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A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Reflected in Shadow in Ebou Dar (attn. Kathleen Sedai)


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OOC: This Retro-RP takes place after Kathleen Sedai takes over Elessar Gaidin’s Bond from Carys Sedai IC but before they head out on their Borderland-journey which eventually results in the Bond being passed to another Sedai. Several of my own personal written Wheel of Time-themed poems will be included (re-posted) in this RP to add colour and depth to the story.

 

 

.. Beginning a New Mission ..

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IC: Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah and Elessar Telcontar Gaidin, her Warder, were riding south through Andor on their way to Ebou Dar. It was late after noon and raining heavily. Thunder rolled across the dark skies as they rounded another corner of the sodden road and saw the outskirts of the village of Seindhon in the distance. Elessar rode twenty or so paces ahead of his Bondholder and waved back to her to inform that their first destination was in view. She nodded from within the hood of her blue cloak and pushed her mare onward.

 

They passed a farmer and some local people huddling under their drenched coats as they rode into the village proper. Houses lined the way toward the village center where they found a smithy, a few shops and an inn. Stopping right in front of the inn, Elessar dismounted and stood ready to take Kathleen’s mare’s reins when she stopped beside him and got off her horse. He took both horses to the back of the inn to a small stables where a young boy waited. Throwing him a copper coin, telling him to take good care of their mounts, the Gaidin returned to the front of the inn and followed his Aes Sedai inside. Soon they received their rooms from a bobbing innkeeper, Elessar’s smaller room beside Kathleen’s larger, and settled in.

 

 

Elessar’s room had a cupboard in a corner, a west-facing small window and a shelf with a handful books. Picking one up he looked at the title. “Andor: A History from a Southern Perspective” it read. Leafing through a few pages out if curiosity, he then replaced it on the shelf and lay down on the bed. He wanted to get out of his wet clothes but he needed a few moments to reflect first.

 

He had not been Bonded to Kathleen that long. Even so, they had already been on a few missions together. He recalled well their mission to Whitebridge. It had been quite.. adventurous. He wondered if this mission to Ebou Dar would be the same. Kathleen had not given him any details so far, just said they were heading for Ebou Dar in the far south on Tower business. It did not matter. She would tell him when the time was right. He was glad to be out on the road again and would do whatever he needed to in order to keep his Aes Sedai safe.

 

Getting to his feet he walked over to the small window and looked outside. The rain was still pouring down and he could see flashes of lightening in the distance. Thunder rolled again, hammering the old inn with a crashing sound. Not the best travelling weather indeed. He could sense Kathleen in the neighbouring room through the Bond and she seemed calm enough which pleased him. They would meet down in the Common Room a little later for a meal and, Elessar hoped, some entertainment by a gleeman. He always enjoyed the stories the gleemen told, poetry and song to lighten anyone’s mood.

 

 

They were enjoying a decent meal of meat, roasted potatoes, some vegetables and gravy when a greyish-haired man of above middling years with an oval face and piercing eyes wearing a cloak of many colourful patches walked onto the small stage at the front of the Common Room. He bowed to the audience, a mix of locals and travelers, and then proceeded to play several jaunty melodies on his flute. The crowd recognized the tunes and clapped enthusiastically. Elessar smiled from the back of the room where they were seated. He was particularly looking forward to the songs the gleeman would perform, songs of poetry and history. He had heard the songs many times before but he enjoyed the performances every time.

 

Kathleen knew of his interest in poetry and history from their talks and could see the smile on his face. It would broaden, she knew, when the gleeman began one of his epic tales. She enjoyed performances too but her mind was on Nevuel. My Warder. My first Warder. He was elsewhere. Again. Something he needed to do. She could feel him to the north and hoped he was safe. Having Elessar by her side was not the same. She could not help it. It just wasn’t. Applause brought her mind back to the present. The gleeman was bowing to the crowd and readying himself for his next performance. She could see Elessar’s eyes light up when the gleeman said he was going to tell an epic story next. As epic song filled the Common Room, Kathleen’s mind shifted to the business they had in Ebou Dar. She had not told Elessar the specifics yet, she needed some time to consider what she had been told. They were to root out Darkfriends in Ebou Dar - and one of those was a High Lord of an Ebou Dari Noble House. Her eyes glinted.

 

Elessar watched and listened attentively as the gleeman told a story the Warder had heard many times before during his travels but which he enjoyed just as much every time: The Epic Story of the Fall of Manetheren. Of Ellisande’s bravery and fall. Of her valiant Stand against the Shadow. Of Manetheren’s valour. Of Glory and Tears.

 

A Glance into History. A Glance into the Past..

 

 

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Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)

 

“Carrai an Ellisande!” For the honour of the Rose of the Sun!

The Shield against the darkness, the Hammer weight to Stun.

The Sword that could not be broken. Was shattered in the End.

As valiant Manetheren, no longer could Defend.

 

Brave fighters of the land. Fought with pride and with Heart.

Under Red Eagle banner, they resisted Shadow’s Start.

Until Mountain Home was taken. No one came to their Aid.

Weep for Manetheren!, all their allies were Afraid.

 

King Aemon and his men ran to aid from Field of Blood.

Countless miles they covered, daring river huge and Flood.

Slaughtered beasts of Shadow. Crying battle cries of Might.

“Carrai an Ellisande!” echoed everywhere in Sight.

 

Brave warriors, brave King! They fell to Darkness’ Yoke.

When Aemon husband died, Queen Eldrene’s heart Broke.

Woe to the Shadow! With anger, grief and Pain.

An Aes Sedai of might, she struck out like Insane.

 

She filled herself to bursting. The Power oh so Sweet!

The Sa’angreal beside her, glowed brightly with its Heat.

She was an awesome figure. Her arms she lifted High.

And then she threw her Balefire and Storms of Lightening Nigh!

 

A harbinger of death. She destroyed the Shadowspawn.

The messengers of Darkness disappeared from Battle’s Lawn.

But her body came on fire. Flames of Saidar burned her Soul.

In her agony she cried out, for Manetheren, her Goal!

 

The destruction levelled all. Old Manetheren was Dead.

The Rose of the Sun, she was gone, it was Said.

But she would live forever. In many people’s Hearts.

And Manetheren’s bravery, is eternal in its Parts.

 

Oh Ellisande! Greatest Queen, we won’t Forget!

Your fight against the Shadow and the death you Met.

Mourn for Manetheren! The bravest place of All.

Honour to the Mountain Home! Your enemies shall Fall.

 

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.. Entering Lugard & Reflections of a Bond ..

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They reached Lugard four days later.

 

The sun was shining from an azure-blue sky as they rode into the Murandian capital. The wind was blowing from the south-east, a wind that had increased as they rode southwards. Kathleen’s blue travelling cloak billowed behind her as she pushed her valiant mare onwards. Elessar’s colour-shifting Warder’s cloak blended into the surroundings as they left woodlands behind and galloped down the road that lead to Lugard.

 

Riding into the city in late morning on a spring day they passed many local people and some horse-driven carriages heading toward the city center. The city was abuzz with the sounds and smells of a cosmopolitan urban place. Elessar rode a short distance in front -and to the left- of his Aes Sedai, his eyes everywhere without seeming to be in the fashion of trained Gaidin. Kathleen’s eyes stared straight ahead, hardly noticing that several bystanders on the side of the road gave them long looks as they passed by. Her mind was on the mission and how they were to accomplish what they had set out to do. Dealing with Darkfriends was always a delicate matter and when they were in positions of power in their home nations one had to step carefully. We have to find proof, the Blue Sister thought to herself. So far all they had were indications. We need proof to bring them to justice.

 

A scruffy-looking older woman with a worn look spat into the dirt as the Aes Sedai rode past but Kathleen paid her no mind. She had seen such reactions from people many times before. Aes Sedai were not liked in all nations and not by all people. It had been that way for generations. Especially in the South where the Children of the Light influenced many people’s minds.

 

 

They passed a large plaza with several monuments, then rode slowly down a side street passing shops and a smithy before arriving at the inn. Dismounting quickly, Elessar glanced up at the rugged sign hanging above the entrance door. “The Southern Swan” it read, with a picture of a swan in flight. The building looked worn but not as shabby as some he had frequented in this city and he presumed it would do for them. They were only staying one night. As Kathleen dismounted, the Warder took her horse’s reins and lead the two mounts to the back of the inn where a dirty young stableboy waited, taking the horses from the Gaidin. Returning to where Kathleen waited, he followed her into the establishment. A thin gaunt man of middling years with shifty eyes wearing a dirty apron watched them enter and approached them carefully. Elessar gave him a long look, suspicious of thin innkeepers - most innkeepers were, after all, well-fed and somewhat round-bodied, smiling and friendly - and the man frowned at being inspected at such length by this foreign man who obviously was a White Tower Warder from his attire and, even more, his posture.

 

Giving a fake smile to the Aes Sedai he half-bowed and welcomed her to his poor establishment. He was not totally successful in hiding the sneer in his voice and Kathleen naturally noticed it but said nothing. She gave him her best smooth Aes Sedai face as she followed him up to their rooms. Elessar followed behind carrying all their travelling bags and belongings. The innkeeper soon left and they settled in their rooms.

 

A little later the Warder began reading one of the books that rested on a small table in one corner. There was no book-shelf in the small room but Elessar did not mind. Opening the book he read the first few pages. It was a book about Lugard, this city they were paying a short visit on their journey southwards. Elessar had been here before on his travels but it had never been one of the cities he cared that much for. For him it lacked the beauty of Caemlyn, Tar Valon or Ebou Dar. It was just too rough and dusty, too worn down like a good portion of its population as he saw it. Trade flourished in the city though so for tradesmen it was a place of wonder. And for visitors who loved inns as well. It was said that Lugard had more inns than shops and Elessar did not doubt it. There were inns almost at every street corner. Thieves thrived too in this city and many considered any foreigner a fair mark. Unpaved roads and alleys were considered dangerous to travel alone. This is a nest of vipers, the Gaidin thought darkly as he leafed through a few more pages. The book’s author had given a fair description of the city though he was perhaps a tad too kind in his depiction of the city’s poor neighbourhoods.

 

 

It was only seven or so hours later, as afternoon was slowly moving toward evening, when Elessar and Kathleen were set upon in a quiet side street by three rugged-looking crooks.

 

One of them, the apparent leader, a dark-haired man in his late twenties with a long scar running down his left cheek, a broken nose and piercing eyes, held a knife up before him as he faced the Warder. His two equally rough-looking mates surrounded the Warder and Aes Sedai, their eyes spiteful. They held knives as well.

