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All the Roads Lead to 'Rome


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If Wagoners were correct in their belief that good and evil were relative, then relatively, at least his interview with Master Seshir had gone well, in light of the recent developments. These include the ever daunting roommate who had reminded Ashley of a dancing bear, his movements exaggerated as he wind-milled fat, trolloc stabbing arms at the non-Shienarian, and moreover, the solicitous stranger who was trying to stay the night. It had taken an incredible amount of knocks at the door to drill through to the roommate assigned to him, Tarec was his name, appearing tough was his game. Tarec danced as if somebody had laced his trousers with itchweed when Ashley unpacked his belongings; the neon greens, and the psychedelic pinks that he owned were simply not manly, even to Ashley’s girl-tainted, misted eyes. The fact that his roommate was not real pleased to have him in the barracks had not escaped Ashley, and neither had the brooding meanness in the eyes of the dancing bear.


A dancing bear had nothing on the other carnivores that awaited in what Ashley had labeled the den, otherwise conventionally known as the mess hall, when he went in, dressed in the presentable black and white of a trainee gear for breakfast, and asked across the trenches of steaming honey-seared ham, bacon over cakes of meaty, grease boiled eggs. When the other trainees had made out his request for vegetables and fruits – it had taken him several tries to make himself heard, then understood. Apparently berries were not standard rations, and vegetables were seldom consumed when there were other more substantial items. Tarec had ignored him after breakfast, and it was with a heavy heart that Ashley Wilkes reported in, at the courtyard where his Master was to teach him.


He had been warned when first he signed up that training in the Warder Yards would be like nothing he had ever experienced before. Master Seshir had stressed the contrast, the harshness of fighting compared with Ashley’s relatively peaceful journey on the road, in his family cart. He had expected to work hard and catch up where the others were already ahead, but was not anticipating the social pressure, and now that he had tasted of its rancor he dreaded nothing more than having to face the den at lunch, supper, then breakfast again and again it would go, breakfast, lunch, supper, and for the next few years he would have to man up to his blunder, the faux pas that had just gained him a reputation Ashley feared he would never lose.


It was hard to be so young and already boxed in by their expectations. Worse still, he realised the depth of his ignorance was immense, as vast as the unfathomable knowledge that awaited him, if he was able to grasp it. This did not irk him though; it was exciting, wonderful, even, to have so much to learn, to have so much to defend himself with! Nay, what irked him was how he had been treated, and was perceived by his fellow students. Not a one had wanted him around; not a single unfaltering smile that rose with the sun. Before he was even given the chance to prove his worth, the rail-thin trainee had been pulled into a gauntlet, and was found lacking.


He missed the road, dearly.


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So, this was it. Master Seshir stood watching from afar, thinking rightly that it was better to study the stranger-and if not stranger, strange lad-from the corner of his eye as the morning greeted the Yards, blue-skied and breezy. Ashley Wilkes, Ginae had titled the Trainee and Tinker trouble had been ‘Rome himself. Not that he believed it possible that any others but him and one travel bound roommate knew of such a name, but when the time came and if he had moulded the serenade singing, grace friending boy the same way Rosheen had done with so many of her mentees, Nerome would be more than content to tell the boy of his first impression. If that is, Ashley Wilkes would desire it.


He certainly would never ask Rosheen to summarise her thoughts on him any time soon, even though unabashed proclamations had given suspicion enough to just where her thoughts marked him. Then again, Rosheen was Rosheen and ‘Rome was nothing like his old mentor. Ashley however. Ginae could not have chosen a more fitting mentee for him, no one could’ve possibly been more able to set clanging bells off about the fact that in Ashley, he had found one of them.


One of them? Did he not mean one like him? Or what he was, used to be? Past continuous had never rolled of his tongue quite as smoothly as Selandre had wished it, and here was a fine example of just where his brain got muddled and the thinking paused as his forehead screwed up in concentration. No one could call him stupid, he was just… one of them. The realization that he was not quite as changed from his Trainee form subdued ‘Rome a little, and in very proper Master Seshir style, he walked his way over to the waiting lad. ‘Rome was sure he was some good three or four minutes late, but he still eyed Ashley somewhat suspiciously to see if he too had noticed, or whether it was still too early to do so. White Tower punctuality had been hammered into him, after all.


“You’ve arrived on time, so atleast that’s the first tick off the list. How is the Yard settling in with you?”


Grinning at the younger male, he led as Ashley answered. In many ways, Ashley was like his first mission. Yes, Ashley was a person rather than some weapon of importance that needed guarding as it passed from one nation to the other. Yes, Ashley was no Aes Sedai. Indeed, the silks were there but the pouty smiles were missing…as far as Nerome knew. Yes, Ashley had a long way to go, but Nerome would help him there. It was something he owed to one of them. As they stopped just outside the Armoury, he turned towards the lad.


“The first place every Trainee is taken to is the Armoury. You’ll get to choose your weapons here, weapons that I will help you train with so that you can use them best. Your weapons can change as you progress in training, but choose wisely once we’re inside.” Nodding, he motioned for Ashley to enter. “Go on, I’ll be watching if you need help.”


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A grinning Warder in front of him, leading him here. Ashley found the assessing eye of the Warder disconcerting, for it was the same way Ginae had perused him before telling him to find his assigned Mentor.  When Master Seshir turned, the trainee was glad for a change of events.


Their destination: the armoury. A place of such magnitude, magnificence that banished all the pouting from Ashley’s heart. Master Seshir, as Ginae had titled the Tower Guard and chipper skipper had been Ashley’s add on to what the Mistress of Trainees had dubbed his Mentor. Not as proper to be sure, but he did not reckon a man who was late a few minutes – the road itineraries had given him a keen sense of times when to meet or make camp for the night – would mind the informality. When most people asked hello, how are you they didn’t really want to know how you or your ailing father fared, but rather to get the pleasantries out of the way before cracking down to business. Trade was one thing he was familiar with, and the barter of roadside exchanges he had learnt along the way. Making a vague sort of response universally accepted, he turned his attention to the inventory within.


“Yessir.” The conversation lulled, as neither spoke as he examined the racks of weapons. When he moved, ‘Rome followed, letting him grope at this or that, and since most of them were new to him due to a sheltered life, he would stop often to ask this name, or what that did. What awed him was how form affected function, and the same blade that was good for spars, would not be great if you wish to go into the battlefield.


They had reached the polearms, and his eyes widened even further. Here was a warhammer. Shiny, long enough to give him some distance between himself and his opponent. Every inch of it screamed deathly, and its head reared to meet his eyes. The eyes of a man in love, as they danced along its length and then he picked it up. It was not as heavy as the broadsword, and he thought it less cumbersome than a crossbow, which took considerable skill. This was a hacking, picking weapon, and he appreciated this.


Surely it gave exercise to his sensible nature that he did not swing the hammer against the wall like he wanted to do. Plenty of time for testing the weapon later, in the barracks and the privacy of his and Tarec’s room. Oh, yes how he yearned to swing it! For the first time in a long while he was happy, and would bawl here and now if he could not possess his precious. Try as he might, and not even very hard, he could not keep the sparkle from his eyes. He gulped hard, scarcely daring to believe such a weapon would exist. “How about this, Master Seshir?”


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