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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Touching the sky [attn: Dilly]


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It had been a lonely time for Cor.

 

The young Stone Dog had often traveled alone in his life, but he had never before run so far from his home at Deep Shade Hold, and rarely for so long at a time. He was the only Stone Dog to be selected to go looking for the unusual signs the Wise Ones spoke of, because no others from his society ran as well as he did. But so far he had seen nothing but a lot of the wetlands and a handful of crazy wetlanders. He still couldn’t believe there were so many trees. And the water!

 

Breathing the air, he almost felt like the fish he had seen the wetlanders catching. He shuddered at the memories of crossing the last river. He had made a boat of a fallen tree and managed to float across on it, but he wasn’t excited about doing it again. His mind still stumbled over the strangeness of the words. Nei’din, of course, had made the crossing look easy. The young lion was already nearly six hundred stone, and not quite two summers old. The hunting here was much easier than on the eastern side of the Dragonwall, and they had both grown with the plentiful food.

 

Their journey had been good for both of them, but Cor had long since grown bored. Nei’din was a fine companion, but he didn’t exactly offer a lot of conversation. Furthermore, it had become obvious to Cor that he was searching in the wrong place, so he decided to take a break from his hunt and search for something else.

 

Cor stood near the top of a high hill that overlooked a vast expanse of the surrounding countryside and a goodly portion of an empty road. Instinctively, he was below the crest of the skyline in order to prevent anyone from easily spotting him. He had been taught, as all Aiel warriors were, how to be nearly invisible when he moved or even when he was motionless. The Aiel’s attributes were almost mythical to most wetlanders, even 20 years since they had last crossed the Dragonwall. Even more impressively, the tales probably understated the skills of the warriors from the Waste. Cor doubted that anyone even suspected that there were any Aiel in the wetlands, other than the few wetlanders he had spoken to, of course.

 

He knew from the map that Ghaul had drawn in the sand at Deep Shade Hold, that the mountains he was approaching were the Mountains of Mist. They towered into the sky like pillars of heaven, clouds caressing their peaks like insatiable lovers. Such heights would certainly be home to eagles. An idea had been fomenting in his mind for several days, and he decided to give it a go.

 

The Far Aldazar Din, Mirk, would love a mate to the cloud eagle chick Cor had given him last year. The old man could no longer run, but he was still a valued member of the clan, and he prized Cor’s feathery gift above all else. Mirk held a special place in Cor’s heart, because the elder had taught the youth a great deal about tracking and finding water in the Threefold Land. He was almost like a second father to him, and Cor found great pleasure in giving him presents acquired on his travels. I will fetch him another.

 

With his mind made up, the young Aiel warrior was about to descend from his vantage point when he spied a wagon round the distant curve in the road. A single horse towed the wagon, accompanied by a solitary figure walking alongside. Cor waited to see if there were any other travelers, but seeing none decided to pay a visit.

 

Maybe I can learn some news, he thought. Or maybe share some stories. It’s too pretty a day to spoil with bloodshed, so I hope whoever that is doesn’t want to dance. With a quick look at his little brother, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously, he added a mental note as he loped gracefully down the hill. Hopefully, Nei’din won’t scare the horse too badly. I’d hate to have to chase down a wagon. I don‘t think horses taste good, anyway.

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  • 2 weeks later...

~Dilora~

 

The wheels they keep a'turning

Down the road that's never ending

To a sky that's quickly fading

From the daytime to the night

 

The wheels they keep a'turning

Down the road that keeps on bending

And my life is slowly shading

All my memory's insight.

 

Silence. No one was talking, no memories lingering in her head and screaming their pain and anguish at her. No dull reflections of an event past so traumatic it had reduced her to drinking to quiet the tormented shades that dwelt in her conscious mind. Not a whisper of breath leaving an unfortunate's body, although perhaps she should consider them fortunate to not be suffering. Ale was a blessing in a brown glass bottle. Taking a deep breath, Dilora started to sing again, picking up the next verse in her melodic, if slightly slurred voice.

 

The wheels they keep a'turning

While the memories are burning

And I keep a'serenading

To the people and the light.

 

The wheels they keep a'turning

And I'll never stop a'learning

All the mysteries I'm trading

For a last forgotten sight.

 

An old song, one she did not know the roots to, but it had stayed with her, stayed in the back of her mind and seemed particularly apt now. She set the bottle down on the seat beside her and looked over the fire, watching the flames dance in tiny shifting winds that held her in thrall. Time to go to her blankets, and maybe things would be brighter on the morrow. Even this close to her home town of Baerlon, Dilora felt alone in the world.

 

Neither dreams haunted her, nor voices of an anguished history, to her immense gratitude and relief. Waking sandy-eyed and flat-haired was a small price to pay for rolling onto her front in the night, trying to bury herself in her bed. The comforting embrace of the thick blanket was something she craved, but as the sun's slanting rays peered through the curtains to land on her face in shadowed ripples. Good, at least it wouldn't rain today. Parked in the foothills to the Mountains of Mist, Dilora recalled the last time she had been here. She had heard from an old friend and had tried to find her, but had instead found more than she bargained for. Now was not the time to be dwelling on being chased through the forest by a bear ... if there ever was a time to be reflecting on hitching your skirts up past your knees and leaving trails of dust and leaves in your wake... No, no there definitely was not.

 

Fed up of feeling like something that had got stuck to one of the wheels of her wagon, Dilora got up and dressed before plunging her head fully into her rain-bucket, hanging from the outside where clever guttering would keep it topped up in the rain. Damp mahogany strands clung to her face and neck, and water dripped down her back in a silvery spray that arced rainbows in the morning light, landing in damp spots on her skirt. She couldn't have been much wetter if she had climbed into the stream nearby. She climbed into the wagon seat and urged Altie forward, trying to get the day underway as best she could with still-dripping rivulets of water rolling between her shoulder blades. As she blinked the droplets from her eyes, Dilora saw a figure loping down the hill, resembling a leopard or some other wild cat with muscles that flowed skin over bone and felt felt a momentary pang of fear until she saw the look on his face - a sort of wild glee. Light, but he looked tall! What did he want? Dilora was pretty sure she didn't have much in the back of her wagon that would suit a man of his ... stature ... in terms of clothing, but maybe he was partial to boiled sweets... Raising her hand in a cheerful greeting, Dilora prepared to do business.

 

~Cor~

 

Cor flowed down the hillside as easily as all the water he had seen on this side of the Dragonwall.

 

He laughed easily as he ran, the purposeful noise a ritual of his people in order to not appear to be approaching silently, which usually meant an attack was forthcoming. The noise was a sign of open hospitality to his culture. Of course, his eyes never stopped scanning the surrounding area despite the seeming emptiness. Old habits and past experiences tended to keep an Aiel wary at all times, and these wetlanders were often as silly as a Shaido with fool’s gold so it paid to be extra careful when meeting one for the first time. He noticed that Nei’din had disappeared for the moment. That was to the good, because if the wetlander was friendly he would need to offer a suggestion about holding on to the horse. It might spook at the sight of a lion, and that was no way to start a conversation.

 

As he got closer, he noticed that the solitary traveler sitting on the wagon was a woman. She waved a greeting, so he came closer until he could talk to her easily.

 

He had seen a lot of strange things since he had left the Threefold Land, but what he saw this morning made him laugh out loud. He covered his mouth with one hand, trying to stifle the laughter, but he couldn’t seem to manage. He would have slapped his knee, but he didn’t want to be rude. She was soaked to the skin despite the fact there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and she was sitting high on her wagon seat. It was the funniest thing he had seen in weeks.

 

“These wetlands are aptly named, stranger,” he choked out between laughing. “I do believe you are about to drown up there on your pretty perch. Or am I at the bottom of a lake, and I just didn’t notice?” He held his stomach, as he was wracked with another laughing fit. Finally, seizing control of himself, he managed to curtail all but the occasional chuckle as he introduced himself.

