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Elessar

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

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Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge Part 2 - Revisited

 

Kathleen folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope as Elessar lightened the mood with his easy jokes at High Lady’s allegiance. She allowed a smirk for a short moment, but the underlying truth of it kept a chuckle at bay.

 

“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 considered another reason the woman could want her there – it could be an attempt to set up blame on the White Tower if she is seen to be conspiring, or it could be a public way for the Lady to try to assess the threat.

 

“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.”

 

“I hate walking into to someone else’s den, especially when I don’t know if they are wolf or rabbit, but this certainly solves the problem of how we can get close enough to assess this woman without suspicion. Suspicion is likely already cast. I prefer it that way.”

 

As the two spoke about the implications of the invitation it became clear they were very much of the same mindset. Kathleen couldn’t help but think of what a blessing that was. She realized how trying this bond could have been had they had different core feelings on approaches to these sorts of things.  Of course, it would be Elessar who would come to her ways, but that didn’t mean the tension between them would be any less if it was he who felt stifled or if it was she. Luckily, they wouldn’t face that yet. Someday, surely, but not yet.

 

When Elessar voiced his advice to attend the event, Kathleen nodded and reached for some stationary to pen an acceptance letter, musing as she wrote, “I hope you have a good suit and better manners, we’ll need them”.  She spent the rest of her day making sure that she had all she would need for the next night and feigning interest in some local sites.  She had to look like she was in town for a reason, but that reason couldn’t look like sitting around waiting for a ball.

 

The next afternoon Kathleen readied herself for the event while Elessar prepared in the adjourning room. She smoothed out the soft pleats of her jade dress and clasped the draping silver chain around her neck, her hand accidentally brushing against the matching earring dangling subtly from her lobes. The only other jewelry she wore was the great serpent ring on her right hand. She pulled her dark hair into a loose, easy updo, not too elaborate but enough that it looked like she had put some work into it and she had. She took one last look in the mirror and headed down to meet her carriage. As she approached, she saw Elessar in his best black – he has better than a good suit she thought I hope that translates to exceptional manners. As she took Elessar’s hand to steady herself into the carriage she paused a moment in the thought of how glamorous this all was and how the warder she had grown so accustomed to seeing sat atop rotting logs in the woods looked almost unrecognizable in the dashing formal clothing. So versatile. What a life she was living: from sleeping on sticks and leaves, to clapping along in small village taverns, to touring historical trips, to attending a ball in formal attire – one she had been invited to by a suspected enemy at that, and all in the name of one mission. She was glad to have someone to share it with.

 

Kathleen stood patiently by Elessar’s side waiting for the door of the noble's house open. She handed over her invitation and entered the manor and stayed a good pace with her escort. She scanned the layout and staff in the halls on the way to the ballroom trying to stay as non-chalant as possible, but she was a Green and this had to be considered possible enemy territory. She knew Elessar would be doing the same. She paused outside of the ball room doors taking a moment only noticeable through the bond to compose herself. She felt a wave of stillness come over her whole body as the Master of Ceremony’s staff settled and he announced her to the room it was as though an internal curtain rose and the show began. Kathleen glided into the room, paying no mind to the people moving out of her way and bowing around her. She moved as if she, Elessar, and Lyndelle were the only ones in the room and it was her duty to welcome the High Lady of House Serevan to her own party.  The other woman rose from her ornate chair, and as if she was acknowledging the truth of this act, the host lowered herself into a moderate curtsy. Kathleen found herself instinctively watching her for flaws in the curtsy, but it was not the training of watching the moves of possible threats that had her watching for flaws, it was the many years of training Novices and Accepted and being expected to criticize them on this very skill.

 

As the possible darkfriend approached and expressed her “great honour” at having an Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah present Kathleen listened closely for clues in her tone that betrayed her sincerity.  The use of the term Battle Ajah was perhaps not meant as a challenge, but perhaps it was. Are we to Battle tonight then High Lady? I certainly hope not – for your sake and the sake of my fine dress.

 

The usual formal exchanges were quickly run through like well rehearsed lines in a gleeman’s tale and Kathleen summoned the Warder with a short nod. They followed their host to a separate room and Kathleen was sure that Elessar could see through her charade as easily as she could. She couldn’t help but think this conversation could be quite entertaining just watching this snake trying to hide her true intentions. Kathleen tried to remind herself that they didn’t have any real proof that there was anything suspicious in the works with this woman, except the letter that named her. It would be dangerous to read too far into anything the woman said while holding a bias though.  As hard as it was to keep neutral, Kathleen knew she had to keep some level of benefit open. She was a noblewoman and perhaps her people did need something. The woman could try to achieve an honest request from the Tower if she thought her loyalties were hidden well.

 

This was more difficult do as the woman moved into the separate room and began to speak of alliance with the White Tower and the importance of friends while clearly showing she thought she was out smarting the Green. Kathleen felt like she was watching an amateur actor trying to make a drama out of a comedy and that in itself was enough to amuse the Green. As the woman continued speaking Kathleen began to wonder if she was a darkfriend choosing her words to hide her intent or start open a trap, of if she was just a nervous noble approaching an Aes Sedai for the first time trying to remember what she asking after and trying not to leave loop holes she could get caught in. Either way, it was a very poor show. The woman stopped speaking expecting Kathleen to make a move. Kathleen knew better than to speak now. The woman was just gaining confidence, she had said what she intended to say and felt like she had the upper hand leaving a cryptic yet simple question in saying, “strength is often measured in one’s friends. Don’t you find?”

 

If Kathleen had thought that question innocent, she would still have a long, opinioned answer that would go deeply into philosophy and would not serve the conversation at hand. If, as Kathleen believed, the question was a veiled threat meant to intimidate her at the thought that the woman had more people with her, then her answer certainly wouldn’t please: I have all the strength I need to out measure you and all of your darkfriends right here in this room with me. I have a seasoned Warder who is more than a match for you, I have Tower training and years of playing politics to out talk you, I have years of military strategy and that doesn’t start on Saidar.  That is all of the ‘friends’ I need. If you thinks numbers matter, if push comes to shove I have the entire White Tower and everyone in the world under the Light to call upon.

 

She wasn't about to approach either of these answers. She would keep the woman on the demand. There was no need to reply to such a rhetorical yes or no question. The woman had more to say - something to ask. The green settled back into her chair and awaited the woman to press on.

 

~Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

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Danger on the Horizon - Part 1: Revisited

 

The High Lady was off the hook sooner than Kathleen would have liked, but it appeared clear she had not arranged for the knock that came announcing the young Andorian who summoned Elessar away. Kathleen gave a consenting nod of allowance and Elessar left with the nobleman.

 

The conversation with Lyndelle renewed but Kathleen was not fully present; she could sense something happening outside of their meeting. She believed Elessar could handle anything the boy might try, but the bond was new and the threat was suspected; Kathleen knew Elessar could do what was needed if there was any trouble but she found herself  more on edge than she should have been. She had learned the subtleties of when her first warder was in need of her help, or when he needed her to stay away. She knew the levels of tension in their bond and could react accordingly within seconds of it changing. Her first warder had learned the same of her. Elessar and Kathleen had not yet fallen on anything that would test their bond and Kathleen worried that should misread his cues and bring harm upon him by leaving him too late or entering too early.

 

Kathleen could sense Elessar returning and she had spent enough time alone with Lyndelle to get a good read of what she was up against. The woman wasn’t going to give her any more insight than she had in the game of veiled conversation they had all so far, but Kathleen had gotten what she wanted out this meeting. She wound the conversation around to the events in the ballroom and made mention that the High Lady’s other guests would be missing her presence and suggested that they return to the fray, without seeming to be telling the woman what do – it was her house and Kathleen was her guest after all.

 

Kathleen walked deliberately through the room, stealing the gaze of all the guests as she passed by – catching more than a few off guard at her sudden return to the room, but they all found themselves falling into the proper positioning with bows and curtsies and respectful gestures as they moved out her path. She knew it was petty and childish, but a small part of her felt a great deal of pleasure at ensuring the guests eyes were on her march to the door and not Lyndelle’s march back to her seat. Kathleen tried to look for faces of people who could be with darkfriends, but none would dare show any signs so she didn’t put much stock in that.

 

Elessar filled Kathleen in on the warning of danger. It didn’t come as a surprise – the reason she came from Tar Valon because there was threats of danger, and she knew that when she inserted herself she would be drawing danger to her personally. The fact that someone warned them could mean their cell was already breaking down from within, or that there was opposition that could come the aid of the Green and Warder, or it could bea scheme to have her overthinking and on edge. It could be number of things each would have to be dealt with its own way. They spent the remainder of the carriage ride back to the inn and some hours in her room discussing this before deciding there was nothing more to be done this night and they weren’t going to polish a plan so it was best to go to bed.

 

Elessar retired to his own room and Kathleen removed her earrings and necklace, packing them carefully away. She exchanged her luxurious jade dress for comfortable sleeping clothes and tucked herself into bed. It took her a while to fall to sleep, but she did. She wasn’t sure how long she was asleep for when she awoke. She untangled the blankets and rolled over to her opposite side, trying to get comfortable. As she relaxed into the pillow she realized Elessar was up. She couldn’t hear a sound, but she could pin point him and he was moving and he was on alert. The thought of the boy’s warning earlier came rushing back to her and she slipped silently out of her bed readying herself in the event something escalated. As Elessar paused outside her door she could sense the growing concern, she heard a noise and felt the sudden burst of surprise and she reached instinctively for saidar. As the pulse of the one power flowed through her, she heard laughter in the hall. She was overcome with confusion and when Elessar entered the room she wasn’t sure what to make of it. As he declared there was no danger she reluctantly let go of saidar and took a seat while he retold the story of the assassin-cat lurking in the shadows of the corridor. She had initially been annoyed at the disturbance, then mad that they had both been brought to such extremes as to be found stalking around and ready to pounce over a sound in the night, but as Elessar spoke of the event Kathleen’s mood lighted and she found herself laughing by the end of it.

 

The next morning, Kathleen did not feel as well rested as she would have liked but she did feel more well rested than she had expected to.  She met with Elessar for breakfast and enjoyed the light conversation. They moved through the city and made their way to a bench in the plaza where Kathleen ensured they could speak in confidence. As they moved through the city Elessar brought the notice they were being watched to Kathleen’s attention and they continued on their way without changing their pace or direction while they tried to quickly work out how to handle the stranger following them.  They slipped into the blacksmith’s shop and Kathleen split away from the warder, giving him room to work with and made herself familiar with the layout. There were some good quality weapons and tools there, and she would have liked to study them more seriously. Perhaps she would come back when this was concluded.

 

Elessar had formed a plan and when he filled Kathleen in she was impressed with what he had come up with so quickly. She gave her consent and Elessar exited through the back into the alley putting the plan in motion.

