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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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Why did I react that way? Myrrhi wondered. Her reaction annoyed her. It made her feel angry. She wasn't supposed to be squeamish. She was an Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah. Years of training had taught her that she needed to do what needed to be done, and how to live with it. She had to focus on the Greater Good, about the Last Battle, about her loyalty to the White Tower. These were perfect reasons to justify her actions.

She had already crossed some lines she thought she would never cross. Shirrù was not the first man Elessar and her had interrogated. They had killed — taken the life — of many people. Wasn't death worse than what had happened to the dark haired darkfriend? What was the pulling of a tooth compared to the certitude that someone would never take another breath?

My Sisters would probably laugh at me... And still, the young woman felt guilty. The memory of that night in Ebou Dar kept playing in her head. Should she have changed anything, behaved differently? And why again was this bothering her so much.

The Bond sometimes hauled her back to reality. She knew her emotions were strong enough for her Gaidin to understand that something was wrong with her. The easy path would have been to talk with him. Talking usually eased her thoughts.

Unfortunately, Myrrhi didn't know what she should say. Should she declare that she had now a weak stomach and that they needed to refrain from physical contacts with darkfriends? This wouldn't make any sense. This wasn't what she wanted either. She knew it. There was something else... another explanation, that she needed to discover.

And she did, a dream brought her the missing piece.

They had been traveling for a while, and Elessar had suggested they would make an early break to camp for the night. Myrrhi had agreed. Staying on horseback would have meant more time for her to torture herself. She participated as effectively as she could to the set up of the camp. She even found a way to prepare some berry tea that she slowly drank while leafing through one of the books she had taken with her.

Reading asked her too much effort, however. And so, she decided to change tactics to empty her mind after having tried and failed to read the same page a dozen times. Instead of diving into her history chronicles, she engaged in a light conversation with Elessar. It wasn't easy to allow herself to focus on something else than her inner dialogue but when she eventually did she felt herself opening on Elessar's tales about his past missions.

The moon was already quite high in the sky when they both retired to their sleeping mats and surprisingly, Myrrhi fell fast asleep.

Myrrhi was young, way younger than she was now. Her hair was braided and decorated with pink ribbons that matched her dress and her doll. Some days she felt stupid for still having a doll. Many girls her age had abandoned theirs or offered them to their little sisters. Myrrhi had kept hers. It had been a present from a long dead neighbour who had told her that the toy had magical powers. "You will never feel lonely if she's with you..." that's what the neighbour had said, but Myrrhi still felt terribly lonely. Maybe a bit less lonely with her doll, but still very lonely.

On that summer day the weather had been so warm she had decided to play with her doll on the window sill, her legs hanging towards the usually empty street. Her sisters were sleeping in the little cot behind her, her mother and her new step-dad were doing she didn't know what she didn't know where. This was a splendid time to enjoy herself.

She was mimicking the voice of the doll when a boy surprised her. He was standing in the street right below her window a package in his hands. He immediately mocked her. "Aren't you too old to play with a doll?" He asked with a grin. "Or are you super tall for your age?" "Leave me alone," she replied.

The boy kept on teasing her "Don't you want to play with real people?" "It sounds like your doll is smarter than you..."He went on... until the doll brusquely crashed on the middle of his face leaving a growing bruise. "Ouch!" Surprised, he caught his nose and ran away.


The boy came back the next day, first to tease her, then to talk with her. After a couple of weeks, they had become fat friends. They would probably have become more than friends if her mother hadn't intervened.
When she learned her daughter was having good times with the boy — who unfortunately was only a stable hand — she severly punished Myrrhi (her daughter had other uses than to marry her pauper) doubling all her chores and making her work for some of her acquaintances.

She didn't stop there. She also dearly paid the boy's employer to have him beaten up. Things got out of hands. The boy was badly injured, lost an eye as well as the sense of hearing.
Myrrhi learned about it all from her mother's lips...



When Myrrhi woke up, she had a disagreeable taste in her mouth. That boy she had completely forgotten about could have been Schirrù's brother. She could see it now. They had the same long jet-black hair, the same eyebrows. Even the shape of their eyes looked pretty much alike. Too much time had passed for Schirrù to have been her friend, and the darkfriend's eyes and ears were working perfectly well. But the resemblance — even if it was reinforced by the dream must have been one of the reasons why she had reacted that way to Schirrù's interrogation.

And so she told her Gaidin as soon as they hit the road once again.
 

 

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..  Ballad of the Lost Prince ..

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They stopped another time before they reached the town of Alkindar.

 

Resting their valiant horses by some tall willows enclosing a small piece of grassland, Myrrhi and Elessar enjoyed some light talk while rays from the late afternoon golden sun sliced through the leaves on the trees.

 

The Gaidin’s mind was elsewhere though. He was thinking back on what Myrrhi had told him after they had left camp further south. About her earlier experiences in life with the similar-looking boy that could in part explain her unusual reaction to the interrogation of the Darkfriend in Ebou Dar. He had believed her, but he had also been convinced there was more to it. Battle Ajah Sisters were not squeamish, trained to be hard and efficient in their fight against the Shadow and being ready for the Last Battle, as he knew from his Green Bondholders, and Myrrhi was no different. He and she had after all been through several battles and interrogations in the time they had been Bonded. He hoped she was not ‘losing the edge’, her nerve as it were, which could put their working relationship in danger. Warder and Sedai were an effective and efficient unit in a Bond, working in tandem and dependent on one another, and he was concerned if anything damaged that ‘balance’.

 

Myrrhi did not say anything more, but he felt sure she would add to what she had said later. His mind also returned to his memories of his former Bondholders. He presumed that it was his concern over Myrrhi that had triggered those memories, they were part of him and his history, but he knew that he needed to concentrate on the present. Leandreen’s emerald green eyes flashed in his mind though he pushed them away to focus on what Myrrhi was saying. She probably saw that he was a little unfocused, but maybe thinking of her own challenges while talking lightly she did not say anything about it.

 

 

Soon they gathered their horses again, mounted and continued their journey northwards.

 

They arrived in Alkindar as twilight was approaching. The small town was located on the west bank of the River Eldar and they passed several merchant’s shops, a smithy and a couple of inns along the busy main street. Spending the night in one of those inns, enjoying sleeping in a bed once again after several nights on the ground in woodlands - and the pleasure of a bath as Myrrhi had pointed out -, they departed the inn early the next morning and headed for the quay. It was a cloudy day with a strong western wind, the weather having taken a turn for the worse during the night, and there would be rain later in the morning. Alkindar had a sister-town called Coramen on the east bank of the Eldar and there was a ferry connecting the two towns. Myrrhi and Elessar led their horses down the street and onto the ferry and kept them company, soothing them as the mounts were restless, on the journey across the water. There were several dozen other travelers on the ferry as well, locals and strangers alike. They seemed focused on their own business, however, and did not pay the Warder and Sedai much mind. Elessar as always managed to observe everyone and everything without seeming to do so, a very useful Warder trait, keeping alert.

 

When they disembarked and stepped onto the east side of the river, they saw that Coramen looked almost identical to Alkindar in all ways, a ‘mirror’-town in truth. They passed an inn called ‘The Eastern Swan’ which was a mirror image, at least on the outside (and very probably on the inside), of ‘The Western Swan’ where they had spent the previous night. Elessar commented on it as they rode past but Myrrhi seemed lost in her own thoughts and did not reply. Dust rose behind them on the road as they continued onwards.

 

They had considered whether to follow the Great North Road all the way to Maderin a good way further north and then to head eastwards, but after some discussion had decided they would instead turn eastwards after Jurador, a large stone-walled town to the north, which they believed would save them some time. Arriving in Jurador a few days later they saw that there was indeed a large stone wall surrounding the town. It was quite imposing. The buildings were roofed with reddish tiles and they also passed a palace in the town’s main square which they guessed belonged to the local ruler, a person of Nobility. There were many people about as it was mid-afternoon and Elessar and Myrrhi rode slowly past various shops, vendors, carriages waiting for their customers and the buzz of people running to and fro. They found an inn some streets past the main square and left their horses by the stable in the care of a stable boy who appreciatively caught the coin Elessar threw him.

 

Entering the “Southern Rose” they soon found the innkeeper, a heavy-set man with an apron and a huge smile who stood behind a large desk. He soon got them some rooms and directed a maid to help them with their travelling bags. He was polite and welcoming but Elessar, who had seen countless innkeepers on his travels with his various Sedais over the years, recognized the look in the man’s eyes. The man was not overly pleased to have Aes Sedai customers but would not make an issue of it. Finding their rooms, Elessar’s smaller one beside the larger one for Myrrhi, they settled in and met up down in the inn’s Common Room later that evening to enjoy a meal and some gleeman entertainment.

 

 

Roast beef with potatoes and gravy plus some vegetables tasted deliciously, Elessar thought and from the look on Myrrhi’s face she seemed to enjoy the meal too. It was a nice change from simpler camp fare. The gleeman, a middle-aged, brown haired, dark eyed tall man with his cloak of many colourful patches, played the flute and the Gaidin recognized some of the melodies. The Common Room was about half-full and they had taken a table near the back. The customers, or guests as the innkeeper pointed out, were the usual mix of quiet listeners, relaxing foreigners, chatting locals and rowdy (drunk) men but they all seemed to enjoy the entertainment and so did Elessar. When the gleeman started singing, the Warder’s attention increased because he loved hearing the poems and stories these gleeman told. Myrrhi could see the glow in his eyes and knew how much such stories meant to him. She enjoyed storytelling too, but her mind was partly on other things.

 

When the gleeman said he was going to sing the ‘Ballad of the Lost Prince’, Elessar smiled in anticipation. This was a song or poem he did not think he had heard before, and it was always a pleasure to learn and see something new performed. He always enjoyed the re-telling of old songs and poems - moments of history and moments of fantasy - they were great to experience time and time again, but it was always a little special and exciting when he learned something new.

 

He listened attentively in fascinated enjoyment while the gleeman spun his tale of the ‘Lost Prince’ and his fate.

 

 

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‘Ballad of the Lost Prince’

 

A Prince he Was, with duties Clear

In Castle Great, there was no Fear

He would not follow King’s Decree

Or from the Land could swiftly Flee

 

For our dear Prince a Love had Found

A Maiden sweet, not Royal-Bound

And so abscond, seemed only Choice

He left his Life, Love oh’Rejoice!