 

“Give us your valuables!”, the leader demanded, waving his knife threateningly. “A wealthy couple like you two will not suffer if we relieve you of some of your.. possessions.” He sneered and his mates chuckled at his words.

 

Had the men been unarmed, Elessar would have been amused. If truth be told he was still amused. These men obviously had no idea who they were dealing with. They apparently thought he and Kathleen were Nobles, an easy ‘catch’. He felt calm through the Bond from Kathleen. Or was there some amusement as well, echoing his? He never could tell for sure. Facing the leader, Elessar finally spoke.

 

“Boys”. The way he spoke the word oozed with amusement but also with a tinge of danger. “I suggest you stop this foolishness and go about your business.” His eyes no longer smiled. “You do not wish to test me.”

 

The leader spat. “Give us your valuables!” He repeated. His eyes were dark and unforgiving. “You don’t scare me.” He took a step forwards brandishing his weapon. “Your gold, give us your gold now!”

 

 

Elessar sighed heavily, exchanged a quick glance with his Bondholder, then faced the thief again. Opening his Warder’s cloak, he drew his sword. The leader of the thieves stared at the big sword in surprise and Elessar could see doubt growing in the man’s eyes. The thief tried to remain fearless though. But before he had a chance to react, Elessar moved. The hilt of his sword knocked out the leader almost before the man was aware what was happening. The Warder leapt at the second man and smashed his arm into the man’s shoulder so he slumped to the ground. The third man ran off cursing over his shoulder.

 

Staring down at the two thieves on the ground, one unconscious and one in agony, Elessar just shook his head. Fools. Turning to look at Kathleen he saw neither approval nor disapproval in her face. He turned back to the men again. He had done what needed to be done as he saw it. Both thieves would recover. And perhaps they would be a little less likely to rob people in the future. Elessar did not use excessive force if it could be avoided but he knew about armed thieves and brigands in this rough city and that they had to be dealt with effectively. Leaving the men lying on the ground, they walked onto the main street and followed it back towards the inn. They would not have been in that side street that was almost like a long alley had it not been for a flower shop they needed to visit (a local Eyes and Ears for the Blue as it turned out).

 

Elessar blamed himself for not being alert enough. Thankfully it had been three relatively harmless young-ish thieves and not seasoned fighters. Next time they might not be so lucky. Not that he and Kathleen were unable to defend themselves. Far from it. But it was best to avoid troublesome situations. He would talk with Kathleen later and apologize for his lack of alertness. He expected better of himself. I need to do better.

 

 

That evening they ate a meal in the inn’s Common Room and retired early to their rooms for the night. Elessar had difficulty sleeping though, thinking about how he had been caught unawares.. again. He recalled well how it had happened on their Whitebridge-mission also. Not that long ago. He sometimes wondered if his years in the Tower with Carys had made him soft. Her time had been spent in the Tower Infirmary and it had been natural that he stay close to her in Tar Valon.

 

His first missions with Kathleen had brought him out in the world again but perhaps he needed more time to gain the edge he expected of himself. If truth be told, he had always set himself impossible standards, aiming to excel at all times, and had someone confronted him with this fact he probably would not have listened. And so he took on self-blame for every instance where he did not perform to the sky-high levels he set for himself.

 

Thinking of Whitebridge made him also think of Kathleen. He could feel her in the next room. It seemed to him that she might be sleeping but he could never be sure. The.. sensations coming through the Bond were somewhat vague even at the best of times. He suspected it was different the other way around. All his Sedais had looked at him with smooth faces when he had said as much. Thinking of his Bondholder made him think of the passing of the Bond from Carys to Kathleen.

 

He remembered it all as if it were yesterday..

 

 

Carys’s words. His outburst. Everything. She was passing his Bond. And to who? he had wondered. To Kathleen of the Green. With whom he had had those conversations.

 

Kathleen…

 

… His mind turned to the Aes Sedai in question.

 

A Sister of the Green.

 

A Sister not Bound to the Tower.

 

He liked her. There was a.. connection with her that felt right, something akin to what he had felt with Leandreen the first few times he had spoken with her. Having such a good.. connection would always benefit both Sedai and Warder in a Bond, Leandreen had said to him on more than one occasion.

Leandreen’s emerald green eyes flashed in his mind for a moment - and as always when he thought of her, it was a memory filled with happiness and sadness.

 

Oh Leandreen.

 

 

One did not have to get along with one’s Bondholder to carry out one’s sworn duty as a Warder, of course, but it sure made things easier. He could do a lot worse than get Kathleen Sedai as his new Bondholder, he felt sure of that.

 

He would have preferred to stay in a Bond with Carys had that been an option, but it was no longer one. From what Carys had said, she would pass the Bond to another Sister for his sake, perhaps also for her own, and there was nothing he could do about it. He would have to face that fact and the sooner he did the better.. for them both.

 

He sighed deeply, considering his next words.

 

“If it is Kathleen Sedai we are speaking of, the Sister that you have found,” he started, ”I am sure..”

 

His words broke off as there was a knock on the door to Carys’ room. His eyes met hers and she nodded for him to go open the door. He could not read from her look, neither get any impression through the Bond, if she was surprised by the knock or if she had expected it.

 

Elessar nodded to Nevuel Gaidin and gave Kathleen Sedai a respectful Warder’s bow when they entered the room. Carys spoke words of welcome and he closed the door behind them and watched as they seated themselves at the table. He then joined them, taking the remaining chair.

 

 

Some time later, he knelt before the Aes Sedai as Kathleen offered the Bond - and Elessar accepted.

 

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.. Lost in painful Dream-Memories: A Broken Bond ..

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That night Elessar was Lost in painful Dream-Memories.

 

Memories that often haunted him at night.

 

Memories that he wanted to forget, but which part of his soul clung onto.

 

Memories of Light but mostly of Darkness.

 

Memories of loss.

 

Memories of Leandreen.

 

 

Deep within his soul a scream sounded like a sliver of burning light brushing against the surface of a silent pond.

 

He was caught in its grip and was unable to escape.

 

A Dark wind blew through him as images flashed in his mind, images he had wanted to escape from for years.. memories that were part of him.

 

And he was back in the painful chaos of that moment… every single detail imprinted on his mind..

 

 

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

 

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

 

Utter and incredible shock.

 

And disbelief.

 

His world came crashing down upon him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh dear Creator. Noooooo!

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Oh Leandreen.. I am so sorry.

 

So sorry.

 

 

The bitter irony of it all was that they had chanced upon this group of Trollocs - and their allies - by accident there in the foothills north-east of the Arafel city of Shol Arbela. On their way toward northern Shienar, on a mission for the White Tower, they had followed some tracks and had stumbled upon the creatures, heading foolishly into an ambush - and battle had arisen. Elessar had felt the taint of the Dark One from a way off, as Warders were gifted with through the Bond to a Sister, but partially distracted by something Leandreen had commented on, partially focused on the next part of their mission,  he had misinterpreted the direction of the danger - a fatal mistake - and before he could assess the situation further it was too late.

 

Leandreen was a proud and capable Sister of the Battle Ajah and had fought valiantly against the Shadowspawn, shielded but on the attack, felling a good number of them with the One Power just as others fell to Elessar’s deadly sword-action some distance away. He was driven apart from his Bondholder but there was nothing he could do about it as he fought hard with the Shadowspawn before him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her fight proficiently as well and seemed more than capable. A momentary lapse of concentration due to exhaustion, however, made her suddenly trip over a fallen body and that was enough for her to let her defenses down for just a second; two deadly poisoned arrows, whether by intent or sheer luck, found their mark in her upper torso, her Warder too far away to intervene. Death took her swiftly.

 

Oh Leandreen.. Forgive me..

 

 

Sadness was replaced by grief for Elessar.

Utter grief and a feeling of desolation.

 

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

 

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

 

His eyes blacked over.

 

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

 

He was a harbinger of death.

 

 

Elessar’s body lay restless on the bed, a painful expression on his sleeping face, his muscles twitching involuntarily.. lost in his harrowing dreams of the past..

 

 

 

Death!

 

He was balancing precariously on a thin line between light and darkness. He was walking a tightrope.

 

Echoes of insanity reverberated in his mind. He was lost to himself and to the world around him. All that mattered to him was to avenge her death.

 

Death!

 

He hardly remembered who he was anymore. Except perhaps when he had his good spells. Day and night became one long blur as he travelled relentlessly toward the Blight. He almost shivered with eagerness, focusing his anger and purpose into what lay ahead.

 

He was hunting.

 

He would ride to Shayol Ghul if need be and there he would bring forth his wrath and take as many of them with him as he could into the realms of death.

 

He would have his vengeance.

 

For Leandreen.

 

 

Though much else came and went in his conscience thought in those long days as he travelled ever northwards, hunting those few who had escaped his wrath, - he was sure there were a few - there had to be! - her name was a constant. Her name was a rock in a churning sea of madness.

 

Leandreen.

 

 

He did not encounter anyone in those first days of his journey. He almost wished he had. He wanted someone or something to strike at, a minion of the Shadow to make pay for what had happened. He wanted his vengeance. It was all that he had left.

 

At night came the hallucinations. At night came the madness, slipping under his skin and into his mind like a dark wraith. He saw the beastly, unworldly figures crawling toward him out of the darkness and struck at the shadows with his sword, almost cackling with glee, knowing his sanity was slipping but not caring. His dark eyes were deep wells of fury as he screamed his defiance at the shadows.

 

They never answered back. And after a while they were gone, insubstantial ghosts disappearing into the mists as if they had never been there.

 

At other times, whispering to himself, almost without volition, soft words passed his lips. Incoherent words and sentences. Whispers that caressed his face. Whispers that tore at him all the way to his soul. Whispers out of time.

 

 

I said I would die for you. And I will.

 

No, it’s not too late. I will save you!

 

I promised you, my life before yours.

 

My life before yours.

 

Yours.

 

I will bring them down. For you!

 

I will.

 

My life before yours.

 

It is my duty.

 

Duty.

 

I am too late. Oh my Sedai, I am too late!

 

Too late.

 

 

In more lucid moments, memories from his past washed over him, almost making him dizzy with their clarity.

 

“Dad, I want to become a Warder when I am older”, said the 15-year old Kandori boy.

 

He was fairly tall for his age with bluish-black hair and dark eyes, and one could see in the way he held himself some of the man he would one day become. His eyes were the fairly innocent eyes of youth, however, eyes that would in the years to come harden with the harsh realities of life and death.

