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


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.. Pulled down by Black Moods ..

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“God dammit, Myrrhi! He’s getting away!”

 

Elessar swore, casting a black look over his shoulder, as he stormed out of her room and down the corridor in pursuit of the thief.

 

 

Some hours earlier they had enjoyed the respite, a welcome distraction in the fashion of a gleeman’s performance. For a time, the Warder had been able to put away his frustrations and doubts, losing himself in pleasant memories and old stories, but it had not lasted. After the performance they had taken a walk in the darkness outside, Myrrhi walking with a smile on her face in her light linen dress of green colour, Elessar in his warder’s cloak, the beautiful poem still echoing in his mind. Soon though his thoughts had returned to his doubts, his failures as a Warder, and his face had darkened. Myrrhi had seen his features tighten and had considered whether to ask him if he was alright. His mood swings lately had made her concerned and she had been waiting for him to open up about it.

 

Walking down the dark street Elessar’s mood had worsened - his self-blame returning, his failures tormenting him - and he had cursed aloud when he had stepped into a hole in the ground by the side of the road. When Myrrhi had kindly asked if his ankle was fine after he had seemed to limp a little after the misstep, he had icily replied “why the bloody hell should my ankle not be fine”, making her blanch at the vehemence in his voice. He had felt bad at his comment, knowing she only wanted to help, but had found no way to apologize without it sounding trite. They had continued walking in dead silence, as if there was a wall between them.

 

Having returned to the inn, they had headed up to their rooms and had gone to sleep with no words said. Elessar had been in a foul mood and had not really been able to deduce why. Perhaps it had been the romantic poem which at first had been welcoming, a lovely distraction from his woes, but which then had become annoying with its beauty and love and serenity while he struggled through his black moods, insecurity and doubts as to his many failures as a Warder. Myrrhi’s temporary happiness (as it seemed to him) had also grated on his nerves, feelings of envy and bitterness enveloping him. Why should she seem so content when he had so many inner demons to face? He had gone to sleep cursing the blackness that was seeping through his blood, hating himself for feeling this way but unable to stop the feeling.

 

 

Then a little past midnight he had been awakened by a sound, a scraping sound at his door. He had listened for a few seconds to ascertain that it was not just a person passing by in the corridor outside, then had risen from his bed, quickly put on a shirt and pants and had walked silently across to the door. Picking up a knife in his hand, he had waited for the door to be opened from the outside. When it had opened, a man’s face visible above his hand with the lockpick, Elessar had slammed the door back in his face and he had fallen to the floor with a grunt. The Warder had been upon him in a second, pinning him down. Forcing him to his feet, Elessar had given him a dead-cold stare, then had pushed him against the wall. Demanding to know what the man had been up to, he had struck him across the face, waiting for an answer. Then the Gaidin had realized that the door to Myrrhi’s room was open and he had shoved the man aside and had run to her door, taking a quick look inside to make sure she was safe.

 

Instead of her, he had seen another man going through her private belongings. Cursing, the Warder had taken three long steps, then had leapt at the thief, bringing him crashing to the floor. Smashing his fist into the man’s face, Elessar had brought him onto the bed and had shaken him properly while asking him what he was doing there. Throwing a swift glance around the room the Gaidin had seen that Myrrhi was not there. Wondering where she could be, he had demanded an answer from the scruffy-looking man on the bed. A sound had made him turn and head out into the corridor again. There he had seen that the first man had escaped and as he turned to interrogate the second man this fellow managed to slip beneath him and head down the corridor at a full run. Elessar cursed again, anger in his eyes. Then he saw Myrrhi coming from the other direction and she walked calmly past him into her room.

 

He swore.

 

 

Storming down the corridor, he saw the other man sprinting toward the corner that led to the stairs. Elessar followed but was not quick enough. As he reached the corner, the thief was half-way down the stairs. Swearing inside at his slowness, Elessar followed him but the man was gone when the Warder reached the bottom of the staircase. It was dark in the front hall with only a few candle lights along the walls. Bloody hell! Elessar was not a happy man as he returned upstairs.

 

“So, where the hell were you?” he asked Myrrhi angrily as he stepped into her room.

 

A small voice in the back of his mind condemned him for his lack of manners and respect for his Aes Sedai, but at that moment he did not care.

 

His eyes were dark, his stance aggressive.

 

He wanted to smash something to bits.

 

 

It took long moments before Myrrhi replied.

 

As he stood there, memories flashed before his eyes.. times when anger and strong emotion had taken him to a dark place..

 

 

-Kandor-

 

..Thinking of his dead younger brother Vehran always brought him inner pain and sorrow. It was a death his father in Kandor would never forgive him for.  Another darkness upon my soul..

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

-With Myrrhi-

 

Finally, she asked, "What do say of this?"

 

She had asked him to Bond her.

 

He struggled mightily with the waves that mounted inside him, Crashing upon his ever-weakening defenses.

 

He was silent for a long time, and he quickly understood that he lacked the self-control he would need to explain his reasons to her properly, make her understand.

 

His thoughts rushed through him..

 

My soul could not take another failure, kind, passionate Myrrhi..

 

If I fail you too, in my service as your Warder, as I assuredly will, my soul and heart will be lost with no hope of redemption.

 

I cannot bear the thought of failing another time.

 

I am not worthy, as my life has shown, he thought, blanketed by the darkest of guilt. My Bondholders are either dead or gone. I am a failure.. and I will not have your death on my conscience as well. I am so sorry but I cannot.

 

The darkness and eternal guilt inside him threatened to overwhelm him and he clenched his hands in a final effort to stem the tide.

 

 But it was too late.

 

His self-control was swept aside by Crashing waves as all the pent up guilt, anger at himself, disappointment, frustration and shame Erupted inside him all at once!

 

In his mind..

 

I will not have you die in my arms, Myrrhi.

 

Like Leandreen.

 

It would break my heart forever.

 

 

“Light! I am sorry, but don’t ask this of me!”

 

Elessar said almost in a loud scream.

 

“Not this!”

 

His whole body quivered as his curbed emotions now ran wildly free.

 

“I just cannot! I cannot!” He shouted in desperation.

 

 

With the look of a wounded animal, his eyes panic-stricken, his hands shaking, all self-control lost, he sprang up from his chair in a sudden, abrupt motion, making Myrrhi almost jump out of her skin, crossed the room in long strides without looking back, tore the library-door open, and slammed it behind him on his way out!..

 

 

Elessar was brought back by Myrrhi’s voice, the flashes of memories dissipating but remaining in Elessar’s angry eyes.

 

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"Why the bloody hell should my ankle not be fine," Elessar answered, with a tone that would have made anyone gasp. Anyone except an Aes Sedai of course. Years of training and brainwashing about not showing emotions truly helped in this kind of situation.

Myrrhi and the Gaidin were in the streets. People could be watching them, people who could have recognized them as Aes Sedai and Warder... The young woman had no other choice but to school her face. This was not the place for an open confrontation. She knew — though — that her cheeks had lost some of their colour.

The last person who had barked at her that way had been more than four times her age and had been the beneficiary of one of most sought-of titles in the White Tower. No matter that person's position, Myrrhi had had her revenge, under the shape of a nasty prank the Novices still talked about. The Green didn't appreciate to be taken for punching-bag.

But should a nasty prank be her way to respond to her Warder's aggressive words? Probably not...

Myrrhi sniffed, straightened her back, and decided to keep her distances as they walked back to the inn where they had rented rooms for the night.

They found the common room in the same state they had left it, bright with lights, full of songs and laughs. The complete opposite of Elessar's mood, the Aes Sedai thought. Without even a look back, she glided to her door. Her Warder could have been right behind her or still talking to the innkeeper, she didn't care. At least that's what she told herself.

Time passed, and it became harder and harder to ignore the Gaidin. The Bond didn't help of course. It kept her informed on how bad the man was feeling. Guilt, anger, and many other feelings seemed to have gathered in a vortex right inside his brain.

Enough! She whispered. She needed to find a distraction. It was too late for another bath, too late to have a walk in the streets, too late to read. Her mind would not focus anyways.

The only options she thought of were either to pace around - which she refused to do - or to try for some sleep. After a long inner debate, she picked the second option but sleep never came.

Alright, she told herself. Let's try for a change of scenery! She put her dress back on, combed her hair and lit a candle before slowly leaving her room. The corridors were quiet, but she could still hear some brouhaha coming from the common room. There, she found the innkeeper and a couple of people who, by chance, didn't look too drunk. Among them, she recognized the gleeman who had performed earlier. The man was sitting on a table talking animatedly about his next destination.

Not everyone looked thrilled to see her. The innkeeper sighed loudly, the patrons shifted their gazes to their cups. Only the gleeman greeted her with a warm smile.

***

Odd feelings came through the Bond. Myrrhi had just told the gleeman that it was time for her to return to her room when a sense of alarm rushed through her head.

Her first thought was that her Warder must have had a bad dream - once again. Should she tell him he needed help? That his nightmares were becoming a problem? She tried picturing the conversation they would have the next day when ... she heard him swearing loudly.

Before she had the time to fully comprehend the situation, a man rushed past her, the Warder in tow.

With a dress tight as hers, Myrrhi knew it was a bad idea for her to start running as well. She would only make a fool of herself, and knew that if Elessar couldn't catch the man, neither could she.

Instead, she did what she considered to be the smartest thing to do. She swiftly went to her bedroom, then Elessar's. There she discovered a lock pick lying on the floor, proof of an attempted burglary. However, none of her belongings seemed to be missing. She had had her purse on her when she had gone downstairs and her most precious possessions had been warded.

***

“So, where the hell were you?” Elessar asked Myrrhi angrily as he stepped into her room. He had returned, empty-handed.

The little girl that Myrrhi had been would have been scared to death, facing a man with eyes as dark. Anger seemed to radiate from him.

Her answer surprised herself. She opened herself to Saidar. Not to create a shield but as a reminder of who she was. Soft tendrils of Air filled the space between them, caressing her Warder's skin.

She took a deep breath.

"I want you to think before you go further," she told him as quietly as she could. "I understand your feelings but remember who you are and who I am."

The Bond told her that this would be a long night. There would be no magical words to calm down the Gaidin unless Lady Luck was on her side.

As much as she had wanted to show empathy earlier that day, she now felt frustrated. "Tell me what's going on here..."

 

Edited by Hayl3y
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.. A Dark Path to the Capital city of Illian ..

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Myrrhi took a deep breath.

 

"I want you to think before you go further," she told him as quietly as she could. “I understand your feelings but remember who you are and who I am."

 

Elessar felt a soft caress on his skin and knew it meant that she was using the One Power.

 

A reminder indeed.



The Bond told her that this would be a long night. There would be no magical words to calm down the Gaidin unless Lady Luck was on her side.



As much as she had wanted to show empathy earlier that day, she now felt frustrated. "Tell me what's going on here..."

 

 

“What’s going on!? We were robbed, that’s what’s going on”, Elessar replied. There was still anger in his voice but perhaps with a slightly softer edge.  “Or at least those bloody thieves tried to rob us.”

 

Myrrhi shook her head.

 

“No, I mean, what’s going on.. with you.” She kept her voice as quiet as she could, watching him intently. Something was wrong with him. She had felt it through the Bond and saw it in his eyes.

 

He looked away for a moment, clearly uncomfortable with the question. Then he turned to face her again. “Nothing is wrong with me”, he lied. “I am just upset these bloody thieves caught us off guard.”

 

Meeting his gaze, she saw that he knew that she understood there was more to it. But he was not yet ready to talk.

 

The moment of silence stretched.

 

“Well, main thing is you are safe”, the Warder added finally, unclenching fists that he was unaware he had clenched. “And it seems the thieves did not get to steal anything.”

 

His dark eyes hardening, he said that he would even so look for the two bloody men, as he called them, in the streets.

 

With no further word, not leaving room for an apology (which he was not ready to give yet) nor for Myrrhi to get another word in, he turned on his heels and left the room, half-slamming the door behind him.

 

 

Elessar hunted the streets like a predator.

 

He did not know what he would do if and when he did catch one of the thieves, but he kept walking, kept searching, his dark eyes gazing into the shadows, both within and without. Seeing as this place was far from a grand city, it did not take long before he had seen every nook and corner, walked past every house and building, without seeing even a hint of the two men in question. At first he had reasoned with himself that those two could be Darkfriends who might have caught up with them at last, but the logical, sensible part of him knew this was very unlikely. Those were likely local thieves, looking for riches from someone they knew was from the White Tower. For who could tell what an Aes Sedai brought of value on a journey? As he walked, a suspicion rose in his mind that the innkeeper might have informed the thieves of these ‘honoured guests’ from Tar Valon. There was something.. shifty about the innkeeper; Myrrhi and he had felt it upon arrival. Elessar would not put it past him to do such a thing. Perhaps he needed talking to.

 

As he came to the road at the other end of Serdhion, he stopped and listened. There was only silence in the darkness. Turning to face the town, his thoughts were drawn to Myrrhi. His Bondholder. His Aes Sedai. And to the struggles he faced in his mind. Clenching his fists again, he closed his eyes.

 

He had, in fact, never quite gotten used to the darkness within him. The dark that had entered his soul upon Leandreen’s death, when the Bond had snapped. Carrain Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah had saved him from throwing away his life in a useless quest for revenge in the Blight, Bonding him (without his say) and thereby quenching the madness that had enveloped him. But the weight of self-blame, guilt and self-recrimination for being unable to protect his Aes Sedai, as he had sacredly promised, had never left him, had instead become part of his soul there to be kept in check as he renewed his pledge to Warder duty. For long periods of his life thereafter he had managed to control this inner darkness, this inner pain of his soul, but it only lay dormant to be awakened at moments of weakness and despair. He had coped well for a good while now, things working fine in his Warder-Sedai companionship with Myrrhi, but the recent mishap, his inattention, with the brigands had re-opened the doors to his despair.

 

It could have gotten my Aes Sedai killed, after all!

 

He had felt waves of self-blame rushing over him, another failure on his part as Warder and Protector, and he had descended into that inner blackness again that he hated but sometimes was unable to escape.

 

 

Thinking now of the disrespectful way he had spoken to Myrrhi, he felt ashamed and that only increased his anger. Picking up a stone from the side of the road he threw it angrily at some trees, cursing inside.