 

The King sent soldiers, searching Far

But found no Prince, ‘neath Heaven or Star

Where could he be? The Prince was Lost

In Land and Time, and borders Crossed

 

But then Afar, a rumour Grew

That Prince and Maiden, people Knew

Were living in a village Small

There hidden from the Royal Call

 

The King sent messengers to Find

His Son and Heir, his Oath to Bind

The Prince, however, ran Anew

Was Lost again, where? no one Knew

 

Years they passed, no Prince was Seen

As if the Heir had never Been

The King gave up, the Queen’s tears Flowed

Duty to King and country was Owed

 

But then one day, a visitor Came

He looked familiar, but wouldn’t say his Name

A farmer of Trade, he had Produce to Sell

And insisted the King should buy as Well

 

And lo and behold, it was their Son!

Come back from Beyond, their eyes to Stun

Embraced he had, new Life and Love

Forsaking his Past, taking solace from Above

 

The King and Queen were shocked but in Joy

Their son was alive, now a man, not a Boy

Forgiven was the Past, now a time to be Glad

And meeting his Wife, a new family to be Had

 

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Elessar joined the other guests and customers in the Common Room in giving the gleeman well deserved applause after his performance. The Warder had really enjoyed this new song and poem and the gleeman was quite talented, he had to admit.

 

He and Myrrhi left the Common Room a little later, they had some more light talk and then went to their rooms for the night. They would continue their journey the following morning but for now their beds and sleep beckoned.

 

 

It was several days later in early evening, a few hours after Myrrhi and Elessar had turned off the main road to cut across country, that it happened! They were heading eastwards through rough, rugged and wild terrain - part woodlands, part hill country - when they were suddenly and unexpectedly set upon by a pack of wild wolves!

 

“Wolves!” the Warder screamed, the only warning Elessar had time to give Myrrhi, as he drew his sword blade and turned his war horse around to face the oncoming wolves.

 

Their feral eyes glowed golden yellow in the half-light as they came running like the wind.

 

And as the huge grey pack leading wolf jumped at his black stallion Stormbreaker from the side, Elessar’s blade swung in a deadly arc, cutting deeply into the wolf’s neck, almost severing its head.

 

As more grey shadows threw themselves at their horses, sharp teeth flashing, his Warder blade swung again and again in ever deadly arcs.


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"This ballad was splendid," Myrrhi smiled. Once more, she hummed the melody. "I guess I really needed some good entertainment." She made a small pause, then went on commenting on the previous evening and the way the innkeeper had behaved around her.

"Do you remember his face when I asked him to personally fetch our drinks during the whole time we were in this establishment? He would have chocked on his own saliva." She grinned then sighed."Can't he understand that Aes Sedai are on his side?"

Myrrhi shook her head. Schirrù's face briefly came to her mind but it didn't break her good mood. Her talk with Elessar and a good night of sleep had helped her cope with her emotions. Flashes of her youth still came to her when she was on her own, but she had managed to push them all away so far.

She had wanted to say as much to her Warder when ...

Wolves!” the Warder shouted. It took a while for Myrrhi to comprehend what was going on. "Wo.. ?" She didn't allow herself to finish. As soon as her eyes found the wild creatures, she reached for Saidar. It didn't take her long, just a fraction of a second.

She heard her Warder draw his sword. With a flick of the wrist, he turned his horse to face the animals. A shield between her and the incoming danger.

The Aes Sedai fought her will to join his side to quickly assess the situation. The horses that couldn't be scared, the snarling wolves moving closer, Elessar who was right in front of her, ... She suddenly recalled something she had read in a book.Wolves never attacked in a single line. If some were facing them, others must have sneaked in their backs!

Trusting Elessar to stand his ground, she turned right on time to avoid a deadly injury. A wolf had jumped to strike either her or her mare. Before the creature could reach his target a powerful weave of air sent him flying towards a bed of bushes.

 "Here we go!" She whispered between her teeth before sending another weave in the same direction. The vegetation resisted Saidar, but not its inoccupants. More wolves, at least a dozen of them protested.  

Myrrhi was going to warn her Warder when she heard Stormbreaker neighs of protest. The wolves on her Warder's side had attacked!

Could she risk taking her eyes away from her opponents? She decided against it.
Grey shapes gathered a couple of feet away from her frightened mare. The Green readied herself, she dismounted in a jump intent on not waiting for the creatures to take any more initiatives. With Air again, she struck her targets as far as she could. Fire would come later, when she was certain that she would only damaged her opponents - and not the too-dry-trees and branches scattered everywhere. 

 

 

 

 

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..  Dances With Wolves (Redux) ..

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Elessar was caught in a Dance of the Blade.

 

Several vicious wolves threw themselves at him as he moved aside and his sword blade swung in lethal arcs, cutting into flesh and bone.

 

He had been forced to dismount after the first charge of the wolves, having placed himself in the center of the charge as a protective shield in front of his Aes Sedai, Myrrhi.

 

He had killed two wolves from horseback including their pack leader, but soon saw that it would be easier for him to fight on the ground. His war horse was battle-experienced but even so neighed in protest and some unease at the charging wolves as all horses instinctively would, Elessar therefore sent his valiant mount, with a smack on the rump, into the trees to his right, to what appeared to be safety, and faced the beasts on his feet.

 

 

Out of the corner of his eyes he registered Myrrhi fighting, sending wolves flying with what had to be weaves of Air. He had seen Leandreen use those weaves in battle also. He felt Myrrhi’s focused determination through the Bond and he was pleased to see her fighting so proficiently and confidently. Wolves never attack in a single line, the Warder had learned over the years, and it was obvious that this pack had charged from several directions at the same time.

 

His sword swung again and his blade struck into the belly of a charging, snarling wolf. It’s fierce golden eyed stare fixated on him, softened into blankness as it died bleeding at his feet. Turning momentarily to glance over his shoulder at Myrrhi, he saw that she was keeping the wolves there at bay.

 

Another wolf suddenly came in from the left and snapped at his legs. He had to move quickly to avoid those salivating jaws and stepped aside smoothly, at the same time bringing his blade down in a dangerous arc which missed the snout of the beast by an inch. It jumped to the side and the Gaidin struck with the sword again, this time biting into the hind part of the wolf. It yelped in pain and sprang to the side, clearly injured but perhaps not lethally so.

 

The thrill of battle, if one could call it so, enveloped the Gaidin and he was one with his sword, focused and determined, but cloaked in the Flame and the Void. A few more wolves growled off to his right but did not attack him straight away. They circled his position as he took stock of the situation. Looking quickly toward the trees he did not see Stormbreaker which was a good sign. He had hoped his stallion would go further into the trees and brush to apparent safety. The wolves seemed intent on human flesh this day, whether spurred on by instinct alone or by something more who could tell, and did not go after the horses. Myrrhi had also sent her mare into the trees, seeing the wisdom in what Elessar had done.

 

 

Standing his ground, he considered the situation.

 

Another snarling wolf flew through the air away from Myrrhi; her weaves appeared effective. He knew from his many years with Leandreen that a Battle Ajah Sister had several different weaves at her disposal and Myrrhi would have other uses of Saidar at hand if necessary. He was still several dozen feet from her and a couple of grey beasts stood between him and her. He resisted the temptation to fight his way through to stand by her side, it was easier for him to fight the wolves with ample space around him when there were so many of them. Though they were a little apart they were fighting in tandem as they should.

 

Two wolves approaching from the other side, golden eyes fierce and jaws snapping, caught his attention and he adopted the right stance, had his deadly blade at the ready, and waited for them to attack.

 

Just as they jumped through the air right at him, a third shadow came at him from the back! He cursed inside, having missed the third beast through momentary inattention, and as he swung his sword at the two wolves coming at him, striking the first with a deadly blow to the ribs and the second with a crushing blow to the skull, he felt the third wolf’s teeth snapping at his leg, biting into flesh. He cursed aloud this time, twisting just in time to avoid those razor-sharp teeth biting deeply into his leg. Swinging his sword he mortally wounded the beast. Breathing heavily from the exertion, he quickly examined his leg in the half-light and tried to ignore the pain.

 

 

From the little he could see the wound was shallow, but wounds could easily fester in the wild and his blooded leg would need seeing to. He knew Myrrhi would have felt his injury through the Bond and he thought he saw her turn her gaze toward him for a moment before she had to face another of the ferocious beasts. He put some weight on his leg and was relieved to find that he could move almost as well as normally. Even so, he had to change his balance a little to compensate for the slightly stronger other leg.

 

 

The dangerous Dance with the Wolves continued.

 

And then it stopped.

 

They had taken care of most of the pack but a dozen or so snarling beasts, dangerous shadows of grey, circled them now as they both moved slowly toward one another, soon standing back to back, Bonded Warder and Aes Sedai joined in battle!

 

 

”The Wolf fights with its Soul,

So beware, Stranger!”

 

Old Saying, Unknown Origin

 
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Myrrhi felt a jolt of pain through the bond. She turned for a quick glance. A wolf had bitten her Warder's leg. Immediately she readied a weave but soon saw it wouldn't be necessary. Elessar swiftly moved away from the beast, out of its reach. With a swing of his blade, he pierced the hind part of its opponent.

 

The terrified neigh of her mare pulled her attention back to her side of the fight.

 

Another wolf was approaching, soon it would jump. The Green switched Air for Fire and sent a thin thread towards its head. The beast collapsed.

 

Myrrhi was ready to summon another thread when another group of wolves appeared out of the bushes on her left. Again she switched. A large blast of Air what was she needed.

 

"There's no end to them," she shouted.

 

Once more she felt that the Gaidin was injured. This time however she resisted the urge to check on him. There were too many creatures in front of her. Blast after blast she got rid of as many wolves as she could.

 

The ones she didn't knocked unconscious came back, but one at a time, leaving her the opportunity for more precise - and deadlier - attacks. She managed to kill or to severely injure most of the beasts on her side before they could do any kind of serious damage. Only one of them managed to bite her mare's neck while another almost reached her legs. They didn't live long, though. They didn't manage to escape Saidar.

 

 After what seemed to have been hours, the grey shapes laying in front of her stopped moving. Myrrhi took the opportunity to join Elessar's side.


***

 

"Such a pity," Myrrhi said looking at the dead creatures.

 

She found it strange that so many wolves had attacked them. They didn't even look hungry. They had quite some fat under their fur,  a proof that they had not attacked humans because they were starving - which was usually the case. She would talk about it with Elessar. Maybe he knew things about wolves? Could it be that they were sent by a channeler or a darkfriend? Now was not the time for questions, though. First she needed to look after the Gaidin.

 

She invited him to sit down so she could take care of his injury. He knew that even if she wasn't a Yellow she remembered a couple of useful healing weave. Weaves good enough for a quick fix on a battlefield.

