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  1. .. Players in a Game of Strategy.. ►▼◄ Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, Raphael moved across the marble floor of the small chamber and seated himself in one of the two ornate high-backed chairs facing each other. Between the chairs was a glass table with a chess board on it. The chess pieces depicted famous rulers in the nations from the Age of Legends. It was a favourite game of Vanahl’s. A game of strategy. A game of power. And this chess set was 4000 years old. How Vanahl had gotten his hands on it Raphael had no idea, but it was the Nae’blis’ pride and joy. On the wall hung objects of light. The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael waited in silence. Finally a chime sounded and a gateway opened close to the glass table. Vanahl stepped through, his eyes the usual pools of fire, his dark ornate coat swirling around him as the gateway snapped shut. “I see you are here”, the Chosen said smoothly as he sat down in the opposing chair. Raphael remained silent. Vanahl’s mouth twisted with distaste but he said nothing more as his attention was caught by the elaborate figures on the chess board. His right hand touched each figure on his side of the board, correcting their placement almost lovingly so they each stood right in the centre of each square. Raphael still said nothing, just watched calmly until the Nae’blis was satisfied. Studying the other man, holding onto Saidin as he knew - and felt - Vanahl was doing too - neither man trusted the other an inch - he thought again that the Great Lord had chosen the wrong man to lead the Chosen. Vanahl was dark-haired with high cheekbones and a semi-dark complexion. Besides his burning eyes, he also had a scar that ran down his left cheek, marring what would otherwise have been a handsome face. Raphael knew that Vanahl had kept that scar as a reminder not to trust anyone. He had never revealed how he had gotten the scar but Raphael had his supicions. ● Vanahl’s eyes met those of his opponent’s, in chess as in all walks of life, and he smiled darkly. “Good”, he whispered and then made the first move with his white pawn. E2-E4. A standard opening. They played these games at intervals, when Vanahl wanted to speak privately with Raphael. Vanahl was the better chess player but on occasion Raphael beat him which always enraged the Nae’blis. Were he tactical, Raphael would let Vanahl win every time, to keep the slightly older man satisfied. But Raphael hated losing and loved the few occasions when he managed to beat the other man, so he always played his best. E7-E5. The standard retaliatory move. Vanahl looked across at him and grinned. “Not too daring a move, Raphael.” He said. His voice sounded amused. “Are you losing your nerve?” Raphael grinned back. “We shall see”, he replied smoothly but his eyes were hard, accepting the challenge. The Nae’blis looked at the board for a few moments, then moved his knight G1-F3. Another common move. As Raphael considered his next move, his attention was broken when Vanahl asked if he had seen Kharin lately. The question made Raphael pause. “Kharin?” he said in surprise. The other man nodded, a speculative cast to his features. “No, I haven’t”, Raphael replied, studying the man opposite him. “Any reason I should?” he added. Vanahl shrugged. “No particular reason”, the Nae’blis said. “I just haven’t gotten hold of her lately”, he added. “So I wondered if you knew where she was.” The pools of fire deepened if that were possible and Raphael could not help the slight unease he felt inside. “I have no idea”, he replied after a few moments. “You know Kharin, that stubborn woman minds her own business and cares little for anything or anyone else.” The Nae’blis nodded, knowing the truth of that. He was still unsure if Raphael was telling the truth right now but decided not to press him. “If you see her..somewhere, tell her I want to talk to her. About her plans and that other matter we all spoke about at the previous meeting.” Raphael nodded, keeping his own thoughts to himself. He moved his own black knight B8-C6, a move that mirrored the other. It was a cautious stand-off at the moment between the white and black armies. This was often the case when they played. The chess pieces flickered at times, as they always did in this place, but both players were so used to this by now that it hardly registered in their minds. They both studied the board with all the pieces with seeming great interest, but were in truth thinking strategy in the real Game of Power, how to gain the upper hand on the other, how to conquer and destroy. ● Turning his eyes from the board game to Vanahl’s face Raphael spoke. “So, have you discovered who disobeyed you?” He could not remove all smugness from his voice and Vanahl’s features hardened. “Who messed with your plans for the boy dragon?” Fire swirled in the Nae’blis’ eyes as he responded. “So far, no” he almost spat. “But I will.. and when I catch whoever did it..” His voice filled with rage. “That person will be very very sorry.” Raphael did not doubt it. The half-mad Nae’blis’ rage was infamous among the Chosen. “Such betrayal must be punished indeed”, Raphael said, thinking inside, not for the first time, that Vanahl would never discover who it had been. Vanahl turned his attention to the chess board again, biting back a comment at the possible sarcasm in Raphael’s voice, and made another move. It was a more aggressive move amd Raphael responded in kind. Back and forth they moved across the battlefield of the chess board. At one point Vanahl asked Raphael if the business with the Aes Sedai Arahna Desonai had gone well and Raphael replied that it had. The Blue - or rather Black - Sister now was in a good position to disrupt the business of the White Tower. Divara - who was in the White Tower under the guise of one of these so-called Aes Sedai - would give her her commands and keep a close eye on her. Raphael had the impression Vanahl knew all this already, but he answered the questions the Nae’blis had. When he had asked Vanahl why he - Raphael - had been the only Chosen present at the Turning, the other had just shrugged and said there had been no need for anyone else. Raphael had not pursued the matter. ● Many moves later, Vanahl removed another of Raphael’s officer-pieces from the board in an aggressive attack. “That is what happens when you are not careful, Raphael”, the Nae’blis said, his voice ensuring the other man understood the double-meaning. “Indeed”, Raphael replied when he a couple of moves later removed one of Vanahl’s officers from the board in a counter-attack. “We all need to take care, don’t we, Vanahl?” His hard eyes met the other man’s burning eyes, the challenge explicit and open. ● The gateway snapped shut behind him as Raphael stepped into another room which flickered. This was another place in the World of Dreams, the mirror-image of a similar palace room in another land. Before him was another table with some chairs, a strangely decorated room it was but Raphael’s attention was all on the woman seated there. “There you are”, the woman said in icy tones as almost always was the case with her. “Why have you come? I have a busy schedule”. The woman was handsome rather than beautiful with brown hair, olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. She was dressed alluringly as was often the case. “Good to see you too, Kharin”, Raphael replied smoothly with a lopsided grin as he seated himself in a chair opposite her. “Do you have any wine?” he asked and smiled as she produced a goblet from behind her. Looking closely he saw that there was a small wine table behind her. He poured some wine from the goblet that she handed him into a cup and placed the goblet between them on the table. He watched silently as she poured some wine into her own cup and raised it to her lips. She watched him like one watches a predator ready to pounce but some of her inherent harshness was momentarily gone and in its place was amusement. “Drink, Raphael”, she said invitingly. “If I wanted to kill you, it would not be with poison. It would be a lot more painful and prolonged.” Her eyes glinted. ● Grinning back at her, he took a long swallow and watched as she did the same. “Not bad”, he said as he put his cup down. “Almost as good as that delicious red wine we used to get from the Seihm.” Some of the best wine orchards during the Age of Legends had been in the nation of Seihm. They both recalled it well. “As for you being busy”, he added almost like an afterthought, “I presume you meant having some.. amusement with your..plaything.” His grin widened. “Your Merindhra, the voluptuous maid from Arad Doman?” Her face darkened at his tone but then softened somewhat at the subject of their conversation. “My amusements are my business, Raphael. Never forget.” Her tone became a little less harsh as she added that Merindhra was, in truth, less infuriating than most others around her. It was clear from her voice that this also included the various Chosen. “Now then, why are you here” she asked after a few moments. “I have been to see Vanahl earlier today”, Raphael said and he saw the woman’s eyes tighten. “He is very keen on seeing you, my dear.” He knew the ‘my dear’ would infuriate her - it always did - but he could not stop himself. She controlled her rage but he could see that she struggled. “He can wait until I am ready to see him”, she spat. “That arrogant man will get what is coming to him, one way or another”. The last bit was almost a snarl and reminded Raphael how much this female Chosen hated the Nae’blis. She hated all men, in truth, but Vanahl more than anyone else. It was personal, Raphael understood, and more than the bickering at Chosen-meetings and trying to undermine the Nae’blis, but he kept his thoughts to himself. ● “You have not told him where I reside?” she enquired, a touch of doubt in her eyes for a moment. “Of course not”, Raphael replied and her hard eyes softened momentarily. “He can bloody well find that out himself.” Kharin nodded, a pleased grin on her lips. She knew that Raphael hated the Nae’blis almost as much as she did. She could not stand Raphael either if she were honest, but for the moment it suited her purposes not to be his enemy. Not an ally either, but a neutral party. For now. “And the others?” Kharin said, taking another sip from her drink. “Are they scheeming as usual?” Raphael nodded and his grin broadened. “Nothing new there. Everyone wants the Great Lord’s favour.” Kharin nodded, knowing the truth of that. She did her own share of scheeming, but those were secrets she shared with no one. “As it should be”, she added darkly, her eyes glinting. She watched him take another sip of wine, then after a few moments pushed her chair back and stood. Her stylish dress clung to her athletic body and her long legs. Had she not worn that angry face of hers most of the time she would have been a very attractive woman, Raphael thought. Her features hardened, in her usual way, as she looked at him, as if she had read his thoughts. “I have no more time for you”, she said almost imperiously. Her eyes were their usual angry again. “Get out of here, Raphael!” ● He stood up from the table and faced her from six feet or so away. He had never let go of Saidin throughout their meeting, as he was sure she had never let go of Saidar. They did not trust one another one bit. As his eyes met hers he wondered, not for the first time, how strong she was in the One Power. Rumours among the Chosen hinted at her being the second strongest female behind Arissa but this had never been confirmed. He was certain that she would not be able to overpower him should she ever get the desire, he was stronger in the One Power than she was, but it could still be somewhat risky.. were he to be taken by surprise. He met her angry stare with an amused one. “I will bother you no more, Kharin.” He said. “And give my love to your lovely.. plaything”, he added mischievously. “If she ever wants the taste of something.. different”, his grin broadened, “a real man.. just send her to me.” It pleased him to see her fury building, her eyes flashing dangerously. Opening a gateway close to where he stood, he stepped through before she had time to curse him - and the silvery line snapped shut behind him. ● Lord Rehmar, a tall and lean man with brown hair, piercing eyes and a moustache, stared out across the city of Bandar Eban from his room high up in the King’s Palace. The afternoon sun shone over the Capital of Arad Doman. It was an important port city located on the coast of the Aryth Ocean, lying on the mouth of the river Dhagon. Massive gates penetrated the city walls and opened up to streets of packed earth, with wooden boardwalks at the sides. Arandi Square, the main city square, was set with copper fountains in the shape of horses leaping from a frothy wave. The buildings were tall and square, shaped like boxes stacked atop one another. Rows of square wooden houses filled the city, rolling down a gentle incline to the massive port, the widest part of the city. Banners flew above, or hung from every building, some used as business signs, family names, or location names. The wealthy part of the city was located on the heights in the east. One of the grandest mansions was the seat of House Vedlar. You also had the Council of Merchants which always competed with the Crown for power. And then there was the Bandar Eban's Terhana Library which was considered to be among the best in the world. It was a grand city, perhaps not on the scale of Caemlyn or Tar Valon, but its citizens were proud of it. Leaving the balcony, Lord Rehmar went inside his oppulent living quarters and sat down by his ornate writing desk. As Chief Advisor to the King he had several responsibilities and he carried out his duties with care and attention. He loved all the political intrigue at court and the maneuvering that was necessary to keep the Council of Merchants off balance whenever possible. He had always had skills in this area and he made good use of them in his present circumstances. Taking out a piece of paper from a drawer, he dipped his pen in ink and began to write. ● Dear High Lady, I wish to invite you to a meeting here at the King’s Palace to discuss the proposal we talked about last month. It concerns the Alliance of Houses that the King wishes to build. This is, of course, confidential for the present, so please keep all details regarding this matter for yourself for the time being. We look forward to your presence on the 17th of this month. Your loyalty to the Crown is valued. Yours Sincerely, on behalf of the King, Lord Rehmar ● Putting the pen aside he studied what he had written, then grinned to himself as he placed the letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope he wrote, High Lady Dahlia of House Kheren, then he closed the envelope and sealed it. Placing it together with several other similar envelopes on his desk, Sinam smiled. Things were proceeding nicely, the Chosen thought with a dark chuckle. Very nicely indeed. Alliances to make, Alliances to break. ‘Lord Rehmar’ leaned back in his chair, his green eyes glinting. The Great Lord would be pleased. ▀▄
  2. .. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 2 .. ►▼◄ Elessar and Kathleen sat all afternoon in the lounge of the house in Whitebridge discussing the matters of the Black Rose and the emeralds. Their guess that the emeralds were intended as a bribe had been proven correct. Nyriana had reluctantly admitted that they were meant as payment for the chief cook of a major Andoran Noble family to poison its High Lord. Elessar had heard similar dark and evil plots before and did not react much to the High Lady’s words and Kathleen had only raised one eyebrow in response, asking which High Lord. It had seemed a plausible plot, they had agreed when they had discussed it afterwards. The High Lady had remained silent when they had asked if the poisoning had already been carried out or if it could be stopped. They would need to find that out themselves. The High Lord in question lived many leagues to the south. Kathleen quickly got in touch with her Eyes and Ears in Whitebridge and a carrier pigeon was dispatched to the nearest town to warn the High Lord. They just hoped it would be in time. The larger mystery was that of the supposed Black Rose that would need to be ‘sacrificed’. What or who was this Black Rose? All they had gotten out of the close-mouthed Lyndelle was that it was a child of some importance. When Elessar had pressed her for more details, she had just stared at him in silence, her blue eyes shining with glee. Nyriana had not revealed anything about the Black Rose, just staring dumb back at him when he had mentioned the name. Even the threat of violence had not stirred her on this matter. It had made him think that sacrificing this Black Rose had to be very important for the Shadow, at least locally. He and Kathleen had discussed again what was meant by ‘sacrificing’. Had it been one of their own adult Darkfriends it could have been logical to use that word, but with regards to a child? It was strange, they both agreed. Using resources from the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears network they had a few trusted people go out and try to find clues as to this Black Rose, visiting inns and taverns where people talked freely when they were drunk and careless, listening for whispers on the streets. And a couple of days later they had some luck. A street urchin had been caught stealing and it turned out he was part of a local guild of thieves (or at least that was what they called themselves, much to Elessar’s amusement) and through him they had gotten word of another thief, an older man, who may know something. For adequate compensation, of course. Elessar and Kathleen had met this man, a bald one-eyed older man with scruffy clothes but a shrewd look about him, and the man had spoken to them willingly after receiving several silver coins. He told them that he did not know these folk personally of course, but he had heard from a mate who had heard from a mate that a certain boy child, son of a certain High Lord, was not long for this world. When Elessar gave him another silver coin, warning him though that if what he told were lies they would catch him and take it out of his hide, the old thief gave them the name they were after. ● They hurried to the next town, a smaller town called Ridgefield several leagues to the north-east. It was more of a large village, Elessar thought, but the locals prided themselves on the fact that they lived in a town, the largest in the region after Whitebridge. Hoping to be able to stop this murder or ‘sacrifice’ they hardly stopped before they were just outside the gates of the Manor of House Lamden. It was another small House among the Major Andoran Noble Houses but in this region it had some prominence and power. Head of this House was High Lord Robert Lamden and his only son and heir was the ten year old Richard, nicknamed the Black Rose. Apparently the boy was a cripple, lame from the waste down, and all he did day in and day out was sit in a specially made chair in the Manor garden, watching the blooming roses, it was said, in silent shame, bitterness and rage at his totally wasted life. It sounded a terrible life, Elessar had to admit, but it was still a life and better than death. Whether the boy’s father was a Darkfriend or not, the boy did not deserve to die because of some evil Darkfriend plot. Tethering their horses to a tree to the side of the gate leading into the Manor, Elessar stepped up to the guard who was watching them closely. A wall passed to either side of the gate for some distance, encircling the grounds of the Manor. The building itself could be seen some distance beyond, encompassed by trees. “My good man”, the Warder began, “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to speak to your High Lord.” The guard just stared dumbfounded back at him. “It is a matter of some importance”, Elessar added more powerfully. Still there was no reaction from the man. “Let us through and inform your High Lord we need to see him urgently.” The man looked at the Warder and the Aes Sedai, his eyes wide but he still remained silent. “Now!” Elessar shouted and his eyes took on a dangerous gleam. This time the man reacted. “Yes, My Lords” he stuttered as he moved backwards. “Sorry, I will let his Lordship know.” Turning, he almost sprinted down the path toward the building while Kathleen and Elessar followed at a more leisurely pace. When they arrived at the entrance to the mansion they were met by another guard, more formally attired. This one, a younger man, bowed to Kathleen and nodded to Elessar. “Please enter”, he said in a polite tone of voice. “The High Lord is honoured by your visit.” ● High Lord Lamden was a short greying man in his late fifties. He had strong arms and a somewhat bulky body. His blue eyes were shrewd though as he looked at the Aes Sedai and the Warder. “I am honoured by your visit”, he said politely with seeming honesty. “We do not get visitors from the White Tower here often.” That was probably the understatement of the year, Elessar thought with amusement, but he said nothing. “How may I be of assistance?” He asked as he bade them have some kaf. Sipping from her cup, Kathleen made some pleasant conversation for a while. Saying they were in the region on Aes Sedai business, they were visiting local nobles to hear if there was anything they could assist with in these ‘troubled times’. The High Lord nodded and exchanged pleasantries but Elessar could see from the man’s face that he did not for one minute believe her stated reasons for her visit. He kept his thoughts to himself, however. After a while Kathleen stopped speaking and the High Lord stared silently back at her. His eyes turned for a moment to the imposing Warder-figure beside her. He looked just like the ferocious Gaidins out of stories, he thought; not a man one would like to cross. Facing the Aes Sedai again he asked if there was anything else he could assist with. As if it were a passing thought, Kathleen asked after his wife. Was she well? The High Lord seemed surprised by the question but replied that, yes she was well and in the gardens at that moment plucking some roses. Kathleen nodded. When asked about his son next, the High Lord’s face darkened and his eyes clouded over. There was sorrow in his voice when he replied that his son was dead. When Kathleen probed, he replied that his young boy’s heart had simply stopped a week before. He had been a sickly boy, the High Lord informed, but even so it was a tragedy. Elessar and Kathleen shared a quick glance, both thinking we were too late, then she told the father how sorry they were. There was no proof, neither would there probably ever be, that foul play had played a role in the boy’s death, but the pair from Tar Valon were fairly certain that the death was no coincidence. They did not reveal their suspicions to the High Lord though, soon excusing themselves from his presence and leaving the Manor House. The High Lord might be a Darkfriend and he might not be, but that would be a mission for another time. The boy, the Black Rose, was dead and that was all there was to it. The mystery had perhaps not been fully solved, but they had done what they could. They rode in silent contemplation back to Whitebridge under a partially clouded sky with a wind gradually building from the south-east. ● A few days later, riding back across the huge white glass-like bridge - from which the town took its name - which spanned the River Arinelle, leaving Whitebridge behind, Elessar thought on what they had accomplished. Their mission had been a success for the most part. They had caught two scheming Darkfriend High Ladies who had sold their souls to the Dark One, and several other accomplices (disrupting the local Darkfriend Circle), as well as revealing the mystery of the Black Rose (though they had not been able to stop its execution) and recovering the emeralds (and the poison-plot had been stopped in time). Sure, there would still be some Darkfriends around that they had not caught, but they had done a great service for the Light on this journey into western Andor and he thought he felt some contentment also coming through the Bond from Kathleen. Now they both wanted to get back to Tar Valon as quickly as possible, the mission concluded. Glancing at the fragile-looking but ever so strong white glass of the bridge as they rode across he wondered once again what material it was made of. It was one of the wonders of the world, he thought. He had never seen anything like it elsewhere. He considered again asking Kathleen about it, but changed his mind. Let it be another of life’s mysteries. ● They stopped at several villages on the way back. Even though they were both eager to return to Tar Valon, they saw the need to give their mounts some rest at intervals. In Four Kings they made a slightly longer stop, getting more provisions, and then they set the course for Caemlyn. Kathleen seemed eager to see a little more of the Andoran Capital before their journey northwards and Elessar was always up for some more sightseeing in this beautiful city, so they stayed a couple of days before heading north. They spoke at times during their journey, sharing thoughts on what they had accomplished and on what might be to come, and as the days passed Elessar felt they were getting to know one another a little better which was important for trust and an effective Warder-Sedai team. Kathleen did not say much about her other Warder, her first, and Elessar did not press her. But he sensed that she missed him and was perhaps also a little concerned about his absense though that was just Elessar’s impression. In one way it would have made their mission easier had they had Nevuel’s experience and skills to draw upon as well. On the other hand, Elessar felt that it was best that he and Kathleen were on their own on this ‘maiden mission’, that way they could best get used to one another, each other’s ways and skills and temperament, to gradually become an efficient working team. He did not say so to Kathleen, not wanting to ‘step on any sore toes’ there, but he thought maybe she had had similar thoughts. Elessar felt good about this Bond, as he had from the start. It was a feeling of rightness which he had been fortunate to have had with all his Bondholders. He knew they still had a ways to go ‘tuning’ their skills and actions in their Bond, to gain the level where they could anticipate the other’s moved before they were made, but it was a very decent beginning. He smiled as he galloped down the dusty roads, Kathleen beside him a little behind to his left, in the direction of Tar Valon to the north. Mission accomplished, he thought. The first of many to come. ● Finally, many days later, on a windy and partially sunny afternoon beneath azure-blue skies, Elessar Gaidin of Kandor and Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, Bonded in the Light, came in sight of the Shining Walls of Tar Valon. Soon they rode slowly across one of the many magnificent arching bridges over the River Erinin connecting the island city to the mainland. Fabled Dragonmount rose in the distance, and on the city walls high above them the proud banners of Tar Valon - wonderous city of the Aes Sedai - rippled strongly in the wind, as if welcoming them home. ▀▄ ▀▄▀▄
  3. .. Concluding a Mission for the White Tower: Part 1 .. ►▼◄ The High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan, gagged and bound like a common criminal, stared viciously at the Aes Sesai and her Warder from her place in the corner of the room, wondering not for the first time since her capture how the tables had been turned on her since the moment she had come upon the pair in her study. Blood and bloody ashes! She was caught like a fish in a net and there was nothing she could do about it. Blasted White Tower meddlers, sticking their noses where they did not belong, ruining her operation and schemes. They would not learn her deepest secrets, however. The ones that spoke of her true allegiance. No matter what they did to her, she would not admit to that nor forsake her sacred Oath to the Great Lord. All they had was rumours and innuendos. She would not give them the pleasure of seeing her break. Her eyes stared daggers at them as they stood conversing at the other side of the room. Her mouth would stay shut. No matter what. ● Turning to face the bound and gagged High Lady in the corner Elessar smiled darkly. She was bound by flows of Air and so could neither speak nor move her arms and therefore the cloth physically gagging her and the rope binding her arms behind her back were superfluous. Perhaps it was petty, but the Warder enjoyed binding this Darkfriend woman like a common criminal, taking away whatever dignity she had left. Kathleen had exchanged a silent look with him but had said nothing as he had proceeded. Now the two were discussing how to get more information out of the reticent High Lady. They were in an upstairs room in the house they used as their base of operations. Outside the afternoon sun glowed above the town of Whitebridge, a burning globe in an endless sea of blue. “I think it is the only way”, Elessar said as he turned to face Kathleen again. “She is stubborn as a mule and likely will not volunteer any information at all.. unless she is.. persuaded otherwise.” She understood well what he had in mind. An interrogation of the kind he had used on the other captured Darkfriend. Though their Bond was still fresh she trusted him not to go too far in his.. persuasion of this woman. He had showed competence and restraint before. Still, they needed more information if they were to conclude this mission and expose the Darkfriends and their plots. They needed to put pressure on this despicable woman who surely stood at the center of it all here in Whitebridge. She nodded to Elessar, giving her approval. Turning to face the bound woman again, the Warder from Kandor’s eyes turned hard and he removed the knife from its sheath at his side. His posture changed into that of a dangerous predator as he moved toward the bound High Lady, the knife held before him. Removing the cloth from her mouth he stared darkly at her. Kathleen altered her Saidar-wrought weave so the woman could speak. The High Lady looked spitefully at the Gaidin and she had a lopsided grin as she said, “I will tell you nothing. You are wasting your time!” “We shall see”, replied the Warder in a calm fashion. His smile broadened but his eyes adopted a vicious glint. Bringing his knife up to the woman’s chin he drew a little blood. “This is the part I like.” The way he said those words made Kathleen almost believe he meant it. He was good at this, she had to admit. And it was necessary. She kept that in mind as her Bonded Warder went through the motions of the interrogation. ● Later that day they sat in the lounge of the house discussing what they had learned. “She broke sooner than I would have expected”, Elessar mentioned at one point. Kathleen nodded, complimenting him once again on his interrogation skill. The High Lady was a hard and tenacious woman but the Warder had peeled off the layers of secrecy that surrounded her and combined with threats of violence (the knife had been an effective tool in that regard) had made the woman reveal much more than she had intended. “She as good as admitted to being a Darkfriend”, he added. “And we now know the evil plots she was working on and much about her dark accomplice, the High Lady Nyriana of House Vandahr.” Kathleen nodded and sipped more from her kaf, her eyes pensive. “I think we should pay this other High Lady a visit, don’t you think?” Kathleen agreed and so it was decided. With any luck this second High Lady had not received word yet of High Lady Lyndelle’s capture. She lived several leagues from Whitebridge, in a village called Melton, Lyndelle had revealed under questioning. Taking a sip from hos own cup Elessar nodded. These two Andoran Noble Houses would not be so noble much longer when Kathleen informed the local authorities - and the Crown - of their activities and allegiance. ● They arrived in Melton before dark. It was a small village with only a couple of streets and three dozen buildings. At the end of a dusty street stood an inn and opposite it - beyond large garden grounds - a grander building. It was no palace, far from it - but in this small place it was obviously the finest building around, a small Manor House. The local place of power. Handing their horses to the stable boy, Kathleen and Elessar went inside and got a couple of rooms. The innkeeper was almost beside himself seeing an Aes Sedai and a Warder in his humble establishment as he called it - it was obviously not something that occurred often - and they soon were in their rooms discussing the next move. They had two options as they saw it: confront the High Lady directly and take her into custody, or wait a little and see if they could find out if others too in this small village were Darkfriends or at least involved in the suspect activities of the High Lady. They wanted to catch as many people involved as possible, but at the same time he felt some impatience in Kathleen to get on with things and he had to admit he shared those feelings himself. It was time to conclude this mission, to get things finished and over with. A direct approach would be best. Silver rays from the moon high above shone down on the pair from the White Tower as they moved through the darkness toward the Manor House. They walked along a path which went beside the opulent flower beds up to the Manor itself. There were candle lights shining in several windows but no one could be seen looking out at them. That did not mean that no one was watching them, of course. It did not matter to Kathleen as she approached the front entrance. Knocking twice on the huge door she waited, Elessar beside her. A few moments later what looked like a servant or possibly a guard opened the door and look enquiringly at the two visitors. “Kathleen Aes Sedai wishes to have some private words with the High Lady”, Elessar said in a strong voice. The Andoran looked more closely at the woman before him and his eyes widened. “Of course”, he said in a somewhat strained voice. “Please come out of the dark”. He waved them inside and closed the door behind him. “Please wait here and I will announce your arrival to the High Lady.” He gave a small bow and then hurried along the hall and disappeared around a corner. Facing his Bondholder, Elessar whispered, “Perhaps things will go more smoothly this time.” He did not see the glance Kathleen threw him. Which was probably for the best. ● The High Lady Nyriana, a short-haired blond and lean woman in her late thirties, proved to be a harder woman than Lyndelle, staring daggers at them both when she realized she had been caught in her dark plots with her friend and refusing to say anything which might incriminate her. Still, after some.. persuasion by Elessar, she admitted that she had plotted but that it was all for the good of her House. That she was a Darkfriend was all lies though, put out by her enemies, she said with piercing blue eyes and a twisted mouth. When they went through her private study, finding incriminating evidence, she just stared at them with hate in her eyes and did not speak a word. She ‘accompanied’ them to Kathleen’s room at the inn and was soon bound and gagged similarly to Lyndelle in Whitebridge. When Elessar had produced the knife and drawn some blood from her cheeks she had given the names of three of her local accomplices. They would be picked up by local authorities as soon as Kathleen returned to Whitebridge and informed the local magistrates. The next morning they rose early, had a quick breakfast in the inn’s Common Room and then proceeded back to Whitebridge. The High Lady was slung across the back of the Gaidin’s horse, bound in more ways than one, cursing inside. When they finally arrived back at the house where they were based, Elessar carried the bound woman over his shoulder up the stairs to the room where they kept the other High Lady. Lyndelle’s eyes almost popped out of her sockets when she recognized Nyriana slung on the bed. Bound and gagged as she was she could not make a sound but inside she was screaming with rage. The next morning agents of the White Tower arrived at the inn and took the two captured Darkfriend High Ladies into custody and left after a quick word with Kathleen Sedai. Elessar was sure they would get punishment worthy of their Darkfriend crimes. The White Tower was not very forgiving in such matters. Justice would be served. ● Now to see to the final matters on this mission: the case of the Black Rose and the emeralds. They had clues gotten from the two Darkfriend women, but there were still some things to figure out. Another mystery to uncover. ▀▄
  4. A comment on the 'Moiraine-Thom' thing: I can see that for some that plot did not work. Personally though I thought it was great for several reasons. First and foremost because it was wonderful that Moiraine could find love and happiness having in some ways 'sacrificed' her entire life to Blue Ajah-causes (primarily to finding the Dragon Reborn). She saw Lan's (her Warder-companion of many many years) love for Nynaeve and perhaps in her heart of hearts wished for the same. Also because it was a total surprise for me, never saw that coming at all since Moiraine had seemed above such 'mundane' things as love. With everything Thom had gone through and all I was pleased for him as well. Robert Jordan liked, as we know, to throw in some surprises in his wonderful story (Verin a very good example) and I think this was another one of his surprises albeit a smaller one perhaps.
