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A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
Arinth

The Blade or the Leaf (Attn Bard Babe, Banders, Tinkers, Open)

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Arinth was tired. He was hungry. He was sweaty. His wounds were not yet fully healed and with each step they felt like they were going to rip wide open again. He was miserable and it put him in a bad mood. To make things worse, they had promoted him to Sergeant after the incidents in Tanchico. The last thing he wanted was more work to do.

 

The area they marched through was wooded. They had passed the last town the day before and according to the scouts it would be several more days before they reached the next town. They were following a stream. It was calm, and peaceful and boring. He walked in silence as memories flashed one after another. His most recent skirmish with the Seanchan where he had run his sword through a man and watched the life bleed out of his eyes was his first thought. Time had failed to fade earlier memories. The battle with the Aiel where he had seen friends and soldiers die by the scores against the Aiel and their spears came vividly back next. Hed come close to losing an eye that day. He felt the scar under his left eye. He had turned at the last moment. Songs and training, drinking and barfights all swarmed around him. He saw happy faces and angry faces from his foes and friends alike.

 

Someone spoke at his side. Arinth blinked. For a moment he thought it was Daruun but that man had disappeared years before. In any case they were stopping to make camp. He glanced at the sun and realized it was getting late in the day. He took a drink of his water and forced down a gulp. He grimaced at the reminder that he was out of alcohol and there was no tavern nearby for even one mug of ale.

 

He heard voices and looked around to see what was going on. The trees and the stream all looked the same to him. He had no idea where exactly they were, just that it was some place between Tanchico and the Citadel. He left the maps to likes of Arkin and the scouts. They knew how to do their job. He followed the voices until he found two soldiers arguing.

 

“What is going on here?” He demanded with a scowl. The two men stopped talking and regarded him. Neither looked too pleased to see him. They had known him when he was a private which made it harder to accept his authority but that was their problem not his.

 

“We found tinkers down by the stream.” The first said and spat.

 

“Its too late in the evening to find another place to make camp.” The second responded.

 

“I don't want to camp next to tinkers. They are thieves and liars.” The first cut in.

 

Arinth raised his hand to silence them. “We aren't saints ourselves. The fact remains that we have to make camp, there is no point in fighting over that. If you don't want to sleep next to them, you can stay up all night.”

 

That silenced the two men, who left to see that the march was called to a halt and camp made. Arinth looked around. He would have to find Arkin and see if the man knew anything about these Tinkers or just go and meet them himself.

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Arkin was trying desperately hard not to itch his back. The not-quite-healed gash from his shoulder to his hip had never been life threatening, but once the adrenaline of battle had worn off, it had been flaming painful and ever since it had started healing it had simply been irritatingly itchy. However, he was one of the lucky ones. It was the only wound from the battle that had not yet fully healed, and others had come out of Tanchico in a much worse state, and of course, a few of them hadn't made it out at all.

 

Dragging his mind away from Tanchico, Arkin tried not to remember the perfect view he had had from the rooftops of the streets filling with corpses and the cobbles being stained with blood and guts and things no man was ever supposed to see outside of another man. He didn't want to remember that at all. His back itched even more at the memory.

 

Shaking his head, Arkin reported back their position and the distance to the next town before returning the horse he had used for the trip and ridding himself of the camouflaged wraps and head scarf he used for scouting missions. Glancing around, he quickly surmised that the Band were setting up camp for the night. The night was just beginning to steal the light of the day, and it looked like the clouds were going to stay out of the way of the stars tonight. Arkin smiled. Clear nights were his favourite kind. They promised a dry night and a beautiful view, which combined, could result in many things, a comfortable night's sleep being last among them.

 

Arinth walked up as Arkin was just lifting his flask to his lips. Seeing the infant's eyes light up, Arkin grinned and handed it over, pulling out another from a mysterious location in his coat.

 

The pair walked back to the more populated part of the camp fairly slowly, enjoying each other's company and complaining about how far it was to the next tavern. And that was when Arkin heard the news.

 

"I just broke up a fight between two privates back there, arguing over sleeping near some tinkers," Arinth told him easily, taking a luxurious swallow of Arkin's alcohol.

"Tinkers?! Where?!" Arkin's eyes were wide with childish glee, a grin splitting his face as Arinth vaguely pointed towards the stream, beginning to say "Over there," but giving up when he realised Arkin had already vanished in the direction his finger had pointed.

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“I guess we are going to meet some tinkers.” Arinth muttered to himself as he watched Arkin disappear. He wasn't sure whether or not to growl or laugh. He had never met any tinkers but he had heard enough to gather that they were not the most well liked of people and that made him wary.

 

Arkin, however, seemed to hold a different opinion of them and it made him wonder what it was the scout knew about them that had lit up his eyes at their mere mention. He had been content to sit quitely and drink with Arkin. Some days were harder than others. The memories came more vividly, the sounds and the smells and sights flashed and lingered, old wounds ached harder underneath healed scars, and empty holes burned in his soul. He took a drink and kept those thoughts to himself. They were damn depressing and he had no desire to share them.

 

The stream babbled quietly as he walked next to it and the sun was hangng low on the horizon. It was a nice cool evening. He swatted at a swarm of bugs that hovered over his face. Maybe it would be better to camp a little way from the stream.