 

Opening one of her bags, she laughed. "So, what do you prefer? Saidar or good old bandages?"

 

Her mare neighed, as if to announced that she would prefer bandages.

 

 

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..  In the Aftermath of Battle ..

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Back to back, the Warder and his Aes Sedai fought off the attacking wolves!

 

They came at them from Elessar’s side, golden yellow eyes fixed on the two humans, sharp teeth flashing, as the Gaidin’s blade swung at them and Myrrhi sent blast after blast at them, Air and Fire wrought by Saidar smashing into the grey beasts.

 

Finally they were all dead and the stench of burning flesh covered the nearby area.

 

 

Holding onto his sword in case any more beasts came rushing through the trees, Elessar surveyed the ground and the carnage around them. By his side Myrrhi’s eyes went to the dead creatures as well and he heard her whisper “Such a pity”, a comment which did surprise him somewhat. Having been brought up in the Borderlands he was no stranger to wolves and neither did he have special love for them. He knew they were not evil creatures, but even so they were wild beasts that he felt no remorse for killing when attacked like they had been this day. There were many sides to Myrrhi that he did not understand even if they had been Bonded a fair while by now, but then again to understand women in general was something men were not meant to, he often had thought to himself with a lopsided grin and a straight face.

 

He did wonder why this huge pack - or had there been several? he considered, looking at the amount of dead creatures - had attacked them so ferociously. He noted that the wolves looked well fed and so they had not attacked because they were starving. Even though wolves hunted for food and took the opportunities they got, they did not in his experience hunt to kill humans in this way. He wondered again if some outside.. influence could have spurred them on. Was the Shadow involved somehow? Little was known regarding Shadowspawn influence on other creatures though there had always been rumours among trackers that ravens were used as scouts for the Shadow. Others scoffed at this, but who could tell? Perhaps other creatures as well could be used to further the Dark One’s cause. These were strange times, storms were coming and the world was changing - Elessar felt it in his bones - and so he would not disregard anything.

 

His gaze settled on his Aes Sedai again and now he felt weariness creep up on him. The added strength he got from the Bond meant he could fight strongly and push himself much longer than would be the case without the Bond, but even so there were limits and he now felt the exhaustion of the exertion run through his body as the adrenaline stopped pumping. He also felt the injury in his leg which he had ignored while he fought. Myrrhi saw his face contorting in a grimace of pain and asked him to sit down so she could take care of his injury. He knew from before that she had some Healing skills with the One Power even though she was not a Yellow Sister like his former Bondholders Carys and Carrain had been. It was not a serious injury he knew from experience, but the wound could indeed fester and needed to be taken care of.

 

Opening one of her bags, Myrrhi laughed. "So, what do you prefer? Saidar or good old bandages?"


Her mare neighed, as if to announced that she would prefer bandages.

 

 

Elessar gave his Aes Sedai a wry grin. “Bandages, huh?” He chuckled. “Were I in my father’s estate in Kandor having had an accident in the woods, bandages might have done nicely. Out here on the road, in wild country with who knows what waiting for us behind the next corner, I think we need something more forceful and instant. So please, some Healing if you could.”

 

The small grin that was her response was of the kind that men never were able to figure out. For it could mean that she was pleased with what he had said, or that she was amused by it, or that she was laughing inside at him, or that she was considering what she felt about what he had said. Or all those things at the same time. Women! How could a man, a simple being, ever understand them?

 

She did not say anything, and shifted her attention to his wounded leg and pressed her hand over the wound. Filled with Saidar, she let the Healing weaves settle over her Warder’s wound and watched it close and gradually disappear. Elessar felt a rush for a moment as the One Power was being applied on him, then sighed as all pain was gone. He felt added weariness but that was a side effect of Healing and knew that some food and rest would give him energy again. The main thing was that his injury was gone and he thanked Myrrhi for what she had done. She smiled back at him but what thoughts were running through her mind he could not tell.

 

Myrrhi then went to take care of her injured mare. She had run back from the trees some time during their battle with the wolves from what Elessar could understand, but it had all been so confusing so he could not tell for sure. Getting to his feet, feeling a slight dizziness, he walked slowly into the trees still carrying his blade. He could not sense any danger anywhere but would take no chances. He hoped Stormbreaker had not run too far into the woods but was glad that his valiant stallion had escaped the jaws of hungry wolves. He had to cover some ground before he finally found the black horse by a small brook where it was drinking water. Stormbreaker neighed happily when he saw the Warder and Elessar clapped him affectionately on the back before leading him back to where Myrrhi waited. She wore a smile when she saw that Elessar’s horse was safe and well.

 

They sat down to talk a little while Elessar ate some dried beef and bread to regain his strength after the Healing. Myrrhi took the opportunity to ask him about his knowledge of wolves and he shared what he knew. She agreed with him that it was mysterious how these packs of wolves had attacked them in this way, seemingly driven on by more than hunger. They had enemies out there, they agreed, and had to take care in case the Shadow did make use of animals to hunt down adversaries.

 

 

An hour or so later they were on their way eastwards again. It was near dark by then but neither of them had any desire to camp so close to a field of battle. They agreed they would carry on carefully for a mile or so through the hill country further east before making camp. And so they rode slowly as Myrrhi’s mare also needed to step carefully after her ordeal. In the light of the moon above they traversed the paths they found, speaking little as they rode, following the terrain as best they could.

 

Finally Elessar stopped and waved for Myrrhi to dismount. They were in a place which would serve as their camp site for the night; it was sheltered in part by trees, in part by a small hillock at their back. Elessar tethered their horses while Myrrhi set up camp. Elessar then walked the perimeter to ensure there were no hungry wolves nearby, as he had said mock-humourously to his Bondholder as he walked away.

 

He neither saw nor heard anything and returned to the camp where Myrrhi had warmed up some tea. They ate a little more and drank some tea together, talked a little about what had happened and what lay ahead, before saying goodnight. Elessar remained in his half-awake, half-sleep state throughout the night which passed uneventfully.

 

 

The next day dawned sunny and bright and they were on their way in early morning. They rode slowly at first but picked up speed past midday. The terrain was not the easiest to travel in - they found paths and small roads in places but much of the trek was across country, through woods, up and down hills and through areas filled with brush and patches of grass - but they still believed the journey would be shorter this way than following the main roads further north. Elessar rode back at intervals to check that they were not being followed and sometimes also a little ahead to ensure no surprises were waiting for them. They spoke at times when their progress was slower, but often were lost in their own thoughts as their mounts carried them ever eastwards.

 

A week or so later - or was it two? Time blurred in Elessar’s mind as each day merged with the next in a similar fashion - they arrived in the eastern Altaran town of Moisen. The latter parts of their journey had been through mountainous country which had made their progress much slower since they needed to go very carefully to ensure their horses remained safe, and so they were very pleased when they finally arrived in this small town which was not too far from the border to Illian.

 

They rode into town on an early afternoon as rain poured from the skies and found shelter in an inn that was called “The Southern Maid”. Elessar first made sure their tired and drenched mounts were taken well care of in the stables behind the establishment. He then joined Myrrhi inside and they were quickly led to their rooms, this time by the bobbing innkeeper himself. The Warder carried all their belongings and placed Myrrhi’s bags in her room before going to his own room.

 

The last thing Elessar said, was asking Myrrhi if she was looking forward to a nice hot bath? He could see from her responding grin that she would be in the bath tub within the hour!

 

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Healing? This man really trusts me. Myrrhi nodded feeling proud. Her Warder's choice shouldn't have surprised her. He knew what her skills were. He had witnessed her creating intricate weaves to defeat enemies, to protect innocents and for even stranger purposes. Why would he distrust her ability to do something as simple as healing bites?

He hadn't assisted to her classes where she - as a Novice then as an Accepted - had had to fight to master the One Power.

The young Green still thought about these days. The failures, after failures. The scolding of her teachers. The chores she had been assigned to because she couldn't weave properly enough. These days were long gone. She had been an Aes Sedai for years now, and had had the opportunity to prove herself so many times.

But it was not these times that Myrrhi thought about most of the time. Unfortunately.

Elessar's wound was nasty - or would have been nasty if he had been just a man. She looked at the wound and pressed her hands around it as she sent tendrils of Saidar to verify the extent of the injury. Once she was certain of its depth and width, she summoned the healing threads that would bind the Gaidin's flesh. It didn't take long for Elessar's leg to return to its immaculate but hairy state.

"Thank you." Elessar said with a smile, that Myrrhi returned. She felt how exhausted the Gaidin was. The fight itself added to the healing procedure had their cost. There was little she could do, however. Except to offer him water or some food. But before taking further care of her companion she decided to direct her attention to the horses.

First, she went her mare that she healed as well. She was thinking about having a look at Stormbeaker as well but the Gaidin had gotten ahead of her. He was stroking the nose of his stallion when she turned to join them.

"You shouldn't have moved," she told him gently. She handed him a slice of dried beef she had retrieved from her satchel. "Here, let's have some rest. Because there's no way, we're spending the night here!"

***

When Elessar waved Myrrhi to dismount, she almost chocked. We are going to camp in the open? After what happened with the wolves? This man is crazy.

But, as her Warder had trusted her, the young Green decided to trust him in return. The place he had chosen for them to rest was lovely in truth. The thick patch of green grass was they would camp was bordered by large trees that would shelter them from the wind - and if the rain if there would be any.

Myrrhi was setting up the camp like usual, first taking care of the fire, when Elessar announced that we would be scouting the area "to ensure that there were no hungry wolves nearby".

That was the time when the Green almost chocked a second time that day.

"I hope this is a joke," she answered glaring. And she kept on glaring when she saw the wide grin on her Warder's face when he returned.

"I didn't see nor hear anything," he assured her.

"If I see even the tip of a wolves tail, you will be in trouble. Be sure of that."

They stayed silent for half a second then started laughing.


***

A warm bath. Myrrhi purred like a cat. After so much rain, and such a exhausting journey on horse back, she really needed to pamper herself a bit. On top of her usual soap, she used a good amount of scented oil and perfume. At last, she was feeling like an Aes Sedai again.

She was pretty sure that the whole room would feel like lilac and gooseberries for weeks. The ladies would love it - or so she hoped - the men ... not so much.

Her self care didn't end up there. She took the time to braid her hair before sending a maid to look for a fresh dress. "Anything would do", she told her. "Green would be preferable but as long as it's something dry, it should do."

The night was still young and she could hear people singing and dancing in the common room.

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Reflections as Darkness falls ..