  5. Thanks for the reflections/insight, Jason (Phoenix). A few thoughts on the 5 points mentioned: Pt 1: Adult Content. This has me somewhat concerned. I mentioned elsewhere at DM that I feared they would be overly sexual with GoT-style nudity etc in the WoT series. Sex sells, we all know that, but I found Robert Jordan’s subtlety with regards to the ‘sexual adventures’ of Rand, Min, Elayne and Aviendha a nice change from George RR Martin’s more explicit/vulgar style in this regard. I hoped the producers would follow Robert Jordan’s style for this but am far from surprised they probably are going for more explicit scenes. It’s not a major thing for me but I hope they don’t go ‘overboard’. Pt 2: 8-10 episodes, focused on Eye of the World. I hope they go for 10 episodes (pr season) and it covers the book until they are at the Eye, then the chance is smaller I think that it will become an overly simplified, ‘dumbed down’ version of the book which is one of the major fears of many of us here. Let me add, were I producing this tv-show I would certainly have started it with the prologue from Eye of the World, both to stay in tune with the book and also because the emotional impact of the Lews Therin/Ishamael scene would be strong and hard-hitting but also interesting and intriguing for what was to come. Pt 3: Expanding Secondary characters...and maybe a few big omissions. With the multitude of characters in the WoT books it is to be expected that many characters are left out, but I do sincerely hope they don’t leave out any of the main characters outside our Two Rivers heroes (am thinking of characters like Min, Thom, Elayne, Galad, Gawyn, Loial, Morgase). Giving f.ex. Logain a bigger role does not bother me so much, it is necessary to alter some things to make a story work on tv/film, but the closer to the books they stay the happier I will generally be. I think GoT managed this balance quite well. If the producers follow the same line, I will be pleased. Pt 4: Less Binary Evil. One the one hand what is mentioned there does not bother me much, on the other having the Forsaken/Chosen less ‘pure-evil’ makes me both surprised and a little concerned, unless all it means is that f.ex. the Forsaken will be many-faceted, though keeping their dark, evil hearts and extreme ambitions as in the books.. There is no need to become revisionist when it comes to the Forces of Light fighting the Forces of Evil (Dark One) I believe, this is the main story of the books, never mind that it may seem a little generic to some people. Saying it’s ‘balance vs imbalance’ sounds somewhat vague and ‘out there’ for me. Even if it not entirely untrue, I think the producers should keep the 'light vs dark' at the chore of the series as I believe it is in the books. Pt 5: More Diversity. This has me somewhat concerned tbh. If there is any fantasy-series out there which has plenty plenty diversity as it is, it is the WoT – when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, personalities, backgrounds etc. I cannot see any reason why there should be need to amplify this, just make use of the enormous ‘tapestry’ of characters Robert Jordan has already given us. I see no need either to emphasize the LGBTQ or feminism part, it is already a part of the WoT Universe. Practically the whole Red Ajah are lesbians if we are to interpret what Robert Jordan wrote/implied, and think about all the female characters in the WoT, from our heroines to hundreds of Aes Sedai women.. has there in fact ever been a book series with so many strong, diverse, female characters? I highly doubt it. There is plenty to work with there without having a 'girlpower'/feminist agenda. And as for having gay relationships between characters who are straight in the books (say Egwene is now suddenly depicted as a lesbian), that smells of sensationalism and political revisionism to me and will certainly turn me off the show. Moiraine and Siuan had a 'romp' in bed at one time, which does not necessarily make her a lesbian but could open the door for the producers for her to be say bi-sexual, but doing it with a book-written straight character sits less well with me. As for making a white character in the books black/Asian-like I see no need to do so due to the great diversity already in the books, but if they do it I hope it is with a side-character, not one of the main ones. And not to be a bigot or anything, but if Mat suddenly becomes Mandy the transvestite during season 1 of the show, I may have a word or two or three to say about that.. I don’t like the tv-series of today being so political, that they change the source material to appeal to modern views on feminism/metoo, race, gender, sexual orientation etc. (Rumours of f.ex. making James Bond more 'feminist' in his views in the coming film due to metoo makes me shudder.. James Bond is James Bond with all his mannerisms in a fictional movie-universe, let him be what he is!). There are more than enough films and tv-series of a more social-realism nature that cater for that. Let the WoT be the WoT, producers - and give us a quality tv-series with book-based integrity, heart and style to love and cherish (ref. Peter Jackson and 'The Lord of the Rings'-movies and also the GoT tv-series I would say), the best way to honour Robert Jordan’s legacy and memory.
  6. .. In the Darkness of the Manor House .. ►▼◄ As Kathleen studied the letter, or note, from the other High Lady, Elessar’s thoughts were drawn elsewhere for a moment. He was thinking of Leandreen. He had no idea why the thought of her had popped into his mind at that particular moment but it had. In his mind’s eye he saw her glittering emerald eyes and slightly mischievous smile and a face framed by long fiery hair. As always the thought of her brought him both joy and sadness. Oh, Leandreen. She had told him that she had known straight away that she wanted to Bond him, and he had quickly felt that they were compatible too. She was much more impulsive than he was with a temper to match, but they had made a good, effective team, anticipating each others’ moves, and had, above all, shared a burning passion to fight the Shadow and evil wherever it was found. “I shall fight the Shadow ‘till I die, Elessar!” Her emerald eyes sparkled. “That I promise you!” And you kept your promise, my Leandreen. You fought those evil b*stards with your last breath! ● Kathleen, as a Battle Ajah Sister, shared some of that passion, he felt, from their conversations and their time together, even if she was very different in nature and personality from Leandreen. Their Bond was still fresh and he still felt that distance between them at times that he had felt at the beginning, but he thought they were complementing each other well so far as Warder and Sedai and, hopefully, meeting each others’ expectations. He did not really know how she felt about his ‘performance’ as her Warder, but he presumed she would tell him if she was unhappy about something. For his part, he was not out to impress her with how he carried out his duties as a Bonded Gaidin. Not at all. He had a job to do, and that was to serve, protect and keep his Aes Sedai alive. He would always strive to do it proficiently and well. It was his sacred purpose and duty. And I will not fail again. That final thought echoed in his mind. ● “How is your memory, Elessar?” Kathleen asked in a whisper, bringing him out of his partial reverie, as she handed the note from Nyriana, High Lady of House Vandahr, to the Warder. “I’d prefer not to have to take this when we leave”, she added, “but we will need the information later if we are to fully decipher the message. Let’s move along quickly now, we still have to get back through the whole bloody building and outer grounds when we finish in this study.”’ “My memory is excellent”, he replied honestly in a low voice, holding the letter. “I have always had a knack for remembering details, a very useful skill when one has an interest such as mine in history and stories. I will remember.” Even as a child he had always had an exceptional memory. He remembered his mother, and his other teachers, commenting on it many times throughout his childhood. It had also helped him later during his Warder training in the White Tower, not needing to be told things twice. His Warder teachers had been quite impressed. Neither of his parents nor brothers had this ability so he had no idea how he had come to have it or why, but he was grateful since it was a useful skill to have. ● Elessar scanned over the letter, many thoughts passing through his mind. There were many clues here but they were difficult to decipher. There was obviously another Noblewoman involved which was not that surprising as they would run in the same circles and could talk without anyone finding it suspicious. Two Houses, even if minor ones, plotting for the Shadow could give them many advantages and a fair amount of power, at least locally. Who was the sister that the letter mentioned? It could be another Noblewoman or an other associate in the Darkfriend circle, someone they thought of as ‘one of their own’. It could, of course, also be code for something entirely different. The two dots before ‘sister’, did that have special inference? And the Black Rose, what was that? Or rather, perhaps, who? Someone to be sacrificed in some way but how and why? Was it someone who had betrayed them, betrayed the Shadow? And who had ordered it? A rhyme he had read once - somewhere, somewhen - slipped into his mind for a moment. ● Three for three, the Silver weds Three for three, the Princess sheds One is true, the Prince she chose To the world, he was Black Rose ● It was a nice little rhyme, he thought, like a children’s rhyme and suitably intriguing, but he highly doubted it had anything to do with the Black Rose of the letter. Rather some of these Nobles had probably heard the rhyme at some point and used ‘Black Rose’ as a code name for someone or something. ● Reading on he wondered who this ‘Our Friend’ could be. Special care had obviously been taken to avoid revealing who or what this person might be and if he or she was a Nobleperson. He got the impression this was someone special though. Then there was the mention of emeralds and what a ‘princely’ gift they would make. Was this a hint somehow that someone in Royalty was involved, or was it just a way to describe that the emeralds were worth a fortune, ‘worthy of a prince’ as it were? Was it a bribe since there was mention of ‘leverage’? As for the ‘guests’, it seemed highly probable to him that he and Kathleen were the ‘guests’ they were referring to, though there was no proof after all and no date on the letter. But was it truly likely that these two Noblewomen had two other ‘guests’ who they had to watch and take care around at the moment? Elessar doubted it very much. He also noted that the High Lady Nyriana had signed the letter ‘Yours in the Faith’ which was somewhat unusual in his experience. ‘Yours in the Light’ was the common way to end a letter, at least between Nobles and other officials, so using ‘Faith’ instead was unusual. Of course it could be nothing more than a personal way of signing off their letters, he thought, but it caught his attention as something a little out of the ordinary and he wondered if it somehow were a hint at their somewhat darker association. So many possibilities and clues which said so much and at the same time so little. They would need to go over these elements in the calm and privacy of their temporary ‘home’ in Whitebridge, their base of operations, and see where the clues led them. There might, he thought, still be time to stop some of these events from happening if that was what Kathleen and the White Tower wanted. But in order to do so they needed to decipher the clues, and that would be far from easy as the Warder saw it. Summarizing it all in his head, the Warder did not think this was factual proof of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady Lyndelle - it could be the usual devious plotting among Noble Houses - but it certainly was a strong indication as he saw it. He did not know how Kathleen viewed it and there was no time to discuss it here; they would need to consider the matter later. As she had said, it was time they move along quickly before they were discovered. ● Kathleen put the letter back in the envelope and the envelope back in the small drawer. She closed it and stepped back as Elessar used his lockpick to close the small drawer-lock again. It was a trick he had been taught by a locksmith once upon a time. Just as they were about to move toward the door leading to the Great Hall, holding the candle light high for added light, a soft sound made them stop in their tracks. They exchanged a quick glance. The door from the Great Hall slithered open and someone, they could not at first see who, stepped into the room. “Now then”, a sly voice said in the semi-darkness “What do we have here..” ● High Lady Lyndelle, wearing a Black dress with a matching top, looked at the two intruders, her right eyebrow lifted, her smile smug. “Breaking in, in the dead of night, going through my private things.” Her azure-blue eyes glittered with dark amusement. “Is this what.. friends do, Kathleen Aes Sedai?” Two Andoran guards in formal attire with swords unsheathed and malicious stares followed her into the room. The door was closed behind them. The High Lady’s cold and inquisitive blue eyes fastened on the Sister of the White Tower, waiting for an answer. ▀▄
  7. .. As the Shadow Rises .. ►▼◄ The old Illianer woman screamed in pain. Her face felt as if it were on fire. The pain was endless and she knew she was going to die. Just as she was going to black out, the pain stopped suddenly and she gasped, her whole body shaking, her hands trembling uncontrollably. She was hunched over on the sharp rocks near the ocean, waves hitting the slippery rocks close by, the domes of Illian in the far distance. A canopy of darkness from horizon to horizon filled her blurred vision as she raised her head to the night sky. Tears streamed down her once handsome face, her semi-blond hair now matted with blood, her dress torn and dirty. “I ask again”, the cloaked man demanded harshly. “Did you break your promise?” “I do be doing no such a thing”, the old woman stuttered between panicked gasps. “Do be trusting my words. I do be keeping my promise.” Raphael looked down at the woman and cursed inside. Another worthless servant of the Shadow. Another oath-breaker. ● She had broken the trust they had put in her, speaking secrets to family members however much she denied it now, revealing things that were not to be revealed. There was only one punishment for such disobedience. Death. But first he had to know how much she had revealed. Not that she knew that much to begin with, being a minor member of the local Friends of the Dark circle, but any breach was serious and had to be closed before the problem escalated. “Don’t lie to me”, Raphael said icily and applied more pressure on her abdomen using delicate weaves of Saidin. The woman screamed in renewed agony and shook her head. “I do be truthful, Great Master”, she cried. “We know that you broke your oath”. He said it as a statement of fact. Easing up on the pain, he grabbed the woman’s hair and forced her face upwards. “There is no use in lying”, he added. “Who else did you tell, apart from your two cousins?” “I do no break my promise”, she cried. The pain increased. “All right, I do tell Willfred and Keldon about my meeting”, she spluttered, the pain grabbing her, her limbs trembling. “Only that. But they do be family. They do be trusted, they do be telling no one. You do be trusting them, Great Master.” Her bloodshot eyes begged him to believe her, her body quivering, but for him there was no mercy. “I - trust - no one”. His words were final and she saw her death in his eyes, partially revealed in the silver light of the moon. Closing her own ocean-green eyes, her body slowly going limp, readying herself for the inevitable, she waited for death to take her. When it came, a subtle weave of Saidin slicing through her brain like a sliver of ice-water, she hardly felt a thing. ● The city of Cairhien was situated on the east bank of the River Alguenya just south of its junction with the River Gaelin. There was a large dock area on the river with many granaries on the other side. The city walls formed a perfect square. The area outside the city walls, the Foregate, was also heavily populated. A sprawling settlement, the buildings in Foregate were mostly made of wood, and some of them had multiple stories. There were inns, taverns, homes, and shops galore. For the highly status-conscious and reserved Cairhienin nobility, Foregate was beneath their notice. The population was mostly commoners. Staring down at the city from his balcony atop the Manor House, Lord Taighan did not care about any of the commoners in Cairhien. In fact, he did not care much about the Nobles either. All he cared about was putting his plans into action and making sure no one messed them up. He was a dark-haired man of average height and build in his mid-thirties with dark eyes and a handsome face. He wore a dark blue coat and looked every part the Nobleman. The sun was rising in an azure-blue sky, a soft breeze drifting in from the north-west. It was late morning and it looked to be a beautiful day. Turning away from the view, Lord Taighan re-entered his chamber and headed across to his work desk. He picked up an envelope which read ‘To Lord Senidhred’ on the front and carried it down the stairs to the floor below. A young servant met him at the foot of the stairs and gave him a polite bow. Handing him the letter to have it delivered, the Lord walked past him without a word and out the front entrance. A horse and carriage waited outside and he stepped quickly inside the carriage, closing the door behind him. Soon they were headed into the centre of the city, a city soon filled with the sounds of voices and life; shopkeepers selling their wares and customers haggling, dogs barking in the distance, farmers bringing in their produce from the nearby region, horses and carriages bringing Nobles and merchants to and fro. Nothing of this registered in Lord Taighan’s mind as he passed down the city streets toward his destination. He was, in fact, thinking about the confrontation of the evening before. ● “That is a ridiculous proposal, Lord Taighan!” Lord Madhrid had made no secret of his strong disagreement. An older Lord in his early fifties, dressed as always in his finery, he had never been afraid to speak his mind. “Allying ourselves with Houses Sehnin, Khaledred and Lihren will cause major divisions among Cairhien Nobility”, he had shouted. “It is not in our best interest. We need some stability now that the world outside seems to be growing more and more chaotic every day.” “What rubbish!” Lord Taighan had replied emphatically. His voice was condescending as it often was when talking to people he considered his inferiors (which meant almost everyone). “This will bring more stability to Cairhien. Those Houses are often at each other’s throats as you well know; an alliance will benefit everyone, and the few Houses that may disagree will be.. persuaded otherwise.” Lord Madrid had not been convinced, suspecting this was a personal grab for power, and had left the meeting in anger, promising that he would do whatever he could to stop these new plans. Manoeuvring for power was part of every Cairhienin Nobleman’s blood. They had, after all, invented Daes Dae'mar, The Game Of Houses. It was the political and social manoeuvring employed by the Nobility to gain status or wealth, or to cause the downfall of others they dislike. Sometimes also called The Great Game, it was played heavily in Cairhien, where the most seemingly irrelevant act could cause Lords and Ladies to speculate endlessly about one's motives; even servants of the Cairhienin Nobility it was said play their own version of Daes Dae'mar. Lord Taighan was a deft player and used his skills to further his ambitions. And you, Lord Madhrid, thought Lord Taighan with some amusement, just overplayed your hand. ● Stepping out of the carriage before a large mansion at the outskirts of the city Lord Taighan brushed the dust from his dark coat and then walked up to the entrance. The door was opened before he got to knock and a male servant invited him in. The walls along the corridor were heavily decorated in a fashion which did not impress the Lord and he walked swiftly along, his mind on the meeting to come. Finally he entered a long hallway and saw a figure waiting for him at the end. Lady Surhin welcomed her guest enthusiastically, ushering him into a larger chamber which turned out to be the reception room. “Lord Taighan”, she said politely when they had seated themselves around a small table at the northern end of the room. “Lady Surhin”’, he replied with a thin smile. “Thank you for inviting me.” The long-haired, usually stern-faced middle-aged Noblewoman looked shrewdly at this Lord from the outer provinces, or so it was said, who had climbed the ladder of power in Cairhien in a surprisingly short time. Wherever he came from, he was certainly a man suited to The Game. His proposal for an alliance with her House Khaledred had certainly come out of nowhere and had surprised her. His House had often been opposed to her interests.. but his offer intrigued her and she was curious to hear what he had in mind. “Your offer interests me”, Lady Surhin said smoothly after they had exchanged the expected pleasantries. “It did come as a surprise though, seeing as your House has not been the most.. agreeable to House Khaledred’s activities of late.” Lord Taighan nodded with a thin smile. “We have been at odds for some time, that is true”, he replied smoothly. “But that is about to change.” The man once known as Esahm Seldin Terivahr grinned widely, his dark eyes glinting with possibilities. ● “Good times are ahead of us, Lady Surhin”, Kieran said. His deep voice resonated in the large room and the Noble lady’s face lit up, delicate threads of Compulsion aiding her positive reaction. “Together we shall help make Cairhien stronger”, he lied. The Chosen chuckled inside as he saw the Noble lady’s face glow with eagerness as he spoke of his - Lord Taighan’s - plans. Oh, these Nobles were so easy to manipulate, thought the Chosen with disdain as he watched her fall into his trap. Breaking up alliances, forging new ones, breaking up those through betrayals and re-forging them again later made for perfect instability and chaos. Kieran enjoyed the Game of Power though he missed his time as a scientist back in the world before the Breaking, when he had been doing truly important work. Working at the Sihn Theal, in his laboratories, he had created the Trollocs and other Shadowspawn for the Shadow, a feat almost unmatched by time. Banohr had aided too, of course, but it was he, Kieran, who had been the true brains behind the scientific success, the true innovator, the greatest scientist that had ever lived! This new Age knew nothing of such marvels, children they were playing in a world playground which was a poor and faint echo of the splendour of the world and Age he and his brethren had left behind. Scholar as he was, Kieran was a methodical man and he had quickly decided to make the most of it, after awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he preferred not to dwell upon. For his own gratification. And for the Great Lord. Of course. He used his methodical, experienced skills in persuasion now as he convinced the Lady of House Khaledred to support his plans. Outwardly he was serious and formal, a slight smile on his lips. Inside he was chuckling with glee. Cairhien was there for the taking. ● The Sea Folk ship flew like an arrow across the waves of the Aryth Ocean, borne by strong winds. The Sailmistress, Tarah din Coral Rising Wave, a tall dark-skinned woman with grey streaked hair, a grave face and with four rings in each ear, one of them being connected to her nose by a chain, a sign of her higher rank, smiled contentedly from her position of command on the Quarterdeck. This was her vessel, a Raker called Wavesweeper, and she was mighty proud of it and her crew. The vessel was large with multiple decks, easily a hundred paces long, with three towering masts amidships and one shorter one on the raised sterndeck. It had large triangular as well as somewhat smaller white squared sails, and a very narrow body, as was common in such ships, that made for great speed across oceans. Tarah had begun aboard a ship as a deckhand many years before, in the tradition of the Atha’an Miere, and had worked herself up through the ranks. She had finally fulfilled her ambition and gained the rank of Sailmistress with her own vessel - and she felt as protective of her ship as she would of a child. Her eyes swept over her ship with practiced ease, storing every little detail in her mind, and spotting her Windfinder Chalor din Togara Evening Tide near the bow. Windfinders were women who could channel the One Power and they were invaluable in plotting the best course based on the wind and currents. Manipulating the weather with flows of Air and Water, weaves Windfinders were particularly skilled at, they could change the weather to avert storms and speed their ship along to its destination. And Chalor din Togara Evening Tide was the best Windfinder the Sailmistress had ever had on her ship. She gave silent blessings for her fortune in obtaining this highly skilled and proficient Windfinder after the sudden, unexpected death of her previous one, Mebreille din Eiran North Wind. The woman had been found on deck one morning, dark eyes staring emptily into the sky, her heart no longer beating. There had been no sign of injury or any wrongdoing though the Sailmistress found the whole thing puzzling seeing as the woman had been healthy as a dolphin in heat from what the Sailmistress had observed. Soon after Chalor din Togara Evening Tide had appeared at one of their landfalls with good recommendations from other Sailmistresses and Tarah had taken her on, even if this woman was a stranger to her. They needed a Windfinder and this woman seemed capable. It was the best decision of her life. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide stared outwards at the ocean-waves from her vantage point. She was dark-skinned like her Sea Folk-sisters, dark-eyed with short hair, a lean body and she wore tattoos on her hands of stars and seabirds surrounded by the curls and whirls of stylized waves. She was ranked only under the Sailmistress and Cargomaster on this ship and the arrogance in her gait as she walked the decks befitted her station. Gazing at the dark and heavy clouds moving in the sky ahead of them, floating in an unnatural manner against the wind, pushed by strong weaves of Saidar, Issandra grinned and there was wickedness in her dark eyes. She was very pleased with herself. Under the guise of Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, who unfortunately lay dead at the bottom of the Aryth Ocean (it was very unwise to eat posioned mussels!), she had easily manipulated this stupid and naive Sailmistress into giving her the position of Windfinder on this ship after poor Mebreille din Eiran North Wind had died suddenly in the night (I guess she had not prepared for my inverted weave after all.. poor soul!). Issandra was now exactly where she needed to be, to influence events. She knew (though it hurt to admit it to herself) she probably was generally the weakest of the Chosen in the One Power, but she had one ability which outranked them all: she was very strong in Air and Water and very proficient in manipulating the weather, or Weaving of the Winds, as the Sea Folk called it. She doubted any of the so-called Aes Sedai of this Age were anywhere near her ability in this regard, Cloud Dancing they appatently called this Talent, though perhaps some of these Windfinders were closer in skill; she had watched several at work on several ships since her awakening from the Dreamless Sleep and she had to admit they were not totally useless. She did not use all her skill as Chalor din Togara Evening Tide, however, not wanting to cast suspicion on her ‘extraordinary skill’, doing just enough to impress the Sailmistress and make their journeys swift and efficient. Having to act the Windfinder at all times vexed her in truth, but she put up with it in public, venting her frustration only when in private. It was all worth it and the Great Lord would be pleased. ● Chalor din Togara Evening Tide changed the flows of Air, altering her weaves ever so delicately, and the Sea Folk vessel jumped forwards, entering an even better sea corridor towards the north. The ‘Windfinder’s’ thoughts were, however, not entirely on the skies and the horizon ahead but partly in another Age and another Time, where Issandra was carrying out important research on wind power and accelerated particle division, to much scientific acclaim, in the science facility of Ner Khalid. ● A goblet of delicious, perfectly chilled blood-red wine stood on the table. Lord Serafehl poured himself some of that red wine and enjoyed the taste of Taraboner grapes on his tongue. He looked with relish at the plate with a large steak, roasted potatoes, vegetables and a spicy sauce in front of him. It looked delicious but just as he raised his fork and knife to cut that steak a servant came into the private dining room with a message. “Can it not wait?” He said briskly. The servant, a young Illianer man in his mid-twenties, bowed and apologized for disturbing him but said this message was urgent. Receiving the piece of paper, the Lord looked at the heading which read “Lord Serafehl”. It was written in a flowing script which to Raphael’s eyes looked female. A woman had written this, of that he felt sure. Gazing at the message, he saw that it was an invitation to a reception at the Manor House of Lady Derinha. She was a fellow councillor here in Illian, someone who had been neutral in most of the discussions in the council in the past year but who had supported Serafehl in the voting. He had not spoken much to her in truth, so he was a little curious why she wanted this meeting. Things were coming along well in Illian as he saw it, but he could always use some added support to his schemes. Maintaining a majority vote in the council was important and any action that aided in this endeavour was worthwhile. Nodding to his young servant, he bade him send a quick reply on his behalf accepting the invitation. When the man had left, Lord Serafehl focused on his meal once again and almost sighed with pleasure as he tasted that delicious red meat. ● A chime rang in his private chamber later that evening and he understood it was time to go. His orders by the Great Lord has been explicit. He intended to follow them to the letter. Putting his dark coat on, Raphael seized Saidin and opened a gateway right there in his chamber. Through the gateway he saw parts of a semi-dark hill cave, hard stone reaching in all directions, candle lights lit at intervals. Stepping through, the gateway snapped shut behind him. He knew he was in the Blight though he could not say specifically where. Not that it mattered for today’s business. It could have been carried out anywhere, in truth, but this place was.. appropriate, he thought. Secret, out of the way. Solitary. They would not be disturbed. Heading further into the hill cave, on a path that angled downwards for a long while, Raphael considered the evening’s business. This would be the first time since awakening from the Dreamless Sleep that he would participate in such an action. It had been done before, of course, during the War of Power but it needed ample ‘resources’ one could say and so was fairly rare and only done when deemed especially necessary for the Shadow. The cave path slowly straightened, then angled upwards and finally opened up, walls of stone rising upwards on all sides, with huge malachites hanging from the ceiling high above. In the middle of the huge stone chamber, criss-crossed by symbols on the ground and partially lit by three dozen candle lights, stood thirteen Myrddraal and twelve Dreadlords. Raphael joined them. Bound by flows of Air to the stone wall behind them, two feet off the ground, was the Aes Sedai. Arahna Desonai, Head of the Blue Ajah of the White Tower. Her blue eyes stared icily and defiantly at everyone gathered, her smooth ageless Aes Sedai-features strained, her long curly blond hair flowing down from her shoulders. She was gagged with Air but had she