 

“That sounds a very good idea, my son”, said Elessar’s father with pride. “You are a Borderlander, a fighter at heart, and we stand together against the Shadow. The Warders will make an excellent soldier out of you I am sure.”

 

Smiling, he added: ”Always respect Tar Valon, son. Those soft fools in the south have forgotten the danger, but we remember, we in the Borderlands. We stand ready. Respect Aes Sedai and stand proudly against the Shadow!”

 

 

“My son”, said his mother with concern but also pride in her eyes, “you are grown enough to decide for yourself. But remember, sometimes one can push oneself too hard. Don’t do that, my son. Never forget who you are.”

 

Don’t destroy yourself, my son, she whispered softly to herself, believing wrongly that he had not heard, as she hugged him tight. Don’t let it all destroy you.

 

 

Confusion and darkness everywhere.

Past and present intertwined.

 

Mother!?

 

 

A scream in his soul makes a shiver run down his back.

 

 

Mother, I will save you!

 

I will save you!

 

 

The stench of death, the cries of those being slaughtered crashes into him.

 

 

No, it is happening again!

 

I must stop them!

 

No, it is too late!

 

Never too late!

 

Never!

 

 

Hacking into the Trollocs he is death reincarnated.

The blood flowing makes him grin evilly in satisfaction.

 

 

Justice.

 

Then silence.

 

Silence.

 

 

Leandreen, are you there?

 

My life before yours.

 

Before yours.

 

Always.

 

I promise.

 

 

Brushing tears of rage and loss from his face, Elessar broke camp in early morning and saddled Stormbreaker, his black stallion. His dark eyes now burned with almost feverish intensity as he stared northward into the Blight. He was a powerfully built man after many years of physical training and exertions in service to his Sedai, a dangerous warrior and swordfighter at any time and even more so now that he had no care for his own safety. He knew that his death lay at the end of this journey. His brown-green Warder’s cloak, which made him blend into the surroundings, was dirt-stained and bloody but he paid it no attention as his gaze was fixed on the horizon.

 

I will avenge her death.

I will avenge all their deaths.

 

Elessar of Kandor was on a mission of death and nothing would stop him.

 

Nothing!

 

 

Moans escaped his lips, as Elessar twisted on the bed, caught by the force of his intense dreams..

 

 

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 traveller 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.

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 of 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!

 

He was riding at a hard gallop, just topping a small rise and still half a mile behind his prey, his body almost trembling in anticipation! of what was to come, when abruptly a heavy shadow came at him from the side, brushing his horses’ flank, making him swerve in his path and forcing him to slow down. Only as Elessar swung his mount angrily around and, with death in his eyes, brought out his sword to strike, did he see that it was another mounted rider!

 

The rider hailed him but it took him a moment to register what was being said. He did not lower his blade but frowned with strong suspicion - and undisguised anger - at the woman, for it was a woman rider who faced him from across her own mount. And not just any woman rider, but an Aes Sedai. There was no doubt.

 

Her commanding words echoed in his turmoiled mind.

 

“Halt! Gaidin, halt!”

 

 

That unending pain in his soul burned brighter as Elessar lay restless on his bed lost in dreams, the darkness over Lugard mirroring the darkness of his memories. A tear ran down his left cheek..

 

 

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.

 

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.. Travelling Southwards ..

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The following morning Elessar’s head felt heavy as lead.

 

He had had those dreams.. again..

 

The dream-memories that kept returning, that were part of his soul. Burying his head in his hands for a moment he wondered if those dreams would ever end. A small voice in the back of his head taunted him, questioning whether he wanted to be rid of those memories. He sighed heavily. It was his burden to bear and bear it he would.

 

Staring out of the small window in his room now he saw the sun rising in a partially clouded sky. A pair of eagles drifted by high in that sky, carried on winds on their way southwards. A little girl was playing with something on a balcony of a house one level beneath him and he saw her mother behind her watching her child carefully. The blissful innocence of childhood. The sound of voices came from afar. Turning away from the window the Warder packed his belongings and readied himself for departure.

 

He could feel Kathleen on the floor below him, she was having a talk with the innkeeper before they were leaving. He wondered if she had awakened by his painful, almost ferocious dreams the previous night. She had said nothing to him when they shared a quiet breakfast in the Common Room but she had looked at him a few times in a way which made him suspect that she had awakened and, perhaps, been a little concerned. She respected his privacy and would never inquire or at least that was what he thought.

 

A short time later Elessar brought their horses from the stables behind the inn and they mounted without a word, heading slowly down the road - the Warder slightly ahead of his Sedai as before - and southwards.

 

 

They made camp that evening in a woodland area several miles south of Lugard. Elessar led the way away from the dusty road and into the trees, looking for a suitable place to make camp. Kathleen followed on her mare, certain that her Warder would find a suitable site. He was an experienced Gaidin and she trusted his skills. Riding behind Elessar her thoughts went to Nevuel once again. What was he really doing in the north? He had been very vague when she had asked him. She thought Nevuel was an excellent Warder, one she valued very highly, but he did have an independent streak.. She could feel him through the Bond but he was very distant now.. Her train of thought was disrupted when Elessar stopped and spoke over his shoulder that this was a decent place. Looking around Kathleen saw that he was right. The place was sheltered beneath trees, from wind or rain, and there was a small brook only fifty paces or so away. Nodding to her Gaidin she dismounted and let Elessar take the horses to tether them to a tree off to the side.

 

Not longer after Kathleen had a fire going and was preparing a small meal of dried beef and some bread. Elessar was scouting the perimeter, doing his usual check of the surroundings. Not that they expected any danger out here in the apparent wilderness but it was prudent to be careful, just in case, and she knew anyway that she would never succeed in talking Elessar out of it. When he returned a little later, as darkness was slowly enveloping the sky and the woods, he sat down opposite her by the fire and shared the small meal with her.

 

 

Afterwards, Kat sipped at her kaf while Elessar sharpened one of the knives he carried on his body. He could feel her eyes on him but she remained silent. After a while she left the fire and seated herself with her back leaning on the trunk of a tree nearby, her knees steepled in front of her. She stared quietly into the night and Elessar suspected she might be thinking of her other Warder, Nevuel Gaidin. He was somewhere in the North, Elessar understood from the little Kathleen had told him. He liked Nevuel, another Northerner like himself. He recalled well meeting him the first time after his conversations with Kathleen. It wasn’t that long ago but it felt like it.

 

The next morning Elessar got up at dawn. He wanted to do some exercises, practice his sword forms before Kathleen woke up, and so he headed for a patch of partially open land a little outside their camp site. Closing his eyes, he cloaked himself in the Flame and the Void. Then.. Unfolding the Fan, the opening move, which flowed into Low Wind Rising, a diagonal slash which began low and rose cleanly, followed by The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, a vertical slash starting high and which in this case altered course in mid-swing, paired with Tower of Morning, a vertical slash but this time beginning low and ending high. Combining forms in a way which only highly skilled swordsmen were able, he slashed and thrust, parried and counter-thrust, becoming one with his blade. He went on for a long time. Sweat beaded on his brow and chest by the time he was finished. Sheathing his sword in one smooth motion, he looked up into the blue sky while catching his breath.

 

As his pulse gradually lowered, he brushed away some sweat from his brow and his eyes, then turned toward the camp site. He could feel Kathleen moving about through the Bond and headed back to her, his sword in hand. They spoke a few quiet words before he walked to the brook to wash himself. Soon he was back, pulling on a fresh shirt, and they shared a small cold breakfast Kathleen had prepared. She offered him a cup of kaf which he accepted with a smile and a thanks. She had used Saidar to heat the kaf since she had made no new fire that morning. She observed that she knew the travelling could take the taste out sometimes, but that she hoped the cup was not too disappointing. She had said something similar on a previous mission and it had seemed as if there was more behind the words. She had not elaborated though and did not do so this time either. He replied that it tasted very well and that a warm drink was just what was needed before a long day of travelling. Kathleen nodded at his words but it was impossible to tell what she thought.

 

 

Soon after they packed their things and readied to break camp. Walking over to their horses, Elessar gave them a quick brush-down, checked that the saddles were safely fastened, and spoke some soothing words to them both. He also gave them each an apple to enjoy. Stormbreaker munched contentedly on the apple and enjoyed Elessar’s pats on his back and side. Kathleen’s mare seemed pretty pleased as well with the attention she got. The Warder then returned to where his Aes Sedai waited, took their packs and fastened them to the horses. Soon they were ready to leave. At a nod from his Bondholder, he held out the reins of her horse to her and watched as she mounted. He then mounted the stallion and took the lead as they slowly headed out of the woods and back toward the road leading southwards.

 

The sun was slowly rising in a blue sky and a soft wind from the south-west brushed their travelling cloaks as they pushed their mounts onwards.

 

 

Several days later they passed the border into the nation of Altara, following the Great North Road in the direction of Ebou Dar.

 

Late one afternoon they reached the village of Senedan.

 

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.. Choices to be Made under Star and Moon ..

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“This is a story from before the Age of Legends”.

 

The gleeman’s voice drew them all in. “Or so they say, at least.” He grinned mischievously. “Who can tell when stories are created - and if they are based on truth.”

 

His sapphire-blue eyes shone. It was clear that he loved being center stage, loved to perform. His brown hair with grey at the temples showed he was above middling years but his body was lean and strong and he felt just as fit as a man ten years his junior. He had arrived in this northern Altaran village of Senedan two days earlier, on his way to Ebou Dar to perform, and had not intended to stay but the innkeeper had persuaded him and so he had relented.

 

Performing before an enthusiastic crowd always excited him and it was no different this evening.

 

“The tale of Star and Moon is a special one”, he almost whispered. “A story of love.. and grief.. and eternal peace.”

 

He saw those at the front tables listening attentively to his every word. Smiling in that direction, he gave a bow to the crowd and then he started singing. His voice was a low tenor and the sound of the melody, built upon the ancient poem, filled the whole Common Room and soon most of those present sat enraptured.