 

~Kathleen

Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

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Danger on the Horizon Part 2 – Revisited

 

As Elessar was securing the suspicious man in the alley Kathleen thanked the blacksmith for his assistance and secured his silence and the keys to his supply cellar. She joined Elessar with the unconscious man and was pleased to see how swiftly and thoroughly he had contained the events. There didn’t seem to be any suspicion from passersby and as Elessar hoisted the limp but otherwise uninjured body to his shoulders Kathleen was impressed, but not surprised. She had expected this skill from Elessar, but she enjoyed seeing it.

 

She lead their way into the cellar then stood back and watched the interrogation. It was a good chance to study Elessar, his methods and his morals.  She was hoping the man would be cooperative when he came to and not give any trouble, but if he was resistant this could prove a good test of the Warder. 

 

“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.”

 

His tone was calm but strong. Direct truth, Kathleen noted, giving me the credit – day one training but good to see it being put to use.

 

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

 

Kathleen noted the Warder subtly handling his blade as he began the gentle pressure. She didn’t expect the man to comply so easily and she didn’t believe Elessar did either. But you have start low so you can raise the pressure appropriately as the defiance rises. Kathleen hadn’t expected things to escalate as suddenly as they did, and she was almost as surprised as the Andorian was  when the blade stabbed into the crate beside his head. Kathleen held her composure. She had seen much more extreme situations than this, and though she often tried to avoid unnecessary violence and threats, she did know that a small show could often have the fastest and easiest outcome. Elessar’s experience showed and while Kathleen could only hope he would not cross any line too fine for her liking she was willing to have his back.

 

“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.

 

Was he looking for her sympathy? Was he thinking she might step in and stop this? Or was his flash of anger meant to show that while Elessar held the blade he believed she held the strings? Even if she disagreed with Elessar’s actions – which she didn’t – she would never choose this fool over the warder. She might go back to the inn and lecture him on expectations and give a detailed breakdown of all the ways she was disappointed in him until it was Elessar who was looking for her sympathy, but no matter what situation the warder ever got into Kathleen would not ever show anyone that she was anything less than 100 percent behind him – she wouldn’t admit to the Head of the Greens or the or the Amyrlin herself. The only possible person who Kathleen might reveal her disagreement with would be Nevuel and even that was highly unlikely. She did not plan to complain to Elessar about Nevuel’s faults and she did not think it necessary the to complain about Elessar to Nevuel.  They needed to trust in their fellow Gaidan to be able to keep her safe and she would not want to be the one to plant the seeds of doubt.

 

As Kathleen watched on Elessar pressed and said in no uncertain terms words that the Green knew she couldn’t.

 

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!”

 

Kathleen had never had a problem with the oath that kept her from lying. She was always nervous about lies – when they backfire you lose the upper hand. You are the one who looks like a fool. She only hoped now that the warder’s instincts were right and that this man wasn’t just a common townsperson whose family was wronged and he held a strong grudge. She was glad she couldn’t lie, because even if she could she didn’t know if she would be any good at it. She never was good at lying as a child - she wrote that off to her Amadican upbring. She did like knowing she had someone on her side who could though. Other people’s lies had aided her in the past.

 

It didn’t take long to prove effective. Elessar came hard with this accusation and the man tripped up. Kathleen let a smile touch her lips as the catch was noted. And when the warder had the truth of the andorian’s allegiance the fact that he instantly stopped the pressure and stepped aside to her let her take over showed the Green that he truly was at the level she needed him to be in to work along side her. A seasoned warder who knew when his job ended and hers began.  He wasn’t the only one who wanted some fun that night and more importantly, the real threat need always be associated with the Aes Sedai. He could set them up, but she would knock them down. There would be no lecture in the inn tonight.

 

She interrogated the man in her own way and pulled out of him what information she needed. When she was done with him she had made arrangements for their covert travels with trusted sources and Elessar saw to it that their guest would not complain along  the way. There were some details to consider before they could let the man go. The drive back to the inn was made in quiet contemplation and when they arrived at the inn and Elessar took their guest through the back with the innkeeper, Kathleen personally thanked the driver with a little extra fare for his trouble, silence, and service to the Tower. He said it was his honour and assured her that it was no trouble and he would be at her service if ever she called again, but the fear in his eyes and the tremble in his voice revealed the truth of how much he hoped he could be left out of anything more.

 

Kathleen joined the warder in her rooms thinking briefly as she looked to the man-filled sack laid on her bed that she may ask after why Elessar had to take up her bed and not his with this captive, but it was a petty concern and Elessar likely thought she would be more comfortable in the room she had made her own.

 

“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.

 

Kathleen opened herself to saidar and placed a weave she had learned from yellow once in the aftermath of a terrible ambush.  Too many were injured and the sisters who were left at the scene were all exhausted so they were sending those they could for healing at a camp a half-days ride away. She was shown a mild sedation weave that would keep the wounded still and silent, in no pain and still alive until they arrived. It had been a mercy that had saved lives that would have been lost. She had seen it in work in the past and knew it would hold for this purpose too.  If it failed, he would still wake in a bag and the confusion of that would give enough notice for her to react.

 

When this was complete Kathleen could finally relax. She had been itching for action on the whole ride from Tar Valon. The ballroom word play and sizing up of  the High Lady was a decent start, but grabbing a suspect off of the street and forcing a confession in a nitty gritty interrogation in a cellar out of a darkfriend then stealing him through the night in a sack was certainly more along the lines of the action she was after. She was just thinking of how odd it must seem to others that this sort of thing could be desirable and exciting to her when Elessar spoke as if he was reading her mind.

 

“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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.. Hunting the Shadow - Part 1 ..

►▼◄

 

The deadly knife whistled through the air, making a whooshing sound that slithered through the darkness, embedding itself with an emphatic thud in the old wooden building within a hairsbreadth of Elessar’s head!

 

 

The day had started nicely with a good breakfast at their inn and pleasant light conversation. Their Darkfriend-prisoner was bound (in more ways than one) in the closet of Kathleen’s room and the innkeeper had been informed that the room was out of bounds for any inn staff. They were considering whether they would get any more useful information out of the Darkfriend, and what to do with him afterwards, though Kathleen had raised an eyebrow at some of Elessar’s more.. colourful suggestions regarding getting their captive to talk. He had made those suggestions partly in jest, and would never resort to torture even if interrogation sometimes meant being forceful. One had to draw the line at some point, he remembered his Warder-teachers had emphasized early in his training, keeping morality and ethics in mind. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from our evil enemies, Elessar. Never forget that. He did, however, make good use of his ability to lie (falsify the truth) to a captive whenever necessary, knowing one of the Aes Sedai Oaths prevented Kathleen from doing the same. It often produced results, in his experience, and was a useful and important tool in interrogations.

 

The Warder had been in a good mood as they had departed the inn in late afternoon to do some errands. Soon though his mood had changed. It had started some time later with the horse and carriage almost running them over. Accident or mishap perhaps, but Elessar found it highly suspicious that the horse driver had swerved into their path as he had done. Then, as they were rounding a corner five streets or so southwards of the inn, three huge blond-haired brutes had jumped them without provocation. Elessar had reacted quickly, Kathleen as well, and after some well-aimed blows the men had run off cursing down the street. The Warder had not considered it worth running after them though he had cast them black looks over his shoulder. They might be ordinary thugs but he highly doubted it. He was not a great believer in coincidence. They had retreated to a bench in a small plaza where they had discussed the situation and how to respond. Excitement was good but he wanted to be in charge of events, things happening on their terms; acting, not reacting.

 

It had been near sunset, twilight quickly approaching over the horizon, when they had begun the long walk back towards the Western Bridge inn. Darkness was quickly falling over Whitebridge as they had headed down the town streets, Elessar keeping a vigilant eye on their surroundings. A few streets from the inn they had stepped into an alley which led to a side-street that ended at the inn. It was dark by then and the two had walked carefully forwards along the buildings, keeping to the shadows.

 

And that is when it happened!

 

 

It had been instinct, perhaps, that had made him cry out a warning to his Sedai just in time, leaping in front of her to shield her - and Kathleen had thrown herself to the side and out of danger’s path. Instinct, or perhaps a feeling of imminent danger, an added sense which Warders often seemed to possess and which was particularly sensitive in Elessar after the occurrences earlier that day.

 

Throwing himself to the ground, he now checked on Kathleen asking if she was ok - she lay a little off to his left in the dark, partially stunned but seemingly uninjured - before raising his head to look across the alley from where the knife had been thrown. It was difficult to see in the darkness but he glimpsed that some of the buildings had doors partially open, with a little light coming from within, and there was a small staircase leading down from one of the houses, but he could see no movement anywhere. Just then, as he was considering their options, a second knife flew through the air and barely missed the Warder. Retrieving it carefully from the wall beside him, touching only the handle, close up Elessar thought he saw dark wetness on the blade. Poison without doubt!

 

Darkfriends!

 

It’s bloody well happening all over again! Elessar thought angrily, as he cursed loudly. He remembered a similar episode with Carys, his former Bondholder, some years before, then too Darkfriends had tried to kill them. A different place, but the same enemies. He felt sure of that. The same bloody vermin.

 

Cursing again, Elessar threw the knife away. He took a moment to evaulate the situation. How was it he could be taken so unawares? Again?! He blamed himself for not sensing and discovering the danger; whether he was, in truth, to blame was less important to him right then. He felt responsible for Kathleen’s safety, it was his duty as her Warder, and it was only his quick instinctive reaction combined with some luck that they had not been seriously injured so far. Whatever powers, skill and experience they both had, when taken totally unawares those things did not count for all that much.

 

Turning quickly to check on his Sedai again - she had found her feet and now met his eyes calmly, her look focused and determined; he guessed she was holding the One Power, in readiness -,  he turned back to the alley before them. He regretted now taking this route, seeing that it was a good place for an ambush, especially in the dark. He should have taken the long way around to the inn, he thought guiltily. It was easy to be critical in retrospect. Pushing those dark thoughts away, he considered what action to take. Speaking a few whispered words with Kathleen, they moved slowly forwards keeping to the shadows. They were half-way along the building when the Gaidin stopped, Kathleen just behind him. In the silence that followed Elessar gazed into the blackness, searching for their foe. Suddenly there was a sound coming from ahead of them to their left on the other side of the alley. Not a loud sound, the shuffling of feet, but enough to stand out in the silence. Elessar had an idea now where their foe was. The assassin. Whispering to Kathleen again, he began removing one of his own knives - a well balanced piece that would function well as a throwing-knife - from his coat. He waited and waited.. counting on the man out there becoming impatient.. and after a few minutes his tactic succeeded. There was visible movement in the darkness and a shadow detached itself from the building opposite. It was not much of a point to aim at but enough for the seasoned Warder. He took careful aim, waited and then threw the knife hard at the shadow.

 

 

His aim had been good and there was a gasp of pain followed by a curse coming from the shadow as the knife hit its target. The shadow went into motion, gradually showing the contours of a human figure, and scrambled hurriedly away from them down the alley and into the adjacent street. Elessar was about to follow but Kathleen put a hand on his shoulder whispering that they were to let the man go. He nodded, accepting the decision. The man had gotten a big head start anyway and would perhaps not have been caught. Also there could be other assassins about. His first priority was keeping his Aes Sedai safe. Casting a long glance around them, he searched for any additional threats in the dark.

