing fire, waiting for her reply.

 

Kathleen swirled the kaf in her cup and broke the eye contact turning her gaze deep into the flames. She knew this day was coming, and she knew he was right; it was about time she told him. She just wished she had more to tell. 

 

She looked up from the fire and let her eyes adjust as she locked onto Elessar's eyes again. "I was hoping to have more news by this point in our journey, however, as is often the case in our line of work, news has been limited." She smiled at this knowing Elessar would appreciate just how often it was that plans would be vague, non-existent and changed at the last minute if they even were made in advance.  

 

"Before we left the Tower I had received word that my presence was needed in Whitebridge. I typically wouldn't go on so little information,  but quite frankly I wanted an excuse to get out of Tar Valon for a while.  I had  been  cooped up too long and wanted a change of scenery, and perhaps some excitement." She knew Elessar had felt the same way. It was always  an underlying  reason for  their bonding in  the first place. Carys  has been tied to the Tower and Kathleen was meant  to get him out of there.  One other reason she bonded him was that she would need some one  when  Nevuel wasn't there but if she stayed in  the Tower  that would not be  true and she would  not    let  this  bond  be made in vain.

 

Her excitement began to grow as she started speaking of the mission. As  limited as the information she had was, the thought of actually beginning the mission, the anticipation of  the adrenaline and skill and sense of duty being accomplished was hard to hide and she knew her face was betraying her as much as the flood from the bond would be.

 

"I know the woman who sent the request would not have asked for presence if presence wasn't necessary. I have been receiving messages along the way, but nothing in depth. I'm sure its been limited in case of the messages falling  into the wrong hands. All I have learned is that there has been suspicious activity  in  Whitebridge. The nature of the limited messages I have received have led me to determine that there may be a darkfriend cell at work. I can't say how many people are involved at this time or what their goal is. I do know that my contact is continuing to gather information and I hope we will find her intact with useful information when we arrive. I know this goes  without saying, but as we approach Whitebridge we should be on the alert. The more we can gain on our own on our way the better."

 

They stayed up late and Kathleen accepted all questions and input from the warder before they turned in for the night. She woke up before the sun and excitedly took off to work through her weaves. She let saidar flow through  her in the hopes it would ease some of her anticipation if she  indulged now. Watching the fire dance as she controlled it, before putting it out so it wouldn't catch the forest on fire, had made her feel like a child the night before a special day. As they got closer to Whitebridge she would have to hold back again, but today they were far from danger. 

 

She returned to the camp and it was ready to leave. Kathleen thanked Elessar for preparing everything and accepted the remaining cup of kaf that Elessar had saved for her to drink before they left. When they mounted Kathleen followed the warder as they traveled toward their destination.

 

~Kathleen

Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge: Part 1 ..
►▼◄

 

“You are no longer a son of mine!”

 

His father’s piercing words - filled with accusation - crashed through Elessar.

 

Of all the brothers, Elessar had always resembled his father the most, also becoming the martial son his father had always wanted - and nurtured. Elessar, however, thought it might be this very sameness - almost like a mirror image - that had driven his father from great pride in his son, as he had travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder of the White Tower, to great, unyielding anger at him - and perhaps himself - for Elessar being unable to save the youngest brother and son Vehran from drowning.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Elessar woke up abruptly from his painful dream-memories, eyes tight, muscles rigid, as dawn was breaking over the region. As his muscles gradually relaxed, his eyes fastening on the thick layer of branches overhead, with tentative sunlight beginning to sift down from above, he thought again that he wished his dreams would go away. Those painful dreams. Painful memories. A painful past.

 

He had begun to have them more often lately.

 

And he did not know why.

 

Sighing heavily, clearing his head, he pushed his blanket aside and got to his feet. In half-sleep he had sensed Kathleen moving away from camp a little earlier, probably to practice her weaves as she had done many times before during their journey, and he felt her safely away a little to the south of camp. Walking across to a small brook close by he threw some water on his face and body, used a small towel to brush off the water, and then pulled on a shirt and pants. Returning to camp he collected his things and saw to it that they were packed and ready to leave. They wanted to get an early start this day, their horses fresh from rest and ready to go. He left a cup of kaf for her to drink when she returned, saddled their mounts, and sat down to wait for her. Soon she joined him, appearing out of the trees.

 

Kathleen thanked Elessar for preparing everything and accepted the remaining cup of kaf that Elessar had saved for her to drink before they left. When they mounted Kathleen followed the Warder as they traveled toward their destination.

 

 

As they left the woods and rode away under a blue morning-sky, dust rising in the air behind them, Elessar’s mind turned to what Kathleen had told him of their mission the evening before. He had felt her excitement through the Bond when she had talked about what waited ahead, her face had also betrayed her eagerness to get on with the work to be done. He had felt much the same, anticipation building in him for the task at hand. She had not had much information to share but now at least he knew a little more of what awaited them. Her words whispered in his mind.

 

She told him that before they left the Tower she had received word that her presence was needed in Whitebridge. She added that she wouldn’t typically go on so little information but that she quite frankly wanted an excuse to get out of Tar Valon for a while. She had been cooped up too long and wanted a change of scenery, and perhaps some excitement. He couldn’t have agreed more. She also said that she knew that the woman who sent the request would not have asked for presence if presence wasn’t necessary. She had been receiving messages aslong the way, but nothing in depth. She was sure it had been limited in case of the messages falling into the wrong hands. All she had learned was that there had been suspicious activity in Whitebridge.

 

The nature of the limited messages she had received had led her to determine that there may be a Darkfriend cell at work. She could not say how many people were involved at this time or what their goal was. She did know that her contact was continuing to gather information and she hoped they would find her intact with useful information when they arrived. She added that it went without saying, but as they approached Whitebridge they ought to be on the alert. The more they gained on their own on their way the better.

 

They had stayed up late going over the little information they had and Kathleen had accepted all questions and input from Elessar, ranging from safety issues to scouting to the Warder’s previous experience of Whitebridge, before they had turned in for the night.

 

Riding down the westward road now, Kathleen a little behind to his right as was usual, the Warder’s thoughts turned to Whitebridge and what he recalled of his previous visit to that western Andoran town.

 

 

Days later they left the tiny village of Deyton behind, after a short stop having gathered the provisions they needed, and continued along the dusty road that led toward Whitebridge. There were few travellers on the road though they came upon some carts driven by oxen at intervals and local farmers giving them bland looks as they passed. Elessar did not perceive any danger at any point but they were still a few days’ ride away from their destination. The Gaidin kept up his vigilance, knowing from years of experience that it was always better to be safe than sorry, danger could appear at the most unexpected moments.

 

Finally, on a late afternoon under a sapphire-blue sky with plenty sunshine, they came into sight of Whitebridge. They were still a distance away but the imposing, dazzling structure ahead of them grabbed all their attention. There were more travellers on the road now, coming to and fro, some foreigners by their clothing but mostly locals who stared at the Warder and Aes Sedai with a mixture of wonder and suspicion (something they had gotten used to in their line of business) and so they rode more slowly as they got closer to the town.