 

 

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Star and Moon

 

Princess sweet and Prince of Light

Fell in love one autumn Night

Great were days of joy and Smiles

Both together through the Miles

 

Beautiful she was to See

Handsome man was also He

Perfect couple for the Lands

Wedded true and holding Hands

 

Then the darkness fell on All

In the war, the Prince`s Fall

Tore her heart, the Princess Sad

In her grief, she went all Mad

 

Heart was broken and the Mind

Death a solace, far Behind

But at last she passed Away

To the lands beyond, to Stay

 

Mourning hard the people Cried

Hope and beauty had now Died

Then one evening up they Stared

Wonder great, the night-sky Fared

 

In the sky a star was Born

Brilliant it shone, Forlorn

And the people felt in Heart

She was back, a brand new Start

 

Tears from heaven, from the Queen

Of the sky, of beauty Seen

She would watch the land till End

Came to all that was, my Friend

 

But alone she was in Truth

Missed her loved one, and her Youth

Where was Prince and all Delight

Then she saw him, moon in Night

 

And the moon would glow with Life

Her great Prince with his dear Wife

Both together, far Above

Star and Moon, forever Love

 

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Elessar and Kathleen entered the Common Room just as the gleeman was finishing his story. The Warder grinned, recognizing the song and poem from the final three lines. Pity he had missed this performance since ‘Star and Moon’ was one of his favourite ones, but he and Kathleen had been busy discussing the next step of their journey. As they now sat down at an available table near the back of the Common Room, Elessar went over in his mind what options they had.

 

Kathleen had given him a few more details about their mission in Ebou Dar. Darkfriends in high circles. A very delicate matter indeed. Elessar’s eyes always tightened dangerously whenever he thought of Darkfriends and evil minions of the Shadow. He had fought the Shadow all his life and he hated everything about it. What complicated the matter further was that Kathleen had been informed by the Blue Eyes and Ears in Lugard that a woman working secretly for the Blue Ajah in Amadicia had been captured by Whitecloaks and was being interrogated by them. Kathleen and Elessar were being asked to divert from their present course and go rescue the poor woman! There were apparently no other Sisters closer to Sienda, the town east of Amador where the woman was being held. And if they were to change their plans and head in that direction, they need do so here in Senedan. There was a road leading south-westwards toward Amadicia, the only one for many miles. The question was: were they going to take it?

 

 

They had had a long discussion in Kathleen’s room there at the “Old Sheep” inn. There were arguments to be had both for and against making a change of plan. Kathleen had been most eager to continue to Ebou Dar and start their mission there; let someone else from the White Tower take care of the business with the captured woman. Elessar, on the other hand, had argued that they take on that responsibility also since they were the nearest. One could never tell with Whitecloaks. If one of those fanatic Questioners got involved, the woman might not last long. It remained unsaid that if worst came to worst she might not be alive by the time they arrived in Sienda. Kathleen had listened to his argument, then they had discussed the matter for a long while, considering every aspect. From what Elessar understood, she had not been ordered by the Tower to go to Amadicia but she had been asked. The decision was hers, at least formally but the Warder got the impression the.. suggestion was something more than what it appeared. When the White Tower suggested something, it was usually followed.

 

Kathleen seemed very uncertain what to do, or at least that was Elessar’s impression. But he could be wrong, of course. It could be that Kathleen had made her decision already. They did not speak as they sipped from cups of kaf while the gleeman played a tune on his flute. The Gaidin studied the people in the Common Room. It was the usual mix of locals, travellers, finer folk and commoners. Some were drunk, some playful, some quiet and some somber, staring hard into their drinks. A couple bearded middle-aged male guests, non-locals, looked like potential troublemakers, banging their tables and spilling wine, grabbing the behinds of the serving women, and not too friendly when being asked to chill, but they were being observed by two bouncers standing by the wall who were ready to intervene if necessary. Elessar watched the bouncers in the Warder-trained way of not seeming to do so, always amused by the big-muscle-small-intellect fashion of such men. Still, they had their uses. Shifting his gaze to his Bondholder he watched her carefully over the rim of his cup as he took another sip. Was she still considering Amadicia or had she decided already? Kathleen noticed his gaze but remained silent. She suspected what he was thinking. And she had in fact decided on the best course of action. But she needed some time to mull it over in her head before she shared her decision with her Warder.

 

 

When they were finally done in the Common Room, they walked together through the reception hall and up the stairs to the floor above. They passed some other guests who stared wide-eyed at the Aes Sedai and Warder, and the smiling well-fed bald innkeeper, who was cleaning some glasses behind his desk, gave a polite nod in their direction as they passed him by. A black cat crept past their legs, on its way along the corridor to greener pastures, and Elessar followed it with his eyes as it disappeared around a corner. As they came up to their rooms, three quarters along the long corridor, Kathleen stopped and turned toward Elessar.

 

Her face was Aes Sedai-smooth. She spoke one word, her eyes meeting his squarely.

 

Amadicia.

 

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.. A First sight of Whitecloaks ..

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They had travelled all the way to western Altara and were a few miles west of the small Altaran village of Mosra, near the River Eldar, when they encountered the first band of Whitecloaks.

 

 

The band, riding in columns military style, four men abreast and with their white cloaks flapping in the south-easterly wind, rode down the main road as if they owned it, the characteristic all-knowing arrogance of the Children in their faces. Watching from their sheltered place in the nearby woodland, Elessar kept his eye vigilantly on the band until they were out of sight.

 

“Look at the light almost shining in their eyes”, the Warder whispered at one point in a critical voice.

 

Even from a distance the passing white-cloaked soldiers’ faces seemed almost to glow.

 

Kathleen nodded beside him, understanding what he meant.

 

“They burn with the so-called Truth”, the Gaidin added, “which they and no one else knows.”

 

 

Elessar considered Whitecloaks misguided zealots at best, arrogant extremist fools in general, who saw the Shadow behind every nook and corner. The Questioners were the worst of the lot. They ‘put people to the Question’, having decided their guilt beforehand and just pressing for a confession of their sins. He was sure many of those Questioners enjoyed torturing others and were sadists at heart. His eyes hardened further as he considered the departing Children of the Light. He and Kathleen stayed silent as they watched from their hiding place. Soon the columns of white cloaked soldiers had disappeared around a bend in the road, leaving only dust behind.

 

“There will be plenty more of those once we cross the border into Amadicia”, Elessar whispered almost to himself. Kathleen gave him a knowing look, having heard his whisper. They would indeed come upon more Whitecloaks in Amadicia and so they would have to travel with some stealth. They had both changed their travelling outfits a while back to something more inconspicuous, removing Elessar’s colour-shifting Warder’s cloak and Kathleen’s blue travelling dress. Kathleen had also removed her Aes Sedai ring from her finger. It was necessary under the circumstances but she felt slightly naked without it. She covered her face with its ageless features with the hood of her cloak. Their cover-story was that she was a merchant lady travelling westwards with her bodyguard. Her present attire fit her role. Even so, they wanted to be careful of Whitecloaks and so would stay hidden whenever possible, minimizing the chance of confrontation.

 

Leaving the trees and brush behind, they led their horses onto the road again, mounted and rode westwards. They had checked their maps the day before and knew that the River Eldar - which ran all the way from the Mountains of Mist in a southerly direction through Ghealdan and Altara, finally emptying into the Sea of Storms - was close by and then the border into Amadicia. They had discussed where to cross the river, wanting to avoid any border patrols, and had found a place that seemed apt. They headed for that place now, turning off the road after a mile or so, into heavier terrain and not long after they heard the rush of the river in the near distance. They crossed carefully and entered Amadicia, home of the Children of the Light.

 

 

Amadicia was founded in approximately FY 1023 by Lord Santal Ramoth, a direct descendant of the last king of Kharendor. He had begun by attempting to reestablish Kharendor in FY 1015, but deftly changed to the founding of a new nation after realizing that the people no longer saw Kharendor as a unifying symbol and that many of the resident Nobles were from other lands.

 

The ruling body of Amadicia was always a king. Historically, the kings were rather powerful, until a decline in quality of Amadician kings coincided with a rise in power of the Children of the Light, until they were the real ruling power in Amadicia.

 

The belief or doctrine among the Children of the Light was that Aes Sedai were servants of the Dark One, and both Aes Sedai and channeling were outlawed in Amadicia, and the merest suspicion of such activity could result in harsh punishment and execution.

 

Elessar, an ardent student of history, thought about this as they rode further into Amadicia.

 

The Children of the Light are indeed the true power here. Elessar’s dark eyes narrowed dangerously. We must tread carefully in these dangerous waters.

 

 

High above in the blue afternoon sky, a large dark bird of prey screeched as if echoing his dark thoughts. Another screech and then the dark shadow flew south-westwards, carried on winds of foreboding.

 

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.. The joy of Storytelling ..

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They were seated opposite one another with their backs against a tree trunk.

 

It was late afternoon and clouds covered the skies above Eastern Amadicia. Kathleen was writing in her notebook while Elessar sat thoughtfully studying the clouds above. He held a small stone in his right hand and let it run between his fingers. The woodlands were quiet, as if in anticipation. Of what, the Warder did not know. But something..

 

They had travelled since late morning and had covered several miles. They had kept off the main road for as much as possible, keeping to the wilder terrain which mostly consisted of woods, hillocks and brush. It had slowed them down but they had deemed it prudent since they wanted to avoid any Whitecloak patrols. Finally Elessar had looked for a suitable place to rest their horses and they had ended up in this place.

 

Their two mounts rested some paces off to the side, contentedly munching some apples they had brought. Shifting his eyes from the sky to the horses, the Gaidin smiled. Stormbreaker had been his valiant companion on the road for more years than he could count. Kathleen’s mare was a younger horse but strong and quick, well able to keep pace with the bigger stallion. The plan was to stay here in this sheltered place for another hour or so before moving on. They wanted to reach the nearest village before nightfall. Even though they might have preferred to have stayed hidden from folk for most of the journey toward Western Amadicia, they needed to get more provisions and - if truth be told - both looked forward to a bath and a bed after many days on the dusty road.

 

 

When Kathleen finally put away her notebook, she studied Elessar silently for a long moment before speaking. “Tell me a story, Elessar”. She knew of his passion for history and stories and felt sure he would enjoy telling one. Her knees were steepled in front of her, her arms resting on them as she watched him. She could see his initial surprise and then subsequent grin. He nodded and put away the small stone he had been fiddling with.

 

“A story?” he mused. “I guess I can think of something.” His lopsided grin made her eyes glint. It was good to see him smile. He often had his dark moods.. She knew that he had an impressive ability for memorizing things and so was not at all surprised when he went on to tell a detailed historical story all from memory.

 

“The history of Tarabon is an interesting one”, he began. “As we know, Tarabon is a country situated west of here. Its capital, Tanchico, is a port that lies on the western coast on the Aryth Ocean. Tarabon's eastern border abuts Amadicia, and its northern border is with the Almoth Plain.”

 

As he spoke Elessar’s voice took on an almost lecturing tone. Kathleen did not mind. She was mainly glad to see him talk about something he was passionate about.