 

“He is gone, but there could be more than one”, he whispered as he stared vigilantly around. “We should get moving. It seems our enemies - probably our bloody Darkfriends! - do want us dead.”

 

Kathleen nodded in silent agreement, keeping her private thoughts to herself, and they headed swiftly back to the inn, both vigilant and careful, keeping an attentive lookout in the dark, intent on not being caught unawares again.

 

 

The man with the scar cursed as he half limped, half ran along the alley, turning at intervals to check if he was being followed. The pain from his leg coursed through his body and it took a strong effort of will to avoid screaming out in agony. The knife protruding from his leg had to be removed but that was a job for a healer man. He would not risk removing it himself. Main thing was to get to the safe-house; he would get help there. At least the knife had not been poisoned; had it been, he would have been dead by now, of that he felt sure. Cursing again, the man’s piercing blue eyes stared fixedly ahead. He turned a corner, looking into the distance for the building he sought. His faltering steps made a clicking sound on the cobblestone path. Finally he saw it. Hurrying past a couple of rough-looking men who looked strangely at him, with great suspicion, he half-limped, half-dashed inside the building and up a short flight of stairs. Stopping before a nondescript door he banged on the door with both fists, breathing hard, sweat pouring down his face, pain making him grimace. He clenched his fists as he waited for someone to open the door.

 

There was movement from within, then a cold voice called out: “Who is there?” The man with the scar cursed again. “It’s me. Open the door! I am bloody hurt.”

 

There was a moment’s pause, then the door opened slightly and a pair of cold blue eyes looked out from a heavily scarred face. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, the man - a middle aged Andoran by the look of him with predatory eyes and a twisted mouth - opened the door wide and helped the injured man inside. The door shut closed behind them.

 

 

It was a good while later, after a healer man had come and had removed the knife, cleaned the wound and bandaged part of his leg, that the man with the scar was able to think through what had happened. The short truth of it was: he had bungled the job. His masters would not be pleased. Not pleased at all. Thinking back on the pain - the hideous unending pain! - from that night not so long ago made him shiver.

 

Before that night, he had for a time considered breaking his oath. He had simply been tired of it all; tired of his work, tired of all the death he spread, wanting only to have it done with. But then he had been warned, first with the note slipped unsuspectedly into his coat pocket, and then - more firmly - with the torture.. His body almost shook again. After that all doubt in his mind had been removed - or repressed. He realized he had been a fool to think he could get away with breaking his oath to the Great Lord. He would carry out his assignment as he had vowed.

 

 

But he had failed.

 

The Warder and his accursed Aes Sedai woman, snooping around where they were not wanted, were still alive, his knives had missed their target from what he had seen and heard. And to make matters worse, he was the one who had gotten injured. Angry at himself for his failure, and for getting himself injured, the man’s eyes tightened. Had the Gaidin not somehow sensed the danger coming, screaming out his warning just in the nick of time, the knife would have hit the woman in the chest, of that he was sure. The Warder himself had been lucky to have escaped with his life. He had run straight into the knife’s path.

 

Running a nervous hand through his long blond hair, he shifted his eyes to the cloaked figure, with a heavy cowl hiding the face, standing still in the corner of the room. That figure had been silent ever since it had arrived. The man with the scar almost wished it would stay silent forever. His wish was not to be. The cloaked figure beckoned him forwards and he stood up from where he lay, gritting his teeth against the slight pain in his leg. Facing the cloaked figure he lowered his eyes in deference. A cold whisper came out of the black hood.

 

“We do not tolerate failure”.

 

Pain erupted in the scarred man’s head and he cried out in agony. He could not tell whether he had been physically struck or not; the pain was sudden, the pain was everything. He fell onto his back and tears of pain streamed down his cheeks. His arms shook and his screams became ever louder. After a few moments - or an eternity -, he could not tell which, the pain lessened somewhat. He tried to stop his arms and legs from shaking but was only partially successful. He registered the voice in his mind. He could not say if the words were spoken aloud or not. Pain and confusion ran through him - and he only wanted it all to stop.

 

“You will have one final chance to please the Great Lord. This is what you will do.”

 

He listened carefully to his instructions, taking note of every detail in his mind, but soon he was awash once again in oceans of pain.

 

 

Back in their rooms in the inn, Kathleen and Elessar sat for a  long time discussing the seriousness of their situation, and why things has escalated as they had. They both agreed that it had to be the Darkfriends wanting to rid themselves of the White Tower threat that the Aes Sedai and Warder represented. But it seemed overly drastic for their enemies to attack so openly. Either it was a sign of desperation, Elessar suggested, or of great confidence in themselves. For whatever reason, Kathleen and Elessar had to reassess the situation and consider how to meet this open threat. Retreating was out of the question - they were seasoned warriors both - and neither were they enthusiastic about asking for reinforcements. This mission had been given to Kathleen and she intended to carry it out and complete it. Elessar agreed full heartedly. They would finish what they had started. At the same time it would be prudent to be a little more careful when they ventured outside. Kathleen saw that Elessar blamed himself for not having prevented the attack but assured him that it was impossible to be ready for every eventuality. He nodded in response, though inside he still felt guilty. A Warder’s guilt. He swore to himself that he would do better next time. He would not fail. He had failed enough in his time. He brushed the destructive thought away, listening carefully to Kathleen’s words about their next move.

 

The following morning they met up in the Common Room for breakfast. After some decent food, drink and pleasant chitchat Kathleen retired to her room (she had some things she needed to take care of, she said) while Elessar went into the streets to have a look around. He wanted primarily to get an impression of whether they were being watched. Heading to a spot by a building on the other side of the street, which had a good view of the entrance to their inn, he stopped there and pretended to be looking through a shop window at wares. In the reflection from the glass he stared, however, at a scruffy-looking young man a little way down from the inn who kept glancing that way. As he had expected, they were being watched. He turned his gaze down the street to see if anyone else suspicious was taking an interest in them. He then turned in the other direction. He did not see anyone else though people and carriages were passing and it was not easy to tell. He considered jumping the scruffy-looking spy, but decided against it. They already had one spy in captivity; a second one might become too much to handle at that moment. Kathleen had said go look about and report back and that he intended to do.

 

 

Walking across the street, he entered the inn and went up to Kathleen’s room and reported what he had seen.

 

“I think we should find some other place as base of operations”, he suggested when he had finished reporting, and Kathleen agreed after considering the matter.

 

It seemed prudent and also practical to find some place their enemies did not know about. Somewhere less conspicuous. A private place, not an inn or similar establishment. Kathleen left to contact the Eyes and Ears and later that day the local woman that Kathleen knew came to visit. They spoke for a while in private and not long after the Aes Sedai, the Warder and their captive (unconscious and back in his leather-sack, carried by two trustworthy men associated with the local woman) left the inn by the back door and were brought to a secret place in town by their familiar horse driver with his carriage. Elessar caught the eye of the horse driver before entering the carriage and in the older man’s eyes he thought he saw a blend of honest fear and dedicated willingness to serve. He had seen the same look in others who served Aes Sedai and the White Tower. It did not surprise him.

 

It was shortly after they had settled in their new temporary abode, a nondescript old house on the eastern outskirts of town, that the local woman took Kathleen aside and told her of the informant who wished to speak to them. They spoke to the man, an almost toothless old Andoran with a rugged face and only one eye, discussed this new situation in light of the new information, and considered whether this ‘tip’ was something to disregard or if it was an opportunity they should not miss.

 

Kathleen finally made her decision, thinking the matter over, and Elessar nodded in agreement.

 

  ▀▄ 

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.. Hunting the Shadow - Part 2 ..

►▼◄

 

They watched the cave from a distance, waiting silently in the Shadows.

 

They had received the ‘tip’ from the informant earlier that day, that ‘persons of dubious allegiances’, as the old man had delicately termed it, were rumoured to be meeting that evening in a cave in a hillside just outside Whitebridge. It had sounded somewhat dubious to Elessar, a bit too obvious and possibly also a trap, but then again this informant was trustworthy, or so Kathleen’s contact had said, and so they had, after some debate discussing the possible danger and risks involved but also the upsides, decided to check it out.

 

From their vantage point they had seen several secretive dark cloaked figures enter and leave the cave in the past hour or so, some with burning candles, though what business they had inside the cave was anyone’s guess. The Warder did find it suspicious though, also with the late hour, and wondered if this really could be a Darkfriend meeting place or, perhaps, a hideout. Whispering some words in Kathleen’s ear, he turned back to gaze at the opening of the cave. They were on a small hillside with a path leading up to the cave. Since it was dark it was not easy to see much more than a dozen or so figures coming and going. It was noteworthy though that all the figures wore dark cloaks which hid their faces from the little light that shone down from the moon above. Elessar wondered if their High Lady was one of those figures but it was impossible to tell, or find out right then.

 

Kathleen had made it clear that they were just to observe this night, not intervene in any way. They had, after all, no proof of any wrong-doing by anyone specific so far, just rumours and indications, also it was unwise to jump into any danger without preparation, even if they both were more than capable of defeating many foes. And so they lay silently watching, out of sight for any of those present.

 

Finally, a good while later, two cloaked figures left the cave, throwing their burning candles aside as they walked down the path. They were whispering to each other and one of them was gesticulating but it was impossible to tell what they were saying. From the way they carried themselves Elessar guessed they were males, though he could not be sure. Was there any reason to believe all these people were up here meeting in this out-of-the-way cave near midnight with no dark intentions? The local history club on a late night outing, perhaps? Somehow it seemed very improbable to the Warder. They waited a while longer to ensure there was no one left in the cave. There was no movement in the darkness, only the soft breeze touching their hair, and finally they agreed that the last of the people attending the cave-meeting were gone. Were they to go and check the cave? Kathleen and Elessar discussed the matter in lowered voices (just to be on the safe side), whether there could be anything to be found in the cave or if it represented some danger to them. They ended up agreeing that it was worth taking a look, both excited at the prospect of doing something, and they were not defenseless after all.

 

 

Creeping forth from the place they had been hiding on a small elevation a little to the side of the cave-opening, they walked down to the path and up to the cave. Peering carefully inside, Elessar saw nothing. It was pitch black. Exchanging a glance with Kathleen, he stepped aside as she made a light appear. It was still semi-dark further inside the cave but the light made it possible to see some details of what was within. Checking for any boobytraps, the Aes Sedai then nodded that it was safe as they went inside. They walked slowly, Elessar vigilant as always and ready for any sudden danger. Nothing happened, the shadows surrounding them as they went deeper into the cave. They stopped and gazed at a wooden table and some old chairs on one side. Further in were some more chairs and the legs of a broken table, but nothing else. Just the rock walls and the stone ceiling.

 

The cave was larger than they had anticipated, the temperature sinking as they went further in, and at one point it branched into several smaller passageways. The Gaidin wondered who had dug out this large cave once upon a time and for what purpose. There were no animals of the four-legged kind either in the dark cave, some who might frequent this western Andoran region, for which they were both grateful. Then again, Elessar might have had more sympathy for a bear or a stray wolf than for the filthy animals of the two-legged kind that they were hunting.