not been, Raphael felt sure she would have cursed them all as evil traitors to the Light. He liked women with spirit, but her defiance would soon turn to terror when she realized what they were going to do to her. Seven of the gathered Dreadlords were male, the remaining five female. The females were of the so-called Black Ajah, Aes Sedai who had forsaken their oaths to the Light and joined the Shadow. The Myrddraal stood silently waiting, their Eyeless faces turned upwards. Raphael walked up to the bound Aes Sedai and smiled wickedly. Staring up into the Andoran woman’s face he whispered, “This is a day of joy for you. Soon you will join your sisters and brothers in service to the Great Lord. You are forsaking the Light. Aren’t you happy?” Defiance gradually turned to terror as recognition dawned on her and she realized what he had meant, what was about to happen to her. Her eyes widened in horror. Her soul cried out and had she been able to, she would have killed herself rather than go through what she now understood was about to happen: she was going to be Turned to the Shadow against her will. Tears flowed down her chin, her cheeks burning with frustration, as she thought with despair that they would make her betray the Light forever. She had been told of this secret evil practice from Ages past - the last known case was during the Trolloc Wars as far as she knew - when she had been raised Aes Sedai more than one hundred years before. In order to Turn someone unwillingly to the Shadow, it was said, one needed to gather thirteen Myrddraal and thirteen Dreadlords in one place. The victim of Turning must also be able to channel. The combination of Saidin and Saidar channeled through Myrddraal in this way was said to shift the allegiance of any channeler to the Shadow against their will. The process twists the person so that any previous commitment to the Light is redirected towards the Shadow. It was the ultimate horror Arahna could imagine and she screamed silent screams that almost tore her soul. ● Raphael grinned wickedly, seeing the horror painted on her face. It was time to begin. He joined the other twelve Dreadlords, making and completing a circle of thirteen channelers. He was the one leading, controlling the flow. He felt Saidin surge through his body and he increased the flow almost to bursting, feeling ecstasy in his soul. The power coming from the thirteen channelers was so strong that it made the air vibrate. He removed the gag of Air from the Aes Sedai and she screamed loudly, unendingly, a desperate cry that welled up from the bottom of her soul. Channeling through the thirteen Myrddraal, mixing with the power that the Fades derived from the True Power, the thirteen channelers of the Shadow threw their combined might at the Aes Sedai woman and it hit her like a burning storm. Horrendous screams erupted from her mouth as she tried to fight the massive onslaught. Crying out for the Light, tears flooding her face, she fought the mental rape for what seemed an eternity, using every fibre of her being to defend her soul, her heart, everything that was Arahna, resisting for as long as she was able. Hysterical with pain and fear, trying in vain to reach for the blessed One Power, and wanting oblivion, she fought on.. and on.. OH LIGHT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!.. her will strong and fighting and brave and pure….. but it was not enough. Not enough. Slowly, by increments, she felt her inner defences weakening, her thoughts became muddled and she knew .. OH DEAR CREATOR, I CAN FEEL IT!!! .. that her soul was being darkened. Her strength waned and then at a point, an eternity later, she could not tell, she felt a.. change inside her, as if a hand of darkness had reached into her and extinguished everything she had ever been, everything she had ever thought, every love she had ever nurtured, every dream she had ever had. Her soul was breaking - and the scream in her mind was endless. Her last thought as herself before she passed out, was that she wanted to die and end it all. ● Afterwards Raphael felt spent, and he crossed over to one of the stone walls to recover. He did not want the others to know how much this - leading the circle - had temporarily weakened him, so he brushed the sweat from his brow without anyone seeing and shielded his strength in the One Power in a way he had learned in the Age of Legends. It was a trick that had come in handy on several occasions. Looking at the others he saw that several of the Dreadlords were pretty exhausted too. It had taken longer than expected to break this Aes Sedai woman, she had been strong-willed, but they had succeeded. She had been Turned to the Shadow and was no longer the same woman, the same personality, that she had been. When Arahna Sedai recovered a little later, she had walked up to the Chosen and bowed to him. Her face had been flat but without any defiance as she had sworn new binding Oaths to the Great Lord holding a Binder, or Oath Rod as they called it in this new Age. Her eyes had been deep wells of nothingness.. but this did not surprise Raphael since he knew that Turned channelers were said to have a darkness or soullessness behind their eyes, at least for some period after the event. She had joined her Dreadlord sisters in the huge cave, and would now willingly (even if perhaps slightly diminished) join the Black Ajah’s efforts on behalf of the Great Lord to disrupt matters in the White Tower. Raphael did not know why none of the other Chosen had been asked to be present at this Turning, not either Divara who operated out of the White Tower, nor did he know if she had been informed (though he assumed so), but it did not matter. He had done as he had been ordered. Apparently this Head of the Blue Ajah was a person who it would benefit the Shadow greatly to have on their side. The Great Lord would be pleased. Raphael, feeling his strength slowly returning, exchanged a few words with some of the Dreadlords present, handing out commands and orders, then told them all to leave. All except the Aes Sedai. “Are you ready to carry out your duties for the Great Lord?” He asked carefully, looking deeply into the woman’s eyes. “I am, Great Master.” She replied truthfully. Deferentially. Her eyes were dead but there was no doubt in her voice. She was ready to serve the Shadow. ● Raphael was the last to leave the cave in the Blight. He opened a gateway to Travel to Illian. When his gateway snapped shut behind him as he stepped into his private chamber at the other side of the continent, the darkness of the night surrounding him, he grinned with malice but also contentment. Another day’s work completed. It was time to celebrate with some more delicious blood-red wine. ▀▄
  8. .. A Plan is only as Good as its Execution .. ►▼◄ The ball of light that Kathleen had weaved using Saidar partially lit up the dark cave where the two of them remained in silence for a while, the filthy words of the Poem of the Shadow echoing in their minds. They were also considering their next step. They had checked the cave as well as they could and there was always the chance that some of the Darkfriends would return. Not that Elessar doubted that the two of them could take care of such a situation - they were both seasoned warriors - but he felt it was best to return to the house they had made their new base of operations in Whitebridge and Kathleen agreed with his suggestion. As they left the cave, the ball of light winked out of existence and they headed into the night, walking resolutely in the direction of the town. ● They crouched in the shadows outside the Great Hall, the silence deafening. It was past midnight and the Manor House belonging to House Serevan was quiet. Elessar looked behind his shoulder at Kathleen and the glint in her stare made him guess that she was wondering how she had been persuaded by him to go ahead with this daring venture. In truth, he was wondering himself if breaking in, in the dark of night, with the intent of finding evidence of Darkfriend association on the part of the High Lady was such a good idea after all. ● The idea had seemed a good one at the time. The day after their return from the cave they has sat discussing their options in the house they were based in and both had agreed that the situation was complicated. There was danger but also excitement that both felt, eagerness to succeed in this mission but also a sense of prudence. The signs were clear that there was Darkfriend activity in the area as they had been led to believe, but they had no factual evidence as of yet. And the question was, how to obtain such evidence? Elessar had at one point suggested questioning their Darkfriend prisoner some more, pressing him for information, but they had agreed that it was highly unlikely the man would admit to any more than he already had, and uncertain how much more he actually knew. Torturing the man like a Whitecloak Questioner might have done was out of the question. Pressing a prisoner hard was one thing, torture quite another. After a long discussion Elessar had come up with a bold and daring idea: to break into the Manor House of High Lady Lyndelle during the night and look for evidence that proved she was a Darkfriend. At first it had seemed a somewhat rash, desperate idea with far too many downsides (the risk of being caught red handed at a private property in the middle of the night foremost, as well as the strong possibility that they would find no factual evidence after all), but the longer they considered it the better the idea seemed to the Warder. They had to do something and this was a bold move that the High Lady would never suspect. If they were careful, they could pull this off, he argued. He had to admit it sounded exciting as well, a clandestine operation and challenge where they would need to show honed skills and great care. Kathleen seemed to him not totally convinced by the idea but in the end she had agreed, also because they had not come up with any better alternatives. ● Perhaps this wasn’t my best idea. The Warder now thought in retrospect. Elessar considered the situation in the darkness. He had picked the lock to the huge main entrance door with relative ease (it was a practical skill learned many years before as a young Warder) and fortunately there had been no guards around, nor any alarm sounding. Sneaking into the hallway they had walked down some days before during their visit to the Manor, they had hidden in the shadows, waiting for an inside guard to appear at any moment. After a minute crouching in a corner they had walked slowly and silently down the hallway. Candle lights on the wall at regular intervals lit the way forward and Elessar glimpsed in passing the historical paintings he had seen on the walls before and the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Stopping at a corner, the Gaidin had peeked into the next corridor and seeing no movement had motioned to Kathleen and continued forwards. Half-way along this passageway there had been sudden movement coming from some way ahead and they had rushed in behind a pillar, moving as silently as possible, in time to hide from whoever was approaching. It had been a guard with a sword at his side and the middle-aged Andoran had passed them by without seeing them. It had been a close call though, Elessar had thought, and they had taken great care as they had continued toward the Great Hall. And now here they were, waiting patiently in the shadows outside the Great Hall of the Manor. They had agreed that it was most likely that any papers or other forms of evidence would be found in the private office where they had had their conversation with the High Lady. And to get to that room they had to go through the Great Hall. Elessar exchanged another look with his Bondholder and her stare was hard to decipher but he thought she was not overly amused. Turning back to face the large pair of doors with the House sigil embedded into the oak woodwork that were the entrance to the Great Hall, he considered whether there would be any guards in there. Since they had only seen one guard so far there was every chance there would be more around. Then again, it could be that the High Lady did not see the need for having more than one guard in the Manor at nighttime. It was time to roll the dice. ● Nodding to Kathleen, he finally crept up to the large oak doors and turned the door handle. He half expected the door to be locked but was pleasantly surprised when the door sliced open almost soundlessly. He waited a few seconds, alert and ready for movement inside but there was only silence. They moved quietly into the Great Hall, closing the door softly behind them. The Great Hall had fewer candle lights along the walls but sufficient for them to make their way across the large room and toward the door at the back which led to the office room which was their destination. When they arrived outside the office room, they stopped and waited. He whispered a few words to Kathleen and she replied with a nod. If any room had occupants at this late hour, it would be this one. They had both agreed on that. They did not expect the High Lady to be up so late and working (which was part of the reason they had come this late) but one could never tell. Perhaps the High Lady enjoyed plotting at night. Placing his ear close to the door, the Warder listened for any sound. There was nothing. Waiting a few more moments, he then tried the door handle. Unsurprisingly it was locked. He had expected as much. Removing his lockpick from his pocket he had the door opened in moments. He pushed the door inwards ever so slowly, ready to pounce on whoever was inside, but there was no one there. The room was dark with no lights at all and only slivers of silver light coming through the window at the end. Waving for his Aes Sedai to follow, they crept into the room and closed the door silently behind them. ● They waited until their eyes had adapted to the near-darkness of the room, listening for any movement out in the Great Hall, then they walked past the big table where they had conversed with the High Lady and up to a cupboard in the corner. Elessar had noticed the cupboard on their previous visit but had thought little of it then. When they had discussed the most probable place messages and other evidence could be found in this office room, however, the cupboard had come to mind. It was at least the first place they would check. A small voice in the back of his head whispered that the High Lady would not be so stupid as to let compromising evidence be lying around, but then again he knew that people - also Nobles - made mistakes and were not always as careful as they ought to be. Perhaps we are lucky, Elessar thought as he stopped before the cupboard, lighting a small candle for them to see. Kathleen joined him and he watched as she waited a second, then carefully opened a small drawer on the cupboard, shuffling through several small pieces of paper. Then she opened a second small drawer which only contained a few trinkets. The third drawer was locked. They exchanged a quick glance, thinking the same thing. This would probably be where any important papers were stored. The Warder removed his lockpick set again from his pocket and chose a small lockpick this time. Inserting it into the small drawer-lock, he moved it around inside the lock with twists and turns until a small click sounded. Nodding to Kathleen, he put the lockpick set away and watched as she carefully opened the small drawer. Inside was an envelope with a letter inside. The envelope had not been re-sealed so the Aes Sedai was able to remove the letter with ease. Holding it up near the candle light, she read the flowing script. Afterwards she handed it to Elessar without a word. He read it in silence. ● It said: My High Lady, I bring you good tidings. The plans we discussed some weeks ago have been set into motion. Our Friend sends his regards and says that the Black Rose will be sacrificed. It has been ordered so. Let me also add that the emeralds have been received and will be a princely gift indeed. They should give us the leverage we need. As for our.. guests shall we say.. keep a close eye on them. We must not let them interfere in our plans. Nothing must come in the way now. Remember what happened to our.. sister who failed. Her misjudgement almost destroyed everything. We must be careful. Yours in the Faith, Nyriana High Lady of House Vandahr ▀▄
  9. .. The Price of Betrayal .. ►▼◄ Her body plastered to the wall by invisible flows of air, she knew she was dying a slow and painful death. There was no sound coming from her, a weave of air gagging her, but the woman’s pretty features twisted with horrendous pain and her whole body would have jerked with spasms had she not been so pinned to the wall, as extremely delicate weaves of fire every so slowly sliced through her abdomen and her side. ● Raphael did not share Divara’s great pleasure in inflicting pain on others, but he did what needed doing and it was necessary to make an example of this traitor to their cause. For she had betrayed them, had attempted to reveal a fellow Friend of the Dark and a long-planned scheme to disrupt activities in the region to the local town authorities. Very unwise. Before that she had spread discontent within her Friends of the Dark-circle, accusing her leaders - and even the Chosen! - of withholding the truth and raving about there being no hope now that the Forces of Light were marching. Though many took her for a fool, there were also some - especially those new to their oaths - who listened. Finally she had renounced her Oath to the Great Lord. Very unwise indeed. Personally, Raphael thought the dark-haired, slender built woman had gone completely insane. Whatever the case, she was now paying the price of betrayal. She could see his face and his intense gaze as he came very close to her. His words were spoken softly and in her momentous pain she heard. “Lady, this is the price you pay for disobedience.” Soft words. “You betrayed our cause. You betrayed our Great Lord.” ● He felt her vital organs being crushed by his Saidin-wrought fire and understood that she had only moments left before death. And so he said, “The penalty is death. Pray that the Great Lord will give you eternal sleep, after you betrayed his word and your sacred Oath. Perhaps instead you will have eternal pain.” His grin widened wickedly. In that final moment of torturous pain, Raphael slackened the weaves of air holding her bound a little bit - enough so that he would see her body break. And with a widening of her eyes, she gave a final jerk, a final soundless cry and then her body went limp, all light leaving her eyes forever. The Chosen let go of all the weaves of air and she fell like an empty sack to the ground. He only gave her a quick glance, then turned to the middle-aged man standing off to the side with impassionate eyes. “Take her body to the circle and display it well.” The Friend of the Dark nodded. “Let everyone know what was done to her and that this is the price they will pay if they betray our cause or break their Oath.” “Yes, Great Master.” The man spoke deferentially and did not meet Raphael’s eyes. “It shall be done”, the man said. Raphael nodded satisfied, then watched as the Illianer Friend of the Dark lifted the dead woman up onto his shoulder and carried what was left of her corpse out of the room. On the floor remained small parts of her in a widening pool of blood. ● Seated in his high-backed chair in his chamber in the Great Hall of the Council, Lord Serafehl shuffled through the bunch of papers on his desk, his mind elsewhere. Outside twilight was descending on the Capital City of Illian, day slowly turning to night. Getting up from his chair, the Lord walked across the room and out onto the balcony. He stared out at the Square of Tammaz as he so often did in the evenings, thinking about strategy and what move to make next. Raphael’s thoughts went back to the evening before when he - or rather Lord Serafehl - had been challenged in the Council. Lord Ardhen, together with his two accomplices, had accused Lord Serafehl of threatening councillors and of incompetence with regards to a financial transaction-deal which the council had previously approved but which had gone awry. Raphael - in the guise of Lord Serafehl - had barely been able to contain his anger and has used his strong influence in the council to carry a motion which criticized Lord Ardhen for baseless accusations and made him apologize. Lord Ardhen had stormed out of the council chamber afterwards, staring daggers at Lord Serafehl as he passed. Raphael, for his part, had decided to accelerate his plan for the Illianer Lord’s unfortunate demise. You should be more careful going for a swim with these dangerous ocean currents, my Lord Ardhen. The Chosen thought with wicked amusement. One day it will be the death of you. His evil laughter remained, wisps of shadows in the air, as he walked inside his chamber again, new plans forming in his head. ● Ebou Dar. Raphael stepped out of the gateway and it snapped shut behind him. He was in a small palace in the Altaran Capital, in a private chamber that stood next to the reception hall. The walls were decorated with paintings of all sorts and in all the corners were luxurious vases on ornate pedestals. Lord Elahron, first councillor to the Queen of Altara, enjoyed affluence. Vinadel has not changed since his re-awakening in this time and Age, thought the Chosen with some amusement as he studied the paintings with some interest. He knew that a chime would have alerted the other Chosen to his presence and that Vinadel would join him shortly. Walking across to a window which showed the Royal Palace in the distance, Raphael stared out at the afternoon sun which lit up the Altaran Capital. It was a beautiful city, with its pale white buildings and plenty of canals. Transportation was easy on the passenger canal boats as well as on the broad streets and bridges. Large buildings and palaces were scattered throughout the city, the palaces richly decorated with tall spires or domes in the shapes of turnips or pears, emblazoned with bands of crimson, blue, and gold. The city was surrounded by a very thick white wall, which had three main gates - the Moldaine Gate, the Three Towers Gate, and the Dal Eira Gate - as well as several minor ones. Throughout the city, paved squares were very common, often containing a fountain bubbling water, a large statue, or both. Out of these squares, the Mol Hara square was by far the largest. At its center stood a statue of a woman with one arm raised as to point toward the sea. One entire side of the Mol Hara square was dominated by the gleaming white Tarasin Palace, home of the current ruler of Altara. Ah, but the real power is here. Vinadel was not the most accomplished of the Chosen in Raphael’s view, neither a great general nor a master manipulator, but he did have a way with words and ideas, having been a renowned Philosopher before the Breaking, and had managed to move himself into the position of chief advisor to the Queen, influencing things nicely here in his base of power. He and Raphael saw many things in the same light and had had a loose alliance since escaping the Dreamless Sleep. They did not trust one another, of course, but they had an understanding of sorts which benefited them both at present. ● The door at the other side of the room opened and Raphael turned around. Lord Elahron entered, closing the door behind him. He wore an ornate grey coat with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. It was almost a mirror image of Raphael’s black attire. A tall, slender, scholarly man in his late thirties, dark haired with a short beard and brown eyes, the Lord nodded to Raphael and a small smile came upon his lips. “Lord Serafehl”, he said in a pleasant voice. “How good of you to visit me.” Raphael returned the small smile. “Lord Elahron, I am pleased to be back.” Raphael was not surprised when Vinadel made a weave which ensured their privacy from prying ears - he always did this for their meetings, something Raphael thought prudent - and then bade him sit in one of the two chairs near the window. Seating himself, Raphael considered how much or how little he could tell Vinadel. With all that was going on he expected Vinadel would be just as careful. “So”, Vinadel began tentatively. “How are things going in Illian?” Raphael smiled thinly. “Oh, very well. A few obstacles, as can be expected, but on the whole things are going smoothly. And here in Altara?” “Very well”, Vinadel replied. “The Queen is.. stubborn, but she listens to good advice. She affords trust to her advisors.” Raphael nodded. “That is good.” His eyes intensified. “And what of Vanahl’s commands?” Vinadel’s brown eyes narrowed slightly. “Ah yes. He was rather.. displeased by the whole boy Dragon affair, wasn’t he?” A small grin came upon his lips. ● Raphael grinned back. “Indeed. Our Nae'blis was not happy at all.” A small pause. “Any idea who was behind that whole thing?” He said it lightly, wondering what Vinadel knew and what he would share. “Oh, it was not me”, Vinadel replied with a small chuckle. “In case you wondered. I have no idea, but it was rather unwise, I think.” “Yes”, Raphael said, his mouth twisting slightly. “Some of our.. associates have been.. premature before.” He chuckled, knowing the double-meaning would not escape the other man. “Indeed”, Vinadel replied with similar amusement. “Have you spoken to Vanahl since the meeting?” “Yes, I have”, Raphael answered. His lips tightened momentarily. It had been an unpleasant meeting where Vanahl had accused him of holding things back - which he had, of course been doing - and Raphael accusing Vanahl of losing control of the group of Chosen. They had parted in anger. “He was not overly pleased by what I had to tell him.” Meeting the other man’s eyes, he added, “And you?” “Yes, he came to see me some days ago.” Vinadel replied, his eyes narrowing once again. “Not a very pleasant man. Never was.” Raphael nodded in agreement. “He feels things are falling apart, but it is more the question of him losing control, I think. Our plans are going ahead, the Shadow is slowly spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased.” “I agree”, Vinadel said. “I don’t know what some of the others are up to, but down here South things are going according to plan.” ● When he returned to his chamber in Illian a little later, the silver line of the gateway disappearing behind him, Raphael went over in his mind what his fellow Chosen had said. He had watched the other man carefully during their conversation, trying to pick up on body language and signals which spoke of intent and emotion, but had perceived little of use. Perhaps Vinadel had spoken truth, perhaps deception. It would have to do for now. The man could at least be relied on, as far as any of the other Chosen could be relied on in the great Game of Power. ● The Council of Twelve were horrified when they were informed the following morning that Lord Ardhen had been found dead in the sea outside the Capital. It was ruled an accidental drowning in strong ocean currents, a probable heart attack when the councillor had gone for his regular evening swim. Lord Serafehl had been most gracious in his kind words of the late Lord, saying that despite their differences Lord Ardhen had been an honourable man who had served Illian with dignity and strength for many years. A motion had subsequently been passed, honouring the dead Lord, and only when the meeting was over and he was alone again in his private chamber, had his somber mask of melancholy broken to be replaced by gleeful jubilation. There was an empty seat on the Council now but with his influence and power Lord Serafehl knew he would be able to get the right man selected. Oh we shall miss your valuable council, my Lord Ardhen. He grinned wickedly. We shall miss it immeasurably. ● The dying rasp of the Myrddraal (they always took a long time to die, damn them!) made the man’s almost black eyes harden even further, if that were possible. Disobedience of the Chosen was almost unheard of but this servant had questioned his orders and he would not stand for it. What business is it of yours, he whispered in his mind to the almost dead creature, how I decide to carry out the Great Lord’s commands ? You are a Servant of the Shadow, of the Great Lord, of me, and you live to obey! Disgust shone in his eyes as he stared at the dying body of the Fade. He tightened his fists and tried to control the anger within. “The penalty for disobedience is death.” His words were hard as stone. “May the Great Lord’s wrath be as harsh.” Turning to face the other Eyeless Ones, three tall figures with cloaks that never moved, he said softly but dangerously, “Anyone else want to question my orders ?” There was no emotion coming from the remaining Myrddraal but from their stance it was almost possible to detect some unease. But also some displeasure. The one standing nearest to the Chosen bowed carefully and rasped “No Great Master. We obey. “Good!” The Chosen said, anger in his voice. “Any more betrayals and you will all die painfully. More painfully than this one.” He pointed at the dead Fade. “Now take the Trollocs north”, he commanded. “There is a change of plan. Be ready for new orders.” Gerehl looked them each in the eyeless face, his stare boring into them, before he turned and entered the gateway. The lights of Tanchico could be seen in the far distance as his gateway snapped shut. ● Stepping out of the gateway in quite another place, the Chosen walked up to a tall mirror that stood beside a huge painting depicting a battle-scene. Looking at his reflection, he grinned at what he saw. A brown-haired man in his late twenties with almost black eyes and high cheekbones, a lean body and a dark green cloak with frills. Chuckling to himself, the image in the mirror slowly changed as the weave known as the Mask of Mirrors in the Age of Legends gradually changed his features from those of Gerehl back to Raphael’s. These were interesting times indeed, thought Lord Serafehl of Illian with dark elation and great satisfaction as he returned to his work desk to go through some more council papers. The chaos is spreading. The Great Lord will be pleased. His grin widened. Gerehl.. perhaps less so. Raphael laughed inside. Oh, it was good to be alive! ▀▄