 

 

“Taraboners claim themselves descendants of the Age of Legends”, the Warder continued. “In fact, part of the Panarch's Palace is still from that time or so historians claim”. He added that the Panarch’s Palace was a place he had not yet been but wanted to visit one day. “They also call themselves the Tree of Man”, he said. “When Almoth still lived, it was rumoured that Tarabon actually had pieces of Avendesora. The tree in their banner and sigil celebrates this heritage.”

 

He went on to speak about what historians had written about Avendesora and so-called Chora trees from the Age of Legends. Kathleen, also interested in history, had read much of this herself in the Tar Valon Library but she still enjoyed Elessar’s passionate re-telling.

 

“People have claimed that these trees emitted a sense of peace for any who passed beneath their branches.” The Warder’s dark eyes took on a far-away look as if he imagined what that would be like. “Grown by the eternal songs of the Ogier.”

 

 

“Now then”, he said, his eyes focusing again, “several events took place which as a result formed the independent nation of Tarabon.”

 

He went on to explain that in FY 1006, during the War of the Hundred Years -  a devastating series of overlapping wars among constantly shifting alliances precipitated by the death of Artur Hawkwing and the resulting struggle for his empire - three nobles of Artur Hawkwing's regional government, Lord Haren Maseed, Lady Tazenia Nerenhald and Lord Boral Amadia, seized control of Tanchico and thereby formed a nation around the city.

 

“Lord Boral was then murdered, some say under suspicious circumstances”, Elessar went on, “and subsequently Haren became King and Tazenia became Panarch. By the time of 500 NE the tradition of male King and female Panarch was firmly established.”

 

“There is a poem which tells this story which many gleemen favour”, he added with a grin. “’Tarabon in the Light’ it is called. We might come across it in an inn on this journey in the South, you never know.”

 

Kathleen thanked him for the story. She enjoyed seeing the joy of Storytelling in him. She knew from his restless sleep that he had his demons to face. He would speak more about them when he was ready, she felt sure. She did not wish to intrude on his privacy. When he went to look after their horses, she picked up her notebook and wrote some more in it.

 

 

A half hour or so later they were ready to continue their journey west in Amadicia. Rain was in the air and they wanted to reach the village of Saramel before twilight and the coming heavy downpour. Leading their mounts carefully out of the trees they then rode along a small path that eventually led to the main road.

 

Reaching the village just as day was turning into night, their travelling cloaks wet but not drenched, they quickly found an inn, got their rooms, ate a swift meal in the Common Room, and then settled in for the night.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

.. Memories of Warder-training ..

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Elessar woke early the next morning. It had been a comfortable night’s sleep. I am getting soft, he thought with a dark grin as he poured some water on his face from the small water-basin in the corner of his room at the inn. Soft.. and old.

 

Drying himself with a towel he put on a shirt and some pants and sat down on the bed. Light was streaming into the room from the small window. It was some time past dawn and most residents at the inn were still asleep. He felt Kathleen restful in the next room. He thought she was still asleep but it was not always easy to tell through the Bond. Gazing at his sword which lay in its sheath on a stool by the wall it made him think of his many years as a Warder of the White Tower. He had not really known what he was getting into when he had set off from his home in the Borderlands those many years ago to become a Warder.

 

 

He remembered well the first few months in training, his Warder-teachers, the classes and all the skills he had had to learn. Many outsiders thought a Warder primarily needed to be skilled with a sword (and other weapons) but there was so much more to it. A Warder needed to have knowledge of geography of the continent, diplomacy, history, politics as well as practical skills such as reading the sun and the wind, finding food and water, basic first-aid, tracking-skills, basic hunting-skills and such. Of course becoming proficient with a sword was important so he would be able to protect and serve his Aes Sedai well. And so he and the other Warder-trainees had trained almost daily with the blade, practising again and again with sword forms, building their physique, improving month by month over several years before they reached the level of proficiency expected of a Gaidin.

 

Thinking back, Elessar remembered one session in the Tower when he was at the intermediate level of proficiency. For a Warder that is. Among non-Warders most would say advanced level. One of his older Warder teachers, a Blademaster called Sendric, was instructing a young Elessar and a fellow trainee called Sareul, a Saldaean guy, in the Warder’s Yard. It was late morning and a soft breeze drifted across the yard. The sounds of other trainees going through their forms was loud in his ears but Elessar shut them out as he cloaked himself in the Flame and the Void, totally focused, ready for the tough duel against two opponents simultaneously.

 

Reminiscing now, Elessar remembered it all as if it had happened yesterday. He was back in the Warder’s Yard, re-living those moments..

 

 

..Unfolding the Fan, Elessar then flowed through the sword-forms, as his opponents made tentative attacks.

 

“You see how well his forms are, Sareul? See his movements? That’s called finesse,” Sendric chided his second student while praising Elessar. “You would do well to learn from it.”

 

Elessar appreciated the praise from his teacher, knowing that his forms were very good for the stage of his training, but also knowing that he had a way to go when it came to innovation and improvisation. He tried to compensate by utilizing his smooth technique and by picking up all he could learn of improvised and surprising moves from his opponents.

 
A powerful swing by Sareul’s longsword was skillfully deflected by Elessar, though it was a close call to tell the truth and the young Elessar’s sword arm ached and his teeth rattled from the jolt. Sendric didn’t let the young man relax, though,  his scimitar coming in fast. Elessar swept it aside and went on the attack himself. The Blademaster deflected skillfully and Elessar used the momentum of that deflection to bring his own blade up to block an attack by Sareul, fluid as ever in his sword forms.

 


Soon Sendric began to press the young Borderlander harder and Elessar did his best to keep up.

 

As the three of them moved in the dance of the swords, the Blademaster spoke. He told Elessar in a matter-of-factly tone that he was very pleased with his progress and that he was a credit to his other sword-teachers.

 
“Now let me see you press the attack,” Sendric said. “Your Aes Sedai is in danger, you don’t have the liberty to sit and be patient at your attack anymore, we know you can defend, now let’s see you attack,” he commanded.

 

Elessar understood that the Warder wanted him to attack even more aggressively - Gaidin, fight strongly to protect your Aes Sedai! - and so he pressed the attack, but with precision and calculation in the calmness of the Void. Were he too lose his head and attack heedlessly he would quickly be caught out by these two swordfighters. And so he attacked smoothly but efficiently, first against Sareul who though fairly quick for his size was slightly hampered by the heavier longsword he carried and his less-than-perfect forms and who was hard pushed to block Elessar’s move. Then against Sendric himself, striking a medium-low blow that the other parried skillfully, deflecting the other’s counterblow and following up with a strong swing to the other’s side. This move also was blocked but Elessar kept on pressing the attack, strong strikes coming hard, combining sword forms and trying for some more innovation in his fighting.

 

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

 

It was all one long dance and Elessar used all the skill and knowledge he had as he moved in the forms, pressing attacks but never overextending himself or losing balance or true focus. A few times he was almost caught by Sendric’s proficient swings but managed to deflect just in time.

 

 

After a while he began to feel some weariness in his arm and legs, but he tried to ignore the aches and pains and focused on moving through his sword forms as best he could. The two others were going faster now and it took all of Elessar’s skill and concentration to keep up.

 

After a particularly bold move, a surprising move coming from Elessar, where he feinted high with his blade and came in lower with momentum and speed and swung hard at Sareul’s side, the huge man barely managed to block; but Elessar was prevented from landing the “killing blow” on his out-of-balance-opponent by Sendric’s attack from the back, an attack that Elessar only survived through use of strength, determination and some luck.

 

He was making a good show of himself in this 2 on 1-spar, or so he thought at least, as he tried to press the attack another time.

 

But that was before the Blademaster started going even faster..

 

“Excellent!” Sendric declared as he began to attack Elessar again, even more rapidly this time and including some modified sword forms, and some moves that he made up at the spur of the moment to fit the situation. Occasionally his moves began to slip past the young Elessar’s defenses, but Sendric Gaidin didn’t strike any “killing” moves just yet. He wanted to see what Elessar would do once things go really desperate.

 

In this battle of the swords Elessar was being pushed to the limit - and almost beyond.

 

 

He moved through the forms, striking and blocking, attacking and retreating, concentrated in the blankness of the Void as he tried to get the upper hand on his two opponents.

 

As Sendric was going faster with his moves it became harder and harder for the young Elessar to keep up. His strength was also slowly fading but he grit his teeth and with strong determination fought hard and well, not for an instance considering to concede defeat.

 

He learned several things during this spar.

 

That to truly excel with the sword it was necessary to improvise, because it was often the improvisation that made the difference when fighting able swordsmen. No matter how smooth the sword forms, in the end it was the surprising moves that often gave the best and most effective results. Another thing he learned was that Sareul was as strong as the ox he resembled in bulk and even more enduring, his ever more powerful strikes with his longsword pressing Elessar back time and again. His forms were sloppy at times but he looked as if he could go on doing this forever. This made Elessar understand another thing: to survive or win a battle against two opponents you had to take out one of them before your weariness made you weak and vulnerable.

 

He knew he had to take out Sareul.

 

And fast.

 

He felt the growing weariness in his sword arm and shoulders but did his best to ignore it as he attacked Sareul with fairly advanced form-combinations that drove the other backwards.

 

Improvise! the voice whispered in his mind. Surprise him!

 

 

Like he thought he had surprised Sendric a little earlier in the fight. After several fast moves and forms the Blademaster had suddenly stopped his attacks and had merely stepped back, as if to see what Elessar’s reaction would be. The young Borderlander had been thrown slightly off guard, losing rhythm and momentum, holding Sareul at a distance while quickly considering a point of action. His intuition had told him that it was better sometimes to attack another opponent than to have them wait idly by. It was a calculated risk but one worth taking or so Elessar thought as he moved on the Gaidin, who grinned broadly in response, in a renewed attack. He thought he had surprised the Warder then, and he intended to surprise Sareul now.

 

His blade met Sareul’s several times and he flowed in the traditional forms he knew so well. Then he improvised. Combining a couple of sword forms in a new fashion he struck the other’s blade with great force, twisting his body slightly as he moved, using the momentum to swing his blade around - a move that was blocked by Sareul but which also brought him out of balance - and strike at his side. The big ox just managed to block in time, his great strength and endurance giving him an edge, but was unprepared when Elessar used his smooth technique to come inside Sareul’s defenses and land a heavy blow on the other man’s shoulder with the flat of his blade. Using the momentum Elessar stepped out of the other man’s reach and just managed to deflect the blow coming from Sendric on the other side.

 

Elessar knew he had opened his defenses a little too much with his bold move, but it had paid off and he was unsurprised when Sendric told Sareul to move aside, having been “taken out” as it were, leaving the two of them alone in the sparring circle.