 

They studied the rugged walls and ceiling of the cave, both wondering if this place hid any secrets that could give an indication of what all those people were doing here and who they were, but they found nothing important. A broken cup on the floor of the cave, a piece of glass that had fallen off something, a torn piece of clothing, and the remains of some burned-down candles. They seated themselves in two of the old wooden chairs, Kathleen studying the piece of glass, and exchanged views and thoughts. Elessar thought he felt renewed excitement through the Bond from Kathleen and he guessed she felt the same from him. Hunting Darkfriends was exhilarating; dangerous yes but also exciting and fulfilling. To Elessar this was the most important duty they had as Guardians of the Light, as he liked to think of them.

 

 

Studying his Bondholder as she spoke now, he thought they were making a good team so far. The Bond was fresh, however, and he knew from his former Bonds that it took a while for Warder and Sedai to learn each others’ subtleties through the Bond and know each others’ moves almost before they made them. The Bond would also be tested at some point, they would disagree and have to work through their differences, he knew this from experience and Leandreen had also spoken of it, but so far he was pleased. It felt much as it had with Leandreen in those early days: two dedicated partners in the Light, learning to think, act and work in tandem, and united in common purpose.

 

Finally, after some minutes of deliberation, they agreed to search some more, this time separately. Elessar stepped over to one rock wall a little further down the passage to check while Kathleen went the other way. They searched for some time without luck, feeling with their hands along the rugged walls and looking into the small crevices that were found intermittently. It was not easy with the lack of light in the cave but his eyes had become accustomed to the semi-dark and he kept on looking for some time. Elessar was beginning to give up, resigning himself to the fact, when he suddenly encountered something. He spoke her name, not too forcefully (still being careful) and waved her over.

 

 

“I think I found something”, Elessar said over his shoulder to his approaching Sedai.

 

Squeezed in between two rocks on the side of the cave in a corner was a smaller stone pitched at a strange angle and behind this a dark gap. Another stone, flatter, stood against the rock in that place , as he reached in, and when he touched it he felt it give way. Behind, in what was obviously a secret compartment, there was a steel box (with some decorative signs on top which bespoke of age) which he pulled out, excitement building inside him. Could this be something important? Hidden away as it was, his hopes rose. As Kathleen joined him from farther inside the cave, he opened the steel box (it had no proper lock, just a steel bar which he pushed to the side) and pulled out a small, bound parchment. It was old, showing its age. He opened it eagerly, but careful not to rip it, and read it quickly, barely breathing, before handing it to his Bondholder. His eyes then fastened on a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription that also lay in the steel box.

 

His eyes were wide, his mouth open in disbelief.

 

It cannot be..! How is it possible?!

 

 

A memory took him back into the past.

 

A long time ago…

 

.. a young boy had found an old, strange document in a cave in the hill-country of northern Kandor. It had been buried in a steel-like box and only by chance had the young Kandori boy come across it as he had dug for ‘hidden treasures’ like most boys at that age. Excitedly he had shown the box to his father, who had remained at the opening of the cave - having first, of course, checked that the cave was not the home of any dangerous animals - and his father had managed to force open the box by using a knife he carried.

 

Hoping for a treasure of some sort - perhaps some gold crowns! - the young boy had been mightily disappointed when the box had only contained a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription and an old, bound parchment. His father, however, had looked carefully at the stone, and in even more detail at the parchment, noticing its old age, speculating on its content, and had pocketed them, without a word, for later study. Only later that day, as they had headed back south toward their estate, had the boy noticed a strange, dark, uncompromising look on his father’s face but as young boys were want to, his thoughts had drifted, distracted by all the exciting countryside they were riding through, and he had thought no more about it.

 

Elessar remembered..

 

 

That evening, however, a day’s journey or so north of the Telcontar Estate, in their makeshift camp in the lee of a hillside, his curiosity had gotten the better of him. Seeing his father sleeping soundly beneath his blankets a few paces away, Elessar had crawled, making as little sound as possible, across to their belongings and to his father’s travelling cloak. Checking carefully in one of the cloak pockets, he had felt the stone and the parchment beneath his fingers. He had disregarded the stone. The parchment, however, had been of more interest to him. Taking it out, carefully removing the soft binding, barely able to read the front of the parchment by the light from their camp fire, he had read: “Glory to the Shadow’.

 

Finding it a strange and exotic - more than frightening - title, his curiosity had grown. Opening the parchment, glancing back at times to make sure his father was still sleeping, he had started reading. His eyes had grown wider and wider as each verse had registered in his mind, but it was only later, much later, when he had admitted to his father having read the unsigned Dark Poem in secret and had been chastised for it, that he had understood, at least to some extent, what a rare - and despicable - document he had found in that cave that day.

 

Elessar would never forget those Dark words and that ‘filthy Poem of the Shadow’ as his father had called it, before handing the document over to the local authorities, spitting the words in great distaste.

 

Only years later, as his own interest in history, poetry and stories had grown, had Elessar truly understood what a rare find they had made in those northern Kandori hills. Poems praising the Dark One, or the ‘Great Lord’ as worshipping Darkfriends termed him - poetry of the Shadow - were really rare (at least outside Darkfriend circles) and very rarely spoken of, if at all.

 

The Warder had often privately speculated that the White Tower probably kept some historic documents of the Shadow hidden in their secret vaults, be they any rare Dark poems, stories, proclamations or even, perhaps, prophecies of a sort, but he had never shared his suspicions with his Aes Sedais, knowing they would very probably never reveal any such secrets, if they existed, even to their Bondmates..

 

 

And now, having read the words on the parchment, he knew it was the same words, the same filthy Dark poem he had read all those years ago. And the same dark stone accompanied the parchment.

 

He could not quite believe that for the second time in his life he had found one of the rare - as far as he knew, at least (though more learned men might, of course, know better) - Poems of the Shadow. Shaking his head, he wondered if this was an omen of sorts. He had always hated the Shadow and had dedicated his life to fighting the Darkness, to fighting Evil wherever it may be found, the main reason why he had left his Borderlander home around the age of 17 and travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder in the Light. In all the years since he had stood proudly and defiantly at his various Bondholders’ side in the eternal struggle against the Shadow.

 

Kathleen finished reading the old parchment and handed it back to him in silence, picking up the small dark stone with the almost illegible inscription from the steel box. She studied it for some moments, running it through her fingers, before placing it back. The emotions coming through the Bond were muddled. He was unable to read her eyes but he thought she looked somewhat questioningly at him. She had probably seen or sensed his reaction and understood that there was much more to this, at least for him. He met her eyes and nodded affirmatively.

 

 

“As you may have guessed, I have seen this.. filth before.” Elessar said. There was still disbelief in his voice. “I know such.. poetry.. if we can call it that.. is rare. At least that is what I have picked up from books over the years. But I have actually seen this same poem before. And a similar dark stone. In a hidden steel box. A long time ago..”

 

He told his story and Kathleen listened attentively without interrupting him. Afterwards she gave him a strange look, a look he could not quite understand, but she did not question him about the matter, keeping her thoughts to herself. Instead her eyes returned to the old parchment he was holding. He looked down at it again, his fingers touching the flowing script, and his eyes darkened.

 

Filthy words. Dark words. Words of praise to the Shadow and their Master. It made him sick, but at the same time he knew - and he knew that she knew - that this was another piece of evidence that there were indeed Darkfriends in this region if there had been any doubt. Servants of the Shadow. Men and women with black hearts and devious minds. Enemies of the Light. Enemies of the White Tower.

 

The letters of the Dark poem, the zealous words of devotion to their evil Master of Darkness, almost leapt from the page in Dark whispers and echoes to surround them there in the partial darkness of the cave.

 

►▼◄

 

‘Glory to the Shadow’

 

Glory to the Shadow! Our day is Near!

When Darkness will cover the Land in Fear

To you, we Pray, to ignite the Spark

Arise, our Master, Great Lord of the Dark!

 

Glory to the Night! We will Hunt in Strength

Covering the World, in its Breadth and Length

Destroying the Lightfools, wherever they Be

Drawing their Blood, on the Land and the Sea

 

Glory to the Darkness! Our Great Lord’s Return!

For Victory, Immortality - Let the whole world Burn

Oh, Lord of the Grave - we Salute you, we Obey!

Your Triumph we await! On that Final Day!

 

►▲◄

 

Kathleen and Elessar remained standing in the semi-dark cave in silence for a long time, lost in their own thoughts as they considered the implications of this latest find, two beacons of Light among threatening Shadows.

 

  ▀▄ 

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Kathleen checked on the captive when she awoke in the morning and was pleased to find he was in exactly the condition she had expected him to be.  There had been a small part of her that feared the bag would be empty and the man would be gone. Finding the weave in tact and the man out cold but breathing, Kathleen freshened herself up and headed down to meet Elessar. The headed out into the city streets and were having a pleasant time until the carriage they rode in suddenly and harshly swerved toward them in the street. It was a series of strange incidents after another after that. Kathleen wished she could write them off as coincidence, and perhaps some of them were not deliberate, but the Green had rarely seen such coincidences in such quantity as this day was presenting. The fact that there were known darkfriends in the area who knew of their presence made it all but impossible to ignore the little things. The fact that it was little things, made her question the seriousness and intention behind what she would hardly call ‘attacks’ and made her question if it was the darkfriends behind these incidents or just local troublemakers. The day carried on and the ‘attacks’ ended. Kathleen settled back into a state of comfort.

 

As she strolled through the streets with the day coming to an end she found herself immersed in friendly conversation with Elessar and her own thoughts of how enchanting the night was; her guard too low and it was caught too late when she registered Elessar’s panicked warning. She didn’t sense the threat or see it and she dove wide in fear when the dagger flew down the alley. She grasped for saidar and  found its friendly embrace as she landed in a heap. She realized the knife would have hit her, critically if not fatally had she hesitated any longer and she was overcome with anger. Some at the attacker who had tried to take her life-for the act of it and for the near success. More at Elessar for letting the danger get that close. More still at herself for missing the threat and allowing her guard to get so low. It took all of her restraint to hold herself back from firing blindly and reacting with impulsive rage, but she did just that. The knife missed, the man got away, and there was more risk if she and Elessar stayed in the streets making a scene. This obviously wasn’t the main event of this mission or the man wouldn’t have let up. There was much to discuss and they needed to start getting ahead of this mission. It was always better to be the one acting and forcing the opponent to react.

