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A Bond of Redemption - Part 3 (attn. Myrrhi Aes Sedai)


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For PARTS 1 and 2 of this RP-thread see ->>

 

https://dragonmount.com/forums/topic/98565-a-bond-of-redemption-attn-myrrhi-aes-sedai/

 

https://dragonmount.com/forums/topic/105817-a-bond-of-redemption-part-2-attn-myrrhi-aes-sedai/

 

 

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PART 3

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..  A Return in the Light ..

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They had difficult decisions to make.

 

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

 

Should they pursue the dark matters they had been informed of here in Ebou Dar, the threat of assassinations by the Shadow, or should they continue eastwards towards their intended destination? Either choice would have consequences.

 

Elessar gave his opinions and then drank some water from a glass as he listened to Myrrhi’s arguments. His eyes meanwhile studied a man slouching by the entrance, a disreputable fellow with unkept hair and watchful eyes, but when the man noticed the Warder’s hardened gaze he swiftly turned and departed the Common Room. Elessar’s full attention returned to Myrrhi. He did not suspect the stranger to be a threat but he would keep a look-out in the streets, in case. One could never be too careful.

 

 

A little later they were standing outside the inn, enjoying the sunshine and the blue skies, when an Ebou Dari man who looked like a local shopkeeper (but was in fact part of the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears in this region) approached them, giving a respectful nod to the Aes Sedai. Myrrhi followed the man inside and was not seen for several minutes. Elessar, meanwhile, studied the busy streets, taking in the sounds and sights of this beautiful Capital here in the far South. His eyes were also on the look-out for the slouching man of before but he did not see him anywhere. A horse-driven carriage passed by, probably carrying a nobleman, throwing up dust in its wake. And down the street a scruffy-looking young lad with a thin body and shifting eyes hurried on an errand. Shopkeepers were busy talking to potential customers and local folk walked to and fro focused on their own business. Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as the Gaidin could see.

 

When Myrrhi finally appeared, the Ebou Dari man gave the Warder a quick nod, then headed swiftly down the street. Elessar met Myrrhi’s eyes and she nodded softly, then bade him follow her inside. They found a pair of available seats in the corner of the Common Room and seated themselves. The Warder waited patiently for his Bondholder to speak. He wondered what their next step would be.

 

 

That night Elessar slept soundly, as rain ran in rivers down the window of his room at the inn. He was once again swept up in dreams and memories..

 

 

Being hunted..

Again..

 

..Elessar hears shouts some way back and looks quickly about them for any way out. He exchanges a concerned look with Myrrhi and then turns to stare about him more thoroughly, cursing inside.

 

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

 

It looks an impossible situation.. but..

 

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

 

There has to be a way..

 

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

 

Can it be..?

 

 

Closing his eyes..

And then opening them again..

So clear in his mind’s eye..

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bloody Shadow Coast - and Bloody mountain! …

 

 

When he woke up the next morning, echoes of their trek down the side of that steep mountain still in his mind, his head was pounding. He realized he had overslept and hurried out of bed to get dressed. He poured water over his head from a small wash basin in the corner, trying to force the aches away. He had not been such a heavy sleeper before - it was not a good trait in a Warder, he thought, who should be somewhat alert even during the night, entering that half-sleep, half-awareness state that they were trained for - and he blamed himself for becoming soft. It was all these nights in comfortable Southern inns, he complained in his mind, though he knew he was himself at fault.

 

He had to become more focused, he knew, more alert, sharper - and as he swore to himself that he would do better, he sensed his Aes Sedai moving in the neighbouring room. She had probably been awake a while, he figured, letting him sleep. Shaking his head, hoping his headache would go away sooner rather than later, he put on his shirt and his boots, waited until an appropriate amount of time had passed, then went out in the corridor and knocked softly on Myrrhi’s door. Her voice coming from inside bade him enter and he closed the door gently behind him. She was seated on a wooden chair by the bed, fully clothed and with a determined look on her face. He gave her a Warder's bow, formal as always had been his way, then seated himself on the chair opposite her.

 

"Aes Sedai", he said, the hint of a smile on his otherwise hard face. "A new day beckons. A new chance to strike at the Shadow." His dark eyes tightened with anticipation.

 

Outside, in the crystal-clear Southern day, Ebou Dar was bathed in Light.

 

▀▄

 

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- I don’t think I – we – could leave this behind us, Myrrhi said after a short silence. She took a sip of her tea. It had grown cold, too cold to her taste. She thought about warming it with a thin thread of Fire but decided against it. That channeler she had felt during the ball was making her feel uneasy.

 

Her Warder didn’t reply immediately. She saw him watching the far side of the room, where the entrance laid. She was tempted to have a look as well. Elessar wouldn’t get distracted by anything insignificant. She saw his gaze harden, then relax.

 

- Did you just scare someone? The Green asked before emptying her cup. She would have loved to be able to do the same. Oh, she had trained as an Aes Sedai to have a no-non-sense stare. She could sniff, look haughty, cold, menacing … but never as dangerous as the man who had sworn to protect her.

 

It didn’t take them long to draft a plan once they agreed on the next steps they needed to take. Myrrhi quickly went to her room where she was keeping a list of the Greens Eyes and Ears in Ebou Dar. The paper was so well coded that she didn’t fear for it to fall into the wrong hands. At first and even second  glance, the paper only showed horrid poetry, the kind written by someone who should definitely find another pastime.

 

The first contact she choose to meet was called Alaido, no last name. He was known as one of the best Ebou Dari baker. Maybe a visit to his store would satisfy both her ears and stomach? She told as much to Elessar with mischievous grin.

 

The afternoon sun was shining bright, not a single cloud in the sky to hide it. Its powerful rays made most of the buildings look monotonously white. Only the stores created a break in the pale landscape offering colorful wares on their shelves. The streets were very quiet at this time of the day. Most of the locals were safely inside, waiting for the temperature to cool down.

 

They eventually arrived to the Golden Bun, Alaido’s bakery. The store was tucked between two higher houses, and decorated with painted panels depicting giant loafs of bread. Myrrhi nodded to her Warder to signal him that she would need to enter alone.

 

- Now, don’t start a duel, she said before winking. Not waiting for Elessar to reply, she entered the shop.

 

An overpowering scent of cinnamon and vanilla reached the young woman’s nostrils before she had the time to close the door.

 

- Good day, my lady, started the man behind the desk. I’m Alaido, what can I do for you?

 

There was no doubt the man looked like a baker, flour and bits of dough covered him head to toe and his large waist was proof that he enjoyed eating the product of his work. However it was not enough to prove that he was Myrrhi’s contact. First he would need to give her the right answer to her pass phrase, then he would need to make a series of three hand signs to which Myrrhi will have to answer with a sign of her own.

 

Once both parties were reassured about who they were talking to, Alaido invited Myrrhi to follow him in the rear “ so that she could taste one of his new recipes”. The exchange didn’t last long, not longer than a real tasting would have. The Green asked about anything suspicious the man had seen or heard, about the Ebou Dari noble houses and about channelers in town. She didn’t want to give him any specifics, Aes Sedai business was Aes Sedai business after all.

 

- Here my lady. Alaido handed her a small pie covered with what appeared to be lemon custard. Since you are supposed to taste my newest recipe.

- Thank you, Alaido, Myrrhi replied. She took a bite of the pie, trusting the man would not dare to poison her.

- If I were you – which I am definitely not – no offense my Lady – I would direct my attention to Master Schirrù. At least that is what he calls himself. He has been the talk of every noble houses since his arrival but no one knows where he comes from. He’s rich, and looks to be a nobleman from very far away …

 

To keep up with appearances, the Green bought a small box of pastries that she hoped Elessar wouldn’t like. She usually liked sharing, but she was hoping that she could keep these little marvels to herself.