 

He could hear the sounds from the two camps as he walked. The sounds of the band laughing and shouting and cursing as they set up their camp and what sounded like music coming from the tinker camp. Ahh, maybe that was why Arkin had gone to visit them. The soldiers of the band were willing singers but their talent was decidedly lacking and their sound was probably torture to Arkin's trained ears. He hoped so at least, it was one of the main reasons he sang so often with the scout. He chuckled to himself.

 

His chuckle died in his throat at the sudden appearance of a huge dog. He was almost to the tinker's camp now. The dog stood almost to his waist and stood firm as he fixed his gaze on Arinth. From what he could tell it looked like the dog had decided he didn't like him. He tried to move to the side and go around the dog but the dog moved to the side too. Each way he stepped the dog followed. He had come as close as the dog would allow. Then another dog appeared and they both stood facing him. What was their problem? Had they never seen an impressive specimen of a man before? It was unlikely among the tinkers he realized and so he stood and allowed them to soak in his glory. He wasn't afraid of them in the least bit.

Edited by Arinth

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Janos Nameros watched with characteristic curiosity while various men and women of the Band responded to some sort of crisis, a small grin on his face.  Army life was so chaotic, it seemed.  Always running around, always fighting, always jumping at every shadow as if another army was about to appear.  Once again, Janos found himself happy in the life he had chosen.  Singing and playing music suited him, and it had suited him for a long time.

 

Life had, indeed, taken an interesting turn about a year previously.  After getting himself into trouble with dangerous people, Janos had found himself in Seanchan.  There, his musical abilities and his flare for the dramatic had seen him through.  In no time, he had been raised from lowly gleeman to court bard for minor nobility.  He was then slowly passed up the ladder of rank until he had arrived in the Imperial court.  There, he had been taken into the entourage of the Daughter of the Nine Moons herself.  It was fair to say that she had taken him into her confidences, as well.  He had even supplanted her Speaker in favor, and now he was her constant companion.

 

Not bad for a gleeman of dubious origins.

 

Conversations began springing up around him.  Given the small number of soldiers with the Band- the extraction team had met with a small guard outside of Tanchico, and they were moving to meet up with the rest of the already-marching army- stories traveled fast.  More than once Janos heard mention of Tinkers.  Another smile came to his face.  The Tuatha'an were famous for many things.  The Way of the Leaf, their guard dogs, the tiganza.  Janos did not care for any of that.  Instead, he was excited to hear Tinker music.  He was, above all, a musician, and he enjoyed learning new and interesting forms of music.  He also relished the idea of playing some music of his own for a receptive audience.  He had tried to engage many of the Band in small performances, but they always seemed to be too busy playing Army or drinking or whatever else it was that they did.

 

Taking a moment to choose a brightly-colored suit of clothes appropriate to a court bard of his standings, Janos then made his way to the covered wagon that now served as the conveyance and jail for the Daughter of the Nine Moons.  "What is happening, bard?" the young woman's voice asked from behind the canvas.  

 

"We've come across some of the Tuatha'an, Highness," Janos replied.  "I merely wondered if you would be interested in seeing them."

 

After a moment of silence, the reply came: "I believe that I will.  Please see to the guards."  The comment drew looks of anger from the four men posted around the wagon.  They had gone through this process before.  Because they were of such low station, as things were reckoned by the Seanchan, it was left to Janos to convey the Ruan's message to men who had heard quite well enough the first time.  Smiling apologetically, Janos conveyed the message to the men, who returned exasperated looks to him.

 

It was a short walk to where the crowd had begun to gather.  Already there were some Tinkers visible, though they were staying well back.  In between them and the Band were two large dogs.  Nothing seemed to be happening yet, though Janos could see a tall figure fighting his way through the crowd.  Calder Berrick.  The young man had proven to be of interest to his patron, so he was of interest to Janos.

 

Of course, anybody else who was sworn to the Shadow knew that face as well as their own.

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Arkin's hurried flight to the tinkers had meant that he had arrived quite early and, unlike the Band members that had followed, had made it far past the dogs. He had been playing with them and beaming, ready to wander straight into the Tinker camp as he had done so many times before, before he remembered that he was not alone anymore. He was no longer a wandering boy traveling by himself, taking each day as it came. Arkin had always been hunting for his next meal, his next escape route. Very little else tended to enter your head in such a rough life, but even so, on occasion, Arkin would feel that familiar yearning, that little part of him that longed for good music, a dance, a friendly face and a new story. Tinkers had never turned him away. They had been his family after he lost his first.

 

His first encounter with the Tuatha'an had been before his parents and sister had died, when they had set up camp outside the village that they had happened to be in at the time. Arkin's father, unlike the rest of the village's population, had been overjoyed and gathered his children for an outing to visit the Tinkers. Arkin had been only four years old at the time. The experience had stayed with Arkin, in a blur of spinning bodies, laughter and music, smells of delicious food and bright, clashing colours that burnt his young eyes. Over the years, he had visited the Tinkers innumerable times, always doing business with them when they came. When Arkin's family had lived in poverty, tinkers had been a bright point in very dark times, and once Arkin had been left by himself, with no sister and no father, and a mother a very long time gone, he had maintained this special place in his heart for the tinkers.