  10. .. Pawns in a Game of Power .. ►▼◄ The room flickered in the strange way things often did in the World of Dreams, a reflection of the real world, caught between moments. Raphael was used to this after his long experience with Tel'aran'rhiod and its ‘laws’ but it still caught his eye at times like remnants of a shadow. Raphael stared admiringly at Arissa as Vanahl droned on. Her lavender dress was unique, he knew that much, and it set off her hair and eyes beautifully. Casting a glance at Divara he grinned. The woman was giving Arissa baleful glances, as usual. That would never change, thought the Chosen as he studied the woman. She had always been fashion-conscious and never liked anyone out-dressing her. She had always been a terrible gossip, so Serahna had told him on one occasion, and apparently that had not changed since awakening in this new Age and time. She had based herself in the pathetically named White Tower and was attempting to influence events among the Aes Sedai. Raphael always thought with scorn when he thought of these women who now called themselves Aes Sedai. So weak in the One Power, and weaker in character, they were not worthy of the name! He had come to hate the Aes Sedai back in what they now called the Age of Legends, due to the betrayal he had felt, but at least they had been men and women of power and ability, worthy adversaries. Something Vanahl just said grabbed his attention. ● "Someone has been interfering with the boy Dragon ahead of schedule”, the Nae'blis said. “Under EXPLICIT orders not to. He has been visited by an unauthorized Myrddraal, two Gray Men, and a Draghkar. Pass orders to your Friends of the Dark near him that any Shadowspawn within one country of his vicinity must be reported to me immediately.” Raphael could hear the anger in Vanahl’s voice and he laughed inside. So someone had acted against the will of the Nae'blis! A daring move indeed, perhaps unwise.. but exciting even so! Raphael enjoyed watching Vanahl’s fury, though nothing showed on his face. He knew how unwise it was to provoke the man unnecessarily and so he watched and listened as the other spoke on, inwardly chuckling with glee. “Each of you will meet with me privately to tell me your plans and your knowledge of every one else's plans. I WILL find who has disobeyed." Vanahl's eyes blazed hotter as he looked at each one of them in turn.” ● Raphael felt a sliver of fear when those blazing eyes met his but he controlled his emotion and afterwards convinced himself it had not been fear, just natural weariness. Inside he felt scorn for this man who thought he was so much better than the rest of them. Yes, he had been given the honour of being chosen Nae'blis, first among them - an honour Raphael felt he should have been given! - but even so Raphael thought Vanahl did not show them - and especially him - the right amount of respect. Your arrogance, Vanahl, will one day be the death of you, he thought maliciously and with glee as their leader’s eyes moved to the next in line. Looking at other faces around the table, he wondered who it was among them that had attempted to influence events with the young poor replacement for Dar Keran. He guessed several had been tempted - except Issandra, who he felt pretty sure would not be brave enough to even consider such disobedience, and a handful of the others who were loyal to the Nae'blis. He, Raphael, had considered it of course, but in the end he had found it too risky. The Dragon Reborn - Raphael felt spite whenever he thought of the name this young so-called reincarnation had been given - would have to be dealt with in due course, in some way or another, but this was not the time. So who had gone against Vanahl’s orders? He did not think Arissa had done so. She was more than capable, of course, if she decided the risk was worth it, but he did not think she was the one. Could it be Kharin? She had hated Dar Keran from the first day she had met him and he expected that she hated his young replacement as well. He sometimes wondered if there was anyone she did not hate. It was rumoured that she got on well, shall we say, with a certain Merindhra, a voluptuous maid from Arad Doman, so perhaps she was not filled with hate all the time. She had been close to defy Vanahl on several occasions, speaking up against his plans with a gusto that several of the others gawked at and some secretly admired, making Vanahl’s features contort in rage. Perhaps this time she had acted on the threat to act against him. He would have to find out. Perhaps it was time for his current alliance with Vinadel to be broadened. ● “I am sure it is all a big misunderstanding, Vanahl.” Raphael said when the Nae'blis had finished staring at everyone, echoes of his command reverberating in the chamber. “We all know better than to disobey Your commands.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his words and his blue eyes glinted dangerously but his face was smooth as stared back at the other man. It was not a challenge per se - though sometimes his temper got the better of him, Raphael was far from stupid and would never challenge the Nae'blis unless he felt he had the advantage - but a small reminder that Vanahl should step carefully and not overplay his hand. A couple of the others smiled thinly at Raphael’s words, baiting the Nae’blis. Serahna looked amused. Kharin’s upper lip curled in disdain. Arissa just stared at him but he thought he detected a hint of a smile on her red lips. Vanahl, however, gave him a hard stare, knowing exactly what game Raphael was playing. Another sly attempt to undermine my authority. I will destroy you one day, Raphael and wipe that smirk off your face. He kept silent though, biting his tongue. That was for another day. For now it was imperative to find out who had disobeyed his orders and almost messed up his carefully laid plans for the young boy. When he found out who it was, that person would wish he or she had never been born! As for telling Vanahl his plans, Raphael had no intention of doing so. He was no fool, after all. His plans were secret and would remain so. Their success depended on secrecy. Instead he would give the Nae'blis a loose version of the truth, a vague summary of his current activities, to make the man happy. Divulging other Chosen plans was also out of the question. Not that he knew that much about the others’ activities to begin with, though he had heard some rumours and speculated on a few other things, but alliances were built on trust and secrets were not divulged. Some of the others were so loyal to Vanahl that they might speak of secrets, but most of the Chosen had their own agendas and plots to influence the world and focused on those plans and strategies whatever Vanahl demanded. Raphael guessed it would never be discovered who had ‘interfered’ with the boy Dragon. And if by some chance the guilty party was discovered.. then Raphael felt pretty certain that Vanahl would punish him or her very harshly indeed. Oh yes. The gateway snapped closed behind him, leaving the World of Dreams behind, as Raphael stepped into his own private chamber and walked slowly across to his work desk, filled with papers, maps and scrolls, and sat down. It was time to put more of his plans into motion. ● The Banners of Illian, Twelve Golden Bees on a Field of Green, situated atop the Palace called the Great Hall of the Council, rippled on the soft winds that came in off the Sea of Storms. Standing beside a large window in one of the top council rooms, Lord Serafehl, wearing a dark coat with golden fringes, ones that mirrored those in his boots in the Illian style, looked across the Square of Tammaz to the almost identical huge Ogier-built white Palace situated there, the King’s Palace, and grinned darkly. These two famous Palaces in Illian bore witness to the struggles between the two political powers in this nation: the King and the Council of Twelve. Your Palace may indeed be two feet larger in every measurement, as the stories go, Lord Serafehl thought to himself somewhat smugly, but here is where the true power of Illian resides. There had been a power-struggle in Illian for what seemed forever. The system of having the Sovereign being “advised” by a council of lords - The Council of Twelve - was bad enough for the King of Illian. But in addition to that there was still another “advisory” body known as the Assemblage chosen by and from Illian’s merchants and shop owners. Both of these groups contended with the King for power, with the result that the nation lacked apt leadership. Or so many thought. And that, Lord Serafehl mused, is what I am going to give them. Leadership. But from behind the scenes, of course.. That was always the best way, a whisper in the right ear here, a whisper in the right ear there, gaining influence among those with power, but without drawing undue attention, and slowly but surely the master-puppeteer holds the strings of a nation. And then when the time is right.. to strike - and to strike hard! ● It had taken Raphael a while in the guise of Lord Serafehl to manoeuvre into the position he held now, a member of the Council of Twelve of Illian. In the first months after making the city his new home he had set himself up as an advisor to Lord Tiriahm, a rather arrogant but not too shrewd lord from the eastern provinces, helping him solve certain “difficulties” as the Lord had called them. I removed those obstacles for you, Tiriahm. Not in the way you expected, perhaps, but even so. After that, it was easy to prevail upon a somewhat uneasy but at the same time very political-minded Tiriahm to speak his case when the council suddenly were in need of a new member after the untimely loss of Lord Nemihl, who abruptly died in his sleep one night. People whispered about assassination and murder, but no one in government found any proof of that and so it was deemed that his heart had simply lost its will to beat. And so it did, after I crushed his chest with some delicate weaves, Raphael thought with great amusement and relish as he now stared out at the Square of Tammaz. The meeting with the others had taken place the day before and Raphael had since then received messages from two of the other Chosen. Serahna wished to speak on an important matter, she said. Raphael was curious what Serahna had in mind. She was not one with whom he had much contact, but her invitation made him curious. Perhaps she was someone he should consider an alliance with. The other message was from Vinadel. He had put that aside for the moment. Stepping back from the window, he walked across his ornate chamber and seated himself in a high-backed chair. On the walls were paintings that depicted battles in Illian’s history. They pleased him, reminding him of his own battles and triumphs of command. They did also make him think of paintings of a very different kind that had decorated his chamber back before the Breaking.. in his own time. A different world. A different time. ● Brushing thoughts of the past away, though echoes lingered in the back of his mind, he considered instead what he had accomplished since his arrival in Illian. He smiled gleefully as he reminisced. For Lord Serafehl had adapted to a Councillor’s life and political work with incredible ease, something that as time passed by made most of the other Councillors reassured that the right man had been chosen for this highly prestigious position. Even though he had come so recently to the city and they knew so little about him, he radiated confidence and showed great ability with his advice and prudent motions - qualities they knew to appreciate. Though he had somewhat of a brisk manner about him at times, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, they took it as efficiency and the sign of a man born to make decisions, born to rule. With them, of course. And the King. Of course. That was the way of Illian. That was the way it had always been. That was the way it would always be. All is going according to plan Raphael thought with satisfaction. Seeds of Darkness have been sown in Illian, the Shadow spreads ever so slowly across the land, breeding instability and chaos. The Great Lord will be pleased. Much remained of his very elaborate plans, but things were proceeding quite well. ● Leaving the chamber, he walked briskly down a huge marble staircase to the floor below. He met two servants at the bottom of the stairs who bowed deeply to him as he passed but he hardly saw them, new plans forming in his mind. He rounded a corner and suddenly came face to face with Lord Ardhen, one of the few Councillors who did not think as highly of this Lord Serafehl as many of the others seemed to do. “Lord Serafehl”, he said drily. A slight bow of the head as to an equal. “Lord Ardhen”, Raphael replied in the same manner, giving the same slight bow. “Your proposal to move a good part of our armed forces into our border-region in the north was rather .. rash”, Ardhen said carefully. He was going to say foolish, but decided to be a little more tactful. “We ought to have considered the matter further before the motion was passed.” “You think so, Lord Ardhen ?” Raphael replied with a slight edge to his voice, not liking the man. “Is it not prudent to guard our northern borders when we hear tales of troubles and unrest ? The north has been neglected for too long, I believe, and it was time to do something about it.” Raphael said smoothly. “Troubles and unrest .. , my Lord Serafehl.” Lord Ardhen said. “That is just rumours .... just rumours ... and we need to be alert should those fools in Tear suddenly decide to war upon us again. You never know with them.” ● Lord Ardhen held the neighbouring nation of Tear in as low esteem as most Illianers, and should Illian ever be thrown into a war it would be with Tear, he felt certain of that. “My Lord Ardhen”, Raphael said patiently in reply, “Tear is no threat to us.” He could see from the other man’s return-stare that he did not believe him. It did not matter. “And should Tear at some point in the future become a nuisance,” Raphael added for the lord’s benefit, “we have enough of our armed forces down here south so we can deal with it. The majority of the councillors agree with my assessment of the situation”. In a somewhat smug voice he said, “Only you and Lords Kerdan and Tharin were in fact against the motion.” The other man’s lips tightened. He was an older man, well past his prime but he still had some fight left in him. “Yes, this time we lost. This time.” With those final words and casting the other man a challenging stare, he walked straight past Lord Serafehl and did not stop before he was almost at his private council-room, anger clouding his mind. There was something about that Lord Serafehl that put his teeth on edge. He was a sly one, that one, that was for sure, politically very able, but Ardhen - who came from one of the oldest families in Illian and who had been a councillor for many years - felt in his bones that there was more to it than that. He bears watching he thought grimly as he poured himself a glass of red wine from a decanter and took a big swallow. ● Staring silently at the back of the departing Lord Ardhen, thinking about what had been said in their short conversation and what had not, and also the trouble this old lord could make in the future, Raphael wondered if the older Illianer Lord ought to meet with an unfortunate accident. The ocean currents of the Sea of Storms were particularly dangerous this time of year. The Chosen’s grin widened wickedly as he walked up the steps to his chamber. There was work to be done in Illian. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  11. .. Tel'aran'rhiod: A Meeting of Chosen .. ►▼◄ ..Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams, the Unseen World, a place that exists in the spaces between the weave of the Great Pattern of alternate realities. It is a world much like the natural world - a reflected universe that mirrors the physical world: mountains and rivers; cities and palaces; forests and oceans. But it’s an empty place. Living creatures are not reflected; they appear only briefly when they dream themselves into Tel'aran'rhiod, and even more rarely when they enter it physically. To enter the World of Dreams in the flesh can be dangerous for those not capable enough. Very dangerous indeed.. ● Raphael, like all the other Chosen, had extensive knowledge of Tel'aran'rhiod, more than any others in this Age. Even so, the World of Dreams had always seemed somewhat of a mystery to him, a puzzle of infinite possibilities. It is the place where no dreams die. ● Where those words came from, like a whisper in his mind, he could not tell - words of another Age perhaps. Whatever their origin, he thought there was a ring of truth about them. Physically entering Tel'aran'rhiod, closing the gateway behind him, he moved across the marble floor of the huge chamber and seated himself in one of the several ornate oak chairs with high backs that were facing each other around an ornate table across a space of twelve feet. On the table were elegant crystal glasses and a dozen candle lights burning. Not that the candle lights were necessary - there were other lights along the walls lighting up the room - but they gave the meetings a certain style and familiarity, he thought. This was a mirror-image, a reflection, of the same estate chamber in the western part of the country owned by a Nobleman who was also a Friend of the Dark. It was an apt place for a meeting, Raphael had always thought, also one conducted in this Unseen World. Raphael had used it several times for clandestine meetings in the time since he had escaped the Dreamless Sleep of the Bore. Holding onto saidin - though he did not expect treachery at this meeting he did not trust anyone, least of all the other Chosen - he stared around the empty chamber as he waited. His piercing blue eyes had a calculated look. His blond hair and handsome face, coupled with his tall broad-shouldered body, was a strong indication for anyone who knew. Then again, there were very few left who knew. This was a different Age and what had once been, what moved in Raphael’s memories from the Age of Legends, was dead and gone to this world. Even so, he preferred masking his appearance from the unknowing world - in the guise of Lord Serafehl -, prudence was always wise. Brushing his hand through his blond hair for a moment, his thoughts went back to that Age before his Dreamless Sleep and as so often was the case, his mood slowly darkened and his features twisted with anger as his memories were filled with the face of Dar Keran. The blasted man! Even if he was dead and buried now, he still infuriated Raphael whenever he thought of him. Bloody Dragon! Raphael remembered a time when Dar Keran had been impressed by his skill as General and Commander of Legions, a time when they had almost been friends, but everything had changed when Dar Keran had persuaded the Shon Mel to pursue his grandiose ideas. Your pride ruined everything, Dragon. The bitter thought lingered in his mind. His betrayal by Dar Keran, as he saw it, combined with lack of appreciation for his eminent skill as a Battle Commander by his other Aes Sedai peers and comrades had pushed him toward the Shadow and the Great Lord. Being accused of brutality towards his own troops, publicly reprimanded by the White Tower and subsequently having his military command removed, was the final straw. Kneeling in front of the Great Lord of the Dark, swearing a new and unbreakable Oath, offering his life and services, gave him immense gratification and he swore vengeance on all his enemies, on the pityful Aes Sedai and on Dar Keran above all. That he never got to kill the Dragon himself still rankled, like a wound in his soul that never quite healed, but at least that damn man was dead! And I am not. Gradually calming himself, his hands in his lap, reflections thrown by the candle lights, he waited. He wore an ornate black coat to this meeting with frills at the neck and cuffs and his boots also had frills. He looked very much the part of a powerful lord and acted the part. But in his heart he was the General of his past. ● A Master of War and Strategy. One of the best Military Commanders the Great Lord had had in the War of Power. Almost at the level of Vanahl himself. His features twisted anew as he thought of the man who had taken upon himself the role of leader of the Chosen. An arrogant man at the best of times, perhaps even half-mad it was suspected (but never mentioned in his presence), Raphael did not like him at all, but he respected him, sensed the man’s strength in the One Power (which was a little greater than his own and thereby strongest of them all), and followed his lead. At least for now. Political intrigue and manipulation had never been to his liking, unlike Tervihn and Sinam who seemed to thrive with it. Raphael had indeed always preferred open military conquest. But he saw the necessity of politics and subtlety and played along in order to achieve his goals. It was, after all, a delicate situation and he knew when prudence called for less direct confrontations. He was not the most patient among them though, not the most deft at subtlety, and his temper sometimes got the better of him, but he played the Game of Power with experience and ability. Kieran and Banohr were scientists, middle-aged scholars who had created Trollocs and other Shadowspawn in the War of Power. Dedicated men who definitely had their use, but Raphael had always considered them weak and not his equal. Vinadel, the eternal philosopher, was a valuable ally, often sharing Raphael’s views. He was not the most outspoken but could be relied on. Last of the men: Gerehl. He had been a teacher in the Age of Legends, famous for having made school children cruel, vindictive and murderous through long, subtle and clever indoctrination. He had served the Great Lord well, Raphael thought, spawning a new breed of Friends of the Dark, but he had been less efficient after his awakening from the Dreamless Sleep. Also he was the type of person who always voted with what seemed to be the strongest faction among them, he had no principles as Raphael saw it. Then there were the women. Serahna, Kharin and Divara. Three capable women, but more meddlesome than most, Divara especially. Kharin could not stand him and the feeling was mutual. A handsome rather than beautiful brown-haired, long-legged woman with olive-shaped eyes and high cheekbones, she hated all men and it was a trait that had not changed in 4000 years and her attitude toward her fellow male Chosen was no exception. Issandra was the weakest of the women, in character as well as in the One Power. She had been a research-assistant to the Lyr Nahm, a demure figure of no consequence and Raphael sometimes wondered how she had had it in her to go over to the Shadow in the first place. According to Serahna, Issandra had killed her two-timing lover out of spite and had fled the city to avoid imprisonment or, even worse, Severing, finally offering her soul to the Great Lord to gain freedom and immortality. It did not sound too plausible to Raphael he had to admit, something about the scenario sounded a bit.. off, but then again human nature was impossible to understand at times and a woman scorned, as most men knew, was not the best of enemies. ● And then there was Arissa. Raphael grinned mischievously as he thought of the very capable and alluring woman. With her dark red, wavy auburn hair, glittering emerald eyes and seductive curves she was a sight to behold. Her flirtatious nature and love of beautiful people, or rather servants, was no secret, and she appreciated his handsome looks, as she had teasingly hinted at on more than one occasion. Powerful in both character and the One Power, she was one of the most formidable Chosen as he saw it. She was an important ally who could be trusted.. at least as far as any of the other Chosen could be trusted, he thought with a wicked lopsided grin. Which meant not at all, if truth be told. But some trust was needed for alliances to be made here - and everywhere - and he gave what he received, some trust and mutual cooperation, building power from behind the scenes. Raphael was brought out of his reverie by the arrival of two of the other Chosen. Kieran with his dark complexion, short brown hair and dark-brown eyes stepped out of what looked like a heavily decorated manor-room and into this meeting place. He gave a noncommittal nod to Raphael and then seated himself in one of the chairs opposite. Raphael was not surprised that the other man too held onto saidin. Few who participated in these meetings ever let their guard down. Almost without thinking he measured or sensed how strong Kieran was in the One Power and it pleased him, as always, to register that the other man was weaker than himself. Another gateway opened on the other side of the room a few moments later, echoes of a stately room, half bathed in the golden light and half draped in darkness, left behind, and Arissa stepped through. She gave him a flirtatious look as she closed the gateway behind her, her wavy auburn hair luscious and dress clinging, and walked slowly toward the ornate table where the others were seated. The beautiful dress she wore emphasized her curves and Raphael stared appreciatively at her, his blue eyes glinting, as she sat down in one of the available chairs at the end of the large table. Her eyes met his, her ruby lips pursed, and he almost expected to hear her wicked laughter which she often shared with intimates when delighted or amused. He wondered how things were going with her ‘pretties’. Probably not so well for them, he thought slyly, remembering their glazed and highly unnatural ‘eager to please’-looks when he had visited her on occasion. Arissa was hugely accomplished when it came to delicate weaves of the mind, skillful manipulations of the brain, using Compulsion and similar so-called ‘forbidden weaves’ on unsuspecting victims, probably the most accomplished of them all in that respect. She had certainly been a valuable asset during the War of Power. ● “Vanahl is late as usual”, Raphael murmured with a slight frown, changing his train of thought, as he took a sip from the drink in the glass before him. “Perhaps one of these days we will have to teach him punctuality.” It was an idle threat, spoken more as a means of breaking the silence than for any other reason; no one, after all, ‘taught’ Vanahl anything he did not wish to be ‘taught’. The repercussions could be.. unpleasant to say the least. Raphael’s blue eyes narrowed, his mouth slightly twisted, as he gazed at the silent Kieran opposite him. The man seldom spoke at these meetings, preferring to watch and listen. Unlike Sinam who never stopped talking. And Tervihn who never stopped arguing. They were 13 men and women, all different but ambitious and all born with - and strong in - the One Power, stronger than the pityful so-called Aes Sedai of this Age, who had sworn allegiance to the Great Lord in return for the promise of immortality. Forsaken, those lightfools had called them, but they were Those Chosen To Rule The World Forever. And Rule we will, Raphael thought emphatically, excitement building inside him at the thought. We shall Reign! Silence followed his words, and as they waited for the others to arrive, Raphael went over in his mind how he was to gain the confidence of several of the other Chosen for his ambitious plan. It would not be easy, seeing as all the Chosen had their own agendas, plots and plans at all times, but Raphael had always enjoyed a challenge. Strategy, he thought to himself as he sipped more from his drink, his eyes taking on a calculated look. Strategy is always the key. ● Memories took him back to Davelle 4000 years before.. “The General has betrayed us! Run, everyone! Ruuuunnn!” Screams of pain, endless screams of agony, the stench of death all around. Raphael, confident in his own power and ability, throws saidin-wrought lightening at the defending forces, watches with glee as the men die in pools of blood. His forces attacking from both sides at once, as part of his carefully thought-out military strategy, catch the defenders in a squeeze and they have no chance. None at all. The screams keep coming, shrieks of terror, the storms of chaos steadily building, and Raphael’s blue eyes glitter in endless, glorious exultation.. ● Just then, a silver line tore through the air, another gateway opening - dangerously close to the table and chairs this time - and Vanahl, leader of the Chosen, stepped arrogantly through, his eyes pools of fire. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  12. OOC: This RP takes place in a self-contained, parallel Portal Stone World of the Wheel of Time. Mirrors of ‘reality’ as we know it, reflections of what has been, can be and may become, but in no way a factual portrait or representation of the Wheel of Time-books or its famous characters. ------------------------- .. The Breaker of Faith .. ►▼◄ There is no more faith. The echoes of another Age reverberated in Raphael’s mind as he stared emptily into the blazing fire. ● His name was Neram Setin Vadar. Or at least, so it had once been. ● “All faith is lost!” The screams of terror almost drown out the young man’s words of desperation as he runs down the street, blood pouring down his face. “He has betrayed us! The General has betrayed us!” He stumbles and falls face first into the ground, a stab of pain in his side. With some effort he gets to his feet but is almost trampled by the mass of people running in panic from the gates. He stares back for a moment and in the distance sees the guards fighting for their lives atop the gates. “Oh Light, we have no chance now!” His breath catches in his throat as he sees the gates come crashing down. He cannot see the General but he knows he is there. The Traitor. “Run!”, he screams to a couple of tear-stricken children who stand before a half-destroyed shop off to the side, panic in their eyes, shock in their faces, unable to move. “Run, children. Run!” ● Blood fills the street and the stench of death fills the air as the minions of the Shadow crush all opposition on their surge toward the centre of the city of Devalle. The General feels waves of saidin being channeled but quite a way off. Holding onto saidin himself, loving the power flowing through his veins, he walks forwards, his gaze focused. Buildings barely standing on both sides of the street. Destruction everywhere. He halts for a moment, nods contentedly and starts off again, but is soon stopped by a small noise. He turns sideways and suddenly spots a little terrified girl who is holding hard onto her doll. She is crying, tears running down her chin in rivulets, and her big brown eyes stare fearfully at him as he bends down to look her in the eye. She shivers with fear as his hand touches her face. An unreadable look passes across his face, then he says, with passion in his voice, passion mingled with harshness, “Little one, this is a day of death. You should be long gone.” The little girl looks back at his hard face, and starts sobbing even louder. Finally she speaks, but in such a soft tone of voice that the General almost does not hear. He leans down and hears the words. “My brother is dead. They took him. There is no more faith” she says, her eyes watering over, her heart breaking. “No hope at all.” For you that is true, the General thinks. For those fools too. Yes, this is the beginning of the end. Great Lord, it is begun. The man who after this day was to be called Raphael, the Breaker of Faith, stares intensely into the smoke-filled distance as the child crumples to the ground before him. It is begun. ● The spoken words brought him back to the present. “No hope, Great Master. Or atleast so she says. Others are listening to her words and wondering if she is right.” Knee bent before the Chosen, the grey-haired man in his dark travelling-cloak faced the floor as silence followed his words. Finally Raphael spoke. “She will be silenced.” The Friend of the Dark heard the sentence pronounced and sighed. Even so, she had brought it upon herself. “But in one respect she is right” Raphael added, gaze hard. “Sometimes there is no faith.” Fools! He thought. We must rid ourselves of such fools and cowards before they damage our plans. My plans, he amended. “You may stand.” The words were softly spoken, the voice deep, but were perceived as a command. The man got to his feet and stood silently a few feet away from the Chosen. “Look at me.” The man turned his eyes up to stare the other in the face, swallowing hard even so. What he saw was a dark-haired, strong-jawed, hard faced man in his mid-twenties with dark-brown piercing eyes and a hawk-like nose in a partially scarred face. Those piercing eyes met his now in a no-nonsense manner. He swallowed hard again. Had the Chosen not used a spell of Illusion upon his servant, what the other would in fact have seen was a very tall and imposing man, handsome in looks, in his early thirties with broad shoulders, blue eyes that bespoke of power and intelligence and blond hair that reached below his neck. As it was, the Friend of the Dark stared into those dark-brown eyes of his Master only for a second before shifting his gaze slightly as it were. “You will let me know if others spread discontent, won’t you ?” The words were spoken dangerously softly. “Yes, Great Master. At once!” “Good. You may go now.” The friend of the Dark bowed one last time to the Chosen, shuffled away and then locked the door behind him on the way out, glad to have been dismissed. Most of all he was glad to still be alive, having brought bad news to the Master. ● Raphael’s eyes continued staring into the blazing fire, aflame with memories of another time, whispers reaching across the ages to surround him in his timeless place. “Breaker of Faith!” “Traitor!” They named me well, those lightfools, and I embraced the name they gave me. For I did betray the Gates of Karan, I did carry the Shadow into the heart of Davelle. Oh yes. Fire. Did they think I didn’t know what I was doing ? Oh I knew - and I conquered! Storm. If only I had gotten to destroy you, Dar Keran! You proud and self-glorifying man! You destroyed the world sealing the Great Lord and us away, you and your two hundred mad Companions. Chaos. Hope has blossomed in the world as the Wheel has turned, but I will break all faith, my naming will be true. That I promise! The intense and hateful look in his eyes would have given even the staunchest warrior pause. There was intelligence there, and an inner fire of purpose and endless determination. ● And the Fire blazed on, Storms raging in screaming Flames; the Past and Present blending in a moment of Dark Revelation. ▀▄ Raphael Chosen