 

She went out the store, swearing to Alaido she would come again to visit him again before her departure. The Gaidin was still standing exactly where she had left him a moment ago.

 

- Now we go back towards the inn and wait for my second contact.

 

Myrrhi hoped that the green ribbon she was wearing in her hair had been noticed. Her second contact didn’t have a name … yet. Only a mean of getting in touch. It was strange for the young woman, out of the ordinary, but then she was still a young Green…

 

It didn’t take long for the second eyes-and-ears to appear. She and her Warder were walking down one of the curvy streets that would have taken them to the city center when a richly dressed merchant invited the Aes Sedai to his humble store. The way he looked at Myrrhi’s ribbon was sign enough that he was the man she was looking for. As was customary, she entered the store alone so that she and the spy could exchange their passphrases and signs. Only then would Elessar come in.

 

To Myrrhi’s regrets, this store was not a bakery nor any kind of restaurant. It was a place were people would pick, match and buy pieces of expensive furniture. On the brighter side, they had comfortable chairs to sit on.

 

The Green inquired again about channelers, the Ebou Dari noble houses and anything that might have looked or sounded suspicious. The merchants stayed quite vague – was he afraid for his clientele – up until the moment Myrrhi started talking about newcomers. Again the name of Master Schirrù popped up, more than once, making the young woman wonder whether she should pay that man a visit.

 

She had to fight to keep her Aes Sedai serene face. The merchant couldn’t know what had caught her attention in his half an hour long monologue, nor that Schirrù might be of interested to her.

 

A customer came in as the merchant started to talk about the Ebou Dari leather market, it was the perfect time for her to take her leave. She thanked the merchant and decided it was time to go back to the inn, so that she could freely talk with her Warder.

 

***

 

- Aes Sedai, Elessar said, the hint of a smile on his otherwise hard face. A new day beckons. A new chance to strike at the Shadow.

 

Myrrhi closed her book and quickly swallowed one of her last pastries. Controlling her face not to blush, she popped yet one another in her mouth.

 

- I have been thinking about our plan. Schirrù … We have to find a way to know who he is, but we have to stay discreet..

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.. Even the best plans.. ..

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“So, Myrrhi Aes Sedai - do you have a good explanation for breaking into my Manor House and going through my private papers in the dead of night?”

 

 

The darkness of the room was partially lit up by the two candle lights the man they knew as Master Schirrù held in his hands as he stared hard at them there they stood beside his work desk, Elessar still holding onto some private papers he had found in the desk drawer and Myrrhi placing on the desktop the parchment she had been reading in the half-light from the moon outside.

 

Warder and Sedai looked literally taken aback by the fact they had been caught red handed!

 

Discreet indeed..

 

Caught like mice in a trap. Like pathetic amateurs, the Warder thought tempestuously, feeling shame.

 

And not only had they been caught, but the man knew Myrrhi by name.

 

Elessar and Myrrhi exchanged a silent glance, somewhat turbulent emotions flowing through the Bond.

 

This probably wasn’t my best idea, thought the Gaidin wryly but also guiltily as the silence lengthened.

 

 

It had seemed like a good plan.

 

At the time.

 

Two days earlier they had discussed their options. Myrrhi had been honest in saying that she did not think she - or they - could leave the situation with the imminent Darkfriend assassinations and head east straight away. At the time Elessar’s attention had for a moment been diverted to the far side of the room they had been seated in, his gaze hardening hearing a suspicious noise from the corridor, thinking of potential threats, but then his gaze had relaxed, understanding that it was likely nothing. Turning back to his Bondholder he had replied that he agreed with her. He did not either enjoy leaving unfinished business behind, especially when the Shadow was concerned.

 

When Myrrhi, seeing his reaction of before, had asked, half-seriously, half-teasingly, if he had just scared someone? he had replied with a lopsided grin but a fierce stare that he never scared people, he gave them stares that frightened them half to death! It was part of being a Warder-protector, he had added mock-seriously with a dangerous wide grin. Seeing the look in his eyes Myrrhi would have choked on her tea had she had any more left in her cup. She was glad this man was on her side!

 

They had drafted a plan once they had agreed on the next steps to take and subsequently had visited several of Myrrhi’s contacts in the Green Ajah’s local Eyes and Ears network. First Alaido, a local baker, whom Myrrhi had looked forward to meeting also for his delicious bakery, Elessar suspected. She had told him to wait outside, winking as she had informed him to not start a duel. He had swallowed his response, and she had already passed inside the bakery and had not seen his wry grin. Some time later Myrrhi had departed the baker’s shop, carrying a small box of pastries that looked marvelously delicious when Elessar inquired, and when he had insisted to have a taste or three she had been unable to resist him even though it was clear from her facial expression that she had wanted those little marvels for herself. When Elessar had asked for a fourth helping (trying hard to keep his face neutral and not to laugh at her expression) she had almost stuck her tongue out at him, but had kept decorum and for the rest of the day had guarded the few pastries left in the box with her life.

 

 

The next contact had appeared quite quickly - as they had been walking down a curvy Ebou Dari street - recognizing the green ribbon Myrrhi was wearing in her hair. Had the ribbon been black….. now that would have been interesting, Elessar had thought in a fleeting moment of wild contemplation.. The man, a richly dressed local merchant, had invited the Aes Sedai to his ‘humble store’ as he called it. Elessar had remained outside, again, only entering later. He had had the impression that Myrrhi was a little disappointed that there had been no delicious snacks there to enjoy, or perhaps it had just been his imagination. These were strange times after all.. After a while as the Aes Sedai and the merchant had talked, a customer had entered the shop and Myrrhi and Elessar had taken their leave. Back at the ‘Fallen Mermaid’ inn they had talked about what she had learned and had discussed options for a long time.

 

They had continued their discussion the next morning and afternoon. And that was when Elessar had come up with the ‘ingenious’ plan: they would go on the offensive, take the bull by the horns so as to speak, find out where this mysterious foreign Nobleman resided, and break into his Manor and find evidence of his complicity in the imminent assassination business. Myrrhi had, to tell the truth, been rather taken aback by his far from discreet plan of action, had kept most of her thoughts to herself, but trusting her experienced and usually wise and strategically sound Warder had gone along with the daring plan for the moment at least as he had explained the details. Further inquiries the following day had led to the knowledge where the Nobleman in question’s Manor House lay - on the western edge of Ebou Dar, close to the sea as it turned out - and they had discussed how to proceed, making a detailed plan, selecting the right time (dead of night, they both agreed was safest) and readying themselves.

 

A little past midnight, in the dark of night, they had cautiously entered the Manor grounds, crept past a couple of not-too-attentive guards slouching by the building, and had used a lockpick to open a back door (fascinating how useful some things learned over the years was, Elessar had thought amusedly) with no alarm being raised. They had further crept through the Shadows of the Manor, which had been quiet, until they had reached the office on the second floor. The contacts they had spoken to, who were familiar with how Ebou Dari mansions were built, had been adamant that that was where the office in all likelihood would be - and they were right. Elessar had picked this second lock too and they had entered the chamber, now confident that this daring venture would be a successful one. Myrrhi had in truth been torn between thinking this whole thing was insane and that it was exciting - but as they approached the work desk by the window her excitement had picked up. Now they would find the evidence they needed to stop the assassinations from happening! And they had indeed found written papers that were highly suspicious, correspondence between the Master and certain other parties of seemingly dubious nature, making them feel this very daring activity had been worth it.

 

 

All had been going well….. until they were discovered, caught red handed!

