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Dancing Among Golden Leopards (attn. Carys Sedai)


Elessar
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OOC: This RP takes place after the “Hunting the Hunter”-RP (Yellow Ajah Cairhien E&E string on the East Board) is concluded. Carys and Elessar are at this point leaving Cairhien and heading for Altara and Ebou Dar.

 

IC: It was right after dawn, on a cloudy day with a soft breeze blowing through the trees, that Elessar Gaidin and Carys Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah left the city of Cairhien behind and started their journey southward toward Ebou Dar.

 

Their plan was to travel south-west through Cairhien down to Andor and then further south to Murandy and then all the way to Altara. Their destination, the capital and port city of Ebou Dar, lay at the southern tip of the country there by the Sea. It was a long journey and they would make many stops along the way. Their first stop would be a small town in southern Cairhien, but it was many miles away and so the two pushed their horses hard as they raced down the roads that carried them farther and farther away from the Cairhienin capital.

 

After a while they slowed down, so as to not exhaust their mounts, and they continued at a fair pace for several miles. Elessar rode in front, blade fastened to the side, colour-shifting cloak blending in with the background. Stormbreaker responded to his cues, relishing the ride. Behind him rode Carys on her gray mare. The Warder rode back at intervals to check for any pursuers and also rode ahead at times to make sure the way was safe. There were fewer travelers on the road than Elessar had expected but most of those were heading northwards toward the capital. A few men and women threw them glances as the Warder and Sedai rode past, but most paid them no mind. These were tough times, changes on the wind for one and all, and most people had more than enough on their plate to have time for others and their business.

 

Elessar and Carys spoke some as they rode, making light conversation and talking about the road ahead, but most of the time they rode in silence, each occupied with one’s own thoughts. On the mission they had completed. On their journey to Altara and Ebou Dar. On their Bond.

 

Elessar was also thinking about what he knew of Altara. He had been there only once before, with his former Sedai Leandreen many years before. He remembered some things about the country, however, from books and from his training days in the Tower; some of its history, customs and culture.

 

Altara is a country located between Illian and Amadicia,he thought. The river Eldar forms its western border. The nation was founded during the War of the Hundred Years, unified by a founder named Maddin. Ebou Dar, its capital, is situated at the southern point by the ocean. Up through the years rulers have had difficulty keeping the country united. Kings and Queens - seated on the Throne of the Winds - have in truth shared power with strong Noblemen around the country. They have, when it comes down to it, held the nation together out of fear of being absorbed by their neighbours.

 

Elessar thought.

 

Women in Altara are dominant, especially in Ebou Dar. In many situations an Altaran woman has the right to kill a man unquestioned. Knives and swords are an important part of Altaran life. Both men and women fight duels over trivial disputes, often with fatal results. Altaran women carry marriage knives, which serve both as a formal way to broadcast marital status (its color and decorations describe marital and motherly status), and an easy method of disciplining their men.

 

Elessar thought of the status of Ebou Dari women with some amusement and shook his head. How strange customs were in some places. But then again, southerners would probably scoff at some of the customs in the Borderlands where he came from. Different places, different customs. That was the way of life.

 

The banner of Altara is two golden leopards on a field checked four-by-four in red and blue, he recalled.

 

A banner of strength. A banner of might.

 

Perhaps it is time to dance among golden leopards, he thought of a sudden. The thought was gone as quickly as it had come, like an echo in a dream, like a whisper on the wind..

 

Like a broken memory..

 

They reached the rugged town of Salesbrough in early afternoon, as sunshine was breaking through the clouds above.

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The air smelled of wildflowers. Thousands, millions, in varying colors surrounded the road, even some beginning to lay claim to the outer edges. What used to be an obvious line had blurred over the years. Still, enough hard packed dirt remained to support four horses abreast. Having only three, and one a packhorse that trailed behind, the pair of travellers thought nothing of the eroding edges, instead their thoughts were of death and life, despair and hope, loss and love. Perhaps a little excitement was mixed in there as well.

 

Despite the pleasantness of the afternoon, the woman’s stomach was awash with butterflies. I haven’t been on this road for fifty years; the last time I was heading in a different direction. The thought of returning home filled her with apprehension. Though why it would, she couldn’t say. After fifty years, many – most of the women that she’d apprenticed under would be dead. Her “parents” as well. Her age, looks, and status had all changed, and yet she felt like that same fourteen year old that had left. Inside, at least. Outside, she was the picture-perfect Aes Sedai. Serenity at its finest. The White Tower did not fail in that.

 

Elessar trotted back to her, his large stallion kicking up small clouds of dust on the road. He reined the warhorse in beside her gray mare. Strength and assurance flowed through the Bond, quietly the fluttering in her stomach and the thoughts in her head. The Yellow looked over at her Warder, marveling in how well they seemed to fit together. It hadn’t been a planned event, but she was glad to have him at her side as she returned to Ebou Dar. He’d already saved her life multiple times in the week since they’d Bonded…since they’d met. She had never expected to Bond because she’d never expected to leave the White Tower. However, when the time came to return – after the events of Cairhein were finished – Carys had found herself balking at the idea of simply going back to the White Tower, to her closed, sheltered life in the Infirmary.

 

Her savior had come in the form of a letter, unsigned from an agent in Ebou Dar. The irony that the last unsigned letter she’d received had nearly gotten her killed more than once did not escape her. Still, it was the push she needed. As Amadine, Seheria, and the others set out for Tar Valon, Carys and Elessar had left in a different direction. South, toward Altara and the agent. Toward the mysterious information that the agent had requested she give face-to-face.

 

Coming back to herself as she eased into a conversation with Elessar, Carys very nearly laughed. How she’d changed in such the short time period of leaving the Tower. The thought of apprehending and questioning a murderer no longer bothered, but she was nervous about returning to the city where she grew up? It was ludicrous. As her Warder finished his statement about how far they’d travelled, the Yellow shared both the worry she’d felt moments ago and the revelation she’d found just now. Her smile was large as she shook her head semi-ruefully.

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----

 

Goodbye Leandreen!

 

The whisper was like an echo in his mind.. like the soft touch of a feather.. like a drop of water falling ever so slowly onto a green leaf in twilight.

 

Time was.. almost.. standing still.

 

He turned his head slightly, as if to listen. He was enveloped in darkness, but slowly the blackness was interrupted by yellow sparks which flew toward the heavens. Focusing his eyes he slowly was able to make out the contour of a funeral pyre burning bright. His face brightened at the way the pyre lit up the darkness, as if in defiance of the shadow of the night, but then he saw who lay there on the pyre - and sadness entered his soul.

 

Leandreen!

 

Despite the intensity of the flames he could see her clearly, almost as if she floated a few inches above the pyre, untouched by heat or flame. She looked so regal laying there, so serene, her emerald eyes closed and her fiery red hair embracing her so familiar Aes Sedai face, ready for the final journey..

 

Elessar clenched his fists, ever so slowly, as if to crush the anger and the pain he felt in his soul at Leandreen’s death.. a solitary tear streamed down his cheek..

 

Just then, Leandreen’s eyes opened! Elessar gasped!

 

Meeting his eyes, she said condemningly: “My Gaidin: how could you fail me?!”

 

----

 

Elessar awakened with a shock, sitting upright in his bed!

 

His eyes saw only darkness.

 

Wiping sweat from his brow with his hand, his heart beating fast, his breath heavy, he tried to get a hold of himself. I am in my room. This is the Four Oaks Inn, in Salesbrough, he thought. It was only a dream. Only a dream.

 

It had certainly felt real enough.

 

Shaking his head, he got up from the bed and walked over to the window. Pulling the curtain aside he saw that it was still nighttime. His pulse slowing, he sat down on the bed, clenching and unclenching his fists. Get a grip, Elessar! Get a grip! It had been some time since he had thought of his guilt and shame regarding Leandreen’s death. He had ignored those feelings, putting them into a compartment in his mind, and by so doing trying to “heal” himself and stay sane. It had worked, or at least seemingly; his working partnership with Carys Sedai had been going very well, he thought, marveling in how well they seemed to fit together - he appreciated her honesty, her trust and the friendship that was building between them -, and in how well he managed to keep his inner pain under control when with her.

 

Until now.

 

For a few moments he felt an emotional struggle within him, as the shame and guilt threatened to overwhelm him again, but he resisted. He lay his head slowly back down on the pillow. And as he gradually drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep, he found the strength and will within him and pushed the dark thoughts back into the recesses of his mind.

 

When he awoke the next morning, just after dawn, Elessar felt in control of himself again. Leandreen’s twistedly accusing eyes he ignored, though they remained in the back of his memory, and he focused on his chores. He went and looked after the horses, giving them a good brush and some carrots to eat, and also spent some time sharpening his blade, then he joined Carys in the sitting room for breakfast. He ate some bread and washed down the food with water, stealing some glances at his bondholder in-between bites.

 

He recalled her words when she had shared her thoughts and worries with him the day before, as they had ridden southwards. He had just told her how far they had travelled and how far he estimated they had yet to go, when she had began speaking. He had been surprised by her openness about her nervousness concerning returning to Ebou Dar, then her explaining how ludicrous that was when she coped well now with questioning a murderer, as she put it. She had seemed amused, happy, concerned and even more amused, all at the same time - at least it had seemed so for the Warder, also with the feelings coming through the bond - and Elessar had wondered at how the past weeks had truly changed Carys’ life.

 

They ate in silence in the sitting room, only making some light conversation at intervals. When they were almost finished, Elessar spoke. His thoughts were once again on Altara, their destination, and he hoped that talking about her former homeland would.. be good for her. She was going back after what some would call a lifetime away: that could not be easy, no matter what was said or implied.

 

“I have heard of a square in Ebou Dar that is called the Mol Hara”, the Warder began. He touched the cup of water in front of him, following its round lines with his thumb. “It is laid with very pale paving stones. At its center stands a heroic statue of a woman on a tall pedestal, with a fountain beneath, one arm raised to point toward the sea.” A slight pause followed. “Do you know of this statue?” asked - an always history-interested - Elessar. “Is it with some particular historical relevance do you know?”

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There was a small town halfway between Cairhein and Salesbrough, Trilane. The town held a certain, rugged charm, its people embracing their lives and their small town. It was too bad that she and Elessar had reached it in the afternoon instead of the evening. After stopping for a bite and to make sure they were on the correct path, the Aes Sedai and Warder had moved on down the road, dust kicking up around the horse hooves and settling in their wake. Carys itched to look back at the small children playing on the edge of town, but she resisted.

 

Their afternoon hours passed calmly – this trip seemed to be the exact opposite of their trip to the farmhouse on the other side of Cairhein. There was no murderer, no notes, no assassins hot on their trail...no rush. The adrenaline that had coarsed through her veins this past week had been substituted for an almost languid calmness. It was disconcerting that several times on the trip she found herself wishing for a sliver of that excitement back. Not that she wanted to risk their lives again, but something to ...liven things up.

 

That feeling passed on the far side of Trilane, however, and the Yellow began to enjoy the warm sunshine, pleasant breeze and various smells in the air. This is beautiful countryside, Carys thought to herself as they plodded along. So many different kinds of wildlife. Much of it is stuff I have only seen drawn in books... She noticed animals too: deer, squirrels, rabbits, hawks, and more. Ever diligent, she took to holding a small sketchbook in the hand that held the reins while she drew some of the plants and animals with the other. The only way to Heal something is to know something about it, she recalled from a lecture given during her Accepted days, and a picture is a good start. Marandina Sedai had passed since Carys gained the shawl – a sad day for the Yellow Ajah – but her advice was still useful and truthfully, still given to young women interested in the art of Healing.

 

Elessar looked over a few times, but Carys kept her attention on what she was drawing, knowing that he would be watching the surroundings. It was another two hours before she looked up with her full attention and the young Yellow was surprised to see a tiny town ahead and dusk beginning to settle in. The warhorse carrying her Warder stepped ahead and she reined the gray mare in to follow him. I really have to think of a name for her. Even if she doesn't recognize it, I feel bad for calling her 'gray mare.' I should have asked that boy in Tar Valon.

 

Salesbrough didn't hold quite as much appeal as Trilane. The people were a little gruffer, the buildings a bit more worn, and the air not as clean. Still, a bed was a bed was a bed. Knowing that there would not be another town along the road for quite some time, the pair dismounted in front of the inn and asked for a room for the night. A middling aged woman with middling looks and build squinted a bit at Carys' ageless face, but one glance at Elessar had her sighing and handing over a set of keys within a few moments.

 

Carys chose to eat in her room; she had learned to read facial cues and the lot downstairs would not be particularly friendly to an Aes Sedai. She bid the Gaidin good night early and, after shoving in some food, set to fleshing out some of her sketches. It wasn't long before she closed the book and retired to bed. Travel was a weary friend.

 

Her heart was pounding ferociously as she sat up in her bed, blinking fast. Embracing the Source, the Yellow swiveled her head around the room, looking for an unexpected visitor. With Power sharpened eyes, it didn't take long for her to realize that there was no one in the room. What in the world- cutting herself off, Carys placed a hand to head. It wasn't me. It was Elessar. She threw back the covers, intent on figuring out what was wrong, and then stopped. She knew, or had an intelligent guess, as to what happened. Taking a deep breath she lay back down against the pillow and closed her eyes. Sleep was elusive at first, but returned as an old friend eventually.

 

She woke early and felt surprisingly rested. Dressing quietly, Carys made her way down to the common room in the dim morning light. The man on duty was much more friendly than the woman innkeeper, his stained teeth flashing into a smile every time he looked at her. She thanked him for the eggs and bread courteously and then retired to a corner. Elessar sat down across from her a few moments later, his face tired for anyone who knew how to read people. She also knew not to ask.