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Elessar stared out the small window in his room on the second floor of the inn but did not really see anything. His thoughts were elsewhere, thinking back on the last part of their journey here to this small Altaran town of Moisen.

 

He grinned when he thought back on Myrrhi’s reaction to his statement that he would scout the camp area to ensure that there were no hungry wolves nearby. It had almost looked as if she were choking on his words and she had glared at him, saying with clear intent that she hoped it was a joke. Her glare had remained as he returned, assuring Myrrhi the area was safe. She had warned that if she saw even the tip of a wolf’s tail, he would be in trouble. They had stayed silent for half a second, then had started laughing.

 

Elessar hoped she would understand the necessity of laughter in the face of danger when one had escaped its dangerous clutches. The value of lightening the mood sometimes. He had learned how important that was over the years, to keep a sane and focused mind in the midst of the harsh realities of life and death fighting the Shadow.

 

 

He also thought back on her Healing. She had not Healed him using Saidar many times in their companionship as Warder and Sedai, but his former Sedais had done so several times over the years and he knew the benefit of such swift and effective action when one was wounded. He had to admit that his wound this time had been somewhat deeper than he had thought at first, so he was grateful that Myrrhi had been able to Heal his leg.

 

He could not be certain but he thought he had sensed through the Bond that she was not entirely certain he would accept the offer of Healing; she was no Yellow after all, the strongest Sisters in that area, but he knew she had skills. He would always trust her with his life, and with his last breath would fight to protect hers. That made him think of his sacred duty as a Warder: to protect and serve his Aes Sedai to death and beyond. For him this also included protecting her name and integrity, and woe to anyone who dared attack either.

 

 

It was evening and dark outside as he looked down on the neighbouring buildings, his thoughts returning to the present and now registering the lights in the windows below. Hours had gone by since their arrival, he had taken a bath and enjoyed the luxury of warm water, soap and relaxation before returning to his room and reading for a while. A small book shelf in his room had a row of eight books to choose from and he had selected a thick volume which included poetry and stories from the South. Finally he had set the book aside and walked to the small window, gazing out at the village of Moisen.

 

The moment lengthened, but then his attention was drawn toward the corridor outside his room as he felt through the Bond that Myrrhi was on the move. Nodding to himself, he walked across the room and opened his door just as his Aes Sedai was about to knock. She smiled, far from surprised that he had sensed her, and they walked together down toward the Common Room where they could hear people singing and dancing. He noted that she had braided her hair and that she was wearing a fresh green dress that looked as if it belonged. She looked every inch a confident Aes Sedai as she descended the staircase to the first floor with her dark-cloaked Warder at her side. Other guests coming up the stairs stopped in their tracks when they saw the imposing couple coming toward them and they moved aside deferentially as Myrrhi and Elessar walked past. His face was his ordinary stone-cold and a middle-aged brown-haired man in evening clothes who was just about to step onto the staircase, seeing the Gaidin’s hard features and attire took a long step back, eyes wide and remained there until they had passed by.

 

 

The Common Room was almost full, a mixture of locals and foreigners in the crowd, but the fat innkeeper wearing an apron, an Illianer by his looks and thick accent, cleared a table for them near the back when he saw them arrive and they sat down to enjoy the evening’s entertainment and what they hoped would be a delicious meal.

 

The gleeman, a man in his mid-twenties with blond hair, green eyes and a strong build, played several jaunty tunes on his flute as guests danced and sang along, and it was certainly one of the most lively performances Elessar had seen in quite a while. Sipping to his ale, he enjoyed the festivities while at the same time keeping an eye on everyone and everything. The general noise was too great for much small talk so they sat and watched and listened to the performance, ate a very tasty meal, and enjoyed their drinks as the gleeman progressed from playing the flute to telling stories of old. The crowd was very enthusiastic, and as usual, the Warder enjoyed the most the poetry and song out of history and legend.

 

They stayed an extra day in Moisen to rest their horses and bought more provisions in town before beginning the next part of their journey eastwards. They were travelling into Illian which was only a few days’ ride east and then on to Tear and finally Mayene. They spoke about what roads to take and what, if any, dangers might await them along the journey.

 

They were blessed with wonderful sunshine from an azure-blue sky and hardly any wind when they mounted their horses, who were fresh with energy once again, one late morning and rode slowly out of Moisen along the road that led to Illian. They soon picked up speed as soon as they were clear of the town, dust rising behind them.

 

 

It was just after dawn a couple days later with the sun slowly beginning its path upward in the partially clouded eastern Altaran sky that Elessar began his sword practice session. They were camped a few miles from the Illianer border in a partially forested area some way from the road and the Warder had decided to step up his training sessions. It was important to hone one’s skills even for a warrior with the mastery of the blade that Elessar possessed and he had to admit that he had been slacking in this area in the past weeks. Myrrhi was still resting on her sleeping mat in the center of the camp while he had found himself a good spot for the exercises close by but far enough away to not disturb her. Throwing off his shirt, he readied himself.

 

Unfolding the Fan, the Warder from Kandor began, unsheathing his blade.

 

Cloaked in the Void, detached from the world around him, totally focused on his task, Elessar flowed through the sword-forms with the precision and agility of an experienced warrior of many years. His blade snapped with speed and strength, when each was called for, and focused as he was he alternated between attack and defence against his imaginary opponent. Combining sword-forms in advanced ways, on the offence but without being carelessly offensive, on the defence but not too defensively, was something learned only through extensive training. Sweat soon ran in rivulets down his upper torso and back and the muscles in his arms and legs felt the strain of strenuous practice, but he kept going, pushing himself to excel as had always been his way.

 

Attack. Block. Move. Swing. Deflect. Attack. Deflect. Counterblow.

 

It was all one long, lethal Dance of the Blades.

 

The sword was a part of him as he leapt to strike, bent to defend, went high and then low, moving from one form into another, slicing through the air with his blade, stabbing, thrusting, parrying an imagined counter-attack. On and on he went, until at last, his dark eyes intense, his face rigid from concentration, his muscles aching, he Folded the Fan, sheathing his blade in one elegant and smooth motion.

 

It was mid-morning by the time they broke camp. They had had a quick wash in a nearby brook - Elessar removing the sweat from his morning sword exercises -, they had eaten a light breakfast mostly consisting of dried beef and a few vegetables and with some tea to drink, and the Warder had seen to the horses. The weather had worsened, the sky now clouded from horizon to horizon and there was even a hint of rain in the air. It was not the best of travelling weather but they had to move on and so they led the mounts out from the trees, along the small woodland paths and onto the small country road they had come on. They knew that the main road was a little further south and so after a mile or so they headed southwards through the rugged terrain, riding carefully so as to not injure their horses, with Elessar keeping vigil as always.

 

Some hours later they came upon said road and began following it eastwards. There were a few travellers upon this broader road this day, locals from the look of them, and they stepped deftly aside as the Warder and Sedai rode past. They had considered taking this road all the way from Ebou Dar - it was after all the main southern connection between Altara and Illian - but had chosen the different (not obvious) path in case they were followed by enemies. They picked up speed now as they were on a good, solid road again and around midday, with a steady stream of rain pouring down on them from the dark skies, they passed the border into the nation of Illian.

 

 

The rain was pouring down and thunder crashed across the Illianer skies that late afternoon as Myrrhi and Elessar galloped down the road that lead further into the country. There were many miles to cover before they would reach the main Lugard-Illian road. They had decided to stay on the main roads now despite the risk and aimed to reach a village called Aridh by nightfall.

 

They were rounding a corner at a bend in the road when it suddenly happened!

 

An arrow whistled past Elessar’s face and another barely missed Myrrhi. Several riders on horses sped towards them from ahead and as they came closer the Warder recognized their type from their attire and the style of attack. He had seen their lot before.

 

“Brigands!” Elessar shouted to Myrrhi and waved for her to head into the woods with him following behind on Stormbreaker, shielding her from arrows.

 

She sped ahead and he followed, throwing a few glances behind him as he rode. Another arrow flew past him, embedding itself in an oak ahead, and he cursed loudly. He knew they stood a better chance in the woods than in open country since these brigands had bows to use from a distance, but heading into the woods like this also had its dangers. He hoped Myrrhi would manage to traverse the small paths deeper into these trees with sufficient care not to fall off her mare. He heard the brigands riding behind him but did not see them yet through the brush. They were not far behind though and he considered what to do. There were two options only in truth: either ride on and try and find a place where they could make their stand, or to confront them directly, perhaps take the first riders by surprise here among the trees and thereby minimize the threat. The element of surprise was always valuable in any battle, he knew, but it depended on the situation and how it was carried out. These thoughts ran through his head as he pushed Stormbreaker onwards, Myrrhi’s mare a dozen or so paces ahead.

 

 

He made his decision in a split second, making his war-horse stop and turn towards their pursuers.

 

Pulling his sword from its scabbard, he faced the dense growth of tall bushes where he knew they would appear within seconds. Cloaked in the Flame and the Void, he was calm and focused and projected all his energy into his blade. As two big ugly armed brutes appeared out of the brush, pushing their horses hard, Elessar drove Stormbreaker into motion, intending to meet them head on. He knew that having momentum would give more power to his sword swing and he raised his arm with the sword as he swept upon the surprised pursuers, swinging his sword powerfully as it cut deeply into the first brigand’s shoulder wounding him fatally, the man screaming and falling off his horse, and then decapitated the man following behind him with a beautiful follow-up strike.

 

This caused chaos among the men at the back, but one pursuer, a big man with a fierce scarred face and arms the size of small logs, managed to break through and headed purposefully after Myrrhi.

 

Meanwhile Elessar fought against several brigands from Stormbreaker’s back, deflecting, countering, striking and slashing, as thunder rolled overhead, merging with the clash of swords in the rain.

 

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Another night during which they would sleep under the stars. Hopefully, there will be no pack of wolves around tonight, Myrrhi thought as she followed her set up routine: getting the sleeping mats ready, brewing some tea, gathering food, while Elessar was scouting the area.

She enjoyed that routine. Even if she was far away from Andor and Tar Valon, it made her feel at home. Was it the closeness to her Warder, or the sweet repetition of gestures that she had performed so many times? She didn't know. One thing was sure, though. She wouldn't exchange it for anything.

The Green and her Warder chatted late into the night. Recalling the time they spend in Moisen and its gleeman. His choice of songs had been peculiar but interesting. The Green hoped she would have the chance to hear more of him in the future. The man was definitely talented even if he was young.

When Myrrhi lowered her head on the blanket that served her as pillow she smiled. The only sounds she could hear were soft hootings from nearby howls. Indeed, no wolves around this time...