 

Master Schirrù, wearing his night robe but standing as stately as if he wore his finest shirt and coat, studied them both now in the light from the candle lights, his eyes tightening dangerously, waiting for the intruders to speak.

 

Elessar knew he was mostly to blame for this major cock-up, it had primarily been his plan after all which Myrrhi, perhaps partly grudgingly, had gone along with, and he knew it was only right that he try to save them from this highly embarrassing and volatile situation.

 

He was trying to think of the best way to come on the offensive in this rather precarious predicament, considering appropriate responses in his mind, when Myrrhi spoke.

 

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A memory flashed through Myrrhi's mind.

She was only a Novice at the time. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her and that sleepless night, she had dared to go out of the cell that served as her bedroom. Since her arrival in Tar Valon, she had minded all the rules set by the Mistress of the Novices. She had followed them all, no matter how strange they sounded. That night however, she had impulsively decided to follow her desire to know more about the Gaidins.

She had overheard servants complaining about how late Warders were training which had led her to conceive this little expedition. Novices were not supposed to be seen out of their bedrooms after sundown, or at least not out of the Tower if they still had chores to do. So, getting caught in the garden would mean serious problems.

The young girl had moved forwards as low as she could, following the lines made of half walls and hedges, her ears wide open to detect any suspicious noise... Three times she had been on the brink of abandoning her goal. Cold sweat had been running down her back. Her heart was beating so hard that she had thought it would jump out of her chest.

Her first trip to the Warders courtyard had been a success but would her current mission be one as well?

This time she had her Warder with her as well as the means to master the reactions of her body to the stress it was subjected to. No cold sweat, a peaceful heart, added to a way better perception of the world surrounding her. She couldn't help but feel excited. 

 

Elessar surprised her again with his lockpicking skills. The man can wield delicate tools as well as the mightiest sword, she thought. Maybe I should learn the trick too. It could come in handy if I can't channel, and my hair is so unruly that I always have a couple of pins at hand.

Shirrù's manor was dark and quiet. The servants had retired for the night a while ago. Or so they had gathered from their vantage point before entering the estate. Like in most houses in Ebou Dar, the corridors they went through were decorated with colorful tiles and paints. Here and there, golden items were exposed is series of niches sometimes separated with heavy tapestries. The Green would have loved to take the time to look at them in broad daylight.

Elessar had taken the lead. He had studied the information supplied by their contact and was pretty sure that Shirrù's office would be on the first floor, on the northern side of the house. A very pleasant spot to work without having to suffer from the Ebou Dari heat.

The Greens stomach tightened when her Warder picked the door that — according to him — would lead to their destination and tightened even more when she discovered that the Gaidin had been right. Without thinking about safety, Myrrhi rushed forward to the massive desk that had been pushed to face the narrow window at the far back of the room. She hurried to check every sheet of paper, every drawer and there it was! Correspondence, notes, reports... The evidences they were looking for. She was going to ask her Gaidin what to do with it all when a noise drew her attention back to the door.

So, Myrrhi Aes Sedai - do you have a good explanation for breaking into my Manor House and going through my private papers in the dead of night?

The Aes Sedai was speechless. She opened her mouth then closed it again. What could she do? What could she answer? Quickly she tried to analyze the material she had at hand. The man knew her name. He hadn't raised the alarm nor try to attack them... Could this mean that she would be able to actually talk her way out of this ?

Elessar and Myrrhi exchanged a silent glance. She could feel through the bond that her Warder was angry. Angry for getting caught red handed, angry against himself for having suggested the plan. But then maybe Myrrhi's plan would have been worse... Having her Warder impersonate a cook to replace one who had recently fallen sick might have ended up just as bad.

Schirrù broke the silence with a small cough, prompting the intruders to explain themselves. The Green instantly understood why the merchants had pegged him as a trouble maker. He didn't look like a noble at all. Even if he was wearing a night robe made of expansive fabric. His long black hair only partially covered a cross-shaped scar that marred the left part of his face. His hands - she could see - didn't look soft like a noble's. They looked strong and had been recently injured. His naked left ankle showed part of a tattoo that certainly looked out of place.

- So, Myrrhi said, taking a big breath. This is the time for you to tell me why you know my name.

- Is that so, the man replied. The corners of his mouth twitched. This could be the time for you to tell me why you are going through my papers.

Myrrhi fought against the urge to turn towards her Gaidin for help.

She took in the room once more. There could lie the material she needed to save herself and her Gaidin.  Her eyes rested on pieces of furniture that definitely look familiar, a low table, a carpet, an oil lamp. The merchant who had been her last contact was selling the exact same ones. Could this have been a trap or just a coincidence?

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.. A Solution to a Predicament presents Itself ..

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“So”, Myrrhi said, taking a big breath. “This is the time for you to tell me why you know my name.”
 

“Is that so”, the man replied. The corners of his mouth twitched. “This could be the time for you to tell me why you are going through my papers”.

 

 

The silence lengthened once again, the flickering of the candle lights breaking the Shadows - and it gave Elessar the moment he needed to settle his mind on a plan of action.

 

If you are hard pressed in a situation, catch your opponent off guard!

 

The words from his old Warder teachers from many years ago whispered in the back of his mind as the Gaidin stared coldly at the man confronting them. He noted the man’s long black hair which only partially covered a cross-shaped scar that marred the left part of his face.

 

This was no regular Nobleman, of that Elessar was sure. He neither looked the part, nor acted it.

 

Do the unexpected.

 

Acting in part on instinct, in part on prior ‘wisdom’, the Warder from Kandor left the papers in his hand on the office table and took two steps toward the Nobleman.

 

“Mind your manners, Nobleman!” The Gaidin said forcefully. There was power in his voice and in his intent. “You are in the presence of Aes Sedai. “Kneel in respect!”

 

 

He was pleased to see the man’s face twitch in surprise and his sneer wiped away. He caught himself quickly though and spat the words, “You have no authority here..”

 

“The White Tower has authority whenever and wherever matters of the Shadow are concerned!” Elessar said as if pronouncing a sentence.

 

He leapt forwards before the man had a chance to react, feeling emotions of surprise, approval and excitement coming through the Bond from Myrrhi, and snatched the candle lights from the startled man’s hands, placing them on a nearby bookshelf. The man was pressed to his knees and though he muttered curses under his breath he remained in the abject position as Myrrhi came to a stop before him.

 

She exchanged a glance of appreciation with her Warder, glad that he had taken charge and turned the tables on the Darkfriend Nobleman with his innovative and vigorous act, then she looked down at the man kneeling and repeated her question of before.

 

Elessar felt some of his anger at himself dissipating. He would feel some shame for his blunder, as he saw it, for a while to come - but going on the offensive like this had partially at least extracted Myrrhi from a highly embarrassing and difficult situation. The White Tower were not all-powerful in that they could trample on the rights of individual citizens in independent nations at their will, so what he had claimed was in reality only partially true, but the Nobleman did not know that and they would use that fact for all it was worth. Push him hard, be forceful (within certain parameters of course), keep him on the defensive and he would not be able to climb out of the hole they had dug for him.

 

Knowing Myrrhi, he felt sure she was thinking the same thing as she questioned the kneeling man, her voice sounding very Aes Sedai-like, hard and to the point.

 

 

“When an Aes Sedai is in town, word gets around.” The man said, his tone sour.

 

“Is that so”, Myrrhi replied, believing not a word he was saying, “and why should this interest you?”

 

“You have no right..” the man spat in reinvigorated defiance.

 

“I have every right”, Myrrhi responded, her voice determined, “if you are who these papers we read in your work desk indicate you are. The White Tower does not look kindly on Darkfriends.”

 

“I am no Darkfriend..” the Nobleman muttered, raising his head. In the half-light his eyes tightened dangerously.