 

Some time later, Elessar Gaidin and Kathleen Aes Sedai rode slowly into the town of Whitebridge. The wind was blowing from the south-west, making their travelling cloaks flap against the side of their tired mounts. Both travellers were weary from a long day’s ride and looked forward to some rest before getting on with their mission.

 

Riding across the huge white glass-like bridge - from which the town took its name - which spanned the River Arinelle, Elessar recalled what knowledge he had of this impressive structure. The bridge was believed to date all the way back to the Age of Legends, thousand of years before. It looked to be made of impossibly fragile white glass - almost as if carved from one piece -, yet of a type so strong even a chisel and hammer would not mar it. Furthermore, despite its glasslike surface it never became slick, even in the hardest rain. The White Tower knew, perhaps, more of its origin, and the look Kathleen cast at the bridge as they crossed it gave him the feeling she did, but even with Elessar’s limited knowledge he was mightily impressed. He recalled riding across this magnificent bridge some year before, in the company of his then Bondholder Carys of the Yellow Ajah, and felt just as impressed by it now as he had been then.

 

 

The town of Whitebridge grew up around the large stone-paved square at the bridge’s eastern foot. With its imposing bridge being the only span crossing the Arinelle south of Maradon in Saldea, Whitebridge town had from early on flourished in trade. Most buildings in the town were made of stone and brick, and the docks were made of wood. From what the Warder had read, all social classes were represented in Whitebridge - from merchants in their shiny lacquered carriages and velvet coats to farmers and peasants in rough wool.

 

Elessar did spot several merchants in carriages and a few local farmers passing, as the Warder and Sedai headed toward one of the town’s inns a little further up the road. They dismounted outside the “Western Bridge”, one of the better inns in town if the locals were to be believed, and Elessar took their horses to a stableboy at the back of the establishment before returning to join his Bondholder. They quickly found the innkeeper, a somewhat overweight, blond-haired man of middling years with sunken eyes and cheekbones but a welcoming smile wearing a white semi-clean apron, standing at the back of the room, who seemed suitably impressed at having an Aes Sedai visit his humble inn. A short while later they were settled in their adjoining rooms (one of the inn’s best rooms for the Aes Sedai, of course) and it was time for a well earned rest.

 

 

That evening, after they had rested for a while and enjoyed a warm bath, they met up in the Common Room for some food and entertainment. The Common Room was only half-full but some rather boisterous locals made up for the lack of customers. A pair of big-muscled bouncers stood by the entrance door ready to throw them out if they became too rowdy. After the meal and a decent, but by no account great, gleeman’s performance they retired to a small lounge which was empty. They locked the door and sat down in two of the dozen chairs. The room had a table, paintings on the wall (from Andoran history, Elessar thought), a couple of shelves with books and what looked like old maps but nothing else. It was quiet though and apt for conversation.

 

They talked for a while, small-talk mostly, and then were intererrupted by a knock on the door. Elessar got to his feet and opened the door. A stranger stood outside, a woman. She was nondescript, ordinary looking, probably in her thirties and with the look of Andoran origin. She nodded swiftly to Elessar, then peeked past him to Kathleen who got to her feet. Elessar understood that this was the woman his Aes Sedai had talked about, from the local Eyes and Ears for the Green, and been waiting for. He gave her a polite nod and then moved aside as she entered the room.

 

“Kathleen Aes Sedai”, the woman said respectively, giving the Sister of the White Tower a curtsy as she came up to her. Kathleen nodded with a smile and asked the woman to join her. Elessar nodded to his Bondholder and then left the room, leaving them to speak in private, closing the door behind him. He remained standing outside, not letting anyone in, until the local woman opened the door a little later and left. He then re-entered the small lounge and closed the door behind him. Seating himself opposite his Aes Sedai he waited for her to speak. Kathleen considered her words for a while and then began to speak. She had hoped the local woman had more additional information than turned out to be the case, but they would have to work with what they had.

 

Elessar listened attentively and asked some questions and shared his thoughts. A partially incriminating letter had been intercepted. One thing stood out from what the Gaidin could see: there were strong indications that there was indeed a Darkfriend cell here in Whitebridge and that one of its members was a certain High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan.

 

Now, at least, they had something concrete to go on.

 

 

They had stayed up late discussing the situation and considering their next step, but had made no decisions and retired to bed to get some much needed sleep. They had ridden hard the last days to get to their destination and now they needed to rest and clear their thoughts. As Elessar closed his eyes that night, slowly entering that half-awake, half-sleep state he as a Warder had long experience in, he went over in his mind potential ways to deal with this specific situation. He had a few ideas, but needed to mull them over to see if they were doable.

 

The problem of what steps to take next was, in fact, solved the following afternoon. A messenger came to the inn with a letter for ‘the Aes Sedai’, as he called it. The innkeeper brought the letter swiftly to Elessar, who was seated in the Common Room sipping from a drink at the time, and he took it to Kathleen who was up in her room. She opened the letter carefully, studying the wax seal at the back.

 

On the front, in flowing script, it simply said ‘To Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah’.

 

Someone obviously knew they were in town. She read its contents and then handed the letter to Elessar. It was an invitation to a social reception at Western Manor House the following evening. He exchanged a quick glance with Kathleen before he continued reading. They would, it said, be honoured to welcome the esteemed Kathleen Aes Sedai to Whitebridge and to a meeting that could be mutually beneficial.

 

 

The invitation was signed:

 

 

In the Light,

 

High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan

 

  ▀▄ 
Edited by Elessar

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.. Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge: Part 2 ..

►▼◄

 

Handing the letter back to Kathleen, they exhanged another significant glance.

 

Then Elessar spoke. “I particularly like the ‘In the Light’-part”, he said with a lopsided grin. “If what we suspect is true, her real allegiance will be somewhat.. darker in nature.”

 

“Somebody obviously observed us when we entered the town”, he continued. “And the High Lady wishes for your presence, no doubt to increase local prestige and gain a little added power and influence as all Nobles do, here as everywhere else.”

 

Kathleen nodded but remained silent, considering the invitation and its implications. “For whatever reason”, he added, “it is very convenient since this High Lady is top of our list. This gives us a chance to speak to her and get an impression of what kind of character we are dealing with.” His eyes darkened momentarily with a speculative glint. “Perhaps she will reveal more than she intends.. that happens sometimes when one is not careful enough. If we ask the right questions.”

 

They sat and spoke for a long while, going over their options. This was an opportunity too good to ignore. They would have to be careful, of course, and it could be a trap of some kind - though it seemed unlikely - but this was a good way of getting an insight into this potential Darkfriend. And by having the High Lady invite them, a visit would not be suspicious. Elessar advised for her to accept the invitation, going over the arguments again, but it was Kathleen’s decision to make and they would do as she decided. She considered the invitation again and nodded. They would attend the social reception. She wrote a short message, accepting the invitation, and placed it in an envelope she carried which was given to a servant downstairs to be delivered at once to the High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan.