  13. Well, actually I do have the time and interest 😁 but after I posted I thought perhaps it was better to talk off board by PM (was going to send you a PM but you beat me to it) and so I edited the post. If you are interested, send me a PM okies 😉
  14. Em! *huggles* Kinda quiet, yeah but some of us are still around. Good to see ya! 😉
  15. .. Hunting the Shadow - Part 2 .. ►▼◄ They watched the cave from a distance, waiting silently in the Shadows. They had received the ‘tip’ from the informant earlier that day, that ‘persons of dubious allegiances’, as the old man had delicately termed it, were rumoured to be meeting that evening in a cave in a hillside just outside Whitebridge. It had sounded somewhat dubious to Elessar, a bit too obvious and possibly also a trap, but then again this informant was trustworthy, or so Kathleen’s contact had said, and so they had, after some debate discussing the possible danger and risks involved but also the upsides, decided to check it out. From their vantage point they had seen several secretive dark cloaked figures enter and leave the cave in the past hour or so, some with burning candles, though what business they had inside the cave was anyone’s guess. The Warder did find it suspicious though, also with the late hour, and wondered if this really could be a Darkfriend meeting place or, perhaps, a hideout. Whispering some words in Kathleen’s ear, he turned back to gaze at the opening of the cave. They were on a small hillside with a path leading up to the cave. Since it was dark it was not easy to see much more than a dozen or so figures coming and going. It was noteworthy though that all the figures wore dark cloaks which hid their faces from the little light that shone down from the moon above. Elessar wondered if their High Lady was one of those figures but it was impossible to tell, or find out right then. Kathleen had made it clear that they were just to observe this night, not intervene in any way. They had, after all, no proof of any wrong-doing by anyone specific so far, just rumours and indications, also it was unwise to jump into any danger without preparation, even if they both were more than capable of defeating many foes. And so they lay silently watching, out of sight for any of those present. Finally, a good while later, two cloaked figures left the cave, throwing their burning candles aside as they walked down the path. They were whispering to each other and one of them was gesticulating but it was impossible to tell what they were saying. From the way they carried themselves Elessar guessed they were males, though he could not be sure. Was there any reason to believe all these people were up here meeting in this out-of-the-way cave near midnight with no dark intentions? The local history club on a late night outing, perhaps? Somehow it seemed very improbable to the Warder. They waited a while longer to ensure there was no one left in the cave. There was no movement in the darkness, only the soft breeze touching their hair, and finally they agreed that the last of the people attending the cave-meeting were gone. Were they to go and check the cave? Kathleen and Elessar discussed the matter in lowered voices (just to be on the safe side), whether there could be anything to be found in the cave or if it represented some danger to them. They ended up agreeing that it was worth taking a look, both excited at the prospect of doing something, and they were not defenseless after all. ● Creeping forth from the place they had been hiding on a small elevation a little to the side of the cave-opening, they walked down to the path and up to the cave. Peering carefully inside, Elessar saw nothing. It was pitch black. Exchanging a glance with Kathleen, he stepped aside as she made a light appear. It was still semi-dark further inside the cave but the light made it possible to see some details of what was within. Checking for any boobytraps, the Aes Sedai then nodded that it was safe as they went inside. They walked slowly, Elessar vigilant as always and ready for any sudden danger. Nothing happened, the shadows surrounding them as they went deeper into the cave. They stopped and gazed at a wooden table and some old chairs on one side. Further in were some more chairs and the legs of a broken table, but nothing else. Just the rock walls and the stone ceiling. The cave was larger than they had anticipated, the temperature sinking as they went further in, and at one point it branched into several smaller passageways. The Gaidin wondered who had dug out this large cave once upon a time and for what purpose. There were no animals of the four-legged kind either in the dark cave, some who might frequent this western Andoran region, for which they were both grateful. Then again, Elessar might have had more sympathy for a bear or a stray wolf than for the filthy animals of the two-legged kind that they were hunting. They studied the rugged walls and ceiling of the cave, both wondering if this place hid any secrets that could give an indication of what all those people were doing here and who they were, but they found nothing important. A broken cup on the floor of the cave, a piece of glass that had fallen off something, a torn piece of clothing, and the remains of some burned-down candles. They seated themselves in two of the old wooden chairs, Kathleen studying the piece of glass, and exchanged views and thoughts. Elessar thought he felt renewed excitement through the Bond from Kathleen and he guessed she felt the same from him. Hunting Darkfriends was exhilarating; dangerous yes but also exciting and fulfilling. To Elessar this was the most important duty they had as Guardians of the Light, as he liked to think of them. ● Studying his Bondholder as she spoke now, he thought they were making a good team so far. The Bond was fresh, however, and he knew from his former Bonds that it took a while for Warder and Sedai to learn each others’ subtleties through the Bond and know each others’ moves almost before they made them. The Bond would also be tested at some point, they would disagree and have to work through their differences, he knew this from experience and Leandreen had also spoken of it, but so far he was pleased. It felt much as it had with Leandreen in those early days: two dedicated partners in the Light, learning to think, act and work in tandem, and united in common purpose. Finally, after some minutes of deliberation, they agreed to search some more, this time separately. Elessar stepped over to one rock wall a little further down the passage to check while Kathleen went the other way. They searched for some time without luck, feeling with their hands along the rugged walls and looking into the small crevices that were found intermittently. It was not easy with the lack of light in the cave but his eyes had become accustomed to the semi-dark and he kept on looking for some time. Elessar was beginning to give up, resigning himself to the fact, when he suddenly encountered something. He spoke her name, not too forcefully (still being careful) and waved her over. ● “I think I found something”, Elessar said over his shoulder to his approaching Sedai. Squeezed in between two rocks on the side of the cave in a corner was a smaller stone pitched at a strange angle and behind this a dark gap. Another stone, flatter, stood against the rock in that place , as he reached in, and when he touched it he felt it give way. Behind, in what was obviously a secret compartment, there was a steel box (with some decorative signs on top which bespoke of age) which he pulled out, excitement building inside him. Could this be something important? Hidden away as it was, his hopes rose. As Kathleen joined him from farther inside the cave, he opened the steel box (it had no proper lock, just a steel bar which he pushed to the side) and pulled out a small, bound parchment. It was old, showing its age. He opened it eagerly, but careful not to rip it, and read it quickly, barely breathing, before handing it to his Bondholder. His eyes then fastened on a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription that also lay in the steel box. His eyes were wide, his mouth open in disbelief. It cannot be..! How is it possible?! ● A memory took him back into the past. A long time ago… .. a young boy had found an old, strange document in a cave in the hill-country of northern Kandor. It had been buried in a steel-like box and only by chance had the young Kandori boy come across it as he had dug for ‘hidden treasures’ like most boys at that age. Excitedly he had shown the box to his father, who had remained at the opening of the cave - having first, of course, checked that the cave was not the home of any dangerous animals - and his father had managed to force open the box by using a knife he carried. Hoping for a treasure of some sort - perhaps some gold crowns! - the young boy had been mightily disappointed when the box had only contained a small dark stone with an almost illegible inscription and an old, bound parchment. His father, however, had looked carefully at the stone, and in even more detail at the parchment, noticing its old age, speculating on its content, and had pocketed them, without a word, for later study. Only later that day, as they had headed back south toward their estate, had the boy noticed a strange, dark, uncompromising look on his father’s face but as young boys were want to, his thoughts had drifted, distracted by all the exciting countryside they were riding through, and he had thought no more about it. Elessar remembered.. ● That evening, however, a day’s journey or so north of the Telcontar Estate, in their makeshift camp in the lee of a hillside, his curiosity had gotten the better of him. Seeing his father sleeping soundly beneath his blankets a few paces away, Elessar had crawled, making as little sound as possible, across to their belongings and to his father’s travelling cloak. Checking carefully in one of the cloak pockets, he had felt the stone and the parchment beneath his fingers. He had disregarded the stone. The parchment, however, had been of more interest to him. Taking it out, carefully removing the soft binding, barely able to read the front of the parchment by the light from their camp fire, he had read: “Glory to the Shadow’. Finding it a strange and exotic - more than frightening - title, his curiosity had grown. Opening the parchment, glancing back at times to make sure his father was still sleeping, he had started reading. His eyes had grown wider and wider as each verse had registered in his mind, but it was only later, much later, when he had admitted to his father having read the unsigned Dark Poem in secret and had been chastised for it, that he had understood, at least to some extent, what a rare - and despicable - document he had found in that cave that day. Elessar would never forget those Dark words and that ‘filthy Poem of the Shadow’ as his father had called it, before handing the document over to the local authorities, spitting the words in great distaste. Only years later, as his own interest in history, poetry and stories had grown, had Elessar truly understood what a rare find they had made in those northern Kandori hills. Poems praising the Dark One, or the ‘Great Lord’ as worshipping Darkfriends termed him - poetry of the Shadow - were really rare (at least outside Darkfriend circles) and very rarely spoken of, if at all. The Warder had often privately speculated that the White Tower probably kept some historic documents of the Shadow hidden in their secret vaults, be they any rare Dark poems, stories, proclamations or even, perhaps, prophecies of a sort, but he had never shared his suspicions with his Aes Sedais, knowing they would very probably never reveal any such secrets, if they existed, even to their Bondmates.. ● And now, having read the words on the parchment, he knew it was the same words, the same filthy Dark poem he had read all those years ago. And the same dark stone accompanied the parchment. He could not quite believe that for the second time in his life he had found one of the rare - as far as he knew, at least (though more learned men might, of course, know better) - Poems of the Shadow. Shaking his head, he wondered if this was an omen of sorts. He had always hated the Shadow and had dedicated his life to fighting the Darkness, to fighting Evil wherever it may be found, the main reason why he had left his Borderlander home around the age of 17 and travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder in the Light. In all the years since he had stood proudly and defiantly at his various Bondholders’ side in the eternal struggle against the Shadow. Kathleen finished reading the old parchment and handed it back to him in silence, picking up the small dark stone with the almost illegible inscription from the steel box. She studied it for some moments, running it through her fingers, before placing it back. The emotions coming through the Bond were muddled. He was unable to read her eyes but he thought she looked somewhat questioningly at him. She had probably seen or sensed his reaction and understood that there was much more to this, at least for him. He met her eyes and nodded affirmatively. ● “As you may have guessed, I have seen this.. filth before.” Elessar said. There was still disbelief in his voice. “I know such.. poetry.. if we can call it that.. is rare. At least that is what I have picked up from books over the years. But I have actually seen this same poem before. And a similar dark stone. In a hidden steel box. A long time ago..” He told his story and Kathleen listened attentively without interrupting him. Afterwards she gave him a strange look, a look he could not quite understand, but she did not question him about the matter, keeping her thoughts to herself. Instead her eyes returned to the old parchment he was holding. He looked down at it again, his fingers touching the flowing script, and his eyes darkened. Filthy words. Dark words. Words of praise to the Shadow and their Master. It made him sick, but at the same time he knew - and he knew that she knew - that this was another piece of evidence that there were indeed Darkfriends in this region if there had been any doubt. Servants of the Shadow. Men and women with black hearts and devious minds. Enemies of the Light. Enemies of the White Tower. The letters of the Dark poem, the zealous words of devotion to their evil Master of Darkness, almost leapt from the page in Dark whispers and echoes to surround them there in the partial darkness of the cave. ►▼◄ ‘Glory to the Shadow’ Glory to the Shadow! Our day is Near! When Darkness will cover the Land in Fear To you, we Pray, to ignite the Spark Arise, our Master, Great Lord of the Dark! Glory to the Night! We will Hunt in Strength Covering the World, in its Breadth and Length Destroying the Lightfools, wherever they Be Drawing their Blood, on the Land and the Sea Glory to the Darkness! Our Great Lord’s Return! For Victory, Immortality - Let the whole world Burn Oh, Lord of the Grave - we Salute you, we Obey! Your Triumph we await! On that Final Day! ►▲◄ Kathleen and Elessar remained standing in the semi-dark cave in silence for a long time, lost in their own thoughts as they considered the implications of this latest find, two beacons of Light among threatening Shadows. ▀▄
  16. .. Hunting the Shadow - Part 1 .. ►▼◄ The deadly knife whistled through the air, making a whooshing sound that slithered through the darkness, embedding itself with an emphatic thud in the old wooden building within a hairsbreadth of Elessar’s head! ● The day had started nicely with a good breakfast at their inn and pleasant light conversation. Their Darkfriend-prisoner was bound (in more ways than one) in the closet of Kathleen’s room and the innkeeper had been informed that the room was out of bounds for any inn staff. They were considering whether they would get any more useful information out of the Darkfriend, and what to do with him afterwards, though Kathleen had raised an eyebrow at some of Elessar’s more.. colourful suggestions regarding getting their captive to talk. He had made those suggestions partly in jest, and would never resort to torture even if interrogation sometimes meant being forceful. One had to draw the line at some point, he remembered his Warder-teachers had emphasized early in his training, keeping morality and ethics in mind. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from our evil enemies, Elessar. Never forget that. He did, however, make good use of his ability to lie (falsify the truth) to a captive whenever necessary, knowing one of the Aes Sedai Oaths prevented Kathleen from doing the same. It often produced results, in his experience, and was a useful and important tool in interrogations. The Warder had been in a good mood as they had departed the inn in late afternoon to do some errands. Soon though his mood had changed. It had started some time later with the horse and carriage almost running them over. Accident or mishap perhaps, but Elessar found it highly suspicious that the horse driver had swerved into their path as he had done. Then, as they were rounding a corner five streets or so southwards of the inn, three huge blond-haired brutes had jumped them without provocation. Elessar had reacted quickly, Kathleen as well, and after some well-aimed blows the men had run off cursing down the street. The Warder had not considered it worth running after them though he had cast them black looks over his shoulder. They might be ordinary thugs but he highly doubted it. He was not a great believer in coincidence. They had retreated to a bench in a small plaza where they had discussed the situation and how to respond. Excitement was good but he wanted to be in charge of events, things happening on their terms; acting, not reacting. It had been near sunset, twilight quickly approaching over the horizon, when they had begun the long walk back towards the Western Bridge inn. Darkness was quickly falling over Whitebridge as they had headed down the town streets, Elessar keeping a vigilant eye on their surroundings. A few streets from the inn they had stepped into an alley which led to a side-street that ended at the inn. It was dark by then and the two had walked carefully forwards along the buildings, keeping to the shadows. And that is when it happened! ● It had been instinct, perhaps, that had made him cry out a warning to his Sedai just in time, leaping in front of her to shield her - and Kathleen had thrown herself to the side and out of danger’s path. Instinct, or perhaps a feeling of imminent danger, an added sense which Warders often seemed to possess and which was particularly sensitive in Elessar after the occurrences earlier that day. Throwing himself to the ground, he now checked on Kathleen asking if she was ok - she lay a little off to his left in the dark, partially stunned but seemingly uninjured - before raising his head to look across the alley from where the knife had been thrown. It was difficult to see in the darkness but he glimpsed that some of the buildings had doors partially open, with a little light coming from within, and there was a small staircase leading down from one of the houses, but he could see no movement anywhere. Just then, as he was considering their options, a second knife flew through the air and barely missed the Warder. Retrieving it carefully from the wall beside him, touching only the handle, close up Elessar thought he saw dark wetness on the blade. Poison without doubt! Darkfriends! It’s bloody well happening all over again! Elessar thought angrily, as he cursed loudly. He remembered a similar episode with Carys, his former Bondholder, some years before, then too Darkfriends had tried to kill them. A different place, but the same enemies. He felt sure of that. The same bloody vermin. Cursing again, Elessar threw the knife away. He took a moment to evaulate the situation. How was it he could be taken so unawares? Again?! He blamed himself for not sensing and discovering the danger; whether he was, in truth, to blame was less important to him right then. He felt responsible for Kathleen’s safety, it was his duty as her Warder, and it was only his quick instinctive reaction combined with some luck that they had not been seriously injured so far. Whatever powers, skill and experience they both had, when taken totally unawares those things did not count for all that much. Turning quickly to check on his Sedai again - she had found her feet and now met his eyes calmly, her look focused and determined; he guessed she was holding the One Power, in readiness -, he turned back to the alley before them. He regretted now taking this route, seeing that it was a good place for an ambush, especially in the dark. He should have taken the long way around to the inn, he thought guiltily. It was easy to be critical in retrospect. Pushing those dark thoughts away, he considered what action to take. Speaking a few whispered words with Kathleen, they moved slowly forwards keeping to the shadows. They were half-way along the building when the Gaidin stopped, Kathleen just behind him. In the silence that followed Elessar gazed into the blackness, searching for their foe. Suddenly there was a sound coming from ahead of them to their left on the other side of the alley. Not a loud sound, the shuffling of feet, but enough to stand out in the silence. Elessar had an idea now where their foe was. The assassin. Whispering to Kathleen again, he began removing one of his own knives - a well balanced piece that would function well as a throwing-knife - from his coat. He waited and waited.. counting on the man out there becoming impatient.. and after a few minutes his tactic succeeded. There was visible movement in the darkness and a shadow detached itself from the building opposite. It was not much of a point to aim at but enough for the seasoned Warder. He took careful aim, waited and then threw the knife hard at the shadow. ● His aim had been good and there was a gasp of pain followed by a curse coming from the shadow as the knife hit its target. The shadow went into motion, gradually showing the contours of a human figure, and scrambled hurriedly away from them down the alley and into the adjacent street. Elessar was about to follow but Kathleen put a hand on his shoulder whispering that they were to let the man go. He nodded, accepting the decision. The man had gotten a big head start anyway and would perhaps not have been caught. Also there could be other assassins about. His first priority was keeping his Aes Sedai safe. Casting a long glance around them, he searched for any additional threats in the dark. “He is gone, but there could be more than one”, he whispered as he stared vigilantly around. “We should get moving. It seems our enemies - probably our bloody Darkfriends! - do want us dead.” Kathleen nodded in silent agreement, keeping her private thoughts to herself, and they headed swiftly back to the inn, both vigilant and careful, keeping an attentive lookout in the dark, intent on not being caught unawares again. ● The man with the scar cursed as he half limped, half ran along the alley, turning at intervals to check if he was being followed. The pain from his leg coursed through his body and it took a strong effort of will to avoid screaming out in agony. The knife protruding from his leg had to be removed but that was a job for a healer man. He would not risk removing it himself. Main thing was to get to the safe-house; he would get help there. At least the knife had not been poisoned; had it been, he would have been dead by now, of that he felt sure. Cursing again, the man’s piercing blue eyes stared fixedly ahead. He turned a corner, looking into the distance for the building he sought. His faltering steps made a clicking sound on the cobblestone path. Finally he saw it. Hurrying past a couple of rough-looking men who looked strangely at him, with great suspicion, he half-limped, half-dashed inside the building and up a short flight of stairs. Stopping before a nondescript door he banged on the door with both fists, breathing hard, sweat pouring down his face, pain making him grimace. He clenched his fists as he waited for someone to open the door. There was movement from within, then a cold voice called out: “Who is there?” The man with the scar cursed again. “It’s me. Open the door! I am bloody hurt.” There was a moment’s pause, then the door opened slightly and a pair of cold blue eyes looked out from a heavily scarred face. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, the man - a middle aged Andoran by the look of him with predatory eyes and a twisted mouth - opened the door wide and helped the injured man inside. The door shut closed behind them. ● It was a good while later, after a healer man had come and had removed the knife, cleaned the wound and bandaged part of his leg, that the man with the scar was able to think through what had happened. The short truth of it was: he had bungled the job. His masters would not be pleased. Not pleased at all. Thinking back on the pain - the hideous unending pain! - from that night not so long ago made him shiver. Before that night, he had for a time considered breaking his oath. He had simply been tired of it all; tired of his work, tired of all the death he spread, wanting only to have it done with. But then he had been warned, first with the note slipped unsuspectedly into his coat pocket, and then - more firmly - with the torture.. His body almost shook again. After that all doubt in his mind had been removed - or repressed. He realized he had been a fool to think he could get away with breaking his oath to the Great Lord. He would carry out his assignment as he had vowed. ● But he had failed. The Warder and his accursed Aes Sedai woman, snooping around where they were not wanted, were still alive, his knives had missed their target from what he had seen and heard. And to make matters worse, he was the one who had gotten injured. Angry at himself for his failure, and for getting himself injured, the man’s eyes tightened. Had the Gaidin not somehow sensed the danger coming, screaming out his warning just in the nick of time, the knife would have hit the woman in the chest, of that he was sure. The Warder himself had been lucky to have escaped with his life. He had run straight into the knife’s path. Running a nervous hand through his long blond hair, he shifted his eyes to the cloaked figure, with a heavy cowl hiding the face, standing still in the corner of the room. That figure had been silent ever since it had arrived. The man with the scar almost wished it would stay silent forever. His wish was not to be. The cloaked figure beckoned him forwards and he stood up from where he lay, gritting his teeth against the slight pain in his leg. Facing the cloaked figure he lowered his eyes in deference. A cold whisper came out of the black hood. “We do not tolerate failure”. Pain erupted in the scarred man’s head and he cried out in agony. He could not tell whether he had been physically struck or not; the pain was sudden, the pain was everything. He fell onto his back and tears of pain streamed down his cheeks. His arms shook and his screams became ever louder. After a few moments - or an eternity -, he could not tell which, the pain lessened somewhat. He tried to stop his arms and legs from shaking but was only partially successful. He registered the voice in his mind. He could not say if the words were spoken aloud or not. Pain and confusion ran through him - and he only wanted it all to stop. “You will have one final chance to please the Great Lord. This is what you will do.” He listened carefully to his instructions, taking note of every detail in his mind, but soon he was awash once again in oceans of pain. ● Back in their rooms in the inn, Kathleen and Elessar sat for a long time discussing the seriousness of their situation, and why things has escalated as they had. They both agreed that it had to be the Darkfriends wanting to rid themselves of the White Tower threat that the Aes Sedai and Warder represented. But it seemed overly drastic for their enemies to attack so openly. Either it was a sign of desperation, Elessar suggested, or of great confidence in themselves. For whatever reason, Kathleen and Elessar had to reassess the situation and consider how to meet this open threat. Retreating was out of the question - they were seasoned warriors both - and neither were they enthusiastic about asking for reinforcements. This mission had been given to Kathleen and she intended to carry it out and complete it. Elessar agreed full heartedly. They would finish what they had started. At the same time it would be prudent to be a little more careful when they ventured outside. Kathleen saw that Elessar blamed himself for not having prevented the attack but assured him that it was impossible to be ready for every eventuality. He nodded in response, though inside he still felt guilty. A Warder’s guilt. He swore to himself that he would do better next time. He would not fail. He had failed enough in his time. He brushed the destructive thought away, listening carefully to Kathleen’s words about their next move. The following morning they met up in the Common Room for breakfast. After some decent food, drink and pleasant chitchat Kathleen retired to her room (she had some things she needed to take care of, she said) while Elessar went into the streets to have a look around. He wanted primarily to get an impression of whether they were being watched. Heading to a spot by a building on the other side of the street, which had a good view of the entrance to their inn, he stopped there and pretended to be looking through a shop window at wares. In the reflection from the glass he stared, however, at a scruffy-looking young man a little way down from the inn who kept glancing that way. As he had expected, they were being watched. He turned his gaze down the street to see if anyone else suspicious was taking an interest in them. He then turned in the other direction. He did not see anyone else though people and carriages were passing and it was not easy to tell. He considered jumping the scruffy-looking spy, but decided against it. They already had one spy in captivity; a second one might become too much to handle at that moment. Kathleen had said go look about and report back and that he intended to do. ● Walking across the street, he entered the inn and went up to Kathleen’s room and reported what he had seen. “I think we should find some other place as base of operations”, he suggested when he had finished reporting, and Kathleen agreed after considering the matter. It seemed prudent and also practical to find some place their enemies did not know about. Somewhere less conspicuous. A private place, not an inn or similar establishment. Kathleen left to contact the Eyes and Ears and later that day the local woman that Kathleen knew came to visit. They spoke for a while in private and not long after the Aes Sedai, the Warder and their captive (unconscious and back in his leather-sack, carried by two trustworthy men associated with the local woman) left the inn by the back door and were brought to a secret place in town by their familiar horse driver with his carriage. Elessar caught the eye of the horse driver before entering the carriage and in the older man’s eyes he thought he saw a blend of honest fear and dedicated willingness to serve. He had seen the same look in others who served Aes Sedai and the White Tower. It did not surprise him. It was shortly after they had settled in their new temporary abode, a nondescript old house on the eastern outskirts of town, that the local woman took Kathleen aside and told her of the informant who wished to speak to them. They spoke to the man, an almost toothless old Andoran with a rugged face and only one eye, discussed this new situation in light of the new information, and considered whether this ‘tip’ was something to disregard or if it was an opportunity they should not miss. Kathleen finally made her decision, thinking the matter over, and Elessar nodded in agreement. ▀▄
  17. Wonderful post, Tyrell ^^ When you put it like that, we are probably all here a little nuts to enjoy this great fantasy-saga as entertainment.. *dark grin* It is certainly adult in most respects, and often extreme (though the consensual sex-part, as you say, is modest [mostly off screen] compared to similar works; personally I approve of that but, like others, think that part will be much more prominent in the tv-series).