***

She was pulled out of her dreamless sleep by a rapid series of whooshing sounds. It didn't take her long to recognize their source: her Warder's blade. She yawned before pushing herself on her elbows. As much as she appreciated the view, she couldn't help but feel slightly jealous. She hadn't touched a sword for weeks and also needed to practice. Would she have the time to do so, now that dawn had already passed?

She kept an eye on her Warder, as she got up. Each of his movements was performed with a precision and strength she would never master. Unless she'd spend decades practicing...

"En garde," she threw at Elessar seizing a wooden stick.

The man turned raising an eyebrow.

"Scared by an Aes Sedai who still has sleeping marks on her face?"

She didn't need to tease him much to spin him into action and be accepted as a participant to his practice.

***

After such a pleasant morning, Myrrhi felt completely relaxed. Long were gone the memories of her childhood, Schirrù and even the hard times she had spent in the Tower. She merrily chatted about sword forms and how determined she was to improve her fighting skills.

And then suddenly it happened! And arrow whistled past Elessar's face.

Myrrhi's first thought was guilt. Was it because of her that Elessar didn't see the projectile coming? Her second thought was completely different. It swiped all the possible weaves she could throw at their mysterious enemy... or enemies.

A band of men were riding hard towards them.

“Brigands!” Elessar shouted to Myrrhi and waved for her to head into the woods with him following behind on Stormbreaker, shielding her from arrows.

She sped ahead even if she would have preferred taking the rear. How could she channel properly if her Warder was in the way? She heard him curse and bit her lip. A brief look behind her told her enough. The Gaidin was not ready to let her take his place.

Onwards they went. Myrrhi was an accomplished rider but not an exceptionally talented one. She picked paths that looked the easiest to gallop on. The ones with the less obstacles hoping they were not moving towards a trap.

The Green heard Elessar pulling his sword out of his scabbard. Or she thought she heard it. Maybe it was the Bond that helped her guess what he was doing. She prepared herself, knowing the Gaidin would turn to face their opponent.

She moved to his left side, as much away from him as she could, to get a clear view at the first incoming brigands. Where Elessar would slice and maim, she would use fire and air to do as much damage as she could. She didn't need much, usually a single thread would do the trick but it had to be placed with precision.

Saidar burned through skulls and chest. Blasts of Air pushed men and horses alike, but only the beasts were allowed to run. The others found themselves pinned on the dirt, prime targets for the picking.

 

 

 

 

 

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.. Ending the Battle & Questioning ..

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Thunder crashed and lightning lit up the dark skies, the rain falling heavily as Elessar fought the brigands.

 

His sword clashed against a brute’s blade and then he swept inside the man’s guard, past his armour, and his sword slid deeply into the man’s chest and he was dead before he hit the ground. The man’s horse ran off but the highly skilled Warder was already moving Stormbreaker toward the next brute and swung his blade hard at this other man.

 

The man deflected deftly and swung at Elessar, but the Gaidin had expected that counterattack and proficiently blocked and followed up with a move which the other man was unable to stop. His sword arm tumbled to the ground, blood rushing as he screamed in terrible pain and he fell off his horse when the Warder’s shoulder crashed into him as Elessar rode past.

 

More brigands came through the heavy brush now and Elessar was hard pushed to stop them all, But then the air whizzed with powerful energy as Saidar burned through skulls and chest. 

 

 

Myrrhi!

 

She had been closer than he had anticipated and was now joining this battle. Part of him wanted her to stay away, be safe - but another part knew that this was what a Battle Ajah Sister was bred for, and to be honest he appreciated the help.

 

Blasts of Air pushed men and horses alike, but only the beasts were allowed to run. The others found themselves pinned on the dirt, prime targets for the picking.

 

Clearing rain from his eyes, Elessar took a quick moment to glance back at Myrrhi there she stood like a battle-queen of old, arms raised, Fire streaming from her hands. He had jokingly in the past said she was trying to become another Rashima Kerenmosa - one of the greatest Battle Ajah Amyrlins of all time and a grand hero of all Green Sisters - and seeing her standing there he almost believed it. In front of her lay the blooded remains of the big brute who had swept past Elessar to try and get at the Aes Sedai. It appeared he had overestimated his chances.

 

Turning his attention back to the remaining brigands, he saw that very few still remained. He pushed Stormbreaker close to the nearest horse and swung his blade hard in an arc. The man parried but his horse whinnied and came off balance and so Elessar’s second slash tore into the man’s torso and he cursed in pain and when another slick move by the Gaidin sliced off the brigand’s sword hand it was all over. Elessar’s shoulder crashed into his face and he fell off the horse like a stone. Another blast of Air hammered the remaining few brigands and they flew through the air to lie pinned where they fell.

 

The battle was over.

 

He thought he felt both satisfaction and relief coming through the Bond from Myrrhi and he turned toward her and gave a smile that reflected the same emotions. He would deal with the small voice in the back of his mind later, the one which blamed him for not having seen or anticipated the attack. Dismounting, he kept his blade in hand as he walked across to some of the brigands laying in the dirt on the ground, pinned by weaves of the One Power. On the way he ended the man’s misery, the man who had lost his arm and who was slowly bleeding to death. Elessar’s face was stone-hard as he faced the first pinned man who stared up at him spitefully.

 

Brigands, bandits, outlaws. There were many names to describe such men. Bands of brigands existed in every nation, consisting of thieves, bullies, crooks, robbers, muggers, rapists and all kinds of unsavoury people who fell outside society or who did not care about rules and laws and rather wanted to make their own. Criminals and outcasts. Authorities in every nation tried to eradicate such bands but were rarely successful. There were simply too many of them. Elessar had come upon such bands before, not the least that despicable lot that had killed his first Bondholder, Leandreen Aes Sedai. And so his disposition towards such bands was not the best to put it mildly.

 

The man on the ground must have seen some of this in the Warder’s ice-cold eyes because he closed his mouth having been about to curse and tell him off.

 

“So”, Elessar began in a much too kind voice, “I guess you made a poor choice trying to rob this Aes Sedai” - he nodded toward Myrrhi - “and myself. A very poor choice indeed.”

 

His face darkened.

 

“As you can see, your comrades are mostly dead.” He saw the man glance at the dead bodies laying next to him. “Give me one good reason why I should not tear your heart out, you scum!”

 

Watching from behind, Myrrhi thought Elessar sounded very sincere in what he said and found it hard to decide whether this was another play-act to frighten this brigand into revealing things, or if there was something personal involved.

 

 

The brigand was unable to move a muscle below his neck and Elessar could see the man’s eyes twitching nervously. Water ran down the man’s face and he soon started blinking to get water out of his eyes. The thunder above continued but the lightning had lessened.

 

The Warder walked across to another man pinned to the soggy ground. “How about you?” he asked, pointing his sword at the man’s throat. “Is there a reason why we should keep you alive?”

 

This man had a big scar running down both chins and had a crooked nose. His eyes were green and they looked balefully up at the Warder. “Do what you wish.” He replied spitefully. “I will not beg for my life.”

 

Elessar bent so his own face came very close to the brigand’s. “No, I believe you will not, will you.” Straightening, he exchanged a glance with Myrrhi who had dismounted and now stood next to him.

 

“What we really want to know”, the Gaidin said, looking at all the men pinned down, “is if this attack of yours was ordered by someone else? Or was it just happenstance that you selected the two of us for this attempted robbery or should we say murder?”

 

“Take great care with your answer”, he added darkly, “because the wrong one could end up with you losing one limb or more.”

 

The harshness in Elessar’s voice made Myrrhi think once again how good, how forceful her Warder was in situations with interrogations of all kinds.

 

She was very glad he was not her enemy.

 

 

None of the pinned outlaws replied. One raised his head and spat at the Warder. Another cursed.

 

The Warder just nodded, as if he had expected nothing less.

 

“Alright, have it your way.” His voice sounded almost gleeful. “Let’s execute the lot of them”, he lied.

 

Not for the first time in his long life as a Bonded Warder was he very glad that Warders did not have to be bound by the Three Oaths of Aes Sedai. Being able to lie when an Aes Sedai could not, was very valuable in many situations for Bonded companions of the White Tower.

 

“But we must make them suffer first”, the Warder added darkly and there was such viciousness in his voice that even a hardened Myrrhi almost felt a shiver run down her spine. “Let’s cut off their feet first. Then we shall move onto their hands and finally their eyes.”

 

The men nearest did not react to the Gaidin’s harsh words, just continued to stare balefully, but a younger man at the back started coughing hard, seeming to have a sort of panic attack. Elessar moved across to him and gazed down at his face. The man finally stopped coughing but it was obvious from his eyes that he was scared. Rainwater ran down his chin as he stared up at the dangerous man above him.

 

“I will talk”, he said in a shaky voice. “Just spare my life.” He coughed another time and blinked his eyes to get them free of water.

 

“We shall see”, the Warder responded, his voice neutral. “It depends on what you have to say.”

 

 

He nodded to Myrrhi, his gesture meaning he was ready for her to take over the interrogation, but she nodded back indicating that he could continue. Elessar nodded another time, then turned to face the brigand on the ground.

 

“Alright, young man.” He began. “What can you tell us?”

 

The man looked to be in his late teens, not long ago he would have been called a boy. His face had scars though and there was something about the way he looked that gave Elessar the impression he had not had an easy life. Even so, he was obviously the weakest of the remaining outlaws, the youngest and least experienced. He had certainly never been up against an Aes Sedai and her Warder.

 

“We had a scout who saw you coming”, the young man said finally, licking his lips.

 

His voice sounded uncertain, as if he did not want to appear weak but at the same time was deeply concerned, both for the fact that he might be killed by these people from the White Tower and for the fact that if he survived and the others did too he might be punished harshly for talking. He had to take the chance though as he saw it. He did not want to die this day.

 

“And then we staged an ambush.”

 

The Warder studied the young man closely, trying to determine whether he was telling the truth.

 

“Alright”, he said - angry at himself if he had indeed missed this scout as well, but leaving that matter too for later - “who ordered you to rob us then? Or should I say kill us, for that is what it seemed.”

 

“It was Harrad”, the young brigand responded. His voice sounded a little more certain this time. “He was our leader.”

 

 

Some of the other men muttered darkly, but Elessar ignored them.

 

“Who is this Harrad?” Elessar asked, and the young man just nodded to the dead man at his side.

 

The Warder studied the dead body. A man in his mid-thirties with a scarred face, high cheekbones and a beard. Brown of hair, now blooded and half his face gone. Not a pretty sight. There was nothing to distinguish him as their leader but Elessar had to admit the young man’s voice sounded sincere.