 

They made light conversation through breakfast, the smell of freshly baked bread filling the common room around them. After another bite of bread smeared with honey, Elessar began to ask questions about Altara. “I have heard of a square in Ebou Dar that is called the Mol Hara”, the Warder began. He touched the cup of water in front of him, following its round lines with his thumb. “It is laid with very pale paving stones. At its center stands a heroic statue of a woman on a tall pedestal, with a fountain beneath, one arm raised to point toward the sea.” A slight pause followed. “Do you know of this statue?” He asked,“Is it with some particular historical relevance do you know?”

 

Carys swallowed a sip of water and then smiled, “Yes, I do. The statue in the middle of Mol Hara is that of Nariene – Queen Nariene. She ruled long ago and is fabled for her absolute honesty. It is rumored that in all her years she never told a lie, nor clouded the truth, even in the face of adversity. Of course the statue only has one breast bared, so that is mere rumor. Perhaps the person who had it made wanted to blemish her reputation, but I suspect it is merely the elevating of our idols.

 

 

I had a kiss stolen from me there when I was thirteen,” she laughed and took another sip of water. “I was meeting a patient to help him back to the Wise Woman shop when a streetrunner – a thief – came running through the square. He was running straight toward the statue, toward me. He looked back to see if the people were following him, and when he looked back I was standing right there. He grinned, kissed me, and then ran off.”

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Elessar listened with interest as Carys told of Nariene, former Queen of Altara. He had read a little about her in some of his history-books, but had not known that it was she that was depicted in that statue in Mol Hara Square. He nodded appreciatively. When Carys told of the kiss that the thief had stolen from her in that same square when she was just a thirteen year young girl, Elessar could not stop a small smile from touching his lips.

 

He did not smile that often in truth - his face was often hard and stoic, even at the times he was grinning inside; it was just the way he was - but he could not avoid a little smile now, hearing Carys’s laugh and seeing her openness and her smile. It was a good idea indeed to bring up the topic of Altara, the Warder thought to himself. She reminisces, memories return.. - and perhaps it will make the road home a little easier for her.

 

“Ah, the joy of youth”, Elessar said when she finished speaking. “How much simpler life was back then.” He took a quick sip of water and leaned back in his chair, a pensive look on his face. Memories from his early years in Kandor reached out to him. “I remember one time when I was eleven years or so”, he said. “Valdherien, my elder brother by a few years, and I were playing in the yard outside the estate where we lived in Kandor. It was an ordinary day, just like any other day in the Borderlands. But I remember it vividly. Of a sudden Valdherien stopped playing and gave me a questioning look.”

 

“Do you really want to become a soldier, Elessar?” he asked me. “I know father wants it..”

“Of course, Vald”, I replied, rolling my eyes. “Father pushes me hard so that I can fulfill my dreams.”

“I thought you wanted to become a poet”, he added with a raised eyebrow. “Or at least so you said..”

“Ah, you know nothing”, I replied with a sigh. “I will become one of the best swordsmen there is. That is my calling. And the poetry, well, that noone can take away from me.”

 

“Valdherien gave me a nod and a smile”, Elessar explained, remembering. “Though I am unsure if he really understood.” The Warder’s eyes slowly lost their far-away look, and he wondered if life truly ever was simple.

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She hadn't thought of that kiss in ages. Carys touched her smile – still smiling – as she remembered watching the boy run off. He hadn't seemed a boy back then, his dark hair fluttering in the wind. He must have had two years, at least, on her. She had watched his back retreat until she couldn't see it anymore. Even then, standing on her tiptoes to try and catch another glimpse. The people chasing him had nearly bowled her over, scooting around the crowds as they were. The rest of the afternoon had gone by in a haze – the thirteen year old not being able to concentrate on anything but that kiss.

 

The fervor soon faded, though she had still looked out for him over the next year. Fifteen found her in Tar Valon, head filled with knowledge of the Power and Healing rather than a kiss. The memory had faded over time, as well. She couldn't recall his face now, only the dark hair and his retreating back. Her blue eyes were light and twinkling as she swept them back to meet her Warder's eyes. His were much heavier, though a small smile played upon his lips now. “Ah, the joy of youth”, Elessar said when she finished speaking. “How much simpler life was back then.” He took a quick sip of water and leaned back in his chair, a pensive look on his face.

 

Carys nodded, turning the empty over in her hands. It was a surprisingly refreshing memory from her childhood, one of innocent joy rather than the harsh realities that she'd faced from a young age. Several more of the gaggle of Wise Women popped into her head then, reminding her that love came from a variety of places, not merely from a parent to a child. An old ache throbbed as she thought of the women who had raised her. She'd written letters diligently, some to the group, some to individuals, until eventually all the Women had passed on. Though she couldn't visit each time, Carys had been excused once as an Accepted to go pay her respects and to have a last moment with those that were still around. It had been a kindness that she'd never forgotten.

 

After a few moments of silence, Elessar began speaking, this time sharing a story of his childhood. The Aes Sedai smiled a small smile as he discussed a conversation with his brother involving swords and poetry, and watched his eyes take on a far-away glaze that reminded her of so many Brown Sisters, or herself in the Infirmary. “And does he understand now?” she asked, referring to his brother, “Have you returned home to show him that you are indeed an expert swordsman with a poet's heart?” She smiled again and winked as he looked at her.

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“And does he understand now?” Carys asked, referring to his brother. “Have you returned home to show him that you are indeed an expert swordsman with a poet’s heart?” She smiled again and winked as he looked back at her. A small grin passed his lips at her reaction. Ah, you know me too well, lady.

 

“I returned to Kandor some years ago”, Elessar said. “My Sedai and I were on a mission in the Borderlands and we passed my brother’s estate. We stayed there for a night and Valdherien and I sat and spoke until very late about how our lives had turned out. He understood better now my choices and praised my skills, as I praised his.” The Warder’s eyes took on a pensive look once more as he for a short time lost himself again in memories.

 

They left the Four Oaks Inn in Salesbrough before midday, under a blue sky with sunshine peeking out between clouds, travelling southwards in the direction of Andor. Elessar had paid the innkeeper - a middling aged woman with middling looks and build - before they had departed. She had looked keenly at the Tar Valon coins he had handed her, but the Warder had guessed she had done so more for their value than for their origins. He had bid her a good day, and soon after they had been gone.

 

They passed the border into Andor before dusk.

 

Elessar rode in front on his black stallion down the dusty road, Carys just behind him on her gray mare and with the packhorse - tied to them - trailing behind. There was no town along the road for many miles ahead and so they were going to make camp a little further southwards in a small forest near the road. They made light conversation during the ride, but mostly Elessar watched the surroundings with vigilance - riding back and forth at times to make sure there were no surprises about - while Carys appeared to be occupied with her own thoughts.

 

Finally they reached the woodland-area they had aimed for and Elessar led the way along a small path away from the road and into a cluster of trees. They made camp and Elessar took care of the horses, giving them a good brush and some oats to eat. Leaving them tethered a llitte way off, he walked along the perimeter of the camp to make sure the area was safe before joining Carys at the camp fire. He gave her a quick, almost imperceptible nod to indicate that he had found no signs of danger and she returned one likewise.

 

Seated opposite his bondholder around the small fire, Elessar took a small strip of dried meat in his mouth and chewed slowly. Drinking some water from a small flask he then set it aside, throwing Carys a careful glance. He was thinking about the road ahead, about the next stage of their journey. The road they were following southwards split in two some miles further south, he knew, and they would then have to choose a direction.

 

“We have two options now as to the road ahead”, he said, meeting her eyes. “Either we can head for Caemlyn and then afterwards turn south-westwards toward Murandy, or if we wish to avoid the Andoran capital we can by-pass that city entirely and travel further south and then from there on toward Murandy.” A slight pause followed. “Option one will be quicker - and will serve us well if we have errands or matters to take care of in Caemlyn”, he added. “But option two may be.. safer from preying eyes, so as to speak, even if the journey will be slightly longer.”

 

“Which option do you prefer, Carys Aes Sedai?” He used her title out of respect but also to indicate that it was her choice to make.

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Once again it was a beautiful day for traveling. The world felt peaceful – such a difference from a few days ago – as she plodded along on the gray mare. Elessar resumed his routine of scouting ahead and then riding back to her, rinse and repeat. Carys once again choose to fill her notebook with sketches, losing herself in the countryside and the scratch of a pencil on paper.

 

They passed the border into Andor shortly before dusk. The Yellow was busy furiously scribbling, intent on finishing the picture she'd been working on for the better part of an hour, before all the light left her. Elessar rode slightly in front, his eyes constantly surveying the road ahead. It wasn't the first time that Carys had been thankful for the added benefits that the Bond supplied to the Warder. It was tiring riding all day. And, she imagined, would be even more so for someone who held such tension in his body. Constantly surveying for danger would be exhausting.

 

As the sky continued to darken, the Aes Sedai sighed and tucked her notebook away. There was no sense in continuing in this light – it would only serve to mess up what she'd already drawn. Running a hand through her golden hair, she thought of her parents for the first time in a long time. Or, rather, the people she'd known as her parents. Despite them casting her out, Carys could not help but feel a pang that she'd left so easily, that she'd never seen them again. Even more so, that she had never found out her true origins. I'm Andoran, she thought haltingly, by birth, this is my country. What is my real history?

 

As she reached this troublesome train of thought. And the troublesome realization that she'd never wondered about her real family in the sixty some years before, Elessar led her to the woodland-area he'd been searching for and made his way along a small path away from the road and into a cluster of trees. They made camp, Elessar taking his turn to take care of the horses as Carys set a few logs in the firepit and channeled some Fire to create a nice, healthy, blaze. Slipping from the light of the campfire, Elessar walked along the perimeter of the little camp before joining her. He gave her a quick, almost imperceptible nod to indicate that he had found no signs of danger and she returned one likewise.

 

Seated opposite her, Elessar took a small strip of dried meat in his mouth and chewed slowly. Drinking some water from a small flask he then set it aside, throwing Carys a careful glance. She was still ruminating on thoughts of her “parents.” Should she attempt to find her ...sibling? whilst in Ebou Dar? The thought felt right and wrong at the same time. Annoyed, she bit of the end of a strip of dried meat rather forcefully and began chewing in earnest.

 

Her Warder broke the silence. “We have two options now as to the road ahead”, he said, meeting her eyes. “Either we can head for Caemlyn and then afterwards turn south-westwards toward Murandy, or if we wish to avoid the Andoran capital we can by-pass that city entirely and travel further south and then from there on toward Murandy.” A slight pause followed. “Option one will be quicker - and will serve us well if we have errands or matters to take care of in Caemlyn”, he added. “But option two may be.. safer from preying eyes, so as to speak, even if the journey will be slightly longer.”

 

“Which option do you prefer, Carys Aes Sedai?”

 

Swallowing the meat roughly, the Yellow took a swig of water before she answered. “We don't appear to be in immediate danger anymore – finding the thief in the shop in Cairhein seemed to cure us of that.

 

I've never been to Caemlyn. The capital city would give us ample opportunity to flesh out our stores once again, as well as give the horses a needed break, so I believe the first choice is the one I prefer.”

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The proud and stately banner of Andor, with a resplendent white lion rampant on a field of red, rippled strongly in the wind above the City-Gates of Caemlyn, as Carys Aes Sedai and Elessar Gaidin passed through the gates and rode into the Andoran Capital. It was late in the afternoon and clouds had blanketed the sky from early dawn. They had ridden many miles through Andor, since leaving Cairhien, and now had began to feel saddle soreness and aching backs and so were looking forward to a few days’ respite in Caemlyn.

 

As they rode slowly along the city-street among the buzzing crowds, passing merchants and shops, local folk and travellers as well as city-guards patrolling the streets, Elessar was reminded of Andor’s colourful past. He knew some of the country’s history from books and stories. 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 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 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. Elessar could not disagree. He had been here several times in the past on White Tower missions with his former bondholders and the city had never failed to impress him. 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.

 

He turned in his saddle for a moment, Stormbreaker calm beneath him, and looked back at Carys who followed on her gray mare. When she had chosen the “Caemlyn-option” at the camp a while back when they had discussed the road southwards, also mentioning that she had never been to Caemlyn before, he had nodded and had replied: “Caemlyn it is then.” It would be a quicker route and though danger was never gone in this day and age - the Shadow never sleeps - , the danger was - as Carys had said - not immediate. Though he had not said so aloud at the time he had been surprised that she had not visited the Andoran Capital before. It was easy to forget that not all Aes Sedai travelled the world, like Leandreen Sedai and he had done. Carys had spent much of her life in the Infirmary in Tar Valon from what she had told him. How quickly that fact slipped his mind at times as they rode together, companions on the road.

 

Thinking of their many days of travel together, he was thankful for the Bond, not the least because he knew that she gave him added stamina and strength without which he would have been even more exhausted after an already long and tiring journey. Furthermore, the Bond gave him a purpose - something to live for! A pair of familiar, reproachful emerald eyes appeared for a second in his mind, like shadows come to shut out the light, but he shoved the painful dream-memories away, shutting out the guilt, banishing it from sight. His eyes softened a touch and the tension in his shoulders lessened for a moment.

 

Looking closely at his Sedai, he could see that she had put her notebook away, probably so that she could focus on seeing the city on this her first visit to Caemlyn. Elessar had seen her often write or draw in that notebook during daytime travel but had not asked her about it, thinking that it was a matter of a private nature. But he was, in truth, somewhat curious about it - he thought he had glimpsed a drawing of some sort once when he had ridden past her to survey the roads behind them - and hoped she might mention it herself some time.

 

Behind Carys came the packhorse, a sturdy animal with a good heart that had been a part of their travelling party for quite some distance now. If Elessar had known nothing else about Carys, he would have vouched for her by the loving and heartfelt way she had looked at, and cared for, that horse - and their own mounts - as well as a few injured animals they had come across during their journey. He had once heard someone say that you can tell much about a person by the way he or she treats animals, and he thought there was much truth to that.