 

During the first year of his isolated wandering, Arkin had visited the tinkers and for the first time, really listened to more than just the music, instead listening to their words. He learnt the Way of the Leaf from the mouth of the Mahdi, and when the tinkers moved on, he chose to travel with them, for as long as they would take him. Although he had never entirely embraced the Way of the Leaf, finding it hard to reconcile with his life experience, he tried as hard as he could to do right by the tinkers while he was traveling with them. For almost two years, he traveled with the tinkers exclusively, until he eventually decided that he would not be able to follow the Way of the Leaf and felt like he ought not to travel with the tinkers. He then had taken long excursions out into the rest of the world, weaning himself off he support of the tinkers. His excursions got longer and longer until he knew he was no longer a member of their family, but an old friend and visitor. He embraced that, and still held the Traveling People close to his heart, as a people and a place he could go to enjoy a night of joy and escape the violence of the streets, to live among friends.

 

The tinkers' influence on his early life was clear through the bright colours he wore and the pacifistic nature he possessed. Well, as pacifistic as you could get whilst being in an army. He often thought that he could have made a life among the tinkers, wondered what his life might have been like if he had been born in a tinker's wagon. He had thought on the Way of the Leaf often throughout his later years, wondering whether his choice as a fourteen year old boy to not follow the Way of the Leaf had in fact been the right one, whether he might have made a different decision, had he been older, but he always came to the same conclusion. His wonderings did him nothing. He had become apprenticed to a war-man and he had become a soldier. He had followed a path that would never follow the Way of the Leaf, and he was comfortable with the morality of his own actions. He had already had his moral fight with the Way of the Leaf, but as he tussled with the mastiffs that guarded the tinkers camp, Arkin wondered just how the other members of the Band would cope with their pacifistic nature.

 

Remembering that he was part of a group now, Arkin did not stray past the dogs. He was returning to the tinkers as a soldier. How different he was from the boy that had run away with the tinkers so long ago. He missed his friends. He missed their never-ending hunt for the Song. He missed their fires and their dancing. Despite how much they missed them, however, these were unlikely to be the tinkers he had traveled with and would not allow an unknown soldier to enter their camp unannounced. He knew how the tinkers could stand on formality, and he respected that. You had to, if you traveled with them. Anything less would be terribly impolite.

 

No matter. He would wait for Calder to have the customary talk with the Mahdi, and then he would tackle the mastiffs and drag Arinth into the camp and force him to dance to the tinker fiddles.

 

Giving the mastiff a final pat, Arkin tied a bell on his collar as a treat to whichever tinker child would find him, and straightened up, dusting dried up leaves off his knees.

 

Turning around to face the gathering of Banders that had finally caught up with his eager feet, Arkin left the dog and scanned the crowd for Arinth. Impulse took over instead, when he spotted Janos in the crowd. Now, Arinth would be fun to watch interact with the tinkers, but Janos...the new bard, the musician...he would understand the tinkers, their search and their music. Too few people appreciated music in the Band. Janos, as odd as his entrance into the Band had been, was quite an interesting conversational companion, and boy could he spin a tune.

 

Trotting over to the Bard, Arkin was struck by the fact that he was another person Arkin could well have become, had he been born with a bit more money in his pocket. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, eager to get to the tiganza part of the evening, Arkin shot the bard a grin. "You can hear the fiddles already...I have to say I am bloody excited to sing with some people who can hold a decent tune," he murmured, his voice already lilting to a tune, as it tended to do when he was in gleeman mode.

 

His blood was already buzzing with music and laughter.

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Naeva smiled gently as music began to flow from the circle of wagons. The lilt of lutes and flutes was interrupted regularly by chattery interjections of percussion as knives chopped up vegetables for their stew, and the trill of laughter as children began to run and play. The occasional thump of wagon doors opening and closing as the group set up for the night only provided a deeper beat to the music, the thrum of bassy male voices steady beneath the chattering of the women. The leaves in the surrounding trees seemed to whisper to him, speaking of their joy in their camping there for the night. Naeva closed his eyes and listened for a moment, breathing in the night as the fires were stoked and the smell of smoke and stew began to twist through the air.

 

His reverie was momentarily interrupted by the distant clinking of metal against metal, the clear and distinctive noise of soldiers. Men of war. As always, when confronted by men of violence, Naeva's eyes grew a little sadder, a little tireder. He felt sorry for the men and women who devoted their lives to the harming of others, though he could understand that they branded it as the protection of others. It didn't matter which way you looked at it, however, harm and protection were merely different words for different angles.

 

However, the army camped downstream was not entirely bad news. Naeva had grown up on a mixture of positive thinking and practicality which he had worked hard to create and maintain, something which was now ingrained so deeply into his half a century old body as the green eyes he had been born with. Armies were often too superstitious or disdainful of the travelling people to come near, and so did not disrupt them, but occasionally, soldiers from the army would approach. Items would need mending, spirits would need lifting or hearts calming, and all things eventually led men to the Tuatha'an. Naeve would always speak of the Way of the Leaf on these rare occasions, and hope that some of the soldiers would see some sense in their path of non-violence, but even if they did not, Naeva would listen to those who spoke, would speak for those who listened and would welcome them to his fires nonetheless, making sure that they had a safe departure when they chose to leave. It was simply his way. His belief in the Way of the Leaf was strong, firm and unshakeable. It had been so for a very long time. He had been tested time and again, and his ongoing life and harmony within his community and with nature only proved to him that the path he had chosen was indeed the right path for him. He did believe that ultimately, the Way of the Leaf was the right path for everyone, but he recognised that some men simply could not understand or accept it, and he did not shun them for this. Their path was their choice, and though he hoped, he did not blame.