  18. .. Danger on the Horizon: Part 2 .. ►▼◄ At that moment a crashing noise came from the forge followed by a shout, and he saw the stranger watching the forge almost jump as he stared intently in that direction, wondering what on earth was happening. This was Elessar’s chance to catch him unawares! If the man saw him coming, he might get enough of a headstart that the Warder would be unable to catch him. Springing into action, Elessar ran in great leaps toward the man, keeping to the shadows of the buildings, and was almost upon the stranger before he was spotted. The man yelped and tried to make a run for it but to no avail. The Gaidin caught him before he had made a dozen steps and swung him into the wall between two buildings. The man cried out at the pain in his back but managed to swing his fist at Elessar. The Warder saw it coming, however, and deflected the punch and delivered one of his own into the other man’s stomach. The man bent over in pain and another deft punch in his neck-region by Elessar knocked him out cold. Gazing up and down the alley, Elessar saw no one who appeared to be interested in what was going on and he nodded to himself, pleased. They wanted to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. Not long after, Kathleen came walking up to him and looked silently down at the unconcious man at her Warder’s feet. She nodded to him, and he lifted the man’s body onto his shoulder - no mean feat considering the weight of the man - and carried him deeper into the alley and down some dark stairs on the left to a locked cellar-door. The room behind was a cellar and storage area for the blacksmith and Kathleen opened the door with a large key. They dragged the unconcious man into the dark room, which was half-full with crates of all sizes, and locked the door behind them. ● The blacksmith had only been too glad to aid them, letting them use the cellar-room for whatever business they had, when Kathleen had explained to him that it was Tower business (but giving no details) and that they would be grateful. It was a risk, perhaps, but the older man seemed dependable and dragging their victim through the streets and into the inn constituted an even greater risk. Kathleen had agreed when Elessar had suggested it. They needed to get some answers from this man, and quickly. The Warder felt sure this man was involved somehow. We do need answers, he thought to himself, as he watched the contours of the man on the hard earthen cellar-floor. Then there was sudden light and Elessar studied the man more closely. He was Andoran without doubt, blond hair, half-long though greasy-looking. The man wore ordinary Andoran workman’s attire though he was a bit scruffy-looking. His face was rougher than normal, several scars running down the side of his left chin. His nose had been broken several times as well and would never be quite straight again. Are you a Darkfriend, I wonder? Elessar thought darkly to himself as he studied him. Or just a rough-looking street villain hired to spy on people? The Gaidin checked the man for weapons, removed a knife the stranger had in a pocket of his vest, tied his arms and legs tightly with a rope, and then slapped the man’s face hard a few times - and finally the man regained conciousness. He struggled against the ropes for a moment but to no avail. Cursing, the man turned his face up at whoever was standing before him, and then scowled. ● “You!” he spat and tried to lunge for the Warder though he was bound and unable to move more than a few inches. Kathleen remained silent but watched carefully as their captive gradually quieted, his back to a large crate. He stared sullenly - and angrily - at the Warder and Aes Sedai. “Good!” Elessar said in a hard voice, the man’s knife in his hand. “Now then, we are going to have a nice little talk.” His no-nonsense tone could not be missed, though the man did not react to his words. “You have been following us”, the Gaidin said squarely. “And I, or rather my Aes Sedai here” - he nodded at Kathleen beside him - “wants to know why.” “Please take you time, if you wish.” He added smoothly. “We have all day. But do speak truthfully. We do not deal well with lies.” ● A dangerous glint came into the Warder’s eyes as he studied their captive, his fingers brushing the knife’s edge almost nonchalantly. As a Warder of many years, he had experience in interrogation and questioning. The threat of violence was always preferrable to the real thing, he had found, but a Warder did what was necessary to keep his Aes Sedai safe. In their fight against the Shadow - and other enemies of the White Tower - sometimes harsh measures and methods were necessary. He hoped Kathleen, as an experienced Battle Ajah Sister, understood this, just as his dear Leandreen of the Green had done many years before. Studying the rough-looking, angry and tight-mouthed man on the ground, the Warder’s eyes hard and uncompromising as stone, Elessar of Kandor wondered what it would take this time. ● “I will tell you nothing!”, their captive spat, looking angrily at the Warder. Elessar shook his head, his eyes narrowing. “That is not very productive”, the Warder said in a hardened voice. “Nor very wise.” The Andoran man chuckled. “You don’t scare me.” There was spite in his voice when he added that he had done nothing wrong. He was innocent. “Innocent, eh?” Elessar mumbled wryly as he felt the sharp edge of the knife along his finger. “Innocent of what exactly?” The man only glowered at the Warder and Sedai and kept his mouth shut. “I think you are many things”, Elessar continued, “but innocent is not one of them.” The man’s eyes tightened but he remained silent. ● “So tell us”, the Gaidin demanded, “who sent you to spy on us?” The man looked up at them and grinned darkly. “Who said anything about spying on you, ..Warder!?” The man spat. His emphasis on the word ‘Warder’ made it sound foul the way he said it. “Oh stop these bloody lies!” Elessar shouted, and in a sudden move rammed the knife into the crate beside their captive’s head. The man’s eyes widened, the rapid move taking him by surprise. Elessar exchanged a glance with Kathleen, hoping she would understand that this was part of the ‘interrogation game’ he was playing with this man. He would deliberately ‘lose his cool’ at intervals to put the man on edge. It was one of several techniques to be used in situations like this. The Warder remembered from his time with Leandreen that she had complimented him on his interrogation-skills, also adding that he was so good at it that she sometimes feared he might go too far. Kathleen had not seen this part of him before, and he hoped she would understand and approve of his methods. Turning back to their captive, he saw sweat bead on the man’s forehead. His eyes were angry still but the Gaidin thought he detected some uncertainty in the man’s face though he tried to hide it. “Next time”, the Warder said icily, “that knife will be embedded in your shoulder. To make another scar which will fit well with the facial scars you wear so proudly.” ● The man cursed and then stared at the Aes Sedai with hatred in his eyes. Kathleen stared back at him, her face seemingly unaffected. It was hard for Elessar to tell from the Bond what she truly felt. Turning from the man on the ground, the Gaidin walked up to his Bondholder and whispered something in her ear. Was he to continue this line of ‘questioning’, or did she want to take over? She nodded that he could go on, which he interpreted as trust in what he was doing. If he went too far, he was sure Kathleen would let him know in no uncertain terms. Turning slowly back to the man on the cellar-floor, Elessar considered his next words. “Let us begin again. Why are you following us?” “I will tell you nothing!” “Which House do you serve?” “I serve no House!” “Stop with your lies!” “I am no liar! You bloody White Tower stick your noses in everyone’s business and always think you know best.” “What have you got to hide? Tell the truth!” “I will tell you nothing, White Tower lackey!” ● A sly look came upon his Warder’s face as he studied the Andoran man. The man was getting agitated and nervous, as Elessar wanted, and if coaxed in the right way, he might let slip something they could use. “You are afraid, aren’t you?” Elessar continued after a moment. “That’s why you are so evasive.” “No, I am not! You can’t frighten me!” “Oh, I can see in your eyes that you are fearful. Fearful that we are going to reveal your secret.” “What secret do you mean!? What rubbish is this? I have no secrets!” “Are you sure about that? We will inform everyone on the street that you are a snitch.” “I am no snitch! Your White Tower lies will get you nowhere!” “You wanna bet!? And we will reveal your true allegiance!” “You have nothing on me! Nothing!” ● The Gaidin smiled darkly at the man, and then suddenly levelled a hard kick at the man’s stomach. He half-doubled over in pain, coughing and cursing. When he had caught his breath, he straightened, his back again against the crate, and looked balefully at the Warder. Elessar stared back icily at the man. “Now then.. that I do have your attention.” He began. “We know all about you. You are a traitor.” “I am no such thing. Bloody lies!” “Oh, yes you are. And not only to the House you serve. But also to the Light!” “You know nothing! You bloody White Tower are meddlers and fools!” “Oh please shut up! We know it all! Most importantly, we know that you are.. a Darkfriend!” They had no such knowledge, in fact, though the man did not know that, but Elessar had a hunch. This man would be the type of individual Darkfriends would use, he thought. And the man’s seeming antagonism towards the White Tower, the spite he felt, appeared more than normal. If Elessar was right in his suspicion, this would be an important catch indeed on this mission. And if he was wrong, perhaps this villain could at least give them some useful information. The clue was to trick the man into saying something he would not normally reveal. He hoped this last accusation would rattle the man somewhat whatever his true allegiances. “You have no proof! Lies!” “Oh, we have proof alright. And we know how to deal with Darkfriend-scum like you.” “Lies of the bloody White Tower!” “How long have you been a servant of the Dark One?!” “Bloody lies! You don’t know what you are talking about!” “Oh yes, I do. How long have you served the Dark One. For years perhaps!?” “Lies! I am telling you, I am not serving the Great Lord of the Dark! All you have is bloody lies!” ● He stopped of a sudden, his face twisting, realizing that he had fallen into the Gaidin’s trap. His eyes tightened in rage and his face was flushed. He looked as if he wanted to spring at them, but was unable since his arms and legs were tied tightly. Elessar’s grin widened as he turned toward Kathleen behind him. Her face was as smooth as ever, but he thought he saw approval in her eyes, the same feeling coming through the Bond from her. Turning back toward their captive who now sat cursing himself for his stupidity, the Warder’s grin widened even further. Gotcha! he thought with great satisfaction. He had always hated the Shadow and capturing Darkfriends always gave him immense gratification. For only Darkfriends would say ‘Great Lord of the Dark’, everyone else called him the Dark One, though Elessar knew that their eternal enemy of the Shadow had several other names as well. So this man who had spied on them was indeed a Darkfriend. There was no doubt. And they had caught him. Seeing as they were hunting Darkfriends in this area, seeking the Darkfriend cell they were sure was here, this was a major step forwards in their mission. He knew it and Kathleen did too. The question now was how to proceed. This Darkfriend captive could be even more useful to them than either of them had expected. Facing the Darkfriend’s angry expression, Elessar nodded. “Well, we are glad that you have now confirmed your true allegiance.” His voice hardened, his eyes like stone. “The White Tower particularly enjoys.. dealings with people of your.. persuasion shall we say.” ● The man cursed and spat, his eyes wild and almost feverish now, saying they had tricked him. White Tower tricks, he said. Bloody White Tower tricks. “Now, now.. behave yourself.” The Warder said, shaking his head. “You are in the company of a Lady. Don’t forget your manners.” The Darkfriend cast another baleful glance at them both, but said nothing more. “Good. Kathleen Aes Sedai now wants to ask you some questions as well”, Elessar added. “Answer truthfully and politely or you will feel my fist in that head of yours.” He did not intend to smash the man’s head in, the Darkfriend was too valuable to them now, but he hoped the threat would make the man behave, at least to some extent. If he did not, the Darkfriend would regret it. Their captive Andoran agent of the Shadow stared angrily and hatefully at Kathleen as she stepped forward. ● It was dark outside, evening turning into night, when they lifted the large leather sack containing the unconcious Darkfriend into the horse-driven carriage in the alley. There were sounds of stray dogs and drunk people coming from further down the alley but the Warder could not see anyone close by. Kathleen stepped swiftly into the carriage and Elessar followed, closing the coach-door behind him. The driver pushed the horses into action and they headed promptly down the alley toward the street behind. It was not ideal but they had to get their Darkfriend captive back to the inn, preferrably as unnoticed as possible. He could have friends nearby, looking for him. And they could not stay in that cellar. Kathleen had told him that the carriage-driver was to be trusted, a man loosely associated with the Green Ajah’s Eyes and Ears, but even so the Gaidin wanted as few people as possible to observe them and their business. They did not talk as the carriage headed toward their inn, both lost in their own thoughts after the ‘interrogation’ of before, and when they arrived at the stables behind the inn Elessar jumped off the carriage and greeted the waiting innkeeper. A backdoor to the inn stood open a little further back and Elessar lifted the large leather sack onto his shoulder and carried it inside, up a back-staircase and into Kathleen’s room. He threw the heavy sack containing the unconcious Darkfriend onto her bed, panting from the exertion, and stepped back. Kathleen soon joined him and closed the door behind them. The innkeeper had only been told that they were on Tower business and had some items of importance to bring back to the inn, and they wanted it done discreetly. The look Elessar had given him, when he had explained earlier that evening, had been enough.. encouragement.. for the innkeeper not to ask any more questions. This was a confidential matter, Elessar had pointed out, and the innkeeper had bowed respectfully - and perhaps a little fearfully - in understanding. “Well, that went as well as could be expected”, Elessar said once he had regained his breath, meeting Kathleen’s eyes. “I think we managed to do it without unfriendly eyes catching on, but one can never be certain.” The Aes Sedai nodded, casting a glance at the leather sack with their dangerous captive. “The innkeeper will keep quiet.” He added. “He knows nothing in truth, just that it is Tower business, but I made sure he understood the confidentiality of the situation.” Kathleen cast him another glance but said nothing. The Aes Sedai had made sure their captured man would remain unconcious throughout the night and he lay still as death inside the large leather sack which had a few breathing holes cut out on the side. ● “It has certainly been an interesting day”, the Warder said with obvious understatement, studying the leather sack with their Darkfriend captive. “A touch on the boring, uneventful side perhaps”, he added with a lopsided grin, “so let’s hope tomorrow will be more exciting.” He did not see the glance Kathleen gave him, but the emotion coming through the Bond gave him a good idea. ▀▄
  19. .. Danger on the Horizon: Part 1 .. ►▼◄ The private conversation with High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan was suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door. The High Lady’s eyes swept to the door, obviously surprised by the interruption. Instead of going to open it herself, however, or asking whoever it was to enter, she gave a nod to Elessar who politely rose and went to open. Outside stood a young nobleman in his early twenties with fair skin, short blond hair and the characteristic blue eyes of Andor. He gave a bow to the High Lady who he saw seated by the table, excusing himself for interrupting, but it was the Borderlander Warder in front of him whom he adressed. “Master Gaidin”, he said squarely, “my message is for you.” His eyes swept for a second to the Aes Sedai present but swiftly returned to the Warder. Elessar looked back at him with surprise in his eyes, but then - receiving a nod from Kathleen and also from the High Lady - excused himself from the proceedings and followed the man outside, closing the door. The young Andoran bade him follow as they made their way through the reception room and the other nobles and into the corridor beyond. He led the Warder down the corridor to an empty corner, making sure no one was close enough to listen, as he leaned over and whispered in the Gaidin’s ear: “Your Aes Sedai is in danger.” ● Elessar’s eyes widened slightly at the statement but he showed no other reaction. The younger man’s face betrayed little of his feelings though Elessar thought he looked perhaps a little nervous. “In danger from whom?” Elessar whispered back, his dark eyes hardening. The other man did not reply but turned quickly and hurried down the corridor, away from the Borderlander Warder. In three long leaps Elessar had caught up with him, however, and pushed him against the wall, not too gently. “Now then”, he said in a harder voice. “I asked you a question.” The young Andoran struggled to get free, his face flushed but soon understood that the Gaidin had him pinned and that he could not escape. He gave up stuggling and his face now had a sullen look as his eyes met those of his captor. “I cannot say”, he replied at last. “I was just told to give you this message.” Elessar looked long and hard at him, considering whether he believed the man or not. “By whom?” he added, his voice harsh. A couple of chatting noblemen further down the corridor turned in their direction at the sound of the Warder’s louder voice, wondering what this was all about, but one hard no-nonsense look by the Warder made them turn away and go about their own business. There was sweat beading on the young Andoran’s face now and he was unable to meet the Warder’s eyes. “I don’t know”, he said looking down, his voice full of gloom. “A piece of paper with the warning and my instructions was left in my room, I don’t know by whom.” Elessar thought this sounded somewhat dubious, but he pushed on. It was important to find out if this was a true threat to his Aes Sedai or a prank of some kind. Or perhaps a Game of dark intrigue such as Noble Houses liked to play. Daes Dae'mar. The Game of Houses. “And where is this piece of paper now?” He asked, inquiringly. The young Andoran bit his lip but finally replied. “I destroyed it.” He said. Seeing Elessar’s eyes darken, he quickly added that he had done so since he did not want the piece of paper found on his person, implicating him in any way. It was a plausible explanation, the Warder thought to himself, but also very convenient. He pressed the man further. “Who has access to your room and would have been in a position to leave the piece of paper there?” The young Andoran sounded fearful now as he replied that he lived in a smaller Manor on the other side of town and that only his family and a few servants had access. But, he emphatically pointed out, it could not be any of them. ● Elessar did not think he would get any more answers from this young man, but there was a final question he needed to ask. “I see”, he said icily as he pushed away from the Andoran nobleman. “One final thing. You obviously took this message seriously since you approached me here. Was there a warning also in your piece of paper, that not delivering the message would have consequences for you?” The young man’s eyes fell to the floor and there was fear in them as he looked up into Elessar’s face. “Yes”, he replied, his voice weaker now. “I was warned that were I to disregard the message, it would have.. dire consequences for me.” The Gaidin nodded to himself, still unsure about this whole business, but thanked the young Andoran for delivering the message and then told him he could go, adding that they might have to speak more to him later. The nobleman gave him his name and address, then huried away, relief eminating from him, not looking once over his shoulder as he disappeared quickly down the corridor and around a corner, leaving a thoughtful Warder behind. Considering the matter for some moments, he did think the young man had told the truth or at least some of the truth. People could be liars - and good ones at that - but over the years Elessar had become a fairly good judge of character and he did not think this young Andoran nobleman was a clever manipulator. He had clearly been frightened by the whole affair. Whether this threat was real or not, however, it was something Kathleen needed to be told. All Gaidin were protective of their Bondholders but none so much as newly Bonded Warders. Elessar swore to himself that he would do anything necessary to keep his Bondholder safe. ● Returning to the reception room, he walked down the aisle between Andoran nobles who glanced at him in passing, their eyes speculative and full of intrigue as often was the case with nobles everywhere. Coming up to the door to the room where Kathleen was conversing with the High Lady, he was about to knock when the door opened from the inside. Kathleen stepped outside, exchanged a quick glance with Elessar, then walked down the aisle. The Warder caught up with his Bondholder, seeing out of the corner of his eyes the High Lady seating herself on her ‘throne’ again, and walked beside her, a touch behind to her right, as they left the reception room - nobles bowing to the Aes Sedai from both sides - and entered the corridor behind. They walked in silence along the corridor and out of the building. Outside in the darkness of late evening the carriage driver was waiting, as arranged, and they stepped quickly into the carriage and soon were travelling back toward their inn. Only then did Kathleen meet Elessar’s eyes and ask him about the ‘message’. The Warder gave her some details of his meeting with the young Andoran nobleman. Kathleen listened attentively but did not speak at once, mulling over what she had been told. They exchanged a few thoughts as the horse-driven carriage carried them through the streets of Whitebridge, then agreed to discuss the matter in much more detail once they were back in the privacy of their rooms at the inn. A little later, they sat in Kathleen’s room deliberating the matter. She had woven a ward around the room to prevent anyone from listening in, a prudent precaution, Elessar thought, in the circumstances. He was seated in a wooden chair he had fetched from his own room while she was seated in her own chair opposite him. Kathleen agreed with him that this could be anything from Noble House intrigue, a prank played on the White Tower, to a threat to be taken seriously. Seeing as they were hunting Darkfriends, and the strong indication that there was a Darkfriend cell in the area, Elessar did not want to take this potential threat lightly. Who or why someone wanted to warn them, though, was another matter. Friends of the White Tower would usually be open about it if bringing information or warnings to Aes Sedai, and enemies would surely keep any sign of their dark intent secret. But perhaps someone had come across information that Kathleen was in danger but did not dare inform openly, and so did it in this roundabout fashion? Whoever it was perhaps found it important and necessary that someone else, perhaps this young nobleman, deliver the message, and it was vital that it was delivered, thereby the words of warning should he not carry out the task? People did things for different reasons and in different ways, they both knew; some driven by desire, some by need, some by fear and others by reward. All they could do was speculate on this possible threat, consider it as best they could, but Kathleen listened carefully as Elessar, when asked, repeated what he had told in the carriage, adding some details, and gave his impression of the young Andoran nobleman. They discussed the matter and what options they now had; Kathleen also added some of what had been said in her private meeting with the High Lady after Elessar had left. Their discussion ended without any decisions made, they would sleep on it, they agreed, and talk more about it the next day. When the Warder added, somewhat uneccesarily, that they would have to be careful and alert, she gave a quick nod. He closed the door behind him, bringing his chair with him, and went to his own room next door. Once there, placing his chair in the corner, he lay down on his bed and lay thinking for a long time. Feeling Kathleen through his Bond, he wondered for a moment if they were in any danger here at the inn. Before he went to sleep that night, he opened his door and gazed intensely into the dark corridor beyond, looking both ways, listening for any sound out of the ordinary. There was nothing, just darkness and silence. Nodding to himself, he closed the door and jumped into bed. There was silence coming from Kathleen’s room as well and he thought she was asleep. Entering the half-sleep, half-aware state of Warders at rest, he closed his eyes and light dreams soon enveloped him. ● Elessar suddenly woke from his half-sleep and stared coldly into the darkness of his room. Staring out the small window to his right, he saw that it was night outside. Something had brought him out of his restful state. Was it a sound, or his Warder’s intuition? He listened carefully but there was no sound coming from Kathleen’s room. Nothing. But a few seconds later.. he heard a soft sound coming from the corridor. His attention intensified. Elessar stepped quietly out of his bed, quickly put on his shirt and pants and moved silently toward the door. He heard it again. A creak in the floorboard from the hallway outside. ● It could, of course, just be the wooden boards adjusting as wood in old houses sometimes did.. but then again, it could be something else.. Or rather.. someone else.. Their conversation of the evening before, as well as their mission, came into the forefront of his mind. A potential threat, a possible danger to his Aes Sedai. His eyes hardened. His swordblade was in hand as he softly, silently pushed the doorknob down and opened the door. The Warder opened himself to the Flame and the Void, entering that state of emptiness and cold focus which enabled all his senses to function at their optimum. Another creak.. Peering into the dark corridor, adrenaline now flowing through his veins, Elessar saw slight movement outside Kathleen’s door. His eyes became gradually accustomed to the darkness and he studied the shadows, looking for the possible threat. Peering into the darkness, Elessar took a soundless step into the corridor. ● He thought he felt something through the Bond from Kathleen; was she awake? It was hard to tell, as he focused on the darkness before him. Holding onto his blade, he readied himself to act. Another small movement outside Kathleen’s door.. A shadow among shadows.. Elessar was a miniscule moment away from leaping toward whatever or whoever threatened outside his Aes Sedai’s door when.. Another movement.. ● Just as the Warder began his movement forwards, carrying his momentum into whoever was in the blackness outside his Bondholder’s door, the shadow detached itself from the shadows around.. A sound erupted from the black creature’s mouth.. Tiny globes of half-light where its eyes were.. And it leapt straight at Elessar! He jumped in spite of himself, a gasp of surprise! escaping his lips .. his dark eyes widening.. ● It was only as the creature sped past him with a feral scream, that the Warder realized that the intruder, their dangerous foe this dark and creepy night, was in fact.. the innkeeper’s huge black cat Spike. Chuckles of mirth escaped his lips and he shook his head, his pulse slowly going down. Dangerous foe indeed! The cat had disappeared down the corridor and would probably not return. At least not at once. Perhaps it had been terrified of the lurking giant with a deadly blade standing there in the dark corridor. Or perhaps it had just been amused that this human creature would be interested in his, Spike’s, nightly hunt for mice in the deserted hallways of the inn. Who knew the thoughts of cats.. They were, after all, Masters of the Universe. ● Still chuckling wryly to himself, the Warder knocked softly on Kathleen’s door and when he heard her say enter, he opened the door and stepped inside. She had swiftly pulled on her dress and stared back at him, a candlelight on a small table in the background flickering, giving off some light. She asked what had happened, why he was up at this time of night. It was difficult to read her thoughts from the way she spoke and the Bond between them did not let him know what she had sensed. “No danger, all’s fine”, he said at once, wanting to put her at ease in case she was more concerned than she seemed. “I heard a suspicious sound from the corridor”, he informed, “and thought it prudent to check it out, with all that’s going on.” “It turned out to be just the innkeeper’s monster of a black cat”, he added with a lopsided grin. “So much for danger”. There was mirth in his voice but also great amusement as he thought of what had occurred. Then his eyes hardened and his tone turned more serious. “But he is not the only predator out there. The others - the real ones - will be more dangerous.” They exchanged another look, all mirth gone, knowing of what he spoke, and then Elessar left her to sleep, closing the door behind him. It took him a long while to enter the half-sleep again, and when he did, it was a dreamless rest. ● The following morning they met up in the Common Room for breakfast. While they ate some bread and eggs with bacon, and had some kaf, they chit-chatted about everyday things. Half the tables around them were empty, and the few other guests were focused on their own business and did not pay attention to the two from Tar Valon. Even so, it was not the place to discuss the matters of the evening before and so they waited until they were on their own a little later, seated on a bench in the town’s plaza, before speaking of important matters. It was a gray morning with clouds drifting in from the east and with a soft breeze, but no rain in the air as of yet. A few passers-by threw them a quick glance as they hurried past, but most were intent on where they were going. Just behind where they sat there was a couple of trees and a green area with some birds walking back and forth on the lawn looking for food. The plaza had cobblestones