 

He gave his bondholder a small nod, smiling inside, then turned back in his saddle, his fancloak swirling in the wind, his eyes surveying the road in front of them - and on the sides - once again, as they continued onwards toward their destination.

 

It was a short while later, as rain started pouring down over the city of Caemlyn, like tears from heaven, and large cracks of thunder sounded in the far distance, that they finally arrived at the Rose Crown Inn.

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For the first time in days, Carys put away her notebook before the onset of dusk. It had become a routine between the pair. She would sketch as he scouted ahead, enjoying the peaceful scenery and the plants and animals that she'd never seen before. Then, as he returned, she would close the pages, a thin yellow ribbon keeping her place, to discuss the path ahead and make small talk. Despite the abundance of opportunity, it appeared that neither of them felt entirely comfortable discussing serious matters whilst on the road. As soon as the topic came up, they each retreated to silence until nightfall, or betimes even the following morning. Instead they chatted about history, about the weather, the travel, and things of a more light nature. And then Elessar would scout ahead again and Carys would return to her scribblings.

 

This afternoon, however, found the pair on the edges Caemlyn in late afternoon. Truth be told, the actual city was a long way off, but the Yellow did not want to miss a glimpse of the fabulous city. Not for the first time since she'd met the Gaidin she felt like a young girl rather than a seasoned Aes Sedai. It was quite intriguing and not the least bit frustrating. She restrained herself from standing up in the saddle. Her mare would not appreciate it and it was not Aes Sedai like at all.

 

Instead, Carys guided the gray forward until she was practically even with Elessar, the pack horse plodding dutifully behind them. She gave the brown gelding a small smile; she'd come to love him as well as the gray. The wear of their travel was beginning to show though, and she found herself very glad that they had come on this route. The horses needed it just as much as she and her Warder did – or perhaps even more. Moving her attention to the front once again, Carys widened her dark blue eyes as the walls of the City appeared as they rode up and then down a small hill in the road.

 

As if connected to the Aes Sedai and her Warder by an invisible string, a storm cloud arrived just as they spied the city. An ominous peal of thunder rang out across the sky and Carys pursed her lips staring up at the quickly darkening sky. If only I could alter the weather, she thought with a sigh. At least we're close to shelter.

 

They arrived at the Rose Crown Inn just as water began to fall from the sky. Pulling her the hood of her cloak, the Yellow stared around at the buildings while Elessar spoke to the innkeeper. It was beautiful, even in the rain. Hopefully the weather would clear tomorrow so she could tour the city...and perhaps the Palace. Movement out of the corner of her eye attracted her attention and she could see the innkeeper waving frantically for her to dismount and enter the Inn. Grinning sheepishly at her Warder, Carys dismounted easily and handed her reins to the waiting stable boy. He took them, smiling at her eagerly, and turned toward the warm, dry, stables at the back of the Inn.

 

“Mistress ...” the Innkeeper trailed off, before shaking his head and leading them deeper into the Common Room. “Please follow me and I'll get you to a table. Hot Cider and a meal?” He asked more at them than to them, knowing that nearly every traveler would be looking for just that. Especially when taking shelter from the rain.

 

They followed him to a small dark wood table in the corner of the Common Room. Near to the fire, Carys could feel her cheeks becoming flushed and the water leaking out of her hair. Not quite as good as the Power, but works all the same. She sat on the bench closest to the wall and shrugged out of her wet cloak. “Well, we're dry now,” she said with a smile.

Edited by keyholder21
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Elessar entered the Rose Crown Inn and quickly found the innkeeper. He was a balding man of above average girth wearing an apron. He had a somewhat rugged face that had a small scar on the side. His eyes were deep-set in his face but he had a friendly if somewhat smug smile. He was standing behind the bar watching his staff cleaning tables, serving food and drink and doing all the little things that need to be done to keep an establishment of repute running smoothly and well. The innkeeper recognized the fancloak and greeted Elessar politely. The Gaidin told him that they would need two rooms next to one another, and that his Aes Sedai waited outside. They would stay for several days. Were there rooms available? Some food would also be nice, yes - he added.

 

The innkeeper bobbed his head, his right hand twitching slightly from the somewhat hard look in the Warder’s eyes, then rushed outside - Elessar right behind him - and waved frantically for the Aes Sedai to come inside and out of the rain. Carys dismounted easily, giving her Warder a somewhat sheepish grin, and handed her reins to the waiting stable boy who took the horses behind the inn to the stable to be cared for. Then she joined the others inside the Rose Crown Inn.

 

“Mistress ...” the innkeeper trailed off, before shaking his head and leading them deeper into the Common Room. “Please follow me and I'll get you to a table. Hot Cider and a meal?” He asked more at them than to them, knowing that nearly every traveller would be looking for just that. Especially when taking shelter from the rain. They followed him to a small dark wood table in the corner of the Common Room near to the fire. Carys sat down on the bench closest to the wall and shrugged out of her wet cloak. “Well, we're dry now,” she said with a smile.

 

Elessar looked at her smile, her dark blue eyes, her somewhat flushed cheeks and her wet hair and wondered for a second how un-Sedai-like she looked right then. Aes Sedai were all composure, all grace, all in control. At all times. Or at least so many believed. They forgot that Aes Sedai were human. Amid her Aes Sedai-ness there is a strange.. innocence about her these days, Elessar thought to himself. Almost as if coming out into the world has.. given her something she did not know she needed. Aloud he said, in reply to her comment about them being dry there inside: “And a good thing that is. We would not want to be caught out there in the middle of that approaching storm.” Soon after rain hammered the roof of the inn, as if echoing his words, and the screams of the wind could be heard inside the Common Room.

 

A short while later the innkeeper brought them the food - a stew of some sort which Elessar thought tasted very nicely after a long day on the road - and the hot cider. He said that their rooms were on the second floor and would be ready for them when they finished their meal. He gave a respectful bow to the Aes Sedai and gave the Warder a half-fearful glance before retreating to the bar. Elessar and Carys made smalltalk while eating and Carys mentioned that she hoped the weather would clear so that she would be able to see more of the city in the coming days. Elessar nodded, hoping also that the storm would pass quickly.

 

Some hours later Elessar was seated in a small library at the back of the inn. They had retired to their rooms after the meal. Some time later the Warder had gone downstairs to hear with the innkeeper if there was a private study or a retreat of some sort - with books perhaps? - somewhere in the establishment. He had felt like reading a little, relaxing with some stories, now that he had the chance. It was not a true library in truth, but it had several shelves of old Andoran books and some comfortable reading-chairs and it reminded Elessar of a much smaller version of the Estate-library in Cairhien.

 

He had just picked up one of the books from the shelf, it was very old and the pages were yellowing. The book’s name was “Memories of Bygone Times” by an author called Gardar Norwelyn. If memory served him right, that family-name was of one of the Great Houses of Andor. Flicking through the pages - it was a rare collection of short stories and poems by different authors, most with a connection to Andor - Elessar suddenly stopped at a poem near the back of the book. A big grin came upon his lips. He knew this poem!

 

It was called “Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)”, author unknown, and was an old heroic and sad story about the ancient nation called Manetheren, in what was now a region of Western Andor, and its legendary Aes Sedai Queen Eldrene (the “Rose of the Sun”) who led them in their valiant fight against the Shadow. Not all historians considered it authentic material, but whether fact or myth, or a mix of the two, it was a great story, Elessar thought.

 

He soon lost himself in the dramatic, powerful - and above all tragic - story of brave Manetheren and its fall..

 

 

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. Noone 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.

 

-----

 

OOC: Another of my poems included above. I wrote it some years ago, inspired by Moiraine’s awesome retelling of the Fall of Manetheren in “Eye of the World”. Enjoy! :)

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As she finished eating, Carys noticed that she was now merely damp rather than wet. It was a more pleasant feeling, almost cozy as she and Elessar sat close to the fire talking making random small talk. She had an urge to draw her knees up to her chest and rest her head upon them like a child, the flickering fire swallowing her attention. She did not, of course. Suppressing a shudder, she thought of what the majority of her teachers in the Tower would have said. Aes Sedai decorum was something ground into the fibers of your being as an Accepted. Whilst novice years are for learning the Tower and authority, Accepted years are for saidar and serenity. As a full Sister, you were more or less on your own – answering only to the Head of your Ajah, potentially Sitters, and the Amyrlin herself.

 

The young Yellow had never cared much for decorum. In the Infirmaries, being cool and aloof can hinder rather than help your relationship with the patients. She'd felt herself slip back into the personality of a Healer long ago, fighting it for a time but eventually giving in. Now, Aes Sedai serenity was almost an afterthought. How different her life and demeanor would be had she chosen a different Ajah, or even stayed in Ebou Dar.

 

Soon after she finished, her Warder had finished as well. Sensing he needed some time to himself, she suggested they retire to their separate rooms. He nodded at her and together they swept from the Common Room, both carrying dark cloaks that still dripped with the night's rain. The Innkeeper had tried to take them, but Carys assured him that would not be necessary. A glance at Elessar and the man quickly acquiesced. She stifled a small smile.

 

Their things were already in the rooms of course. Carys gathered her Warder's dripping cloak into her arms and murmured a 'goodnight' at the door, retreating into her room. It was a rather nice room – larger than necessary for one person, but Andor, especially Caemlyn, and the Tower had a long relationship and it was probably what most Sisters would demand and in truth, it could compete with her bedroom in the Yellow Wing of the Tower. She just didn't spend a lot of time there.

 

The bed was expansive, looking as if it could easily fit four people across and have room to spare. The bureau and vanity were of a rich dark wood with vines carved across the sides. On a closer view, the vines held roses in various forms of bloom. The washstand matched the rest of the furniture, with a Sea Folk porcelain bowl resting atop it. The trunk at the bottom of the bed and the two nightstands were of a slighter warmer wood, though they contrasted appealing with the dark furniture. A divan sat against one wall, the soft pink cushion matching the lighter bedspread. She generally wasn't much for pink, but the feminine color did brighten an otherwise heavy room.

 

Much to Carys's delight, there was an extravagant fireplace, the mantle carved to match the rest of the room. Five logs already rested within, awaiting the flint. Embracing the Source, Carys dropped the end of a small Fire thread atop the pile and seconds later the fire roared to life. She then wrapped herself and the cloaks in a Water thread and deftly drew out the remaining rain from their clothing. A tall coat hook stood in the corner, prongs sticking out every which way. She carefully hung the two cloaks up and then crossed the room to the bed. It will definitely be nice to sleep in a bed tonight, she thought – the small of her back still aching with the former night's choice of sleep: ground.

 

Stripping down to her smallclothes, Carys laid her dress over the trunk and sat on the bed. Here, she could -and did- draw her knees up to her chest and rest her head upon them. The fire crackled merrily and once again the Altaran lost herself in her thoughts. Some time later, she noticed that it was difficult to keep her eyes open. Stamping the fire out with a weave of Air and Water, the Yellow scrambled up the bed and into the blankets feeling very un-Aes Sedai like. Her face to the world was what mattered though, so she banished that thought and fell off to sleep.

 

Morning came at just the right time, golden rays trickling in through dense curtains. Carys washed and dressed, donning a decidedly more elaborate dress than she normally wore. You have to look the part to play the part, she thought to herself. She preferred a Healer's personality but that did not mean that she could not project Aes Sedai. Tying the gray sash behind her, she smoothed the front down and left her room. The clouds had broken overnight and sun was shining down on Caemlyn.

 

All the doors in the hallway were closed, including Elessar's. Walking down the carpeted hallway a few steps, the Aes Sedai knocked on the Gaidin's door. She wasn't sure if he wanted to tour the city, having been there before, but it never hurt to ask.

 

 

ooc: It is lovely! Thank you for sharing :). I love the "flames of Saidar seared her Soul" line. Such a poetic way to describe something like that.

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The storm had passed come morning.

 

The city of Caemlyn and its many people breathed a collective sigh of relief as sunshine streamed down on them from a mostly blue and cloudless sky. The storm and rain had hammered the houses, streets, shops and pavements of the Andoran Capital through most of the night and it was only in the early morning hours before dawn that the weather cleared. Elessar was up before morning had broken, going through sword-forms in his room and doing some other physical exercises. When he was finished at last, sweat pouring down his bare chest and arms, he washed himself and got dressed. He nodded with satisfaction as he saw golden rays slip into the room through the window curtains. The storm passed quickly, he thought. All the better.

 

Seating himself on the bed, he looked around the room. It was a fair sized room, slightly larger and better equipped than what he was used to at the other inns they had visited. The bed was comfortable, there was an armchair in the corner and a washstand. Added to this was a small wardrobe and a shelf whereupon stood a small selection of books. All in all nice accomodation. But then again this was Caemlyn. He was sure Carys was pleased with her even larger room next door - one of the best in the house - which the innkeeper had said had amenities and was fit for an Aes Sedai. Elessar thought she deserved some creature comforts after their many days on the road. Staring at the wall to her room he sensed her presence through the bond. She was still asleep from what he could gather, but then again it was impossible for him to be certain of such things. The Bond was in many ways a mystery to him even after all the years as a bondmate.

 

Elessar’s gaze moved to the window curtains to his right. More sunshine was slipping into the room, announcing the new day. It would be a good day to see the sights in Caemlyn. Though he had been in this city several times before he was going to join his bondholder on her walk around Caemlyn. In part because he always enjoyed the sights in this beautiful city, but mainly because he wanted to keep her safe. He knew this place better than her and had not forgotten their former troubles, even if they seemed somewhat distant at the moment.