 

It was with these thoughts in his mind that Naeva approached the man who led the army, a man who was walking through scattered pockets of curious soldiers, who were staring with a wary curiosity at the dogs. His mind saw the eyes of each of those soldiers, excited and slightly ashamed of their keenness, like children. He knew they meant him no harm and addressed them all, scratching a dog behind its ears. "I am Naeva, Mahdi of this community and leader of these wagons. I thank you for your kindness in awaiting our permission to enter our camp." Inclining his head slightly, he turned to the leader of the army. Pressing both hands to his chest, he bowed. "You are welcome to our fires," he began. "Do you know the Song?"

 

The leader seemed to have been expecting his formality. Naeva enjoyed such things. They had a routine to them which was simple, and refreshing. "Your welcome warms my spirit, Mahdi, as your fires warm the flesh, but I do not know the Song," the man replied in a clear voice.

Naeva sighed ever so slightly, his eyes tiring the smallest bit. He knew better than to expect a positive answer to his question after so many years and so many questions, but he still could not help but experience a touch of deflation when the army man said he did not know the Song. Nodding graciously and feeling his smile warm his face once more, Naeva quietly responded with the ever-lasting hope of the Tuatha'an, "Then we seek still. As it was, so it shall be, if we but remember, seek and find."

 

Cheered at the prospect of the night ahead and its company, Naeva stepped back and gestured for the leader and his men to enter.

Edited by The Bard Babe

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((OOC: almost forgot about this hehe, but here I am anyway.... hope its still not too latesies :p))

 

 

Miri hefted the last bale of hay over the wagon and cocked an eyebrow at Wyn. "That going to do?"  The horse answered by way of pushing her aside with his muzzle to get at his feed. Shaking her head, Miri dusted her hands and surveyed the horse lines and full feed troughs. Approval. As a raw recruit, she had started by helping out with the Band’s cavalry's horses at the end of every day, and it had quickly become a welcome routine instead of duty. And this way, she was able to look after her own horse every day.

 

Wandering back to the centre of the camp, Miri gratefully soaked up the buzzing evening sounds of preparing camp. There were too many grim faces lately – with good reason, but it just made everything more depressing. Good spirits usually came with nighttime, and making camp heralded good rest - and after that stunt in Tanchico the Banders could definitely use some merrymaking.

 

An interesting snatch of talk caught her ears, and Miri sauntered over to join in listening to the conversation. Or rather, a back and forth among a group of Archers whose grumbles were getting louder by the minute.

“Thieves, they are, a refuge of thieves and outlaws the lot of ‘em whatever their holy make-believe” the grizzled bowman with the eyepatch was just offering to his listeners. Miri paused and shouldered her way closer to the sour-faced men tending to their weapons.”Who?”
“Flaming Tinkers,” The archer beside her threw a pile of fletchlings into a tub and spat onto the ground. “Right over thataway, and we’re s’posed to feel all comfy an’ safe round them likes tonight!”
The older man gestured what he thought of that, and cautioned “every man sleep light or you’re gonna lose more than just your pots n pans. Bloody cutpurses…”

Wandering away again, Miri chanced a curious glance in the direction they’d indicated. From what she had heard, Tinkers certainly had a bad reputation most places. Yet in her brother’s travel tales they had been nothing more than kind and generous. Who believed all the Archer’s rumours anyway, bunch of discontented stickshooters. The Band were considered outlaws themselves, and they'd proved amiable enough....some of them, anyway.

 

She hefted her wheelbarrow again and trundled it over to the grain wagons. Reporting back to the Cavalry officer in charge of the horse lines she was dismissed for the night, so Miri grabbed her pack from the supplies tent and strolled out looking for a place to sleep. The recruits usually grouped together still, but everyone already seemed to have found their beds and none of the other new Banders she knew were in sight. Too early really to bed down yet, and dinner could be skipped in favour of the more interesting attractions of this night’s camp. Grinning, Miri continued outwards to the edge of the camp, in the direction those Archers had gestured. Not too long and the racket of the camp mingled into a cacaphony of merry tunes coming from behind a nearby hill. Shouldering her pack, Miri climbed up a small rise and peeked over.

Edited by Nyanna al'Meara

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Arinth saw Malachias peeking into the Tinker camp and called to him. The dogs saw him and took an instant liking to him as he approached. When they saw that he knew Malachias they grudgingly accepted him and allowed him to pass.

 

“Ever met any Tinkers?” He asked him as they approached the Tinker camp. The dogs followed closely with one on each side of them. They talked casually as they moved. He told him that he had never met Tinkers before. It had been a long day and it left everyone a little tired which usually meant there was little in the way of conversations.

 

The Tinkers were not hard to find. Their brightly painted wagons stood out even in the fading light of evening. The noise was merry. People were laughing and singing and working. Things were relaxed. There was a peace unlike any other place Arinth had seen. He was drawn to it. It was like something out of a dream. There was no fighting, or arguing. He had never realized how nice it might be to have a break from those things.

 

A Tinker approached and Arinth stopped to wait for him. He nodded his head to acknowledge the man. “I do not mean to trouble you or your people.” He began. “I came to inform you that the Band of the Red Hand has made camp here beside your own tonight. I have told my men to behave but if you have any trouble or need anything from me. My name is Arinth, Sergeant in the infantry.”