 

“Was there any particular reason why he ordered your band to attack the two of us?” he asked, exchanging a swift glance with Myrrhi. She seemed pleased with the way the interrogation was going, at least that was the impression he got through the Bond. Turning back to the pinned brigand, he waited for his answer.

 

Another of the outlaws spat in disgust and threw the young man venomous glances.

 

“I don’t know”, the young man said. “We carry out our raids whenever we can.” He gazed around him at the dead bodies and shook his head. “If we had known who you were, I am pretty sure the raid would have been aborted. Harrad would have known the cost would be too great.”

 

Elessar considered what the young man had said and wondered again if he was lying. If he was, he was a very good liar. The Warder had become a very good judge of character over the years, having come across all kinds of men in his long service to the White Tower, but sometimes he was fooled like most people. In this case though he felt pretty sure the young man was telling the truth.

 

He indicated that Myrrhi take over the questioning and afterwards they would confer in private what to do with these outlaws that were still alive. The Aes Sedai nodded and faced the young man while Elessar stood a little behind and to the side. Then Myrrhi began with a few more questions for the young brigand.

 

 

After the questioning was over, Myrrhi and Elessar moved some distance away from the pinned outlaws. They conferred for a while, considered what the young man had said, and they both agreed he was likely telling the truth. It did seem unlikely that their enemies had planned this attack and this fact was most important now as they would continue their journey. As for what to do with the remaining brigands, they agreed they would hand them over to the local authorities at the nearest village.

 

Returning to the pinned outlaws, Elessar gave them each a hard stare, then said in his icy voice that this was their lucky day and since their youngest member had answered questions honestly they would all keep their limbs and lives. The young man breathed a sigh of relief that could be heard several feet away while the other brigands remained silent, still throwing angry glances at the Warder and Aes Sedai.

 

“We shall bring you to the local authorities in the nearest village where you will face justice”, Myrrhi said, her stance proud as she faced them in a regal Aes Sedai manner. “The White Tower does not look kindly on criminal attacks by brigands and outlaws.”

 

 

She released the weaves of Air pinning the men to the ground, then Elessar brought rope from his bags and bound the hands of each of the brigands tightly. Another longer rope he bound around their chests and the other end of the rope to their horses. The men had no serious injuries but had aches and pains having been slammed to the ground. Still, Elessar felt sure they would manage the trek to the village. They might not enjoy it, but that was life for such a despicable lot.

 

They left the dead bodies in the woods, then rode slowly eastwards with their prisoners walking behind them. The village of Aridh was situated some hours east if their calculations were correct. The rain was lessening by now, to their relief, but Myrrhi and Elessar still kept the hoods of their travelling cloaks up to stay as dry as was possible. As they came further east the clouds which had blanketed the skies started to dissipate, and when they finally reached the village in late evening the rain had stopped as well.

 

The young man had remained silent during the long walk but his mates had spat curses at him as well as at the Warder and Aes Sedai. When the brigands were delivered into the hands of the local authorities, Myrrhi spoke to the lawman present and gave him details of what had happened and where the dead bodies lay. The man was shocked at hearing outlaws would attack Aes Sedai, but was less shocked hearing of brigands in that area. They had struggled with bands of outlaws for years, he said. He apologized for what had happened on behalf of the local governor and promised these brigands would meet the justice they deserved.

 

When that was done, Myrrhi and Elessar rode further into the village and found an inn at the far end. It was called “The Golden Swan” and had a sign of a yellow swan in flight above the main entrance. The Warder led the horses to the stables at the back, then rejoined his Bondholder by the entrance door.

 

 

“Do be welcome here”, the thin innkeeper said in his thick Illianer accent when he saw them enter his establishment, but seeing a thin innkeeper, which was very unusual indeed, made Myrrhi and Elessar exchange a curious glance. It seemed somehow out of place. Shrugging off the strangeness, they followed the innkeeper up the stairs to their allocated rooms. The Warder carried all their belongings up the stairs and first to Myrrhi’s room and then to his own smaller room next door. Wishing them a nice stay at his humble inn, the thin innkeeper headed back down to his desk.

 

Neither Warder nor Aes Sedai complained at all at being indoors after all that had happened that day. Far from it, it was in truth wonderful. They were wet and tired. Both had escaped injuries but they were weary after the battle with the outlaws and they each had much to think about. Elessar removed his drenched cloak and then sank onto the covers on the bed, closing his eyes.

 

He confronted the small voice in the back of his head blaming him for inattention as cause for what had happened, and after long moments of reflection he was still unable to give an answer.

 

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So many bodies littering the ground. Who were they? Where they just brigands or much more? They were brave, that was certain. They hadn't run when they had understood who their targets were. When the first ones had fallen, the others had kept on attacking. 

 

Myrrhi took a careful look at each face, hoping for an explanation to pop in her mind. None came. These men were just regular "men". Nothing she could see linked them to the Darkfriends, to the Whitecloaks, or to any other dangerous group that would want to hunt Aes Sedai... as it usually was the case. No one was running out in the open with "I hate Aes Sedai' tattooed on their forehead.

 

They would need to interrogate one of the survivors if they wanted to get to the bottom of this. 

 

She could feel that her Warder was bothered by the attack. The way it had happened. The way it had surprised them. It had come out of the blue. But, knowing the Gaidin, this was the kind of event he would have preferred to anticipate.

 

The feeling quickly disappeared, though. Elessar turned his attention to one of the brigands who was still breathing. As he did so, the remorse - or the guilt - she had detected disappeared

 

This survivor and the other ones who had not succumbed either to the Warder's sword either to her Weaves were firmly pinned on the muddy grass by threads of Air. The set up was taxing for Myrrhi, just like the fight had been, but she didn't have any other choice. She couldn't let their prisoner run away and cold-blooded murder had never been her cup of tea.  


Her head twitched when the man made it clear that he would not beg for his life. That's a good start, thought Myrrhi. Such a young man - is he in his twenties - and such bravado ...  Her eyes met the Gaidin's wondering how he would want to pursue the interrogation.

A subtle nod made her understand at once. He would pressure the brigand, probably bluff a bit and she would be free to accompany his threats by a subtle tightening of the threads that was holding the man into place. Nothing like Saidar to complement threatening words.

 

And then ... The Warder announced that he'd execute the other survivors if he didn't get answers to his questions. Clever!  The Green approved. She knew that the Gaidin would never kill unarmed men he had made prisoner, especially the way he was describing to their prisoner.

 

Despite his brave first words, the man sang like a little bird. A scout saw Elessar and Myrrhi coming, they decided to stage an ambush,  and a mysterious Harrad was to blame. Their absentee leader. It all sounded very convenient but not so extravagant that it could be very far from the truth.

 

The Green and her Warder took a couple of minutes to discuss what they just learned and what they should do next.  They opted to believe in their prisoner's tale.

 

The next steps were not the easiest to take. Myrrhi was getting more and more tired because of all the channeling. By chance, the Gaidin found enough ropes to tie the brigands in a more practical fashion. He tied one to the other, like a necklace of pearls, then to whole group the horses. 

 

The Green still needed to use the One Power to keep them in line but not as much as before.

 

By chance, they didn't have to go far. The next village was nearby and they quickly found a way to get rid of their companions. The guard that met them looked glad to have found such a catch. After having apologized in the name of his Governor, he gave them direction to the local inn. The Golden Swan it was called. 

 

Myrrhi stopped channeling as soon as she saw the guard locking up the brochette of brigands in a small makeshift cell. The village was probably too small to have proper facilities. She pulled the hood on her face, and let the Warder thank the guard.

 

***

 

As she entered the bedroom they had rented for her, her heart tightened. She didn't have any recollection about how she had actually gotten there. She didn't remember how they had walked to the inn, who had greeted them, ... these were signs enough that it was time for her to sleep.

 

***

 

She woke up quite late the next morning. It took her a while to remember where she was. By then she had moved out of her bed and opened the small wooden shutters that barred her room only window.

 

The outside air was fresh but cold. She shivered but more out of reflex than because she was cold. Her training prevented her to suffer from too high or too low temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Hayl3y
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.. What the Soul craves ..

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The outside air was fresh but cold.

 

That was Elessar’s first thought as he stepped outside the inn early the following morning. A wind was drifting in from the west and it made the temperature feel slightly lower than it actually was. Gazing down the village street, his eyes closed on the blacksmith shop which they had passed on their way to the inn the day before. He fancied taking a look at some of the blacksmith’s work and so headed that way, passing several wide-eyed villagers who were clearly not used to have a fully-fledged Warder in their midst.

 

They stared uncomfortably at his colour-shifting Warder’s cloak as he passed them by. Elessar had seen such reactions before. Made of fancloth, using fabric from a special Ter’angreal in the White Tower, a Warder’s cloak had the unique quality that it let its bearer blend almost perfectly in with the background. It also was known to invoke a disturbing feeling on people who see them while the Gaidin is moving.

 

Stopping in front of the smithy, the Gaidin’s eyes fastened on a sword hanging on the wall. He could see even from a distance that it was exquisite work and a small smile came upon his lips. The blacksmith, a middle-aged local man with long hair, brown eyes, a rugged face and arms the size of small logs, recognized the man entering his shop for what he was and greeted him with respect. Seeing Elessar’s interest in the sword on the wall he took it down for the Warder to hold and inspect, and he spoke about its history. It turned out he was not its maker, it had been created by the blacksmith’s mentor, now an old man, and hung there as an homage to his old teacher.

 

Elessar felt the perfect weight of the blade and its perfect balance. He was much impressed and told the blacksmith so. Handing the sword back, Elessar looked around the shop at other weapons displayed - more swords, some axes and many knives of all sizes - and praised the blacksmith for his quality work. The other man smiled in obvious gratitude, and was ready to answer the questions the Gaidin put to him a little later about the region east of the village.

 

 

The feeling of guilt he had felt ever since the brigand-attack did not leave him entirely as he and Myrrhi rode further eastwards in Illian, but he pushed the feeling to the back of his mind to be dealt with later. He suspected that Myrrhi had sensed his unease in this matter through their shared Bond - she studied him sometimes in a fashion which gave him that impression - but she had not spoken about it, probably thinking it was a matter he would bring up when he was ready. He found that he needed more time to consider the matter and so kept it to himself and focused on their journey.

 

He was very attentive now, riding back intermittently to check that they were not being followed and riding ahead to ensure no more surprises awaited. He was not going to be taken unawares by any more brigands or enemies of any kind.