 

 

Perhaps it had been a slightly desperate move, Elessar thought to himself, but what counted was that it had paid off. He began to better understand Sendric’s words of the value of improvisation and that sometimes a fighter must bring that little extra into the fight (surprise, an edge, rawness, momentum, that little something that could not be taught with technique but which had to be learned through experience) to prevail.

 

He was pushed harder and harder back and now could only defend and block as the Blademaster showed more of his true skill with the blade. Sendric moved skillfully in the forms, using some traditional ones that Elessar recognized and others he had never experienced before.

 

Sheer strength of will kept Elessar on his feet during this ferocious onslaught and the young Borderlander knew it was only time before his strength would give out. He kept going though, determined to not give in, using the very last of his energy as his blade rose and fell in the dance.. until at last the Blademaster, going at full strength, unarmed him.

 

Sendric looked proudly at his young trainee and nodded once in compliment.

 

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  • 8 months later...

.. Meeting Children and a Lass ..

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They left the village of Saramel just after dawn on the following day heading further west into Amadicia. The wind was picking up from the south-west and dust flew up from the road behind them.

 

 

They talked little as they rode, Kathleen’s mind on their chosen detour to Sienda and on what awaited them there and Elessar’s mind on the Whitecloaks they might encounter. The sun was rising in a cloudless sky and it looked like it would be a pleasant day for riding. Neither of them took much notice though. They wanted to get this journey into the heart of Amadicia over with so they could travel to Ebou Dar and continue their main mission.

 

They had travelled for a couple of hours or so when Elessar sighted another column of Whitecloak riders ahead. The soldiers in white chain mail had spotted them. The Warder exchanged a quick glance with his Aes Sedai, then they rode confidently toward the Children of the Light.

 

The column of horses and riders stopped a few yards ahead of them and a helmed officer with light-blond hair, blue eyes and an arrogant face studied them carefully. He then enquired who they were and what was their business. Kathleen and Elessar kept to their story, giving polite responses. The officer gave them a skeptical look.

 

 

“Merchant lady you say?” He said, his mouth twisting sourly.

 

He studied the cloaked woman. She refused to humble herself but then again that was the case with most merchant women. They were a proud lot. Too proud for their own good, he thought darkly as he scowled. She wore her hood partially up but what he could see of her face seemed ordinary. His eyes then shifted to her bodyguard. The man certainly looked the part, strongly built and with a hard face.

 

“Yes, my good sir”, Kathleen said, making him shift his attention back to her. She knew merchant women spoke confidently but she had to take care not to antagonize this man unnecessarily. “We are on our way to Amador to secure some trade deals.”

 

The officer still looked skeptical. The men behind him and horses were becoming restless.

 

 

“Is the road ahead safe?” Kathleen added innocently but purposefully. “We hear there are bandits in the woodlands.” She paused, then added as if it were an afterthought, “Perhaps that is why you are here now, to catch them?”

 

The officer shook his head. Her talk of bandits made him think of his own mission. “No, we are on important business for the Light”. His eyes took on the fanatical gleam of his kind. “We have Darkfriends to hunt down.”

 

Losing interest in the two travellers, he nodded to the soldiers behind him and they rode on, the long column gradually disappearing in the distance.

 

Elessar sighed inwardly, glad to be rid of the Whitecloaks. He exchanged another silent look with his Aes Sedai, then they continued along the road in the direction of Amador and Sienda.

 

 

That early evening they stopped in another small village. It was very similar to several they had stayed at but this one had only one inn, “Feather of Light” it was aptly called. Walking their horses to the back of the building the Warder looked for a stableboy but saw no one around. Shaking his head slightly he tethered their mounts in the stables and returned to the front of the inn. He felt sure the stableboy would appear soon and take care of their horses.

 

They got their rooms from a smiling innkeeper, a fat man with a dirty apron and a strange Southern accent who seemed very proud of his inn. Kathleen still had the hood of her travelling cloak partially up but the innkeeper did not seem to find it strange. He was probably used to all kinds of people staying at his establishment and this was a merchant lady after all. They found their rooms on the second floor and Elessar carried her belongings into her room before he settled into his own.

 

They met downstairs in the Common Room shortly afterwards to enjoy a decent meal and something to drink. There were a few Whitecloaks scattered around the room among the locals and so Elessar chose a table at the back partially hidden in a corner. They ordered their meals and drank some kaf while they chit-chatted.

 

 

Later as they ate a gleeman entered the Common Room and soon began playing a flute to his audience. He was young-looking to Elessar, a brown-haired tall man in his early twenties wearing a cloak of many-coloured patches, but he still had skill. When he sang some songs later on the Warder had to admit the young man was talented for his age. He glanced around the room at intervals without seeming to, in the skilled way of Warders, but all seemed fine. Kathleen sipped her kaf and watched the performance but her mind was elsewhere.

 

The crowd that night seemed to favour jaunty tunes and bawdy songs rather than the historic epics Elessar preferred, but some of those bawdy rather lewd songs were quite funny and ones he had heard at some inns before. He listened with enthusiasm as the gleemen performed. When the young man said he would sing a Southern tune about a lass of some renown.. the crowd started cheering. They knew which one they were about to hear - and so did Elessar.

 

“The lass on my lap” was a bawdy tune he found hilarious. He had heard it before in Ebou Dar and also in another Altaran village on another journey and the lyrics were priceless. Clearly the song was popular here in Amadicia too. After the gleeman was finished the crowd banged their tables in appreciation and demanded he give a repeat performance. The smiling and very pleased gleeman was only too happy to oblige - and the Kandori Warder sitting at the back approved.

 

 

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The lass on my lap

 

There once was this man from Tear

Who nibbled so much on my Ear

That I slapped him, and Said

“No way, Mister! - I’m Wed”

“You’ll find no benevolence Here.”

 

But the man did not care for the Slap

He grabbed me right onto his Lap

“Now hear, little Wench!”

Said the man with a Wrench

“You’re my lass, so stop with that Crap!”

 

I gave him a kiss out of Spite

“Let me go!”, I said, ready to Bite

“Oh my lass, teach me Sin!”

Said the man with a Grin

“Of you I will many songs Write!”

 

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  • 1 month later...

.. A Daring plan and Proficient execution ..

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The merchant lady and her guard walked hurriedly down the main street of Sienda, clearly on business. Nobody took notice of the lady in her green cloak nor in the sure steps of the dark-clad guard beside her; they were used to merchants hurrying to and fro in Sienda, it was not called a merchant town for nothing. One pair of eyes followed the two, however as they rounded a corner and headed down a side street. The dark eyes tightened and the rough-looking man with the scar running down one cheek spat in the street before heading in the opposite direction.

 

Kathleen looked over her shoulder as they came to a stop before a flower shop. Elessar watched a carriage with four horses passing by with nobles no doubt, and his eyes swept over the people walking past without seeming to. Warders were very good at that, Kathleen had learned over the years. She finally entered the shop and closed the door behind her. Elessar remained standing outside, guarding. As he waited, he went over in his mind how they were going to free the woman they had been sent to find. Would she still be alive? He knew the Whitecloak Questioners could be quite ‘efficient’. The thought made him scowl and an old lady who had intended to enter the shop changed her mind, seeing his face, and walked steadily past.

 

He understood from what Kathleen had said that the White Tower was also concerned what secrets this woman might divulge under torture. She had helped the Blue Ajah’s Eyes and Ears in the region and had much local knowledge. When Elessar had inquired further, curiosity getting the better of him, Kathleen had just stared back at him coolly and he had understood it was one of those things he would never learn. Aes Sedai business. Not that it mattered that much anyway. Main thing was, supposing she were alive, they were to help her escape - and that would take some doing, the Warder thought to himself. The woman had been held captive in the local Whitecloak stronghold, they had been told by friendly eyes, and Kathleen was inside the flower shop now to speak to a local Eyes and Ears member. They would need help if their plan of action was to succeed.

 

 

“Will it work?” Kathleen asked.

 

She looked across the room at Elessar. He was seated in a chair at the end of a long dining room table opposite her. Studying the stronghold plans which had been smuggled out (he had no idea how or by whom), he noted the soldiers’ quarters, the intersections where guards were stationed, and the dungeons. At least she is still alive, he thought as he studied the plans. That much they had learned.

 

Raising his eyes to meet hers, he responded thoughtfully. “Quite frankly, we will need some luck.” His dark eyes tightened but then a lopsided grin gave his face an amused look. “But then again, luck is part of the game.”

 

Kathleen nodded, knowing the truth of that. Even the best laid plans could faulter. And chance would play a part. Even so, their plan was the best they had been able to come up with.

 

Taking advantage of the darkness of a moonless night they would enter the stronghold grounds, enter the building by a back door and make their way down less used passages to the soldiers’ quarters. There they would need to pass the quarters without being seen (they counted on most soldiers being asleep and any guards being less watchful) and get to the dungeons. The big uncertainty was how heavily guarded the woman prisoner would be. Elessar guessed she would not be heavily guarded, seeing as she would probably be in such a poor condition the Whitecloaks would not believe her able to escape no matter what, but it was impossible to know. If they managed to free her, they would then have to make their way all the way back without being seen. Or be ready to fight armed guards to the death. It was no simple feat however one looked at it, but they had no choice. This was their best chance and they had to give it their best shot.

 

 

That they did succeed was a result of a combination of a good plan, good execution and some luck. Carrying the wounded and much weakened woman in his strong arms into the darkness and away from the now awakened stronghold, Kathleen hurrying by his side and three men who had assisted running ahead, Elessar ignored the wound in his side and the shouts from behind and just kept going. He also ignored the growing pain in his arms as they rushed down the dark street, not daring to stop. Finally he could carry the woman no more and softly laid her on the ground leaning toward a fence. Kathleen stared back from where they had come but there was no pursuit yet. She knew, though, that it would come.

 

“We must get moving”, she whispered to her Warder after a couple of minutes’ rest, giving his shoulder a soft pat. The Sister of the Blue Ajah looked down at the woman they had rescued. She needed Healing but that had to wait. Picking her up again from the ground, the Warder hurried down the street with the woman in his arms. Shouts were coming closer but they ignored them as they rounded a corner and went down a side street. There were no people about though Elessar felt some querying eyes in the shadows. Soon they reached a nondescript thatched house, hurried inside and closed the door behind them. One of their helpers, a local lad in his twenties, kept a lookout at the street outside while Kathleen used a little Healing to treat the woman’s worst wounds. She was still weak but would survive and she muttered her thanks to the Aes Sedai. It was hard to say in the semi-darkness of the house but Elessar thought he saw a small smile touch Kathleen’s lips, but could be he was mistaken.