 

The Tinker smiled and welcomed them to join their camp. Arinth looked at Malachias. He had not planned on staying but he felt drawn to their camp. He was curious to see more. Besides, it would be rude to say no. That and the food did smell delicious. He thanked the Tinker and followed him into the camp. His eyes and ears soaking in everything around him as he walked. Malachias stayed by his side.

Edited by Arinth

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Grinning widely at the sight of dogs, Miri sauntered downhill to join the Sergeant. Her father had had an entourage of hunting dogs following him at all times, and her earliest memories were of rolling around on a rug in front of the fire trying to catch floppy ears in pudgy hands. They were memories as warm as the fireplaces in them. She dropped to her knees to cuddle the head of one of the massive canines.

She bounced back to her feet to walk alongside Arinth, who seemed to regard the mastiffs with a wary distaste as they trailed behind. "Nope, never met a real Tinker before in my life," she admitted brightly, glad that he'd told her he hadn't either. Sometimes she just grew too aware of how sheltered her upbringing had been. "But my brother told me a lot of their generosity and friendly manner! I don't believe a word of their nasty reputation."

Sounds of merriness grew louder as they neared the group of wagons as bright and varied as the shades of a rainbow. With the music the spectacle of colour grew too. Their conversation dwindled into a cheery silence. Miri tried to drink in as much of the peaceful yet lively atmosphere as she dared, it being so different from the battleworn grumbling encampment they had just left behind. A man in a colourful outfit that clashing something terrible strolled over to them, and although he radiated nothing but amiable welcome, Miri felt herself grow shy and kept a step behind Arinth as he made his introduction. The Tinker made her feel humble despite his simple manner, and humble was not something she was used to.

 

Exchanging an excited glance with Arinth, Miri followed their guide into the Tuatha'an camp. She felt a sudden pang of homesickness as she watched brightly dressed children tussle with the dogs, but it soon passed as new sights and sounds entered on her. Piebald drafthorses with long wavy manes and fetlocks stood munching here and there between the wagons. Her stomach made itself known loudly whenever they passed a cookfire. Tinkers smiled at them, playing tunes on all manner of instruments. There was something magical about their world.

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As Arinth entered the Tinker camp with Malachias he found that Arkin was already there with the bard that they had captured with the princess. The grin on his friend's face was bigger than Arinth could remember seeing before.

 

He was glad to see it after the blood and battle of Tanchico. As far as he knew it was the first real action Arkin had seen. The first time was always one of the hardest. If he was anything like Arinth he'd wake in a cold sweat even years from now with the faces of his slain friends flashing before him. The Seanchan he had killed. It would be vivid. It would switch between dead silence and the loud echoing screams of death.

 

Arinth took a seat by the fire and stared into the flames. The music washed over him and all around him people laughed and danced and enjoyed themselves. Somehow he was tumbling back into the past. Bloody Aiel slicing through the infantry. He had never felt so helpless. They had fought back, proud and stubborn and they had worked together. It was only through that they had won. It had been a costly and bitter victory though.

 

He saw the faces of men on either side as they fell around him. Hal had given himself to save Arinth. He could still see the blood flowing down from the ruined mess of his throat. Oslan had fought with him through half the battle but Arinth had not been quick enough to stop the spear that had tripped Oslan or the one that had stabbed him through the back. He had taken his vengeance but all that had added was another face to haunt his dreams.

 

He muttered a curse and looked around. Did Tinkers drink? It was nights like this when the past refused to stay in the past that he was driven to drink the most. One of the tinkers took a seat next to him.

 

You look troubled friend.” The man said quietly. It was half question and half statement.

 

I was just remembering somebody.” He said. He tried to make it sound as casual as he could but his voice caught in his throat.

Edited by Arinth

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“Memories are meant to be a gift, yet you look like yours weigh like a mill stone around your neck.” The main said in response to Arinth’s answer. Arinth gritted his teeth and looked over at the man. The tinker was well into his middle years. There was a fair amount of grey that had crept into his brown beard. Wisdom was supposed to come with age but form the way the man talked Arinth doubted he had any.

 

“A gift?”  He snorted. He had never seen them as such and the memories that were his most frequent visitors were not kind. They carried guilt, regret, pain and anger.

 

“Memories keep us from forgetting those who have been part of our lives. A rose bush that blooms even in the coldest winters of our life.” The man said. He spoke as though he really believed what he said.

 

“You have been favored with good memories then I would say.” Arinth replied.

 

The man glanced down to the sword Arinth wore at his side. “There is a reason my memories are of a better quality than yours. The way of life we choose is like a garden. When you plant violence, your harvest comes in blood.”

 

Arinth snorted. The man had a way of talking. He would give him that. That didn’t mean he was right though. Did it?

 

“You see that I wear no weapon?” The man asked. “There is a correlation between that and my memories. I have been favored with good memories, but it is because of the path I have chosen to take. I have embraced life and so it is what I am surrounded with. You have embraced death and so you find yourself surrounded with ghosts of the dead.”

 

Arinth unbuckled his sword and looked at it as he held it in his hand. Was it as simple as that? His path would only lead to more violence, blood and death. Even he knew that. Who would be next, Arkin, himself, a new recruit? His mind reeled at possibilities he had never considered.

 

“You can set it down.” The man said gently.

 

Arinth’s grip on the sword tightened. “I do not draw my sword to do evil. I fight to save the innocent, to protect my brothers.”

 

“Few men believe that what they do is wrong, but the world suffers all the same. Break the cycle. It is not weakness, it is strength to have the courage to embrace a better life.”