 

“I am Cor of the Deep Shade sept of the Dragonmount Aiel. I see you stranger. May you find water and shade this day.” Then realizing what he had just said, he added, “Well, find shade anyway, because I think you’ve had all the water you can stand. You wetlanders turn everything upside down.”

 

And then he laughed some more.

 

~Dilora~

 

An Aiel? Here, in the middle of nowhere near the Mountains of Mist, Dilora had encountered an Aiel. But weren’t they all far to the east in the Waste? Dilora smiled at his greeting. I see you stranger – almost like he has not seen stranger than me. Oh well, there’s no accounting for some things. She smiled despite the water running down her back and the wet shirt clinging damply to it. The sun would dry it out in no time at all. With a gesture behind her to her wagon, Dilora made her own introductions.

 

“I see you too, Cor of the Deep Shade sept of the Dragonmount Aiel. I am Dilora Fashelle, peddler extraordinaire. As you can see, rather like a snail I carry my shade with me – my wagon is my home and you are welcome to share what shade it provides, should it rain again. I will gladly share my water with you as well.” Dilora shook her head and scattered some of the silvery raindrops over the Aielman. Maybe it was not the best thing to do, but a few touches of morning-head were still lingering and it was making her mood a little unusual. Watching him touch the droplets wonderingly, a touch of amused shock displaying on his face – probably from such a wanton waste of water, Dilora smiled.

 

“Rest assured, you are not at the bottom of a lake. I trade in odd bits and pieces for gold, or stories. I have a few pieces in my wagon that would fetch a pretty penny at village fairs the length and breadth of the lands, I can tell you!” She gestured expansively, sending more water flying. Light, I think I should dry my hair off a little before I go any further, or people will start to call me the drowned peddler! She climbed down from the wagon seat and fetched a drying cloth, and vigorously dried her hair and face. “Ah! That’s better.” She folded the towel over the back of the wagon seat where it would dry in the morning sunlight. By noon, she could put it back for use another time, when she could have privacy and heated water for a proper bath.

 

“Now then, Cor of the Deep Shade Sept of the Dragonmount Aiel, how may I be of service to you today? And, if it is not too bold of me to ask, what brings an Aiel over the Dragonwall?”

 

~Cor~

 

A peddler! Maybe I can learn some news.

 

Before he could respond, Dilora Fashelle shook her luxurious mane of hair and sprayed him with water. To waste water so! These wetlands were enough to turn the world upside down. He touched his face in awe. His shocked surprise was so overwhelming, it surely showed on his face.

 

The peddler proclaimed her wares with aplomb, waving her arms grandly as if she carried the most valuable silk from Shara combined with all the water in the world in her wagon. Considering the fact that she slung water with her every movement, she truly might do just that. As if she finally realized she had splattered him with enough water to last him for days, she hopped down from her perch and dried herself with a length of cloth.

 

In the meantime, he had a chance to stare at her wagon. He doubted if he’d ever get used to the idea of making something so large from wood, but here in the wetlands it seemed to be the normal way of things. The only substantial construct made from wood in the whole of Deep Shade was the Chief’s Chair. It would be like a splinter compared to her wagon.

 

Dilora Fashelle finished and returned her attention to him. “Now then, Cor of the Deep Shade Sept of the Dragonmount Aiel, how may I be of service to you today? And, if it is not too bold of me to ask, what brings an Aiel over the Dragonwall?”

 

Cor pondered her request. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was here himself, only that he was looking for signs that foretold the coming of the Car’a’carn. What those signs were even the Wise Ones couldn’t say for sure, but they said he’d know if he saw them. He finally decided on a straight forward approach, because a peddler might have seen many things on the road.

 

“Dilora Fashelle, I’m here looking for strange signs and portents that presage the coming of the Car’a’carn, the one foretold in our prophecies. The Chief of chiefs,” he added at her perplexed look. “Although why the Wise Ones and clan chief insisted we search on this side of the Dragonwall, I’ve no idea.”

 

“But it seems if the omens exist in the wetlands, they lie elsewhere. Now that I’m here near the Mountains of Mist and have seen nothing worthy of my search, I‘ve decided to climb one of these mountains and fetch home a cloud eagle chick.”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, the young Aiel warrior caught the telltale movement of Nei’din ambling toward them through the tall grass in the distance. It prompted him to speak further.

 

“I may be interested in trading as well, for either goods or perhaps a good conversation, but first I think you might want to secure your horse. It might get frightened when my little brother shows up.”

 

His words transformed the peddler’s confident, cheery smile into a brow furrowed with confusion. Still, she hesitantly approached the horse’s head and placed her hand on its rope just as Nei’din came into the open.

 

The horse’s scream at the giant lion padding in its direction wasn't unexpected.

 

~Dilora~

 

A lion? A lion? His little brother was a lion? Oh, Light! This was going to be an adventure and a half. Soft words, gently spoken into the ear of her mare did little to quiet the poor love, so Dilora got down and made sure Altie couldn't run away and hurt herself. She was tempted to hitch up her skirts and run for it herself, if she was honest. Dilora had seen bears and wolves before, but never a lion, and it did make her a little nervous. The smile wouldn't touch her eyes, no matter how she tried. They retained the look of a person that knows they might be dinner if they looked the wrong way, or did the wrong thing. As long as the Aielman was there to keep an eye on him...

 

"My doors are always open for trading, good sir. I don't happen to have any haunches of fresh venison hanging up in the back here, so I hope your little brother has been fed." The half-side of bacon she had would not even make a snack for such a large beast. "You say you're going to look for a cloud eagle? I've never seen one of those before, so if you would like some company, and as long as you didn't leave our animals together... " Dilora let that one trail off, feeling it sounded vaguely like a threat to her ears. What chance she would stand against an Aielman, she had no idea, but she could always hide the books she had in her wagon. She had heard that the Aiel would buy any titles a peddler would have when the hardier souls attempted to journey into the Waste. You had to be tough to try that though, and Dilora did not feel she was ready to brave the hot sands just yet. Given time she probably would though.

 

"I've always wanted to see a bit higher up in the mountains. Local folk say some loose diamonds lay on the grounds up here, or other shiny things. It reminds me of a saying of mine. 'Always look for the silver lining, even if you have to smelt it yourself.' Who knows? We might even find some silver up here. At the very least, I should like to accompany you, if you're of a mind to allow it." Dilora gestured behind her to the wagon and it's contents. "We can do business now or later, depending on what you would like to do." The large, golden cat regarded her as warily as she knew she was looking at it. It was a magnificent creature though. Rummaging around in the pouch at her belt, Dilora pulled out a sweet apple and munched on it, leaving the jerky strip for later when there was not a cat around. If it came to a fight between her and the lion, she knew which would win. Altie was rolling her eyes nervously and attempting to pull at her tether, but Dilora gave her the rest of the apple to try and divert her. "What do you say?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cor studied the actions of Dilora Fashelle closely.

 

It was obvious that she was very frightened of him and Nei’din, but she was trying hard not to show it. He found the whole situation incredibly funny, from her water-soaked appearance to her pretense of not worrying over the giant lion near her horse, and as her nervous ramblings washed over him he formulated a plan to calm down the nervous peddler. If it worked it would, anyway. If not, she might outrun her horse all the way to the next village. Either way, it would be hilarious. As her tense discourse came to a halt, the young Stone Dog put his plan into action.

 

He turned to look at Nei’din and let out a loud, “Aaaaarrrgggghhhhh!”

 

Dilora Fashelle’s horse, already on the verge of panic, reared in terror at the unexpected outburst. The peddler, who had a tight grip on the horse’s lead rope, rose high in the air as well with a squawk. Her awkward imitation of a bird would have been enough of a prank on most days to rouse laughter in the most stoic Aiel, but Cor’s plan had just begun.