 

Why did this thing have to bloody happen! Will I never be rid of it.. Will I never suffice..

 

When he was deepest in despair, he sometimes wished Carrain had never stopped him from enacting his vengeance against the Shadow, the vindication of Leandreen’s death.. But then, with a clearer mind, he knew he did not wish for death and had much still to do - he had a purpose - in service to Aes Sedai and the Light.

 

His eyes softened as he thought of his strong and brave - each in their own way - Aes Sedai Bondholders over the years. They were so different women in many ways but also all the same woman. In dedication to the Light. In service to Mankind.

 

 

And we, as Warders, serve strongly, proudly, not as slaves as some ignorant outsiders sneer, but dutifully, honourably - for Life.

 

To Death and Beyond.

 

My Life before Yours.

 

So I pledge, on my Soul.

 

 

All thoughts of the thieves were gone from his mind as he sat down with his back to an oak near a picket fence at the end of the town - and reminisced his many faithful years as a Gaidin in Service, trying to push back the inner blackness, the crushing weight of guilt that had overtaken him once again, wanting to fill the void within him with Hope.

 

 

It was not that easy, of course. Not that he had expected it to be either. He knew from before that it took much work - and time - to quench the fires of despair and inadequacy that sometimes overtook him. It would be so this time as well. But he did feel a bit less angry, a bit more in control of himself, as he walked back to the inn a little later, pulling his cloak close around him to shield him from gusts from the cold western wind that had picked up. There was no one about and mostly silent as the town citizens were asleep in their beds. The Gaidin saw a stray dog heading down a street, what looked like a bone in its mouth, and heard the meow from a cat sitting patiently beside an old building, but other than that there were no sounds to be heard. Entering the inn, he nodded to the innkeeper half-asleep at his desk (thinking to himself that there might indeed be need to have a closer talk with that rather suspicious man) and headed up the stairs to his room.

 

He sensed through the Bond that Myrrhi was awake and so he walked up to her room, a little calmer now, and stopped. He knew she would feel him standing outside her door.

 

He knocked softly on the door to assure he had her attention, then spoke clearly (loudly enough for her to hear through the door, but not so loud as to wake other guests).

 

“You have my apology, Myrrhi Aes Sedai.” Elessar said. “My words were spoken in anger. The road is dark sometimes and I must walk it better.”

 

He left it at that, many words unsaid.

 

She did not reply but he knew she had heard. He sensed it through the Bond, or at least he thought he did, and he nodded to himself. She deserved a better explanation, but he was not ready to give one yet. He needed time to get to grips with his inner demons again before he could speak to her about it. She would not understand as it was. No one would.

 

 

He left her door and entered his own room. Shutting the door behind him, he removed his cloak, shirt and pants and threw himself down on the bed. Closing his eyes, he held his darkness at bay.

 

He hated not being in full control of himself - the way he ought to be, the way a Warder should be, the way an Aes Sedai would expect him to be - and was relieved when at last as he fell asleep he did not have black dreams.

 

 

The next morning they met up in the Common Room for breakfast. Elessar’s face was drawn, Myrrhi saw, but at least he was not angry for which she was grateful. She studied him as they ate, wondering what plagued him so. The dreams. His outbursts. It had to mean something but she did not know what. Elessar was not in a talkative mood and therefore focused on the morning meal, his thoughts darker than one might guess. Pushing his black guilt to the side for the moment, he considered the matter of the innkeeper. Could it be that the man had been behind the attempted theft? It seemed strange, no innkeepers would usually dare do anything that could, in consequence, endanger the future of their own establishment, but this innkeeper appeared to be of the slippery kind.

 

Breaking the silence, he whispered to Myrrhi that perhaps they should have a talk with the innkeeper. She understood where he was going with that and nodded. She too had suspicions about the man. And so after they had finished the meal, they headed toward the innkeeper who stood with his apron beside his desk, cleaning a glass. He seemed to momentarily frown as he saw them coming but then smoothed his features in a very fake but effective (for most guests) way.

 

“How do I be able to help you?” The Illianer innkeeper asked smoothly in the local accent, his false smile almost splitting his face.

 

Elessar felt his anger slowly returning, wanting to slap the man. He focused on calming his mood, using Warder techniques, and was partially successful. Even so, he knew it would be better if Myrrhi spoke to the man at first. Pulling back a little, giving her center-stage, he waited for her to speak. She asked the innkeeper if he was aware there were thieves about in his honourable inn? He faked surprise at her question, and seemed properly shocked when she informed him of the attempted thefts from their rooms.

 

 

Elessar’s eyes hardened seeing the innkeeper’s fake attempts at innocence and he became convinced the man knew something. Myrrhi said she was deeply concerned with the lack of safety and privacy in his inn, and what was he going to do about it. The innkeeper apologized and promised added security measures would be implemented. What exactly, he did not say. Myrrhi kept holding his gaze, probably gauging the truth of his words, and the innkeeper’s eyes shifted nervously as the moment lengthened. The Warder had had enough. Coming forwards, he indicated to Myrrhi that he would take over. She considered whether that was wise, but came to the conclusion that they needed some answers and even if he was not quite himself these days her Warder was good at getting answers. So she nodded and stepped to the side and Elessar faced the innkeeper.

 

Elessar’s eyes hardened, something which did not escape the innkeeper, he placed his arms commandingly on the desk and then said, his voice cold as ice, “Now tell us the truth.”

 

Myrrhi was relieved that Elessar had managed to keep his temper under decent control during his ‘questioning’ of the innkeeper who had finally admitted that he had mentioned to several locals that an Aes Sedai and her Warder were guests at his inn at the moment. He had not expected anything bad to come of it, he proclaimed. Just that it was not that often that he got such ‘esteemed guests’, as he said, so he was proud whenever it happened. It was clearly a lie but they did not push the matter. Perhaps he had been directly involved with the thieves, or perhaps he had not; it would be impossible to prove. As other guests approached, Elessar let him go, but only after the now pale-faced innkeeper had promised to give them a 70% discount on their stay as reparation for what had occurred and any ‘added inconvenience’ as he said.

 

Heading back to their rooms, Myrrhi had seemed satisfied with the resolution though she had kept much of her thoughts to herself. Elessar had closed the door to his room and had walked across to the small window which looked down on the merchant town, feeling his breath becoming heavy with the strain of having had to stay in decent control during the ‘questioning’. He hid his face in his hands as he tried, in vain, to cloak himself in the Flame and the Void.

 

 

They arrived in the Capital city of the nation of Illian on a sunny afternoon beneath sapphire-blue skies. The temperature had risen in the previous days and summer was around the corner. A soft breeze coming in from the ocean caressed their skin as they entered the Capital. The city was buzzing with life.

 

They rode slowly down the city streets, Elessar’s black thoughts momentarily pushed aside for the glorious sights around them. They moved along the multitude of water channels - or canals - that crisscrossed the Capital, over bridges and marble steps and roads of paving stones. Magnificent buildings, many of paled dressed stone, shone in the sunlight and fountains and statues adorned plazas and squares alike. Passing shops and vendors and stalls by the dozen, with shopkeepers and customers arguing prizes, haggling expertly and with barely hidden smiles, discussing also other daily matters, Elessar was reminded of his previous visits to the city.

 

The Capital was familiar to him. He knew that it boasted the largest port in the known world - a giant circular harbour there by the Sea of Storms. To the west sprawled forests and olive groves. The far north on the other hand was quite mountainous, bulwarked by castles and hillforts. To the east was a vast marshland finally opening up to the Plains of Maredo. The city's immediate surroundings were made up of swamps and therefore did not need any protecting wall which a city of such size and importance usually would have had. The city also boasted of the great Square of Tammaz where the Hunters of the Horn gathered to swear their oaths. Two opposing but similar Palaces, one for the King (who wears the famous Laurel Crown) and one for the Council of Nine - both of whom are said to rule the nation - adjoined the famous square. The Council's Palace was just a bit smaller, Elessar had read, but the two Palaces were said to have born witness to the ongoing power-struggles in Illian over the ages.

 

It was, in truth, one of the Great cities of the world, up there with Tear, Ebou Dar, Caemlyn, Cairhien and Tar Valon, or so at least many (especially Southerners) argued. Elessar could not disagree. It was an impressive city and the sight of it helped lighten his dark mood a little, at least temporarily. Myrrhi, riding beside him a little behind on his right, sensed this and was comforted. She gazed at the many wonders this southern Capital could offer, her mind partially on personal matters, as they rode down the busy streets in the direction of the “Silver Mermaid” inn.

 

 

Standing at a street corner beside a furniture shop, a pair of light-blue eyes followed the Aes Sedai and Warder closely as they rode past and disappeared into the distance. The scruffy-looking blond-haired man with the scar running down his left cheek frowned, thought for a moment, then headed in the opposite direction of the party from Tar Valon.

 

We must not let those two interfere with our plans, he thought intently as he moved down the busy city streets. By the Great Lord, they shall not!

 

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She saw him go and took a deep breath. Part of her wanted to follow him. Seeing him go like this felt like a defeat somehow. But, what would she say would she manage to catch up with him? Confronting him, with that current mood of his, would be messy. Her best option was to stay and wait.

 


Back to her shift, she settled herself in her bed as comfortably as she could. With her eyes closed, she fully opened herself to the Bond. The least she could do was to accompany her Warder from afar.

She felt him moving quickly in a straight line, his mood growing sourer. He felt like a predator chasing prey. The thieves, she thought. Although no sane man would stay in the open after having tried to rob an Aes Sedai and her Warder. His search was doomed to fail. She only hoped that it would not bring him even more frustration.

Staying focused lying on a bed like that soon became a hard challenge for the Aes Sedai. Her journey and the day's events had taken their toll on her and she fell asleep even without noticing it.

Dreams immediately came to her, chaotic ones.

First, she was a wolf hunting for thieves, then she turned into a bear and the thieves she had just found into Aes Sedai. She smashed at them with her powerful paws singing songs she had heard earlier that day. When all her Sisters were dead, she became human again and started crying over their dead bodies only to find herself in the inn common room and dancing with the gleeman.

When she woke up as she sometimes did when having absurd dreams, she felt Elessar's closeness. He was back from where ever he had been. His mood had softened but probably not enough to have a real conversation or so she thought. The night was still dark, not much time had passed since his outburst.

The young woman waited for him to enter the inn, to walk up the stairs. She wanted to make sure he was safe and sound in his bed before risking falling asleep again.

To her surprise, he stopped right in front of her door.

“You have my apology, Myrrhi Aes Sedai.” Elessar said with a low voice.My words were spoken in anger. The road is dark sometimes and I must walk it better.

Myrrhi bit her lower lip as she often did when she needed to cogitate. What could she answer to these few words of apology? It was too late, she was too tired to think clearly and so she decided to stay silent. It was only when she heard her Warder's entering his own room that she allowed herself to close her eyes again.

***

When Myrrhi woke up the next morning, she didn't feel as rested as she should have. More absurd dreams had plagued her and she still felt very troubled. She put on her traveling clothes - she didn't really want to feel pretty that day - and soberly tied her hair in a low bun.

She ordered a small piece of bread with jam and tea, and waited for her Warder to join her in the common room. The place would serve as a neutral ground for them to start the day. A place where there were so many ears that they wouldn't have to talk to each other about their feelings.

When she set her eyes on Elessar she saw how drawn his face was - he hadn't probably slept much - but at least he wasn't angry. Which was already a good thing, she told herself. And then she felt something different as if something had attracted the Warder's attention partially away from the recent events.

Hearing her Warder's suspicions about the innkeeper put a smile on Myrrhi's face. She decided not to comment about it out loud, but it definitely removed a heavy weight from her chest... besides confirming what she had also noticed. There was something off with the innkeeper.

***

The way they resolved the innkeeper's "problem" was another small victory. They managed to obtain a confession, apologies, and a discount without having to kill, maim or injure anyone! The Green thought it was definitely an auspicious sign. Maybe they would manage to overcome that new obstacle?

***
Illian was so different from Ebou Dar. Myrrhi had her eyes wide open as they slowly moved through the harbour city. She made note of the fashion, the architecture, the way people moved and talked. So many little details that she wanted to engrave in her memory. She thought it important as an Aes Sedai to know about the world and its people.

For a while she forgot about how worried she was for her Warder, about all the recent moments she had spent wondering whether or not she should talk to him, wondering on best to behave, ... She was starting to believe she had misinterpreted the "good" signs she had seen in Serdion.

When they arrived at the inn, they had chosen, she promptly asked Elessar whether she could spend more time in this new city's streets. She didn't feel like staying indoors when there were so many things to discover.
 

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.. Seeing Sights and amid Reflections ..

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When they arrived at the “Silver Mermaid” inn, Myrrhi promptly asked Elessar whether she could spend more time in this new city’s streets. She didn’t feel like staying indoors, she said, when there were so many things to discover.

 

The Warder nodded, agreeing and said they could stay some days in the Illianer Capital, also to give their tired horses some much needed rest. He did not add that it could be useful to have some days to think, to get to terms with the somewhat.. delicate situation between them at present, but from the look she gave him she seemed to be thinking the same thing.

 

Leaving their tired horses in the care of a local stableboy - who like many stableboys before him looked wide-eyed in awe at the imposing Warder - at the stables behind the inn, they quickly got rooms and settled in. This innkeeper, tall and heavy-set, was a jovial fellow who seemed sincerely pleased to have them as his guests. He assured them he would be at their disposal whatever the matter. Soon Myrrhi and Elessar were outside in the afternoon sunshine again and quickly proceeded to walk the streets of the Capital city.

 

 

Staring past the many ships in the city harbour, his eyes fixed on the blue horizon, Elessar’s (dark) thoughts assembled around incidents in his past.. incidents that had formed - and influenced - him as a person, as a warrior, as a human, for good or bad.

 

..He saw himself back in the Borderlands as a young, eager man going through the motions, trying hard to please his father.. and with a burning desire to excel..

 

“Push on, Elessar. Push on!”

“Yes, father.. I am trying..”

“Push on! You must excel! To fight the Shadow, you must be strong!”

“Yes, father.. but I am exhausted..” says a weary young Elessar, his blade feeling so heavy..