in various patterns and was in a decent condition, Elessar thought. He turned his focus from the cobblestones back to his Aes Sedai. She had woven another ward around them, he felt pretty sure, though she had not mentioned it. She knew the importance of being careful. She had just asked him something and he had only half-heard, so he had to focus on what her words had been. “I am not sure”, he replied. “Perhaps we should visit our young nobleman informer and see if he perhaps remembers more that is of use to us.” ● His attention was drawn then to a man standing by the corner of a local shop. The man was almost crouching, seemingly staring through the shop window at what was inside the store, but the Warder was pretty certain the man was, in fact, watching them though trying to hide it. He studied the man without seeming to, taking note of the man’s posture and clothes. He was ordinary looking at least from a distance, perhaps a bit on the rough side Elessar noted but otherwise not someone who would stand out in a crowd. “We are being watched”, he whispered to Kathleen as he stared past her in the other direction. “At the corner of that local shop on my right.” He added. “I am pretty sure he is keeping a watch on us, though he pretends otherwise.” The Aes Sedai gave an almost imperceptible nod but did not turn in that direction, not wanting to let the man know he had been spotted. “It could be one of the High Lady’s men”, Elessar said as he appeared to study the street in front of them. “She could be interested in our activities.” Picking up a small stone from the cobblestones, he ran it between his fingers. “Then again, it could be some other party keeping a close watch on us. Should we say hello to this stranger, do you think?” ● He phrased it as an open question, but it was obvious from his tone that he thought it might be a ‘good idea’ to do just so. There was a real possibility this watcher was a threat to them, or represented parties that were a threat to them, or to their mission. Kathleen quickly agreed, having reasoned similarly, and they left the bench and headed toward the street at a slow walk. This would have to be done in the right way; they could not simply walk up to the man and ask him to join them. That would never work. Out of the corner of his eye Elessar noted that the stranger followed them though at a fair distance. They walked down the street from the plaza and into an alley on the right that had a blacksmith’s forge near the end. Walking up to the forge, the Warder picked up a sword that hung on a shelf near the open-air entrance and took a closer look at it. Balancing it in his hand, he swung it to the right and then the left, feeling the quality of the steel. While doing so he kept a lookout for the stranger, without seeming to, as Kathleen walked over to study some of the other weapons there. The blacksmith, a man with arms the size of logs and with some grey in his hair, approached them carefully, bowed and said what an honour it was to have a Warder and an Aes Sedai visit his small forge. Elessar complimented him on his work, which in truth was pretty good from what he could see, and continued testing some other swords. One was a huge two-handed broadsword of some quality, an other a smaller and lighter sword apt for fighting in close quarters. Elessar liked the look and feel of them both. He then asked if the blacksmith had some other weapons at the back. The older Andoran man nodded and led him to the back of the forge. Elessar saw that he was now out of sight from the stranger watching them and turned toward the other. “Is there a back door in your forge, master blacksmith?” He asked, looking at the wall which stretched to the right and left behind them. The other man nodded and pointed to the right behind some more weaponry. “Thank you”, Elessar said and returned to where Kathleen was gazing into the red flames of the forge itself. He whispered to her and she swiftly joined him at the back. Quickly he told her of his plan to catch - and take - the stranger, or rather spy, unawares and she nodded her assent. She returned to stand beside the red flames while Elessar picked up a sword and pretended to be talking with the blacksmith, while he tried his hand at the weapon, in sight of the stranger standing opposite them by an antiques shop on the other side of the alley. The Warder then moved out of sight and quickly headed out the back door. It led to a smaller side-alley which opened onto the main alley thirty yards further up. Elessar was pretty sure the stranger had not caught on, and as he stood close to a shop window, gazing down the alley at the watching man, he considered the distance between them. If the diversion worked, he was certain he would reach the man before he was spotted. If he was quick. Waiting in the shadow of the building, the Warder stood ready to spring. His reflexes were sharp, he knew, and his agility good. Now, Kathleen. He thought as he stood ready. Do it now!. ▀▄
  20. .. Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge: Part 2 .. ►▼◄ Handing the letter back to Kathleen, they exhanged another significant glance. Then Elessar spoke. “I particularly like the ‘In the Light’-part”, he said with a lopsided grin. “If what we suspect is true, her real allegiance will be somewhat.. darker in nature.” “Somebody obviously observed us when we entered the town”, he continued. “And the High Lady wishes for your presence, no doubt to increase local prestige and gain a little added power and influence as all Nobles do, here as everywhere else.” Kathleen nodded but remained silent, considering the invitation and its implications. “For whatever reason”, he added, “it is very convenient since this High Lady is top of our list. This gives us a chance to speak to her and get an impression of what kind of character we are dealing with.” His eyes darkened momentarily with a speculative glint. “Perhaps she will reveal more than she intends.. that happens sometimes when one is not careful enough. If we ask the right questions.” They sat and spoke for a long while, going over their options. This was an opportunity too good to ignore. They would have to be careful, of course, and it could be a trap of some kind - though it seemed unlikely - but this was a good way of getting an insight into this potential Darkfriend. And by having the High Lady invite them, a visit would not be suspicious. Elessar advised for her to accept the invitation, going over the arguments again, but it was Kathleen’s decision to make and they would do as she decided. She considered the invitation again and nodded. They would attend the social reception. She wrote a short message, accepting the invitation, and placed it in an envelope she carried which was given to a servant downstairs to be delivered at once to the High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan. The following evening Kathleen and Elessar waited outside the inn for the horse and carriage to arrive. They had learned that the Western Manor House was on the other side of town and so this means of transportation seemed apt to the Warder. The Aes Sedai wore a green dress which Elessar thought looked stylish and proper for an Aes Sedai at such an occasion, while he was all in black, in his Warder finery which was stylish as well as practical should the need for agility arise. Soon the carriage arrived driven by four black horses attended to by a local horse driver. The Warder opened the door for Kathleen to step in, then followed her inside the carriage. A few moments later they were headed towards the distinguished home of the High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan. Not one of of the nineteen strong Houses of Andor, it still had some power and influence especially in the western part of the region. Many would consider it an honour to be invited to her special reception, they had been told by the knowledgable innkeeper when they had mentioned the High Lady’s name. ● A little later the carriage came to a stop in front of the Manor House. Elessar stepped onto the ground and held the carriage door for Kathleen. He then closed the door and waved to the horse driver that he could leave. As the four black horses headed down the street, the Gaidin thought with a wicked grin how appropriate it was that the horses had been black and that he was dressed all in black, now that they were hunting people with black hearts. The Manor was an imposing building, a clear statement of intent, wealth and power in this town. Compared to the major Manor Houses and palaces in great cities this mansion looked poor and simple, but here in Whitebridge there was hardly any building to equal it. The second Noble House in the town was probably of similar stature, but apart from that this would be the place to be for any person of power and influence in Whitebridge. Nodding to Kathleen, they stepped up to the entrance and knocked twice on the huge oak door. It had a sigil imprinted on it - Elessar guessed it was the sigil of House Serevan - which the Warder had not seen before. It was a little worn but looked like the head of an eagle from what he could determine. Soon steps could be heard from inside and then the massive door opened. Kathleen showed her invitation and they were politely invited inside by a doorman who almost looked like a ceremonial guard. The hall they walked down, following the heavily dressed servant, was quite impressive as well with fairly expensive historical paintings on the walls and also some crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It looked like the inside manor of a smaller Noble House in cities like Caemlyn and Ebou Dar, Elessar thought as he walked beside Kathleen. He could feel through the Bond some excitement coming from her and he felt much the same himself. There was nothing to tell whether this evening would be productive, but it felt good to finally be starting this mission in Whitebridge. If everything went according to plan, they would at least gain more knowledge leaving than they had when they arrived. It was a good starting point. ● As they came up to a large pair of doors with the House sigil embedded into the oak woodwork, like at the entrance, the servant or guard (Elessar was not quite sure which this middle-aged blond-haired Andoran man was, perhaps a little of both) stopped and knocked once. The doors opened and what looked like a Master of Ceremony, an older man with grey in his hair but strength in his arms, bowed respectfully to the Aes Sedai and nodded politely to her Warder. The Warder had not expected a Master of Ceremony here at this Manor House, they were more common in the cities and among the wealthy Nobles there, but perhaps this High Lady had a high opinion of herself and her House, he thought, and wanted or needed to copy the style of the 19 strong Noble Houses of Andor. For whatever reason, it made Elessar wonder if this ‘social reception’ was what they were expecting or, perhaps, a grander event. They would soon learn the truth. He exchanged a quick glance with Kathleen, wondering if she were thinking the same. His thought was interrupted as the Master of Ceremony banged three times on the floor with his ceremonial baton before announcing her name and entrance in a loud, carrying voice. The words Aes Sedai where whispered around as Kathleen glided into the reception room beyond as if she owned the place, Elessar proudly and steadfastly at her side. It was, in fact, a small ballroom and it was filled with Andoran Nobles or so it seemed. Not to the extent that it equalled similar events in Caemlyn, this was smaller scale, but certainly more prominent and affluent than the Warder had expected. Nothing showed on Kathleen’s face as she passed the local Nobles, receiving bows of respect and honour from Lords and Ladies alike, some with a shrewd glint in their eyes, and she was welcomed warmly by the High Lady of the House who rose from her throne-like chair at the end of the room. The Head of House Serevan curtsied smoothly (not deeply but just correctly) and with shrewd eyes expressed what a great honour it was to have an Aes Sedai of the Battle Ajah present. The Warder walked a little to the side as Kathleen spoke with the High Lady. ● Elessar stared around the room, as he had done on similar occasions in his years as a Warder accompanying his Sedais, gauging if there was any open threat in this nest of vipers as he thought of it. He had been around scheming, cunning and dangerous nobles before - and told himself that he intended to make sure Kathleen was not caught in one of their traps. There were perhaps 20 or so nobles gathered, wearing their fineries, and he presumed they were all allies or friends of House Serevan. Perhaps not very powerful ones or wealthy, but they strutted around, drinks in hand, caught in their self-importance, as Elessar saw it, and reminded him that nobles were nobles everywhere. The fair-skinned blue-eyed male Andoran nobles were wearing shirts and trousers with a coat over all. The coat was made with turned-back cuffs and an upstanding collar. The material was silk, Elessar was sure, and embroidered in metallic threads. He had seen simmilar style on common men but theirs was made of serviceable wool. The female Andoran nobles wore dresses with square-cut necks showing little (scandalously little if you asked an Arad Domani woman) if any cleavage, and fitted sleeves. Some of the silk dresses were embroidered with flowers and leaves, and a belt in metallic threads worn at the waist. The clothing spoke of the power of these men and women and the standing they had in local society. As he studied them obliquely he wondered how many, if any, of these men and women were, in fact, Darkfriends with black hearts. Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed Kathleen giving him a little nod, the signal for him to join her, and when he did she spoke a few more words with the High Lady and then she and her Warder followed the Noblewoman out of the reception room or hall and into a smaller chamber beyond. He closed the door behind them and sat down at one of the chairs by a large table while Kathleen seated herself opposite him. The High Lady sat down at the end of the table, her blue eyes fastening on the Aes Sedai. She smiled but it was a sly smile, the Warder thought; the smile of a somewhat devious person pretending to be welcoming. He was sure Kathleen observed the same. Aes Sedai were very good at reading people; they had, after all, long experience over many years of service. Elessar’s face was smooth as he took in everything in the room. Besides the table and chairs, there was a huge cupboard on one side filled with what looked like expensive antique figurines, while on the other side there was a bookshelf with many, many books. The style of the room was affluent but not overly so. This was a kind of work-room, Elessar deduced, a place where meetings (also secret ones) were held and deals made. He wondered if this supposedly dubious Noblewoman was going to propose any deals this evening. He waited, as did his Aes Sedai, for the haughty fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-long haired woman in her early fifties or so to speak. ● When she finally did, Elessar was surprised to find her voice weaker than he would have imagined. In his experience Heads of Noble Houses often had voices used to command, but this High Lady’s voice was demure if such could be said. Her eyes were not, however. They were the eyes of a predator. “Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you in private, Kathleen Aes Sedai”, the High Lady said with a (fake) smile as she gave the Sister of the White Tower a polite nod. Her blue eyes switched to Elessar for a moment, as if to add that it was not as private as she might have wanted with the Warder present but she would have to accept it as things were. She silenced the thought though and met Kathleen’s eyes again squarely. “Alliance with the White Tower has always been important for House Serevan”, she added smoothly. “We might not be the most powerful House.. but we are loyal. There are mutual benefits.. important in these.. volatile times.” Kathleen remained silent and her face betrayed nothing. Through the Bond Elessar thought he felt.. excitement and also amusement.. though he could not say for certain. The non-reaction of the Aes Sedai made the High Lady’s face tighten slightly but then she quickly smoothed her features. “Friends are valuable..” she continued, her voice gaining some strength as she spoke. “Strength is often measured in one’s friends. Don’t you find?” The High Lady’s azure-blue eyes glittered as she waited for the Sister of the White Tower to respond. ▀▄
  21. .. Bathed in the Light of Whitebridge: Part 1 .. ►▼◄ “You are no longer a son of mine!” His father’s piercing words - filled with accusation - crashed through Elessar. Of all the brothers, Elessar had always resembled his father the most, also becoming the martial son his father had always wanted - and nurtured. Elessar, however, thought it might be this very sameness - almost like a mirror image - that had driven his father from great pride in his son, as he had travelled to Tar Valon to become a Warder of the White Tower, to great, unyielding anger at him - and perhaps himself - for Elessar being unable to save the youngest brother and son Vehran from drowning. It had happened on his first visit home a few years after finishing Warder training, during a forest trek in one of Kandor’s several valleys. Vehran and he had gone swimming in a Borderland river there, the currents had been strong - stronger than they had anticipated - and Vehran had accidentally slipped and knocked his head on a rock, disappearing flailing into the rushing water. Elessar had heard his brother’s scream but had been too far away to do anything, and by the time he reached his brother’s body, carried by the frantic stream further downriver, and got it out of the water, it was too late. His father had never forgiven him for not saving Vehran’s life. “You were the older brother, it was your responsibility to take care of him, Elessar! How could you not see the danger!? How were you, a trained Warder, unable to save him!? It is on your head. You are no longer a son of mine!” The harsh, bitter words rang in Elessar’s head. And perhaps his father was right. He blamed himself for his younger brother’s death, even if perhaps unfairly, another sin weighing down on his soul.. ● Elessar woke up abruptly from his painful dream-memories, eyes tight, muscles rigid, as dawn was breaking over the region. As his muscles gradually relaxed, his eyes fastening on the thick layer of branches overhead, with tentative sunlight beginning to sift down from above, he thought again that he wished his dreams would go away. Those painful dreams. Painful memories. A painful past. He had begun to have them more often lately. And he did not know why. Sighing heavily, clearing his head, he pushed his blanket aside and got to his feet. In half-sleep he had sensed Kathleen moving away from camp a little earlier, probably to practice her weaves as she had done many times before during their journey, and he felt her safely away a little to the south of camp. Walking across to a small brook close by he threw some water on his face and body, used a small towel to brush off the water, and then pulled on a shirt and pants. Returning to camp he collected his things and saw to it that they were packed and ready to leave. They wanted to get an early start this day, their horses fresh from rest and ready to go. He left a cup of kaf for her to drink when she returned, saddled their mounts, and sat down to wait for her. Soon she joined him, appearing out of the trees. Kathleen thanked Elessar for preparing everything and accepted the remaining cup of kaf that Elessar had saved for her to drink before they left. When they mounted Kathleen followed the Warder as they traveled toward their destination. ● As they left the woods and rode away under a blue morning-sky, dust rising in the air behind them, Elessar’s mind turned to what Kathleen had told him of their mission the evening before. He had felt her excitement through the Bond when she had talked about what waited ahead, her face had also betrayed her eagerness to get on with the work to be done. He had felt much the same, anticipation building in him for the task at hand. She had not had much information to share but now at least he knew a little more of what awaited them. Her words whispered in his mind. She told him that before they left the Tower she had received word that her presence was needed in Whitebridge. She added that she wouldn’t typically go on so little information but that she quite frankly wanted an excuse to get out of Tar Valon for a while. She had been cooped up too long and wanted a change of scenery, and perhaps some excitement. He couldn’t have agreed more. She also said that she knew that the woman who sent the request would not have asked for presence if presence wasn’t necessary. She had been receiving messages aslong the way, but nothing in depth. She was sure it had been limited in case of the messages falling into the wrong hands. All she had learned was that there had been suspicious activity in Whitebridge. The nature of the limited messages she had received had led her to determine that there may be a Darkfriend cell at work. She could not say how many people were involved at this time or what their goal was. She did know that her contact was continuing to gather information and she hoped they would find her intact with useful information when they arrived. She added that it went without saying, but as they approached Whitebridge they ought to be on the alert. The more they gained on their own on their way the better. They had stayed up late going over the little information they had and Kathleen had accepted all questions and input from Elessar, ranging from safety issues to scouting to the Warder’s previous experience of Whitebridge, before they had turned in for the night. Riding down the westward road now, Kathleen a little behind to his right as was usual, the Warder’s thoughts turned to Whitebridge and what he recalled of his previous visit to that western Andoran town. ● Days later they left the tiny village of Deyton behind, after a short stop having gathered the provisions they needed, and continued along the dusty road that led toward Whitebridge. There were few travellers on the road though they came upon some carts driven by oxen at intervals and local farmers giving them bland looks as they passed. Elessar did not perceive any danger at any point but they were still a few days’ ride away from their destination. The Gaidin kept up his vigilance, knowing from years of experience that it was always better to be safe than sorry, danger could appear at the most unexpected moments. Finally, on a late afternoon under a sapphire-blue sky with plenty sunshine, they came into sight of Whitebridge. They were still a distance away but the imposing, dazzling structure ahead of them grabbed all their attention. There were more travellers on the road now, coming to and fro, some foreigners by their clothing but mostly locals who stared at the Warder and Aes Sedai with a mixture of wonder and suspicion (something they had gotten used to in their line of business) and so they rode more slowly as they got closer to the town. Some time later, Elessar Gaidin and Kathleen Aes Sedai rode slowly into the town of Whitebridge. The wind was blowing from the south-west, making their travelling cloaks flap against the side of their tired mounts. Both travellers were weary from a long day’s ride and looked forward to some rest before getting on with their mission. Riding across the huge white glass-like bridge - from which the town took its name - which spanned the River Arinelle, Elessar recalled what knowledge he had of this impressive structure. The bridge was believed to date all the way back to the Age of Legends, thousand of years before. It looked to be made of impossibly fragile white glass - almost as if carved from one piece -, yet of a type so strong even a chisel and hammer would not mar it. Furthermore, despite its glasslike surface it never became slick, even in the hardest rain. The White Tower knew, perhaps, more of its origin, and the look Kathleen cast at the bridge as they crossed it gave him the feeling she did, but even with Elessar’s limited knowledge he was mightily impressed. He recalled riding across this magnificent bridge some year before, in the company of his then Bondholder Carys of the Yellow Ajah, and felt just as impressed by it now as he had been then. ● The town of Whitebridge grew up around the large stone-paved square at the bridge’s eastern foot. With its imposing bridge being the only span crossing the Arinelle south of Maradon in Saldea, Whitebridge town had from early on flourished in trade. Most buildings in the town were made of stone and brick, and the docks were made of wood. From what the Warder had read, all social classes were represented in Whitebridge - from merchants in their shiny lacquered carriages and velvet coats to farmers and peasants in rough wool. Elessar did spot several merchants in carriages and a few local farmers passing, as the Warder and Sedai headed toward one of the town’s inns a little further up the road. They dismounted outside the “Western Bridge”, one of the better inns in town if the locals were to be believed, and Elessar took their horses to a stableboy at the back of the establishment before returning to join his Bondholder. They quickly found the innkeeper, a somewhat overweight, blond-haired man of middling years with sunken eyes and cheekbones but a welcoming smile wearing a white semi-clean apron, standing at the back of the room, who seemed suitably impressed at having an Aes Sedai visit his humble inn. A short while later they were settled in their adjoining rooms (one of the inn’s best rooms for the Aes Sedai, of course) and it was time for a well earned rest. ● That evening, after they had rested for a while and enjoyed a warm bath, they met up in the Common Room for some food and entertainment. The Common Room was only half-full but some rather boisterous locals made up for the lack of customers. A pair of big-muscled bouncers stood by the entrance door ready to throw them out if they became too rowdy. After the meal and a decent, but by no account great, gleeman’s performance they retired to a small lounge which was empty. They locked the door and sat down in two of the dozen chairs. The room had a table, paintings on the wall (from Andoran history, Elessar thought), a couple of shelves with books and what looked like old maps but nothing else. It was quiet though and apt for conversation. They talked for a while, small-talk mostly, and then were intererrupted by a knock on the door. Elessar got to his feet and opened the door. A stranger stood outside, a woman. She was nondescript, ordinary looking, probably in her thirties and with the look of Andoran origin. She nodded swiftly to Elessar, then peeked past him to Kathleen who got to her feet. Elessar understood that this was the woman his Aes Sedai had talked about, from the local Eyes and Ears for the Green, and been waiting for. He gave her a polite nod and then moved aside as she entered the room. “Kathleen Aes Sedai”, the woman said respectively, giving the Sister of the White Tower a curtsy as she came up to her. Kathleen nodded with a smile and asked the woman to join her. Elessar nodded to his Bondholder and then left the room, leaving them to speak in private, closing the door behind him. He remained standing outside, not letting anyone in, until the local woman opened the door a little later and left. He then re-entered the small lounge and closed the door behind him. Seating himself opposite his Aes Sedai he waited for her to speak. Kathleen considered her words for a while and then began to speak. She had hoped the local woman had more additional information than turned out to be the case, but they would have to work with what they had. Elessar listened attentively and asked some questions and shared his thoughts. A partially incriminating letter had been intercepted. One thing stood out from what the Gaidin could see: there were strong indications that there was indeed a Darkfriend cell here in Whitebridge and that one of its members was a certain High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan. Now, at least, they had something concrete to go on. ● They had stayed up late discussing the situation and considering their next step, but had made no decisions and retired to bed to get some much needed sleep. They had ridden hard the last days to get to their destination and now they needed to rest and clear their thoughts. As Elessar closed his eyes that night, slowly entering that half-awake, half-sleep state he as a Warder had long experience in, he went over in his mind potential ways to deal with this specific situation. He had a few ideas, but needed to mull them over to see if they were doable. The problem of what steps to take next was, in fact, solved the following afternoon. A messenger came to the inn with a letter for ‘the Aes Sedai’, as he called it. The innkeeper brought the letter swiftly to Elessar, who was seated in the Common Room sipping from a drink at the time, and he took it to Kathleen who was up in her room. She opened the letter carefully, studying the wax seal at the back. On the front, in flowing script, it simply said ‘To Kathleen Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah’. Someone obviously knew they were in town. She read its contents and then handed the letter to Elessar. It was an invitation to a social reception at Western Manor House the following evening. He exchanged a quick glance with Kathleen before he continued reading. They would, it said, be honoured to welcome the esteemed Kathleen Aes Sedai to Whitebridge and to a meeting that could be mutually beneficial. The invitation was signed: In the Light, High Lady Lyndelle of House Serevan ▀▄