 

The following evening Kathleen and Elessar waited outside the inn for the horse and carriage to arrive. They had learned that the Western Manor House was on the other side of town and so this means of transportation seemed apt to the Warder. The Aes Sedai wore a green dress which Elessar thought looked stylish and proper for an Aes Sedai at such an occasion, while he was all in black, in his Warder finery which was stylish as well as practical should the need for agility arise. Soon the carriage arrived driven by four black horses attended to by a local horse driver. The Warder opened the door for Kathleen to step in, then followed her inside the carriage. A few moments later they were headed towards the distinguished home of the High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan. Not one of of the nineteen strong Houses of Andor, it still had some power and influence especially in the western part of the region. Many would consider it an honour to be invited to her special reception, they had been told by the knowledgable innkeeper when they had mentioned the High Lady’s name.

 

 

A little later the carriage came to a stop in front of the Manor House. Elessar stepped onto the ground and held the carriage door for Kathleen. He then closed the door and waved to the horse driver that he could leave. As the four black horses headed down the street, the Gaidin thought with a wicked grin how appropriate it was that the horses had been black and that he was dressed all in black, now that they were hunting people with black hearts.

 

The Manor was an imposing building, a clear statement of intent, wealth and power in this town. Compared to the major Manor Houses and palaces in great cities this mansion looked poor and simple, but here in Whitebridge there was hardly any building to equal it. The second Noble House in the town was probably of similar stature, but apart from that this would be the place to be for any person of power and influence in Whitebridge. Nodding to Kathleen, they stepped up to the entrance and knocked twice on the huge oak door. It had a sigil imprinted on it - Elessar guessed it was the sigil of House Serevan - which the Warder had not seen before. It was a little worn but looked like the head of an eagle from what he could determine. Soon steps could be heard from inside and then the massive door opened.

 

Kathleen showed her invitation and they were politely invited inside by a doorman who almost looked like a ceremonial guard. The hall they walked down, following the heavily dressed servant, was quite impressive as well with fairly expensive historical paintings on the walls and also some crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It looked like the inside manor of a smaller Noble House in cities like Caemlyn and Ebou Dar, Elessar thought as he walked beside Kathleen. He could feel through the Bond some excitement coming from her and he felt much the same himself. There was nothing to tell whether this evening would be productive, but it felt good to finally be starting this mission in Whitebridge. If everything went according to plan, they would at least gain more knowledge leaving than they had when they arrived. It was a good starting point.

 

 

As they came up to a large pair of doors with the House sigil embedded into the oak woodwork, like at the entrance, the servant or guard (Elessar was not quite sure which this middle-aged blond-haired Andoran man was, perhaps a little of both) stopped and knocked once. The doors opened and what looked like a Master of Ceremony, an older man with grey in his hair but strength in his arms, bowed respectfully to the Aes Sedai and nodded politely to her Warder. The Warder had not expected a Master of Ceremony here at this Manor House, they were more common in the cities and among the wealthy Nobles there, but perhaps this High Lady had a high opinion of herself and her House, he thought, and wanted or needed to copy the style of the 19 strong Noble Houses of Andor. For whatever reason, it made Elessar wonder if this ‘social reception’ was what they were expecting or, perhaps, a grander event. They would soon learn the truth. He exchanged a quick glance with Kathleen, wondering if she were thinking the same. His thought was interrupted as the Master of Ceremony banged three times on the floor with his ceremonial baton before announcing her name and entrance in a loud, carrying voice.

 

The words Aes Sedai where whispered around as Kathleen glided into the reception room beyond as if she owned the place, Elessar proudly and steadfastly at her side. It was, in fact, a small ballroom and it was filled with Andoran Nobles or so it seemed. Not to the extent that it equalled similar events in Caemlyn, this was smaller scale, but certainly more prominent and affluent than the Warder had expected. Nothing showed on Kathleen’s face as she passed the local Nobles, receiving bows of respect and honour from Lords and Ladies alike, some with a shrewd glint in their eyes, and she was welcomed warmly by the High Lady of the House who rose from her throne-like chair at the end of the room. The Head of House Serevan curtsied smoothly (not deeply but just correctly) and with shrewd eyes expressed what a great honour it was to have an Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah present.

 

The Warder walked a little to the side as Kathleen spoke with the High Lady.

 

 

Elessar stared around the room, as he had done on similar occasions in his years as a Warder accompanying his Sedais, gauging if there was any open threat in this nest of vipers as he thought of it. He had been around scheming, cunning and dangerous nobles before - and told himself that he intended to make sure Kathleen was not caught in one of their traps. There were perhaps 20 or so nobles gathered, wearing their fineries, and he presumed they were all allies or friends of House Serevan. Perhaps not very powerful ones or wealthy, but they strutted around, drinks in hand, caught in their self-importance, as Elessar saw it, and reminded him that nobles were nobles everywhere.

 

The fair-skinned blue-eyed male Andoran nobles were wearing shirts and trousers with a coat over all. The coat was made with turned-back cuffs and an upstanding collar. The material was silk, Elessar was sure, and embroidered in metallic threads. He had seen simmilar style on common men but theirs was made of serviceable wool. The female Andoran nobles wore dresses with square-cut necks showing little (scandalously little if you asked an Arad Domani woman) if any cleavage, and fitted sleeves. Some of the silk dresses were embroidered with flowers and leaves, and a belt in metallic threads worn at the waist. The clothing spoke of the power of these men and women and the standing they had in local society. As he studied them obliquely he wondered how many, if any, of these men and women were, in fact, Darkfriends with black hearts.

 

Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed Kathleen giving him a little nod, the signal for him to join her, and when he did she spoke a few more words with the High Lady and then she and her Warder followed the Noblewoman out of the reception room or hall and into a smaller chamber beyond. He closed the door behind them and sat down at one of the chairs by a large table while Kathleen seated herself opposite him. The High Lady sat down at the end of the table, her blue eyes fastening on the Aes Sedai. She smiled but it was a sly smile, the Warder thought; the smile of a somewhat devious person pretending to be welcoming. He was sure Kathleen observed the same. Aes Sedai were very good at reading people; they had, after all, long experience over many years of service.

 

Elessar’s face was smooth as he took in everything in the room. Besides the table and chairs, there was a huge cupboard on one side filled with what looked like expensive antique figurines, while on the other side there was a bookshelf with many, many books. The style of the room was affluent but not overly so. This was a kind of work-room, Elessar deduced, a place where meetings (also secret ones) were held and deals made. He wondered if this supposedly dubious Noblewoman was going to propose any deals this evening. He waited, as did his Aes Sedai, for the haughty fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-long haired woman in her early fifties or so to speak.

 

 

When she finally did, Elessar was surprised to find her voice weaker than he would have imagined. In his experience Heads of Noble Houses often had voices used to command, but this High Lady’s voice was demure if such could be said. Her eyes were not, however. They were the eyes of a predator.

 

“Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you in private, Kathleen Aes Sedai”, the High Lady said with a (fake) smile as she gave the Sister of the White Tower a polite nod.