“Ignore the pain”, his father shouts, “push on.. show that you are worthy..”

“Yes, father..”

“Yes, that’s the way to do it. Slash! Parry! Thrust! Deflect! Yes, push on, my boy! Push on!”

 

To survive. To excel. To make his father proud.

 

To be alive.

 

But alone in his room at bedtime, a young Elessar often cried tears of blood.

 

 

He was back in the Tarasin Palace in Ebou Dar, fighting for his life..

 

..One with his Blade, in this duel with the Shadow, he flowed from one sword form into the next, in an endless graceful movement, Dancing Among Golden Leopards ..

 

There was a Clash of Swords, the sound of steel meeting steel, and sparks flew in the east wing room at the back of the Tarasin Palace, as the Warder’s blade met that of his Shadow opponent. From each corner of the partially lit square room a ferocious looking Altaran golden leopard statue stared intently at the two combatants, as if judging who was the most deserving. Elessar’s dark cloak flowed around him as he moved, as if touched by powerful ripples of wind. His sword was an extension of his arm and he almost floated from one step to the next, eyes intent on the Shadow figure before him, in a deadly Dance of the Blades.

 

Striking out in mid-stride, sword falling in an arc on his Darkfriend-opponent’s neck, the other man somehow deflected the blow and moved out of reach for a moment. Elessar found his balance, the move having carried him forwards at a slight angle, and stopped a few feet off to the side, his blade pointing downwards. His hard focused eyes mirrored those of his opponent - and both men knew, without a word being said, that this was a fight to the death.

 

Elessar was focused as he moved back and forth with elegance, striking out and parrying, feinting and thrusting. He moved with agility and purpose and so did his opponent who Elessar found surprisingly accomplished. It was almost as if there was a driving force behind the Lugarder.. Sweat beaded on the Warder’s brow as he went on the attack once more. His opponent countered well but seemed also to be tiring somewhat, his strokes becoming ever slower. As they dueled Elessar felt the calm of the Flame and the Void filling him and it gave him inner strength.

 

Seeing weakness in his enemy then, he struck out with his blade, moving inside the other man’s guard and slamming the hilt of his sword into the man’s shoulder. The Darkfriend was too slow to defend himself, his sword coming up too late, and screamed out in pain as he fell to the floor in agony. Elessar combined sword forms and smashed his blade toward the man’s body to finish him off, but somehow the other man managed to twist to the side and the Warder’s strike missed. He took a step back to regain his balance and his opponent managed to get to his feet. Elessar  considered his dangerous opponent for a moment, then raised his sword again and they resumed their Dance..

 

 

He was back with Carys Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah, he was her protector on this journey..

 

..Morning broke with sunshine covering a blue sky. The breeze from the day before was gone and the fields surrounding the forested area where they had camped looked beautiful. They broke camp in mid-morning and set off eagerly for the farmhouse. Even the horses seemed to sense that the journey was nearing its end as they trotted happily along. Elessar rode in front, as before, with the Darkfriend next and the Aes Sedai at the back. He checked the road both in front and behind at intervals but saw no danger. Even so, a nagging feeling in his gut made him unwary and his shoulders were tight as he rode on. He regretted not having slept more the night before, he did not in truth feel as alert as he normally was, but he had not thought it right to share watch-duty with Carys - she had needed the sleep, as he saw it - and anyways he had had much on his mind. His haunted memories and feelings of guilt were subdued now, pushed back into the back of his mind. He had to focus on doing his job, getting Carys safely to her destination. That was all that mattered. And do not fail her, the small voice whispered in his head.

 

They arrived at the farmhouse a little before midday. Some clouds had appeared from the south and they mirrored Elessar’s mood. His unwariness had grown as they had neared their destination and it frustrated him that he could not pin-point the reason. Dismounting in front of the farmhouse building he had taken a close look around, looking for any potential danger. He had seen nothing. Surprisingly there were neither people nor animals around and that also made the Warder suspicious. Carys dismounted and handed him her horses’ reins. He bound all three horses to a wooden fence and considered their captive. The man was silent now and safely bound. Elessar left him there and walked with Carys up to the entrance to the farmhouse. The door stood slightly ajar and Elessar pushed it open wide. He looked at Carys, who nodded back, and then he entered the building just ahead of her.

 

They had only walked a few yards into the farmhouse when time suddenly slowed for Elessar. Something was wrong! Everything started running in slow motion.. He was just ahead of Carys, stepping carefully around a corner, his eyes watching in every direction, when he suddenly heard the snap of a thread.. the whooshing sound of a drawn bowstring.. and then as his eyes widened in understanding the world stood still .. A trap! He had triggered a booby trap! Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement - something coming toward them - and with an instinctive protective reaction, he pushed the Aes Sedai out of the poisoned knife’s path. It all seemed to take forever..

 

He was, however, unable to move fast enough to avoid the knife himself, as well as a second knife which embedded itself in his chest with deadly precision. Elessar tumbled to the floor, bleeding hard. He got a knock on the head as he fell and as he opened his eyes a storm of pain enveloped him. He struggled to breathe and sensed paralysis overtaking him. Poison! The thought flashed in his mind. He sensed rather than saw a presence beside him. Who was there? Everything was so confusing.. He felt as if he were falling into blackness. I am dying.. A last thought. A bitter thought. The darkness beckoned seductively. The light in his eyes started fading..

 

 

Images kept flashing in his mind; of his many deeds as a Warder, of his successes, of his failures; of his Bonds, his service and of his hard work to achieve excellence in sword skill. His past passed before his eyes as the blue-green waters of the Sea of Storms reflected the golden rays of the late afternoon sun.

 

 

Finally he turned around and walked back to where Myrrhi was standing further along the dock. She sensed that his mood was unchanged but his dark eyes had a pensive look which made her think he had been reflecting. That seemed a good thing at least. She still wondered what plagued him so, but he would tell when he was ready. She gave him a smile and they then walked away from the docks in the direction of the Square of Tammaz.

 

They had seen many monuments and sights worth seeing and had visited several shops (some of them of great interest to Myrrhi) before Elessar had asked if they could take a walk down to the dockside. Myrrhi had agreed, thinking he perhaps wanted to take a look at the ships anchored there. She had noted the high activity in the harbour and had spoken to a local fisherman about it while Elessar had gone off on his own for a little while. The fisherman, a rugged-looking fellow with a scarred face, yellow teeth and a reddish beard, had not been very talkative, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation, but had in the end mentioned that the seas were unusually dangerous these days. He had been unwilling to say anything more on the matter, but the young Green had had the impression he was talking about more than the weather and natural storms.

 

 

Myrrhi and Elessar were standing next to a beautifully sculpted fountain - depicting an ancient warrior queen with flowing hair, visionary eyes and a spear pointing eastwards - discussing where to go next when they saw a formally dressed middle-aged local man, dark of hair, sharp of eye, approach them. From his clothes and the way he carried himself he looked like a courier of sorts, Elessar thought at first glance, and it turned out his presumption was correct.

 

The man stopped before the green-clad Aes Sedai and bowed formally. He handed her a parchment and said it was a letter to her. He would wait for her response which he would carry back to his Master. The courier walked some paces off to the side while Myrrhi looked down at the parchment in her hand, noticing that it was sealed. Only a Nobleman -or Lady would seal a parchment in this way and she wondered who it could be - and for what reason it was delivered to her.

 

Exchanging a quick glance with her Warder, she broke the seal and opened the formal parchment. She then read the letter with Elessar standing behind her, watching the courier closely. She read it a second time, thinking of the implications.

 

It was an invitation.

 

The question was whether to accept it or not.

 

 

Myrrhi Morrigen Aes Sedai,

 

 

We would be honoured to have Your company on a matter of some importance.

 

It would be to our mutual benefit.

 

You are invited to our Manor House in the western part of the Capital.

 

Time: tomorrow at seven in the evening.

 

We hope you will honour this invitation and we look forward to constructive talks.

 

 

In the Light,

 

Lord Tarac Semaris

of The Council of Nine

 

 

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The fountain was beautiful. A real masterwork. Having grown up in Caemlyn, Myrrhi had seen her share of marble monuments, but this one was exceptionally well carved. She wondered whether someone would want to erect a statue in her likeness one day. Her stone self would stand in her dress and shawl, her Warder at her side, both with swords in their hands. She let out a small giggling sound as she imagined what the result would look like.

Elessar turned towards her, as if to ask what was going on, when a dark-haired man approached. The stranger halted two feet away from them, then bowed formally. His back still lowered, he tilted his head, politely waiting for Myrrhi to allow him to go further. And so she did, with a slow wave of her hand.

The courtier - that was how the Green had identified him due to his rich clothes - straightened and handed her a sealed parchment.

With another bow, he announced he would wait for her response which he would carry back to his Master.

The young woman nodded. She quickly broke the seal, opened the parchment and read its content, once, then a second time.

 
"There will be no need to wait," Myrrhi replied. "We will send our response to your Master later today. As he can imagine, my Warder and I are busy with multiple matters."
 
The courtier looked surprised. He clearly didn't expect the young woman to give him anything else than a positive answer. "My Master told me..."
 
Myrrhi didn't let him finish.
 
"Your Master will understand as he must be a busy man himself. Now, will you be so kind to tell him that we will send our own messenger?"
 
The stranger hesitated but not long. As soon as Elessar took a step towards him, he bowed for a third time and set himself on his way.
 
"We need to go back to the inn," Myrrhi announced.
 
***
 
Myrrhi walked as fast as she could to the silver mermaid. She knew that Elessar was close to her, and that was all she needed. She barely paid attention to her surroundings. The harbour, the people, the stores, the carts, it all looked like blurry shapes. Her only objective was to reach her room where she would - eventually - be free to talk to the Gaidin.

 

Once she reached it, she took away the woolen cape that had kept her warm during her walk and settled herself on her bed before moving to a chair, and standing up once again.

At last, she read Elessar the content of the invitation

***


"As if my "talks" are usually non-constructive," Myrrhi sniffed. She showed the invitation to Elessar. "See that last sentence?"

The Warder extended a hand to grab the document, so he could see for himself, but the Green didn't let him. Oblivious, she turned around, her mind busy on what she interpreted as an affront.

"... constructive talks", she repeated. Her cheeks had taken a surprisingly deep red colour. She didn't need a mirror to know it. She felt fire coursing through her.

"I am not certain that is what our host meant," Elessar tried.

"Nonsense! I can't believe it. See how he placed these words, right at the end!" Again, she held forth the invitation without really giving her Warder the chance to do more than acquiesce to her words.

The Green started chewing on her lower lip. She would need to impress would she accept the invitation. And so far, she was not convinced she should. She agreed that she was young and probably not very experienced as an Aes Sedai. But clearly this was no reason enough to be disrespected.

She would need a dress to impress. Nothing she was carrying in her traveling bags would be elegant enough to meet one of the council of nine. And to complement it, she would also need knowledge. Lots of it. The man was likely not expecting her to outsmart him...

A trip to the nearest eyes-and-ears was definitely required!

"Let's go!" she said crumpling the parchment before setting it in one of her belt pouches. She grabbed her woolen cape that she hastily set on her shoulders, then rushed to the door.

It's only when her Warder asked her whether she would care to tell him where they were going that she came back to reality. Unfortunately, there were already half way through the inn's common room, one of the worst places to start talking about spies.

"We need to go shopping," the Green replied.

She waited to be in the streets to tell her Warder about her plan.

"I'm sorry," she said without turning to face him "I didn't consult you on any of this.".

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.. The Mystery deepens in Illian ..

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Elessar waited outside the florist shop while Myrrhi spoke at length to the proprietor, who was also one of the Green Ajah Eyes and Ears in the city.

 

He went over in his mind what had brought them to this place a little outside the center of the Capital. It had begun with the letter. The letter that had upset Myrrhi so. When he had read it, he had found nothing there to be upset about and could not understand why she became so angry. She seldom showed her temper and so he found it very peculiar that this seeming small matter irked her so. “Constructive talks” was a common phrase used in invitations where Nobles or merchants were involved, it was a diplomatic way of speaking, a polite way to initiate talks which hopefully would bring a fruitful outcome for both parties.

 

Myrrhi was young as an Aes Sedai; even so he was surprised that she did not see this. He was tempted to say something, but even in his current state of ‘slight unbalance’ he understood that it would probably make matters worse if he indicated that she was reading far too much into things. And so he remained silent with his thoughts, only offering a weak “I am not certain that is what our host meant” in reply.

 

She would hear nothing of it though and he recalled her exact words: "Nonsense! I can't believe it. See how he placed these words, right at the end!" He guessed correctly that a comment about “foolish reactions” would not have gone down well and so he played along, thinking inside that her strong reaction was probably coloured by the current strain on their companionship with his ‘issues’ and all.

 

Without any further explanation, she said "Let's go!", crumpling the parchment before setting it in one of her belt pouches. She grabbed her woolen cape that she hastily set on her shoulders, then rushed to the door. “Where exactly are we going, if you don’t mind me asking”, the Warder asked as they walked hurriedly through the inn’s Common Room, but all Myrrhi said was that they needed to go shopping. She waited to be in the streets to tell her Warder about her plan.

 

"I'm sorry," she said without turning to face him "I didn't consult you on any of this.".

 

No, you didn’t, thought the Gaidin as he followed his Bondholder through the streets of the city. You did not.

 

 

Myrrhi’s plan was to go see one of the Green Ajah Eyes and Ears in the Capital to get some information about this Lord on the Illian Council of Nine. She did not say so outright but seeing her angry mood he got the impression what she was really after was to dig up some dirt on the man. Then she needed to buy a new dress, one which would impress, because she had indeed decided to accept the invitation. There were many things running through Elessar’s mind at her words, not the least that she had foregone discussing the matter with him, but he kept silent for the moment, seeing that she would not welcome his input right then.

 

Turning down a cobblestoned side street to the main promenade they passed several antiques shops before they came upon the florist shop. There were flowers of every colour in the shop window, but a knowing eye would take note of the bouquet of green Calla Lilies inside a beautiful wreath up in the right corner of the window. Myrrhi still seemed somewhat agitated but had said little during their walk. Now she stopped before the entrance, half-turned toward Elessar as if to tell him to wait (which he had intended to do anyway) then turned back and walked determinedly into the shop, closing the door behind her.