 

“Keep your eyes on the floor!” Elessar commanded, his face and tone harsh. “Such as you are not fit to look upon Aes Sedai!”

 

Myrrhi smiled at her Warder. She understood why he was pushing the man so hard. They were after all in the Nobleman’s mansion with guards downstairs and were not out of this pickle yet.

 

“So what do you have to say for yourself?” Myrrhi said, her voice cold and now it was as if she were the one pronouncing a sentence.

 

“You have no right breaking in…” the man spat the words again, but was stopped mid-sentence by the knife which suddenly appeared close to his face. The Warder’s eyes were cold as death as he pointed the knife at the kneeling Nobleman’s right chin.

 

“We will tolerate no lies from you..” Elessar said, holding the knife steady. “So be truthful. What is your part in these planned assassinations of Ebou Dari Noblefolk?”

 

“I don’t know anything about..” the man lied, defiance still in his voice.

 

The Warder exchanged a long look with his Bondholder and she nodded once.

 

Elessar’s arm came crashing down on the man’s head and shoulder and he slumped unconscious to the floor before them.

 

 

They had both understood that time was at the essence and that they needed to get out of the Manor House before they were discovered by anyone else. They would interrogate the man further later. Collecting the incriminating papers and parchments they had found, Myrrhi’s eyes swept again over the pieces of furniture that definitely looked familiar - a low table, a carpet, an oil lamp - and once again her thoughts returned to the merchant who had been her last contact who was selling the exact same ones, wondering anew if this was a coincidence or if it had been a trap.

 

Elessar threw the unconscious man over his shoulder, feeling the heavy weight but believing he would be able to carry him out of the house and at least to the nearest street. There they would hide him in an alleyway until appropriate transportation could be acquired. Exchanging a few final words with his Aes Sedai, they blew out the candle lights and in the sparse light from the moon outside they moved towards the door. Opening it slightly, Myrrhi now in the lead, they went out into the dark corridor beyond and stopped to listen for any sounds. The Aes Sedai felt excitement again at this turn of events, but focused on the need to get safely out of the mansion. Where there was one Darkfriend, there could easily be more.

 

Only silence met them as they headed along the corridors, Elessar one step behind the Aes Sedai. If there were guards inside the Manor House, they did not appear as Myrrhi and Elessar neared the entrance from the inside. They stopped before opening that final door, the Warder catching his breath for a moment. It was heavy going carrying the big man on his shoulders but exchanging another glance with Myrrhi, his eyes reassured her he would manage. She nodded quickly, then faced the door.

 

 

There was still no sound, either from inside or outside. Would their luck run out now at the final stretch? There was only one way to find out. Opening the door carefully, peering outside into the darkness, Myrrhi took a step and then another step. Still no activity outside. Holding her breath, she took another few steps and Elessar followed. Glancing to the left and right, she could still see no one and so she took another few tentative steps. Ahead of them, seventy yards or so, the gate to the grounds beckoned. It was impossible to hide during that stretch of ground, they would be out in the open. Thankfully darkness enveloped Ebou Dar and only the rays from the moon intermittently sliced through the blackness. Elessar looked both ways too, his Warder vision enhanced from the Bond, but could see no one. Myrrhi’s eyes tightened determinedly and she started walking forwards slowly, one step after another, resisting the temptation to run which would have left her Warder behind, at any moment waiting for the alarm to be raised, for the shouts of guards and ensuing conflict.

 

But nothing happened, and as Elessar followed, the Nobleman still blacked out on his shoulders, they soon neared the unguarded gate. Then they were through and they both breathed a silent sigh of relief as they headed down the adjacent street. Reaching an alleyway further down, glad there were no people around at this late hour, they stopped and Elessar unburdened himself with the heavy weight of the Nobleman, placing him in the darkest part partially hidden behind the lower side of a building. Myrrhi checked to ensure the man was still unconscious, then turned to Elessar who was catching his breath and rubbing his sore shoulders. She whispered that she would fetch them a horse and carriage, and he should just wait there with their prisoner. He nodded back in the darkness and watched as she disappeared down the street, determination evident in her steps.

 

A while later she returned, seated in a horse and carriage. She told him that the driver was to be trusted, he was part of the Eyes and Ears network, and the man - a heavy-shouldered Ebou Dari man you did not want to get into a fight with - and Elessar placed the Nobleman inside the carriage before taking off for the ‘Fallen Mermaid’ inn. During the journey the Warder and Sedai spoke little, both lost in their own thoughts thinking about what had just happened and about the further interrogation to come, and they arrived at the inn faster than they had anticipated. The carriage stopped at the back of the inn near the stables where their horses were tethered, it was less conspicuous Myrrhi had argued. Thanking the driver, they lifted the still unconscious Nobleman onto the ground and used a back door (with Elessar making use of his lockpicking skills again; those added skills were in truth useful!) to slip quietly into the inn and silently up the stairs to Myrrhi’s room. Elessar threw the man off his shoulders onto Myrrhi’s bed and then closed the door behind them.

 

 

Before she had the chance to speak, Elessar turned toward his Bondholder, his eyes filled with guilt. “I am to blame for the mess I put us in”, he said with honesty. “I apologize. The plan was perhaps too risky, and I should have been more attentive at the Manor House, Aes Sedai. I will do better.”

 

Myrrhi stared back at him, seeing his guilt and shame. “We are all flawed, my Warder.” She thought of her own weaknesses, understanding guilt.

 

“Perhaps you are right.” She added. “But you also got us out of that potentially difficult (and very embarrassing, she was thinking) situation with your quick thinking and swift action.” She smiled disarmingly. “And that is what counts the most, Gaidin.”

 

He looked at her, slightly mollified, appreciating her words. He meant what he had said, he would do better, needed to do better if he were to be her Protector as he had sworn in his oaths. He had always expected much of himself, perhaps too much at times, and had aimed for perfection ever since he had joined the Warder ranks. His failures had become a part of him, a heavy burden he always carried in his service. He had sworn not to fail again and he would not, no matter what it took.

 

“I will do better”, he simply said, but she could see from his eyes and hear from the tone of his voice that he was thankful for her words.

 

 

“Now then”, Myrrhi concluded, putting that matter out of her mind, as she looked down at the blacked out Nobleman on her bed, “we have this Darkfriend to take care of.”

 

She wondered how far they would need to go in their interrogation of the man before he gave up his secrets.

 

 

Outside, in the Shadows of a street corner opposite the ‘Fallen Mermaid’ inn, a partially hidden figure and a pair of dark eyes watched the silent inn for a long moment before disappearing into the night.

 
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If Myrrhi had been a cat, she would have purred when her Warder - Her Warder - ordered Schirrù to kneel.


She would have purred even louder when the man actually complied. She felt so proud of her Gaidin.


Schirrù told her how he had come to know her name and insisted he was not a darkfriend. She listened, but refused to believe him. Then man looked evil, felt like evil. Further questioning was necessary ... Unfortunately, they couldn't afford to stay in Schirrù's mansion. The man could call for help, a servant could wake up, staying was way too risky.


Elessar quickly came up with a solution. With one hit, he rendered the man unconscious giving them the time to gather everything they needed to further their investigation. The Green briefly wondered if abducting Schirrù was actually reprehensible as a kidnapping ... but then she listed the documents they had now in their possession. Their "guest" would never dare to complain to the law officials.


***


Schirrù eventually woke up. It took him some time to open his eyes but, as soon as he did, he swept the room with his gaze, probably analyzing his situation. He was in a room he didn't know — at least the Green hoped so — tightly tied to a chair and facing two dangerous individuals.