 

Her blue eyes switched to Elessar for a moment, as if to add that it was not as private as she might have wanted with the Warder present but she would have to accept it as things were. She silenced the thought though and met Kathleen’s eyes again squarely.

 

“Alliance with the White Tower has always been important for House Serevan”, she added smoothly. “We might not be the most powerful House.. but we are loyal. There are mutual benefits.. important in these.. volatile times.”

 

Kathleen remained silent and her face betrayed nothing. Through the Bond Elessar thought he felt.. excitement and also amusement.. though he could not say for certain. The non-reaction of the Aes Sedai made the High Lady’s face tighten slightly but then she quickly smoothed her features.

 

“Friends are valuable..” she continued, her voice gaining some strength as she spoke. “Strength is often measured in one’s friends. Don’t you find?”

 

The High Lady’s azure-blue eyes glittered as she waited for the Sister of the White Tower to respond.

 

  ▀▄ 

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.. Danger on the Horizon: Part 1 ..

►▼◄

 

The private conversation with High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan was suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door. The High Lady’s eyes swept to the door, obviously surprised by the interruption. Instead of going to open it herself, however, or asking whoever it was to enter, she gave a nod to Elessar who politely rose and went to open. Outside stood a young nobleman in his early twenties with fair skin, short blond hair and the characteristic blue eyes of Andor. He gave a bow to the High Lady who he saw seated by the table, excusing himself for interrupting, but it was the Borderlander Warder in front of him whom he adressed. “Master Gaidin”, he said squarely, “my message is for you.” His eyes swept for a second to the Aes Sedai present but swiftly returned to the Warder.

 

Elessar looked back at him with surprise in his eyes, but then - receiving a nod from Kathleen and also from the High Lady - excused himself from the proceedings and followed the man outside, closing the door. The young Andoran bade him follow as they made their way through the reception room and the other nobles and into the corridor beyond. He led the Warder down the corridor to an empty corner, making sure no one was close enough to listen, as he leaned over and whispered in the Gaidin’s ear:

 

“Your Aes Sedai is in danger.”

 

 

Elessar’s eyes widened slightly at the statement but he showed no other reaction. The younger man’s face betrayed little of his feelings though Elessar thought he looked perhaps a little nervous. “In danger from whom?” Elessar whispered back, his dark eyes hardening. The other man did not reply but turned quickly and hurried down the corridor, away from the Borderlander Warder. In three long leaps Elessar had caught up with him, however, and pushed him against the wall, not too gently. “Now then”, he said in a harder voice. “I asked you a question.” The young Andoran struggled to get free, his face flushed but soon understood that the Gaidin had him pinned and that he could not escape. He gave up stuggling and his face now had a sullen look as his eyes met those of his captor. “I cannot say”, he replied at last. “I was just told to give you this message.”

 

Elessar looked long and hard at him, considering whether he believed the man or not. “By whom?” he added, his voice harsh. A couple of chatting noblemen further down the corridor turned in their direction at the sound of the Warder’s louder voice, wondering what this was all about, but one hard no-nonsense look by the Warder made them turn away and go about their own business. There was sweat beading on the young Andoran’s face now and he was unable to meet the Warder’s eyes. “I don’t know”, he said looking down, his voice full of gloom. “A piece of paper with the warning and my instructions was left in my room, I don’t know by whom.” Elessar thought this sounded somewhat dubious, but he pushed on. It was important to find out if this was a true threat to his Aes Sedai or a prank of some kind. Or perhaps a Game of dark intrigue such as Noble Houses liked to play. Daes Dae'mar. The Game of Houses.

 

“And where is this piece of paper now?” He asked, inquiringly. The young Andoran bit his lip but finally replied. “I destroyed it.” He said. Seeing Elessar’s eyes darken, he quickly added that he had done so since he did not want the piece of paper found on his person, implicating him in any way. It was a plausible explanation, the Warder thought to himself, but also very convenient. He pressed the man further. “Who has access to your room and would have been in a position to leave the piece of paper there?” The young Andoran sounded fearful now as he replied that he lived in a smaller Manor on the other side of town and that only his family and a few servants had access. But, he emphatically pointed out, it could not be any of them.

 

 

Elessar did not think he would get any more answers from this young man, but there was a final question he needed to ask. “I see”, he said icily as he pushed away from the Andoran nobleman. “One final thing. You obviously took this message seriously since you approached me here. Was there a warning also in your piece of paper, that not delivering the message would have consequences for you?” The young man’s eyes fell to the floor and there was fear in them as he looked up into Elessar’s face. “Yes”, he replied, his voice weaker now. “I was warned that were I to disregard the message, it would have.. dire consequences for me.”

 

The Gaidin nodded to himself, still unsure about this whole business, but thanked the young Andoran for delivering the message and then told him he could go, adding that they might have to speak more to him later. The nobleman gave him his name and address, then huried away, relief eminating from him, not looking once over his shoulder as he disappeared quickly down the corridor and around a corner, leaving a thoughtful Warder behind. Considering the matter for some moments, he did think the young man had told the truth or at least some of the truth. People could be liars - and good ones at that - but over the years Elessar had become a fairly good judge of character and he did not think this young Andoran nobleman was a clever manipulator. He had clearly been frightened by the whole affair. Whether this threat was real or not, however, it was something Kathleen needed to be told. All Gaidin were protective of their Bondholders but none so much as newly Bonded Warders. Elessar swore to himself that he would do anything necessary to keep his Bondholder safe.

 

 

Returning to the reception room, he walked down the aisle between Andoran nobles who glanced at him in passing, their eyes speculative and full of intrigue as often was the case with nobles everywhere. Coming up to the door to the room where Kathleen was conversing with the High Lady, he was about to knock when the door opened from the inside. Kathleen stepped outside, exchanged a quick glance with Elessar, then walked down the aisle. The Warder caught up with his Bondholder, seeing out of the corner of his eyes the High Lady seating herself on her ‘throne’ again, and walked beside her, a touch behind to her right, as they left the reception room - nobles bowing to the Aes Sedai from both sides - and entered the corridor behind. They walked in silence along the corridor and out of the building. Outside in the darkness of late evening the carriage driver was waiting, as arranged, and they stepped quickly into the carriage and soon were travelling back toward their inn. Only then did Kathleen meet Elessar’s eyes and ask him about the ‘message’. The Warder gave her some details of his meeting with the young Andoran nobleman. Kathleen listened attentively but did not speak at once, mulling over what she had been told. They exchanged a few thoughts as the horse-driven carriage carried them through the streets of Whitebridge, then agreed to discuss the matter in much more detail once they were back in the privacy of their rooms at the inn.