 

She is definitely not in a good mood, the Gaidin mused as he placed himself beside the entrance, watching closely every person walking by. Several saw his icy stare and stepped out of his way, one woman almost stumbling as his dark eyes narrowed seeing her walk toward him and she apparently changed her mind about visiting the florist.

 

It took a long while but finally Myrrhi appeared, closing the door to the florist behind her. She did not say a word to Elessar, but from the glint in her eyes he thought she had gotten some information that she was looking for. She nodded for him to follow and he did so, trying to ignore the urge to know what she had discovered. Down a couple of streets she found the next place she was looking for: a clothes shop. Again Elessar waited outside while she did her business. He understood well her wish to get an impressive dress for the meeting with the Lord. Aes Sedai had a reputation to uphold and she wanted to look her very best, especially since she was obviously not well disposed toward the man after the invitation she had taken so badly. When she appeared some time later carrying a bag with her new dress, her face looked a little calmer though she was clearly not appeased yet.

 

He followed as she made a couple more errands and then they returned to the ‘Silver Mermaid’ inn. Back in their rooms again, Myrrhi sent for a messenger who was to relay a reply from her to Lord Tarac Semaris. Seated on a chair in her room, Elessar saw the dark grin upon her lips as she worded her reply with distinct intent. Lord Councilor or no, this Illianer man would bow to an Aes Sedai as Kings and Queens had done before!

 

 

They arrived at the Manor House a little before seven in the evening. It was nearing twilight and the sky was gradually darkening.

 

Myrrhi had not been much talkative ever since she received the invitation which she had found so disrespectful. She had not ventured much information about what she had learned from the Eyes and Ears either, just saying that it had been a useful talk. When Elessar had shared his opinion that this Lord of the Council of Nine could simply be playing Daes Dae'mar, the Game of Houses - the famed political and social maneuvering employed by the Nobility of various nations to gain status or wealth, or to cause the downfall of others they dislike -, she had replied nonchalantly that Aes Sedai had invented the Game. She had not seemed interested in discussing the intent of this Lord, or if there were any dangers in this meeting, or what might come out of it, and it all pointed to her not being quite herself as he saw it.

 

Brilliant! Now both of us are a little unhinged, the Warder thought darkly to himself as they stepped out of the carriage which had brought them there. Elessar handed the carriage driver a few coins, exchanged a few words, then watched the carriage pull away with the four black horses heading into the city center again.

 

Myrrhi looked resplendent in her beautiful and impressive green dress, wearing an expensive necklace with green emeralds and matching earrings, while Elessar wore his finest, a stylish black suit with a matching cape and he looked quite imposing as was the intention. Looking upon the huge Manor House, the Warder was impressed. It was not quite as large and luxurious-looking as some Manor Houses he had seen in Caemlyn, but it was not far off. This home of this Lord in Illian spoke volumes of his power and prestige here. He was someone to be reckoned with.

 

Which made it doubly interesting why he had invited Myrrhi this evening. Elessar knew of the historical battle of power between the King of Illian and the Council of Nine, a fight for power, prestige and influence that had lasted over time, and wondered if this action by Lord Semaris was part of a power intrigue. If so, the White Tower should step very carefully. He wanted to advise Myrrhi on this, but she seemed preoccupied and so he let the matter be. He would, however, watch everything closely this evening and make sure nothing untoward happened to his Aes Sedai.

 

 

Even as they approached the huge oak entrance door which had the Semaris Noble family sigil imprinted, it opened and a finely dressed servant in his mid-thirties beckoned them to enter. With Myrrhi in the lead behind the servant, they walked down several corridors with marble statues at intervals and expensive paintings and other decorations on the walls before reaching a hall. At the end of this stood another huge oak door and before it waited a guard holding onto a spear. Myrrhi gave him a cool look, her face Aes Sedai-smooth though Elessar noted she had a little more colour in her cheeks than usual. Then the door opened and she walked inside a larger room, a Reception Hall, regal as a Queen, proud as Aes Sedai had been for centuries; Aes Sedai who had made empires tremble. The Reception Hall was empty except for a sole occupant at its far end. And seeing the resolute imposing figure that was Myrrhi Morrigen, Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah, bearing down on him there he sat in his high-backed Lord’s chair, and the almost equally imposing black-clad Warder coming right behind her, Lord Semaris quickly got up from his chair and bowed deeply before her in respect.

 

She barely nodded back, her mind on what she was going to say. Seating herself in the chair the Lord offered, she waited until he had taken his own seat before speaking. Elessar remained standing some way behind her chair and to the side - far enough away to not intrude on the conversation but close enough to listen and intervene should something happen - studying the Lord Councilor. The man was in his early sixties, the Warder guessed, with grey hair, cunning eyes, a double-chin and a body which had not seen much exercise in the past twenty years. Even so there was something about the man that spoke of power and influence. This man was used to get his way. He was finely dressed in an expensive suit of Illianer style, his shirt had silver fringes and there was a medallion on his coat sleeve. The vestment was worn by all members of the Council of Nine. He looked more confident now that they were both seated and waved for the guard to bring them some tea. Myrrhi was not going to let him speak first though.

 

Looking him straight in the eye, she spoke. Her voice was cold but not overly so. Enough so he should understand who was in command here.

 

“Lord Semaris”, she began. “We thank you for your invitation. We are always ready for “constructive talks”, she said, emphasizing the last words. “However, the White Tower has no time for idle chatter. So I hope your reason for inviting us was an important one. We do not want to be wasting our time.”

 

She was pleased with the way he reacted, his eyes widening slightly, as if he had not expected her opening statement to be so forceful.

 

It was nothing less than he deserved, disrespecting her as he had done in his letter!

 

 

“Of course, Aes Sedai.” Lord Semaris replied as smoothly as he could. “Of course.”

 

He studied the woman before him. She did not have the ageless look that Aes Sedai usually had which did surprise him, but in every other way she was Aes Sedai: calm, collected, regal, powerful, impressive. Her green dress was resplendent and her matching jewelry the same. Her blue eyes were fixed on him as she studied him back, and he felt as if she could read his thoughts. It made him uncomfortable. He wanted to break the silence but was deciding how much to reveal. He had made up his mind when he had sent her the invitation, but now that she was here he was uncertain how to proceed. This was a very delicate matter and he had to tread carefully.

 

 

“Let me begin by saying I do be honoured that you were able to come, Myrrhi Aes Sedai.”

 

 

He tried to make his voice as smooth and welcoming as possible, though inside he was fuming that he had to ask the aid of Aes Sedai, Aes Sedai who had never stood up for his House before, who had never seemed to care much for his home nation Illian. He had no choice though as he saw it.

 

 

“Let me also emphasize that I do no invite you here on behalf of the Council of Nine. This do be a.. personal matter. A confidential matter. It do no concern the others.”

 

 

Myrrhi nodded coolly, wondering what matter he wanted to speak of. A personal matter? That could be anything. The question was why he wanted Aes Sedai-help. It had to be of some importance. He would know that the White Tower did not involve itself in ‘personal matters’, unless it was of importance to the White Tower, of course. She waited curiously to hear more. At the same time she felt Elessar getting impatient, standing watch off to the side, but she could not do anything about that. Her whole focus had to be on this man before her. She hoped she was not wasting her time here.

 

 

 

 

At that point the guard returned with the cups of tea and they each took a cup. Lord Semaris took a moment to sip from his tea as he considered his next words.

 

 

He chose them carefully.

 

 

“The personal matter do be.. delicate.” His voice had almost become a whisper.

 

 

“Yes?” Myrrhi prompted, a little more impatiently than she would normally have done.

 

 

“But as I write in the letter, I believe this do be of mutual benefit and of interest to the White Tower.”

 

 

“And?” Myrrhi prompted a second time as there was a new long silence.

 

 

Lord Semaris folded his arms, his eyes taking on a dark gleam.

 

 

“I will do anything to protect my House.” He began. His voice was more forceful now. “Even from enemies within.”

 

 

He paused for another long moment. There was anger but also a touch of sadness in his face now. Above all, an impression of betrayal.

 

 

“I believe..”, he said, now with bitterness in his voice, “that my wife, the Lady Ardhana of House Semaris, do be.. a Darkfriend.”

 

 

“And that do be why I need your help.”

 

 

 

Of all the things Myrrhi imagined she would hear, this was not one of them. She smoothed her features even though she wanted to gape. His lady wife a Darkfriend? The wife of one of the Council of Nine of Illian a Darkfriend!? If it were true, of course. It could all be supposition. It could all be part of some in-House plot and intrigue. Did he have proof?

 

Her face was smooth and cold, however, as she stared back at the Lord. She could feel Elessar’s restlessness through the Bond, but tried to ignore it. She had to focus on what Lord Semaris had said.

 

“Do you have proof of this?” she asked finally, studying the Illianer closely for his reaction.

 

“I have strong suspicions”, he answered, colour coming into his otherwise pale cheeks. “No written proof as such, but she do be overheard by servants. Trusted servants. If this were to come out..”

 

He did not finish the sentence, the implication clear.

 

“I presume you have not shared this information with anyone else”, she said to give herself time to think about what he had told her. This was a matter she was pretty certain he would not dare talk about to anyone. Even the suspicion of being a Darkfriend could be very dangerous indeed.. for everyone.

 

He confirmed that he had not told anyone else. Since Aes Sedai spent time rooting out Darkfriends, or so he claimed to have heard, he thought this was a matter that concerned them as well.

 

“And so if you do be helping me”, he added mock-cheerfully, “we do be killing two birds with one stone.”

 

 

This time it was Myrrhi’s turn to stay silent for a while. She took another sip of her tea to give her some more time to think. ‘Two birds with one stone’. But was this one ‘bird’ truly guilty?

 

“Not to impose, but do you love your wife?” Myrrhi asked then, her eyes narrowing, wondering if he had other motivations for asking for her help in this matter.

 

She kept in mind what the Eyes and Ears had whispered about the Lord’s rumoured infidelity and philandering. He did not seem to mind the question and replied that he cared for her as a husband should, but that it had been a political marriage and there was no love there. She had been a good wife per se, but he would not have a Darkfriend infesting his House with her evil ways.

 

What to believe? And was this really something she and Elessar should spend their time on? Then again, they hunted Darkfriends everywhere and wasn’t it their duty to do the same here in Illian and to deliver any Darkfriends into the hands of the authorities? This was an intricate matter and she needed to discuss it with Elessar. She had to involve him again.

 

“Lord Semaris”, she said finally. She looked coolly at him and it was impossible for him by looking at her to know how she had received the information she had given him.

 

“Write down everything your trusted servants have overheard, and all you know about this matter, and let me have the document tomorrow and I will look at your case.”

 

She paused before going on.

 

“I cannot promise that we have the time to look into the matter”, she said. “The White Tower indeed works to put any Darkfriends behind bars,” she added coldly, “but we also have other important matters to attend to. There are many things that need be taken into consideration. We shall let you know.”

 

 

The Lord thanked her and promised he would send over the information with a trusted messenger the following day.

 

Standing up from her chair, the meeting concluded, Myrrhi turned toward Elessar and nodded for him to follow. Lord Semaris bowed once again in respect, then - feeling the sweat on his back - he watched as the Aes Sedai almost glided out of the Reception Hall with the ominous-looking Warder right behind her.

 

As Myrrhi stepped into the waiting carriage outside the Manor House, she wondered what would be the next unexpected surprise. When Elessar joined her in the carriage, closing the carriage door behind him, and the carriage driver led the horses away and down the adjacent street, she met his gaze and sighed.

 

“You heard most of that I am sure”, she said, to which he nodded silently. “We find ourselves in strange circumstances once again, Elessar Telcontar”.

 

 

She never used his surname when talking to him, so it surprised him that she did so this time. There was no indication why she had done so now, but he took note of it since it was another peculiarity.

 

“The question becomes”, she mused, “do we believe this tale or is the Lord trying to entangle us in some sort of intricate Game?” She raised an eyebrow. “And if we do believe him,”, she said pensively, “what if anything are we going to do about it?”

 

Her Warder remained silent as he considered her words and the potential dangers to his Aes Sedai. He felt his black mood returning, having worked hard to keep it under control this evening, and did not meet Myrrhi’s gaze again as they travelled toward the “Silver Mermaid” inn.

 

▀▄

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

What was she supposed to do? Was she overreacting? What did their host want? Why had he written the invitation that way? With such insulting words? So many questions and no answers. A good Aes Sedai would have reacted with coolness. But that was something she couldn't do, not at the moment. That last sentence had sent her back to her days as an Accepted. A time when she had needed to prove herself, to show to her seniors that she could have constructive talks, constructive ideas... that she was more than a very young girl who had been raised too quickly.

Her current situation didn't help. She felt like she had failed as an Aes Sedai. How could she have not when her Warder was in such dispositions? He should be thriving, happy to have found a new purpose, happy with their recent victories, happy to be outside of Tar Valon's walls and to be traveling again, should he not?  Maybe his mood was the sign that she was too young, too inexperienced, not to his liking as an Aes Sedai? 

Myrrhi fought to put all her thoughts aside as she entered the first building of her tour.

 

***
The eyes and ears she was supposed to meet was a florist. She had imagined her contact to be a balding man in his fifties, but the person standing right in front of her was a pretty woman who looked no older than thirty.

- Are you Aredhel? The Green asked.

The woman nodded and gave the correct passwords, to Myrrhi's surprise.

The florist knew a good deal about Lord Semaris but not enough to paint him as the Dark One. Yes, like most council members he was corrupt, he did like to flirt with young women and cheated on his wife, but there was nothing that could help Myrrhi feel better about this all. Some of his friends were Children of the Light. But,  Aredhel was not sure whether these men real friends or just political acquaintances.

- It is hard to tell with men like that. Ambitions first and honesty second, right?

- Do you know anything that could give the Tower leverage in this man? Myrrhi asked, frustrated.

- Well, he has a grand-daughter who has the right age to be tested for the spark?

The Green nodded, "I guess that he will prefer to have her around to cement alliances than to be sent to Tar Valon ... Maybe this can be used to put pressure on him. Anything else? "

- Nothing. Sorry I can't be of more help. I wish there was more to tell you.