 

Ignoring Dilora Fashelle’s rapid plummet back to earth and her horse’s snort of disapproval, Cor sprinted toward the giant lion on the road and tackled him. Or tried to, anyway. The pair fell in a tangled heap of cadin’sor and golden hide and dark brown mane. The billowing dust and furious grunts and growls gave tribute to the fury of the “combat,” and all that was visible in the frenzied “attack” was a blur of elbows, paws, fists, and teeth. The wrath of the “fight” was so intense that it was like the end of the world was coming.

 

Suddenly it was over.

 

Nei’din was stretched out comfortably on his back in the road, purring contentedly as Cor rubbed his belly. Looking toward the stunned peddler, the Aiel warrior laughed out loud. “Dilora Fashelle, you have nothing to fear from us. Unless, of course, Nei’din steps on your foot.” Cor lifted up a paw of the huge young lion and motioned for the peddler to come closer. It was as big around as his head, and the claws that flexed in and out were noticeably longer than his fingers. She declined, standing as motionless as a statue.

 

Cor continued as if unaware of her discomfort. “He has grown fat and lazy. Hunting is much easier here in the wetlands, and he’ll probably starve when we return to the Threefold Land.” Standing and dusting himself off, he added with a smile, “Peddlers have a special place among our people, Dilora Fashelle. Truly, you have nothing to fear. And if you wish to accompany me into the mountains, it would be my pleasure, although I don’t know if your wagon can make the trip. What do you say?”

 

He stood there patiently, allowing the wetlander to sort it all out in her mind. It was all he could do not to laugh.

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~Dilora~

 

She knew she was standing there with her mouth open like a fish ready for a pot of broth, but words absolutely failed her. A man wrestling a lion – Dilora had seen menageries with less entertainment. It was a scary sight though … Altie was going to take some soothing before they could go anywhere. Perhaps taking the wagon on a trip through the foothills of the Mountains of Mist would not be such a good idea after all. Dilora considered it while she straightened her clothing and picked bits of countryside from her hair. An adventure and a trip to the higher places would make for interesting tales to amuse the youngsters with when she visited cities and villages alike, and they would run and tell their parents how wonderful Dilora Fashelle was. And then they’d come to the little counter at her window, and buy things…

 

Should she leave her horse, Altie, unattended where some lion might come rushing back to eat her? What guarantees would the Aielman give her that her means of transport would remain uneaten? She asked him, uncertain of what answer he would reply with, and rushed on to say that if he could ensure her companion’s safety, she would accompany him.

 

Her safety would be something she would have to consider, and skirts were hardly the things to go traipsing around in mountains in. Did she have anything in her wardrobe that would be more suitable for a forest romp on a mountaintop? That skirt she divided for riding a while back, the bright red ones that were gathered at the ankle and rather baggy everywhere but the seat… where were they?

 

“Wait here.”

 

Dilora rummaged in a cupboard until she found the breeches neatly folded right down at the bottom. Making sure no one could see in, Dilora quickly changed into the garment and put her skirt on a rail to change into later. She just hoped no one would see her in bright red baggy trousers other than the Aiel, Cor. The lion scared her a bit, but she wouldn’t admit it. It was an odd peddler that admitted something like that in front of a potential client. She grabbed her bow and slung her quiver over her shoulder, and locked the wagon up securely.

 

Jumping to the floor, wanting to look more athletic than she actually felt, Dilora smiled at the Aiel. Well, smiled up at the Aiel, anyway. It was times like these she realised how short she actually was. She dismissed the idea and made sure her bowstring was not going to snap. She had some spares in her belt pouch, but it was a pain in the rear to re-string it. The trip would be good to hunt food as well as saleable items.

 

“Are you ready?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

The peddler’s words poured out in a torrent, much like the swift-running streams and rivers in these wetlands.

 

When Dilora Fashelle finally took a breath, Cor answered. “You will be safe from Nei’din and me, Dilora Fashelle. More than that, who can say? You wetlanders can be very unpredictable and traveling through the mountains is always dangerous.”

 

Seemingly happy with his reply, she disappeared into her brightly colored wagon just as rapidly as she had been talking moments before with a hurried “Wait here” her only answer. He heard muffled sounds from inside the wagon, I still can’t believe they make things so large from wood here! They truly live in a land of wealth and luxury, and patiently waited for her to return. When she did, he was completely surprised.

 

“Are you ready?” she asked as she leapt down from her home on wheels, but he wasn’t sure he was. It was all he could do not to stare.

 

She stood before him in baggy trousers of such brilliant red that even the Lost Ones wouldn’t have worn them. Well, maybe they would, because everyone knew they were strange. But still! He laughingly shook his head before he answered, and the confused look the peddler gave him made everything even funnier.

 

“Dilora Fashelle, your pants are so bright that I fear I may be blinded. But truly there is no rush, because the cloud eagles live high in these mountains. It will take several days for us to make the trip, so perhaps we should find a spot to hide your wagon until we get back. Then you can take some supplies and your beloved horse with you when we begin the climb. I think the creature will be able to go with us until the paths get too steep. What do you say?”

 

Her sheepish grin spoke of embarrassment, but she quickly turned it to a smile. It lit up her face so beautifully he forgot all about her scarlet pants. Well, almost.

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~Dilora~

 

Her pants were so bright the Aiel might be blinded? Oh, he meant breeches. Her breeches were so bright he might be blinded… Well, it could also work the other way around, if he thought about it. Animals liked brightly coloured things – they often mistook them for prey, and Dilora would be useful as a lure. She thought about that for a second and changed her mind. There was no way she wanted to be an eagle’s lunch. If there were to be as much rummaging around in the undergrowth as Cor intended, her breeches would not stay bright and clean for long. Yes, that was a much better solution. Dilora nodded, and grinned.

 

“There is a path along the base of these mountains with lots of abandoned caverns and even some cabins. It would be ideal to leave Altie there, and the wagon. I can come back, pick it up and then be on my way afterwards.” Another thought occurred to her. They would need provisions if they were going for a trip away that would last several days, as well as blankets and it was not prudent to rely on the local hunting alone for sustenance. Dilora pulled out a large overcoat with deep, capacious pockets and stuffed them full of dried mushrooms and a small round of cheese, made sure her belt knife was attached firmly to her belt, and tied a blanket across her back. Whether it would be used as shelter or a litter, it could come in handy, and Dilora did so hate to look unprepared, even if people were laughing at her garb.

 

It would be cold, where eagles dared.

 

Still, Dilora sat on the wagon seat and clucked Altie a few miles down the road to where some of the caverns she had seen sat unattended for who knew how long. There was enough grass, and Dilora left her water bucket so the mare could drink and the large ridge would provide shelter from storm or sun. She felt quite secure in leaving the horse there for a few days, and prayed to the Light she would be there when Dilora came back. Patting Altie on the nose and receiving an affectionate nuzzle in return; Dilora locked her wagon securely and walked back to where Cor was waiting.

 

“I’m assuming you know where we will be going then, Cor? I for one don’t know my way around these mountains too well, because it’s very easy to get lost. I don’t think you’d want to be eaten by wolves or bears because you were unprepared, and we definitely don’t want to come across anything like ravens.”

 

She saw his nod, gravely recognising the dangers and hoping it didn’t hold a trace of mockery behind those dark eyes. Giving a last, final nuzzle to her horse, Dilora looked to the grey and white peaks far above them and shivered. They were a long way up, and this was a difficult time to discover whether or not she was afraid of heights.

 

“We’d better get going then. Let’s get as much ground as we can covered quickly; although I don’t mind leaving Altie here as I think she’s fairly secure, I don’t want to have to find her and calm her down – she means too much to me to do that to her. Besides, there are valuable things in my wagon that I cannot easily replace – books and the like. Let’s go get some altitude.”