 

Arinth shook his head. It wasn’t that simple. All his justifications and reasoning struggled to find purchase against the onslaught of the man’s reasoning. He fought because the fight needed to be fought. Someone had to stand for those that were weaker.

 

The man looked at Arinth’s scars. “How much of yourself have you given? How much have you sacrificed? I see your scars, they are beyond what I can fathom, yet I know they are only a portion of the pain you bear. Your soul is weary. It deserves to know what peace is. Stay with us and lay your sword down. Should you find our ways cannot also be yours then you are free to leave. You owe it to yourself to try, to find out, to know."

 

Arinth looked at his sword. Could he do it?

Edited by Arinth

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Arinth’s head was filled with doubt and confusion. He didn’t want death and blood. He had always been strong. Fighting and soldiering seemed like the natural things for him to do. How much thought had he ever given into what he was doing?

 

He shook his head as if trying to dispel the new questions that were overwhelming him. He had done what was right. He had not raped, murdered or pillaged. He had not invaded. He had defended. He would not have done such things. There was a line and he hadn’t crossed it. There was blood on his hands but there was not guilt on his conscience.

 

“When the way ahead is unclear and surrounded by doubt, trust your heart.” The man said. “Let your heart be your guide.”

 

Had he been wrong to fight the Seanchan? He hadn’t stopped to think about it, but they had not been raping, pillaging or murdering either. There had been order. If they had not been a foreign invader he would not have even blinked. Yet, he had fought them. He had killed them. In their eyes they were doing nothing wrong and the blood on his hands was innocent blood.

 

A soldier’s blood is never innocent. That is given up the moment one takes up the sword. Arinth's heart and head argued with each other. He could not see the Seanchan as he had before though. They were not the embodiment of evil that he had previously imagined them to be. It had been a convenient image to create because it had kept his actions just and his conscience clean. Until now. He held his sword in his hand. He looked at the hilt, the blade, the edge. It felt suddenly heavier than it ever had before. All he had to do was set it down. His hand trembled.

 

He had a responsibility to the others. Leadership and companionship, these were things he owed them and they deserved. He couldn’t just abandon them. Others had come and gone though.

 

“The obligation you feel to that sword is a distorted image of the truth. The others can set their swords down as well should they choose. It is not for you to protect them if they continue to choose the way of death. You do not speak because you know it to be true.”

 

The trembling subsided. Yes, he could set the sword down. He could walk away. He had to try. He owed it to himself to at least try to seek peace and life instead of war and death.

 

He opened his mouth to answer the man and hesitated. There was a single bark in the distance and then the air was filled with barking. The dogs sounded both angry and scared. Arinth looked at the man before him and he saw uncertainly flash in his eyes.

 

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Arkin kept an eye on the Banders as they began to mingle with the Tinkers. It was an interesting study. He had begun his evening exactly as expected, rushing in through the crowd as soon as Calder and the Mahdi had completed the formalities. Even just hearing the words had brought a burst of warmth that had moved through him like a wave, a kind of bright light that reminded him of sitting a little too close to the fire, of sore limbs and a golden, warm throat after dancing the night away. It left a kind of ache behind as it rolled through him, an ache that Arkin hadn't quite expected, one that pulled his brow down into the slightest frown. 

 

As soon as that shiver had passed, his legs had moved of their own volition towards the fires. There was stew in cookpots, free flowing mead and wine, the coloured wagons and clothes bright. But Arkin had only one destination in mind. There were fiddles and drums and lilting voices around one campfire, surrounded by laughing and easily dancing tinkers. Arkin barely stopped as he ran over, sweeping the closest person up for a dance. 

 

And for a little while, he forgot. 

 

He was there, singing, laughing, drinking, dancing with the shadows cast by firelight. He forgot the other Banders. He couldn't see them from here anyway. They were still staring around with wide eyes, their armour and weapons too heavy to dance with. But this was where Arkin was meant to exist. And so he danced. 

 

Right until his back tore open. It wasn't dramatic or even overly painful. But he felt the still healing wound pull and split as he was slightly too athletic, just a hint of blood sticking his shirt to his back. Grunting, he swung out of the dance, passing his partner onto the next in line and sitting on the log beside the fire. 

There was a young man beside him, who immediately passed him a wineskin. Arkin took a long pull of it, smiling his thanks under the noise of the music. He handed it back and quickly pulled down his shirt, fingers checking where he had ripped open. It hadn't been much, just the scabbing portion at the top that had yet to heal or scar. Not too hard to reach. 

The man next to him winced, turning to him and staring with wide eyes. "Are you ok?" he asked. 

Arkin grinned back at him over his shoulder. "Right as rain! Just forgot not to bend that way for a moment." Arkin watched as the tinker eyed the scars littering Arkin's skin, the extent of the wound on his back that travelled on further than where his partially rucked shirt revealed. The tinker's eyes were wide, one hand tracing an old, thin scar on his shoulder, obvious in the firelight. Those blue eyes filled with sorrow, and a touch of fear, but also interest. Scars like this were the mark of battle, but also of tales to be told. 

"It's ok," Arkin said, tossing him a wink. "It's a good story." 

Swallowing, the tinker nodded. He glanced back towards one of the wagons. "One moment," he said. "Wait here." 

Arkin did as he was told, taking a swig from his own flask of something a little stronger than the tinkers were drinking. He wiped the bit of blood on his fingers off on his pants. He had already stopped bleeding, but he'd have to be more careful. Maybe he shouldn't have tried to spin his partner quite so often. He grinned. Worth it. 