- "Do not worry," Myrrhi said with a smile. "Maybe it is better this way."

- "I don't like to disappoint," replied the florist with a grin.

Myrrhi laughed. She didn't like to disappoint either.


She bade the florist her farewells. There was still so much to do, and not enough daylight.

***

Myrrhi didn't hurry to get ready. She was not looking forward to the soirée, and the perspective of having to talk to Elessar didn't enthuse her either. She was afraid that a bad word would spark an argument that would be ugly for them both.

When he had knocked on her door to tell her that he was ready, she had suggested he waited for her in the common room. He hadn't protested and turned his heels to her biggest regrets.

Divided between fear and disappointment, she waited for the last minute to come down. And if her emotion had been different she would have allowed herself to offer a compliment to the Gaidin who had never looked as handsome before. They weren't however and so she kept her mouth shut and her eyes fixed on the path ahead.

 

***

The Green almost made a step back when she saw that the reception hall was empty. She had imagined it to be busy, full of visitors that Semaris would have invited only to impress her. What she saw was even worse, he was alone sitting at the end of the room on a throne-like chair.

Anger flashed through Myrrhi's heart. It quickly dissipated when she saw that Semaris got up from his chair to bow very deeply.

For a moment she hesitated. Should she say what she had intended to? Maybe there were things she had misread? No! she decided. Let's follow the plan. My plan.

And so she started with a forceful line: yes, she could have a constructive conversation, but could he? The man's eyes widened as he heard her first words.

***


Myrrhi took of her emerald earrings, one after the other, then placed them in a small wooden box she had set on the table next to her. She rubbed her lobes, the jewels she had picked for the night were heavier than she had thought them to be.

She knew that her Warder was watching her, waiting for her to deign talk about everything they had gathered so far. But, she was at a loss. She didn't know how to begin. Should she start by apologizing for the way she had behaved? If so, why should she apologize, when he had been in a dark place himself for so many days? Or, she could go straight to the facts and start talking about that new mystery. It decided it was the best option, as took away the pins that were holding her hair.

-" He doesn't like his wife, and he has a whole bunch of mistresses."

She went to sit on her bed before going forward.

-"He has friends amongst the Children of the Light. So he could have gone that direction, but he didn't..."

The Green rearranged her hair.

The atmosphere in the room was so heavy that she wanted to scream.

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.. Weighed down by heavy Burdens ..

►▼◄

 

Elessar watched silently from the other side of the room as Myrrhi took off her emerald earrings and placed them in a small wooden box on the table next to her.

 

His thoughts should have been on what had happened at the Manor House and what the Illianer Lord has said, but all he could think of was that he was drowning in a black sea of despair. The waves of frustration kept washing over him, showering him with droplets of dejection and despondency, and he closed his eyes and just wanted to retire to his room and hide himself under his blankets.

 

He was brought back to the here and now when his Bondholder spoke.

 

"He doesn't like his wife”, Myrrhi said as she removed the pins that were holding her hair, “and he has a whole bunch of mistresses."

 

Elessar was not surprised. Many men in power had mistresses, balancing (often loveless) marriages with love affairs. Lord Semaris had admitted his was a political marriage. The Warder also knew that many women were drawn to men in power like moths to a flame.

 

When the Warder did not make a comment, she turned toward him for a second as if wanting to measure his mood. Seeing his dark dejected eyes, she turned away again, sighing inside.

 

 

Then she went to sit on her bed before going forward.

 

Elessar had always hated his black moods, but though he knew he should be focused on what his Aes Sedai was saying his thoughts were centered on his failures as a Warder. He had failed Leandreen. He had failed Carrain. He had failed Kathleen. Carys had passed his Bond, another sign that he was unworthy as a Gaidin. And he had almost failed Myrrhi. A voice whispered in his ear that it was not all doom and gloom, but he ignored it, too far gone in his depression.

 

The black waves kept crashing over his soul as he studied his Bondholder. She looked older somehow than she had only a week earlier, as if weighed down by heavy burdens. He understood that he was not the only one going through tough times, and that part of the reason probably was his black moods which she would feel through the Bond, but he had no time for her weariness and pain, his own was almost paralyzing him.

 

"He has friends amongst the Children of the Light”, she continued, her attention only partly on what she was saying. “So he could have gone that direction, but he didn’t…”


Talk of Whitecloaks made the Warder more focused and his eyes momentarily lost some of their gloom. He understood that she probably had gotten that piece of information from her Eyes and Ears. His eyes  tightened as he thought of his experiences with the Children of the Light over the years. Fanatics and zealots, they had never been high in the Warder from Kandor’s estimation.

 

“That is indeed interesting”. Elessar said, his voice thoughtful. Myrrhi watched him, glad that he had spoken. “I would not have thought a friend of Whitecloaks would seek out Aes Sedai, whatever the reason.”

 

He did not add anything further though, just turned his eyes away to stare coldly at the wall behind her.

 

The Green rearranged her hair.

 

The atmosphere in the room was so heavy that she wanted to scream.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

The echoes of the Bond that had snapped when Leandreen died still lingered in his mind.

Gone.. forever..

Now only time for deaths.

His own would be among them.

But he could not die before he had his vengeance.

 

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

 

 

They will pay. They will all pay.

And that will be the end of it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The following day he saddled Stormbreaker early and set off toward the north at a gallop. His bottled up rage threatened to erupt as he raced across the desolate lands, Death’s Messenger. His eyes had become almost feverish again and he felt his tight reign on his sanity begin to slip. Not that far now, he thought to himself, trying to focus his anger. Soon now.

 

The trail he had found a few days before had been clear and he thought it unlikely they kept lookouts. Why should they? Only madmen travelled these lands of death and none survived long. When he overtook them he would bring death to them all. His eyes intensified and his inner fire blazed.

 

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

 

 

Elessar crashed out of his dream-memories, his pulse racing, sweat on his brow and chest, short of breath. His eyes were wide, his hands shaking as he raised himself up in his bed and stared into the darkness of the room. A sliver of light crept into the darkness through the small window on the side but did not give sufficient light to penetrate the blackness.

 

The blackness of the room. The blackness of his soul.

 

Shaking his head in frustration and misery, he stepped out of bed and walked across to the small window on the adjacent wall. Trying to get his pulse under control, he placed his hands on the window sill and stared silently up at the moon in the dark sky.

 

Why do I have those recurring dream-memories? That was my darkest moment, when madness almost took me.

 

Clenching his fists, he cursed inside. He felt shame at this weakness, at this lack of self-control. A Warder should be stronger, needed to be stronger. A Warder should me more worthy. The moon was almost full, he could see, and it sent slivers of silver down on the Capital of Illian where most people were asleep in their beds. He remained standing there for several minutes and gradually the wisps of dream-memory dissipated and his pulse slowed to normal rate again. Closing his eyes, he wondered if he had awakened Myrrhi in the next room. Connected as they were through the Bond, it was difficult for him to know how much she felt his turbulent emotions. It was not something he had ever felt comfortable taking about with his Aes Sedais. Neither had they seemed comfortable talking in general about what Aes Sedai could discern through the Bond with their Warder.

 

We all have our secrets, he thought to himself as he moved away from the window and lay down in bed again, pulling the sheets on top of him. Dark secrets and burdens to bear.

 

It took him a long time to fall asleep again and thankfully this time his sleep was dreamless

 

 

Elessar was too ashamed to speak to Myrrhi the following morning. He felt shame over the abrupt way he had cut short their discussion the evening before - when he had said he needed some time on his own and had simply left shortly after making a few comments on the Whitecloaks - and felt shame over his dream-memories which had broken his sleep and perhaps broken Myrrhi’s also. He did not have the balance - mentally and physically - that was so important for Warders and that above all brought him most shame. He feared he would not be able to protect his Aes Sedai as he should and the knowledge tore at his soul.

 

Exchanging a few silent glances at breakfast in the inn’s Common Room, he could see in her eyes that she saw the doubt, weariness and blackness inside him - and her concerned look just made it even worse. Finally he could take it no more and excused himself, saying he had some important errands to take care of. Elessar walked hurriedly out of the Common Room, chaotic thoughts swirling in his mind, as Myrrhi stared after him, her eyes filled with concern and confusion.

 

He did not return until late afternoon.

 

 

When he did, it was only to tell her - his voice emphatic, his eyes weary - that he had an important personal matter to take care of and would be gone a few days.

 

She looked at him, her stare blank, taken aback by his words. She had so many questions she wanted to ask but understood that she would get no answers in the state he was in. He was there to aid and protect her, he had his Warder duty and tasks, he could not just run off - but even so she would not forcefully stop him. Her concern and confusion only grew as the silence, after his last statement, lengthened and it was becoming awkward for them both. She finally turned away from him, Aes Sedai cool (hiding her real emotions) and said that she would expect him back in a few days since they had important decisions to make and matters to sort.

 

She heard him sigh loudly, then he turned on his heel and left her room without another word, his mind on the tumultuous emotions he was carrying inside. Myrrhi shook her head, frustrated with this turn of events. She had not experienced anything like this before, was uncertain how to act and react (had she acted correctly? or should she had tried to stop him?) and felt pretty helpless in the situation. Elessar was on his way out of the inn right now and who knew where. Her Warder. Her Protector. Her companion.

 

Why did this have to happen to her!?

 

She closed her eyes, sighed, and wondered how she was going to sort this mess.

 

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The next morning was colder than expected. The temperature of Myrrhi's bedroom had dropped so low that the Aes Sedai's breath was creating tiny clouds around her face.


The young woman hesitated. Should she get up? Should she stay in bed and try to sleep some more? The night had brought her a restless sleep, full of chaotic dreams and memories that weren't hers. Now that she had come back to reality, she didn't know what to make out of it. Had this all something to do with her Warder? With how he felt? Or was it solely a way for her mind to tell her that she was lost? The more she thought about it, the less it made sense.


The innkeeper will probably appreciate me closing the shutters, the Green thought. Seeing how long they had been open, she guessed that cold drafts had invaded the corridor, making the other patrons shiver when they passed in front of her door.


But, she knew that, once she would be on her feet, there would be no way for her to go back to sleep. Myrrhi had many talents but falling back asleep after having gotten out of her blankets was definitely not one she had mastered.


As she cleaned her face with the remaining content of a jug the innkeeper had left for her on a small dresser, she tried to focus on her day ahead. She would need to talk some more with Elessar. They hadn't come up with a plan yet ...


She shook her head and sighed.


***


Yes, they should definitely come up with a plan. But Myrrhi didn't know how to initiate the conversation. Her Warder seemed to be in a foul mood, and she was afraid that the wrong words would lead to a absolute catastrophe. She sent him a couple of worried glances hoping that would trigger a positive reaction, but she didn't get any response up until the moment Elessar suddenly excused himself. This was definitely something she had not expected.


***


The morning seemed to last a hundred years and the afternoon even more. Myrrhi didn't know what to do with herself. She was worried, anxious, frightened and highly frustrated. The Bond clearly indicated that it was better for her to keep her distances, to stay as far from her Warder as she could... but she also felt that the Gaidin would not appreciate her moving forward with their inquiries on her own.


She had mend all the clothes that needed to be mended, cleaned and waxed her boots till they shone like mirrors, ordered supplies to refill their empty bags, and still, Elessar had not shown up. She had tried to practice some weaves but hadn't managed to focus enough. The only activity that was left to her was reading, and she hadn't been able to read more than a single page.


Closing her book, she decided that she would do better outside of the inn than inside, cooped up in her bedroom. She grabbed her cape before rushing out of the inn.

If she hadn't been in such a hurry, she would probably have seen the woman tailing her.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Hayl3y
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.. To Fall into a bottomless Pit of Despair ..

►▼◄

 

Elessar was emotionally in a very dark place.. but he did not care.

 

He had just wanted to get away from everything, from the shadows upon his soul, and so he had done the one thing he had never done before in his Warder-life: he had run.

 

Away.

 

Anywhere.

 

Away from the torment in his soul when he looked upon his Aes Sedai who he was no longer able to protect.

 

Who he was no longer worthy to protect.

 

He had run away.. and was blissfully drowning his pain and sorrows in ale.

 

 

 

He had never been a heavy drinker, but now it served his purpose. Drunk and heavily slurring his speech, he pushed away the third empty glass of ale from the table in front of him, almost making it crash to the floor, and shouted for a fourth one. The bar maid looked skeptically at him, seeing that he was close to passing out, but it was his business and so she came and placed another tall glass of ale in front of him. “This do be the last one for you, love”, the voluptuous red-haired wench whispered with a chuckle as she winked at him. He ignored her, grabbed the glass and downed half of its contents before placing the glass back on the table with a thud. The bar maid returned behind the bar as the Warder took another long swallow. He was losing himself in drink, driving all pain, guilt, bad conscience and feelings of inadequacy away, washing away his sins.

 

And he was loving it.

 

Pictures of Myrrhi flashed in his mind. Of his other Sedais too. And then of Leandreen, she with her emerald green eyes. Eyes that admonished him in death. But he swept them all away as his intoxication grew, as the world both within and without began to blur, as sound and smell and sight and awareness was slowly pulled away from him, replaced by a deep nothingness which felt blissful.

 

He finally passed out, his head crashing into the table before him, the blackness embracing him in its protective arms.

 


When he woke up, his head pounding as if a hammer was attempting to crush his soul, he did not at first know where he was. He lay in the gutter outside a building in a small street with a few buildings on either side. His clothes were dirty, his arms and knees ached and when he touched his face there was dirt smeared on his cheeks. Blinking his eyes, trying to get his bearings, he tried to gain his feet but immediately felt dizzy and sat down again. Soon after he leaned over and threw up. A woman passing by looked concernedly down at this drunkard on her way to an errand while a boy stayed well clear of him as he half-ran down the street.

 

It was mid-morning and the village of Sejhen was awakening to life. Ten miles north and east of the Capital, it was a quiet place with few visitors except for the odd merchant and traveller. It had one inn, one guesthouse, a few shops, a smithy and little else. But for the people living in this small place it was enough. They enjoyed the quiet of the countryside and if they needed to make use of big city facilities the Capital was close by. It was just by chance that Elessar had ended up here; he had just wanted to get away from the Capital, get away from it all, anywhere really - and it was happenstance that he had chosen the road going north-easterly to this village.