 

Shifting his gaze to the shelf, which was to the left of the bed, he retrieved one of the books. It was called “Regions of Andor: Merchants and Commerce”. Shaking his head, he placed it back on the shelf. He chose another of the books - it was about Andoran customs and culture - but this one too he put back. The third book, however, caught his interest. Its title was “Ishara: First Queen of Andor - From a Historian’s perspective”, written by an Andoran historian of repute. Elessar leafed quickly through the opening pages of the book, then came to an interesting chapter where he read more carefully.

 

 

“.. And so it was that in FY 994, it read, Artur Paendrag Tanreall, best known as the High King Artur Hawkwing, was taken ill, stricken by a sudden illness, and died unexpectedly. Within hours, news had started spreading across the Empire and plotting and scheming for control of the throne began. Ishara Casalain, the ambitious granddaughter of King Joal Ramedar, the last King of the nation of Aldeshar, declared her intent to take control of Andor, and her mother, Endara Casalain, Hawkwing’s appointed governor for the province of Andor, apparently submitted, abdicating her throne [comment: although I somehow doubt that this was as simple a matter as the histories indicate]. Ishara knew that to survive as a nation Andor would need a strong military presence as well as powerful allies. And therefore she rode to Tar Valon, Seat and Power of the Aes Sedai, with two goals: to secure the loyalty of the large army besieging Tar Valon at the order of The High King, and to forge a new alliance with the Aes Sedai.

 

According to records, Ishara's lover at the time - and later husband - was General Souran Maravaile, who was Hawkwing's perhaps best General and commander of the siege. Whilst Maravaile was intent on carrying out Hawkwing's deathbed order to maintain the siege no matter what, Ishara convinced him that the situation was hopeless as the Empire began to pull itself apart. He agreed and was able to take at least part of the army back to Caemlyn intact. [comment: Many have speculated whether Ishara truly loved Souran or if she primarily used him, used their relationship, to further her goals for Andor. The records do not say. Personally I think it likely that it was a bit of both.]

 

The new Amyrlin Seat and leader of the Aes Sedai, Deane Aryman from the Blue Ajah, who - it was rumoured - rose to power after having deposed and stilled the former Amirlyn Bonwhin Meraighdin from the Red Ajah whose manipulations of Hawkwing had led to the years-long siege and almost disaster for the Aes Sedai, negotiated an alliance with Ishara. In return for the White Tower's blessing and support, Ishara would support Tar Valon's policies, accept an Aes Sedai advisor, and send her firstborn daughter - the Daughter-Heir - to the Tower for political schooling and training and her firstborn son - the First Prince of the Sword - to learn the arts of combat from the Warders. Ishara returned to Caemlyn with this diplomatic and military triumph achieved, and declared the founding of the Sovereign Kingdom of Andor..”

 

 

And so is history made, thought Elessar to himself, as he closed the book and placed it back on the shelf.

 

Some time later, as Elessar was sharpening one of the knives that he carried, there was a knock on his door and he knew that it was her. He could pinpoint her direction through the Bond. He touched the knife-edge to see that it was sharp enough and nodded with satisfaction. Placing the knife back in the sheath, fastening it, he stood up from the armchair, where he had been sitting, and walked across the room to the door. When he opened it he saw that Carys had donned a decidedly more elaborate dress than she normally wore. He thought it quite fitting, since she would want to look the part of an Aes Sedai today in the city. He gave her a respectful nod and a half-smile, saying that he hoped she had slept well. He put on his Warder fancloak and joined her in the carpeted hallway, indicating that he was going with her.

 

Together they descended the stairs to the Common Room where they came upon the balding innkeeper who threw the Warder a wary look. The day before, after they had finished their meal, they had headed upstairs to their rooms, wet cloaks in hand. The innkeeper had stopped them, before they had gotten too far, however, and had tried to take their cloaks. Carys had assured him that that would not be necessary but only after Elessar had given him a hard insistent look had the innkeeper quickly aquiesced. The man’s right hand twitched now and his gaze was somewhat guarded as if he recalled the episode well. He gave a respectful bow to the Aes Sedai, however. They nodded politely and walked outside into the morning sunshine, Elessar hiding a small grin with only partial success.

 

It was time to see what Caemlyn had to offer.

Edited by Elessar
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Carys stepped back from the door, pleasantly surprised when Elessar joined her. She hadn't actively thought he wouldn't, of course, but the Gaidin was much more traveled than she, and did enjoy time with his books. Caemlyn awaited her and she planned to see everything that she could, at least whilst daylight allowed. Once again, she noted how ...giddy she felt. Almost like a child. Forcing herself to walk normally, the Yellow looked up at her Warder with a smile and looked back to the floor. It creaked beneath them as they walked side by side down the hall.

 

Below, the Common Room was fairly quiet. A couple men sat at various tables, talking low over a hearty breakfast. The Innkeeper stared as they descended the staircase, his eyes at first gleaming hard and then guarded. His right hand twitched as he met Elessar's gaze, but he dropped into a bow when they flashed to her. Arching an eyebrow, Carys nodded politely; her buoyed mood dropping into a normal calm. It was an interesting reaction from an innkeeper in Caemlyn. The Aes Sedai momentarily pondered what the man was hiding.

As they stepped out onto the streets of Caemlyn, the sun was shining bright - a brilliant white gold orb in the blue sky. People of every size and shape filled the streets, some moving as if out for a morning stroll, others practically running. Hawkers and merchants called out their wares; shopkeepers swept their front steps and women hung clothing out to dry. Various smells wafted on the easy breeze, bringing hints of the delicious food and expensive scents that Caemlyn had to offer. Looking up at Elessar, Carys shrugged and turned right, heading toward the walls of the Inner City.

 

As they walked, the Yellow noted that the city actually reminded her of Tar Valon, despite a difference in layout. Perhaps it was the sense of establishment and history that permeated the area. Or maybe it was just the familiar white architecture of Ogier in the distance, occasional gaps in the traffic of people allowing for a glimpse of the Inner City wall. Perhaps that is why the innkeeper is so distrustful of us. Wondering why we are staying out here instead of in there? Twisting the gold serpent ring on her finger idly, she glanced at the people surrounding her and Elessar as if their faces might explain.

 

She stopped suddenly next to a shop, making her Warder tense slightly in the middle of his long stride. “Elessar!” Lowering her voice, Carys pointed to the small shop. It was a self-proclaimed “antiques” store, with a tagline that mentioned it specialized in Caemlyn history. “We should go in there. Despite the Library at Tar Valon having a ton of history on the City, I bet a shop here would have more.” Without waiting for a response – because she knew he would be interested – the Yellow opened the door and stepped in.

 

A tiny bell sounded as the door clicked shut. She looked around, her nose twitching at the dust in the air. Apparently this was not a shop often entered. Objects sat on tables all around, small plaques in front describing why they were important. Paintings hung on nearly every inch of wall space, making the small shop seem even tinier. Carys ran a finger along the edge of a lion carving and came upon with nearly an inch of dust. “Perhaps we should –“ she started, only to be cut off by, presumably, the shopkeep returning. His stomach protruded past the curtain before his head made an appearance. The tune he was whistling sounded vaguely familiar, although it was not at the right pitch or tempo. He widened his eyes at the two of them standing in the entryway, almost dropping the plate of steaming food he carried.

 

“My …Lady.” He said rapidly, “to what do I owe this visit?”

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“My ...Lady.” Said the old shopkeeper rapidly. “To what do I owe this visit?”

 

They had stepped out onto the streets of Caemlyn, the sun shining brightly above. People of all kinds had filled the streets. Hawkers and merchants had called out their wares; shopkeepers had swept their front steps and women had hung clothing out to dry. Various smells had floated on the easy breeze, bringing hints of the delicious food and expensive scents that Caemlyn had to offer. Carys had looked up at Elessar, as if waiting for him to suggest where to go, but he had let her decide. She had turned right, heading toward the walls of the Inner City and the Warder had followed her, thinking her choice a good one. She had felt.. almost joyous.. through the Bond, Elessar had thought, though her face had been more neutral in an Aes Sedai kind of way, and he had felt sure that this walk around beautiful Caemlyn would do her good.

 

After a pleasant walk along the streets with much to see around Carys had stopped suddenly next to a shop, making him tense slightly in the middle of his long stride. She had spoken his name with a lowered voice, pointing to the small shop. Looking at it he had seen that it was a kind of antiques-shop and when he too had spotted the tagline that mentioned that it specialized in Caemlyn history his interest had increased. She had added that they should go in there; despite the White Tower library having a ton of history on Caemlyn she would bet that a shop here would have even more. She had entered the shop without waiting for a response, knowing that he - with his passion for history - would eagerly follow.

 

A tiny bell had sounded as the door had clicked shut. Carys had looked around, her nose twitching at the dust in the air. Apparently this was not a shop often entered, she had thought. There were objects on tables all around, small plaques in front describing why they were important. Paintings had hung on nearly every inch of wall space, making the small shop seem even smaller. The Aes Sedai had begun speaking, and then the shopkeeper had come upon them. He had been whistling a tune, unknown to Elessar, and now he stared at them with wide eyes, holding tightly onto a plate of steaming food, his words drifting away like whispers..

 

He was a very old man, wearing a woolen shirt which had once been colourful but where the colours had faded over time, and trousers which had not been in fashion for over a century. He had a prestigious girth, and a wrinkled old face, grey hair, crystal blue eyes with bushy eyebrows, big ears and a large nose. He wore ancient glasses and he looked positively shocked to see them there.

 

Elessar and Carys exchanged a quick look and the Warder tried for the second time that morning not entirely successfully to hide a grin. Light, the man looks like an ancient scholar! he thought with kind amusement. He must be as old as some of the books in here! Carys met the old man’s eyes and answered him that they were visiting the city and had seen his shop as they were walking by. “We’re students of history, my good man” Elessar added, his gaze eagerly taking in the room with all its objects of great age. “We’re interested in Andoran history and traditions”, the Aes Sedai said and smiled. The old Andoran scrutinized them, noticing the woman’s fair skin and complexion, then nodded to himself, murmuring under his breath. “History and traditions you say?” he said and a wide grin came upon his lips. “Well then, come in, come in strangers”, he said as he started to walk back in the shop, bidding them to follow. “Old Celter will give you some of our history”. He chuckled a little, then added: ”Come now. Hardly anyone visits my shop nowadays anyway, so little chance we will be disturbed. Come follow me. Follow me to the back. Follow old Celter.” They exchanged a quick glance, shrugged, and followed the old man to the back of the shop.

 

He placed the plate of steaming food on a shelf in the back room and it was soon forgotten as he motioned for the two of them to sit down in a pair of heavily decorated brown wooden chairs that looked as old as the Trolloc Wars. The ancient chairs creaked slightly as they seated themselves and Carys and Elessar exchanged a silent glance which read: please, let these antiques carry our weight! “Traditions... yes”, the old man mumbled to himself as he ran a finger down the side of his chair. “I don’t often get visitors”, he said and he pushed up his glasses that had fallen down on his nose. “History is all about us here”, he said, “but noone seems to care.” He shrugged. There was regret in his voice, but then, as if a switch had been turned, his eyes lit up and he studied them closely again. “But you do, strangers”, he said and a playful grin came upon his lips. “So all hope is not lost.” He smiled in a strange way but Elessar was charmed by this old man, who, he somehow felt, was more than your everyday shopkeeper and antiques-dealer. What is your history, old man, I wonder? the Warder thought to himself. I bet you have seen many things in your long life.

 

“History and traditions, yes” the old Andoran mumbled and looked them each in the eye with a fixed stare. “Here is an old tradition for you”, he began. “Perhaps the oldest and most well known tradition in Andor: The Succession.” The Warder nodded, smiling inside since he had read about this Andoran tradition just that same morning. Carys also seemed interested and they sat back to listen, leaning backwards in their chairs ever so carefully so as to not put too much strain on them.

 

“The most widely known tradition of Andor”, the old man began, “is - as you have probably heard - that only a queen may sit upon the Lion Throne and wear the Rose Crown, never a king.” The old man paused for slight dramatic effect. “But you might not know that it was not so in the beginning”, he said. “Or rather, it was not meant to be so from the beginning. The tradition, in fact, arose when none of the royal sons survived the War of the Hundred Years.” He mumbled something under his breath about sons always going off to war only to get killed, what a waste.. but his words were not clear. Then, in a stronger voice, he continued. “The First Queen, revered Ishara, only had a daughter left alive after her sons died and so she became her heir. She in turn also was left with only a daughter many years later and so her throne was passed to another woman and queen. In time this became Andoran law and ever since only Queens have ruled Andor.”

 

Elessar listened, captivated. Always interested in history, it was special to hear about it in such an old and history-oriented establishment and especially from a very old man who seemed to have lived through some of that history himself.

 

“Now then”, the old Andoran continued, “as I am sure you know” - he said this last bit with a quick look at the Aes Sedai - “the eldest daughter is named Daughter-Heir and is by law sent to the White Tower to study, then ascends the throne upon her mother’s death or retirement.” Elessar nodded to himself, recalling the description in the book he had read. “Her eldest brother”, the old man went on, “who is styled First Prince of the Sword, is sworn to protect and defend his sister with his life. He is trained from childhood, and later in Tar Valon,” - he gave the Warder a quick look - “to command the Queen’s armies in times of war and to be her military advisor. If the Queen has no surviving brother, she appoints the First Prince.” He mumbled to himself for a moment and reached out behind him, removing an ancient parchment from the shelf. “Now then”, he said, coughing slightly, “what happens when there is no surviving daughter? Ah well, that is when we often get.. the disturbances.. ah what you foreigners often call.. Andoran Wars of Succession.” He added the last part with slight disdain, refusing - as did all Andorans - to acknowledge that their system for selecting an heir could possibly lead to war.