 

They stopped at some more villages in the days that followed to rest and get provisions, riding with speed but not pushing their horses too hard, and made good progress. And on a sunny afternoon with a light southern breeze ruffling their travelling cloaks they reached the crossroads of the main Lugard-Illian road which led southwards to the Capital. This road was more heavily travelled and they saw several carriages with horses passing by, also carts driven by oxen, as they began their own trek south toward the Capital.

 

They had calculated that it would take them a week or so from the crossroads all the way to the city of Illian by the Sea of Storms, and the first few days passed uneventfully. The weather was nice though perhaps still a little chilly and the sky was azure-blue for the most part. They spoke little as they rode, Elessar’s mind focused on the safety and protection of his Aes Sedai and Myrrhi’s attention focused on personal matters. When they stopped at inns they chatted casually, but both were becoming a little wary of the long journey and they looked forward to getting to the Capital where they would stay several days, also to give their steadfast horses a longer rest.

 

 

It was one of those dreams that seemed incredibly real in most ways but where one still felt something was a little off..

 

..Leandreen’s funeral pyre was burning fiercely, flames dancing in the darkness of the night. He was standing as close to the pyre as possible without being burnt, his new Bondholder Carrain of the Yellow by his side. Leandreen looked so regal there she lay, her emerald green eyes closed in death, her fiery hair embracing her familiar face, ready for the final journey.

 

This felt so familiar.. as if it were a memory of a memory..

 

But as he watched, he felt something change..

 

He was pulled.. and felt himself drift to her side, enveloped by burning flames.. the flames did not hurt him, they caressed his skin like a passionate lover..

 

His breath caught as her eyes suddenly opened, those emerald green orbs fixating on his face.

 

He felt his heart stop for a long moment, frozen in place, waiting for her to speak..

 

.. to forgive him..

 

Oh please forgive me, Leandreen.

 

.. to give his soul peace..

 

I failed you.. please forgive me..

 

.. to give his heart rest..

 

But she did not speak, she just kept staring at him as if she had not seen him for a long time. His mouth opened and closed but no words came forth. They were stuck in his throat.

 

 

He could not take his eyes away from the face of his dead Bondholder, rigid but seemingly come back to life, the face he knew so well from his many years as her Bonded Warder.

 

A face that had blossomed with life, borne by one of fiery temperament and passion matched by her fiery hair.. a face that was now serene in a strange fashion..

 

Those emerald eyes kept watching him though, as if not wanting to let go.

 

His eyes met hers.. and in an eternal moment he bared his soul.

 

“Forgive me, my Leandreen”, he whispered, emotions taking him, his eyes filling with water.

 

Needing forgiveness, yearning for salvation, he waited for her reply.

 

She remained silent, but her eyes.. changed. They became more intense, brighter somehow, and a solitary tear rolled down her cheek.

 

Flames danced in her fiery hair, an orange flair embracing her deeper red, but she remained silent.

 

 

He was caught in a spell and could only stare at her.. but he knew there was a question he needed to ask her.. something he needed to know..

 

At first it was lost to him, but then he remembered..

 

He closed his eyes, and then asked her. His tone was almost a whisper, as if he needed to ask but was not sure he wanted to hear the answer..

 

“Was it my fault that I put Myrrhi in danger with those brigands? Am I to blame?”

 

Opening his eyes, he met her gaze but she only looked back at him in utter silence. As he watched though a second tear flowed slowly down Leandreen’s cheek.

 

 

Staring into Leandreen’s eyes his breath caught in his throat again. Her skin so pale yet so beautiful. The emerald green eyes pulling him in.

 

“Am I worthy?” he whispered finally, clenching his fists. He needed to know.

 

A third tear began flowing down her chin..

 

 

..and then..

 

 

..in a pool of the teardrop there was a silver light which drew him in..

 

..and standing in an ocean of water surrounded by silver light stood Leandreen, the real Leandreen, filled with her Passion for Life.

 

Her beautiful smile beckoned..

 

Her emerald green eyes sparkled with life..

 

And in that emerald gleam, for a glorious moment in time, feeling their souls joined in burning Light, he found Redemption.

 

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Myrrhi looked at the sky one more time. The sun was again hiding behind a large cloud. It wouldn't last, the wind had been strong that day. She wondered in the weather was reflecting her Warder's mood. Sometimes they would chat together, sometimes Elessar would stay silent and - as the sun - his good mood would be replaced by introspection.

 

She wanted to tell him that "it was alright", that there were no harm done, that she still fully trusted him... but somehow she didn't think it would do much good.

 

Through the Bond she could feel that the Gaidin was trying to push this all away, out if his head, but the events - and the guild seemed to always come back.

 

The landscape was rich enough to keep her busy. The vegetation, the curved of the road and the little animals peeking out of the bushes and the high herbs were not so different from what she had seen in the past but they all looked so harmonious under the intermittent rays of sunlight.

 

Maybe I should try to draw or paint it all, Myrrhi wondered. It had been a while since the last time she had used a piece of paper for something else that writing a note or a report. But then, she had to travel lightly. Her books took already the best part of her saddlebags. Her mare would probably protest at the sight of yet another satchel to carry. 

 

The road was so pleasant that she was surprised to see they had already reached a first village. There would be more to stop by before they would reach their destination, Illian.

 

She welcomed the break, as it was a chance for them to gather fresh provisions and to sleep in an real bed. But, she felt impatient. These long stretches felt sometimes to quiet compared to all the adventures they had already gone through.

 

The more they advanced, the more people they met on the road. Farmers were replaced by merchants, single men by large carriages. There were less and less chances for them to meet either wolves or brigands - as long as they would stick to the road of course. There was strength in numbers.

 

A couple of times, larger groups invited Elessar and Myrrhi to the camps they had improvised. "The more the merrier," they usually said. Deep down, the young woman knew that she and her Warder had probably been recognized and that the travelers counted on their expertise in case a danger would appear. 

 

Depending on how tired the Green would feel and on Elessar's assessment, sometimes they would accept the invitation. Sometimes they would kindly refuse and push for the next village or at least - for a couple of extra miles.

 

It was on such a night that Elessar and Myrrhi had found a nice camping spot, not too far nor too close from the road. There was a small stream of water that offered them exactly what they needed to drink as well as to refresh themselves. It was late enough that they barely took the time chat before setting going to sleep. They had eaten on the road, and the Aes Sedai had yawned more times that she could count.

 

A strange feeling brought her back to the waking world. A feeling of unease, of guilt, of longing ? It was hard to tell. It took her some time to divide what was hers from what was her Warder's. She looked towards her Gaidin and saw him moving in his dreams, something she had never seen before - or maybe she had but didn't remember. Should she wake him up ? Should she respect his privacy ? She was a at a loss. 

 

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.. A Moment of Serenity ..

►▼◄

 

Elessar could not remember the dream.

 

And that fact annoyed him mightily.

 

Because he knew somehow that it had been important. Profound. Special.

 

Something deep inside him told him the dream had resolved something. But he did not know what and his not knowing gnawed at his temper and well-being for the next several days.

 

 

He suspected that Myrrhi sensed his unease through the Bond, perhaps she had even seen him toss and turn in his sleep at night, he could not tell. He did not usually fall into a deep sleep, preferring for safety to enter that half-sleep he as a Warder was so good at reaching, but on occasion his subconscious took him deeper.. as had been the case with that dream.. Myrrhi did not say anything to him but he could discern what he thought was concern in her eyes at times, but he did not comment on it of course, that could make it awkward for them both. His guilt over his failures he carried with him always, pushed to the back of his head but never altogether gone. This latest failure as he saw it added to his doubts as to how worthy a Warder he truly was. As the days passed his need for self-recrimination lessened somewhat, but he knew echoes of it remained in his eyes as he went about his daily Warderly tasks.

 

They camped in the wild at times, sometimes camped with larger groups that invited them in, and other times took in at local inns. The days passed by, new miles covered, weather often changing, and they got closer and closer to the Capital. They chatted less and less as they travelled, focusing on the journey, their own thoughts and looking forward to getting to their destination.

 

A day’s ride or so north of the city of Illian, in late afternoon under a clouded sky, they reached the town of Serdhion. It was a merchant town heavily reliant on the merchant traffic along the main road between Illian and Lugard. It was a busy town with many people about, busy streets and several well looked after merchant’s shops lined up in its center beside dust-ridden old buildings. Behind them all in a side-street lay an old inn called “The Merchant’s Daughter” and it was to this inn the Warder and Aes Sedai from Tar Valon headed. As usual Elessar took their horses to the stables at the back of the inn and handed them to a stableboy of 12 years or so. The boy’s eyes grew when he saw the Warder approaching him, half in fear, half in excitement, his eyes fastening on Elessar’s unmistakable cloak and sword. The Warder told him to take good care of their horses and tossed the Illianer boy a bronze coin which he gathered in his hands as if it were gold. The Gaidin grinned to himself, some of his foul mood evaporating, having seen such eagerness in many a boy’s eyes over the years. Perhaps this was the little nudge that would send this boy to Tar Valon to become a Warder in 5 years or so, one could never tell..

 

Myrrhi waited at the entrance to the inn, gazing up at the sign of a voluptuous young woman with an inviting smile that hung above the wide door. Elessar glanced quickly at it too but then picked up all their belongings and followed his Aes Sedai into the inn. The innkeeper, a heavy-set man of middling years with dark hair and sunken eyes, was busy at his desk but when he saw them enter, straight away recognizing them for what they were, he cursed inside, put on his best fake smile, and headed in their direction, leaving the guest he had been attending in the hands of his head waitress. Welcoming them with a false smile - which Elessar took note of, sensing that this man was in truth not happy to see them there - he found rooms for them and wished them a pleasant stay. Exchanging a knowing glance with Myrrhi he suspected she had felt the falseness in the innkeeper too. He also got the impression she was pleased to see his mood lighten if only for a few moments. Leaving her belongings in Myrrhi’s room, Elessar took his own to the next room and closed the door behind him. Laying down on the bed for a short while, he closed his eyes and tried in vain to remember that dream.

 

 

A little later he tried to pick up a book to read on the small bookshelf in his room but he was unable to concentrate on the story. His mind kept returning to the dream which he could not for the life of him remember. He felt somehow that this dream was important to him and so it felt frustrating that he could not recall an ounce of it. It had been that way for him most of life. Some dreams he recalled afterwards, but most were gone from memory, or evaporated a short while after he woke up. Giving up in the end, he tried instead to think of something else, something that would draw his thoughts away, and that made him think of Myrrhi. He could feel her in the next room, he sensed she was relaxing. He knew his recent mood swings had had an effect on her and he was sorry it could make her concerned. He had just not been able to stop his black thoughts. It had made their travelling companionship a little more tense recently, and awkward.