 

 

Wiping the vomit from his mouth, ignoring the foul taste, he tried to gain his feet a second time. This time he managed, but barely. He was unsteady on his feet as he took in his surroundings. Off to the right lay the inn. He remembered entering the building the evening before, remembered drinking ale upon ale upon ale, gaining the forgetfulness he yearned for, and then nothing. He must have passed out and somebody must have dragged his unconscious body outside and laid him in the gutter. Touching his left arm he felt the abrasions and blue marks he must have received when he was thrown to the ground in the street. Or was it from the bar fight he was in the evening before that? He vaguely recalled getting into a fight with a big brute of an Illianer but could not remember the reason. It did not matter anyway. He had been more than pleased to have someone to lash out at, a substitute to his own inner pain. He had broken the man’s jaw, he was sure of that, but the man had landed several punches in the Gaidin’s face and blood had flowed from his mouth.

 

It is part of my penance, Elessar thought as he brushed his hand through his greasy hair. I deserve nothing less.

 

He took a few steps down the street, then stopped. Another local, an elderly man, walked past him, studying him with skeptical eyes and a disgusted frown. The Warder ignored him. His eyes were on the entrance to the inn a short way away. “The Willful Lass”, the sign hanging above the door read. How many nights have I been drinking there? he wondered, trying to count the days. He had promised Myrrhi to return in a few days, but he was pretty certain he had been here in this village at least five days now though the days were flowing into one another. He did not really care though; that life with its endless responsibilities was over. She should find a new Warder who was more worthy of her. One who would not fail her.

 

Gazing further down the street he saw another building in the distance; the guest house where he was staying. Or rather where he was supposed to be staying. He had only slept there the first two nights. After that, he had slept in the gutter, embracing the dirt and filth as if they were a lover. He had paid for the week in advance though, unsure how long he would stay, so he still had a room there. Stormbreaker would be in the stables behind the establishment. But Elessar felt no need to return there. He was already thinking about the many many cups of ale he would enjoy the coming evening at the inn, another blissful descent into total forgetfulness and apathy.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Later..

 

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

 

Oh Leandreen, forgive me.

 

...Words whispered on the winds of time…

 

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


Goodbye Leandreen.

 

 

Elessar opened his eyes wide, his pulse racing again.

 

Again. They were there, those painful memories, tormenting him. The recurring dream-memories. Again and Again.

 

Tears were flowing down his cheeks but he brushed them away in anger.

 

It was to escape these agonizing memories that he drank himself senseless each night.

 

Twilight was almost upon the small Illianer village, darkness just around the corner.

 

He must have passed out. The last thing he remembered was buying several bottles of ale and carrying them in a bag (he had no idea where he had gotten the bag) to the outskirts of the village and sitting down by a huge oak tree to drink.

 

To forget.

 

Always to forget.

 

Several empty bottles lay beside him. He felt slightly dizzy and his stomach screamed for food but he ignored it. Ale was all he wanted. To drink and escape from the endless pain in his soul. He stumbled back on the road that led to the center of the village and found his way back to the inn and the blessed drink.

 

When he awoke the following morning, feeling sick in more ways than one, he was however surprised to find that he lay in a soft bed atop clean sheets, in an unknown room, with a complete stranger staring kindly down at him.

 

“You do be safe now, brother”, the elderly man with graying hair said in a kind voice. “Rest now. Rest and heal.”

 

 

“She do be the woman you said”, the brown-haired Illianer woman said as she met the older man’s eyes. “I followed her as you ordered. She walked around the city.” Her oval eyes stood out in an otherwise plain face.

 

“Good.” The older man, bald with piercing green eyes, turned away for a moment, staring out at the city of Illian from the balcony of a Manor House. It was late afternoon and the sun was shining in an azure-blue sky. A few clouds were drifting in from the south and there was a cold breeze but otherwise it was a beautiful day. ”Keep an eye on her”, he spoke after a long pause. “When the time is right, we will act.”

 

“What about the man?” the woman added, slight concern in her voice. “The Warder. He was nowhere to be seen. That is strange. He could be a serious threat.”

 

“Forget about the Warder”. The older man placed his hands on the balcony rails. “He is of no importance. She is the one we must neutralize.”

 

“As you command”, the woman replied with some hesitation. She could have said more but she respected her leader’s decision.

 

Closing the door softly behind her, she walked down the corridors of the Manor House and departed the building. In her head she went through the alternate plans that might be necessary should their main plan not succeed. She smiled darkly as she stepped into the waiting carriage. They would succeed. And the Lady would be pleased.

                                                                                                                                     

 

Almost a week had passed and Elessar was still not back.

 

Myrrhi was becoming deeply concerned.

 

Where could he be!? What was going on!?

 

He was only supposed to be gone for a few days.. She had felt troubled emotions coming through the Bond and she was becoming more and more flustered. She was tempted to go and find him - she could not tell exactly where he was, but she felt through the Bond the general direction in which he was - but something stopped her. Would she worsen the situation if he did not want to be found? He was not seriously wounded or she would have felt it through the Bond. And he was alive…

 

She wanted to tear her hair out because she felt so useless. She had not moved forward with their inquiries either, fearing that Elessar would not approve her doing so on her own. Walking the streets of the Capital in frustration, needing to get some fresh air to clear her mind and avoid being cooped up in her room at the inn, the days had passed slowly. She had been unable to focus long on any matter, her mind worried what her Warder was up to, concerned about his troubled state.

 

And so it was a week or so after Elessar had left, that a knock on Myrrhi’s door at the inn broke her concentration as she was taking some notes in her notebook. “Yes?” she answered and was surprised when a young man’s voice replied that he had a message for the Aes Sedai. Raising herself from the chair, she walked up to the door and opened it. The messenger, a young local boy with shifty-looking eyes, gave her a small bow, handed her the envelope, then swiftly left without another word. Myrrhi watched him disappear down the corridor, then her eyes gazed down at the envelope in her hands. The name Myrrhi Aes Sedai was written in flowery letters on the front in what she suspected was a woman’s handwriting. Closing the door, she returned to her chair by the table and opened the envelope, curious what the message could be. Inside was a short letter. She read it once, then a second time. Then she placed the letter on the table, her blue eyes taking on a wondering and speculative gleam.

 

For a long time she stared at the letter, her mind considering the worded message over and over again.

 

 

Myrrhi Aes Sedai,

 

Your Warder, Elessar Telcontar, has asked us to pass on a message to you.

He says not to worry, he has come across something which is important for the mission.

He said you would understand.

He asks you to meet him at the docks, that you once visited here, at midnight in 5 days.

All will be explained then.

 

In the Light,

 

a Friend of the White Tower

 

 

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The city felt strangely empty. Not because of the lack of passers-by — there were so many of them everywhere — but because there was no one Myrrhi could actually talk to. She had spent her first day alone wandering through the Ilianer streets, going from one store to the next but never entering any building. She couldn't find the will to talk to anyone nor to enjoy her tour. She was concerned for her Warder, and that drained all her energy.

The more the day advanced, the worse she felt. The Bond told her that Elessar was going further and further away from her, both physically and mentally. And she didn't know what to do against it, except to wait for his return.

Since it was not proper for a lonely woman to spend too much time in an inn common room, she decided to have all her meals brought to her room. A place she didn't leave for the following days, reading, pacing, ... Up until she suddenly felt anger reaching up. She was a Sister of the Green Ajah. Was this the way she should act? Should an Aes Sedai stay cooped up and worrying?

On Elessar's third day of absence, the Green eventually left her room, dressed in a way that she hoped would not attract too much attention: a simple linen dress and a cape with a hood that would partially conceal her face.

She went back to the eyes and ears she had previously visited to acquire more information about Lady Semaris. Unfortunately, her spy didn't have much to tell about the mysterious noble. The Lord's wife was a recluse. She was very pious and usually spent her time in their manor, rarely partaking in the events her husband organized or funded.

The Green tried another contact, but his song was the same. Lady Semaris was rarely seen outside of her home - or even outside of her private chapel - which raised an important question: how could Myrrhi inquire further about her then? She would need to enter the manor once more but under a good cover. If Lady Semaris was a darkfriend, an official visit from an Aes Sedai would definitely raise her suspicions.

Myrrhi needed a plan and fast. But could she manage to find one without her Warder? And what would her Warder think if she moved forward with their inquiries without him? Would this anger him even further?

The young Sedai was lost. She knew the bond could help her locate him. And, from what she had gathered, there was no doubt that he was having a bad time. She couldn't pinpoint what exactly he was going through, but it was clear he was not doing well. Part of her wanted to leave and find him. Another part was much more reluctant. None of what she had done so far had helped. For all one knows it had even worsened the situation... what would happen if she would come to him?

Then a curious message came, written by a woman of all things! The envelope smelled of lavender, which was even more curious. Had he found another Aes Sedai? The idea crossed Myrrhi's mind. Was this the reason for his dark moods? So many thoughts crossed her mind that she had to read the message a couple of times to fully understand what was written in it. And even then it didn't make any sense? 

Her Warder wanted to meet her at the docks, at midnight five days later? This sounded so odd. Why all the secrecy... unless Elessar had information about Lady Semaris and knew they were observed? She chewed on her lower lip for a while. Indeed she hadn't paid much attention to her surroundings during the past few days. Had she been followed? If she had, then her follower knew that she wasn't with her Warder ... Could she trust that message, or was it a trap?

 

 

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.. The First Steps to Recovery ..

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When Elessar next awoke, he did not know how long he had been asleep. Everything was confusing. How he had ended up in this place. Who the graying elderly man was. How he had fallen asleep again so shortly after awakening. Nothing made sense.

 

When he raised his head from the pillow, he saw that the stranger was watching him from across the room. Looking more closely at the man he saw that the Illianer was strong of build, looked fit for his age and had a confident bearing. He was gazing kindly at the Warder in the bed, but his eyes were questioning. Elessar met his gaze squarely, then looked away. He did not feel like talking, but he needed some answers.

 

“Who are you?” He asked finally, taking a sip of water from the cup on the beside table.

 

The man smiled. “Who I do be is of no concern.” He grinned slightly. “Who you do be though, that I know.”

 

Elessar frowned. “You know who I am?”

 

“I know who you do be, yes.” The man murmured. “Or rather, what you do be.”

 

Elessar’s eyes narrowed. “Is that so?”

 

The Illianer chuckled. “Oh yes, you do be unmistakable”. His eyes took on a speculative glint. “You do be a Warder.”

 

 

Elessar had not worn his Warder cloak when he had left the Capital, not feeling worthy to wear such distinguished clothing anymore. Instead he had put on ordinary clothes that would not stand out in any crowd. Even so, this man had recognized him for what he was. Or rather, what he had been.

 

Elessar longed for a drink; all this thinking brought his thoughts back to reality, a reality he was trying hard to escape from. It did not matter who this stranger was, or why he had taken him in. Nothing mattered anymore.

 

“No need to confirm it”, the man added with another chuckle. “You may look scruffy and almost downtrodden, but I know a Warder when I see one.”

 

Elessar did not reply, took another sip of water, then placed the cup back on the bedside table. He looked back at the older man then and his voice became suspicious.

 

“Why have you taken me in?” He asked. “Why are you helping me?”

 

“I see a brother in need, I help.” The man answered, his face growing more serious. “That kind of man I do be.”

 

Had Elessar been himself, he would have appreciated the help. He would have replied kindly. But he was a very depressed man, his soul filled with despair, who had lost hope. Had lost himself.

 

And so instead he spat back, “I don’t need any help, stranger. Your kindness is wasted on me. I am no longer a Warder, worthy of the name.”

 

His eyes became harder. “I have failed everything and everyone. I have broken my Oath. Nothing matters anymore.”

 

 

The older man’s voice took on a compassionate note. “Nothing is so broken that it cannot be mended.” His face then became more serious. “But I see your broken soul. You have a challenging path to walk, brother. And I do be taking the first steps with you.”

 

Elessar stopped listening when he heard the compassion in the Illianer’s voice. Bitterness took hold of him.. bitterness and shame. A small part of him noted what the other man said though, but his black mood overpowered everything.

 

The Illianer stranger nodded softly as if he understood. He brought another mug of water to the Warder who poured some more into his cup. He was unusually thirsty and took a long swallow before placing his head back on the pillow. For some reason he soon began to feel sleepy again, but his already confused mind was unable to deduct what was going on. The last thing he heard before falling asleep again was the older man’s voice telling him to rest some more.

 

Elessar’s body felt much less weary when he woke up the following morning. No wonder, he must have slept almost a day since arriving in this place. The room was empty now apart from him and he got up, washed himself in a basin at the end of the room, then put on some clothes and looked around. His mood was still black and sour but for the first time in days he felt hungry and his thoughts went to food rather than to drink. When he opened the door to the next room and stepped through, he saw that it was a kitchen. The older man was seated by a table on his own and he smiled kindly when Elessar entered.

 

“There you do be, brother”. He said as he bade him seat himself. “Have some breakfast. You need your strength.” He pointed to a plate with toast, marmalade and some cheese. There was also a mug with water to drink.

 

Elessar gave a brief nod, then seated himself. He ate a few sandwiches in silence and drank some water. The older man watched him from time to time but did not say anything. Only as they had near finished breakfast did Elessar speak.

 

 

“You were a Warder once?” He asked the question in an unassuming way, as if the answer meant little to him, but the other man smiled knowingly.

 

“I do be.. many things.. at different times..” the Illianer replied ambivalently.

 

Elessar could not say what it was, but something about the other man reminded him of the Warders he knew back in Tar Valon. The assured bearing. The confidence. The balance.

 

All the things he no longer saw in himself…

 

A Warder did not usually leave service.. but there had been a few reported cases where a Warder’s Bond had been released, Elessar’s with Kathleen being one such. Had this man been a Warder too?

 

The older man’s face turned serious again. “What do be important though, I do be in your dark place before.” His eyes tightened. “You do be lost. But I do be helping you get back, brother.”