- So that is how Aes Sedai are working now? They abduct people in the dead of the night... tsk, where have their refined manners gone?


- I can be very refined when I want to. Myrrhi replied with a cold voice, but she was feeling fire inside. She didn't like to be criticized, especially by someone who didn't belong to the White Tower. And you will probably want me to be "refined" when our little chat will start.


She tried to summon one of Elessar's grin for decorum. He was pretty good at intimidating people.


- Do you understand I could break your mind? She asked. It would be pretty easy for me to do so... the downside would be that you'll probably need assistance for the rest of your wretched life to drink,eat,.. and all the other things that humans need to do. But, you are lucky. I don't want to have to explain to the carriage driver that will send you home why I am connected to a drooling idiot.


The Bond sent her a warm feeling. Elessar must have approved her bluff or so she thought. It strengthened her resolve. Somehow she had guessed well. The man's vanity was is weakness. He did have a pretty face and weren't his clothes the perfect reflection of what was currently fashionable?


- You are lying, Schirrù tried. He was not looking very convinced by his own words.


- Do you truly think so? Myrrhi laughed. She sent a harmless weave towards his head, just to frighten him. Schirrù paled.


- You wouldn't dare! Shirrù moved, pulling on his restraints as if this would allow him to escape.


His jet-black hair fell forward, forming a curtain that covered half of his face. The side that was marred by his scar. Once more, Myrrhi noted this as a sign of vanity. She tried to concentrate on her thoughts hoping Elessar had guessed their guest's weakness as well.
 

 

 

 

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.. The Results of an Interrogation ..

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Elessar’s eyes were cold as death.

 

Myrrhi turned sideways and exchanged a glance with her Warder. She saw the look in his eyes and what he held in his hands. She decided to let him have a go at their prisoner and moved a step back.

 

Schirrù turned his eyes on the Warder, saw the icy stare and pretended it did not affect him. He sneered as the slave to the Aes Sedai, as he saw him, approached him.

 

“So now it is your turn, huh?” He spat. “Your witch was unable to break me, and you believe you can?”

 

Elessar placed the equipment he held carefully on the floor and then, in almost the same motion, slapped the Darkfriend’s face so hard that he fell like a stone to the floor still bound to his chair.

 

“I told you to be respectful of Aes Sedai!” He said in harsh tones. “Next time I will not be as lenient.”

 

He felt approval coming through the Bond from Myrrhi. He would never see her disrespected.

 

 

Their prisoner muttered some curses, feeling the taste of blood in his mouth, and gave the Warder a baleful glare as Elessar righted the chair and faced the bound man again.

 

“Is that the best you can do?” Schirrù taunted, his voice spiteful. His eyes belied his confidence though.

 

“Actually”, Elessar finally replied, slowly picking up the knife from the floor, “no.”

 

His wide grin and cold eyes screamed of danger and Myrrhi thought again how fortunate it was that this man, Her Warder, was not her enemy.

 

Pressing the knife against the Darkfriend’s chin, the Gaidin moved it slowly upwards towards the man’s left eye. “You know”, Elessar whispered dangerously, “I have always enjoyed using a knife. It can pierce a man’s skin so easily.. and cause soo much harm.”

 

Myrrhi almost believed him.. she knew it was an act, but it seemed so real.. so real..

 

Schirrù tried to appear unconcerned but inside he was trying to keep his fear in check. Not many things frightened him, he had been through too much over the years to be easily scared, but this man.. this man was dangerous. This man could kill him, Warder oath or no.

 

“You don’t scare me, Aes Sedai puppet.” He said mock-bravely. “I have seen knives before, bigger ones, more lethal ones than that one.”

 

He was struggling though to keep his voice steady as the knife circled his eye. He tried again to pull at his restraints but they were fastened too well. He cursed inside.

 

“Yes, I see your scar.” The Gaidin pressed the knife against it. “This must be your pride and joy.” Schirrù’s head snapped back, hate burning in his eyes.

 

“Oh, I have more than this knife for you”, the Gaidin added and his grin became dark and vicious. He put the knife away momentarily and picked up the pair of razor-sharp scissors.

 

 

“Scissors can also be useful”, Elessar added, as he showed them to the Darkfriend, “for many things. I could of course cut off that lovely long hair you have” - he grinned as he saw the man’s eyes widen; he was vain, just as the Warder had thought! - “or other more.. vital parts.” The Darkfriend’s eyes widened even further.

 

“Scissors can also be used effectively to cut someone’s throat.” The casual way he said it made it even more forceful and sweat now beaded on their prisoner’s forehead.

 

Placing the cold scissors against the now warm sweating skin of the Nobleman, Elessar whispered, “But none of that will be necessary if you just answer Myrrhi Aes Sedai’s questions.”

 

“The choice is yours.”

 

 

Earlier, when they had arrived at the inn, Myrrhi and Elessar had talked a bit before their prisoner had regained consciousness. Once he had taken in his unfamiliar surroundings, he had stared spitefully at his captors. Then he had accused the method of his abduction and pointed out that Aes Sedai had no refined manners anymore. Myrrhi had replied in a cold voice that she could be refined when she wanted to and Elessar had felt through the Bond that she was not best pleased being criticized by such a person.

 

She had adopted a hard grin and a hard stance, saying that she could break his mind if she wanted to, and had felt approval from her Warder through the Bond, supporting her choice to be tough even though it was a bluff. It had strengthened her resolve. Schirrù had kept saying she was lying, she wouldn’t dare, but he had not seemed that convincing to Elessar. Warder and Sedai had known it would be a long interrogation session.

 

 

Myrrhi watched with approval as her Warder interrogated their prisoner. He was being hard, forceful as was necessary in the current situation - there were lives to be saved - but would of course not go too far in pressing or torturing the man. There were boundaries they could not pass. There were boundaries they would not pass. No matter what.

 

Elessar moved the scissors to the Darkfriend’s chest and pressed slightly inwards. The man grunted but his eyes remained spiteful.

 

“Who are you, really?” The Warder asked, changing tactic for a moment.

 

“You know who I am, Warder.” The man uttered the word ‘Warder’ with disgust.

 

“Actually, I don’t”, Elessar replied. He moved the scissors casually up to the man’s throat again and drew a drop of blood. “You are not who you appear to be.”

 

Schirrù looked scornfully at the Warder. “Lies. You will not get anywhere with lies.”

 

“In one of your letters”, Elessar began, “there is a mention of a certain Lahrassin. I wonder who that could be?”

 

The Darkfriend shook his head but a vein at the side of his throat throbbed. “I know no such person”, he lied. “Perhaps someone one of my business associates knows.” There was spite in his voice and his eyes burned with zealousness but he seemed less sure of himself

 

“Oh, it is not wise to lie to us, Nobleman.” The scissors drew another drop of blood. “If Nobleman you are in fact.”

 

 

The man’s face twitched this time as if the Gaidin had caught onto something. Elessar and Myrrhi both noted the reaction and exchanged a knowing glance.

 

Schirrù remained silent after that and would not reply to any questions asked.

 

Finally Elessar feigned impatience and rage and slapped the man again, this time adding that he was going to chop the man’s right middle finger off. It was a lie of course, but it had the desired effect when the scissors were brought to the man’s right hand.

 

“No, no..” the man uttered, now unable to remove the fear in his voice. “I’ll talk, no need for the scissors, I’ll talk.”

 

He intended to only let them know enough, nothing vital, so they would let him go, but as the Warder and Aes Sedai in turn interrogated him he found himself letting secrets slip that he had not intended to - he did not know how, cursing himself for his weakness! - and in the end they knew almost everything they needed to know about him and his Darkfriend cell in Ebou Dar.