 

A little later, they sat in Kathleen’s room deliberating the matter. She had woven a ward around the room to prevent anyone from listening in, a prudent precaution, Elessar thought, in the circumstances. He was seated in a wooden chair he had fetched from his own room while she was seated in her own chair opposite him. Kathleen agreed with him that this could be anything from Noble House intrigue, a prank played on the White Tower, to a threat to be taken seriously. Seeing as they were hunting Darkfriends, and the strong indication that there was a Darkfriend cell in the area, Elessar did not want to take this potential threat lightly. Who or why someone wanted to warn them, though, was another matter. Friends of the White Tower would usually be open about it if bringing information or warnings to Aes Sedai, and enemies would surely keep any sign of their dark intent secret. But perhaps someone had come across information that Kathleen was in danger but did not dare inform openly, and so did it in this roundabout fashion? Whoever it was perhaps found it important and necessary that someone else, perhaps this young nobleman, deliver the message, and it was vital that it was delivered, thereby the words of warning should he not carry out the task? People did things for different reasons and in different ways, they both knew; some driven by desire, some by need, some by fear and others by reward.

 

All they could do was speculate on this possible threat, consider it as best they could, but Kathleen listened carefully as Elessar, when asked, repeated what he had told in the carriage, adding some details, and gave his impression of the young Andoran nobleman. They discussed the matter and what options they now had; Kathleen also added some of what had been said in her private meeting with the High Lady after Elessar had left. Their discussion ended without any decisions made, they would sleep on it, they agreed, and talk more about it the next day. When the Warder added, somewhat uneccesarily, that they would have to be careful and alert, she gave a quick nod. He closed the door behind him, bringing his chair with him, and went to his own room next door. Once there, placing his chair in the corner, he lay down on his bed and lay thinking for a long time. Feeling Kathleen through his Bond, he wondered for a moment if they were in any danger here at the inn. Before he went to sleep that night, he opened his door and gazed intensely into the dark corridor beyond, looking both ways, listening for any sound out of the ordinary. There was nothing, just darkness and silence. Nodding to himself, he closed the door and jumped into bed. There was silence coming from Kathleen’s room as well and he thought she was asleep. Entering the half-sleep, half-aware state of Warders at rest, he closed his eyes and light dreams soon enveloped him.

 

 

Elessar suddenly woke from his half-sleep and stared coldly into the darkness of his room.

 

Staring out the small window to his right, he saw that it was night outside.

 

Something had brought him out of his restful state.

 

Was it a sound, or his Warder’s intuition? He listened carefully but there was no sound coming from Kathleen’s room.

 

Nothing.

 

But a few seconds later.. he heard a soft sound coming from the corridor.

 

His attention intensified.

 

Elessar stepped quietly out of his bed, quickly put on his shirt and pants and moved silently toward the door.

 

He heard it again. 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..

 

Their conversation of the evening before, as well as their mission, came into the forefront of his mind. A potential threat, a possible danger to his Aes Sedai.

 

His eyes hardened.

 

His swordblade was in hand as he softly, silently pushed the doorknob down and opened the door. 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 now flowing through his veins, Elessar saw slight movement outside Kathleen’s door. His eyes became gradually accustomed to the darkness and he studied the shadows, looking for the possible threat.

 

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

 

 

He thought he felt something through the Bond from Kathleen; was she awake? It was hard to tell, as he focused on the darkness before him.

 

Holding onto his blade, he readied himself to act.

 

Another small movement outside Kathleen’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 movement..

 

 

Just as the Warder began his movement forwards, carrying his momentum into whoever was in the blackness outside his Bondholder’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..

 

 

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 Spike.

 

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, Spike’s, 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 Kathleen’s door and when he heard her say enter, he opened the door and stepped inside. She 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 asked what had happened, why he was up at this time of night. It was difficult to read her thoughts from the way she spoke and the Bond between them did not let him know what she had sensed.

 

“No danger, all’s fine”, he said at once, wanting to put her at ease in case she was more concerned than she seemed. “I heard a suspicious sound from the corridor”, he informed, “and thought it prudent to check it out, with all that’s going on.”

 

“It turned out to be just the innkeeper’s monster of a black cat”, he added with a lopsided grin.

 

“So much for danger”. There was mirth in his voice but also great amusement as he thought of what had occurred.

 

Then his eyes hardened and his tone turned more serious. “But he is not the only predator out there. The others - the real ones - will be more dangerous.”

 

They exchanged another look, all mirth gone, knowing of what he spoke, and then Elessar left her to sleep, closing the door behind him. It took him a long while to enter the half-sleep again, and when he did, it was a dreamless rest.

 

 

The following morning they met up in the Common Room for breakfast. While they ate some bread and eggs with bacon, and had some kaf, they chit-chatted about everyday things. Half the tables around them were empty, and the few other guests were focused on their own business and did not pay attention to the two from Tar Valon. Even so, it was not the place to discuss the matters of the evening before and so they waited until they were on their own a little later, seated on a bench in the town’s plaza, before speaking of important matters. It was a gray morning with clouds drifting in from the east and with a soft breeze, but no rain in the air as of yet. A few passers-by threw them a quick glance as they hurried past, but most were intent on where they were going.

 

Just behind where they sat there was a couple of trees and a green area with some birds walking back and forth on the lawn looking for food. The plaza had cobblestones in various patterns and was in a decent condition, Elessar thought. He turned his focus from the cobblestones back to his Aes Sedai. She had woven another ward around them, he felt pretty sure, though she had not mentioned it. She knew the importance of being careful. She had just asked him something and he had only half-heard, so he had to focus on what her words had been.

 

“I am not sure”, he replied. “Perhaps we should visit our young nobleman informer and see if he perhaps remembers more that is of use to us.”

 

 

His attention was drawn then to a man standing by the corner of a local shop. The man was almost crouching, seemingly staring through the shop window at what was inside the store, but the Warder was pretty certain the man was, in fact, watching them though trying to hide it. He studied the man without seeming to, taking note of the man’s posture and clothes. He was ordinary looking at least from a distance, perhaps a bit on the rough side Elessar noted but otherwise not someone who would stand out in a crowd.

 

“We are being watched”, he whispered to Kathleen as he stared past her in the other direction. “At the corner of that local shop on my right.” He added. “I am pretty sure he is keeping a watch on us, though he pretends otherwise.”

 

The Aes Sedai gave an almost imperceptible nod but did not turn in that direction, not wanting to let the man know he had been spotted. “It could be one of the High Lady’s men”, Elessar said as he appeared to study the street in front of them. “She could be interested in our activities.”

 

Picking up a small stone from the cobblestones, he ran it between his fingers. “Then again, it could be some other party keeping a close watch on us. Should we say hello to this stranger, do you think?”

 

 

He phrased it as an open question, but it was obvious from his tone that he thought it might be a ‘good idea’ to do just so. There was a real possibility this watcher was a threat to them, or represented parties that were a threat to them, or to their mission. Kathleen quickly agreed, having reasoned similarly, and they left the bench and headed toward the street at a slow walk. This would have to be done in the right way; they could not simply walk up to the man and ask him to join them. That would never work. Out of the corner of his eye Elessar noted that the stranger followed them though at a fair distance. They walked down the street from the plaza and into an alley on the right that had a blacksmith’s forge near the end. Walking up to the forge, the Warder picked up a sword that hung on a shelf near the open-air entrance and took a closer look at it. Balancing it in his hand, he swung it to the right and then the left, feeling the quality of the steel. While doing so he kept a lookout for the stranger, without seeming to, as Kathleen walked over to study some of the other weapons there.