 

He chuckled and a broad grin came upon his face. “Ah yes, the Great Houses - there are nineteen of them, you know - come into the playing field”, said the old man, his finger softly brushing the parchment that he held, “out they come to.. play.” His eyes seemed to go far away for a moment, as if in old rememberance. Then they fixed back on the two attentive listeners and his eyes widened, almost as if shocked that they were there with him. Soon though his face relaxed and he seemed to recall why they were there. He pushed his glasses back up from his nose and ran a hand through his hair. Then he spoke. “Where was I? Oh yes, the Succession.” He handed the parchment to Carys who opened it reverently - Elessar leaning over to have a look - and saw that it was a list of all the Great Noble Houses of Andor, resplendent with House-sigils and honours.

 

The old Andoran chuckled a little to himself again before he went on. “Yes, when there is no Daughter-Heir, the throne is given to the nearest female blood relative. But succession is based not only on close relation to the former Queen, you see, but also on the degree of blood in a line of female descent from Ishara, our first Queen. As you can surmise, this makes things very intricate.. and interesting.” He seemed to be enjoying himself now, like an old tutor lecturing in front of his favourite students. “Ah yes, matters of lineage have become quite complex, since all the Great Houses are related after years of intermarriage. There have been political reasons for this practice, of course, sons and daughters marrying for the benefit of the House.. Families craving power and influence.. always power and influence..” Again he seemed to drift away, lost in thoughts.. but he caught himself and fixed his gaze on them once more. “And so the question of succession”, he said, “has led to intrigue, plotting and often bloodshed” - he sighed - “when the Houses do not agree.” Another chuckle escaped the old man’s lips and his right hand clenched. “Ah, they are like children.. who act before they think.. who want it all, never mind the consequences.. but so it has always been.. always..”

 

The old man shook his head resignedly and his eyes seemed to drift.. to go back.. into lost memories. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap, weariness embracing his features. As Carys and Elessar watched in rapt silence - and with fondness - , the old man’s eyelids gradually became heavier and heavier and finally his eyes closed, his head leaned back on the top rail of his chair to rest, and he drifted slowly, slowly into blissful sleep.

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She began to speak, but was cut off by the shopkeeper returning. He seemed extremely surprised to see the pair of them standing there, her in an expensive dress and Elessar in his Warder's cloak, nearly dropping his plate of food as he noticed the company. He looked very old, almost like a character out of a book. Or a male Vaneish Sedai Carys thought, stifling the urge to laugh. Her Warder nor the shopkeeper would know the ancient Brown so they would not understand. She had been so old that even the First Weaver wasn't sure of her age. Her skin was papery thin and washed of all color. Her eyes were similarly devoid of color and it was unnerving when she looked at you. Luckily, her looking anywhere but at a book was rare. She'd forgotten more information than any other Aes Sedai knew, but she was not much of a people person. One asked and she answered with her high childlike voice, never looking up from her page.

 

The man in front of her was wearing a woolen shirt which had once been colourful but where the colours had faded over time, and trousers which had not been in fashion for over a century. He had a prestigious girth, and a wrinkled old face, grey hair, crystal blue eyes with bushy eyebrows, big ears and a large nose. Ancient glasses sat upon his nose, a crease seemingly worn into the ridge of the bulbous feature. Carys shared a look with Elessar and felt a grin spread over her face as she watched a grin grow on the Gaidin's face. He seems to be enjoying this trip as much as I am. I'm glad he can still find laughter and joy in every day experiences. Maybe it's a Healing trip for both of us.

 

Turning back to the shopkeeper, the Yellow explained that they were visiting the city and she'd noticed the shop as they were walking by. “We’re students of history, my good man” Elessar added, looking about the room eagerly. Carys smiled at her Warder, feeling a fondness for him, despite the small amount of time that they'd known each other. She noticed the man looking at her and switched her smile to him,“We’re interested in Andoran history and traditions,” she said.

 

The old Andoran scrutinized them, then nodded to himself, murmuring under his breath. “History and traditions you say?” he said and a wide grin came upon his lips. “Well then, come in, come in strangers”, he said as he started to walk back in the shop, bidding them to follow. Sharing a glance with the Warder, Carys stepped forward – the first to follow. She knew Elessar would have insisted she go first anyway. Part of her wanted to ask about the shop and how the man could leave it unattended in a city such as Caemlyn, but the other part of her took in the dust and knew that the three of them heading to the back would not be a problem. The older man must have sensed her hesitation, however, for his continued, “Old Celter will give you some of our history”. He chuckled a little, then added: ”Come now. Hardly anyone visits my shop nowadays anyway, so little chance we will be disturbed. Come follow me. Follow me to the back. Follow old Celter.”

 

He placed the plate of steaming food on a shelf in the back room and it was soon forgotten as he motioned for the two of them to sit down in a pair of heavily decorated brown wooden chairs that looked as old as the Trolloc Wars. The girl in her wanted to giggle again, thinking of the Tower and how, if they owned these, the Browns would scold anyone who got near enough to touch them, let alone sit down. The ancient chairs creaked slightly as they seated themselves and Carys and Elessar exchanged another silent glance which read: please, let these antiques carry our weight!

 

“Traditions... yes”, the old man mumbled to himself as he ran a finger down the side of his chair. “I don’t often get visitors”, he said and he pushed up his glasses that had fallen down on his nose. “History is all about us here”, he said, “but noone seems to care.” He shrugged. There was regret in his voice, but then, as if a switch had been turned, his eyes lit up and he studied them closely again. “But you do, strangers”, he said and a playful grin came upon his lips. “So all hope is not lost.” He smiled in a strange way but Carys felt charmed and she could feel Elessar did too. He projected an almost grandfatherly aura toward her. Definitely not like Vaneish in that regard. That woman had no more friendliness than a stack of paper.

 

“History and traditions, yes” the old Andoran mumbled and looked them each in the eye with a fixed stare. “Here is an old tradition for you”, he began. “Perhaps the oldest and most well known tradition in Andor: The Succession.” Carys nodded to herself, having had the basics of the story in a law class. The Gray teaching it had made it awfully boring however. She leaned back – delicately – in the chair, shifting until she found a semi comfortable spot. The man gave all the appearances that his version would be much better.

 

Indeed it was. Listening with rapt attention as the older man discussed the first Queen, the Law of Succession, and then the Wars of Succession, Carys found herself leaning forward in her chair instead of resting comfortably against the back. The old man, devoid of such color, spun a wondrous story, his telling rivaling that of a gleeman. Betimes his eyes seemed to go far away for a moment, as if in old rememberance. Then they fixed back on the two attentive listeners and his eyes widened, almost as if shocked that they were there with him. She thought this only made him more endearing.

 

Amidst the tale of the Wars, he handed a parchment to her. Opening it reverently, tipping it to the side slightly so Elessar could have a look, she saw that it was a list of all the Great Noble Houses of Andor, resplendent with House-sigils and honors. The old Andoran chuckled a little to himself again before he went on. As he spoke of the Houses, his mood seemed to wax and wane. At the end, the old man shook his head resignedly and his eyes seemed to drift.. to go back.. into lost memories. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap, weariness embracing his features. She and Elessar stared at him for a few more minutes, curious if he was going to snap back to the historical tale, when the old man’s eyelids gradually became heavier and heavier and finally his eyes closed, his head leaned back on the top rail of his chair to rest, and he drifted slowly, slowly into blissful sleep.

 

Unable to help herself, the Yellow let out a small giggle. Clapping a hand over her mouth, she forced herself back to Aes Sedai serenity and looked at her Warder. He was switching between looking at her and the old man, both gazes amused. Carys felt a surge of mania and itched to stick her tongue out at him, as she and some of her novice friends used to do when someone patronized them. She didn't though, merely stood up and crossed the room, looking for a blank piece of paper.

 

She found a small inkpot and a fresh sheet of paper among the artifacts and old papers on the desk. Jotting a quick note explaining his situation and where they were staying should he want to continue, she folded the paper and looked for sealing wax. Unable to find any, Carys took a small chunk out of one of the nearby candles and placed it on the letter. A tiny flick of Fire and the white wax began to spread. She placed her thumb in it and flicked the seal with Air. It dried instantly.

 

Setting the note on the old man's chest, she motioned for Elessar to join her in leaving.

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Looking fondly - but also with some amusement - at the endearing old Andoran man, now fast asleep in an ancient chair in the back room of his Caemlyn antiques-shop, Elessar was surprised when the silence was suddenly broken by a small giggle escaping his Sedai’s lips. He turned toward her, somewhat amused. It was the kind of thing he would have expected more from a young Novice. Carys clapped a hand over her mouth and quickly regained Aes Sedai serenity. She glanced at Elessar, who was switching between looking at her and the old antiques-dealer. Her gaze gave him the impression that she was not amused by his reaction, but she said nothing. She stood up and crossed the room, seeming to be looking for something. The Warder shrugged, tactful enough to not make a comment, then looked one more time with interest at the old parchment with the list of the Great Andoran Noble Houses that the old man had handed to the Aes Sedai. There were nineteen Houses in all:

 

 

►▼◄

 

Andor

The Great Noble Houses

 

Anshar

Arawn

Baryn

Caeren

Candraed

Carand

Coelan

Gilyard

Haevin

Mantear

Marne

Northan

Norwelyn

Pendar

Renshar

Sarand

Taravin

Traemane

Trakand

 

►▲◄

 

 

The Great Houses of Andor had different sigils. Looking down the list he saw the Red Fox of House Anshar, the Winged Hammer of House Baryn, the Blue Bear of House Haevin and the Black Eagles of House Northan. He also noted the Silver Salmon of House Norwelyn and was reminded of the book, by a Norwelyn family member, which had the great poem about the Fall of Manetheren. The last Houses on the prestigious list were House Traemane with their White Stag and House Trakand with their Keystone in silver. Nineteen Houses, each with their own sigils, honours - and histories. And each House with its own interests, power-schemes - and ambitions.

 

”The disturbances”, the old man had called the Andoran Wars of Succession. Elessar thought that had been an understatement, but recalled from history-lessons in the Tower that Andorans rarely admitted to there being “war” or “civil war” in Andor when the Great Houses fought for throne and power, throwing the nation into political, economic and governmental disorder. Usually it was a contest between two candidates, each with an alliance of Houses behind her. Elessar had, however, read a story of an Andoran Succession that had supposedly been with three candidates, where it was said to involve seven years of open war before a Queen was chosen, and all three original claimants were dead by that time. Whether or not the story was true, the Warder did not know, but it made for an interesting perspective. One thing was for certain though: Andorans also played Daes Dae'mar, the Game of Houses, an intricate system of intrigue and political plotting, even if perhaps not to the extent - and proficiency level - of Cairhien and the White Tower.

 

The Warder’s gaze went from the old parchment to the old man - still sleeping soundly - and then to his Sedai who seemed to be writing a note - to the old man for when he wakes, Elessar assumed - on a piece of paper by the desk. She then folded the paper and made a ‘wax seal’ from a small chunk out of one of the nearby candles placing her thumb in it and flicking the seal with the One Power. Setting the note on the old antiques-dealer’s chest, she motioned for Elessar to join her in leaving.

 

The Warder did not really want to leave the old man; he had grown fond of the slightly quirky but charming and well versed old grandfatherly character in the short time they had known him. But it was time to go. They had many more sights to see that day and Elessar was certain that Carys was looking forward to seeing more of Caemlyn. With a last glance back at the old man, they walked from the back room into the main room of the shop, Elessar casting a regretful glance around at all the paintings and other objects of historical interest that he would have to wait to take a closer look at until his next visit. Closing the shop’s front door behind them, they stepped onto the busy city-street once more and were immediately embraced by sunshine.

 

Carys led the way down the street, Elessar right behind and to the side of her. From the corner of his eye he saw her cool Aes Sedai serenity break at times and be replaced by a smile as she saw something that pleased her. Elessar smiled at his Sedai, feeling a fondness for her, despite the small amount of time that they had known each other.

 

As they walked together further into Caemlyn, surrounded by the sights and sounds of one of the greatest cities in the lands, streams of golden light shone down on them from the heavens.

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The rest of the day was full of bright sunshine and beautiful architecture. They did not wander into any other shops, perhaps so as not to break the spell that Old Celter had seemed to bestow of the two of them. Instead, they meandered through the crowd, surrounding themselves with Caemlyn’s inhabitants. Betimes there were merchant kiosks that called their attention, drawing one or the other one in with what was offered. Carys bought a few apples for her gray mare, a map of Caemlyn, and another set of drawing pencils. Elessar bought a few things of his own, but she wasn’t sure what – his transactions always taking place as she looked over the items.

 

When they weren’t observing the people or the merchant tables, they gazed about the buildings. Though most were in ‘normal’ fashion, there were a few that were remarkably old and fewer still that could have stood during the first War of Succession. Elessar followed close behind her, mentioning some pertinent information on the Wars that he had seemed to remember from either Celter or one of his books. It wasn’t until they’d reached the end of the street that Carys realized they were in the Inner City. She hadn’t even noticed when they had passed through the wall.

 

Here, all the buildings were impressive. Ogier hand was obvious in the delicate markings on the buildings. The fluidity of the wood drew one’s eye – even the inns were breathtaking. This part of the City, the Yellow observed, was much more calm. People moved with measured paces rather than a harried frenzy. Everyone was dressed more in the style of Carys’s current attire, and the merchants were quietly discussing their wares with couples who descended from carriages. It was almost a completely different city. The Aes Sedai marveled at the ability of the Queen to keep a City with such difference in its midst happy, let alone an entire country. She must be a remarkable woman.

 

The Palace loomed in the distance, the structure nearly as beautiful as the White Tower itself. Knitting her brows, she wondered if a visit to the Palace could be arranged. There was generally a Sister in attendance, perhaps Carys should pen her a note requesting a tour of the place. She needn’t bother the Queen, but the student in herself wanted to see the Palace and she could only imagine what Elessar would think of it – if he hadn’t seen it with either of his previous Bondholders. She made a mental note to herself to ask for paper when they made it back to the Inn.