 

He spat in frustration once it was over, feeling they had deceived him, begging the Great Lord to forgive him for his betrayal, and shot stares of hate and despair at the two from Tar Valon as his restraints were removed and he was led away by three armed men to face his fate at the justice of the White Tower.

 

 

When they were alone, Myrrhi faced her Warder. “He broke in the end.”

 

“Yes, he did.” Elessar replied satisfied.

 

He was proud of his Aes Sedai, how she had handled her part of the interrogation. He did not enjoy threatening people, prisoners or no, in this fashion but sometimes it was necessary, sometimes it had to be done. Myrrhi knew this also and was impressed by his ‘skill’ in this area too. He was a very intimidating man when he wanted to be, that was for certain.

 

“And now we know what we need to stop these assassinations from happening”, the Aes Sedai added contentedly. Her Warder nodded, pleased that they had been successful.

 

It turned out that Master Schirrù, supposed Nobleman of Ebou Dar, was in fact the man Lahrassin mentioned in the incriminating letter, a Darkfriend spy from Arad Doman who was leader of a Darkfriend cell here in Ebou Dar whose mission had been to assassinate the three heads of Ebou Dari Noble Houses. The man had admitted as much after a particularly harsh session of interrogation where Elessar had threatened to break his arms. The Darkfriend had turned out to be less resistant than he had imagined and had also fallen into traps of words that Myrrhi had proficiently made for him.

 

When it was all done, she had called for the men from the Green Eyes and Ears to take him away and to inform the White Tower of the situation. Local authorities would also be informed and the other members of the Darkfriend cell captured. She and Elessar would later this day visit the High Lady of House Asnobar and inform her of the good news, that the current threat of assassinations by the Shadow was gone, and once that was done Myrrhi and Elessar would start planning for their continued journey eastwards towards Mayene.

 

It felt good to have struck another blow at the Shadow, Elessar thought contentedly to himself as Twilight approached over Ebou Dar. Doing so was always a good day.

 

 

Three days later, as darkness blanketed the city of Ebou Dar, two hooded figures moved silently in the Shadows beside an old building. They were near the sea front but neither took much notice of their location.

 

Lahrassin was captured”, one of the figures whispered in a male voice. “He talked.”

“He will be judged harshly by the Great Lord”, the second figure replied coldly.

“He gave up the names of the others”, the first figure added spitefully. “Most have been captured.”

“His betrayal will be his doom”, the second figure stated. “We will have to begin again.”

“So it shall be”, the first figure concluded. “So the Great Lord commands.”

 

The hooded woman smiled darkly as her male companion disappeared into the night. Something about her unusual features were seen for a moment as her face caught silver gleams from the moon above, but then she was gone in the darkness, a Shadow within Shadows, her Blue cloak swirling in the soft wind from the North.

 

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After Schirrù's interrogation, Myrrhi felt the need for a change of scenery. She fought to keep her face serene when she thanked Elessar - she would never have managed to get anything out of the darkfriend on her own - and announced him that she needed to retire to her room for a brief moment.

An old jug still full of water was waiting for her on what served her as a desk. She poured some of its content in a bowl, cooled it down, and used it to freshen-up.

Sometimes, she thought of herself as a strong person. Sometimes she thought of herself as someone cunning, who would always do what was necessary to achieve her goals. This very night she had seen the proof of the opposite. How sick she had felt when the darkfriend had finally broken down. She was pretty certain it was bile she had tasted in her mouth when Schirrù had started to confess.

I need to be stronger, she whispered to herself.

A quick look at the sky indicated her dawn had come. Alaido's bakery was probably open, full of light and sweet scents. She had to contact one of the Greens Eyes and Ears so that Shirrù would be taken to the White Tower... so, why not ask the baker for help?

A lemon tart would likely help her feel better and her waistline could afford one last little pleasure before leaving the city. She grabbed her cape before going out of her room and back to her Warder. Elessar was still guarding their made-up interrogation room, waiting for her command. Myrrhi feared she would have to look at Schirrù's wretched form one more time but, by chance, the Gaidin's wide shoulders were blocking her view.

- Thanks again for what you did, my Gaidin. I would never have managed...

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. The Green choose to fill it so that she wouldn't give her emotions the opportunity to make her do something stupid. This was not the place nor the time to talk about how guilty and weak she felt.

- I need to meet with one of our contacts to find someone who can take care of this. She pointed towards the back of the room with her chin, unwilling to name the moaning darkfriend. I will be right back.

She smiled as much for Elessar as to reassure herself.

Myrrhi found herself in front the bakery's door way faster than she would have expected. She had been so deep in her thoughts that she hadn't paid attention to her surroundings. This could have been a fatal mistake, she chastised herself. Taking a big breath, she entered Alaido's domain.

The baker joined her at once, a cheerful smile on his face.

-There you are! How can I help you, my Lady? Would you like more of my pastries?

Myrrhi smiled back.

- I'm here to taste one of your newest recipes.

The man nodded and immediately showed her to the back, exactly like he had done the last time. She waited for him to finish describing the ingredients he had been working with lately to announce what she needed from him. A way to secretly transport Schirrù out of town. Alaido looked more nauseous than surprised but he complied.

- I will do it, my Lady. But understand that this is not what I signed for.

- I understand Alaido. If there had been any other way...

She offered him a purse full of golden coins that he refused at first.

- I am not doing this for the money, he protested.

- I know, Myrrhi replied, pushing the purse in his hands.

The young woman was ready to leave, when the baker called her back.

- I refuse to let you leave empty handed, my Lady. He handed her a small box that felt heavier than it looked.

She wished Alaido goodbye and returned to the inn.


***

Before Myrrhi knew it, she and her Warder where on their way to Mayene. All their belongings were packed, some would accompany them during their journey, others would be sent to Tar Valon - like the rewards they had received from the High Lady of House Asnobar.

The "rewards" were most likely gifts that the High Lady had received herself but hadn't liked, gifts she had wanted to get rid of. Still, the Green and her Warder had decided that leaving them behind would be seen as a very rude gesture.

 

- So my Gaidin, don't you feel proud to have received that wooden sword. It was exquisitely carved.

The Gaidin replied by mentioning the present that Myrrhi had received. The Green threw him her waterskin as only reply.

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Heading Eastwards for a new Destination ..

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Dust rose into the air beneath the sunny afternoon sky as Elessar and Myrrhi rode north-eastwards in Altara along the Great North Road that led to the town of Alkindar. The town was located on the west bank of the River Eldar along this main road, between Ebou Dar and Lugard. They had been riding for two days and planned to continue the journey almost until nightfall.

 

 

Their plan was to follow the Great North Road to the stone-walled town of Maderin and then to cut across country directly eastward in the direction of Illian. They had considered taking the eastern route out of Ebou Dar via the port village of Nor Chasen, but that road was less travelled and had fewer stop-points for provisions and therefore seemed less appropriate for their purposes. Back in Ebou Dar they had above all discussed going by ship to Mayene, something that would have shortened their journey considerably, but talking to merchants and sailors in Ebou Dar had convinced them that going by sea in these volatile times was riskier. Rumours were floating about storms that were coming and they were not of the natural kind. And so they had decided to go by land.

 

Stormbreaker, Elessar’s staunch warhorse of many years, was in the lead and Myrrhi’s horse kept pace half a length or so behind on his right side. As they rode the Warder kept a vigil, his eyes roaming the land ahead for any potential threats, but there were few travelers on this road this day and they were making good time. As Elessar gazed ahead at a bend in the road a few hundred yards or so ahead, a bird of prey passed them by high in the sky. There were woodlands on both sides of the wide road and plenty of places to hide for potential robbers or bandits. Not that this region was famous for it, but there had been occurrences, Myrrhi and Elessar had been told, and so one should be attentive. Elessar slowed Stormbreaker’s pace as they neared the bend in the road, but seeing all was fine they soon picked up pace again. It was well past twilight before they stopped for the night.