 

Elessar did not know how it happened, but before he knew it he began speaking - tentatively at first but then with conviction - of his failures to this complete stranger, telling of the heavy burden he carried for his many losses.. the burden of guilt and shame. His eyes watered, his soul bared, but he did not care. He found that he needed to share his pain with someone and this older man felt earnest and trustworthy, seemed to understand what he was saying, and could identify with the pain he felt in his soul. And so the hours passed as he spoke and the older man listened attentively. Then when the Warder had ‘emptied himself’, no more tears left and his throat dry from all the talking, the older man began to speak, his voice soothing, his tone pleasant as he spoke of adventures and hardships, of failures, struggles and of triumphs. And Elessar no longer cared if some of what the older man told were embellishments or stories, he found a calm in the other man’s voice which lessened the darkness he felt within and gave some much needed solace. That night Elessar slept better than he had done in a while.

 

 

The following morning his whole being felt better. His black mood was still there - it would take longer time to heal himself this time, he knew - but he felt calmer and mostly managed to keep the dark thoughts at bay. It was a first step and for the first time since his breakdown he felt ready to take it. After breakfast he spoke a few hours more with the older man, this time touching on happier times with his Sedais, and then the Illianer said it was time to begin the next step in his recovery: physical training and practice. Elessar had let this lapse in the previous weeks and did not really feel up to it now, but the Illianer insisted and said it would help him in his depression. And so for the next several hours Elessar trained physically hard - with all kinds of exercises - in the older man’s huge back yard, feeling the adrenaline pumping in his body, pushing himself hard.

 

Afterwards he felt exhausted, his breath coming in short gasps as he brushed sweat off his upper torso with a towel. But the older man only gave him a brief break. Then he brought a sword from inside the house and handed Elessar one as well. It was time for sword practice, the Illianer said with a lopsided grin. It was time to show him that he - Elessar - had some ability with a blade. Elessar wanted to protest, tired as he was and not feeling mentally ready for a spar, but the older man gave him no chance to back out. Elessar tried to cloak himself in the Flame and the Void, the Oneness, shutting out everything else as he had been taught, but was unsuccessful. I am lacking the balance, he cursed inside. He tried again and managed for a few moments but then it left him. Closing his eyes, he focused deep inside, looking for that icy calm place of focus and clarity and with his third attempt he succeeded. He felt it took more effort than normal to hold onto it, but it would have to do.

 

He was curious how proficient this stranger was with a blade, but he soon understood that the older man was very good indeed, especially considering his age. Soon they were lost in a Dance of the Blade.

 

To Elessar it felt as if he were re-enacting a sword duel from the past. The moves were so similar, the forms familiar.. as if he were in a different time and place..

 

 

The Illianer was quick, much quicker than Elessar had anticipated, and soon went on the offensive. Elessar deflected the quick moves, blocking aptly, and countered with forms which the other blocked. Some tentative strikes followed and then Elessar attacked with an impressive combination of forms which brought the Illianer on the defensive. Back and forth it went, both showing skill and endurance. Elessar felt he was not at his very best - he still lacked some balance and the edge which was so important for a Warder - but his skill was at such a level that even at his second best he was a very dangerous opponent for any swordsman. He combined moves again, with several forceful swings, and this time his opponent struggled to defend.

 

Back and forth it went, the battle ebbing and flowing. Strikes and deflections, movement and precision.

 

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

 

They flowed, thrusting and parrying, attacking and spinning out of range and moving swiftly from stance to stance, two opponents locked in combat. Weariness tore at Elessar after a while but also at the older man who became slower in his reactions as the duel wore on. In the end the Warder from Kandor got the upper hand and swept his blade inside the other man’s guard and with a twist of his blade disarmed the man, his sword flying through the air to land on the ground. Panting hard, the Illianer picked up his sword and gave a mock-bow to the Warder.

 

“It seems you defeated me, sir”, the older man said with a grin, trying to catch his breath. “You no be too bad for a rookie.”

 

In his tired state, his body aching all over, and despite the blackness lurking in the back of his soul, Elessar could do nothing but laugh at the ludicrous comment. The Illianer’s grin broadened and he liked what he saw in the Warder.

 

You have still a way to walk, brother. He thought to himself.  But you do be getting there in the end.

 

 

They did the same the next day. And the day after.

 

After breakfast, several hours of physical exercise, then after a short break new sparring duels. Pushing himself hard, Elessar felt some of his black moods lessen and this motivated him to work even harder. A light was beginning to penetrate the darkness within him and the older man encouraged him with wise words and advice, helping build his self confidence and self worth. Thoughts of Myrrhi brought back the dark moods and guilt so he tried to keep a distance to that even though he knew she must be very worried by his long absence. He told himself that he needed to build himself up again to be of any worth to her and the Illianer said much the same thing when they spoke at length in the evenings.

 

The older man pointed out to Elessar time and again how strong he had been to overcome Leandreen’s death and keep doing his duty and service for his Sedais and the White Tower, and he had to remember that strength now that he was struggling with life and purpose. His service was appreciated, it was respected. He was worthy, the Illianer persisted - worthy as every man is when standing up from defeat and showing character and perseverance. He was a Warder, the older man emphasised, he was among the best of the best fighters in the land. He was dutiful and honourable. He still had much service to give.

 

He was Elessar.

 

 

Elessar was still filled with doubts about his purpose and worth, his black moods not gone but lessened, but the days with the nameless Illianer had done wonders for his self confidence and motivation and he felt stronger, more balanced, than he had in a while in more ways than one. Most importantly, he had hope again that he might still have service to give and with that hope gradually came an urge to return to Myrrhi in the Capital. He had to prove his worth somehow as her Warder, to show that he still was deserving, that he still had something to offer. And he had to overcome his feeling of guilt.

 

And so he took farewell with the kind older Illianer on a grey and rainy morning, thanking him for all his help and advice, appreciating immensely how the older man had helped him on his first steps to recovery.

 

As he walked away from the Illianer’s house in the direction of the village center and the guest house, the older man whispered Forgive yourself after him. The words quickly disappeared on the northern wind but did not escape the Warder.

 

When he rode out of the village on Stormbreaker a little later, uncaring about the rain that poured down from the heavens, there was a small smile on his face. He still had a ‘mountain to climb’ in several ways, the darkness still lurked in the back of his mind, but he was on the right path now and was determined to show his worth.

 

 

“Do she be suspecting anything?” Lady Ardhana of House Semaris asked her servant who was also her spymaster.

 

They were seated in her private chamber in the Manor of House Semaris in the Capital.

 

She had spent some time in her private chapel before his arrival. The chapel served several purposes: it enhanced the impression that she was a pious person (which she was not, at least not in the way people thought), it was a private place of solitude which her husband and servants stayed away from, and it was a place where she could work with her darkest plans in secret. She did not use it for clandestine meetings though, preferred instead to use her private chamber for such occasions.

 

“We have been very careful”, the bald man replied squarely. “We have stayed hidden in the Shadows.”

 

The Lady nodded, her dark eyes calculating, her hands touching the sides of the dark blue velvet dress she was wearing. Her long black hair was gathered into a round coil at the nape of her neck and she looked as stately as ever. Appearance was everything, she had learned long ago.

 

Appearance - and Power.

 

“It do be important that nothing be connected to me.” Her voice was soft, but there was iron beneath.

 

She sipped from her drink, a delicious red wine from southern Arad Doman, and considered the intricate plan she had devised.

 

“My stupid husband do be suspecting my involvement in our.. activities”, she added subtly, “and do be asking this Aes Sedai for help. It do be whispered to me.”

 

Her dark eyes hardened. “He will be dealt with.. but first this Green Sister. We do no be needing the White Tower putting its nose where it do no belong.”

 

“We delivered the message to her as you ordered”, the spymaster said smoothly. His piercing green eyes glittered. “The Warder has not been seen in the city for many days, he is probably gone. And this fits well with the message. She will believe it. She will not suspect it is a trap.”

 

 

“You do be sure.” Lady Semaris mumbled, studying her spymaster closely.

 

She noted a fresh scar on his left cheek and was curious as to how he had acquired it, but it was not important and so she did not ask.

 

He was from Tear so not an Illianer which would normally have made her highly suspicious of him and his motives, but he had served her well these past years, as one of the central people in her Darkfriend cell, and she trusted him. So far he had made no mistakes.

 

“We are sure”, the older man replied. He was confident that the Aes Sedai would be fooled by the letter. Aes Sedai felt protective of their Warders and valued their advice. She would come when he asked. She would feel compelled to. “She will be there.”

 

“Good.” Lady Semaris’s voice was darker now, and she now emphasized her words.

 

“We must safeguard our position here in the Capital. We must be ready for the Great Lord’s Return.”

 

Her last words, almost like a pronouncement, echoed in the chamber, whispers caressing the Shadows, as she exchanged a knowing glance with her spymaster.

 

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"Four days to go," Myrrhi yawned. "This is just torture!" She added. Another night had passed and like during the previous ones her dreams had been chaotic. This time however, she had managed to find some rest. Her eyes were itchy, but not as puffy as the day before. She could feel it.

 

The single ray of sun that the shutters let through in the room was pointing towards the top of her head. It gave her a delightful warm sensation while also making it impossible for her to fall back asleep. The light called her to action. She needed to go outside, enjoy the warm temperature, and maybe find a way to get busy without having to rely on her Warder or any other Tower member to tell her what to do.

 

With the thought a spike of energy coursed through her. This was the perfect opportunity for her to be truly in charge! She had taken many decisions since she had left Tar Valon but they had rarely been her own. The weight of Elessar's gaze or feelings through the bond had often influenced her one way or another.

 

Refusing to use the bond to check on the missing Gaidin, she readied herself for a new day of adventure. She picked one of her most comfortable dress that she matched with soft boots and at least two hidden knives. The one she attached to her right thigh made her feel strangely more powerful than the hundreds weaves she had learned in the Tower.

 

Her next step would not be dangerous one, though. She first needed to go downstairs to get her breakfast!

 

The common room was quiet as it had been very morning since her arrival, she counted only two patrons. The innkeeper wasn't behind the counter like it was his habit. He had been replaced by one of the senior serving girls. Could this be a good omen? The Green Sedai decided to try her chance.

 

"Good day," she tried. "Taelha, is it?"

The girl's eyes opened wide as saucer. She didn't expect the Aes Sedai to remember her name.

"Yes, it is ... Ma'am... my Lady I mean.."

 

Myrrhi smiled. "Could you bring me some slices of bread with jam, and a couple of tea to that table near the window?"

 

"Of course, my Lady"

"Thank you, Taelha."

 

The Green glided to her table and waited for the serving girl to come with her tray, preparing the list of questions she should ask the serving girl to further her inquiries. And, it went all so smoothly the right smile here, the right compliment there, and Myrrhi got enough to plan a productive day. She did pay attention to the way she behaved Taelha, she didn't say a word untrue - she couldn't have lied anyways - stayed away from what could have been described as blatant manipulation.

 

Lord Semaris last mistress was a newly arrived singer who resided in another inn where she performed with her troupe. Lady Semaris' only outside contact was a some sort of priest that could also be traced. And, last but not least, a mysterious man had just been arrested by the city guard because he was suspected to be a darkfriend...

 

Now, Myrrhi had to decide which one she would first pay a visit to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.. A Return and Honest Words ..

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As Elessar rode toward the Capital that morning, the rain gradually lessened. From a heavy downpour it became a light downpour and then a drizzle. Not that he cared much about the weather. His thoughts were on his return to Myrrhi and on what he would say to her.

 

She deserved an explanation and also an apology, but he was still unsure what words to speak. Though his days with the Illianer stranger had done him a lot of good in many ways, he still carried guilt and the ‘blackness’ - the stain upon his soul - inside him, perhaps he always would to some extent, a consequence of his Bond snapping and madness lurking when his first Aes Sedai died. This left him more vulnerable than he would have liked, but he had lifted himself out of his emotional quagmire before and would do it again. He had taken the first steps with the stranger. He would take the next ones too.

 

More self confident now than he had been in a good while, he felt strongly that he had a purpose: to redeem himself, to show his worth as a Warder. He did not know the specifics of how he would do so, but he would. Somehow.

 

As Stormbreaker galloped down the road that led to the city of Illian, passing carriages driven by oxen and people - locals and travellers - on foot, Elessar focused his mind on what lay ahead.

 

 

He left his valiant mount in the care of a stableboy behind the inn and entered the establishment. He knew that Myrrhi would feel his return through the Bond, but felt no emotions coming through. He did not know if that was a good or a bad thing. She will probably be angry with me. He thought as he headed up the steps to the floor above. And rightly so. He went to his own room first, mostly because he needed some moments to prepare himself for the confrontation. For her condemnation.

 

Removing his wet cloak, he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. He thought about his Bondholder - about Myrrhi - and guilt rose inside him. He had treated her badly, but his inner pain was so personal that he was not sure he could explain it to her in a proper, meaningful way. She was quite young for an Aes Sedai, less experienced than his former Bondholders, and in the past she had shied away from confrontations with him. He guessed that she did not want to anger him, was perhaps a little afraid to as well (he could be an imposing presence, after all) and she did not want ‘bad blood’ between herself and her Warder.

 

At the same time, he thought, she would need to make a stand of sorts, so that he understood that this kind of behaviour could not be tolerated. She depended on him, she needed him to be there for her as she carried out missions for the White Tower. If he was incapable of this, she may need to find an other Warder. She would be unlikely to say so out loud, he thought, but she would be thinking it. And so this was very much in his hands. He needed to give some explanations at least, apologize and swear to be by her side from now on. To be contrite and penitent was not a quality Warders were best at if truth be told, but some of those qualities were needed now to rebuild trust with his Aes Sedai.

 

 

He lay there for longer than he had planned, his mind working on explanations to use. Myrrhi could without doubt feel him in the next room, but she did not approach him or give any indication that she was aware he was there. It was his move and they both knew it.

 

For a moment his mind went back to when she had Bonded him, what now felt an Age ago. He remembered it as if it had been yesterday. His emotions of happiness and feeling of Hope. His words, his Oath, as he knelt down on one knee before the young woman, before she placed her hand on his head to perform the Bonding weaves making them ‘as one’, were burned into his memory..

 

 

..In his colour-shifting Warder-cloak and with his sword by his side, he walked up to Myrrhi and stopped a few feet away. There was a smile on his face and his dark eyes glittered warmly.

 

“And so here we are.” Elessar said kindly. She smiled back at him, her blue eyes sparkling.

 

He came a step closer.