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Cor smiled.

 

It seemed women wanted to take charge no matter which side of the Dragonwall they were on. Even if they had no idea what they were getting into, they still tried to assume leadership. Just like Dilora Fashelle was doing now. He found it refreshing that at least some things in the wetlands reminded him of home.

 

He walked alongside her, Nei’din padding along comfortably in front of them. “I have an idea only of where we must go, Dilora Fashelle. These wetlands are like an un-read book to me. I am eager to turn its pages, but I’ve no idea what might be waiting for me when I do.”

 

He swept his hand toward the peaks rising sharply before them, looking like vast pillars supporting the heavens. “I have seen cloud eagles circling, and since it is early spring, I know their nests will have hatchlings.” With a devilish grin, he added, “Now we just have to find one and convince the parents to let us adopt a chick.”

 

For a few minutes he enjoyed slowly following an animal path through the forest, keeping the leisurely pace that Dilora Fashelle was setting. But before long, he grew restless. He didn’t like the idea that he didn’t know what could be out there around them, because he was distracted by his lovely companion who smelled faintly of flowers, and the noise she made. Finally, he could take no more, and he spoke.

 

“Do you run well, peddler? Few wetlanders do. I will scout ahead and behind, just to make sure of what surrounds us. Just keep to the trail, and I’ll find you in time to eat a bit when the sun reaches its zenith.”

 

Recalling her jest, he announced over his shoulder as he loped smoothly into the unknown, “Unless of course I’m eaten by a wolf. Then you’ll have no one left to appreciate your bottom in those bright red pants.”

 

Grinning broadly, he disappeared soundlessly into the undergrowth.

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~Dilora~

 

Watching him go, Dilora tried to feel outrage at his comments, but found she could only laugh. People complimented her appearance, as befitted those trying to get the better of a woman peddler, and for the most part they were insincere and false. Occasionally there were one or two that didn’t think they could trick her into bed for a bargain or two, but she paid them no heed. Compliments were necessary in her game; she did not give them any more credit than they initially deserved, and she never took things at face value. His figure ventured through the trees and shrubbery around them, and Dilora was left alone.

 

Her red breeches didn’t really stand out that much. Of course, in the Waste where Cor was from he was probably not used to seeing women dress in shades that did not reflect the landscape around them and if she had worn bright green the same colour as the verdant trees around them he would have made a comment. Still, they would not impede her as a skirt would, so she began her path, picking the easiest way and stopping every now and again to look around her and make sure she was going in the right direction. Sharp rocks dug into her palms where the going was a little more difficult, and high passes gave way to grassy plateaus where she paused momentarily to catch her breath and bind them with the fronds of a tree that had mildly antiseptic sap, and then continued, determined not to be outdone by a man.

 

She kept on going, no matter where he had gone. Having ventured into the Mountains of Mist before, Dilora knew them fairly well and which parts to avoid and, if she were holding him up then she did not want to risk either his or his pet’s temper being unleashed on her. Aiel were still a pretty much unknown quantity and the rumours of the wars of the past still clung ferociously to the more remote towns and villages, even the larger towns and cities had their fair share of those that held to the older ways and beliefs. Dilora, well, Dilora tried to be as open-minded as she could be until she knew for sure, but anyone that walked around with a pet lion deserved treating with caution until she knew them better. The little “fight” they had staged before they had set off was not entirely convincing that they were harmless, as it was very difficult to take the wild out of the cat.

 

Trampling through the low-level scrub, Dilora cast her eye around looking for anything she could collect to sell. She had her eyes open for odd bits of stone, feathers to make decent arrow flights, wild mushrooms to dry along with herbs and berries to make preserves with … the list was endless of what could be utilised from the wilds to sell as useful items, if only some careful preparations were taken. She scraped some of the bark from the willow tree to make medicaments, collected flower petals and seedpods to fill pomanders and fruits for drying and jams. All in all, by the time she saw the sun blazing overhead, Dilora had a belt pouch full of assorted bits and pieces she could eventually sell, and was wondering what else she could pick up when she saw the tall Aiel figure come loping towards her, barely out of breath. She had not been dawdling either, but she just knew he was going to make some comment about her lack of speed.

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Cor loped toward the brightly clad peddler with an easy gait. There were dangers in the wetlands, but so far the traveling had been much easier than he was accustomed to in the Threefold Land. It was a trap he continually forced himself to be aware of. Carelessness bred corpses. Still, this morning’s run had proven enjoyable and the only threats to him and his lovely companion were tripping and falling in the mountain terrain. And those weren’t enemies he was going to worry over.

 

“I see you, Dilora Fashelle,” he announced as he drew near her. He didn’t add that anyone within 20 miles could probably see her in the crimson pants she wore. He just smiled at it instead. “I have something for you.” Reaching into his travel pack, he pulled out two smallish stones. Each rested easily in a hand and were about as large as his palm, but neither looked unusual at first glance.

 

“I thought it might be a good idea to get on a peddler’s good side,” the tall, young Aiel warrior said with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he handed her the two stones. One was round but not as heavy as it should have been. The other was flat. “I don’t know what you call the first one in the wetlands, but the Aiel refer to it as an amethyst. You can see the purple crystals inside an otherwise normal looking rock if you turn it over,” he urged, motioning for her to do so.

 

“I found a bunch of them up there,” he said waving vaguely toward the west, “but it’s out of the way from where I think we need to go. One of them was bigger than my head. They may be valuable for you to trade.” Shrugging sheepishly at her obvious delight, he motioned for her to turn over the other stone. This one was flat and interested him a great deal more.

 

“Truly your wetlands are named properly,” the awe in his voice was unmistakable. “I don’t know what caused it, but that looks like a fish skeleton impressed in the stone itself,” the word sounding strange on his tongue. “How that could happen, I don’t know.”

 

Taking his eyes from the strangely marked rock in her hand, he looked into the sweat-streaked face of Dilora Fashelle, which was flushed from exertion and excitement. “There is a small spring just over this ridge where we can eat something.” Glancing at her bulging belt pouch, he added, “I will help you search for what you need on the way back down from the heights, Dilora Fashelle. But the trek up to the peaks will be difficult if we bear heavy burdens. I suggest we travel lightly, but obviously you may do as you choose.”

 

“You have made better time than I expected, especially considering you’ve taken time to fill your pouch. But if we want to return to your horse before it forgets who you are, we need to pick up the pace a bit.” He softened his words with a smile and turned to walk beside her.

 

He had another gift for her just over the ridge. Two rabbits were roasting over a fire, the aroma hidden from the peddler by the ridge itself and the wind’s direction. His mouth watered at the thought, and his grin widened at the upcoming surprise.

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~Dilora~

 

Gravely, Dilora took the gifts from the Aielman and did not know what to say. Truly they were lovely presents, and reminders of how wonderful nature was. She would keep the amethyst crystals and the flat rock with the fish skeleton, somehow fossilized from a time ages past, as memories of this adventure. She might even write about it some day.

 

The road seemed less lonely with good memories.

 

The aroma of roasted rabbit hit her just as she crested the ridge and her eyes. It seemed the Aiel were definitely deserving of the rumour that had them able to hide behind a single blade of grass for him to have concealed such a feast from her. Not to mention any local wildlife that might have taken a fancy to a nice cooked meal. Her mouth was watering at the thought of some crisply baked jacket potatoes with a chunk of fresh butter melting into the soft… Her thoughts trailed off as Cor stood there, looking back over his shoulder at her daydreaming. Dilora gave herself a little shake, and followed him into their impromptu camp.