 

 

A half hour or so later, as a southern wind was picking up, Kathleen, Elessar and the rescued woman were on horses riding hurriedly out of town. The woman slumped exhausted against Elessar’s back, bound also with straps to ensure she would not fall off. Thankfully the Whitecloaks had not posted guards at the town edge, focusing on hunting the intruders in the streets, because Elessar was not sure he would have been up for another fight right then (he well recalled the heavy fighting that had been necessary inside the stronghold). The increased strength he got through the Warder-bond was what had aided him so far this night but there was a limit to his endurance and he felt he was approaching it. Riding a little ahead of Kathleen he pressed Stormbreaker hard and the war horse responded, despite the added weight, flying along the dusty road.

 

Soon they were all three free of Sienda and its neighbouring boroughs but they kept going for a long while before stopping safely away.

 

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.. Arriving in Ebou Dar ..

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Many days later, as day was turning into night, the light fading gradually into Darkness, Kathleen and Elessar arrived at last in the southern city of Ebou Dar.

 

It had been a long ride from Sienda to Ebou Dar. Fleeing after rescuing the imprisoned woman they had ridden long and hard before taking a break in the woodlands further east in Amadicia. Soon they had been in the saddle again wanting to put as much distance between themselves and their probable Whitecloak pursuers. A few days later they had crossed the border into Altara and had headed for the nearest village. Kathleen had passed a message to a local person who was part of the extensive Blue Ajah Eyes and Ears network and the following day the woman they had rescued - Sannah was her name - had been lead to safety. She was still weak and would receive further Healing by a Yellow Sister once they reached their destination but had imparted her gratefulness to Sedai and Warder both. Kathleen and Elessar had set course for Ebou Dar in the far south of the nation and now they were relieved to finally have arrived.

 

Riding slowly in the city streets, which were fairly quiet at this late hour, Elessar led the way as they went down one street and up another until they reached the “Southern Swan” inn in the western part of Ebou Dar. Stopping before the building, they dismounted and the Warder brought the two tired horses to the back of the establishment to the stables there. A young Altaran stable boy looked in awe at the huge warrior who approached him - for warrior this huge imposing man had to be, the boy thought with confidence - and caught the copper coin that Elessar threw him. He promised to take good care of the horses and the Warder returned to the front of the inn where Kathleen waited. Picking up all their belongings, he followed her inside. Soon they were quartered in adjoining rooms.

 

 

 

Ebou Dar.

 

A beautiful city, straddling the River Eldar, with pale white buildings - of pale stone or pale marble - and plenty of canals. Transportation was easy on the passenger canal boats as well as on the broad streets and bridges. Large buildings and palaces were scattered throughout the city, the palaces richly decorated with tall spires or domes in the shapes of turnips or pears, emblazoned with bands of crimson, blue and gold. The city was surrounded by a very thick white wall, which had three main Gates: the Moldaine Gate, the Three Towers Gate and the Dal Eira Gate, as well as several minor ones. Throughout the city paved squares were very common, often containing a fountain bubbling water, a large statue, or both. Out of these squares, the Mol Hara square was by far the largest. At its centre stood a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea, the heart of Ebou Dari trade. One entire side of the Mol Hara square was dominated by the gleaming white domes and spires of the Tarasin Palace, home of the current ruler of Altara.

 

On the other side of the River Eldar, however lay the Rahad, the section of Ebou Dar where the less fortunate in life - the poor and others shunned by society - made their living. The streets in the Rahad were often narrow alleys, with buildings  - often painted white though with the paint dirty and flaking, or with large chunks of plaster having come loose to reveal the coarse brick below - standing as high as five or six stories above the ground. The streets were filled with the refuse of the inhabitants and the stench of decay filled the air. The Rahad was no doubt a very dangerous place. Not only were duels very frequent, many adversaries did not even bother with the formalities and simply stabbed their victims in the back.

 

Elessar had been here before. And he knew that it could indeed be a dangerous city. And now they would be hunting Darkfriends in high circles here.

 

 

His eyes tightened as he looked out the window of his room on the second floor of the inn. The sun was rising in a blue sky with some intermittent clouds and the city was slowly coming to life. Light gleamed on the roof tops for as far as the eye could see and he glimpsed people on small terraces and in the streets below. Turning away he stepped across the small room to his belongings and put on a clean shirt and pants. He glanced at his sword in its sheath laying on a small chair in the corner and wondered if it would be needed this day. He felt Kathleen in the next room through the Bond. She had been up for some time, as had he. They had both needed the rest. He met up with her outside his room a short while later and they walked together down the stairs to the Common Room for some breakfast. They chit-chatted while they waited to be served but it seemed to Elessar that Kathleen’s mind was elsewhere. Possibly thinking of her other Warder Nevuel far to the north, he thought with insight. Elessar hoped the likable Borderlander was faring well. They enjoyed the breakfast, bread, eggs and ham, and a nice cup of kaf, speaking little while they ate and afterwards left the inn and took a walk in the city.

 

The buzz of a cosmopolitan city was all around. They passed many Ebou Dari men and women in the streets. They were dark-haired, had dark eyes and an olive complexion. Many of the Ebou Dari women’s dresses were pale in colour with snug bodices and full skirts over bright petticoats. Elessar noticed that most of the women and even some of the men wore large hoop earrings. And that men and women alike wore curved daggers through their belts or sashes. He also spotted a Marriage Knife hanging hilt down from the neck of a woman who hurried past them intent on her errand. Several Ebou Dari men walked by, throwing them a quick glance. They wore the trademark Ebou Dari vests, long and elaborate. They were brightly coloured and were worn over pale shirts with wide sleeves. One of the men, one of wealth, Elessar noted, had added a decorative silk coat slung about his shoulders. It was held with a chain of silver strung between the narrow embroidered lapels. The man also carried a long narrow sword, in addition to his dagger. The Warder’s eyes appraised the sword as he walked past.

 

 

There were a fair amount of foreigners in the streets as well. Elessar recognized many of them by their complexion or by their attire. Murandians and Illianers. A few he would bet were Andorans and even a couple of Borderlanders if his eyes were not misleading him. There were merchants and shopkeepers, nobles in carriages and those less well off. There were the sights and sounds always found in big cities. And the splendour. And this city, Ebou Dar, was certainly one of the most beautiful in the southern lands, perhaps on the whole continent.

 

They continued along the busy city streets, passing several squares and monuments and decorative fountains, and finally crossed one of Ebou Dar’s many canal-bridges and walked along the cobblestone street on the other side before Kathleen bade them stop. Along one side of the street there were benches beneath trees and she chose a bench near the end beneath overhanging branches to sit down and talk. Elessar seated himself quietly beside her, his eyes keeping a vigilant look at his surroundings as was always the case with him. There was no one nearby and after a minute of contemplative silence he turned to face his Aes Sedai.

 

“So”, he said, his voice calm but expectant. “What do we do now?”

 

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.. A Manor in Darkness  ..

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They spoke for a long while there by the canal and cobblestone street, going over the situation and considering various options.

 

Their suspect was a certain Lady Serina of House Todande. There were indications that she was a Darkfriend but they had no proof. The question was how to obtain proof. If the Lady was part of a local Darkfriend cell, they would have to tread carefully. To involve the city authorities was not something the White Tower wished to do unless absolutely necessary. It could, moreover, warn the Darkfriends if the city council had been infiltrated and this was Aes Sedai business after all. For now Kathleen and Elessar would ‘investigate’ the matter on their own.

 

After some discussion of the alternatives, they decided the best way to proceed was to break into the House Todande Manor north in the city and see if they could find any incriminating letters or documents. It was a longshot but people often kept things lying around on their desks in their homes and if they were lucky they would find something of interest. Getting into the Manor and out afterwards without being spotted by anyone, that was the real challenge. Again they would take advantage of the night and dark, like they had in Sienda, when the Manor probably would be quiet and the people asleep. They needed to know how many guards were on the grounds and so in the next few days Elessar kept watch from a distance and got a good idea of the guard routines and their number.

 

There appeared to be three guards alternating, one beside the front door, one in the garden, and the remaining one somewhere at the back. How many guards were inside was hard to tell but Elessar guessed no more than two. So five guards in all was his estimation. With detailed planning, making use of the dark and - again - some needed luck the Warder thought they could succeed. If necessary, the guards would be dealt with, non-lethally of course. Kathleen did not have any better ideas and went along with his plan. It was important to find some concrete evidence of the Lady’s affiliation with the Shadow and she hoped this ‘mission’ would provide it.

 

 

It was past midnight and the street before the Manor was quiet. Two dark-clad figures left the shadows and crept silently along the fence surrounding the Manor grounds. As they neared the gate, the two figures stopped. The first figure signaled to the second to wait and then he crept up to the 6 foot high gate and glanced upwards. It was quiet but then he suddenly heard some shuffling feet. The seconds went by and then a man’s face appeared above the gate. He stared outward and was so focused on looking into the shadows of the other side of the street that he was totally unprepared when Elessar’s right fist slammed into his head and he slumped over the top of the gate, unconscious. The Warder whispered to Kathleen to follow and they went through the gate and stopped. A second guard was coming their way but then suddenly changed direction and headed back toward the Manor. Elessar led the way down a dark path underneath some trees and through some bushes and soon they were at the side of the building. They had gotten this far without being spotted which was excellent. The guard at the gate had needed to be neutralised. Now, however, they had to get into the Manor building.

 

Crouching by the side of the house, Elessar considered the next step. They had decided that it was too risky to try to get in through the front entrance. Therefore one of the windows on the side was their best bet. The window in question was around seven feet above ground and as the Warder reached upwards he felt the window sill. He took out a knife from his pocket and used it to squeeze the window open. He tried to do it as quietly as possible but the noise it made when the window opened felt loud in his ears. Even so, there was no commotion neither inside nor outside and he breathed a sigh of relief. Nodding to Kathleen still crouching below him, he opened the window further and pushed himself up until he could slide into the room beyond. Again he stopped, listening. Had he made a thump as he had hit the floor? Still only silence. He got to his feet and looked out the window at Kathleen below. When she raised her arms up toward him, he leaned out and grabbed them and lifted her up and pushed her carefully into the room. It was a good thing he had always had a lot of strength in his arms. They waited long moments but the silence deepened. Sharing a glance in the near-dark of the room, a sitting room of a kind by the look of the furniture, they then stepped across the room and up to a door on the side.