 

They wandered around a bit longer, taking some food at a particularly wondrous smelling shop. As they finished, the sky began to darken from a pale blue. The golden sun dipped lower in the sky, sending out waves of reds and oranges. Rays alit Caemlyn, Ogier buildings glowing in splendor. She remarked on the beauty to her Warder, who favored her with an excerpt of a poem he’d read once. They chatted amiably about the day as they made their way back to the Inn in the New City.

 

The Common Room was full and loud as they entered. The Innkeeper stood behind the bar, his normal scowl replaced by a wide grin. Even the sight of the Aes Sedai and Warder did not change his attitude. He gave the barest hint of a nod and turned his attention back to the patron at the bar. The sight was infectious and Carys soon found herself smiling too. A band was playing on stage, the music upbeat and catchy. She hummed along to the beat and moved through the crowd to a small unoccupied table toward the back of the room.

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“Forward the White Lion of Andor!”

-Battle cry of the Queen’s Guard

 

Elessar Telcontar stood in the bright sunshine beside a bookstand outside a Caemlyn merchant’s kiosk as an elegant carriage drawn by two beautiful white horses rolled by. His gaze followed the carriage, wondering which nobleman or woman was inside. It soon passed out of sight, dust rising into the air in its wake, and his attention returned to the book he had just picked up from the stand. Its title was ‘The Andoran Queen’s Guard’ and when he opened the book he found the Queen’s Guard Battle cry inscribed on the back of the cover. He turned a couple of pages and began reading the opening chapter with interest:

 

 

The Queen's Guard, it said, are responsible for the protection of the kingdom of Andor, for the upholding of the Queen’s laws and the keeping of the Queen’s peace. The uniform of the Guard includes a red undercoat, gleaming mail and plate armour, and a brilliant red cloak. Long white collars hang over the armour and white cuffs gleam at the waist. The guard’s helmet is conical with barred face guards. The Guard is commanded by the Captain General.

 

When Andor goes to war, however, the Guard - and the army - are commanded by the First Prince of the Sword, but the Queen often rides with them as well. There are many stories told of such courageous rulers as Queen Modrellein who at the Battle of Cuallin Dhen seven hundred years ago alone and unarmed carried the Lion Banner into the midst of the Tairen army to rally her troops on the verge of certain defeat. In areas far distant from Caemlyn members of the local militia assume the livery and duties of the Queen’s Guard, though they lack the polish of the guardsmen, and their uniforms are often threadbare.

 

 

Elessar nodded to himself and looked up from the book. His impression of the Queen’s Guard was good. He had seen them at work on his previous visits to the Capital. They seemed professional and efficient in their job, keeping the peace, and did so with pride and honour for their Sovereign. Also they handled their duties with the right amount of force, unlike guards and militia in other places he had visited. Then again, it could be that he had a more favourable view of them than some others. I guess Caemlyn’s thieves and cutthroats do not hold them in quite as high regard, he thought wryly.

 

Reading about the Queen’s Guard made him think of the Royal Palace. He had never been there, but would like to go there one day if circumstances permitted. It was said to be a beautiful Palace and the Warder did not doubt it from what he had seen of Camelyn - and especially the Inner City. Buildings with beautiful architecture shone majestically in the golden rays from the sun. History reflected in wonderous and age-old Ogier stonework. One could walk in awe along the streets of such a city.

 

Gazing across at Carys who was buying some things - he could not see what - from a vendor some way off to his left, he put the book he had looked at back on the stand and walked over to where she stood among a crowd of people. The vendor was doing good business, there was no doubt of that. They walked around a corner and continued down that street. They did not wander into any other shops, perhaps so as not to break the spell that Old Celter had seemed to bestow on the two of them, but meandered through the crowds, surrounding themselves with Caemlyn’s inhabitants, sights, smells and sounds, and they visited more merchant kiosks along the way. At one such Elessar bought a couple of carrots for his horse Stormbreaker, a small knife that would fit well into his cloak sleeve, and a map of the Caemlyn-Lugard (Murandy) road.

 

As they passed a particularly ancient and impressive building, Elessar walking a few steps behind Carys, the Warder mentioned some pertinent information on the Succession Wars that he remembered from Old Celter. That historic building looked indeed as if it could have stood there during one of the first Wars of Succession. Elessar smiled inside, fascinated as always by history, and Carys appeared interested also.

 

The Inner City, and this part of Caemlyn, - Elessar noted - was in many ways calmer than outside. People moved with measured paces rather than harried frenzy. They were better dressed, obviously wealthier, and connected. They visited the impressive buildings - often by carriage as befitted the rich and important - which housed the Inner City merchants, moneylenders and others of prestige. It is like a different city, Elessar thought with interest as they walked along one of its many streets. Looking at Carys from the corner of his eye, her expression at times made him think that she might be thinking the same thing.

 

The Inner City was situated on the highest hills inside the Capital. Encircled by its own shining white wall and bejeweled with even more beautiful towers and domes. The broad paved streets of the Inner City had been carefully designed to follow the natural curves of the hills, spiralling ever upward to the crowning glory of Caemlyn, the Royal Palace - a beautiful building with snowy spires and immaculate stonework; a shining example of Ogier craftmanship. Elessar could not be anything but impressed, as he stared in wonder at the majestic Palace in the far distance with Carys.

 

They ate some food at an establishment later in the day as the sky began to darken from a pale blue and as the golden sun dipped lower in the sky. The beautiful light blanketed the Capital so that it shone in splendour. Carys remarked on the beauty to Elessar who favoured her with an excerpt of a poem he had read once. “It’s called ‘Caemlyn Bathed in Light’ ”. He said. “It describes it pretty well I think”, the Warder added with a smile. “I can’t remember who wrote it, but I think it was an Andoran poet. Anyway, I remember the first two verses. Here goes”:

 

 

With Sunlight bathing Caemlyn’s Domes

A Gorgeous hue of Orange-Red

A Heaven’s gift for Queens and Thrones

Its Splendour takes the breath, it’s Said

 

From Golden rays White Spires Flare

White Stone aflame in wonderous Sight

In Awe and wonder the people Stare

Perfection there - as Day meets Night

 

 

They walked back to their inn in the New City, chatting amicably about the day and what they had seen. Dusk had set as they arrived and darkness was imminent. A couple of men, a touch rough looking, standing outside the inn stared fixedly at them as they went inside, though they shifted their gaze when Elessar looked back at them with a hard inquiring stare. The Common Room was full and loud. The innkeeper standing behind the bar was grinning widely, happy that business was good, and it was refreshing to not have to see his normal scowl. Among all the innkeepers Elessar had met on his many years of travel with his Sedais this one was definetly one of the grouchiest. The innkeeper gave the barest hint of a nod when he saw them and just as quickly turned his attention back to the patron at the bar. A band was playing on stage, the music upbeat. It was not really to Elessar’s taste but he saw Carys smiling and took it that she liked it. She led the way to a small unoccupied table at the back of the room and Elessar followed, making sure he did not bump into the many seated guests on the way. They ordered something to drink from one of the waiters but found that it was almost impossible to talk because of the loud noise. Even so, it seemed to Elessar that Carys was enjoying herself and that made him smile inside.

 

The next day they met in the Common Room around mid-morning to have breakfast. The weather was less inviting than the day before, with heavy clouds in a partially blue sky and a strong breeze. Even so, as long as it was not raining it would be a fair day to explore more of Caemlyn, the Warder thought. Carys and Elessar chatted amiably while they ate and afterwards they went outside to the stable and saw to their horses. Their mounts appreciated the attention and, not the least, the delicious apples and carrots they had brought.

 

Elessar took the lead that morning as they headed out into the streets of Caemlyn once more. He wanted to show Carys the famous Caemlyn Library. It was a great library, perhaps not quite of the size, fame and stature of Tar Valon and Cairhien, but still a library of note. His Sedai walked just behind and to his left as they walked down the streets of the city. Merchants were up and shops were open but the day was still young and the huge crowds would come later. The strong breeze caught Elessar’s fancloak and Carys’ dress and it was a bit cooler than it had been the day before, but it was still a pretty nice day for walking. Finally they arrived outside the library building. It was an old white stone building, impressive to look at for sure, but the real gem was inside, the Warder thought. They entered into the Caemlyn Library through the stylish and elegant front entrance and as they came in sight of countless shelves and rows of books and maps and other works of history Elessar’s face lit up. He stopped and looked at Carys beside him. She met his eyes. “The real treasure is inside, I say”, the Warder said with a grin, pointing at the endless rows of books in their sight. “Though”, he added, “the sights of Caemlyn are fair on the eye as well.” The understatement was not lost on his bondholder.

 

“So”, Elessar said with eagerness, “which section do you wish to check out first? Early Andoran history?” A librarian, a fair-haired and tall middle aged man who looked like a scholar, spotted them just then and hurried toward them, eager to please.

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The musicians played well into the night; Carys could hear them upstairs in her room long after she and Elessar had retired. The noise didn’t bother her, however. On the contrary, she felt happy in the buzz of normalcy. The time in the city felt as if it were a trip outside of her actual life. Beyond the demands and expectations of an Aes Sedai, far away from the danger that Cairhein had held. She wondered idly, staring up at the dark ceiling whilst beats pounded below, if this was what every day felt like for a Blue, a Green, or any Sister that travelled more than she. Or did the wonder fade away, instead replaced by a dogged determination to finish their goal, not ever stopping to smell the literal, and figurative, roses.

 

Events of the day ran through her mind and she smiled into the darkness as the memory of Celter and his exquisite antiques. She turned her head to look in the general direction of her night stand, the edges of two envelopes barely discernible in the night. One addressed to the Aes Sedai at the Caemlyn Palace, one to her contact in Ebou Dar explaining the extra time. She could send them out tomorrow on their next foray into the city. There is so much to see, I don’t even know where to start. Perhaps Elessar will have an idea.

 

Carys stepped down into the Common Room mid-morning feeling late. She’d slept longer than she’d planned; truthfully later than she had in quite some time. The Common Room was less than half-full, voices hushed over the food. She found the Warder at a table, already sipping something. He nodded to her as she sat down and explained that he’d already ordered food. She smiled, said her thanks and looked out the open door to assess the weather. Large gray clouds had moved in in the night, clinging heavily to the bright sky. A breeze had picked up, sending unattended papers and items scattering. An apprentice or page often showed up a moment later, face red from scurrying after.

 

After breakfast, the pair exited to the stables. The gray mare whinnied in delight as she saw the Yellow, and whinnied louder when she saw the apples. Carys grinned and fed the horse her treats as she described yesterday. Long after the apples were gone, the horse pushed her nose into Carys’s hand, demanding attention much like a cat. The Aes Sedai laughed and grabbed a nearby brush, brushing the mare’s coat as she finished her story. Finally exiting the stall, she saw that Elessar had finished feeding his stallion and she smiled a bit sheepishly. Her Warder said nothing, however, instead leading the way out to the streets of Caemlyn once more. She smiled at his back for a moment before walking quickly to catch up.

 

She stayed a step behind and to his left, customary for a Warder and Aes Sedai. Merchant stands were up, wares twinkling still despite the lessened sunlight. Shops were open as well, doors exposing hints at what lay inside, but the day was still young and the huge crowds would come later. The strong breeze caught Elessar’s fancloak and Carys’ dress twisting the violet fabric around her ankles. It was a bit cooler today, and she was grateful for the long sleeves on her dress, but still a lovely day for walking.

 

They walked for a time more before arriving outside an old white stone building. The architecture looked that of early Caemlyn, the Yellow considered, fitting it against buildings she had seen the day before. Elessar was grinning and Carys felt a grin settle on her face as well as she saw why. Etched into the top of the building were two words that explained his excitement – “Caemlyn Library.” A quote was etched into the side of the building too, suggesting knowledge and enlightenment were one and the same. Elessar had stopped and looked down at her. She met his eyes. “The real treasure is inside, I say”, the Warder said with a grin, pointing at the endless rows of books in their sight. “Though”, he added, “the sights of Caemlyn are fair on the eye as well.”

 

Before she could reply, the Gaidin continued. “So”, he said with eagerness in his voice, “which section do you wish to check out first? Early Andoran history?” She tapped a finger to her lips, thinking as a librarian spotted them just then and hurried outside, motioning for them to enter. He was a fair-haired and tall middle aged man who looked like a picture definition of a scholar. His fingertips were stained with ink, and his hair in disarray, but his eyes were sharp and clear. He seemed to calm as they entered the building, as if the very air soothed him.

 

She had spent ample time in the Library at the White Tower, pouring over books to fit herbal remedies with saidar based ones, to read about famous Healers. That had been as a novice though. Truth be told, as an Accepted she’d barely made time for anything other than the Infirmary. That had only worsened as she became Aes Sedai and spent every waking minute in the halls of the sick. The Tower Library, despite holding vast knowledge, tended to feel more institutional and less inviting. The Browns felt differently, of course, as did some others, but it never felt approachable to her. Nodding, she instructed the Librarian to take them to the section on Early Andoran history.

 

“At Once.” The scholar said, his movements brisk and confident. Carys scanned other section names as they walked by, noting those she was interested in and tucking them in the back of her mind for later. It wasn’t long before they reached the Andoran history section. The Librarian, Brendan Tuscare, as he introduced himself, stepped directly to a section that showcased books with bindings so old it was difficult to read them, and yellowed pages. “These are some original books from Andor during the Wars. You are unable to flip through these of course, but they have been copied into those below for your viewing pleasure. Should you need anything else, ring the bell that rests at the end of that row. I will leave you to your reading.” He bowed and backed out of the section smoothly.