 

The blacksmith, a man with arms the size of logs and with some grey in his hair, approached them carefully, bowed and said what an honour it was to have a Warder and an Aes Sedai visit his small forge. Elessar complimented him on his work, which in truth was pretty good from what he could see, and continued testing some other swords. One was a huge two-handed broadsword of some quality, an other a smaller and lighter sword apt for fighting in close quarters. Elessar liked the look and feel of them both. He then asked if the blacksmith had some other weapons at the back. The older Andoran man nodded and led him to the back of the forge. Elessar saw that he was now out of sight from the stranger watching them and turned toward the other.

 

“Is there a back door in your forge, master blacksmith?” He asked, looking at the wall which stretched to the right and left behind them. The other man nodded and pointed to the right behind some more weaponry. “Thank you”, Elessar said and returned to where Kathleen was gazing into the red flames of the forge itself. He whispered to her and she swiftly joined him at the back. Quickly he told her of his plan to catch - and take - the stranger, or rather spy, unawares and she nodded her assent. She returned to stand beside the red flames while Elessar picked up a sword and pretended to be talking with the blacksmith, while he tried his hand at the weapon, in sight of the stranger standing opposite them by an antiques shop on the other side of the alley.

 

The Warder then moved out of sight and quickly headed out the back door. It led to a smaller side-alley which opened onto the main alley thirty yards further up. Elessar was pretty sure the stranger had not caught on, and as he stood close to a shop window, gazing down the alley at the watching man, he considered the distance between them. If the diversion worked, he was certain he would reach the man before he was spotted. If he was quick. Waiting in the shadow of the building, the Warder stood ready to spring. His reflexes were sharp, he knew, and his agility good.

 

Now, Kathleen. He thought as he stood ready. Do it now!.

 

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.. Danger on the Horizon: Part 2 ..

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At that moment a crashing noise came from the forge followed by a shout, and he saw the stranger watching the forge almost jump as he stared intently in that direction, wondering what on earth was happening.

 

This was Elessar’s chance to catch him unawares! If the man saw him coming, he might get enough of a headstart that the Warder would be unable to catch him. Springing into action, Elessar ran in great leaps toward the man, keeping to the shadows of the buildings, and was almost upon the stranger before he was spotted. The man yelped and tried to make a run for it but to no avail. The Gaidin caught him before he had made a dozen steps and swung him into the wall between two buildings. The man cried out at the pain in his back but managed to swing his fist at Elessar. The Warder saw it coming, however, and deflected the punch and delivered one of his own into the other man’s stomach. The man bent over in pain and another deft punch in his neck-region by Elessar knocked him out cold.

 

Gazing up and down the alley, Elessar saw no one who appeared to be interested in what was going on and he nodded to himself, pleased. They wanted to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Not long after, Kathleen came walking up to him and looked silently down at the unconcious man at her Warder’s feet. She nodded to him, and he lifted the man’s body onto his shoulder - no mean feat considering the weight of the man - and carried him deeper into the alley and down some dark stairs on the left to a locked cellar-door. The room behind was a cellar and storage area for the blacksmith and Kathleen opened the door with a large key. They dragged the unconcious man into the dark room, which was half-full with crates of all sizes, and locked the door behind them.

 

 

The blacksmith had only been too glad to aid them, letting them use the cellar-room for whatever business they had, when Kathleen had explained to him that it was Tower business (but giving no details) and that they would be grateful. It was a risk, perhaps, but the older man seemed dependable and dragging their victim through the streets and into the inn constituted an even greater risk. Kathleen had agreed when Elessar had suggested it. They needed to get some answers from this man, and quickly. The Warder felt sure this man was involved somehow.

 

We do need answers, he thought to himself, as he watched the contours of the man on the hard earthen cellar-floor. Then there was sudden light and Elessar studied the man more closely.

 

He was Andoran without doubt, blond hair, half-long though greasy-looking. The man wore ordinary Andoran workman’s attire though he was a bit scruffy-looking. His face was rougher than normal, several scars running down the side of his left chin. His nose had been broken several times as well and would never be quite straight again. Are you a Darkfriend, I wonder? Elessar thought darkly to himself as he studied him. Or just a rough-looking street villain hired to spy on people? The Gaidin checked the man for weapons, removed a knife the stranger had in a pocket of his vest, tied his arms and legs tightly with a rope, and then slapped the man’s face hard a few times - and finally the man regained conciousness. He struggled against the ropes for a moment but to no avail. Cursing, the man turned his face up at whoever was standing before him, and then scowled.

 

 

“You!” he spat and tried to lunge for the Warder though he was bound and unable to move more than a few inches. Kathleen remained silent but watched carefully as their captive gradually quieted, his back to a large crate. He stared sullenly - and angrily - at the Warder and Aes Sedai.

 

“Good!” Elessar said in a hard voice, the man’s knife in his hand. “Now then, we are going to have a nice little talk.”

 

His no-nonsense tone could not be missed, though the man did not react to his words.

 

“You have been following us”, the Gaidin said squarely. “And I, or rather my Aes Sedai here” - he nodded at Kathleen beside him - “wants to know why.”

 

“Please take you time, if you wish.” He added smoothly. “We have all day. But do speak truthfully. We do not deal well with lies.”

 

 

A dangerous glint came into the Warder’s eyes as he studied their captive, his fingers brushing the knife’s edge almost nonchalantly.

 

As a Warder of many years, he had experience in interrogation and questioning. The threat of violence was always preferrable to the real thing, he had found, but a Warder did what was necessary to keep his Aes Sedai safe.

 

In their fight against the Shadow - and other enemies of the White Tower - sometimes harsh measures and methods were necessary. He hoped Kathleen, as an experienced Battle Ajah Sister, understood this, just as his dear Leandreen of the Green had done many years before.

 

Studying the rough-looking, angry and tight-mouthed man on the ground, the Warder’s eyes hard and uncompromising as stone, Elessar of Kandor wondered what it would take this time.

 

 

“I will tell you nothing!”, their captive spat, looking angrily at the Warder.

 

Elessar shook his head, his eyes narrowing.

 

“That is not very productive”, the Warder said in a hardened voice. “Nor very wise.”

 

The Andoran man chuckled. “You don’t scare me.”

 

There was spite in his voice when he added that he had done nothing wrong. He was innocent.

 

“Innocent, eh?” Elessar mumbled wryly as he felt the sharp edge of the knife along his finger. “Innocent of what exactly?”

 

The man only glowered at the Warder and Sedai and kept his mouth shut.

 

“I think you are many things”, Elessar continued, “but innocent is not one of them.”

 

The man’s eyes tightened but he remained silent.

 

 

“So tell us”, the Gaidin demanded, “who sent you to spy on us?”

 

The man looked up at them and grinned darkly.

 

“Who said anything about spying on you, ..Warder!?” The man spat.

 

His emphasis on the word ‘Warder’ made it sound foul the way he said it.