 

He closed his eyes, feeling unhappy that it had come to this. Trying to think of happier times, he thought back on some of their former adventures.

 

His mind went back in time and several memories appeared in his mind. He selected one of the most enjoyable ones as he saw it, and was soon lost in detailed memory..

 

 

…She’s a Green, alright! Elessar thought with amusement as he watched Myrrhi seemingly mesmerized by the handsome-looking young Saldaean gleeman on stage.

 

She confirmed it when she added that the young man looked better than most.

 

He better watch his back, the Warder thought with a silent chuckle, or he might find himself Bonded to a certain Andoran Sister.. whether he wants to or not.

 

The way Myrrhi’s captivated eyes followed the young man during his performance made Elessar wonder, wryly, if there was more than a little truth to his thoughts. He grinned and found himself pleased that she was enjoying herself this evening. She needed some enjoyment and merriment after the Dark, dangerous and glum days lately, and therefore he was doubly glad that the Saldaean was putting on an excellent performance.

 

When the gleeman was finished and bowed to salute the crowd, he could see the disappointment in her face. She joined several others asking - and clapping - for an ‘encore’ and met her Warder’s eyes with a slight blush, seeing his amusement mirrored there. She smiled before shrugging in a way to make him understand that even if she was Aes Sedai she could still fully appreciate.. performances like these. Or men.., Elessar thought with even greater amusement.

 

The center of her attention, however, was finished with his performance. He thanked the audience a last time and left the Common Room with a last flourish of his gleeman’s cloak, leaving echoes of Artur Hawkwing’s legend and his other songs and stories in his wake. From Myrrhi’s look as he left, she seemed to him almost ready to run after the young man.. and Elessar was about to comment on it, playfully, when she spoke.

 

She said, her blue eyes sparkling with joy, that she was not sure that she wanted to retire for the evening yet. Not after something like that!

 

It was not easy for her to explain.. but he understood well.

 

He saw the Passion for Life in her, that he had also seen in her before, and also in Leandreen, and in most Greens to tell the truth. It was a joy of life in all its beauty and facets -  a passion for life and fulfillment, to be embraced and nourished - that drove many Sisters of the Battle Ajah; not a passion for war, danger and death as many mistakenly thought.

 

He saw it now in her Eyes - and it warmed his Soul…

 

 

She must have felt something through the Bond, because she looked at him intently and smiled.

 

He smiled back, before taking her hand and silently leading her outside. It was dark that evening, the moon shining high above in a canopy of blackness and stars that blanketed the nation of Cairhien. Elessar looked about, gauging the darkness, and then met Myrrhi’s eyes.

 

“There is still time for some more fun tonight”, he said with a glint in his eye. “It will be good for you, for us both in truth, after all that’s happened.” He saw her questioning face, wondering what he had in mind, and he grinned in anticipation.

 

“Have you ever ridden in the dark?” He asked, a mischievous but also excited grin on his face. “When it is solid, stone-wall dark outside?”

 

They had ridden in near-dark on their journey a few times, out of necessity, but had always camped for the night before all light was gone. He did not think she had ridden in total darkness before; many riders had not.

 

Before she had time to reply, he set off for the stables at the back of the building, a somewhat flustered Sedai in tow. She had not ridden in pitch black surroundings before, no - and was more than a little dubious whether it was safe. But at the same time she felt the excitement of the prospect growing in her as she walked, and she felt she needed some more fun tonight, some more elation, to keep those other darker memories and thoughts at bay. And so she followed eagerly, a thrill running through her, with most of her skepticism under wraps.

 

The Warder found the young stableboy who quickly prepared their horses and within minutes Elessar and Myrrhi literally flew down the road, atop Stormbreaker and Tempest, leaving dust in their wake! As the stableboy had finished, the Gaidin had told his Sedai that horses, in fact, could see well in the dark, and as long as they kept to the roads and paths and trusted in their mounts’ instincts, all would be well.

 

Excitement at the fun, but somewhat wild, undertaking flowed through them both, feeding the pulse of life, driving away any doubts or fear, as they pushed their mounts hard down the hill through the darkness, running like the wind, elation and exhilaration making their Eyes shine and their Souls soar!

 

 

That evening Myrrhi and Elessar met up in the Common Room for a meal and some entertainment and now they were enjoying roast beef with roasted potatoes, vegetables and a gravy sauce that had some delicious local herbs in it while watching the gleeman perform.

 

He was in his early forties, he wore a perpetual smile on his face and the crowd loved him. His performance was very good and it was obvious he had years of experience in the way he played, drew the crowd in, moved on the small stage and seemed confident in all ways. Having seen dozens and dozens of gleemen over the years in his travels with his Aes Sedais, Elessar knew a an excellent performer when he saw one and he managed to put aside all his self-doubt and worries for that evening.

 

After the man had finished a jaunty melody that brought many of the guests to their feet, the crowd applauded his flute playing, then several guests took up the rallying cry for a story. An old story, they wanted. A really old story.

 

The gleeman loved the center-stage attention as all gleemen in fact did, and made a grandiose and theatrical bow to the crowd - to even more cheering - before he said: “Alright, I will give you a story. A very old story at that” As he spoke his voice changed, as he drew them all in. “It is said it is from before the Age of Legends.” Elessar’s interest increased. He had always loved old stories and he wondered if this would be a retelling of one of his favourites.

 

When the gleeman told the crowd that the story was that of  ‘Star and Moon’ the Warder smiled broadly. This was indeed one of his favourites, he had heard it many times over the years but never tired of seeing it performed. He sat forward in his chair as the gleeman began weaving the tale of sorrow and beauty in an eternal time and place..

 

 

►▼◄

 

’Star and Moon’

 

Princess sweet and Prince of Light

Fell in love one autumn Night

Great were days of joy and Smiles

Both together through the Miles

 

Beautiful she was to See

Handsome man was also He

Perfect couple for the Lands

Wedded true and holding Hands

 

Then the darkness fell on All

In the war, the Prince`s Fall

Tore her heart, the Princess Sad

In her grief, she went all Mad

 

Heart was broken and the Mind

Death a solace, far Behind

But at last she passed Away

To the lands beyond, to Stay

 

Mourning hard the people Cried

Hope and beauty had now Died

Then one evening up they Stared

Wonder great, the night-sky Fared

 

In the sky a star was Born

Brilliant it shone, Forlorn

And the people felt in Heart

She was back, a brand new Start

 

Tears from heaven, from the Queen

Of the sky, of beauty Seen

She would watch the land till End

Came to all that was, my Friend

 

But alone she was in Truth

Missed her loved one, and her Youth

Where was Prince and all Delight

Then she saw him, moon in Night

 

And the moon would glow with Life

Her great Prince with his dear Wife

Both together, far Above

Star and Moon, forever Love

 

►▲◄

 

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Serdhion, she didn't know why but Myrrhi immediately liked the name when she heard it from her Warder's lips. As she closed her eyes, she pictured a wide town with rich stores and impressively large buildings. If her mental image was true, this stop would be the perfect opportunity to renew some of her wardrobe and purchase better provisions.

 

She could have discovered the name of their destination sooner, would she have checked the map that Elessar had brought with them. But, this was something she rarely did. First, the map was in one of the Warder's bags, hanging from his saddle, away from her reach. Second, the young woman preferred to leave the travel logistics  to the Gaidin. Compared to him she still felt very inexperienced, a feeling that she didn't really enjoyed ... So instead of suggesting paths that could be wrong or too risky, she simply followed Elessar's proposals. She did the same for almost everything else, the camping spots, the watering spots, the feeding of the horses ... there was only one exception: the provisions. There were some food that she truly enjoyed and often insisted on having at least a few of them at hand. Some type of cheese, sweets, ... they were like comfort food for her. The only bits of luxury when they had to sleep in the wilds.

 

Serdhion was not exactly like she had thought it to be, but it surely was a successful merchant town. The traffic was intense and the number of stores was definitely impressive. The inn they had selected, the Merchant's Daughter, reflected that success from the pots of flowers that decorated its entrance to the sign that advertised the name of the establishment. A true artist must have painted it, the shadows and the gradient of colors were spot on. The Merchant's daughter maybe had a very large bosom but she was a masterpiece.

 

And so was the interior of the inn. The furniture looked brand new and touches of dark purple gave the common room a sense of style Myrrhi had rarely seen in a town. The innkeeper's wife or daughter had probably had had a hand in it.

 

Speaking of the innkeeper, Myrrhi recognized him as the first to come towards them. His bored face moved to something quite worrying before quickly changing to a fake smile. The young Green tensed and exchanged a glance with her Warder. He too had noticed.

 

***

 

Like it was now customary, Myrrhi waited to be shown her room to ask for a well needed bath. She waited for the water to be poured and the serving girl to be gone to ward her room and to undress. The strange behaviour of the innkeeper kept on bothering her. She tried to reassure herself that a fake smile could mean many different things. The man could have had very difficult Aes Sedai customers before? Maybe Myrrhi's face reminded him of someone? It was hard to tell. The only way to know more about it all would be to spy on the innkeeper himself, but the Green didn't really feel like weaving eavesdropping  threads. Not yet...  Instead she decided she would ask a couple of questions to the serving girl when she returned.

 

***

 

The Green's bath took longer that she had expected. The book she had picked to read while sitting in her tub was breathtaking. It was not exactly her first choice of reading - "smutty literature" she had heard someone whisper between their teeth when she had picked it up and it had been enough for her to decide buying the novel. And there, as she read it, she could see that that person had been completely wrong. There was nothing vulgar to the story, just romance, a lot of it, enough to completely distracted her from her journey and her worries for her Warder.

 

The serving girl came back to retrieve the bath and its now icy content. The petite blond woman had nothing to say about her master. Only that he was an undeserving-pig... Myrrhi shrugged and let her go. She would have to talk to the Gaidin, to see if they needed to take an extra step.

 

***

 

Myrrhi met Elessar for dinner. She had finished half her book by then and was ready for even more distractions. Her light linen dress, green of course, had the perfect shade to complement the purple drapes and ribbons of the common room. Dressing so had probably been an unnecessary gesture - more for herself that anyone else - but the Green had felt inspired by her reading. She wanted to feel beautiful.

 

The food they were served was delicious and taken from common pans and pots - a sign that it was probably not poisoned - and the gleeman who performed that night was excellent. It was easy to see how experienced and gifted he was. Even her Warder felt to his songs and poems. The Green noticed Elessar smiling widely for the first time in weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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