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Reality is Just a Matter of Perception


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The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near


Rhya had pulled back the curtains with a distinct lack of hope that morning. Outside, the sky had been greeting the start of a new day with an impressive array of grey shades, along with a sort of smug heaviness that promised rain would be an all too likely outcome. 


Ten days ago, with torrential rain halting all but the most essential outdoor activities, she'd made the mistake of voicing boredom to Owen. She really should have known better. Spending the week in the salting rooms with the Sages had not been on her list of preferred things to do, but Owen had volunteered her services to Aislyn within the hour. Rhya hadn't had the heart to wriggle out of it after being faced with her friend's gratitude. She was cognisant of how vital such work would be in the coming months. Autumn was upon them already and without meat laid by, winter would be extremely hard in the mountains. She'd set to with the best will she could muster as all of the Sages took delighted turns at reminding her that many hands make light work.


They'd finally finished the rather dull, repetitive chore the previous evening, so facing another waterlogged day had not filled her with enthusiasm. Thankfully, by mid morning the cloud cover had miraculously broken, allowing blue skies and a warm sun to break through. Much more the thing in Rhya's opinion and the main reason she was now striding towards the stables with a purposeful air and her gear slung over her shoulder. She wasn't about to hang around waiting to be handed any more random jobs.


The large double doors to the stable block stood open, allowing fresh air to circulate, and several younger 'kin were busy mucking out or dealing with other odd jobs delayed by the weather. Exchanging brief nods and smiles with each of them, Rhya paused briefly at the entrance grimacing against the smell of manure which hadn't yet cleared. Even so the skin around her eyes relaxed in tandem with the tension flowing out of her shoulders. She loved the light and warmth in this building, with its lofty rafters, dust motes floating in the air, and the soft whickering of the horses accompanied by their occasional hoof stamps. With a sigh of pleasure and anticipation, Rhya abandoned her momentary reverie and was about to go find her own mount when a strong hand landed on her shoulder and she whirled around, startled.


"Blood and bloody ashes, Lorelai! I thought it was Owen, come to drag me back to that confounded salting shed," she took a long calming breath, scowling slightly at her fellow Ranger's obvious amusement. 

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Lorelai was laying on the ground looking at various yellow leaves descending from the tree tops. The breeze gave them a light spin, making them linger and float before they inevitably landed. She enjoyed this time of year. The green was starting to fade into shades of red, orange, brown and yellow. It was as if the world was dying so it could start anew. But even endings could be beautiful in their own way. A celebration of colors and textures.


She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling reluctantly. 


Oh don't be so dramatic and get up on those two legs of yours. You've turned into an old woman.


Lorelai pursed her lips and gave Nightfall a long sidelong look. Her stomach suddenly let out a groan and she barked a laugh and sat up, forgoing a witty retort she was working on for the insolent canine. A significant part of it was calling Nightfall a canine. She did not care for it at all and would usually sneer at her, showing a set of teeth that would unsettle anyone else.


Well, I'm hungry so I was planning on getting up anyhow. And you're starting to look a little worn around the eyes yourself. Might want to see to that.


They started to make their way towards the stables and Lorelai could have sworn she saw Nightfall rolling her eyes. Her lips broke into a smile. She figured it was a good time as any to go check the traps she set the previous night. Maybe put her bow into use as it felt like forever since she last touched it. Plus getting Nightfall to stretch her legs was always a good idea. It usually brought down the teasing and name calling to a bare minimum since she was too fatigued at the end of the day.


Lorelai raised her eyebrows as she spotted Rhya in the stables, with her back turned. She reached out to touch her shoulder and she spun around in surprise.  "Blood and bloody ashes, Lorelai! I thought it was Owen, come to drag me back to that confounded salting shed," she took a long calming breath, scowling slightly at her fellow Ranger's obvious amusement. 


"Sounds like you have spent too much time there if you're confusing me with Owen." Lorelai's amusement never touched her mouth, but it was apparent in her eyes. "I think you ought to join me for some hunting outdoors. You'e a Ranger. You didn't even notice me approaching you from behind. What if I were a Trolloc? A Fade? Or Owen? We can have none of that."


You yelped today when I surprised you while you were washing.


Lorelai shot Nightfall a warning glare. The wolf said no more but she could feel an air of amusement.


She turned her eyes back to Rhya. "Well go on then, grab your things and lets get out of here before my stomach starts eating itself."


Edited by Nynaeve
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Rhya made a rude noise, but grinned at Lorelai anyway. "I would hardly call it confusing you with Owen. You smell better! More that I didn't expect you at all, but I have been half expecting him since I made good my escape!" She bent down and scooped up her pack, hefting it over one shoulder. "Hunting sounds good though. I was heading out to collect some herbs myself. Aislyn and I are both running low on some that can't be easily grown here."


They started off down the central aisle of the building, stirring up sawdust swirls with their purposeful footsteps, only separating to either side when they located their mounts. There was no random horse for Rhya these days. She'd acquired her own by dint of some prodigious clever bargaining at the Citadel and Karoan had kindly brought the handsome gelding with him on his return home. Standing at a solid 16 hands of packed muscle, Sgian was fine featured, strong boned and every inch a runner if ever she'd known her horseflesh. Today would be only her second time riding him as the first had of necessity been cut short, the day's end already lengthening shadows around the stable yard when Karoan had delivered him to Rhya's care.


She checked his hooves over, using a small pick to remove a random pebble hidden in a clump of mud, and running her hands soothingly down the front of his legs. A quick brush over made it simple work to settle his saddle and lift the bit to his mouth. He whiffled at her fingers, bringing another smile to Rhya's face. She let him resist briefly then used her fingers to gently encourage his teeth apart and finally, pulled the bridle and reins over his head, rearranging his forelock and ears to be sure nothing was pulling. She dropped a kiss on his nose, slapped his neck affectionately and mounted in one smooth movement. Letting him stand just long enough to stop blowing his sides out, she tightened the girth again by a couple of notches. She was still laughing at his antics when they emerged into the sunshine at the rear of the stables where Lorelai was waiting with barely concealed impatience.


As the other woman turned her own mount in the direction of the mountains to the east, Rhya took a long last look over her shoulder at the Stedding. "What if I were a trolloc?" Lorelai's words from mere moments ago echoed in her head. A shiver of sadness slid down her spine. How peaceful the village looked, nestled there among the trees. Nobody would ever guess that it had indeed been trollocs not so very long ago, albeit not inside the Stedding proper. Their recent losses in the fighting were still too fresh in her mind, the guilt of being the one in charge that day lingering, despite common sense and logic telling her she had no fault in it. They'd come off rather lightly all things considered.


With a shuddering breath, she faced front again, forcing herself to relax her seat and trusting in Sgian's sure footing as they entered under the forest's thick, green canopy where it was necessary to navigate steeper routes through the trees. Rhya lifted her face, scanning the boughs above and noting the scatter of ochres, russets and reds. The colours already beginning to turn on the leaves was a sure sign the winter ahead would be hard on them. Her concern hitched up a notch. 


"Are we hunting large game today, Lorelai, or just clearing traps?"



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