 

“I gratefully accept your Offer of a Bond, Myrrhi Morrigen Aes Sedai”, he said formally, as he knelt down on one knee before the young woman.

 

“To Serve and Protect, as your Warder, to Death and Beyond.”

 

He bent his head, pledging his service to her.

 

“My Life before Yours.”

 

And Light streamed into his Soul..

 

 

Finally he left his room, closed the door behind him, and knocked on Myrrhi’s door. At first there was no reaction, then after a few moments he heard her voice say ‘enter’. She knew it was him and so did not need to come to the door. Opening the door, he closed it behind him and faced his Aes Sedai in silence. She was seated in the chair by the bed beside a small table on which was her notebook and a pen. He was glad to see her but his face was serious as he went over in his mind how to begin. She watched him coolly, her face smooth in the Aes Sedai fashion. He was unable to get a clear feeling of her emotions through the Bond - perhaps a mix of relief, frustration, gladness and anger?, though he never could really tell even at the best of times - and she was clearly waiting for him to speak.

 

The silence lengthened, the moment awkward, but then he gave her a Warder’s bow of respect and spoke, meeting her gaze squarely.

 

“Myrrhi Aes Sedai”, he said in a low voice, honest with contrition, “I apologize for my absence. I have not done my duty by you as I should and for that I am ashamed.”

 

 

He turned away, facing the wall. He did not want to see the condemnation in her eyes. “You have every right to be angry at me. I have let you down.” He paused for a moment. “There are some issues I have kept to myself, for personal reasons. And I am sure you have observed that I have not quite been myself these past weeks. For that I am sorry.”

 

Turning back to face her, he continued. “I have returned to prove my worth as your Warder, to renew my Oath. I will do better in my service to you. That I swear. You deserve better.”

 

“I also have something personal I need to share with you”, he ended. “It might explain a little my behaviour”.

 

He sat down on the bed and related most of the story that he had never told her before. She knew of Leandreen, they had spoken of her back when Elessar had been reluctant to Bond her for reason of not wanting to fail her too. But he now spoke more of the Bond that had snapped when Leandreen died. And of the near-madness in the back of his mind as a result, a stain upon his soul that would never quite go away, and of his struggles over the years to keep it in check. He was still not able to share all his emotions, all the details, and told his story in a Warder-stoic way, but he was sure she would read between the lines and understand how deep this pain in his soul went.

 

“I should have told you more before, especially when you Bonded me”, he said. “But some things were too personal to deal with back then, even with as trusted a person as you. But now you know.”

 

From an early age he had been taught to be ashamed of flaws, of weakness - his father had seen to that, making him hard as steel in every way - and so showing weakness in front of others was hard for him. But he was glad he had finally told Myrrhi about his inner pain and how it affected him, and could only hope that she would react with understanding and empathy and not only anger.

 

 

He looked away from her face as he waited for her to speak. He was ready for whatever reaction she would have.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

.. To Prove One’s Worth ..

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They spoke earnestly for a while after Myrrhi had shared her thoughts and reflections.

 

Elessar understood and agreed when she pointed out that she needed to know that she could depend on him as her companion and protector, to stay by her side in their service for the White Tower. They needed mutual trust and loyalty. The Warder promised and apologized again for his lapse. He appreciated her understanding when it came to his personal issues and that going through what he had gone through when Leandreen died and the Bond snapped would have a profound effect on anyone.

 

As the minutes went by, he felt they were soon ready to speak of practical matters, the matter of his service and duty dealt with, and when the time came Myrrhi took the initiative.

 

She spoke of the visits in the city that she had made in the past days, the people she had met, and what she had found out.

 

Myrrhi then handed Elessar the note and sat back in silence. He studied it closely, read it several times and then handed it back to her.

 

“It’s obviously a trap”, he said. “They have clearly been observing us since they knew I was not around.” Myrrhi nodded but remained silent, waiting for more of his reflections. It was good to have him back at her side. “It’s cleverly done in fact, a less observant recipient might have been fooled.” He waited a few seconds before continuing, thinking the matter over.

 

“I think we should spring the trap”, he said squarely. “This can lead us closer to the truth behind Lady Semaris and her activities, because she is surely involved in this. If she is a Darkfriend as her Lord husband suspects, she may make a mistake with this scheme and we may catch her in the act.”

 

 

“We have to be careful of course”, Elessar added matter of factly, “because if they are Darkfriends there could be danger. However, they don’t know that we know that it is a trap. That works to our advantage.”

 

Myrrhi nodded again, agreeing with where he was going with this. There could be danger but danger was their business when on Tower business. They just had to be careful and now that they were together again as a team she had confidence that they would succeed.

 

“If they have discovered that I am back in the city”, he added thoughtfully, “that could make them hesitate a little. However, Darkfriends are in my experience an arrogant zealous lot who don’t hesitate when going in for the kill.”

 

They spoke some more about the docks, what they recalled about the buildings there and how to use the site for their advantage. That was always important in any conflict: know your terrain well. Then they discussed some practical matters and necessary preparations that needed to be done. When he finally left Myrrhi’s room, Elessar felt better. It was good to have spoken more about his inner pain with Myrrhi and the healing process between them had begun. They would solve the current issue in the Capital - together. He would he at her side, protecting, serving, as he had sworn in his Oath. This was a chance to prove his worth, to show that he had made no mistake by returning to her side. That was important for him but also for her. He ignored the doubts that lurked in the stain of darkness in his soul, pushing them away as he looked with positive eyes on what was to come.

 

 

It was nearing midnight and Elessar and Myrrhi were crouching by a fishery building down at the docks. The Warder was keeping an eye on every nook and corner, staring into the Shadows with an intense gaze. So far they had seen no movement, the docks were empty of people, local fishermen drinking at the nearest inn. The sky was black and with a blanket of clouds which made it difficult for the slivers from the moon above to penetrate the darkness. There was little light about and for that reason (but not that reason only) they had arrived early so their eyes could get accustomed to the dark.

 

“Will they be here soon?” Myrrhi whispered.

 

She was going through in her mind how they had agreed to approach this ‘meeting’. She would step forward to speak, pretending her Warder was not around. He would stay hidden in the Shadows but if the situation escalated he would join her swiftly. They had discussed if her confronting the supposed Darkfriends alone was too risky but she had insisted this was vital if they were to have a chance of catching them. If they saw Elessar beside her from the beginning there at the docks, they might deduce that their trap had been found out and might withdraw or, if they kept a lookout, not come at all. Elessar was not too happy about it but accepted Myrrhi’s decision.

 

“They will be.” Elessar whispered back. “They would not have sent you the note if they did not mean business.”

 

 

He stared further into the darkness and a few moments later he thought he saw a shadow move off to his right. He touched Myrrhi’s shoulder and nodded in that direction. She looked towards the building Elessar had indicated, keeping their silence. Another shadow moved close to the first one and then they both stepped forward into what minuscule light there was also coming off the water.

 

Elessar nodded to Myrrhi who nodded back. She embraced Saidar, enjoying the One Power flowing through her, then she stepped forwards from the shadows wherein she had waited and walked toward the two men. Elessar studied the darkness in all directions, looking for more men hiding in the Shadows. He kept a close eye on Myrrhi though as she stopped ten paces or so from the men. They wore dark cloaks and hoods but it was hard to get an impression of facial features in the blackness.

 

Myrrhi stared at the men with her cool Aes Sedai-stare, glad that Elessar was nearby if the situation escalated into trouble. “Thank you for your invitation”, she said smoothly. “ I am here. What news have you of my Warder?”

 

The man standing to the right replied, his Illianer accent thick. “I do be having important news.” His voice was deep and raspy. “Your Warder do be with our.. friends. You do be joining us and learn what he will tell you.”

 

 

“How can I trust you are telling the truth?” Myrrhi asked, playing along for the time being. She did not feel any danger from her Warder through the Bond which was reassuring. He would for sure be studying the docks closely. “You said nothing about any other place in your message.”

 

The man who had spoken responded. “You do be trusting us.” He said. His voice had a touch of sarcasm as he continued. “You be thinking we are lying? “ Why should we lie? Your Warder sent us.”

 

Myrrhi considered the situation as the silence lengthened. If she went with them, it could be that they would be able to catch many of them. But such action included risk, perhaps too great a risk. Down here at the docks they would stand a good chance against a dozen people if it came down to it, but in close quarters against several dozen..? She felt the risk was too great.

 

“Tell me his message now, stranger”. Her voice was more commanding now, words spoken by an Aes Sedai. “If a message you indeed have.”

 

The man who had spoken exchanged a glance with his companion, then he hissed a warning as something flew through the air close to the Aes Sedai. It was an arrow and Myrrhi reacted instinctively. She threw herself to the side, rolled and then cast a blast of Air at the two men who scrambled to their feet off to the side. Elessar was rushing in from the shadows just as a second arrow whistled through the air. It passed between them but the danger was clear. The Warder had his blade in his hand, his Warder’s cloak blending into the background, as he threw himself at three more men who had appeared from the back building.

 

 

Two of them carried swords but he quickly saw that they were no match for him. He was holding onto the Flame and the Void, perhaps a bit too tightly but acceptable in the circumstances, as he flowed in the Forms, attacking, deflecting and parrying. The first opponent fell to the ground with a deep wound in his thigh while the second fellow screamed in pain as Elessar’s sword cut into his abdomen. The Warder’s fist slammed into his face and the man fell to the ground as if felled by a tree.

 

The man with the thigh-wound withdrew off to the side, cursing loudly and throwing obscenities at the Gaidin, but then the third man attacked. He was more experienced with the sword and the Clash of Steel rang around the docks as they circled one another with attacks and deflections, moving back and forth in a Dance of the Blades.

 

Elessar was caught slightly off-balance at one point and cursed as the other man’s sword bit into his back, but it was a shallow wound and did not hamper him much. He struck back some moments later when his blade got inside his opponent’s guard and sliced into his arm. Finally Elessar managed to get the better of his opponent, combining sword forms in an advanced fashion which very few indeed would be able to withstand. The other man’s sword crashed to the ground and the Warder’s blade cut deeply into the man’s side as he finished him off.

 

He had needed to focus on his own opponents, but had sensed Myrrhi’s own battle with more onrushing men off to the side. She was using the One Power in defence of her own life and that of her Warder and worked her weaves of Saidar proficiently.

 

Elessar risked a glance around the docks, looking for added danger, and then it happened..

 

 

Off to his right was another Shadow moving close to the nearest building. Several Shadows.

 

A split second - and then..

 

Elessar saw the danger out of the corner of his eye. He yelled a warning to Myrrhi but it was too late. The poisoned dagger was already flying towards its target, the Aes Sedai’s heart.

 

Everything happened as if in slow motion then.

 

 

Myrrhi half-turned towards her Warder, her hands upraised as she embraced Saidar..

 

Elessar took a long step towards her..

 

One of the men rushing in from the side screamed something unintelligible..

 

A second man rushed from the darkness toward the Warder..

 

Myrrhi used Air to throw the onrushing man back and he smashed into the dock house.

 

But she was too late to see the dagger.

 

Elessar took another long step towards her and then, using all his remaining strength, he leaped in front of her from several yards away, his arms outstretched, his body a shield for his Aes Sedai, and he took the dagger in his chest that had been meant for his Bondholder.

 

 

Crashing to the ground several paces to her side, he hit his head hard, slamming his shoulder as he fell, dizziness enveloping him as he tried to catch his bearings.

 

He felt great pain in his chest and a numbing feeling and immediately deduced that the dagger had been poisoned. Cursing inside he tried to raise himself but was unable to. He heard Myrrhi shout something to him but her words became mixed up in his mind and he was unable to react.

 

A boom sounded as if from very far off but Elessar was no longer able to discern voices or nearby sounds or understand what was going on. He felt through the Bond that Myrrhi was rushing toward him - he thought she was screaming something - but his thoughts were too jumbled.

 

The Gaidin held onto one thought. A vital thought. The most important one.

 

 

I saved her life. This time I did not fail.

 

By the creator, I did not!

 

 

The last thought that went through Elessar’s mind before he lost consciousness was that he had Proven his Worth as a Warder.

 

A feeling of relief and gratitude echoed in his soul, a blissful contentment, as he gradually descended into an unending blackness.

 

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  • 3 months later...

 

.. A Change of Plan: Returning to Tar Valon ..

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They were riding hurriedly northwards.

 

The whole episode at the docks was almost a blur in Elessar’s mind, like a reflection within a memory.

 

He had saved Myrrhi’s life, proven his worth as a Warder, and then she had saved his life back by Healing the deadly wound from the poisoned dagger.

 

The remaining Darkfriends had dispersed and Myrrhi and Elessar had returned to their inn where Elessar had needed much rest to recuperate.

 

He had quickly fallen asleep and had woken the next morning feeling famished and weak. They had spoken little that day and after a big meal the Warder had rested until the following day when they had talked more about what had happened. Each had been grateful for the other’s invaluable intervention but each had held back since it was so soon after all the doubts and uncertainty.

 

They had not gotten far with planning their next step when a messenger had appeared of a sudden bringing a summons from the White Tower. It was, perhaps, just a message but when Myrrhi told Elessar it felt more as if she had been summoned to return. And so return they would, even though they had far from completed their mission.

 

 

The journey northwards was, not surprisingly, something of an anti-climax. Neither of them liked leaving a matter (or mission) unresolved, but everything had to wait and they had to focus on getting back to Tar Valon as soon as they could. If Myrrhi knew more about why she had to return so swiftly, she did not share that information with him - and he did not ask.

 

 

It was a long journey with many stops, north through Murandy - with a short stop in Lugard - and northeast along the Lugard Road into Andor, through the historic village of Four Kings and onward to Caemlyn. They stopped a day in Caemlyn to rest their horses, and then headed into Cairhien.

 

He and Myrrhi talked very little along the way, sharing a few words now and then but often riding in solitude. Myrrhi seemed to him preoccupied, as if her mind were on matters she would or could not share with him, and he focused on his Warder-duties, his eyes on the road and ensuring they stayed safe and secure on their journey. His pleasure at having proven his worth as a Gaidin dimmed in his mind as he felt the gulf between them widen again, and he wondered what lay ahead for them.

 

 

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

 

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THE END

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