 

“Oh stop these bloody lies!” Elessar shouted, and in a sudden move rammed the knife into the crate beside their captive’s head. The man’s eyes widened, the rapid move taking him by surprise.

 

Elessar exchanged a glance with Kathleen, hoping she would understand that this was part of the ‘interrogation game’ he was playing with this man. He would deliberately ‘lose his cool’ at intervals to put the man on edge. It was one of several techniques to be used in situations like this. The Warder remembered from his time with Leandreen that she had complimented him on his interrogation-skills, also adding that he was so good at it that she sometimes feared he might go too far. Kathleen had not seen this part of him before, and he hoped she would understand and approve of his methods.

 

Turning back to their captive, he saw sweat bead on the man’s forehead. His eyes were angry still but the Gaidin thought he detected some uncertainty in the man’s face though he tried to hide it.

 

“Next time”, the Warder said icily, “that knife will be embedded in your shoulder. To make another scar which will fit well with the facial scars you wear so proudly.”

 

 

The man cursed and then stared at the Aes Sedai with hatred in his eyes.

 

Kathleen stared back at him, her face seemingly unaffected. It was hard for Elessar to tell from the Bond what she truly felt. Turning from the man on the ground, the Gaidin walked up to his Bondholder and whispered something in her ear.

 

Was he to continue this line of ‘questioning’, or did she want to take over?

 

She nodded that he could go on, which he interpreted as trust in what he was doing. If he went too far, he was sure Kathleen would let him know in no uncertain terms.

 

Turning slowly back to the man on the cellar-floor, Elessar considered his next words.

 

“Let us begin again. Why are you following us?”

 

“I will tell you nothing!”

 

“Which House do you serve?”

 

“I serve no House!”

 

“Stop with your lies!”

 

“I am no liar! You bloody White Tower stick your noses in everyone’s business and always think you know best.”

 

“What have you got to hide? Tell the truth!”

 

“I will tell you nothing, White Tower lackey!”

 

 

A sly look came upon his Warder’s face as he studied the Andoran man. The man was getting agitated and nervous, as Elessar wanted, and if coaxed in the right way, he might let slip something they could use.

 

“You are afraid, aren’t you?” Elessar continued after a moment. “That’s why you are so evasive.”

 

“No, I am not! You can’t frighten me!”

 

“Oh, I can see in your eyes that you are fearful. Fearful that we are going to reveal your secret.”

 

“What secret do you mean!? What rubbish is this? I have no secrets!”

 

“Are you sure about that? We will inform everyone on the street that you are a snitch.”

 

“I am no snitch! Your White Tower lies will get you nowhere!”

 

“You wanna bet!? And we will reveal your true allegiance!”

 

“You have nothing on me! Nothing!”

 

 

The Gaidin smiled darkly at the man, and then suddenly levelled a hard kick at the man’s stomach. He half-doubled over in pain, coughing and cursing. When he had caught his breath, he straightened, his back again against the crate, and looked balefully at the Warder.

 

Elessar stared back icily at the man.

 

“Now then.. that I do have your attention.” He began. “We know all about you. You are a traitor.”

 

“I am no such thing. Bloody lies!”

 

“Oh, yes you are. And not only to the House you serve. But also to the Light!”

“You know nothing! You bloody White Tower are meddlers and fools!”

 

“Oh please shut up! We know it all! Most importantly, we know that you are.. a Darkfriend!”

 

They had no such knowledge, in fact, though the man did not know that, but Elessar had a hunch. This man would be the type of individual Darkfriends would use, he thought. And the man’s seeming antagonism towards the White Tower, the spite he felt, appeared more than normal. If Elessar was right in his suspicion, this would be an important catch indeed on this mission. And if he was wrong, perhaps this villain could at least give them some useful information. The clue was to trick the man into saying something he would not normally reveal. He hoped this last accusation would rattle the man somewhat whatever his true allegiances.

 

“You have no proof! Lies!”

 

“Oh, we have proof alright. And we know how to deal with Darkfriend-scum like you.”

 

“Lies of the bloody White Tower!”

 

“How long have you been a servant of the Dark One?!”

 

“Bloody lies! You don’t know what you are talking about!”

 

“Oh yes, I do. How long have you served the Dark One. For years perhaps!?”

 

“Lies! I am telling you, I am not serving the Great Lord of the Dark! All you have is bloody lies!”

 

 

He stopped of a sudden, his face twisting, realizing that he had fallen into the Gaidin’s trap.

 

His eyes tightened in rage and his face was flushed. He looked as if he wanted to spring at them, but was unable since his arms and legs were tied tightly.

 

Elessar’s grin widened as he turned toward Kathleen behind him. Her face was as smooth as ever, but he thought he saw approval in her eyes, the same feeling coming through the Bond from her.

 

Turning back toward their captive who now sat cursing himself for his stupidity, the Warder’s grin widened even further.

 

Gotcha! he thought with great satisfaction. He had always hated the Shadow and capturing Darkfriends always gave him immense gratification.

 

For only Darkfriends would say ‘Great Lord of the Dark’, everyone else called him the Dark One, though Elessar knew that their eternal enemy of the Shadow had several other names as well.

 

So this man who had spied on them was indeed a Darkfriend. There was no doubt.

 

And they had caught him.

 

Seeing as they were hunting Darkfriends in this area, seeking the Darkfriend cell they were sure was here, this was a major step forwards in their mission. He knew it and Kathleen did too. The question now was how to proceed. This Darkfriend captive could be even more useful to them than either of them had expected.

 

Facing the Darkfriend’s angry expression, Elessar nodded.

 

“Well, we are glad that you have now confirmed your true allegiance.” His voice hardened, his eyes like stone. “The White Tower particularly enjoys.. dealings with people of your.. persuasion shall we say.”

 

 

The man cursed and spat, his eyes wild and almost feverish now, saying they had tricked him. White Tower tricks, he said. Bloody White Tower tricks.

 

“Now, now.. behave yourself.” The Warder said, shaking his head. “You are in the company of a Lady. Don’t forget your manners.”

 

The Darkfriend cast another baleful glance at them both, but said nothing more.

 

“Good. Kathleen Aes Sedai now wants to ask you some questions as well”, Elessar added. “Answer truthfully and politely or you will feel my fist in that head of yours.”

 

He did not intend to smash the man’s head in, the Darkfriend was too valuable to them now, but he hoped the threat would make the man behave, at least to some extent. If he did not, the Darkfriend would regret it.

 

Their captive Andoran agent of the Shadow stared angrily and hatefully at Kathleen as she stepped forward.

 

 

It was dark outside, evening turning into night, when they lifted the large leather sack containing the unconcious Darkfriend into the horse-driven carriage in the alley. There were sounds of stray dogs and drunk people coming from further down the alley but the Warder could not see anyone close by. Kathleen stepped swiftly into the carriage and Elessar followed, closing the coach-door behind him. The driver pushed the horses into action and they headed promptly down the alley toward the street behind. It was not ideal but they had to get their Darkfriend captive back to the inn, preferrably as unnoticed as possible. He could have friends nearby, looking for him. And they could not stay in that cellar. Kathleen had told him that the carriage-driver was to be trusted, a man loosely associated with the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears, but even so the Gaidin wanted as few people as possible to observe them and their business.