 

 

They made camp in the woods a day’s ride south of Alkindar as Elessar judged it. They found a suitable place among the trees several hundred yards away from the road, it was fairly secluded and was near a brook which was practical with regards to easy access to water. The Warder and Sedai set up camp quickly and Elessar took care of their horses, brushing them down and giving them some apples to munch on. Then he walked around the perimeter of the camp area to ensure there were no threats nearby. He had camped out with his various Sedais so many times over the years that this part of his Warder duty was done automatically and always efficiently. When he arrived back at their camp, Myrrhi had a small meal ready consisting of dried beef, some bread and some vegetables. They ate mostly in silence, each tired after the long day’s ride, and then afterwards spoke a few casual words before going to rest. Elessar was going to let his Aes Sedai rest this night while he was going to enter that half-sleep, half-awareness state that Warders were so good at where they got some rest but also kept watch.

 

He watched Myrrhi lay down and cover herself with her blanket, as he stood leaning his back on an oak near their horses. His thoughts returned to that day in Ebou Dar when they had interrogated and broken their Darkfriend prisoner. Something unexpected had occurred with Myrrhi as Elessar had seen it. She had seemed surprisingly.. uncertain after the interrogation had finished. As if doing what needed to be done, to learn the man’s secrets to save lives, had affected her strongly.. He had seen it in her face, even though she had tried to hide it, and heard it in her voice. “Thanks again for what you did, my Gaidin. I would never have managed...” The words echoed in his mind and he remembered the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them. A Sedai’s insecurity affected them both in a Bond - they needed to be strong and trust each other and to be able to count on each other at all times, not the least when dealing with the Shadow - so this matter concerned him somewhat though he had not said anything at the time. It was something they would need to talk about, but Elessar did not feel Myrrhi was ready yet and so he let the matter be for the moment. It concerned him though and remained in the back of his mind.

 

 

They had visited the High Lady of House Asnobar who had been overjoyed at hearing that the current assassination threat had been eliminated. She would inform the other Heads of Houses in the city who, she said, would be equally grateful for the successful intervention of the White Tower. Myrrhi had pointed out that they still needed to be alert in Ebou Dar since these were unstable times and the Shadow was lurking everywhere. The High Lady had given them gifts, or ‘rewards’ as she had called it, for the job they had done - probably gifts the High Lady had been given herself and which she wanted to get rid of, Myrrhi had whispered wryly to Elessar while the High Lady was out of hearing - and they had decided that leaving them behind would be seen as a very rude gesture. They had therefore thanked the Ebou Dari Noblewoman for the gifts -  an exquisitely carved wooden sword for the Gaidin which Myrrhi mock-teasingly had insisted had to make him proud, and a certain gift for Myrrhi which she was not that eager to speak much about - which had afterwards been given to the Green Ajah Eyes and Ears to forward to the White Tower. The following morning they had packed all their things, added some further provisions for the journey in saddlebags, thanked their innkeeper for the stay, and had ridden out of Ebou Dar just as the sun stood right overhead in a partially clouded sky.

 

 

Later that night in the woods Elessar became aware of a sound which made him get up from his blanket and gaze watchfully around in the darkness. The wind had picked up and now caressed the canopy of trees around them, but that was not what had alerted him. He looked toward their horses which were tethered to a tree some paces off to his right but they seemed calm and quiet. His eyes looked the other way, to the trees off to their left, but he did not seen any movement there either. He grabbed his blade and walked carefully past Myrrhi - who he thought was sleeping - and into the trees, his eyes now adjusted to the blackness surrounding him.

 

The forest was silent except for an owl hooting in the distance and some nightbird activity near the treetops. He walked the perimeter but found no sign of anyone or anything anywhere. Returning to the camp he put his sword down beside him, then lay down again but kept his eyes and ears open for a good while afterwards. It was probably nothing, he thought to himself when he finally closed his eyes. But he would remain alert in the coming days.


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.. Memories of the Past: pain and duty  ..

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Dawn broke over the woodlands north-east of Ebou Dar.

 

Elessar was already up and about checking the perimeters of their camp area. He had woken early from his half-sleep as he liked to call it, had gone to the brook to wash himself and had then put on his travelling garb. Sword in hand he had walked to the outer limits of the perimeter to the east and had followed it all the way to the western edge. A few forest animals scurried about in the nearby brush but otherwise he saw nothing of interest. When he returned to the camp, Myrrhi still wrapped in her sleeping blanket, he sat down with his back to a huge oak and started polishing his sword blade.

 

His mind wandered - and something made him think of Kathleen, his former Bondholder. It was not the first time this happened. Kathleen had meant much to him, just like his other Sedais through the years. They had formed a good partnership in the Light, but it had ended. She had released his Warder-Bond several years earlier. Kathleen had been - and was - a woman of great honour and integrity. He recalled once again her letter to him, the words formed in black ink, in which she had explained her reasons for doing so. He had received it some time after his solitary return to Tar Valon from the Borderlands, where they had journeyed on a mission of personal import. Her letter had moved him and though he knew how hard it had been for Kathleen to write, he appreciated her words - and explanation - immensely.

 

Thinking of her, brough back memories of their journey north to his homeland of Kandor. He remembered how the weather was that day, the sounds in the air, the sky, the road - and her. It was as if he were re-living the journey in his mind..

 

 

..It is in late afternoon on a sunny day, under a clear ocean-blue sky, with strong winds drifting down from the mountains further north, that Elessar and Kathleen pass the frontier into the Borderland Kingdom of Kandor..

 

The evening before, Elessar had shared some of his knowledge about the history of Kandor with Kathleen.

 

“Kandor, he had begun, “was formed early in the War of the Hundred Years, that devastating series of overlapping wars among constantly shifting alliances that erupted in the wake of the death of the High King, Artur Paendrag Tanreall - or Artur Hawkwing - as his Empire fragmented and collapsed. Born a Royal Prince of Shandalle, and the son of King Myrdin Paendrag Maregore and Queen Mailinde Paendrag Lyndhal, Hawkwing had no designated heir at the time of his death and a prolonged civil war could not be avoided. In this time of chaos and disorder the governors of Hawkwing's five northern provinces met - and agreed to form stable nations to preserve the peace and defend against the Blight.. 

 

“Jarel Soukovni, he had added, “the Imperial Governor for the Province of Kandor during the latter part of Hawkwings’ reign, was the first King of Kandor and its Founder. History records claim that he was a good tactician as well as a very able leader, who successfully allied Kandor with its fellow Borderland nations against both the threat of the Blight to the north and also from attack by the southern kingdoms. Some historians claim, however, that his importance has been overstated, that he had able and shrewd military and political advisors and accomplished military commanders whose efforts contributed greatly to the end result, but for whatever reason Kandor survived and persevered as a nation and Jarel Soukovni’s name will never be forgotten..

 

 

They had spoken at length about the country - and terrain - they were travelling into, preparing for this next stage of their journey.

 

They rode up and down the many hills that covered this southern part of Kandor, their travelling cloaks flapping behind them in the forceful wind, their loyal mounts carrying them steadfastly onward toward their destination.

 

Elessar was coming home.

 

He had accepted Kathleen’s kind offer to visit his homeplace on this journey into the north, having decided that it was time for him to face his past, time to meet his family again, but at the same time he felt some unease at the prospect. Old grievances could easily resurface. Old pains. Old sorrows. Even so, it was time after so many years.

 

For better or for worse.