 

As they finished the short walk back to the inn, Kathleen ran through the rant she wanted to yell at Elessar. It was full of how-dare-yous, do-have-any-ideas, how-does-it-looks, how-can-I-trust-you-nows, and several other accusatory and hurtful comments that Elessar didn’t truly deserve. Firstly, he couldn’t predict every threat and he shouldn’t be expected to. Secondly, she was just as much to blame for missing the danger – if not more. Third, and most importantly, he had realized in time, he had warned her, and she did not die. None of these thoughts would come to her mind for hours after the incident. Not until after she could forgive herself and give up the need to blame someone else. What did over power all of these comments running through her mind was the overwhelming need to not let this happen again. To not let it get around that they had been so easy of targets. They had to get ahead of this. They spoke for some time and turned in for the night. The next day started the same, but Kathleen felt it best to give themselves some space and made an excuse to let Elessar spend the afternoon hours without her. She needed to separate herself from him for a while. She felt too comfortable having spent so many weeks attached to his hip in their travels. He was a good travel companion, but she was losing her own reliability on herself. She needed to get it back. She should have noticed that man last night and she wouldn’t let herself feel anything other than shame and guilt. She sought out her own sources and checked in again with contacts throughout the day.

 

She had re calibrated by the time Elessar returned and she was ready to show what she was really made of and make sure that any darkfriend, no matter how low level or high, know that she would not made a fool of or be so easy a target again. She would make that scum regret not having killed her last night even more than he might already be. She felt like she hadn’t just embarrassed herself last night, she had embarrassed the whole battle ajah. She decided the only option was to ensure that anyone who heard about the incident would eventually look back at it and see only a plot on her part to lure the darkfriends into a false sense of having the upper hand. But that meant she needed to get the real upper hand and fast. She made arrangements with Elessar and her eyes and ears to find a new location and move all necessary things to the house on the outskirts of town. It was a full day, but well worth everything they had gone through if the tip about the meeting came to anything.

 

Elessar and Kathleen set up shortly before the expecting meeting time at a good distance where they would hopefully go unnoticed but be able to catch enough to make a difference. She wasn’t sure what she would find out, if anything, and while she was happy when the first darkcloaked figures began to arrive she was disappointed that they were so well hidden. She counted each one as they arrived, but she had no idea how many had already been there and she also couldn’t tell how accurate her count was as she couldn’t tell if anyone had come, left, and returned or if each was a new person. She wished she could find some way to identify some of the participants, but it was proving futile as the night only got darker.

 

When the last ones left, the intrigue of what drew the people to this place and the need to feel like she was actually doing something to get her closer to the action made Kathleen press on and explore the cavern with Elessar despite the lingering fear that it was a trap about to be sprung. It was one thing to see where they gathered and get a guess at the numbers, but they had to have left something behind that would show signs of what they had been doing. Perhaps even what they were planning. Of course she didn’t expect to find a master plan written in gold lettering sat atop an alter.

 

As the Aes Sedai and the Warder stepped into the mouth of the cave Kathleen weaved a ball of light and was delighted as the wonders of the elaborately set interior.  Kathleen was shocked at just how large it was inside and how decorated it was. This had clearly been a well used meeting place for a long time. She stopped Elessar and quickly scanned for traps, both those that could be left by any smart darkfriend and more reluctantly she checked for any wards or signed of traps put in place with the one power. She truly hoped that she wouldn’t find any of the latter and let out an audible sigh of relief when none were found. It didn’t mean that she was the only channeler here, it just meant that they didn’t know it for sure if there was another.  They walked slowly, and on alert ready for any sudden danger.

 

As the cave split off into separated passageways, they studied the rugged walls and ceiling of the cave, wondering if this place hid any secrets that could give an indication of what all those people were doing here and who they were, but they found nothing important. They seated themselves in two of the old wooden chairs, and Kathleen took up a broken piece of glass, trying to find some insight. The two decided it was safe enough to spread out and take different offshoots of the tunnels to explore.

 

Kathleen followed down one way and found more proof of common use, but nothing that made the details of what it was being used for known. Was it simply a headquarters? Was it a secret society court room? Was it simply a party cave? Was it a mixture of these used by more than one group? She hadn’t found anything that solidified any of these options when Elessar called her over, stating that he had found something. She had a rush of excitement as he shared the news and it only grew as he presented her with the steel box containing the stone. She could sense Elessar's excitement strongly through the bond, and she tried to figure out what it was she was missing that he had figured out. Kathleen studied the inscription trying to decipher while simultaneously studying the stone. She turned her attention to the poem and though she had expected no less than the words of worship to the dark lord her heart still raced as her mind proceed the words in front of her. She almost struggled to get through it and she said a silent prayer to the Light as she reached the end.

 

Kathleen

Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah

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.. A Plan is only as Good as its Execution  ..

►▼◄

 

The ball of light that Kathleen had weaved using Saidar partially lit up the dark cave where the two of them remained in silence for a while, the filthy words of the Poem of the Shadow echoing in their minds.

 

They were also considering their next step.

 

They had checked the cave as well as they could and there was always the chance that some of the Darkfriends would return. Not that Elessar doubted that the two of them could take care of such a situation - they were both seasoned warriors - but he felt it was best to return to the house they had made their new base of operations in Whitebridge and Kathleen agreed with his suggestion. As they left the cave, the ball of light winked out of existence and they headed into the night, walking resolutely in the direction of the town.

 

 

They crouched in the shadows outside the Great Hall, the silence deafening. It was past midnight and the Manor House belonging to House Serevan was quiet. Elessar looked behind his shoulder at Kathleen and the glint in her stare made him guess that she was wondering how she had been persuaded by him to go ahead with this daring venture.

 

In truth, he was wondering himself if breaking in, in the dark of night, with the intent of finding evidence of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady was such a good idea after all.

 

 

The idea had seemed a good one at the time.

 

The day after their return from the cave they has sat discussing their options in the house they were based in and both had agreed that the situation was complicated. There was danger but also excitement that both felt, eagerness to succeed in this mission but also a sense of prudence. The signs were clear that there was Darkfriend activity in the area as they had been led to believe, but they had no factual evidence as of yet. And the question was, how to obtain such evidence? Elessar had at one point suggested questioning their Darkfriend prisoner some more, pressing him for information, but they had agreed that it was highly unlikely the man would admit to any more than he already had, and uncertain how much more he actually knew. Torturing the man like a Whitecloak Questioner might have done was out of the question. Pressing a prisoner hard was one thing, torture quite another. After a long discussion Elessar had come up with a bold and daring idea: to break into the Manor House of High Lady Lyndelle during the night and look for evidence that proved she was a Darkfriend.

 

At first it had seemed a somewhat rash, desperate idea with far too many downsides (the risk of being caught red handed at a private property in the middle of the night foremost, as well as the strong possibility that they would find no factual evidence after all), but the longer they considered it the better the idea seemed to the Warder. They had to do something and this was a bold move that the High Lady would never suspect. If they were careful, they could pull this off, he argued. He had to admit it sounded exciting as well, a clandestine operation and challenge where they would need to show honed skills and great care. Kathleen seemed to him not totally convinced by the idea but in the end she had agreed, also because they had not come up with any better alternatives.

 

 

Perhaps this wasn’t my best idea. The Warder now thought in retrospect.

 

Elessar considered the situation in the darkness. He had picked the lock to the huge main entrance door with relative ease (it was a practical skill learned many years before as a young Warder) and fortunately there had been no guards around, nor any alarm sounding. Sneaking into the hallway they had walked down some days before during their visit to the Manor, they had hidden in the shadows, waiting for an inside guard to appear at any moment. After a minute crouching in a corner they had walked slowly and silently down the hallway. Candle lights on the wall at regular intervals lit the way forward and Elessar glimpsed in passing the historical paintings he had seen on the walls before and the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Stopping at a corner, the Gaidin had peeked into the next corridor and seeing no movement had motioned to Kathleen and continued forwards. Half-way along this passageway there had been sudden movement coming from some way ahead and they had rushed in behind a pillar, moving as silently as possible, in time to hide from whoever was approaching. It had been a guard with a sword at his side and the middle-aged Andoran had passed them by without seeing them. It had been a close call though, Elessar had thought, and they had taken great care as they had continued toward the Great Hall.

 

And now here they were, waiting patiently in the shadows outside the Great Hall of the Manor. They had agreed that it was most likely that any papers or other forms of evidence would be found in the private office where they had had their conversation with the High Lady. And to get to that room they had to go through the Great Hall.

 

Elessar exchanged another look with his Bondholder and her stare was hard to decipher but he thought she was not overly amused. Turning back to face the large pair of doors with the House sigil embedded into the oak woodwork that were the entrance to the Great Hall, he considered whether there would be any guards in there. Since they had only seen one guard so far there was every chance there would be more around. Then again, it could be that the High Lady did not see the need for having more than one guard in the Manor at nighttime.

 

It was time to roll the dice.

 

 

Nodding to Kathleen, he finally crept up to the large oak doors and turned the door handle. He half expected the door to be locked but was pleasantly surprised when the door sliced open almost soundlessly. He waited a few seconds, alert and ready for movement inside but there was only silence. They moved quietly into the Great Hall, closing the door softly behind them. The Great Hall had fewer candle lights along the walls but sufficient for them to make their way across the large room and toward the door at the back which led to the office room which was their destination. When they arrived outside the office room, they stopped and waited. He whispered a few words to Kathleen and she replied with a nod. If any room had occupants at this late hour, it would be this one. They had both agreed on that. They did not expect the High Lady to be up so late and working (which was part of the reason they had come this late) but one could never tell. Perhaps the High Lady enjoyed plotting at night.

 

Placing his ear close to the door, the Warder listened for any sound. There was nothing. Waiting a few more moments, he then tried the door handle. Unsurprisingly it was locked. He had expected as much. Removing his lockpick from his pocket he had the door opened in moments. He pushed the door inwards ever so slowly, ready to pounce on whoever was inside, but there was no one there. The room was dark with no lights at all and only slivers of silver light coming through the window at the end. Waving for his Aes Sedai to follow, they crept into the room and closed the door silently behind them.

 

 

They waited until their eyes had adapted to the near-darkness of the room, listening for any movement out in the Great Hall, then they walked past the big table where they had conversed with the High Lady and up to a cupboard in the corner. Elessar had noticed the cupboard on their previous visit but had thought little of it then. When they had discussed the most probable place messages and other evidence could be found in this office room, however, the cupboard had come to mind. It was at least the first place they would check. A small voice in the back of his head whispered that the High Lady would not be so stupid as to let compromising evidence be lying around, but then again he knew that people - also Nobles - made mistakes and were not always as careful as they ought to be.

 

Perhaps we are lucky, Elessar thought as he stopped before the cupboard, lighting a small candle for them to see. Kathleen joined him and he watched as she waited a second, then carefully opened a small drawer on the cupboard, shuffling through several small pieces of paper. Then she opened a second small drawer which only contained a few trinkets.

 

The third drawer was locked.

 

They exchanged a quick glance, thinking the same thing. This would probably be where any important papers were stored.

 

The Warder removed his lockpick set again from his pocket and chose a small lockpick this time. Inserting it into the small drawer-lock, he moved it around inside the lock with twists and turns until a small click sounded. Nodding to Kathleen, he put the lockpick set away and watched as she carefully opened the small drawer. Inside was an envelope with a letter inside. The envelope had not been re-sealed so the Aes Sedai was able to remove the letter with ease. Holding it up near the candle light, she read the flowing script. Afterwards she handed it to Elessar without a word. He read it in silence.