 

They did not talk as the carriage headed toward their inn, both lost in their own thoughts after the ‘interrogation’ of before, and when they arrived at the stables behind the inn Elessar jumped off the carriage and greeted the waiting innkeeper. A backdoor to the inn stood open a little further back and Elessar lifted the large leather sack onto his shoulder and carried it inside, up a back-staircase and into Kathleen’s room. He threw the heavy sack containing the unconcious Darkfriend onto her bed, panting from the exertion, and stepped back. Kathleen soon joined him and closed the door behind them. The innkeeper had only been told that they were on Tower business and had some items of importance to bring back to the inn, and they wanted it done discreetly. The look Elessar had given him, when he had explained earlier that evening, had been enough.. encouragement.. for the innkeeper not to ask any more questions. This was a confidential matter, Elessar had pointed out, and the innkeeper had bowed respectfully - and perhaps a little fearfully - in understanding.

 

“Well, that went as well as could be expected”, Elessar said once he had regained his breath, meeting Kathleen’s eyes. “I think we managed to do it without unfriendly eyes catching on, but one can never be certain.” The Aes Sedai nodded, casting a glance at the leather sack with their dangerous captive.

 

“The innkeeper will keep quiet.” He added. “He knows nothing in truth, just that it is Tower business, but I made sure he understood the confidentiality of the situation.” Kathleen cast him another glance but said nothing. The Aes Sedai had made sure their captured man would remain unconcious throughout the night and he lay still as death inside the large leather sack which had a few breathing holes cut out on the side.

 

 

“It has certainly been an interesting day”, the Warder said with obvious understatement, studying the leather sack with their Darkfriend captive. “A touch on the boring, uneventful side perhaps”, he added with a lopsided grin, “so let’s hope tomorrow will be more exciting.”

 

He did not see the glance Kathleen gave him, but the emotion coming through the Bond gave him a good idea.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge Part 1 - Revisited

 

The ride from Dayton was largely uneventful and the pair rode hard until they neared the smaller towns near Whitebridge. Kathleen had been there once before, but she found herself just as taken with the ancient bridge on the clear afternoon as it crested the horizon coming in to view as she had the first time she saw it years before. By the time they reached the imposing glass-like structure she had centered herself and shaken off the nerves that had tried to invade her mind. The mission began the moment the hooves hit the bridge to Whitebridge.

 

She arrived at the Western Bridge Inn with the grace and steely persona expected of an Aes Sedai, covering all trace of how tired and ready for a bath and rest she was. She wanted out of her traveling clothes more than anything else. She made some necessary arrangements and then settled into her side of the adjourning room and shut out everything but reviving herself through a relaxing bath and getting ready to start again in the evening. She joined Elessar in the common room and enjoyed their conversation. She wasn’t sure if the meal and performance were mediocre or if it was just the distraction of knowing what was coming after that had her feeling less pulled in to the experience than she had found herself at so many of their previous common room experiences.  It was still enjoyable and always a welcomed change from the nights on the forest floors.

 

The last bites of their meal ended as the performance rapped up.  Kathleen signaled Elessar and the pair retired to the small den-like lounge that the Green thought would make a lovely study. She scanned the old books and maps, considering if she would have a chance to actually read any of them over. The lounge was small but it would more than do for their purposes that night.  The Andorian woman who Kathleen had met once before, joined them precisely on time and Kathleen rose to greet her.  Pleasantries were exchanged and Elessar took his leave to watch that no one interrupted or listened in. Kathleen would tell him all he needed to hear when the woman left, but she would speak more freely if it was only the Green’s ears hearing. Kathleen asked after the woman’s family and the woman hesitantly approached the subject of the unfamiliar warder.

 

When they were both comfortable they got down to the business of informing. Unfortunately, the woman had plenty to say and filled Kathleen in on the small-town changes that had occurred since her last visit and every account the woman had found suspicious. It was tedious, and Kathleen had wanted to rush her along and bring her back to the matter at hand – and at times Kathleen did press her to get on with it, but she didn’t want the woman to feel like all her hard work and diligent note taking was being ignored. She needed this woman to feel like she had been a great help and her diligence was appreciated, so Kathleen listened with interest to it all. 

 

When they finally got to the reason for her attendance Kathleen was not surprised to learn that the woman really didn’t have much more information than she had already provided. She did provide Kathleen a journal of her notes detailing the activity that had her concerned and the woman couldn’t contain her pride and excitement as she handed over the letter she had copied for the Aes Sedai.  Kathleen had in these items all that she really wanted from the woman and the Green thanked the woman for her service to the Green Ajah, the White Tower, Whitebridge, and the Light and gave her a handsome sum. She assured Kathleen that she had kept all of this information private and told no one that she had been speaking with the White Tower.

 

When her contact left, Elessar took her place in the lounge. Kathleen arranged for drinks and asked after anyone suspicious moving round the halls while the meeting was going on and then the two discussed the information and reviewed the contacts notes and letter. This information left no doubt that the fears of a darkfriend cell were indeed at work in the city and the only lead they had was that the High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan was involved. Involved in what, and how involved she was still eluded her. They still no ideas of what the endgame was, so they didn't know yet the best way to approach it.

 

They retired to their respective rooms, but Kathleen couldn’t sleep. It had been a long day, and a longer evening and she had more questions than answers. She poured over information again, reading first through the notes and letter, then recalling the extra information the contact had provided and then adding in the options she had explored with the warder. She was no where closer to determining what to do than she had been an hour earlier. She needed to learn more about this Lyndelle, but how? She couldn’t just walk in and question the woman, much as she wished she could. They didn’t know how deeply involved she was and any nosing around would rise suspicions. If she could figure out their plan then she could arrange to insert herself and stop it, but if she came on too strong too quickly they would just go into hiding and her chance would be gone. She tucked the papers away into her traveling bag and decided the only action she could take tonight was climbing into bed and getting a good night’s sleep in the comfortable bed, hoping more options would present themselves in the morning.

 

Kathleen woke later than usual but still quite early, enjoying the comfort of the bed and took her time making herself presentable before asking after Elessar to join her for a meal.  She would not have anyone in the inn thinking an Aes Sedai was lazy. She carried on with her day and found herself back in her room by early afternoon. She was surprised when Elessar knocked on her door but hurriedly ushered him in. He handed her the letter he had received and told her how he came by it. Kathleen starred briefly at her name elegantly scrolled on the envelope noting it wasn’t the same handwriting she had studied over the night before. It wasn’t surprising that someone knew an Aes Sedai had arrived, what was surprising was that they had known her name and Ajah. Perhaps someone had recognized her from her previous visit, or perhaps she or Elessar had mentioned enough for someone to piece it together, either way these thoughts were only fleeting, and she quickly opened the message. Kathleen read the message twice, stilling her heart rate as her eyes found the signature of High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan before meeting flashing her gaze to meet Elessar’s.

 

~Kathleen

Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

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