 

 

The door was unlocked, which was very convenient (Elessar had some lock-picking skills, they were part of Warder training, but not needing to pick this lock saved them some time) and they went silently into the hallway behind. A few candle lights shone in brackets on the walls at intervals but otherwise the corridor was dark. They did not have the architectural plans for the building but they had been informed by local Eyes and Ears that the Manors along this stretch of road were constructed in the same way, just the building size differed, and so the probability was high that the work studies in all these Manors was at a certain place in the building. Kathleen and Elessar counted on it as they crept along the corridor in the direction of the room they believed was the study. They did not encounter anyone until they were nearly at the room, but suddenly someone came through a side door and Elessar had to crouch down in a corner beside a huge plant while Kathleen hid half-behind a large statue of a woman wearing a crown. The figure came in their direction and Elessar saw that it was a big Altaran man in servant’s clothes. His attention was on a paper in his hand and he walked right by them without seeing them and around a corner and was gone. [i]Luck[/i], thought the Warder as he climbed to his feet. [i]Luck always plays a part.[/i]. Kathleen joined him and they stepped up to the study.

 

Waiting another few seconds, listening for any sounds, Elessar then tried to turn the door knob. The door was locked. He was not really surprised. It was to be expected that a private study, which would hold important documents and - perhaps - secrets, would be locked at all times. Lords and Ladies could, after all, only trust their servants so much. Removing his lock picking tools from his pocket the Warder set to work. He was no expert at this but did have some skill. It was a useful skill which had aided him and his Sedais in the past. It took half a minute or so but finally there was a click from the lock and the Warder smiled in the near-dark. Placing his tools back in his pocket he nodded to his Sedai and he pushed the door open softly. Stepping inside, he closed the door behind them. The room was dark but some moonlight came through a window and after a minute or so their eyes had gotten used to the darkness and they could see somewhat. A huge oak desk dominated the room with some book shelves on both sides and a table with some chairs. They moved immediately toward the desk which had a map and some papers. Glancing at them quickly, the moonlight making it possible to read decently well, Kathleen then tried to open some drawers. Most were locked but one drawer was not. She opened it and looked inside.

 

She found various financial documents and deeds but they seemed not important. They needed something concrete, something damning. Meanwhile Elessar went through some envelopes stacked in one of the book shelves. They seemed to include old documents of the city but nothing incriminating that the Warder could see. The books on the shelf were various works of poetry, history and Altara that Elessar had come across before. Turning around to look at Kathleen by the desk he was just about to whisper that he had found nothing when he saw her stare upwards and meet his glance and he thought he glimpsed some excitement in her eyes. She held a document up before him and he stepped toward her, taking the document in his hands to read. It was a letter of a private nature and as he skimmed its contents his smile widened.

 

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.. A Letter in Shadows  ..

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The letter was addressed to Lady Serina of House Todande.

 

 

Dear Serina,

 

I hope this letter finds you well. I just wanted to assure you that our plans are progressing nicely. The third party in question, you know who, have been dealt with and so there should be no more opposition from them. Their House is no longer in ascendance let us say.

 

There is still one player we need to remove from the game. He has made our cause difficult with his tedious actions and I have frankly had enough of him. I will deal with him personally but wanted to let you know beforehand.

 

As for our next step, be aware that there are whispers of interference from certain parties that shall remain unnamed. Our friends in Amadicia should take care of that.

 

I wish you good health and look forward to seeing you at our next meeting.

 

May the Great Lord protect you,

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Chariana

of House Serende

 

 

Much of the letter sounded like Daes Dae’mar, the Game of Houses, that Noble families played everywhere, games of political power and influence, but the greeting at the end left no doubt. Only a Darkfriend would sign a letter “May the Great Lord protect you” and only a Darkfriend would receive such a letter - and keep it. Elessar thought they must have been very confident to risk signing a letter that way, but some people were overconfident fools and they often paid the price.

 

Elessar thought he saw a smile of satisfaction on Kathleen’s face, but then she took the letter and placed it in a pouch in her dark cloak. They placed everything else as they had found them and stepped back toward the door. Just then there was a sound outside, as if someone had stopped in the hallway and was listening, and they both stood still. Elessar carefully brought forth the knife he carried and waited. The seconds passed slowly but finally he heard whoever was outside the door moving down the corridor. He sheathed his knife before softly opening the door and peering outside. He saw no one and signaled for Kathleen to follow him. Closing the door behind them he used his lock-picking tools to lock the door again. No one should be able to discern that anyone had been there. The plan was to leave the same way they had arrived and so they crept down the corridor, waiting any second to see a guard step right in front of them, but their luck held and they came across no one inside the Manor. Elessar shut the window behind them and waited in the shadows of the building with Kathleen beside him before moving along in the direction of the Manor gate.

 

 

Suddenly a huge shadow appeared before them; it was one of the guards!  But Elessar’s Warder-instincts saved them as he slammed his shoulder into the big man’s side before the other could react and as the guard stumbled the Warder punched him hard in the neck, just at the right place, which felled him like a tree. Only a grunt, as much of surprise as anything else, escaped the guard’s lips as he slipped into unconsciousness. Kathleen gave her Warder an approving glance and Elessar smiled darkly as he led them further through the gardens.

 

By the gate they found the second guard still unconscious and they left him there as they crept out of the Manor grounds and onto the street. Keeping low and moving fast they hurried down the street, at any moment expecting the alarm to go up from the remaining guard, but there was only silence and they surmised that the guard had not found his unconscious companions yet. The Lady of the Manor would realize that there had been intruders on the grounds, but hopefully would have no idea how far into her secret lair they had penetrated, and what had been taken.

 

 

Kathleen and Elessar finally returned to the inn and met up in her room for a quick talk. Elessar’s eyes were triumphant; they had found what they had come for, the evidence they needed, and there had been no need for any killing. The plan had worked. The Lady of the second House, a minor Ebou Dari House, would also need to be investigated of course since she probably was part of the same Darkfriend cell, but the Lady Serina of House Todande was their big prize.

 

“She is caught in a net from which she will never escape”, Kathleen said at last. There was definite satisfaction in her voice. “We got what we needed.”

 

It was a small victory, perhaps against the Shadow in the grand scheme of things, but any such victory gave Elessar of Kandor much joy.

 

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.. Returning to Tar Valon  ..

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Finding the incriminating letter was only the first step in closing down the Ebou Dari Darkfriend cell, but it was a vital step. Several other Sisters of the White Tower joined Kathleen in Ebou Dar and together they found further evidence of Darkfriend plots and assassinations, and by the end of the month they were able to bring all the evidence before the city council which resulted in the immediate arrest of the Lady Serina of House Todande and her associates.

 

The leader of the Ebou Dari city council, a proud grey-haired stout Altaran Nobleman in his mid-fifties, was so infuriated at the discovery of ‘high level’ Darkfriends in his city that he wanted to hang the Lady Serina on the spot, but intervention by the White Tower and the Queen of Altara in the Tarasin Palace stopped him. The Aes Sedai got the last word, insisting that the Darkfriend Noblewoman and her associates be dragged back to Tar Valon to stand trial on treason against the Light, the penalty which would certainly be death. They were to be made an example of to the people and once she heard those arguments the Altaran Queen agreed though it was rumoured she had privately wanted to hang the woman and her ilk herself.

 

Kathleen and Elessar finally left Ebou Dar on a windy and cloudy day on the last day of the month and set course for Tar Valon, mission accomplished. Their journey this time took them directly to Lugard, the Capital of Murandy. They had visited the city on their journey southwards and had no wish to linger there any longer than necessary. Getting new supplies and resting their horses, they then continued riding northwards toward Caemlyn.

 

 

The Andoran Capital was another beautiful city and Elessar enjoyed every visit there. They entered the city around midday on a beautiful day with a soft breeze coming in from the east. As they rode slowly along the city streets among the buzzing crowds, passing merchants and shops, local folk and travellers as well as city guards patrolling, Elessar was reminded of Andor’s colourful past. Andor was, in fact, one of the oldest nations in the world, founded during the War of the Hundred Years. Many of Andor's traditions were established during those early years. Unlike many Nobles of the time, Queen Ishara, Andor's first ruler, had realized that no one ruler would be able to take control of Artur Hawkwing's entire empire.

 

Instead, she had focused on controlling only what she could. As a result, Andor began only with the Capital city of Caemlyn and the small surrounding villages. Cautious expansion had marked the reigns of the early queens of Andor. And therein lies wisdom, the Warder thought to himself, remembering what he had read in history books about the many wars that had began up through history because a ruler had grabbed too much territory too fast out of greed and lack of caution.

 

Caemlyn. A majestic city, second in beauty only to Tar Valon in many people’s eyes. Historically Caemlyn had been made up of two cities; the New City and the Inner City. The New City, less than two thousand years old, had been constructed by men, surrounding but largely to the north of the Inner City. The ancient Inner City, however, in which sat the magnificent Andoran Royal Palace, seat of government for Andor, had been constructed by Ogier - expert stonemasons - much earlier, on the hills. Thick walls had encircled Caemlyn for years beyond knowing, keeping intruders and enemies out, protecting its denizens and its interests. Power in Andor lay in its Capital. Whoever held Caemlyn ruled Andor. And only Queens rule this great nation, the Warder thought to himself, recalling Andoran tradition. Only a woman, a Queen, may sit on the Lion Throne.

 

 

They stayed two days in Caemlyn, enjoying the city and all it could provide. Elessar might have wanted to stay longer but he saw that Kathleen was getting restless and wanted to return to the White Tower and so they left on the third day.

 

They had not spoken much on their journey north. Kathleen had, to Elessar, seemed preoccupied much of the time and he had not wanted to intrude on her personal thoughts and business. He guessed that she was thinking of Nevuel again, as he suspected she often did. And so Elessar kept much to himself as they travelled, focusing on the places they passed through and enjoying the time on the road and the feeling of a mission accomplished.

 

They passed the huge Braem Wood, some villages that were so small that they did not even feature on a map, and continued steadily north-eastwards on a dusty road that gradually became more and more crowded with people. Their travelling cloaks billowed behind them in the increasing wind as they rode but they pushed on, day after day, wanting to get to their final destination as quickly as possible.

 

 

And so it was that on a late afternoon, under a sapphire-blue sky, Kathleen Aes Sedai, Sister of the Battle Ajah and Elessar Gaidin, Borderlander-bred Warder of the White Tower, Bonded in the Light, came in sight of the Shining Walls of the City of the Aes Sedai. 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 rippled strongly in the wind, as if welcoming them home.

 

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THE END

 

Edited by Elessar
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