 

 

It said:

 

My High Lady,

 

I bring you good tidings.

 

The plans we discussed some weeks ago have been set into motion. Our Friend sends his regards and says that the Black Rose will be sacrificed. It has been ordered so.

 

Let me also add that the emeralds have been received and will be a princely gift indeed. They should give us the leverage we need.

 

As for our.. guests shall we say.. keep a close eye on them. We must not let them interfere in our plans. Nothing must come in the way now. Remember what happened to our.. sister who failed. Her misjudgement almost destroyed everything. We must be careful.

 

 

Yours in the Faith,

 

Nyriana

High Lady of House Vandahr

 

  ▀▄ 

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Kathleen wished she could stay and investigate that cave all night.  She was sure there was more they were missing that could help them with their current mission and she was even more sure there was things deep in those tunneling halls worth her further study. The structure itself was interesting and the various marking and treasures would prove informative too. She regretted how little attention she had paid to the subtleties of the place when they been there. She had been singly focused and had hurried through. When Elessar had called her back having found the box she had wanted to hesitate in returning so she could explore more. She of course had come as swiftly as she could at his call - he could have been  in danger, thought she didn’t hear it in his voice or feel it in the bond. He had called for her and she would not leave him waiting when she didn’t have something more pressing to attend to than her own curiosities. When she returned to him she had focused in on the poem – if something so vile could ever be called poetry – and they had looked around the caves after that only long enough to determine that they weren’t missing something obvious. They had been concerned that others may return at any moment and they didn’t have any good reason for being there, so they thought it prudent to leave. It was decided that they could always return to the location now that they knew of it if their other leads turned cold.

 

 

 

 

They determined that their best, and perhaps only other lead was still with the High Lady Lyndelle , so after careful debate it was decided that they would pay her another visit. It was clear they were being watched just as much as they were watching others. The difference was that the enemy knew who they were  looking for.  They were giving the darkfriends far too much too information and time to plan. They knew that the Warder and Aes Sedai were alone, they knew where they were staying, and they were beginning to fall into a routine with where they went and what they did, and they were bringing to run out of places where they could go to avoid looking too predictable. By now the darkfriends would have to at least suspect that they were found out, and if Kathleen and Elessar were seen at that cave word would have spread. They had a few run ins – the captive, the thrown knives, other more subtle attempts – it was only a matter of time before a bigger trap would be set and they would be in it. She had hoped they would be further along at this point, but hoping didn’t get you very far.  The only idea with any real legs to move them forward was a bold move, but they had been in the city for some time now and they would have to make a move soon or move on. They hadn’t bothered to put  much work into a cover story and even the people in the city who weren’t part of the darkfriend cell would soon become uncomfortable with the presence of the Green and her Warder without any clear reasoning for their being there.

 

 

That is how Kathleen found herself creeping through the shadows as she approached the noble house in the dead of night. It wasn’t an ideal option, but after some discussion with Elessar it had seemed their best option. They had discussed re-capturing their friend from days before, but he would have gone into hiding – he would have shared his experience by now and they others would either have given him tips on how to keep him mouth shut (cutting out his tongue or threatening his family no doubt) or they would have cut him loose completely and his information may no longer be any good. There was no guarantees he had information he hadn’t already shared.

 

 

So, somehow Kathleen found herself sneaking along the grounds of the noble house she had recently strode confidently through, willing the woman of the house to be out for the night. She couldn’t convince herself the whole manner would be empty, try as she might for the sake of her nerves. Staff would always be there. In the back of her mind the thought did cross that breaking into someone’s house in the dead of night may be leaning a little in the wrong direction for someone who follows the light, but she dismissed that thought easily. There was always justification and reason and they could make any action honourable if it was done for the right reasons.  What she did she did in the light always, and when it was to oppose a darkfriend or the Dark One himself she would happily do whatever must be done, be it sneak into a house, stab a sword through the throat of a trolloc, or call lighting down to dry forest to start a fire no man could contain. That fact that she would do it all didn’t make the doing it any less dangerous and it certainly didn’t make any of it smart. There were no guaranteed outcomes. She paused a moment in the dark reaching for the growing familiarity that was her bond with Elessar and appreciated finding it there.  She knew from experience that it could sometimes seem like a responsibility to have to someone always tied to her, always by her side and always following – or usually leading – her into all kinds of situations. This time there was a comfort. She was not alone. If she had to run fool’s errand, at least she had someone willing to run it with her.

 

 

 

 

Elessar had gotten them in to the Great Hall with ease and Kathleen felt like perhaps this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Its not like there was an Aes Sedai adviser in this little noble house who’s wards Kathleen would have to try to over come. And she was Aes Sedai after all, she could talk her way of this if she was caught. She would come up with some important message she had to deliver to the Lady and pretend like she saw no curiosity in the hour. She could claim that she snuck in so as not to wake the whole house hold. That much was true. She would make it work, and when she couldn’t say anything more convincing she hoped Elessar would pick up the cue to carry on the tale where her oaths held her back, and if that didn’t work – she would blow the whole house to bits. It would be a shame to lose the lovely art work though.

 

When the sudden passing of a guard shifting the light in front her brought her out of her thoughts she instinctively opened herself to the true source, but she restrained herself from allowing it pour into her when she realised they weren’t caught. She was jumpy. That wouldn’t be impressive to her knew warder. She turned her gaze to the back of his head a few feet in front of her and intently thought that it was not important for her to impress him, the only thing that mattered tonight was that she didn’t get him killed and she didn’t let herself die while under his protection.  He could be as unimpressed with her as he wanted, as long they were both alive for him to be able to be disappointed with her.  She was NOT here to impress him, she was here to dismantle a darkfriend plot and hopefully the whole cell at once if she could end that fully too. That would be a bonus.

 

 

 

They made their way through the Great Hall to the small study with ease. Kathleen wasn’t sure if it was good luck or bad. No trouble was good, but was it too good? She stood lookout while Elessar picked the lock to the small study that she had met the High Lady in before. If she did use this room to plot her dark deeds, Kathleen wondered if the woman had been proud of her achievement of having a Sister of the White Tower so close her secrets and not be caught. Kathleen assumed that the woman wouldn’t have left anything to noticeably about, no matter how confident she was. Lyndelle had invited her there after all, she would have had plenty of time to remove her traces from view before the Aes Sedai arrived. Kathleen had met others like her and was hoping she would have the same sense of necessity in having the power, the upper hand, that would mean that she may hide her secrets, but she would hide them close. She could have moved them anywhere in the manor but having the secret knowledge that she had invited the Aes Sedai into the room with the very proof of her allegiance against the Sister, sitting all the time so close yet going unnoticed – that surely would give most a sense of security and pleasure and reinforce Lynelle’s own genius in her own mind.  She would see it as a small victory – a marking that she was more capable, more smart, than her enemy. Kathleen was hoping the woman would feel that way and that she would have left all they needed to find her out right under the Green’s nose.  

 

 

 

The pair began searching the room in the pre-determined order they had discussed, trying to  cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible, without causing noise or both looking in the same place. It was mostly inks, unused papers and trinkets one would usually find in a study. When they came upon the locked drawer Kathleen and Elessar paused to acknowledge it together silently. Only important things were locked away.

 

Kathleen paused again before reaching for the unsealed envelope that was found in that locked drawer. Her first thought was that she was caught. That this was all a plot to get her here and that the Lady was really one step ahead of her and had allowed her to sneak in here. She feared it was a warning stating that a full fleet of guards had assembled outside of the door and they would have to fight their way out.

 

 

Kathleen let out an audible breath she had been holding when she read the words scrolled elegantly across the page. She was not caught, but with this letter she had the proof she had come for.

 

 

“How is your memory, Elessar?” she asked in a whisper as she handed the note from Nyriana, High Lady of House Vandahr to the warder. “I’d prefer not to have to take this when we leave, but we will need the information later if we are to fully decipher the message. Let’s move along quickly now, we still have to get back through the whole bloody building and outer grounds when we finish in this study.”

 

As Elessar scanned over the letter Kathleen began to ponder the depth of the plot. There was another noble involved. It made sense in a way, they would run in the same circles and not seem suspicious to be found talking. It would increase the resources available to them. She began to mull over what she thought this all meant. Would their sister who failed be another noble? Kathleen tried to think of any recently deceased nobles that these two would have known but no names came to her. Perhaps their ‘sister’ was simply another female in their cell and not of noble blood at all. More importantly, who was the Black Rose to be sacrificed he warned of? Was the Friend who informed that the  sacrifice was ordered the same person as the one who ordered it, or is he just an informer? Was the ‘princely’ gift a clue that the Royal Family were in danger, or worse, involved? Or was it simply flowery wording? There was no date on the letter, but she was sure that she and Elessar were the ‘guests’ they mentioned. That gave a little bit of a timeline and let Kathleen have some faith that these events still had not happened - there would be time to stop it if they could figure out the clues in a useful manner. Should they follow the emeralds and hope that leads them to the Black Rose? A sacrifice was rarely the morally right choice, and if that is what the darkfriends wanted it certainly wasn’t the outcome she intended on allowing. Should they  get closer to the Royal family – send a warning they may be in danger? That seemed premature. She would think all this and more over as they made their way back to the inn and then go over it more thoroughly with Elessar when they had more safety to speak.

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.. In the Darkness of the Manor House ..

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As Kathleen studied the letter, or note, from the other High Lady, Elessar’s thoughts were drawn elsewhere for a moment.

 

He was thinking of Leandreen.

 

He had no idea why the thought of her had popped into his mind at that particular moment but it had. In his mind’s eye he saw her glittering emerald eyes and slightly mischievous smile and a face framed by long fiery hair. As always the thought of her brought him both joy and sadness.

 

Oh, Leandreen.

 

She had told him that she had known straight away that she wanted to Bond him, and he had quickly felt that they were compatible too. She was much more impulsive than he was with a temper to match, but they had made a good, effective team, anticipating each others’ moves, and had, above all, shared a burning passion to fight the Shadow and evil wherever it was found.

 

“I shall fight the Shadow ‘till I die, Elessar!” Her emerald eyes sparkled. “That I promise you!”

 

And you kept your promise, my Leandreen. You fought those evil b*stards with your last breath!

 

 

Kathleen, as a Battle Ajah Sister, shared some of that passion, he felt, from their conversations and their time together, even if she was very different in nature and personality from Leandreen. Their Bond was still fresh and he still felt that distance between them at times that he had felt at the beginning, but he thought they were complementing each other well so far as Warder and Sedai and, hopefully, meeting each others’ expectations.

 

He did not really know how she felt about his ‘performance’ as her Warder, but he presumed she would tell him if she was unhappy about something. For his part, he was not out to impress her with how he carried out his duties as a Bonded Gaidin. Not at all. He had a job to do, and that was to serve, protect and keep his Aes Sedai alive. He would always strive to do it proficiently and well. It was his sacred purpose and duty.

 

And I will not fail again.

 

That final thought echoed in his mind.