 

Smiling at his formal behavior, Carys looked to her Warder. He was attempting to examine the old books nestled in the glass case. The Yellow left him to it. She pulled out a bound copy of notes from below the case and opened to a random page. A spindly hand ran across the page, ink just dark enough to read without much trouble. She began reading, finding herself amidst the story of Queen Lyndelle and Andor in 20 NE.

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The Library in Caemlyn was a fountain of historical knowledge.

 

The Librarian, named Brendan Tuscare - a fair-haired and tall middle aged man with fingertips stained with ink and with hair in disarray, but eyes sharp and clear - had led them directly to a section that showcased books with bindings so old it was difficult to read them, and yellowed pages. He had explained that those were some original books from Andor during the Wars. They were unable to flip through those, of course, but they had been copied into others below for one’s viewing pleasure. He had added, that should they need anything else they should just ring the bell that rested at the end of that row. He had bowed formally as he had left them to their reading.

 

Elessar was attempting to examine the ancient books nestled in the glass case. They looked very old indeed. He itched to get his hands on those enshrined originals, but had to settle for the copies of notes from below the case. After all the most important thing was the knowledge, the history hidden inside. Carys was reading from a bound copy of notes to his side, he saw, but then he turned his gaze and focused on the part of old Andoran history that he held in his hands. It was a story of Queen Maragaine of Andor, the nation’s fifth Queen. A scholarly hand ran across the page in dark ink, and Elessar was drawn into the ancient story as a moth is to a flame..

 

 

♠♠♠

Queen Maragaine of Andor

-the Battle of Four Kings-

 

 

.. Maragaine, it said, was the fifth Queen of Andor, succeeding Queen Termylle in FY 1054. There is uncertainty as to whether Maragaine was Termylle's daughter, but she was without doubt a descendant of Queen Ishara Casalain, the founder of the kingdom of Andor. In FY 1063, during the War of the Hundred Years, Andor faced the gravest threat to its survival since its founding when four rival kings, envious of the growing power of Andor, united their armies and invaded the kingdom from the west, marching on Caemlyn. The battle that ensued was to be known as “The Battle of Four Kings”. Queen Maragaine bravely led the Andoran army into battle, meeting them some distance west of the River Cary.

 

In a furious battle, in which Queen Maragaine is often depicted personally leading a charge, the Andorans broke the invading force and routed it, securing the future survival of the kingdom. The battle is noteworthy as one of the two most serious recorded threats to Andor's survival during the War of the Hundred Years (the other being the invasion of Andor from the south thirty years later by Esmara Getare, a southern noblewoman who succeeded in conquering much of Illian and the Plains of Maredo before setting her sights on Andor; she was defeated in battle with the Andoran army and became a prisoner of the Andoran Queen Telaisien). The Andoran town of Four Kings later grew up on the site of the battle, thereof its name. Maragaine of Andor ruled for nineteen years (FY 1054-73), and was succeeded by Queen Astara ..

 

 

Elessar placed the bound copy of notes carefully back in its place, his mind reimagining the battle with Maragaine storming into the fray like a ferocious Warrior Queen, spurring her army on in the defence of their homeland..

 

 

▼▼

 

Whispers from the past embrace the present, echoes lingering on the winds of time..

 

“Forward Andor!” Maragaine, sword at the ready, shouts mightily as she grabs the White Lion banner and raises it high..

“Forward! To our Queen!” her first officer bellows, as he tries to gather their forces..

“To me!” Maragaine screams, as she charges forward, long blonde hair streaming in the wind behind her, a storm unleashed on their enemies..

A Warrior Queen, eyes blazing, she storms forward to save her kingdom..

“For Andor! For the White Lion! Chaaaaarge!” her first officer shouts..

 

Battle-cries roar across the field as her army responds, following their brave Queen in a charge to the death.. a thunderous sound is heard as the armies clash, the proud banner of Andor flying high..

 

▲▲

 

 

Carys and Elessar stopped at another section in the great library of Caemlyn a little later on and each found more works of interest to immerse oneself in for a moment in time.

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Carys read until it was difficult for her to see the page. Looking up, she realized that she and Elessar had spent the entire day in the library. Brendan, the librarian, had long since retired to his office. He'd sought her out in herbal remedies section and explained to her that library was now closed but she and her Warder could stay as long as they wished. She had thanked him and returned to the section on curing animal pains. Closing the book quietly, the Yellow placed it on top of the large stack in front of her and stood up. Her muscles ached with having been sedentary for so long. After stretching and yawning, she left the small section intent on finding her Warder.

 

She did not have to look for long. As if reading her mind, Elessar met her at the opening to the foyer. Brendan's office doors stood open and an orange light poured out. His hand was bent over his desk, reading something. Carys stepped forward and spoke with him in hushed tones. Something about the place made her drop her voice; even her steps on the marble floor sounded loud. The librarian nodded, murmuring his thanks for her patronage and turned to tuck a not-at-all small bag into a desk drawer. He looked out to meet Elessar's eyes and nodded. Elessar returned the nod before falling into step with Carys as she exited the building.

 

The walk back to the Inn was comfortable. Both excited about what they had read, the Aes Sedai and her Warder had much to discuss. She explained some of the herbal remedies to him, eager to know if either of his bondmates had mentioned them before. Carys did not specifically ask that of course, she tactfully asked if he had heard of any of them. Some seemed very old and obscure; she was dying to try them. A soft breeze blew around them as they walked, the evening weather much more pleasant than the day's. Music from various common rooms could be heard in the streets – nearly adding a lilt to their conversation. It was all blessfully normal. It made her consider what she would be doing with her life currently if she hadn't gone to the White Tower. She would be in Ebou Dar still, and a Wise Woman to boot. That wasn't really a question. But, would she be married? Have children? It was an intriguing idea. She was surprised that she hadn't considered it much before.

 

They entered the Common Room to find a gleeman spinning a tale. His colorful cloak caught the lights as he enraptured the audience. He was using Plain Chant, but was quite good at it. Carys had had the pleasure of hearing a bard use High Chant once. The man had come to the White Tower for aid and had given her a story as a thank you for saving his life. To this day it was one of her favorite stories, though it was difficult to hear it in Plain when the memory of his High Chant was still vivid in her mind. She remembered eyes the patches on his cloak as the man slept. He had claimed it was the first peaceful night he'd had in two years.

 

Carys stayed for the rest of the story and then one beyond that. She retired to her room when he took his first break though. Bidding Elessar goodnight while the gleeman drank a small tankard of ale, the Aes Sedai hinted that the Warder may want to be well rested for tomorrow's adventures. Though he knew the city better, the Yellow had arranged for the following day's exploration. She smiled to herself as she wove through the tables toward the stairs. A few men met her eyes, but for once she saw no malice in them, she smiled at each in turn. Tired, despite the fact that she'd spent most of the day sitting in one place reading, Carys dropped into her bed and passed out.

 

The day dawned bright and sunny – all of yesterday's clouds gone. It was still fairly crisp outside, Carys noted as she pushed open the window of her room, but a beautiful day besides. Humming to herself, the Aes Sedai donned a navy silk dress with gold whorls across the skirts and bodice. Tying her hair back with a matching ribbon, she took a moment to study herself in the mirror. It had been some times since she'd looked at herself, but interestingly, she felt she looked more youthful. Her face was still ageless of course. That did not diminish, and her eyes still held wisdom, but there was now an added sparkle to them. How funny...she thought, her reflection curious.

 

Standing up, Carys grabbed a shawl from her bags. It wasn't one that proclaimed her Ajah and status, but rather a heavier one with no fringe. The heavier fabric would keep her warm in the cool weather. Leaving her room, the Yellow knocked on Elessar's door. She stepped back as he stepped out, shutting the door behind them. He motioned for her to take the lead and so she did, bounding happily down the stairs. Checking herself at the base of the steps, serenity took over and the Yellow looked every bit an Aes Sedai as they walked out of the Inn.

 

A carriage awaited them outside. The driver jumped down from his seat and opened the door swiftly for the two of them. Elessar looked curious but did not say a word to her, merely offering his hand to help her up. Once Carys was situated, the Gaidin climbed in and the carriage took off. She leaned back against the seat, looking through the windows as the streets of Caemlyn streamed by.

 

They made good time, of course, a carriage cutting through the streets was faster than feet. Grinning, Carys exited first and then whirled around to look at Elessar as he stepped down from the carriage. In front of them stood the Queen's Palace. Guards look downright regal themselves as they opened the large double doors. Inside the floors and walls gleamed from the sunlight streaming in. She wasn't sure if he'd ever seen the Palace before, but that wasn't the best surprise. The Yellow felt like her face was going to split in two when Celter stepped out, his large rotund belly straining over a sharp black belt. He was clothed in the house colors of the Queen and looked far more put together than he had last time.

 

“I wrote to the Aes Sedai here and requested a tour. Furthermore, I asked her to speak to the Queen about Celter. I figured She would be interested in having a man as knowledgable as himself in her employ. Now he heads up the tours for the Palace – among other things.” Walking forward and knowing her Warder would follow, Carys took Celter's outstretched arm and together they walked down the hallway of the Royal Palace.

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₪₪₪

”The Red Bull of Murandy”

-Walking in Twilight-

 

It was late afternoon and the sun was shining strongly from a sapphire-blue sky as Carys and Elessar passed the border into Murandy.

 

That morning, before they had left Caemlyn behind and had set out for Murandy, Elessar had taken a closer look at the Camelyn-Lugard roadmap he had purchased, to prepare for the journey ahead. He had also gone over in his mind some of his knowledge of Murandy:

 

 

... Murandy is a nation bordering on Altara, Illian and Andor. The banner of Murandy is a Red Bull on a field vertically striped, three blue and two white. It is fringed in red when flown where the sovereign is present. Before Artur Hawkwing, the area that is now Murandy was split between the nations of Nerevan and Aldeshar. During the time of the Compact of the Ten Nations, the land that is now part of Murandy was claimed by the nations of Coremanda and Eharon.

 

The border with Andor has always been fluid, with many wars and skirmishes. To the east lies the unclaimed land of the hills of Kintara. As with Altara, Murandy is in many ways a land in name only, with many inhabitants seeing themselves as primarily subjects of a particular lord or lady rather than a subject of a monarch. The nobles themselves seldom pay taxes or more than lip service to the king. It is perhaps only the fact that it is surrounded by strong neighbours that keeps it together as a nation, since fear of annexation is strong. Despite this, they can act together if the need is there. The Eastern border closely follows the River Storn and the Western border closely follows the River Manetherendrelle.

 

Lugard is the Capital city of Murandy and is located in the heart of the nation on the banks of the River Storn. It is the trade center for Murandy as well and Lugard has a well-earned commercial reputation, making and exporting lace and handling goods from all neighbouring nations. Lugard also, however, has a bad reputation for thievery and licentiousness. It is said that residents are said to consider any outsider to be a fair mark for theft or con and that the unpaved roads and alleys are dangerous to travel alone ...

 

 

We have to be careful in Lugard, Elessar thought now as he guided Stormbreaker solicitously down the Caemlyn-Lugard road, making sure they did not step on some large stones that appeared to have fallen off a carriage. That city is rougher than Caemlyn.

 

He had been in Lugard twice before and each time he had gotten the impression that it was partway a lawless place. Leaving the last of the littered stones behind, he smoothed Stormbreaker’s step and removed the map from one of his coat pockets. He glanced at it another time as they rode. The path they were on lead directly to the Murandian Capital by way of a couple of small villages and a fair number of miles of forested terrain. At the speed they were travelling they might reach the first village before sunset, but if not they would camp out in the open as they had done before. Progress was important but not at the expense of their horses’ health. Placing the map back in his coat pocket Elessar cast a quick glance at his bondholder who was riding behind and to his side - and then he rode a little ahead to check on the area they were riding into before returning and doing the same on the trek behind them, as was now a routine maneuver of his. When he was back by his Sedai’s side, riding in step beside her, she saw from his look that there was nothing to report.

 

It was some time later that they stopped to rest the horses. They gave the mounts some apples to enjoy, gave them a quick brush down and then sat down to relax by some tall trees a little way from the road. Elessar sat with his back to a tree and glanced up at a chirping skylark high above on a branch. It whistled in its characteristic way, calling out, and the Warder sitting far below smiled at the melodious play. His gaze then moved to the road in the near distance. It was empty at the moment but they had passed some travellers a little further north. His thoughts went back to the previous day when they had visited the great Royal Palace of Caemlyn. His mouth formed into a small smile in fond rememberance..

 

 

▼▼

After they had left the Caemlyn Library, awed by the place and its treasure within, they had walked back to the inn, a soft breeze penetrating the early evening vista, chatting excitedly about what they had seen and read. Carys had explained some herbal remedies to him and at one point had asked if he had heard of them, to which he had replied that he had not. His previous bondholder, Carrain of the Yellow Ajah, had explained a few remedies to him many years past, but he had not recognized these ones. Elessar had spoken with passion to Carys about the brave Queen Maragaine of Andor and the Battle of Four Kings. Upon arrival at the inn, they had entered the Common Room and had found a gleeman spinning a tale. Elessar, always ready for a good story, had listened with interest to several stories before he had retired for the night. Carys had hinted that he may want to be well rested for the next day’s adventures and the way she had said it, with a twinkle in the eye, had made him curious.

 

The following day had dawned bright and sunny. Elessar had been ready when his bondholder had knocked on his door. Together they had walked down the corridor, Elessar motioning for her to take the lead, and out of the inn. A carriage had waited for them outside, to Elessar’s pleasant surprise, and he had given Carys a curious look but had said nothing as he had offered his hand to help her up. He had climbed into the carriage after her and they had set off. Elessar had sensed excitement in his Sedai through the Bond and his curiosity had increased as they had travelled along the city-streets of Caemlyn. Finally the carriage had stopped and Elessar had seen their destination.

 

The Royal Palace of Caemlyn.