 

 

Elessar came from a minor Kandori noble House, the Telcontar, which originated  - through inter-marriage - from a subsection of the more famous - and powerful - Kandori House of Arrel. The Telcontar family estate was situated just outside the Kandori city of Canluum, a medium sized city that was walled, with a wide dry moat surrounding, crossed by five bridges. The people of Canluum had always taken pride in the fact that although Myrddraal Shadowspawn had struck as far south and further, none had ever made it inside the city walls. Elessar and his family had shared in this pride, and like all Kandori had staunchly been fighting the Shadow and all it stood for as long as anyone could remember.

 

Though he had not visited his homeland for many years, Elessar had listened with interest when rumours and hearsay regarding Kandor had reached his ears on his travels and - on occasion - from fellow (travelling) Gaidin in the White Tower.

 

They stopped for the night in the hill town of Zimaath,  several days’ ride south of Canluum. It was a small rugged town with two main roads and only about four dozen or so houses, a smithy, a couple of shops and other required establishments - and an inn. A weather-worn sign hanging above the front entrance proclaimed it to be ‘The Northern Blade’, and Elessar and Kathleen left their horses in the stables behind the establishment before entering to get a couple of rooms. The innkeeper, an aging Saldaean by the looks of him - the bold, prominent nose and slightly upturned, almond-shaped eyes were clear indicators of his origins -, bobbed his head in respect at the Aes Sedai when she asked for a room and lead them quickly upstairs to the level above to a pair of adjoining rooms. Elessar brought their travelling bags - and saddle bags - and soon after they were resting each in their own room.

 

 

They had agreed to meet downstairs for a meal, after a bath and a little rest, and when the Warder was done with his bath and had clothed himself he lay down on his bed and closed his eyes for a moment. He felt Kathleen through the Bond, in the next room, and he smiled inwardly. The inward smile was accompanied with a sigh, though. Things were always complicated - and that was also the case with his present Bond.

 

He did feel pleased with his Bond with Kathleen. He was out in the world again, no longer ‘trapped’ in the White Tower as he had felt in his former Bond, he was doing something worthwhile, and he felt at home with the Green(s). There was something he shared with Kathleen, something he felt they had in common, something which had ‘clicked’ with her just as it had with Leandreen so many years earlier.

 

Even so, something was not working between them.

 

 

It was hard for him to pinpoint exactly what. They spoke and shared stories at times, but there was a certain distance between them. There were many long silences, many unshared looks. And he was often lost in thought, the emerald green of Leandreen often returning in his mind’s eye. Perhaps his lack of total focus shone through. He did not know how Kathleen truly felt though, so it could be that he was reading too much into things.

 

They had had a good moment together that evening, some days earlier, when she had told him of her shared interest in politics and history. It pleased him to have found a kindred soul, passionate about history and stories. From his earlier sharing of poetry and stories with her he had gotten the impression that she appreciated and enjoyed the storytelling, but it was somehow different to get it explicitly confirmed. He had listened with interest as she had told of how she had been drawn to the Browns and Grays when young and of her mission to end a feud between a couple of Murandian noble families.

 

When she had brought forth a journal and pen from her travelling bag, it had made him think of Carys, his former Bondholder, who had also travelled with such a journal in which she had drawn and written on occasion. Perhaps it was an Aes Sedai thing? She had met his questioning look with an explanation that this was the journal she had started during her days as Initiate of the Greens. Elessar had immediately thought of Leandreen and something she had once told him regarding those early days. Kathleen had explained further how she had used the journal to write down thoughts, emotions and fears that she could not share with others. Then she had offered to share some of her own early poetry from that time. Elessar had nodded, excited, showing clear interest, and then she had begun telling her story. He had enjoyed the poem much, the parts about ‘green emeralds’ and ‘the green sword’ resonating especially strongly, and had given her praise afterwards.

 

 

When she had finished, she had put the book open in her lap. She had said that it was not as good as those he had shared, nor as good as some of her later things, but there it was, her first poem as a Green.

 

He had praised her again, appreciating the poem - and - her sharing the story with him.

 

For a moment he had felt that distance between them diminish…

 

 

Nothing is ever easy, thought the Gaidin now as he reminisced.

 

Warder-Sedai partnerships were not uncomplicated things and demanded work from both parties to function well. At least as long as the Aes Sedai wished for a fruitful, efficient, respectful partnership with her Warder in their service to the Tower and the Light. He knew of Warders who were Bonded to Sisters who treated their Warders poorly, without compassion, without empathy, with little respect, harsh and demanding. The Warders did their duty nevertheless, without complaint, but it was not a meaningful working partnership as Elessar saw it. Thankfully none of his own Bonded Sedai had been like that. They had all been different persons though, just as all men and women were individuals with their traits and mannerisms, and making the partnership work efficiently and well with mutual trust and effectiveness had taken some time and adjustments in each case. And each Bond had turned out well, as Elessar saw it, but never without things to work out, things to smooth over, things to overcome. It took effort and time.

 

But sometimes the difficulties were too large to overcome, as had been the case with Kathleen.

 

And sometimes….. things got much worse. Much more painful.

 

 

Turning the blade, he begun to polish the other side.

 

It made him think of Leandreen, his first Bondholder, who had died on him to his everlasting regret and pain. He hid that everlasting pain in the back of his mind, locked into a compartment with ‘iron hinges’, but his soul would sometimes cry out for Leandreen in the deep of night..

 

He remembered..

 

 

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

 

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

 

Utter and incredible shock.

 

His world came crashing down upon him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh dear Creator. Noooooo!

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh Leandreen.. I am so sorry.

 

So sorry.

 

The bitter irony of it all was that they had chanced upon this group of Trollocs by accident there in the foothills north-east of the Arafel city of Shol Arbela. On their way toward northern Shienar, on a mission for the White Tower, they had stumbled upon the creatures and battle had arisen. Elessar had felt the taint of the Dark One from a way off, as Warders were gifted with through the bond to a Sister, but partially distracted by something Leandreen had commented on he had misinterpreted the direction of the danger - a fatal mistake - and before he could assess the situation further it was too late. Leandreen was a proud and capable Sister of the Battle Ajah and had fought valiantly against the Shadowspawn, shielded but on the attack, felling a huge number of them with the One Power just as others fell to Elessar’s deadly sword-action. A momentary lapse of concentration due to exhaustion, however, was enough for her to let her defences down for just a second and three poisoned arrows found their mark in her ribs.

 

Oh Leandreen.. Forgive me..

 

 

Sadness was replaced by grief for Elessar.

Utter grief and a feeling of desolation.

 

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

 

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

 

His eyes blacked over.

 

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

 

He was a Harbinger of Death..

 

 

Elessar’s vision misted over and his dark eyes took on a painful cast..

 

Painful memories where he had danced with madness and death..

 

Carrain Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah had saved him.. had prevented him from killing himself in a mad killing spree in the Blight.. had determined that he still had service to give.. had Bonded him to save him..

 

 

His polishing strokes became harder, more vigorous on the steel as he remembered, everything so vividly..

 

 

Leandreen

 

..Memories flashing in his mind..

 

Carrain Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah looked at her newly bonded Warder, feeling his pain.

 

"You share your Leandreen's loyalties, I see." She said.

 

His eyes met hers and his gaze intensified as he said, with emotion, ”I hate the Shadow, always have, always will. So did Leandreen. Our lives were formed around fighting the Shadow at every step, every corner. And in the end, she died fighting the Shadow. Those bandits that ambushed us and killed her were Darkfriends, I am sure of it. I just wish I had killed them all.”

 

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

 

 

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

 

Oh Leandreen, forgive me.

 

...Words whispered on the winds of time…

 

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

 

Goodbye Leandreen.


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