 

 

“How is your memory, Elessar?” Kathleen asked in a whisper, bringing him out of his partial reverie, as she handed the note from Nyriana, High Lady of House Vandahr, to the Warder.

 

“I’d prefer not to have to take this when we leave”, she added, “but we will need the information later if we are to fully decipher the message. Let’s move along quickly now, we still have to get back through the whole bloody building and outer grounds when we finish in this study.”’

 

“My memory is excellent”, he replied honestly in a low voice, holding the letter. “I have always had a knack for remembering details, a very useful skill when one has an interest such as mine in history and stories. I will remember.”

 

Even as a child he had always had an exceptional memory. He remembered his mother, and his other teachers, commenting on it many times throughout his childhood. It had also helped him later during his Warder training in the White Tower, not needing to be told things twice. His Warder teachers had been quite impressed.

 

Neither of his parents nor brothers had this ability so he had no idea how he had come to have it or why, but he was grateful since it was a useful skill to have.

 

 

Elessar scanned over the letter, many thoughts passing through his mind. There were many clues here but they were difficult to decipher. There was obviously another Noblewoman involved which was not that surprising as they would run in the same circles and could talk without anyone finding it suspicious. Two Houses, even if minor ones, plotting for the Shadow could give them many advantages and a fair amount of power, at least locally.

 

Who was the sister that the letter mentioned? It could be another Noblewoman or an other associate in the Darkfriend circle, someone they thought of as ‘one of their own’. It could, of course, also be code for something entirely different. The two dots before ‘sister’, did that have special inference? And the Black Rose, what was that? Or rather, perhaps, who? Someone to be sacrificed in some way but how and why? Was it someone who had betrayed them, betrayed the Shadow? And who had ordered it?

 

A rhyme he had read once - somewhere, somewhen -  slipped into his mind for a moment.

 

 

 

 

Three for three, the Silver weds

Three for three, the Princess sheds

One is true, the Prince she chose

To the world, he was Black Rose

 

 

 

 

It was a nice little rhyme, he thought, like a children’s rhyme and suitably intriguing, but he highly doubted it had anything to do with the Black Rose of the letter. Rather some of these Nobles had probably heard the rhyme at some point and used ‘Black Rose’ as a code name for someone or something.

 

 

Reading on he wondered who this ‘Our Friend’ could be. Special care had obviously been taken to avoid revealing who or what this person might be and if he or she was a Nobleperson. He got the impression this was someone special though. Then there was the mention of emeralds and what a ‘princely’ gift they would make. Was this a hint somehow that someone in Royalty was involved, or was it just a way to describe that the emeralds were worth a fortune, ‘worthy of a prince’ as it were? Was it a bribe since there was mention of ‘leverage’? As for the ‘guests’, it seemed highly probable to him that he and Kathleen were the ‘guests’ they were referring to, though there was no proof after all and no date on the letter. But was it truly likely that these two Noblewomen had two other ‘guests’ who they had to watch and take care around at the moment? Elessar doubted it very much.

 

He also noted that the High Lady Nyriana had signed the letter ‘Yours in the Faith’ which was somewhat unusual in his experience. ‘Yours in the Light’ was the common way to end a letter, at least between Nobles and other officials, so using ‘Faith’ instead was unusual. Of course it could be nothing more than a personal way of signing off their letters, he thought, but it caught his attention as something a little out of the ordinary and he wondered if it somehow were a hint at their somewhat darker association.

 

So many possibilities and clues which said so much and at the same time so little. They would need to go over these elements in the calm and privacy of their temporary ‘home’ in Whitebridge, their base of operations, and see where the clues led them. There might, he thought, still be time to stop some of these events from happening if that was what Kathleen and the White Tower wanted. But in order to do so they needed to decipher the clues, and that would be far from easy as the Warder saw it.

 

Summarizing it all in his head, the Warder did not think this was factual proof of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady Lyndelle - it could be the usual devious plotting among Noble Houses - but it certainly was a strong indication as he saw it. He did not know how Kathleen viewed it and there was no time to discuss it here; they would need to consider the matter later. As she had said, it was time they move along quickly before they were discovered.

 

 

Kathleen put the letter back in the envelope and the envelope back in the small drawer. She closed it and stepped back as Elessar used his lockpick to close the small drawer-lock again. It was a trick he had been taught by a locksmith once upon a time.

 

Just as they were about to move toward the door leading to the Great Hall, holding the candle light high for added light, a soft sound made them stop in their tracks. They exchanged a quick glance.

 

The door from the Great Hall slithered open and someone, they could not at first see who, stepped into the room.

 

“Now then”, a sly voice said in the semi-darkness “What do we have here..”

 

High Lady Lyndelle, wearing a Black dress with a matching top, looked at the two intruders, her right eyebrow lifted, her smile smug.

 

“Breaking in, in the dead of night, going through my private things.” Her azure-blue eyes glittered with dark amusement. “Is this what.. friends do, Kathleen Aes Sedai?”

 

Two Andoran guards in formal attire with swords unsheathed and malicious stares followed her into the room. The door was closed behind them.

 

The High Lady’s cold and inquisitive blue eyes fastened on the Sister of the White Tower, waiting for an answer.

 

  ▀▄ 

 

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.. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 1 ..

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The High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan, gagged and bound like a common criminal, stared viciously at the Aes Sesai and her Warder from her place in the corner of the room, wondering not for the first time since her capture how the tables had been turned on her since the moment she had come upon the pair in her study.

 

Blood and bloody ashes! She was caught like a fish in a net and there was nothing she could do about it. Blasted White Tower meddlers, sticking their noses where they did not belong, ruining her operation and schemes. They would not learn her deepest secrets, however. The ones that spoke of her true allegiance. No matter what they did to her, she would not admit to that nor forsake her sacred Oath to the Great Lord. All they had was rumours and innuendos. She would not give them the pleasure of seeing her break. Her eyes stared daggers at them as they stood conversing at the other side of the room. Her mouth would stay shut.

 

No matter what.

 

 

Turning to face the bound and gagged High Lady in the corner Elessar smiled darkly. She was bound by flows of Air and so could neither speak nor move her arms and therefore the cloth physically gagging her and the rope binding her arms behind her back were superfluous. Perhaps it was petty, but the Warder enjoyed binding this Darkfriend woman like a common criminal, taking away whatever dignity she had left. Kathleen had exchanged a silent look with him but had said nothing as he had proceeded. Now the two were discussing how to get more information out of the reticent High Lady. They were in an upstairs room in the house they used as their base of operations. Outside the afternoon sun glowed above the town of Whitebridge, a burning globe in an endless sea of blue.

 

“I think it is the only way”, Elessar said as he turned to face Kathleen again. “She is stubborn as a mule and likely will not volunteer any information at all.. unless she is.. persuaded otherwise.” She understood well what he had in mind. An interrogation of the kind he had used on the other captured Darkfriend. Though their Bond was still fresh she trusted him not to go too far in his.. persuasion of this woman. He had showed competence and restraint before. Still, they needed more information if they were to conclude this mission and expose the Darkfriends and their plots. They needed to put pressure on this despicable woman who surely stood at the center of it all here in Whitebridge. She nodded to Elessar, giving her approval.

 

Turning to face the bound woman again, the Warder from Kandor’s eyes turned hard and he removed the knife from its sheath at his side. His posture changed into that of a dangerous predator as he moved toward the bound High Lady, the knife held before him. Removing the cloth from her mouth he stared darkly at her. Kathleen altered her Saidar-wrought weave so the woman could speak. The High Lady looked spitefully at the Gaidin and she had a lopsided grin as she said, “I will tell you nothing. You are wasting your time!”

 

“We shall see”, replied the Warder in a calm fashion. His smile broadened but his eyes adopted a vicious glint. Bringing his knife up to the woman’s chin he drew a little blood. “This is the part I like.”

 

The way he said those words made Kathleen almost believe he meant it. He was good at this, she had to admit. And it was necessary. She kept that in mind as her Bonded Warder went through the motions of the interrogation.

 

 

Later that day they sat in the lounge of the house discussing what they had learned.

 

“She broke sooner than I would have expected”, Elessar mentioned at one point. Kathleen nodded, complimenting him once again on his interrogation skill.

 

The High Lady was a hard and tenacious woman but the Warder had peeled off the layers of secrecy that surrounded her and combined with threats of violence (the knife had been an effective tool in that regard) had made the woman reveal much more than she had intended.

 

“She as good as admitted to being a Darkfriend”, he added. “And we now know the evil plots she was working on and much about her dark accomplice, the High Lady Nyriana of House Vandahr.” Kathleen nodded and sipped more from her kaf, her eyes pensive. “I think we should pay this other High Lady a visit, don’t you think?” Kathleen agreed and so it was decided.

 

With any luck this second High Lady had not received word yet of High Lady Lyndelle’s capture. She lived several leagues from Whitebridge, in a village called Melton, Lyndelle had revealed under questioning. Taking a sip from hos own cup Elessar nodded. These two Andoran Noble Houses would not be so noble much longer when Kathleen informed the local authorities - and the Crown - of their activities and allegiance.

 

 

They arrived in Melton before dark. It was a small village with only a couple of streets and three dozen buildings. At the end of a dusty street stood an inn and opposite it - beyond large garden grounds - a grander building. It was no palace, far from it - but in this small place it was obviously the finest building around, a small Manor House. The local place of power. Handing their horses to the stable boy, Kathleen and Elessar went inside and got a couple of rooms. The innkeeper was almost beside himself seeing an Aes Sedai and a Warder in his humble establishment as he called it - it was obviously not something that occurred often - and they soon were in their rooms discussing the next move. They had two options as they saw it: confront the High Lady directly and take her into custody, or wait a little and see if they could find out if others too in this small village were Darkfriends or at least involved in the suspect activities of the High Lady. They wanted to catch as many people involved as possible, but at the same time he felt some impatience in Kathleen to get on with things and he had to admit he shared those feelings himself. It was time to conclude this mission, to get things finished and over with. A direct approach would be best.

 

Silver rays from the moon high above shone down on the pair from the White Tower as they moved through the darkness toward the Manor House. They walked along a path which went beside the opulent flower beds up to the Manor itself. There were candle lights shining in several windows but no one could be seen looking out at them. That did not mean that no one was watching them, of course. It did not matter to Kathleen as she approached the front entrance. Knocking twice on the huge door she waited, Elessar beside her. A few moments later what looked like a servant or possibly a guard opened the door and look enquiringly at the two visitors. “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to have some private words with the High Lady”, Elessar said in a strong voice. The Andoran looked more closely at the woman before him and his eyes widened. “Of course”, he said in a somewhat strained voice. “Please come out of the dark”. He waved them inside and closed the door behind him. “Please wait here and I will announce your arrival to the High Lady.” He gave a small bow and then hurried along the hall and disappeared around a corner. Facing his Bondholder, Elessar whispered, “Perhaps things will go more smoothly this time.” He did not see the glance Kathleen threw him. Which was probably for the best.