The young man returned with a few supplies, and asked with his eyes if he was allowed to touch. 

Arkin nodded, turning his back to him a little so he could fix him up. "You're too kind," Arkin said. 

He saw the tinker grin and shake his head in his peripheral vision. "No, we can't have the soldiers saying the tinkers do not care for those in need. Though, it seems to me that perhaps you knew that already. A man who can dance our dances, but wears these on his back?" The man ran a light finger over one of Arkin's scars and he shuddered slightly despite the warmth of the fire. 

He nodded. "It's a tale, to be sure." He paused, wincing at the tinker's ministrations. "I travelled with you for a time. But it was not my story." 

They were quiet for a while, and Arkin swallowed past the sudden divide he could see between the life he may have had in the wagons and where he was. What he had become. 

His reverie was broken by a gentle hand, warm against his back, as the tinker righted his shirt. "Will you tell us that story?" he asked. 

Arkin turned back to face him, righting his shirt as he met the tinker's grin with one of his own. 

"You cannot tell me that your time with those weapons," he eyed the knives at Arkin's side - he had removed them before dancing, but he was never far from them. "Has taken from you your songs and stories. I can see it in you." He gestured to the space by the fire, where the dancing was winding down. "The stage is yours this evening." 

Arkin smiled, and shifting his shoulders to check the stitching - good effort - he vaulted up onto the log and gave a bow. "If that would be payment for your kindness, how could I refuse?" 

The tinkers he had been dancing with all cheered and assembled into an audience, those with instruments quickly picking up on his tune as Arkin launched into a bawdy re-telling of some of the highlights of his tale, embellishing the details, speaking of his drinking buddies, his training, his days with the tinkers, playing up his story as a bumbling fool who stumbled from mistake to mistake, always the solution to one problem causing another, keeping his audience in stitches.

There was something different about this though. Standing up like this, he could see the Banders, scattered amongst the tinkers, small knots of armour and gleaming weapons among the swirling colours of the tinkers. It was different. He couldn't pretend they weren't here anymore, losing himself in his past. It was new, but it was strangely comforting having the two parts of his life mingle like this. 

He began to weave the banders into his story, Arinth becoming his equally bumbling partner in crime, accompanying his misadventures, taking turns leading the other astray. Arinth was far across the camp, speaking with a tinker. But Arkin wove him in anyway. 

And before he knew, he was at Tanchico. 

He hadn't meant to speak of Tanchico. He had been carefully avoiding bringing talk of violence of battles into his song. But his tongue seemed to move without him, words spilling from his lips, his throat attempting to seize up and scream and project all at once.

Tanchico poured out of him. 

His audience quieted, the tinkers with wide eyes, the banders who were close enough to hear with tight jaws and eyes closed to memories, or wide-eyed interest from those who hadn't been there. There weren't many to hear it in the noise of the camp, only those in the nearest fires, but Arkin felt it as heat claws its way up his throat and across his face, hot tears pouring from his eyes as he re-lived the memories, as he painted the picture and purged it in a way he hadn't known he needed to until then. He painted the wagons red with blood. His. Jehryn's. Arinth's. The Seanchan's. The thing was, tinker wagons never held blood for long. 

And he finished.

And he bowed. 

And he left. 

The tinkers all nodded in understanding as he took his leave, dashing tears away with one hand as he drew his flask out with another. He paused by the young tinker who had helped him, now staring, mildly horrified at the tale he had asked for. 

Arkin put a hand on his shoulder. "Sometimes I wish I had chosen this path," he said. He shifted his hand onto his cheek. "Thank you." 

The young man, who had flinched away slightly at his touch, softened, warming. He nodded. 

Arkin took a deep breath, the air of the camp filling his lungs, and felt...different. Cleansed. The activities continued around the camp, dancing and laughter as the Banders finally relaxed and began to enjoy themselves, Arkin's tiny audience huddled around their fire, someone picking up a lilting flute tune. 

He felt a little selfish, using them to clean his own conscience, to scrub his soul raw and flash it around, but he also knew that they understood that it had needed to happen. 

But right now, he needed a drink. Seeing Arinth still deep in conversation, Arkin headed to the deep shadows at the edge of the camp. He slipped up into a tree, quiet as a whisper, and vanished from the sight of anyone below. No-one could find Arkin when he didn't want to be found, even if he was moving carefully with his new stitches. He closed his eyes and took a long, long drink, starting to feel a pleasant buzz flutter over his cheekbones. 

His ears twitched the same moment the dogs started to bark. Instantly on alert, he dashed through the trees in the direction of the sound. Creaking armour. The faintest shifting in the trees. They were good, but not good enough to hide from dogs. Whoever it was either hadn't known the dogs would be there, or didn't care. As Arkin silently launched through the trees, he spotted them coming. They were fanned out, armed to the teeth, dressed in leathers and piecemeal plate and chain. They weren't the first bandits Arkin had known to attack tinkers, taking what they wanted, knowing they wouldn't fight back. Arkin gave a savage grin. Well, whoever they were, they certainly wouldn't be expecting half an army in amongst the dancers. 

Arkin glanced back towards the camp, and his grin grew. Darting back through the trees, he dangled from a branch above Arinth, dropping down to stand beside him. He glanced once more back at the camp, the tinkers who had all stood, staring towards the trees, holding each other. 