 

“Cor! This is lovely!” Dilora exclaimed as she took a seat around the fire and taking her boots off to wiggle her toes. Some food would be a nice break, and then the rest of their climb could be made easier for a full belly and a bit of a breather. She beamed at him, happy that he had already cleaned and gutted the animals so she didn’t have to, and the lack of pots and pans meant she would not get stuck with doing the washing up. “Thank you, Cor, for the presents. I wish I had something to give you in return.” She sat staring at the light, breaking and rippling on the tops of tiny waves on the spring. Beautiful company, good weather, nice food … could she really ask for much else?

 

Nimble fingers turned the stone with the fossilized remains of the fish in it. He was right to say she should not gather too much on the ascent as it would hinder her, but Dilora did not want to pass up the opportunities that littered the road. She would have done the same for a nugget of gold, despite the weight. Patting the ground beside her, Dilora looked up at Cor.

 

“Bring a bit of that rabbit over would you, love? And then, come and sit down beside me.” He was a good-looking fellow, if a bit tall, and Dilora suddenly felt very self-conscious of her appearance. Scruffy, with sweat streaks and dirt on her face, she realized how alone they were in the middle of nowhere. There was probably not even a bird in the vicinity. “So, have you ever seen a fish?”

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  • 1 month later...

Cor crouched on his heels by the fire.

 

Women were as mercurial as the weather in the wetlands, it seemed. At first the peddler, Dilora Fashelle, was almost too scared of him to talk, but now she was calling him “love” and wanting him to sit beside her. Truly they were the Creator’s greatest mystery.

 

Cocking his head slightly to the side, he smiled. He hoped she didn’t think the trinkets he had given her were a regard gift. These wetlanders had strange ways, and who knew how a woman ever thought about things? Taking the rabbit off the fire to let it cool a bit, he answered her.

 

“I’ve seen fish, Dilora Fashelle. I made a ship from a broken tree in order to cross a river when there wasn’t a bridge available,” he said, the words sounding strange on his tongue. “I saw some little ones flitting about in the shallows. They darted about like gnats. I’ve only seen the big ones after they’ve been pulled out of the water.”

 

Tearing a strip of meat off the rabbit, he blew on it, then gingerly tasted it to see if it had cooled enough to eat. As the savory flavor burst on his tongue and made his mouth water, he brought one of the delicious treats to the peddler and then tore into his own.

 

Cor silently enjoyed the midday meal and the company of the lovely wetlander, indulging in the simple pleasures of life. He was beginning to consider a nap, like Nei’din was taking. In the shadows of a nearby tree, the great cat was sprawled out after eating the scraps from where he had skinned and cleaned the rabbits. The young Aiel thought it was a good idea until movement caught his eye.

 

High in the clear blue sky he caught a golden flash of wings, and spied the cloud eagle soaring in the distance. All thoughts of sleep fell away, as he stood and focused on the bird. He saw it circle a tall pillar of rock before landing out of sight. Marking the location in his mind’s eye, he strode to the almost spent fire and eased the large rock he had moved out of its earthen berth back into its rightful place. Then insured that there was no chance of a fire by covering the borders with dirt. If he was right, they might be able to reach the base of the pillar by nightfall.

 

Turning to his companion with a look of delight, he teased her. “Are you going to sit there all day?

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~Dilora~

 

She applied herself with gusto to the rabbit, wondering if they could stay there all day and just enjoy the peace of a grand day out. It seemed highly unlikely though, and before long Dilora saw her tall companion’s eyes dart to the vast expanse of blue overhead, picking out a blur of feathers that was too far away for her to make out anything more of. Was this what the Aielman was looking for? Licking the juice from her fingers, Dilora thought he’d be giving orders for them to go again soon, and sighed as she looked over their outdoor banquet hall. Why did so many nobles sit indoors on overly ornate chairs when there was so much beauty around outside? She shook her head and wiped her mouth free from the greasy rabbit jus. It would be a shame to leave, but perhaps they could find this place on the way back so Dilora could see it again.

 

His teasing words fell on her silent contemplation, and Dilora looked up at him. She forever had to look up at people! Everyone seemed taller than her, although she was not short but the people she had met of late were all a lot taller than her diminutive frame. Still, it served to remind Dilora of her place in the world; one small peddler in a wide, wide world that would not really notice her passing through it.

 

“Come on then, Cor. If you want to get a move on so quickly, you’d best wake your pet.” She eyed the animal with a tad of reluctance to go anywhere near it and wondered if she had better wrap up some rabbit in a napkin in case she needed to distract it in order to get away. “I don’t fancy waking a sleeping lion – I’d sooner stick my head in its mouth, if you don’t mind!” She jested, and then hesitated. Would he understand her sense of humour? “Well, you know what I mean. I think you had better wake up your companion.”

 

Watching as Cor pointed out the direction they should travel in next, Dilora scanned the horizon for likely things to put in her belt pouch. The man had said to not encumber herself too much and to collect anything on the way back, but sometimes there were one-off items that you couldn’t leave behind. Someone else might pick them up, and she would be worse off because of it. Still, she’d travel light – they would indeed cover more ground that way.

 

The Aiel did cut a dashing figure picking his way over the rocks, as the ground grew progressively harder going. Dilora would have thought that it was all plains in the Waste; lots of sand and dust, with precious little water or shade and no cliffs or mountains such as these. Yet he moved with a grace that rivaled his feline companion’s. She couldn’t help but watch – the road could be a lonely place, after all. And as the going grew more and more difficult, she became increasingly glad that she had worn breeches rather than a skirt, even if she felt as conspicuous as an Aes Sedai in Amadicia! The pace he was setting was rather hard going, and Dilora was breathing heavily by the time they arrived at the base of the rocky pillar. Night was falling; twinkling stars were beginning to appear in the purpling sky. A few low-level clouds were visible where the land met the horizon and then above was nothing until the creeping dark began to fall. Any longer and they would run the risk of hurting themselves by something unseen snagging at unwary feet, and Dilora did not want a bruised or swollen ankle. It was ignominious enough to be seen in tight red breeches, but to be carried down as helpless as a babe? Dilora did not think that was going to happen. She sat down rather heavily in a clear space near a rocky outcrop and exhaled noisily, pulling off a boot and rubbing at her heel.

 

“We really should stop for the night, Cor.”

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  • 1 month later...

Her voice brought him to a halt.

 

Cor looked longingly at the spire that was his goal. It had teasingly remained distant despite the ground they had covered, its rocky shape as enticing as a flirtatious Maiden, and just as out of reach. It looked like he wouldn’t find satisfaction tonight. With a wink at the summit and a vow to woo it on the morrow, the young Stone Dog turned back toward a view just as enchanting and far more welcoming.

 

“Dilora Fashelle, are you tired already?”

 

His teasing brought a small smile to her face. Truth be told, she ran very well for a wetlander, and her efforts had been worthy enough to convince him not to leave her behind. Besides, if he ran off without her he wouldn’t have nearly as good a company. The lovely peddler was much more talkative than Nei’din, and her jokes were much funnier. The young lion’s jokes usually consisted of pouncing on Cor whenever he got the chance.

 

Nei’din seemed to think that was VERY funny.

 

He still couldn’t believe he was running with a peddler wearing scarlet trousers that would put a Lost One to shame. Truly the wetlands held all sorts of surprises.

 

“Are you hungry, Dilora Fashelle? If you are, I can probably scare up something to eat.”

 

She gave a curt but pleasant nod but never stopped massaging her foot. She must have gotten a rock in her boot, he thought. Pushing the inconsequential thought aside, he focused on the matter at hand.

 

“Okay then, if you would start a fire? I will return shortly with something. And I’ll bring back some water from that spring we crossed a while back, too.”

 

Shrugging out of his travel pack, and slinging his water bag over his shoulder, he disappeared into the darkness.

 

It didn’t take long for him to find what he was looking for. Snakes always liked to crawl out onto a nice rock and savor the feel of it after the sun went down. But as soon as he could cook it up, he and Dilora Fashelle would be savoring the tasty meat of rattlesnake. After filling up his water bag, he returned to the campsite to see the lovely peddler sitting relaxedly before a merrily popping fire.