 

 

The High Lady Nyriana, a short-haired blond and lean woman in her late thirties,  proved to be a harder woman than Lyndelle, staring daggers at them both when she realized she had been caught in her dark plots with her friend and refusing to say anything which might incriminate her. Still, after some.. persuasion by Elessar, she admitted that she had plotted but that it was all for the good of her House. That she was a Darkfriend was all lies though, put out by her enemies, she said with piercing blue eyes and a twisted mouth. When they went through her private study, finding incriminating evidence, she just stared at them with hate in her eyes and did not speak a word. She ‘accompanied’ them to Kathleen’s room at the inn and was soon bound and gagged similarly to Lyndelle in Whitebridge. When Elessar had produced the knife and drawn some blood from her cheeks she had given the names of three of her local accomplices. They would be picked up by local authorities as soon as Kathleen returned to Whitebridge and informed the local magistrates.

 

The next morning they rose early, had a quick breakfast in the inn’s Common Room and then proceeded back to Whitebridge. The High Lady was slung across the back of the Gaidin’s horse, bound in more ways than one, cursing inside. When they finally arrived back at the house where they were based, Elessar carried the bound woman over his shoulder up the stairs to the room where they kept the other High Lady. Lyndelle’s eyes almost popped out of her sockets when she recognized Nyriana slung on the bed. Bound and gagged as she was she could not make a sound but inside she was screaming with rage.

 

The next morning agents of the White Tower arrived at the inn and took the two captured Darkfriend High Ladies into custody and left after a quick word with Kathleen Sedai. Elessar was sure they would get punishment worthy of their Darkfriend crimes. The White Tower was not very forgiving in such matters. Justice would be served.

 

 

Now to see to the final matters on this mission: the case of the Black Rose and the emeralds.

 

They had clues gotten from the two Darkfriend women, but there were still some things to figure out.

 

Another mystery to uncover.

 

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.. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 2 ..

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Elessar and Kathleen sat all afternoon in the lounge of the house in Whitebridge discussing the matters of the Black Rose and the emeralds.

 

Their guess that the emeralds were intended as a bribe had been proven correct. Nyriana had reluctantly admitted that they were meant as payment for the chief cook of a major Andoran Noble family to poison its High Lord. Elessar had heard similar dark and evil plots before and did not react much to the High Lady’s words and Kathleen had only raised one eyebrow in response, asking which High Lord. It had seemed a plausible plot, they had agreed when they had discussed it afterwards. The High Lady had remained silent when they had asked if the poisoning had already been carried out or if it could be stopped. They would need to find that out themselves. The High Lord in question lived many leagues to the south. Kathleen quickly got in touch with her Eyes and Ears in Whitebridge and a carrier pigeon was dispatched to the nearest town to warn the High Lord. They just hoped it would be in time.

 

The larger mystery was that of the supposed Black Rose that would need to be ‘sacrificed’. What or who was this Black Rose? All they had gotten out of the close-mouthed Lyndelle was that it was a child of some importance. When Elessar had pressed her for more details, she had just stared at him in silence, her blue eyes shining with glee. Nyriana had not revealed anything about the Black Rose, just staring dumb back at him when he had mentioned the name. Even the threat of violence had not stirred her on this matter. It had made him think that sacrificing this Black Rose had to be very important for the Shadow, at least locally. He and Kathleen had discussed again what was meant by ‘sacrificing’. Had it been one of their own adult Darkfriends it could have been logical to use that word, but with regards to a child? It was strange, they both agreed.

 

Using resources from the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears network they had a few trusted people go out and try to find clues as to this Black Rose, visiting inns and taverns where people talked freely when they were drunk and careless, listening for whispers on the streets. And a couple of days later they had some luck. A street urchin had been caught stealing and it turned out he was part of a local guild of thieves (or at least that was what they called themselves, much to Elessar’s amusement) and through him they had gotten word of another thief, an older man, who may know something. For adequate compensation, of course. Elessar and Kathleen had met this man, a bald one-eyed older man with scruffy clothes but a shrewd look about him, and the man had spoken to them willingly after receiving several silver coins. He told them that he did not know these folk personally of course, but he had heard from a mate who had heard from a mate that a certain boy child, son of a certain High Lord, was not long for this world. When Elessar gave him another silver coin, warning him though that if what he told were lies they would catch him and take it out of his hide, the old thief gave them the name they were after.

 

 

They hurried to the next town, a smaller town called Ridgefield several leagues to the north-east. It was more of a large village, Elessar thought, but the locals prided themselves on the fact that they lived in a town, the largest in the region after Whitebridge. Hoping to be able to stop this murder or ‘sacrifice’ they hardly stopped before they were just outside the gates of the Manor of House Lamden. It was another small House among the Major Andoran Noble Houses but in this region it had some prominence and power. Head of this House was High Lord Robert Lamden and his only son and heir was the ten year old Richard, nicknamed the Black Rose. Apparently the boy was a cripple, lame from the waste down, and all he did day in and day out was sit in a specially made chair in the Manor garden, watching the blooming roses, it was said, in silent shame, bitterness and rage at his totally wasted life. It sounded a terrible life, Elessar had to admit, but it was still a life and better than death. Whether the boy’s father was a Darkfriend or not, the boy did not deserve to die because of some evil Darkfriend plot.

 

Tethering their horses to a tree to the side of the gate leading into the Manor, Elessar stepped up to the guard who was watching them closely. A wall passed to either side of the gate for some distance, encircling the grounds of the Manor. The building itself could be seen some distance beyond, encompassed by trees. “My good man”, the Warder began, “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to speak to your High Lord.” The guard just stared dumbfounded back at him. “It is a matter of some importance”, Elessar added more powerfully. Still there was no reaction from the man. “Let us through and inform your High Lord we need to see him urgently.” The man looked at the Warder and the Aes Sedai, his eyes wide but he still remained silent. “Now!” Elessar shouted and his eyes took on a dangerous gleam. This time the man reacted. “Yes, My Lords” he stuttered as he moved backwards. “Sorry, I will let his Lordship know.”

 

Turning, he almost sprinted down the path toward the building while Kathleen and Elessar followed at a more leisurely pace. When they arrived at the entrance to the mansion they were met by another guard, more formally attired. This one, a younger man, bowed to Kathleen and nodded to Elessar. “Please enter”, he said in a polite tone of voice. “The High Lord is honoured by your visit.”

 

 

High Lord Lamden was a short greying man in his late fifties. He had strong arms and a somewhat bulky body. His blue eyes were shrewd though as he looked at the Aes Sedai and the Warder. “I am honoured by your visit”, he said politely with seeming honesty. “We do not get visitors from the White Tower here often.” That was probably the understatement of the year, Elessar thought with amusement, but he said nothing. “How may I be of assistance?” He asked as he bade them have some kaf.

 

Sipping from her cup, Kathleen made some pleasant conversation for a while. Saying they were in the region on Aes Sedai business, they were visiting local nobles to hear if there was anything they could assist with in these ‘troubled times’. The High Lord nodded and exchanged pleasantries but Elessar could see from the man’s face that he did not for one minute believe her stated reasons for her visit. He kept his thoughts to himself, however. After a while Kathleen stopped speaking and the High Lord stared silently back at her. His eyes turned for a moment to the imposing Warder-figure beside her. He looked just like the ferocious Gaidins out of stories, he thought; not a man one would like to cross. Facing the Aes Sedai again he asked if there was anything else he could assist with.

 

As if it were a passing thought, Kathleen asked after his wife. Was she well? The High Lord seemed surprised by the question but replied that, yes she was well and in the gardens at that moment plucking some roses. Kathleen nodded. When asked about his son next, the High Lord’s face darkened and his eyes clouded over. There was sorrow in his voice when he replied that his son was dead. When Kathleen probed, he replied that his young boy’s heart had simply stopped a week before. He had been a sickly boy, the High Lord informed, but even so it was a tragedy. Elessar and Kathleen shared a quick glance, both thinking we were too late, then she told the father how sorry they were. There was no proof, neither would there probably ever be, that foul play had played a role in the boy’s death, but the pair from Tar Valon were fairly certain that the death was no coincidence. They did not reveal their suspicions to the High Lord though, soon excusing themselves from his presence and leaving the Manor House. The High Lord might be a Darkfriend and he might not be, but that would be a mission for another time. The boy, the Black Rose, was dead and that was all there was to it. The mystery had perhaps not been fully solved, but they had done what they could. They rode in silent contemplation back to Whitebridge under a partially clouded sky with a wind gradually building from the south-east.

 

 

A few days later, riding back across the huge white glass-like bridge - from which the town took its name - which spanned the River Arinelle, leaving Whitebridge behind, Elessar thought on what they had accomplished. Their mission had been a success for the most part. They had caught two scheming Darkfriend High Ladies who had sold their souls to the Dark One, and several other accomplices (disrupting the local Darkfriend Circle), as well as revealing the mystery of the Black Rose (though they had not been able to stop its execution) and recovering the emeralds (and the poison-plot had been stopped in time). Sure, there would still be some Darkfriends around that they had not caught, but they had done a great service for the Light on this journey into western Andor and he thought he felt some contentment also coming through the Bond from Kathleen. Now they both wanted to get back to Tar Valon as quickly as possible, the mission concluded.

 

Glancing at the fragile-looking but ever so strong white glass of the bridge as they rode across he wondered once again what material it was made of. It was one of the wonders of the world, he thought. He had never seen anything like it elsewhere. He considered again asking Kathleen about it, but changed his mind. Let it be another of life’s mysteries.

 

 

They stopped at several villages on the way back. Even though they were both eager to return to Tar Valon, they saw the need to give their mounts some rest at intervals. In Four Kings they made a slightly longer stop, getting more provisions, and then they set the course for Caemlyn. Kathleen seemed eager to see a little more of the Andoran Capital before their journey northwards and Elessar was always up for some more sightseeing in this beautiful city, so they stayed a couple of days before heading north.

 

They spoke at times during their journey, sharing thoughts on what they had accomplished and on what might be to come, and as the days passed Elessar felt they were getting to know one another a little better which was important for trust and an effective Warder-Sedai team. Kathleen did not say much about her other Warder, her first, and Elessar did not press her. But he sensed that she missed him and was perhaps also a little concerned about his absense though that was just Elessar’s impression. In one way it would have made their mission easier had they had Nevuel’s experience and skills to draw upon as well. On the other hand, Elessar felt that it was best that he and Kathleen were on their own on this ‘maiden mission’, that way they could best get used to one another, each other’s ways and skills and temperament, to gradually become an efficient working team. He did not say so to Kathleen, not wanting to ‘step on any sore toes’ there, but he thought maybe she had had similar thoughts.

 

Elessar felt good about this Bond, as he had from the start. It was a feeling of rightness which he had been fortunate to have had with all his Bondholders. He knew they still had a ways to go ‘tuning’ their skills and actions in their Bond, to gain the level where they could anticipate the other’s moved before they were made, but it was a very decent beginning.

 

He smiled as he galloped down the dusty roads, Kathleen beside him a little behind to his left, in the direction of Tar Valon to the north.

 

Mission accomplished, he thought. The first of many to come.

 

 

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

 

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