Kaelen Daltara had been staring at the white speck upriver for several hours, since it appeared this morning. Visible long before the rest of Tar Valon drew near, as the River Trout trudged its way upriver on the Erinin. The vessel was bearing a cargo full of wheat to Tar Valon, as well as a dozen fine Tairen carpets for the White Tower. Waiting for Southharbor to appear, he thought back through the events leading him here.
Kaelen had joined the crew to pay his way to Tar Valon, and he had been lucky to find a vessel in need of an extra hand at Aringill. When Kaelen had finished the journey to the river town after recovering from the Healing, he hadn’t the coin left to buy passage all the way to Tar Valon. It had taken most of his meager savings from his employ as a merchant guard to reach Aringill on his own, travelling from Four Kings, where the attack had taken place.
His memory of that night was still foggy, an aftereffect of the fever and the poison that had been on the Darkfriend’s blade. Who else but that would leave him laying bleeding in an alley with a gash across his back and not take his purse or his sword? Kaelen had been heading back to the wagon camp at the edge of town after visiting an inn with the other guards, reminiscing of how close to home his travels had brought him, when the cold steel sank into his flesh from behind. He hadn’t thought he had taken enough ale to dull his senses, and was surprised his attacker had come upon him so stealthily. Though the blade had missed his spine, the shock left him unable to move, falling to his knees as the rat faced man shoved him into the alley behind some barrels. Feeling cold creep up his back from the blood-loss, he idly wondered why the man didn’t finish him off, not knowing that the poison flowing through his veins that would do the job.
When he was found the next morning, Kaelen was still clinging to life, surprisingly not having bled to death. The boy was gripped with a high fever from the poison, and when he was brought to the village Wisdom, there was little she could do, but make his passing comfortable. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Kaelen’s thoughts drifted over his past, landing on his late father, his loathing half-brother, and the sights he’d seen after being cast out of his home. Was this the end?
Thank the Light, it was not. By the Creator’s grace, an Aes Sedai happened to be passing through that small town the next day, and Kaelen could not get the vision of her face as she Healed his wound out of his mind. Every time he closed his eyes since waking from his sickbed, he has seen her beautiful face. It had taken him three days to wake after the poison had been cast out of his body, and another two before he had regained enough strength to travel. The Wisdom and the villagers hadn’t been able to tell Kaelen the Aes Sedai’s name, for she hadn’t given it. He only knew she had mentioned being in a hurry to return to the Tower, so he knew where he had to go.
It wasn’t just that he owed her his life… it wasn’t just that he wanted to thank her… he had to find her. He didn’t know why, he just knew that he needed to see her again. Now as the River Trout was tying up to the docks at Southharbor, he knew he soon would, or so he thought.
After the ship was tied up and the grain and carpets unloaded, Kaelen was free to go. He thanked Captain Marza and said farewell to the crew, the ones he liked, anyway, and gathered his belongings. He didn’t have much, two sets of clothing, a journal, a wooden flute, and the sword and bow his father had given him on his fifteenth naming day.
Walking down the gangplank, he found the nearest inn and ordered a hearty meal and a bath. It wouldn’t do to meet the Aes Sedai smelling of sweat and the river. By the afternoon, he had bathed, eaten, and made his way to the gates of the White Tower. So intent he was on the spire of white before him, he didn't notice the grandeur of the city around him. Only then did he run into problems.
“You want what?” the Tower Guard said, looking at Kaelen as if he was a madman. “Listen, friend, the only commoners let into the Tower are petitioners to the Amyrlin Seat, and since you do not have a dispute to get resolved, you won’t be getting in then either. But no one is letting you in to roam the halls seeing if you can find one Aes Sedai that might or might not be here. You don’t even know her bloody name. If you want to leave a message for the Keeper, maybe she can ask around to see if any Sister recalls Healing you, and maybe she’s here, and maybe she’ll feel inclined to respond, but that’s a lot of maybe’s. If I was you, I’d just go back home. You don’t have any obligations here, and she didn’t ask you to come to the Tower.”
Kaelen hadn’t thought through what he would do when he reached the Tower, and now it seemed he would have no luck looking for her on his own. He couldn’t go into the Tower, and he couldn’t sit outside the gates day in and day out hoping to spot her. He stepped aside as a squad of guards passed by, going to their duty stations inside the Tower, and a man in a color shifting cloak followed them in. That must be one of those Warders, he thought. That was his first time seeing one. A plan started to form in his head, and he turned back to the guard, asking “Where does a man go to join the Tower Guard?”