 

“I hope you’re hungry,” Cor said as he stepped out of the darkness. “He was bigger than I thought.” Holding up the rattlesnake before him, Cor proudly displayed the main course for tonight’s banquet: a snake at least two paces long.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

~Dilora~

 

Snake?  Snake!  Dilora had seen them before and had always been careful on the ground in case she was ever bitten by one of the slithering creatures.  She was especially wary for Altie’s sake, since it would be impossible to travel without her old friend even if she ended up pulling the wagon herself.  She could not really imagine life without her horse.  Her first instinct was to reach over for the large stick she had intended to roast whatever Cor came back with and to beat at the snake until it fell on the ground so she could poke it away, but then common sense prevailed and she climbed onto the nearest part of high ground and looked significantly at Cor.

 

“Where did you find it?”  She asked him.  He looked over to a small plateau, covered in scrub grass with scant shelter other than more rocks, and pointed.  “It didn’t take me long.  There were lots of them there.”  He shrugged and returned to his preparations.  Snakes on a plain, whatever next…

 

“Do you seriously think we are going to eat that?  I haven’t got anything to serve with it!”  Dilora realised what she had said just then.  Tacitly, she had agreed to eat the snake; her only reluctance was to eat it on its own.  Cor merely chuckled and began to skin it, and then cut it into little pieces with his wicked looking knife.  He was careful to make sure the creature was dead though, and cut off the rattling tail as there didn’t seem to be much meat in it.  Did snakes have bones?  Dilora pondered it as she watched him work, wishing she had some flour and whatnot to make bread with. 

 

Today, she thought as she slowly climbed down from the rock she had climbed onto, was being most surreal.  As if finding an Aielman riding a lion was not bad enough, to find the same man presents her with a snake for dinner was quite another.  She wondered what the lion would be eating, and devoutly hoped that Altie was far out of the way, and safe.  To give her mind something to do, and being conscious of the fact that if there was one rattlesnake out there, there could well be others, Dilora started looking at the plants nearby.  Hopefully some would turn out to have edible roots if she could find some that looked like potatoes.  Snake and chips, perhaps with onion rings, sounded a little better than a snake sandwich.

 

Her hunt was unsuccessful.  Returning to their camp empty handed, Dilora sat on the rock she had previously clambered on in fright and watched him work.  Tomorrow, they would continue their ascension to the high places and hopefully find a cloud eagle chick for him.  On the way back, Dilora could load him down with as many things to sell as she could find on the ground and all would be good.  For now, she tried to steal herself to eat the chunk of roasted snake that had been cooked over their fire.  Gingerly, she reached for it, holding on to the little stick he presented to her and then blew on it to cool it slightly.  This was definitely going into the diary! 

 

She bit into it.  Actually, it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be.  Her preconceptions of eating snake soon faded as she ate a little more of it, and hunger began to make it seem very tasty indeed.  Dilora smiled at Cor and shivered, feeling the night’s warmth turning chill now that the sun had gone down.  Without a blanket, it was going to be cold tonight. 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cor almost laughed out loud as Dilora Fashelle scrambled up the tallest rock in their make-shift campsite. It was certainly a short stairway to heaven, but she climbed it with fervent belief, then struck quite a dashing figure in the brazenly scarlet pants that showed off her legs and bottom ever so well. Even if they are so bright they would make a Lost One blush, he thought with a devilish grin.

 

While she fretted over the suitability of tonight’s fare, he settled in and began preparing it. Snake was very easy to cook, you just had to be careful to cut the head off without bursting the venom glands. Only a clumsy fool would do that. After removing the head, all he had to do was gut it, peel the skin off, and drape it over the fire until it had crisped. However, tonight he was trying to be extra careful to keep from shocking her.

 

Wetlanders were finicky eaters, or so he had heard, and so he prepared the meat by cutting it into little bits to make it look less like a snake. And just in case she didn’t like it, this way he could take the rest of it with him. No sense wasting such a tasty treat.

 

Truthfully, though, most snakes tasted like chicken.

 

While she went foraging around in the darkness, Cor took some of the seasonings from his travel bag and spiced up the meat. The savory aroma wafted on the breeze and set his mouth to watering. His belly growled an ardent echo of the same sentiment. After what seemed an eternity, but was really only a matter of minutes, the meat was ready and he offered the first bite to Dilora Fashelle.

 

He watched her gather her courage and take the first bite with rapt attention. When the taste blossomed on her tongue, the smile she shot him was worth the wait. His blue eyes twinkled mischievously as he wasted no time digging in to his own portion. They finished the meal in silence; eating was serious business after you had been running all day, after all. When they had both eaten their fill and began to tease each other, the young Stone Dog was about to jest about the peddler shivering slightly when the wind kicked up.

 

Before he had done more than look to the sky, the rain fell like a torrent. Within moments they were drenched, but all he did was stand in awe. He couldn’t believe the wetlands had so much water! He was shaken out of his wonderment by the peddler’s hand on his arm.

 

Shouting to be heard over the downpour and the wind that was threatening to knock them over she said, “We have to get out of this weather! If we don’t we will get sick!”

 

Looking down at her, soaked to the skin by the heavy rain, he suddenly realized just how truly beautiful she was, but now wasn’t the time for games. Grabbing his travel bag and weapons, he urged her to follow him, “I know where there is a cave! It isn’t far and it might be big enough to get us out of this!”

 

Stumbling through the rock-strewn and sandy terrain, with only flashes of lightning to provide illumination, they managed to find the cave he had glimpsed earlier. Slipping through the crack of an entrance, the next lightning flash revealed the details of the small enclosure. The cave wasn’t overly large, but it was dry with a sandy floor. The wind, blowing so strongly outside, was barely felt in the protected enclosure, but it was still noticeable enough for the chill to set their teeth to chattering. However, the sudden quiet was a stark contrast to the storm outside.

 

Dropping to his knees, Cor worked by feel until he had his blankets unrolled. The inner one was completely dry where the tight roll had kept it protected. The outer, heavier blanket was wet, like he expected, but only the outer portion of the roll was soaked. The majority of it was merely damp.

 

Cor began shucking out of his drenched cadin’sor, eager to crawl between the blankets, until another flash of lightning revealed the peddler shivering with the cold, arms wrapped tightly around herself in a futile attempt at warmth. A quick glance revealed her pack to be as wet as if it were at the bottom of a river. Moments passed in the total darkness as he pondered the situation…

 

She was a peddler, and it was his fault she was away from her home. He had toh to her for putting her in this mess…

 

With the next lightning flash, he was on his feet and speaking calmly to her. “Dilora Fashelle, you will catch your death of cold. My blankets are dry, well mostly dry,” he added with a grin. “Rid yourself of your wet clothes and you will soon be more comfortable between them. I don’t need them to get warm.”

 

He suspected that a peddler wasn’t used to not being in control, but her body was shaking from the cold, and he refused to listen to her protests. Finally, she accepted his offer.

 

Unfortunately there was no way to start a fire under the circumstances since there was no wood in the cave, so Cor finished removing his wet garments and stretched them out to dry as best he could. Then he began pacing the cave in the darkness to regain body heat, rubbing his hands briskly over his naked body to get dry.

 

I never thought I’d get so wet I wouldn’t like it, he thought with wry humor, an impish grin on his face. The wetlands turn everything upside down. As he continued pacing to stay warm, he thought to himself, This is going to be a memorable night.

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~Dilora~

 

Cor’s blankets were a lot drier than her own, which had been stretched over her shoulders in a sling so she could carry them easily.  Now, of course, it was totally ineffective until it dried and, with only wet wood for kindling, a fire would not be happening tonight.  Dry firewood was needed and that was in short supply in the cave they shared.  At least the cave would protect them from most of the weather and be fairly warm.  Her eyes strayed to the figure of the Aiel walking around without any clothes in.  Even in the half-light he had a well-toned body that Dilora could not help but appreciate.  She tried to keep her eyes demurely averted where possible so as not to offend him with her open staring, and then gave up and closed them completely, trying to sleep.