 

A smiling Carys had disembarked first and an excited Elessar, a growing grin on his face, had followed. Guards standing in front of the Palace had looked downright regal themselves as they had opened the large double doors. Inside the floors and walls had gleamed from the sunlight streaming in. Elessar’s gaze had been upon all the splendour and history as they had entered the Queen’s Palace. Then the Gaidin’s grin had widened even further, in surprise and delight, because almost out of thin air had stepped Old Celter from the antiques-shop! The old man had been clothed in the house colours of the Queen and had looked far more put together than he had the last time. Pleased with her Warder’s reaction, Carys had told him that she had written to the resident Aes Sedai and had requested a tour. Furthermore she had asked her to speak to the Queen about Old Celter. Carys had figured that the Queen might be interested in having a man as knowledgable as the old man was in her employ. Elessar had nodded in approval. “Now he heads up the tours for the Palace - among other things”, she had added smiling as she had taken Old Celter’s outstretched arm and had walked - with Elessar just behind - down the hallway of the Royal Palace.

 

They had walked down corridors, into hallways and various stylish rooms - among them the Map Room and the Blue Reception Room - and Elessar had marvelled at all that he had seen. The corridors had been lined with exquisite tapestries while elegant vases and other precious works of art, including figures of gold and silver, had been placed on tables or in alcoves. During their tour they had passed some of the Palace servants wearing red uniforms with white collars and cuffs with the White Lion embroidered onto the breast of the livery. The servants had bowed politely when they had walked by. The highlight of the tour had in many ways been the short visit to the Great Hall of the Royal Palace, and especially the Throne Room housed within. Elessar had read about it in books and had wanted to see it one day. The Queen herself had been elsewhere, busy with duties of running the state, but the resident Aes Sedai had been present and had walked with Carys, conversing as they had taken in the sights. Elessar had spoken some with Old Celter as they had walked a little to the back of the Aes Sedai pair and he had once again been captivated by the old man’s knowledge and charm.

 

.. White columns were positioned in two rows leading towards the Lion Throne. The dais supported the gilded throne, with its golden lion paws on the feet, upon which The Queen of Andor usually sat, and was flanked by two tapestries depicting the White Lion on a red background. Moonstones represented the White Lion on the top of the throne and this pattern was surrounded by rubies. It was a splendid sight that bespoke of history and power ..

 

Standing outside the majestic building with Carys a litte while later, taking in its resplendence, the Warder had admired the workmanship. The Palace, originally built by Ogier master-stonemasons, had many tall, white spires topped by golden domes and stonework that looked as intricate as lacework; balconies provided views of the city. It was marvelous to behold, a Jewel in the Crown that was the city of Caemlyn.

 

They had departed in the same carriage that had brought them, bidding farewell to a smiling Old Celter, and had left the majestic Royal Palace behind, heading back to the inn. Elessar had thanked his Sedai for the tour and had received a smile in return. The next day, in early morning, they had paid the innkeeper - who was his usual grouchy self once again, but who had brightened slightly at the sound of Tar Valon silver in his hand - what he was owed, they had saddled their horses and had ridden toward the City Gate, heading south-west along the Caemlyn-Lugard road.

 

▲▲

 

And here we are, thought the Warder as he gazed around the forested area in northern Murandy where they had stopped. Their stay in Caemlyn had been very enjoyable; they had needed the rest, as had the horses, and the stay had given them the opportunity to see some of Andor’s sights and history and to make some necessary purchases. Now, however, it felt good, thought Elessar, to be on the road again and to continue their journey towards Altara and Ebou Dar.

 

He glanced quickly across at his Sedai who seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, then walked across to his stallion who was tethered a short way off and patted him affectionately on the side. Stormbreaker enjoyed the attention and nudged the Warder appreciatively with his nose. “Soon we’ll be off again, my friend”, Elessar spoke quietly to his mount, stroking his mane. “We still have a way to go.” The horse neighed in response, as if understanding every word.

 

 

►▼◄

 

Far to the south in Lugard, a cloaked man, with long dark hair, piercing brown eyes and a rugged face which had an ugly scar running down from his left ear across his cheek, stood at a busy street-corner between two dirty unpaved roads shading his eyes from the late afternoon sun. He frowned in anger and crumpled the note in his left hand that someone had unsuspectedly slipped into his coat pocket. He considered his choices but every one seemed a dead end. Cursing under his breath, he threw the note away and walked hurriedly in the direction of the tavern where he was staying on the other side of town.

 

Behind him, discarded on the dusty ground, lay the wrinkled note whereupon someone had written in an elegant flowing hand:

 

A Man who walks in Twilight, He walks Alone..

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She was sketching again. The pen tip scratched across the paper hurriedly as she outlined a bird in the sky. The markings were remarkable; Carys couldn't recall ever seeing wings that looked like that. The notebook page, light brown and small, immediately filled up with the black of her pen, lines connecting to make a fairly good representation of the markings. Squinting, she brought her hand up to shield her eyes. She attempted to follow the bird, but it was moving to fast toward the sun. Her blue eyes tingled as they moved closer toward the glowing ball, but she lost the bird in the intensity. Squeezing her eyes shut, Carys stared at the negative afterimage on the inside of her eyelids for a moment before she reopened them.

 

Blinking rapidly, the Yellow stared forward as the surroundings came back into focus. She laughed to herself, at herself, sheepishly, glad that Elessar hadn't been around to see her foolishness. Where there was one bird there were sure to be many more. Tucking her notebook away, the Altaran thought back on the Palace visit. She felt a smile stretch over her face, as it often had on this journey. Where as before, adrenaline was the most constant state for her – pulse racing as she fought to save lives in the Infirmary – now it seemed to be more of a content feeling. Whether that was because she was out in the world, because of Elessar, or because of what she'd gone through in Cairhein and survived, she wasn't sure. Perhaps a little of all three?

 

The Palace visit had been a phenomenal hit. Carys had thought her face might burst from excitement when the Warder had stepped down from the carriage and Celter had revealed himself. Elessar had seemed pleased, a grin growing on his face as well as he followed her and the older man into the Palace and down the hallway. They had walked into various rooms, with the antique shop owner explaining the elegant history, marveling at his knowledge and his ability to spin the story so that they were hanging on every word. Carys noticed the display of wealth as they walked, how it was obvious but not over-the-top. It gained the ruler a sense of decorum without her even present. The decorator was a genius.

 

Later, the Gray sister in residence had found the trio in the Throne Room. She was an older sister, gray already snaking heavily into her brown hair. She had been out of the Tower for Carys's entire stint there, from novice to now. Irela, the Sister, had traveled spent time in every country east of the Aiel Waste, from the Borderlands to Mayene. She took Carys's arm and began speaking to her about Andoran politics. It wasn't something that truly interested the Yellow, but she was patient and listened anyway, though her ears sometimes drifted back to hear what Elessar and Celter were talking about. Eventually, Irela began speaking about how Aes Sedai were welcomed and treated in various cities, snapping Carys's attention back to her. The Yellow vaguely remembered reading about some countries being skeptical of Aes Sedai, but she had no idea of the magnitude. As the Palace walls zipped past them, Irela enlightened her.

 

A history, and political, lesson later, Carys and Elessar departed. Lunch had been served in the “Rose Room,” Celter and Irela accompanying them and the four discussing Caemlyn's sights. The Aes Sedai suggested an herb shop to the younger Yellow; Celter and Elessar discussed the library. They had departed in the same carriage that had brought them, bidding farewell to a smiling Old Celter. Upon arriving at the inn, Elessar had thanked her for the tour before retiring. She had smiled her now-familiar smile in response and retired herself.

 

The next day, in early morning, they had paid the innkeeper - who was his usual grouchy self once again. He attempted to glare at the pair as they walked down the stairs into the Common Room, though he was rubbing his bleary eyes with one hand and holding a rag in the other making it look comical. Carys donned her serene face and made no comment. She handed the man his payment for room and board, his hard eyes softening a bit at the look of Tar Valon silver in his hand and left the Inn for good. They had saddled their horses and had ridden toward the City Gate, heading south-west along the Caemlyn-Lugard road.

 

Though she had enjoyed Caemlyn immensely, Carys felt at peace with leaving the city. She had found Celter a place at the Palace, where he should have been all along, and they had partaken of the library and the streets. It was a lovely City, but not their destination. Perhaps I'm becoming used to being on the road... she pondered. Elessar rode back then, nodding to her that everything was fine. They rode in companionable silence for another hour before the sun began to dip. Her Warder rode ahead again and when he returned he suggested a place to stop for the night. She assented, lost in her thoughts about Lugard and what it could contain.

 

The night was calm and quiet, only the sounds of crickets and an occasional owl hoot broke the silence. Carys fell asleep quickly, the dark gray cloak covering her as she slept by the fire. Across the pit was her Warder. She assumed he slept sometime in the night, for she felt little exhaustion from him in the morning, but he was awake when she closed her eyes and awake when she opened them. They set out early in the morning, both slightly anxious to arrive in Lugard.

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The man with the scar screamed in agony.

 

Voices spoke to him in the darkness, coming from every direction at once.

Several voices. One voice. He could not tell.

He was lost in a wilderness of the mind.

 

He could not move his body. His eyes were sealed. He was trapped.

But every word, every whisper, ripped into him like a barbed blade drawing blood.

 

 

You are betraying your oaths.

 

He screamed - but no sound came out. His body was racked with pain.

 

The Great Lord of the Dark is not forgiving toward those who fail him.

 

 

The man tried to open his eyes but he couldn’t.

The dark whispers echoed in his mind, reverberating through the walls of his consciousness.

Excruciating pain tore through his muscles and he shuddered in torment.

 

 

You know what you must do.

 

He tried to breathe but his throat constricted. He struggled for breath but found no air.

 

Obey. Or face the Great Lord’s displeasure.

 

 

─Falling─

 

We are watching you.

 

─Falling─

 

A thousand needles bored into his mind and he howled in anguish.

 

─Falling─

 

In the end, the tormenting pain and strain became too much for his mind and body.. and he fell blissfully into a black void of unconciousness.

 

The cloaked figure, wearing an all-encompassing dark robe with a deep hood hiding the face, stood unseen in the Shadows of the room, nodding in cold satisfaction. Moving silently past the bed upon which the man lay unconcious, throwing him a disdainful glance, the robed figure carefully opened the door and slipped quietly outside, leaving no trace behind.

 

Outside, as dawn came over Lugard, tiny rays of sunshine touched the roof of the worn down city tavern, welcoming a new day.

 

►▼◄

 

The day was nearing its end and they were still some way from Lugard. Elessar rode ahead again to check on their progress and when he returned he suggested a place to stop for the night. Carys assented and they made camp in a place some way into the forest but still in sight of the road. They tethered - and then cared for - their horses before making a small fire and eating a sparse meal. When his Sedai lay down to rest for the night by the fire Elessar walked the perimiter of their camp, as he always did, before settling down to keep watch in that vigilant half-awake, half-sleep state that Warders were so adapt at. The night was calm and quiet, only the sounds of crickets and an occasional owl hoot broke the silence. When morning came, dawn breaking amid the many rustling sounds of the forest, Elessar felt reasonably rested and was glad that his bondholder had gotten a decent night’s sleep as well. They set out early in the morning, both slightly anxious to arrive in the Murandian Capital.

 

Lugard. A city with its own history. As they several hours later - travelling under a partially clouded and sunlit sky - finally saw the city in the distant horizon, riding along the infamous Lugard Road, merchants passing them in carriages on their way to and fro with wares, Elessar thought some more on what he knew of this city. He had his own memories of the Capital, but the city had also been described in books. He remembered some of the descriptions:

 

 

₪₪₪

The Capital city of Lugard

-In Shadow and Light-

 

..The Capital city of Murandy sits on the banks of the River Storn, one book had stated. An old, decrepit city whose walls are crumbling around its famed Shilene Gate, it actually has walls (also crumbling) through parts of its interior, where feuding nobles have tried to separate their territory from that of their rivals... Houses, shops, and inns (it may in this context be noted that Lugard may very well be one of the few cities in the world which actually have more inns and stables than houses and shops) all are of gray stone and roofed in blue, red, purple or green tiles but those bright colors are covered with a dull haze of dirt.. Its unpaved streets choke the air with dust during dry periods and become seas of mud in wet..

 

Another book had spoken of the nation’s first ruler, Queen Katrine do Catalan a'Coralle:

 

..Katrine do Catalan a'Coralle, the book had stated, was the first Queen of Murandy. In FY 1047, she captured the city of Lugard, which lay in much fought-over land, and founded the country of Murandy. She named the nation after an ancient term for the region.. Katrine was assassinated after less than a year on her new throne, and some historians have estimated that during the War of the Hundred Years Murandy averaged a new ruler every two years..

 

They rode past several men and women with children, poorly dressed with downcast eyes, who looked tired and worn, hungry and apathetic, and who walked stedfastly toward the Capital, eyes only on the road in front of them. Elessar had seen the ugly face of poverty many times before, but it never failed to anger him.

 

Staring toward the city of Lugard in the far distance, the Warder shook his head. Hardly a place of stability, he thought to himself, unconciously touching the hilt of his blade fastened to the horse’s right side. But then again, the world is changing. Stability may be a thing of the past.

 

The Warder nudged his horse forward and Stormbreaker picked up speed. Behind them Carys followed on her gray mare with their loyal packhorse bringing up the rear. They sped toward the city, eager to complete this part of their journey.

 

►▼◄

 

A soft breeze, strengthened during the morning hours, caught hold of the banners of Murandy atop the city’s eastern gate, the famous Shilene Gate, sending ripples through the cloth, pushing the Red Bull into strenuous forward motion on its vertically striped field of blue and white, as Carys and Elessar rode slowly through the Gate and into Lugard under a cautiously pleasant midday-sky.

 

High above the city of Lugard, floating on the southern winds, a black bird of prey glided across the skies, watching.

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