"To the wagons!" the Mahdi was calling, and many were scrambling to obey. 

The Banders were all coming to their feet, not all of them sober, not all of them well-armed, but all turning towards the danger as the colours and light of the tinkers faded behind a wall of armour and swords. 

Arkin, at the front of the soldiers, the bandits still moving up through the trees, turned to Arinth. He pulled a long, wicked knife from his belt, and held out his hand to Arinth with the other, ready to pull him to his feet. The tattoo they both shared was clear in the lights of the wagons. "Shall we?" 

 

Edited by The Bard Babe

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It was clear from the expression on the tinker’s face that the bark of the dogs was a warning that things were not right. For a moment Arinth wondered if one of his soldiers had upset the dogs or started trouble. If so, he would need to address it quickly before it disturbed the peace. The tinkers had been very welcoming to the to the wounded and weary soldiers.

 

Everyone that he had seen was getting along. These tinkers were like a salve to their wounds.

Before he could investigate Arkin dropped out of the trees and drew his blade. The look in his eyes told Arinth that this was not a minor disturbance or altercation among the camps but something else entirely. Arkin held out his hand to Arinth.

 

“This does not have to be your way.” The tinker said. There was a sadness in voice that he knew even as he said the words that Arinth had already made his decision. Arinth hadn’t though and the words echoed in his head. He hesitated. His mind racing in a million directions. These were all new thoughts and conflicts. He had not had time to resolve them and now he was faced with having to make a decision.

 

A woman’s scream reached his ears from the opposite side of the camp. He grabbed Arkin’s hand and the scout pulled him to his feet. His hand gripping his sword tightly he dashed forward with a grim and heavy heart. There was only one decision.

 

Bandits appeared from the trees. Tattered and worn, they looked like desperate men. It made them all the more dangerous. A tall lean man emerged from behind a tree and thrust a spear towards him, he knocked it aside with a backswing of his sword and closed the distance. His sword cut through the man’s side and he collapsed in towards the wound. Arinth followed with a thrust to the man’s chest. The bandit died as he fell backwards, a look of disbelief on his face as life left his eyes.

 

The bandits wavered when they encountered the line of the hard soldiers in front of them who had recovered from their initial surprise. Men fell on both sides from the initial clash. Some of the banders had been taken by surprise and some had taken too much to drink and had been unable to defend themselves. Arinth looked in horror at the half dozen bodies that had fallen by the time he had reached them. He staggered half a step.

 

As he continued to take in the scene in front of him his eyes found the bodies of the tinkers that had been wounded and slain. A woman lay face down at the edge of the camp, a fallen basket of spilled herbs just beyond her outstretched hand.

 

He stumbled closer, his eyes locked on her and oblivious to the fighting around him. He had hesitated. If he had responded the moment he had heard the barks, as he should have, he might have saved her. If he had responded when Arkin had appeared, he might have saved her. He dropped to a knee beside her and reached out his hand to turn her over, hoping against hope that she might still be able to be saved.

 

A tiny squeal emerged from under the woman’s squirts and a tiny figure shrank back from him. A small child had been hiding. He saw the small girl now. Her tear-filled eyes wide as they stared at him. She was a small thing with wild blonde hair that was at present a tangled mess.

 

“Easy child.” Arinth said softly. “I mean you no harm. Let me take you back to the safety of the wagons.”

 

The child shrank back, fearful. He was not a tinker. She did not know him. Before he could convince her to take his hand a huge hulking bandit appeared with a bloody ax. Arinth locked eyes on him and the man grinned savagely.

 

Arinth rose to his feet, raising his sword grimly. Anger was beating from his heart and he began to feel it spread throughout his body. This man would know his anger. He matched the man’s grin with a savage one of his own.

 

“Stay out of the way.” He told the child. Hoping the bandit had not noticed her yet.

 

With a roar he ran forward, covering the distance between them. The ax came down heavily and more quickly than Arinth thought possible. He deflected it but the blow was enough to stagger him. He swung his sword around, and the ax was there to deflect it. The giant paw of the bandit reached out and grabbed hold of Arinth’s shirt. The two grappled, their weapons getting tangled and lost in the struggle. Arinth was big but this man was bigger.

 

They fell to the ground, desperately struggling and trading punches and pokes, eye gouges and head butts. Arinth struggled to get on top, his weight planted squarely on the man’s chest. A heavy blow stunned the man temporarily. Two more followed it and the man’s eyes clouded over, dazed. With no weapon within reach, Arinth locked his hands around the man’s thick neck and squeezed. The man’s eyes buldged and his legs kicked. He tried to buck Arinth off, but he held firm. He hit at Arinth’s arms but could not break his grip. The man’s struggles began to slow and weaken. Arinth squeezed harder and felt the life leave the bandit.

 

When it was over, Arinth rose weakly to his feet and recovered his sword. “Child.” He said breathlessly. The child shied away from him after what she had just witnessed. Somewhere deep inside, the look hurt him, but he could not afford to let it weaken him now. He scooped the child up and held her close. He felt the strength drain out of him as he took a step forward. His side felt wet. He looked down to find a knife planted there. He had not noticed it in the desperate struggle, but he felt it now. His knees buckled. He willed his strength back into them and pushed forward. He heard the banders around him fighting and he saw the tinkers gathered around the wagons. If nothing else at least they might be willing to shield the girl. He just had to get her there.

Edited by Arinth

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