 

His footsteps marked a regular, steady pace; almost like the timepieces she had occasionally had the fortune to transport.  Dilora had never owned one herself, but knew she would love to eventually own one of the smaller ones.  She’d put it on her sideboard, and probably always end up thinking of the pacing Aielman in a cave in the Mountains of Mist.  She would have a new saying from now on: “as regular as Aiel-work.”  Dilora smiled huddled under the blankets, finally beginning to get warm and dry after the downpour.

 

After ten or so minutes, the pacing subsided as Cor probably decided he was either dry enough to stop his pacing or he thought Dilora was asleep or that he shouldn’t disturb her.  The cave fell quiet.  Nocturnal noises filled the air, but nothing more than the gently insistent rain now, falling to the earth.  Dilora listened for the longest time, wondering if Cor had settled and if so, where he had chosen to sleep.  Light, she felt a little guilty for taking his blankets.  She propped herself up on one elbow and looked over at what she thought was him; a dimly visible huddle on the other side of the cave with a vaguely watchful look to it. 

 

“Cor,” she called, her voice carrying in the echoing semi-darkness.  The Aiel were reputed to be dangerous, fair was fair.  “Why don’t you come and share the blankets with me?  That way we can at least make sure we stay as warm as possible.”  She gave the Cor-shape a level look.  “If you don’t mind, that is.”  The figure rose and made its way over to where Dilora laid, a curious expression on the shadowed face.  Briefly, Dilora wondered where the lion had got to, but the thought fled from her mind as he hunkered down beside her and pulled the blankets slowly to one side.

 

He nodded, a semi-smile on his face.  Dilora budged over to make some more room and then he was beside her, his nakedness next to her own.  She rested her head on his shoulder and felt his heart beating strongly.  Feelings that had begun with mere flirtation seemed to coalesce into something more tangible now he was next to her.  Both seemed more vulnerable.  Their ways would probably part after this, but they had tonight.  The road was a lonely place, after all.  Dilora closed her eyes and kissed him, and did not open them again until the first slanting rays of the sun caressed the lovers gently awake. 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Cor awakened to the sound of birds singing and the soft murmur of Dilora Fashelle as she snuggled against him.

 

The last day and night had been quite an adventure for the young Aiel. Looking down at the lovely peddler as she slept, he couldn’t help but smile. Her invitation had been quite a surprise, but her charms were not only lovely to look at, they were also very enjoyable to share. She was both playfully innocent and wickedly naughty, and the night had passed with a good deal of enthusiasm from both of them.Sliding out from under the arm and the leg that she had draped over him, he quickly pulled on his still-damp breeches and shirt and silently left the cave without waking her.

 

It was a morning that the gleeman often told about. After the torrential downpour of the night before, the brilliantly blue sky held just a scattering of puffy white clouds, looking like algode blossoms that were somehow stuck way up in the heavens. The gentle murmuring of the creek in the distance provided a rhythmic counterpoint to the lilting music of the songbirds twittering in the treetops.

 

He had the notion to make her breakfast, and on such a beautiful morning as this it would surely be a moment that he would hold in his mind forever. He still couldn’t believe he had lain with a wetlander, but his reflections of the night’s passions kept the smile on his face. He didn’t regret it for an instant!

 

It didn’t take long for him to scare up a rabbit. They were very active in the early morning hours, and he also happened to find a large batch of blue-almost-black berries that a bear had been devouring, at least according to the signs on the ground. Nibbling on one to see if it was safe, the sweet flavor burst onto his tongue. It was delicious! He gathered a large pile of the berries, removing his shirt to carry them in, and returned to the campsite.

 

By the time the lovely peddler awakened and walked out into the day, looking radiant despite the mussed hair and the sleepy expression on her face, he had the savory scent of fire-broiled rabbit in the air and a slight smear of blackberries on his face. He had only eaten a few… honest.

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~Dilora~

 

She was having the most fascinating dream.  At times it seemed as though she were laying with a tall, broad-shouldered Aielman, and then she was running through the mountains, picking wildflowers and odd, weather-aged stones with skeletons of fish running through them.  Then, the sunlight glanced over at Dilora as she slept and decided it was time she woke up.  The insistent nagging of her stomach also reminded her that it had been a long time since she ate.  Rabbit, cooking nicely over a hot fire made a tantalising way to start the day.  The sounds of activity from around her camp also reminded her that it was time to be awake.  Her hands went to her hair to try and straighten it, and she smiled as she saw Cor, his shirt in his hands and full of wild berries he had gathered.  Oh, how sweet! 

 

The day had dawned bright and clear, a far cry from the heavy rain of the previous day; a rain so sharp that it had soaked them both to the skin and caused them to seek shelter in one of the caves that dotted the Mountains of Mist like punctuation marks.  She remembered being cold and, knowing how nights could get in the mountains, she invited Cor to her blankets.  The road was a lonely place, after all, and both of them could probably use some company.  Besides, he was very attractive.  Equably, Dilora reminded herself that she probably would not have done that if the circumstances had not called for it, but she had no regrets – heartleaf tea taken daily saw to any of her immediate concerns about having to give up the road.  It would be like asking Cor to throw down his spears and buckler - not likely to happen until the individual was ready. 

 

“Good morning,” she called to him, peeking out of the cave at the weather outside.  The blanket was still draped around her and the cool of the morning prickled her skin.  It fell short in the back where she clutched it to her bosom and reminded her that clothes would be a good idea if she wanted to leave the relative warmth of their camp.  Hastily, she pulled on the bright red breeches, now dry, and the also dry baggy white shirt along with her boots and she tied the belt pouch around her waist as a final touch.  Checking the contents to make sure all was present from her collections yesterday, Dilora sat down alongside the fire and plucked a piece of rabbit with her knife.  It was hot.  It was very tasty.  Looking at Cor out of the corner of her eye she smiled and took a bite of the delicious meat. 

 

“I have to say, this is the first time in forever that anyone has made me breakfast in bed.  The last time I was in this much luxury; I took some bread and cheese from the cupboard in the wagon and took it back to bed with me.  I hate having colds.”  Greasy juice ran down her chin onto the grass.  Thoughtfully, she wiped it.  Would Cor want to stay with her now, after what had happened between them?  Sure, he was nice company and very useful to have around where hunting was concerned, but remembering the small space of the wagon and her companion’s unusually tall height, she thought it would be a bit of a struggle to fit them both in.  And then there was the lion…

 

“Did you sleep well?”

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

“I did,” he replied, accompanying it with a mischievous wink and a small grin. “Last night was like a dream that I hated to wake from. But today is upon us, and last night is but a cherished memory.” Smiling warmly at Dilora Fashelle, he turned to look at the stone pillar that thrust into the sky. With his goal in sight, he could barely think of anything else, although a small part of him wondered if the lovely peddler would expect something more after they had lain together. Some women did.

 

She is certainly a fine woman, without a doubt, Cor thought fondly. But I can’t stay in the wetlands, and I don’t think she’d want to become an Aiel. I think she loves her highways too much for that. I can certainly see the appeal of chasing the horizon myself, after running across these wetlands over the last several months. It is a beautiful land with many wonders to behold, but my home is beyond the Dragonwall. I will just wait and see how she reacts, and we will go from there. No need to worry unless there is cause…

 

Standing, and wiping his hands off on his pants, the young Stone Dog looked over their surroundings, and turned back to the lovely peddler as she was sitting, finishing up her breakfast. “Dilora Fashelle, I think today we will find out if there is treasure at the end of our hunt!”

 

Pointing to the rock spire, he continued. “I will try and climb that and retrieve a cloud eagle chick, if one is there. And you can laugh at me if I fall. I can run like the wind, but I can’t fly at all.” Laughing at his own jest, Cor arched a brow at his companion. “And I hope you don’t get too hungry while you wait. I’d hate for you to eat Nei’din.”

 

Laughing heartily at that joke, and even more so at the look she gave him, he said over his shoulder as he loped toward the rocky monument. “I will be right back. I just want to scout things out a bit first.”

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~Dilora~

 

Aiel humour was tricky to understand, Dilora reflected.  At Cor’s boasts that he would climb that stone pillar that rose above the other peaks to touch the blue-sky overhead, she had been sceptical, but if determination were a power source the man would be up there in no time.  The end of their mission was in sight – the acquisition of his cloud eagle chick would be the last part of their adventure together.  And then, at the foot of the mountain where she had left Altie and her wagon, they would part company and meet only if the Wheel decided to weave them together once more.

 

She took the time Cor was gone off scouting to make sure she was properly ready, and also to think.  Part of her hoped he would not get too attentive and protective, as some men naturally did when they had shared blankets.  It would be a small curtailment of her freedom and, as such, she was not yet ready to settle down.  She removed the obvious signs of their night’s camping in case a bear or some other creature wanted to use it, and swept the dusty floor with her foot after rolling up now dry blankets.  Securing them with strips of string she then left the cave and sat outside, enjoying the morning sunlight.

 

Her eyes flickered of their own accord to the stone spire Cor intended to climb.  It was certainly imposing.  Clouds surrounded the peak of it and she wondered if there were similar spires in the Waste that he had already proven his mastery over.  Before too long he returned and flashed his cheeky grin at her again, telling her to get her things and to move out.  Sometimes he had the manner of a soldier, others of a boy that had banged his knee.  It was … endearing bless him.  Smiling to herself, Dilora followed him as she had done before, the rocky pillar looming closer and closer.

 

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  • 1 month later...

The morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. I still can’t believe how blue the sky is here in the wetlands, Cor thought to himself as he loped toward the rock spire he’d chosen for his ascent. Earlier, he had noticed the tell tale splash of white about two thirds up the pillar’s face, the color revealing the presence of the eagles he sought.

 

Finally reaching the foot of the solitary stone sentinel, Cor arched his head back, way back ,as he studied the rock’s surface. How am I supposed to get up this thing? he asked himself rhetorically, as his eyes scanned the rough, water-and-wind eroded behemoth. He had climbed similar rock spires in the Threefold Land, but it was never something to do recklessly. Patience and perseverance, he quoted, the words ingrained in his mind by an old Far Aldazar Zin who had taught him how to hunt and fight on the other side of the Dragonwall. And to climb, Cor reminded himself.

 

Taking a few moments, he shed himself of anything that might hinder his climb. He set his travel pack, his spears, his bow and arrows, everything that he wouldn’t need as he free climbed. All that he kept was a couple of knives, and of course the knife that was always with him, tucked in his left boot. He had chosen it after his initiation into the Stone Dogs. As we are the last line of defense for the Aiel, so it will be my last line of defense. That had been his line of thinking at the time. It had been with him ever since. A knife or two might come in handy if he needed to make himself a handhold or two.

 

Looking around one last time, and giving Dilora Fashelle a mischievous wink, he grabbed hold of the rock with no fear and began his ascent. Who is afraid to die? No one I know.

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~Dilora~

 

Leaning back against the small stone that jutted from the ground, Dilora watched Cor.  She felt the wetness of the grass from the previous night’s rain and the warm sun beginning to heat everything with morning tenderness.  By afternoon it would likely have increased to something of almost summertime proportions and climbing would be uncomfortable.  She wished she had brought her hip flask with her; a little brandy would have gone down a treat right now.  Instead, her mind catalogued the events that had happened and, as always, a tune formed around the words in her head.

 

Threefold Land

I’ll see it one day

With my own eyes

Another stop on my way

 

Like a lion

Fierce proud and so strong

You climb the skies

Fearless as the day is long

 

Search for a plume

And items to sell

Adventures consume

Yet all will be well

 

He had reached midway up the stone column after her third verse was sketched out.  Really, she should write these all down one day.  A contented distraction for a little while; writing the memoirs, the Adventures of Dilora Fashelle, she corrected, was one of her longer term goals.  Maybe goodwives and girls across the length and breadth of the continent would read of her tales and feel there was more to life than hearth and home.  They would be able to achieve so much, her stay-at-home sisters, and Gleemen would sing of her deeds for years and years to come!  Okay, so perhaps her musings were becoming more like daydreams than possibilities, but it might happen.  She vowed to make it as much of a possibility as she could. 

 

No more verses were forthcoming at the moment, which was hardly surprising when their adventure had not yet ended.  Still, the sun climbed the sky, and Cor climbed higher and higher up the spire.  She shifted her position slightly and felt that the wet from the grass had seeped through her baggy crimson breeches and she grimaced.  Pulling away the wet fabric, it clung a bit.  It would dry soon enough when they got to walk again, but Dilora would not put something like that in her stories! 

 

Her hand pulled her knife out of her belt pouch and picked up a stray twig from the ground.  Whittling scrimshaw was a good way to pass the time and she could always sell the resultant little object to some nobleman with more money than sense.  While she carved, she watched the dwindling figure of the Aiel and his ascension into the sky, and held the thought in mind of an eagle.  When she referred to Cor in her book, she would call him the Flying Aielman on account of how he loved the skies.  ‘Hopper’ really didn’t seem to suit him, and she could not think of anything that climbed so high that would not result in fits of giggles whenever she told the story.  No, the Flying Aielman would do the trick.  The Aiel that went to search for an eagle’s feather from the highest places of the world so he too could fly.  Dilora smiled.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cor paused to look down at the world beneath him. He wasn’t sure how high he was, but the earth spread out beneath him like the maps these wetlanders were so enamored with. Everything looks so small. I wonder if this is what the Creator sees when he looks down on us? the young Aiel warrior thought to himself.

 

From his vantage point, the lovely Dilora Fashelle looked like some sort of strange bug. It was odd, but he felt like an eagle himself now that he was perched in the sky. It was a truly breathtaking sensation. Ever since he had begun climbing as a young boy, he had enjoyed the challenge. The possibility of death only made it more exhilarating.

 

His brief respite allowed him to reflect back on when old Mund had first taught him to climb.

 

There are many keys to being successful when it comes to rock climbing, Cor. But the most important is patience. Otherwise you make mistakes, and mistakes are fatal. Second, you must carefully plot your course. If you don’t have a good plan, you’ll end up with no way to get higher and no way back down. Obviously, this is very, very bad. The final two keys are to always keep three points of pressure on the rock face and to not extend your hands over your head.

 

Keeping three points on the rock face at all times makes falling a lot less likely. Though it isn’t always possible to do this, it’s best if you can. Not reaching above your head keeps the blood flowing to your hands better, and it keeps your arms from getting fatigued as fast. Most new climbers try to pull themselves up with their arms, but this is a mistake. Experienced climbers let their legs do most of the work.

 

Coming back to the present, Cor managed the final few feet of the ascent, his body dripping sweat like the rain he’d never seen before crossing the Dragonwall, and his muscles reveling in the feel of achievement. Pulling himself up to a comfortable position, he peered into the eagles’ nest, his eyes finding the soft, vibrant bodies he had been seeking. There were four chicks, three females and a male, judging by their size, with the male being smaller.

 

Gently cupping a female cloud eagle chick in his hands, he carefully placed it into the pouch slung over his shoulder then quickly scanned the skies to catch sight of its parents. It wouldn’t be pleasant for one of them to return while he was near the nest. Thanking the Creator for his good fortune, he began his descent.

 

As Mund had taught him, going down was far harder than coming up.

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