  22. .. Echoes of “The Battle of Four Kings” .. ►▼◄ “This is a famous place in Andoran history”, Elessar said a little later as he looked around him. “Truly not much to look at right now”, he added smoothly, “but once it was a place of a famous battle.” Kathleen saw that he was eager to tell his story and asked him to tell it. He grinned back at her and began, his eyes lighting up at his passion for history and stories. “Well”, he said,”Maragaine was the fifth Queen of Andor, succeeding Queen Termylle in FY 1054.” The Warder’s voice took on a lecturing tone as it often did when he spoke of history. “There is uncertainty as to whether Maragaine was Termylle's daughter, but she was without doubt a descendant of Queen Ishara Casalain, the founder of the Kingdom of Andor. In FY 1063, during the War of the Hundred Years, Andor faced the gravest threat to its survival since its founding when four rival kings, envious of the growing power of Andor, united their armies and invaded the kingdom from the west, marching on Caemlyn.” ● Elessar stopped for a moment as a carriage drove past driven by four black horses. Dust rose in swirls in the road behind them and the Warder gazed at the driver, a middle-aged man with a hat of sorts and a whip in his hands, as he passed them by. Perhaps it was a local nobleman on his way to some errand or other, he thought, as his attention was grabbed by a small child walking towards them. It was a blond-haired girl of five or thereabouts and she came forward hesitatingly, eyes big as saucers as she watched the Aes Sedai lady by his side. A woman in her early twenties, the child¨s mother apparently, ran forwards to catch the girl as she was half-way across the street, casting a quick glance at the imposing man and elegant woman standing on the other side, then hurrying back to the other side. Elessar and Kathleen watched as the mother and child disappeared swiftly into a building. ● “Now, where was I..” Elessar began, as he faced Kathleen again. “Oh yes, the battle. The battle that ensued was to be known as “The Battle of Four Kings”. Queen Maragaine bravely led the Andoran army into battle, meeting them some distance west of the River Cary.” “In a furious battle, in which Queen Maragaine is often depicted personally leading a charge”, he continued, “the Andorans broke the invading force and routed it, securing the future survival of the kingdom.” “The battle is, furthermore, noteworthy as one of the two most serious recorded threats to Andor's survival during the War of the Hundred Years, the other being the invasion of Andor from the south thirty years later by Esmara Getare, a southern noblewoman who succeeded in conquering much of Illian and the Plains of Maredo before setting her sights on Andor; she was defeated in battle with the Andoran army and became a prisoner of the Andoran Queen Telaisien, it is said.” “The Andoran village of Four Kings later grew up on the site of the battle”, Elesar ended, “thereof its name. Maragaine of Andor ruled for nineteen years (FY 1054-73), and was succeeded by Queen Astara .. but that is another story.” “So we are actually standing in the middle of history as it were”, the Warder added with a small grin, “and it is filled with memories of the past..” ● He turned his head upwards for a moment, gazing long and hard into the sky, and for a moment it was almost.. as if whispers from the past embraced the present, echoes lingering on the winds of time.. “Forward Andor!” Maragaine, sword at the ready, shouts mightily as she grabs the White Lion banner and raises it high.. “Forward! To our Queen!” her first officer bellows, as he tries to gather their forces.. “To me!” Maragaine screams, as she charges forward, long blonde hair streaming in the wind behind her, a storm unleashed on their enemies.. A Warrior Queen, eyes blazing, she storms forward to save her kingdom.. “For Andor! For the White Lion! Chaaaaarge!” her first officer shouts.. Battle-cries roar across the field as her army responds, following their brave Queen in a charge to the death.. a thunderous sound is heard as the armies clash, the proud banner of Andor flying high.. ● They continued their journey westwards in the direction of Whitebridge. Many days on the road lay ahead of them but as the leagues passed by he felt excitement building for reaching their destination. He thought he felt something similar from Kathleen through the Bond but it was always difficult to say for certain since emotions through the Bond often felt muddled to him. They did not speak much as they travelled, exchanging some words during their intermittent stops but hurrying on as swiftly as need be, and they covered a fair distance in the days that followed. The weather changed from sunny blue skies to clouds and rain with the wind picking up at times and the road went from dry to muddy and back to dry again during their journey. On one late afternoon, around halfway between Four Kings and Whitebridge, they stopped near some woods and led their horses away from the road and in among the bushes and tall trees. Kathleen followed Elessar as he led the way towards an area apt for making their makeshift camp. The Warder tethered their horses and brushed them down before joining his Bondholder around the small campfire. They all needed a rest having travelled hard the past days. Stopping early that day would give them time to rest, eat, drink and sleep before continuing the next day. Perhaps it would also give them some time to talk as well, Elessar thought as he accepted the cup of kaf from Kathleen. They had spoken very little of her mission in Whitebridge and now that they were closer to their destination he felt the time had come for her to give him some more details. He did not ask straight away, however, but ate their meal in silence, sipping from his drink, thinking about their journey so far. When they had eaten, he went to see to their horses again to give them an apple each. He smiled to himself as he saw the mounts munch hungrily on their treat, giving them each a fond pat on the back, then returned to the fire and his Aes Sedai. Sitting down opposite her he picked up a twig and rolled it between his fingers for a while. Twilight was approaching, day gradually turning into evening and night. Embers glowed in the fire, sparks intermittently flying, as his eyes met Kathleen’s. ● “We are getting closer to Whitebridge”, he began as he sipped some more from his drink. Kathleen nodded but said nothing. “Still many days of riding ahead of us, but we have covered a good distance in the past days.” “Our horses needed a little rest now though”, he added, “so it was a good idea to stop early today.” He kept rolling the twig between his fingers, almost as if it were a ritual. “Our provisions are holding up”, he continued, “and we will only need to re-supply once before Whitebridge. There is a small village a couple days down the road which will serve our purpose.” Kathleen nodded again, sensing that he had more on his mind. She let him talk, sipping from her kaf. “The weather seems better now, more stable if such can be said.” The Warder said as he looked up through the branches of the overlaying trees to the sky above. “If we are lucky, perhaps it will remain so until we reach our destination further west.” “As for Whitebridge”, he added after a short pause, “perhaps this is a good time to share some more details about what lies ahead of us.” He phrased it carefully as a suggestion, which it was. It was her choice though, if she wanted to share more information regarding their mission. Perhaps she wanted to wait until they arrived in Whitebridge, but he thought it wise to be prepared and hoped she would see the wisdom in discussing the task at hand now. He took another sip from his drink as he met her eyes across the glowing fire, waiting for her reply. ▀▄
  23. I am come late to this topic/discussion, mainly because I primarily RP-write at DM these days. Here are, however, some reflections (note: long post). [I have not read through this thread so things I mention may have been discussed before and there might be more information regarding details around the tv-series etc, so these are my general thoughts and opinions] I am tbh somewhat conflicted with regards to this tv-series. On the one hand, I am excited that the masterful ‘The Wheel of Time’-series seems to get a tv-series production and wonder what they will be able to make of it. If there is any fantasy-series (not filmed yet) that deserves a tv-series, it is this one. On the other hand, I fear whether they will be able to do it justice and not ‘just’ make a dumbed down, overly-simplified politically-correct version which perhaps works for a mainstream audience (who never read the books and perhaps never intend to) but which will be somewhat painful for us hardcore-WoT’ers to experience. I had the same fears back in the day when I heard that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was being made into movies, fearing that they would be inferior, unworthy simplified versions of what I considered a fantasy-masterpiece. Thankfully, and much to my relief, Peter Jackson made 3 films which (especially in the extended versions) imo were an excellent rendition of the books, keeping most of the story, changing little and with some additions (f.ex. including Arwen Evenstar and her relationship with Aragorn) that I think actually made it even better. Also with ‘Game of Thrones’ the production is excellent imo, based on George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’-books, despite some changes (especially in later seasons) in the narrative. This is probably partly due to the huge budget spent on this mega-popular tv-series (money often, though not always, means quality) and a professional production. I must admit that when ‘Game of Thrones’ began on HBO I thought to myself hypothetically filming ‘The Wheel of Time’ would be a different, more complicated, prospect. Part of this is because more of this huge fantasy-series takes place in the characters’ heads (internal) and also that it is a lot larger tapestry in detail and all ways than ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, not the least in world building and close to twice the size book-wise. The danger is therefore even more so imo with ‘The Wheel of Time’ that it may end up a dumbed down, very simplified version of Robert Jordan’s huge fascinating universe unless the producers do this right. And that will probably mean high budgets (closer to ‘Game of Thrones’ than ‘Chronicles of Shannara’) and many seasons. I would be less concerned if the tv-series got say 10 seasons for the 14 books than if they condensed everything into say 6-7 seasons, so the question becomes how ambitious will the producers be, how much money is there to spend, and how high ratings will the series get. Obviously there is even greater need in this tv-series than ‘Game of Thrones’ to leave out characters and lesser storylines since the amount of Aes Sedai, for instance, and lesser characters is far too large to include. I do, however, sincerely hope the producers will include the 40-50 most important characters in the books and will keep to the major storylines. I am not a ‘purist’ who expects everything in a book to be the same in a movie or tv-series - some things do work better on screen and similarly on the written page - but at the same time I am no fan of changing important/vital things in a tv-series. (I was for example fine with Starbuck becoming a woman character in the last ‘Battlestar Galactica’ tv-series though it surprised me at first, but would be far far less accepting if for example Mat suddenly was changed into Mandy in this tv-series (since ‘The Wheel of Time’ means much more to me)). The closer they stay to canon (the books) the happier I will be, though there is no need (or want) to include Robert Jordan’s huge descriptions in parts of his huge story of course. I also hope they won’t change things to be politically correct (with a view to race/gender/sexual orientation etc), there is plenty diversity already in Robert Jordan’s world imo. Excess nudity (like in ‘Game of Thrones’) is not necessary either as I see it, though nudity and sex 'sells', as we know, so I would not be surprised if there was more of that in the tv-series than in the books. The same goes for excess brutality and blood (though HBO take that further perhaps). I read somewhere that they are considering a ‘feminist’ angle with so many female main characters (Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Min etc), but I think these characters are strong in themselves in the books (as Robert Jordan deliberately wrote them) and I see no need to emphasize ‘girlpower’ in the tv-series (though I would not be surprised if it happens considering the times we are living in). As for casting I have no thoughts on the matter as of yet. I cannot quite picture in my mind who I can imagine playing a good Rand, Egwene, Moiraine etc but they did a good job casting the ‘Game of Thrones’-characters so if these producers do a similar job I would be pleased. I do hope they will keep to the characteristics/looks from the books though, having a blond Nynaeve for example would not work so well with me. I believe the reason for the enormous success of ‘Game of Thrones’ besides it being a big-budget production with quality script, actors, cinematography is that it appeals to several groups of viewers at the same time; those who love high fantasy, those who love Middle Ages-type Castles and Knight-stories, those who love historical drama, and those who love zombie-type stories. It is quite a feat to appeal to so many groups at the same time. It also was/is the first big-scale fantasy-type series on tv (smaller-scale tv-series in the genre have, of course, been aired before, including the aforementioned ‘Chronicles of Shannara’) and for that reason also it will probably be impossible for ‘The Wheel of Time’, I think, to compete rating- and popularity-wise. What one can hope for, I think, is for a tv-series which gains ratings/popularity say half-way between ‘Chronicles of Shannara’ and ‘Game of Thrones’, sufficient enough to get many tv-seasons and to get a worthy, quality and reasonably popular high fantasy-series. The excellent and momentous ‘The Wheel of Time’-saga by the late Robert Jordan deserves no less.
  24. .. The Complexities of Service .. ►▼◄ "No, I don't believe I have." Kathleen’s dismissive remark when he had asked her about her mare’s name, stuck in his mind. He could not say why, but it did. Perhaps it was because he himself felt such respect and, in a way, love for his valiant warhorse of many years Stormbreaker. Perhaps because he had expected her to give the name of her mare and she did not. Perhaps because he began to wonder if she had named her mount at all. Not that this was very important in the grand scheme of things, but for some reason it mattered to Elessar. He thought their horses were like close companions on the road, companions who deserved respect and friendship. And the least they deserved was a name. It was what friends had. It was part of their identity. Kathleen’s remark had certainly taken him by surprise. But there was a story there, his intuition told him. A reason. He guessed that Kathleen had perhaps had experiences with horses before, as most Green Sisters had, perhaps riding them into danger as would often be the case for the Battle Ajah. Perhaps the loss of horses had made her steel her heart against them, a kind of emotional defence-mechanism? It would not be surprising after all. He decided not to probe Kathleen about it; if she wanted to tell him at some point, then that would be her choice. The Warder stared out of the small window in his room in the Rose Crown inn. It was early afternoon and the sun was shining above the Andoran Capital of Caemlyn. Some clouds were drifting in from the south but much of the sky was blue. A large bird of prey floated on westerly winds as it flew across the city high above and Elessar watched it as it gradually disappeared in the horizon. His hands placed on the windowsill, he gazed at the buildings across from the inn. In one of them he saw a young child leaning over the edge of a small terrace, staring wideeyed at the buzzing activity in the sidestreet below. He smiled to himself, thinking of the innate curiosity of children and also of the innocence they displayed, an innocence that often was destroyed when they came into contact with the dangers of the world later in life. ● “Nothing is ever easy”. He mumbled the words almost like a whisper as he turned away from the window and stared at the wall separating his room from Kathleen’s. He felt her there on the other side through the Bond. Sighing to himself, thinking of the complexities of openness and trust, of shared emotions and feelings through the Warder-Sedai Bond, he lay down on his bed and closed his eyes for a moment. There was a.. distance between them. He had felt it on their journey south into Andor and he felt it now. Despite their talk. Despite everything. He had studied her during their journey when she was not looking, trying to get an insight into her, but she was not easy to read. Not that she was ever unkind in any way, or that she was not polite, and he did enjoy the journey, being on the road again and being in this new Bond, but he sensed that she was a little.. closed off from him in a way. Not for the first time he wondered why. Perhaps she was a little uncertain, he thought, when it came to their new working partnership, or perhaps it was just the way she was, he did not know. This was, after all, a new situation for them both. Though they had developed a kind of friendship over time in the Tower, with several pleasant and interesting conversations, it was something different with a Warder-Sedai companionship and the mutual responsibilities of a Bond. He knew it and he felt sure she did too. Also, he guessed that the matter of her other Warder, her first Warder, was playing on her mind. He did not know much beyond the fact that Nevuel Gaidin, a fellow Borderlander, was off on a matter somewhere in the North - Kathleen had not shared any details and he had not asked - but he sensed that this made her uneasy somehow or at least less comfortable with the situation than she would have been with him also by her side. Elessar liked Nevuel, they had talked in those several visits he, Elessar had made to Kathleen’s quarters for conversations, they both were Northerners and shared the same sense of humour, and he hoped the man was well. It will sort itself in time, he thought to himself with some confidence, putting the matter of the seeming distance between himself and his Aes Sedai out of his mind for the moment, as he opened his eyes and got up from the bed. It was time to do some sightseeing in Caemlyn. A smile came upon his face. He knew Kathleen had been looking forward to it. ● The evening before, after the gleeman’s performance of the moving poem of bygone Manetheren, Kathleen and Elessar had retired to the small private library at the back of the inn. It was a small room but it was empty, and private, and had several bookshelves with a few dozen books, maps and other artifacts from history. As they seated themselves in a couple of wooden chairs, they chitchatted a little first, talking about the story of doomed Manetheren and of the heroic desperation of its Aes Sedai Queen, echoes of the poem they had just seen performed in song still in their minds, before moving onto other subjects. They talked some about the coming journey westwards past Four Kings toward Whitebridge and of the provisions they would need to buy. Then Kathleen paused for a moment, and seemed to weigh her words. She went on to express her thoughts to him on Tower expectations, public perception, and personal preference, the differences between personal service and professional service and ended by asking for his thoughts on the subject. He considered what she had said for a moment before replying. He then thanked her for her words - and thoughts - on Tower expectations and public perception. He recalled a similar conversation with Leandreen many years before, as well as with his other Sedais. Though they had said much the same things, there was some difference in emphasis and presentation as was to be expected from women with different personalities. Leandreen’s more exuberant way of expressing herself was a contrast to Kathleen’s somewhat colder, more factual way. He replied honestly, as he had done with all his Bondholders, sharing his thoughts and values. He spoke of the importance of duty for a Warder, that he did feel it right that he besides protecting her from all threats as was his paramount duty he also took on menial but necessary tasks such as carrying her bags and their packs, seeing to their horses when out in the wild, setting up camp, patrolling the camp area and so on. As Aes Sedai she had more important matters to focus on, he said. ● “As for the Warder being a servant”, Elessar added with some amusement in his voice, “that reminds me of a lesson I once had as a Warder-trainee. The class was discussing what it means to be a Warder.” Kathleen could see that he was going to enjoy telling this story. “It was many years ago”, the Warder said, reminiscing, “but I remember it as if it were yesterday.” His dark eyes took on a faraway look, bringing the past into the present as it were, as he shared the details from his memory with his listening Aes Sedai. ● ..Facing the class, the old Gaidin-teacher began. “The lesson today is the history of the Gaidin. Tied in with this is the question of what it means to be a Warder”. He spoke in a lecturing tone and it was obvious he had long experience on the subject. The Warder-trainees listened attentively, or at least some more than others. A young Elessar was seated off to the right in the classroom and was the first to raise his hand when the teacher, some way into the lecture, asked for an opinion. “Yes, Elessar isn’t it?” the teacher said. Elessar nodded and then spoke. “From what you have said, Master Gaidin, it seems unsurprising that some would have looked at the Warders as slaves to the Aes Sedai.” Someone made a gasping sound, it was hard to tell who, but Elessar went on without stopping. “To obey commands without question, to lay one’s life on the line for someone else, to give up one’s own freedom for someone else would by many be seen as almost becoming a slave to them. At least a servant, and much inferior than whom he serves.” The old Gaidin came across to where his student sat and stopped before him, looking long and hard at him. “Even today, some think so, you know. That we are bowing servants to the Sisters. Those who do not understand that we give willingly, protect proudly, serve humbly but strongly.” There were nods around the room, it was obvious many of the other students agreed and liked what they heard. “In our service we are dutiful and strong, we serve indeed and humbly, dutifully, loyally, but through our protection we give the Aes Sedai the opportunity to serve the Light and the World.. and to fight the Shadow.” “We all bring what we are into the role of the Warder”, the teacher continued after a pause. “We are all individuals and that diversity enriches us, it makes us stronger, it makes us wiser. And then through training we learn more and gain experience and wisdom in all the ways important to make a good Warder”. “And in case some of you think all that matters is to be proficient with a sword”, he added as he raised his eyebrows, “think again. A Gaidin must besides being a proficient fighter and warrior be knowledgeable about the world since he and his Sedai will travel often in their service, he must know first-aid, several languages, history, politics and all the other things necessary to become a Sedai’s protector, advisor and trusted friend. That is why Warder-training is rigorous and only the best of the best manage to come through it to gain the Gaidin’s fancloak.” ● Looking at his students he could see different reactions. Some were unsurprised, others not. Others again seemed slightly bored. As was to be expected. He had just spoken about diversity, and here his words were manifested in reality. “Ok then, who here thinks a Warder’s chief attribute is his strength with a weapon?” He saw several hands in the air. “You are young and inexperienced so you can be forgiven for that view. Others, supposedly wiser, also make this mistake. The Warder’s chief attribute”, he said this with emphasis, “is .. his mind.” There was silence though a few heads nodded in understanding or perhaps it was wonder. “Your mind is your strongest weapon”, he went on. “With your mind you can reflect, you can make a decision, you can act and choose a path, you can control your passions, you can make for the best protection of your Bondholder and the wisest course. With your mind you can control urges of endangering pride or ferocious viciousness; you can keep fear and emotions in check; with your mind you can focus on the task at hand and nothing else .. and cloaked in the Oneness, the Flame and the Void, at least for those of you who choose that path, you can direct you sword where you want, in the perfect and controlled execution of the Dance of the Blade.” “The Strength of a Gaidin comes from his mind .. and it flows into his Sword”. “Remember that”, he ended, “if you remember nothing else from this lesson. It is who We are.. ● A couple days later Kathleen and Elessar rode out of the Capital heading westwards. It was late morning and the sky was grey. There would be rain later in the day, of that the Warder felt certain, but for now it was decent travelling weather and they wanted to cover as many leagues as possible before the weather turned. They had collected provisions in Caemlyn and their valiant horses were full of energy and pleased to be on the road again. Elessar could feel Stormbreaker’s pleasure at running again as they galloped along the western road and a smile came upon his lips. Kathleen rode just behind and to his right, her green travelling cloak billowing out behind her. Glimpsing her face out of the corner of his eye, he was reminded of her pleasure as they had visited all the famous - and also some less famous - sights in Caemlyn. Not that she had shown it, her face Aes Sedai-smooth as always, but he had recognized the glint in her eyes and felt her excitement through the Bond as they had walked the streets of the Andoran Capital. There were many things he did not understand about his new Bondholder, and there was that distance between them that he often pondered on, but he was starting to pick up on some small things, and hoped - in time - to know her better. ● On a late afternoon some days later, under a partially blue sky and with a soft wind in their backs, they reached the village of Four Kings. It was located at the junction of the Caemlyn Road and the road leading south to Lugard. The village had a proud history, Elessar knew, but it still looked the same drab, careworn place mostly used as a stopover by merchants’ wagon trains that the Warder remembered from previous visits. They stopped by a merchant’s shop at the end of a dusty street to rest their horses for a few hours. Dismounting quickly, Elessar took Stormbreaker’s reins as well as those of Kathleen’s mare and tied them to a pole nearby while Kathleen studied their surroundings. The village was certainly quite a change from the splendour of Caemlyn. “So what do you think?” Elessar asked with a lopsided grin as he joined her. “Not quite as dazzling as Caemlyn perhaps”, he said as he stared at the shabby-looking buildings opposite them, “but it certainly has potential.” His grin widened as he half-turned to see her reaction to his words. ▀▄
  25. .. Echoes from the Past: ”Carrai an Ellisande!” .. ►▼◄ Riding through the streets of Caemlyn, Elessar was hard pushed to hide a grin at Kathleen’s obvious pleasure at being in this wonderous city. Not that she showed it openly, her facial features as smooth as that of any Aes Sedai, her posture proper and regal. But through the Bond the Warder felt some of her excitement, and he remembered how in awe he had been the first time he had visited the spectacular Capital of Andor. The city was a wonder - and Elessar could imagine how Kathleen looked forward to seeing the city sights and learning even more of the city and country’s history. He looked forward to this time in Caemlyn too; no matter how many times he visited the city, it never ceased to amaze him. ● Finally they reached the Rose Crown inn. They dismounted outside the building, which had a painted sign depicting said rose and crown above the entrance, and Elessar took their horses back to the stables behind the establishment. Stormbreaker and Kathleen’s mount were ushered into stalls under the watchful eye of a young Andoran stableboy, and then the Warder returned to where his Aes Sedai waited. “Our horses will be taken good care of”, he said to Kathleen as he walked up to her. She had appeared a little.. distant - that was the best word he could find to describe it - with the animals during their journey, but perhaps she was not as used to horses as he was. Even so, he knew that she also cared that their valiant mounts were looked after. “Did you ever tell me the name of your horse?” he asked, as he picked up their belongings “I am glad that your mare gets on well with Stormbreaker”, he added with a small smile. “Being a warhorse, he can be a little feisty at times.” He carried their packs and supplies as he followed his Bondholder into the building. They quickly found the innkeeper, a slightly balding man of above average girth wearing an apron. He had a rugged face that had a small scar on the side. His eyes were deep-set in his face but he had a friendly if somewhat smug smile. He was standing behind the bar watching his staff cleaning tables, serving food and drink and doing all the little things that needed to be done to keep an establishment of some repute running smoothly and well. The innkeeper recognized the Aes Sedai and Warder for what they were and greeted them politely. Soon they were upstairs in adjoining rooms unpacking. Kathleen did not hide her contentment at being able to sleep in a bed again after many days on the road and sleeping in makeshift camps in woodlands, and Elessar was not unhappy either. Not for the first time he thought he was going ‘soft’ in his ‘elder’ days. They agreed to meet downstairs for a meal in the evening. Throwing himself on the bed in his room - a smaller room but with a southern-facing window, a cupboard in the corner and a shelf with a couple books on the wall - the Warder from Kandor closed his eyes and reminisced. His thoughts went back to another visit to Caemlyn. A visit made with Carys, his former Aes Sedai and Bondholder. And to their meeting with dear Old Celter. A smile came upon his lips as he re-lived the moment in his mind. ● ..A tiny bell had sounded as the door to the Caemlyn Antiques-shop had clicked shut. Carys had looked around, her nose twitching at the dust in the air. There were objects on tables all around, small plaques in front describing why they were important. Paintings had hung on nearly every inch of wall space, making the small shop seem even smaller. The Aes Sedai had begun speaking, and then the shopkeeper had come upon them. He had been whistling a tune, unknown to Elessar, and now he stared at them with wide eyes, holding tightly onto a plate of steaming food, his words drifting away like whispers.. He was a very old man, wearing a woolen shirt which had once been colourful but where the colours had faded over time, and trousers which had not been in fashion for over a century. He had a prestigious girth, and a wrinkled old face, grey hair, crystal blue eyes with bushy eyebrows, big ears and a large nose. He wore ancient glasses -and- he looked positively shocked to see them there. Elessar and Carys exchanged a quick look and the Warder tried for the second time that morning not entirely successfully to hide a grin. Light, the man looks like an ancient scholar! he thought with kind amusement. He must be as old as some of the books in here! Carys met the old man’s eyes and answered him that they were visiting the city and had seen his shop as they were walking by. “We’re students of history, my good man” Elessar added, his gaze eagerly taking in the room with all its objects of great age. “We’re interested in Andoran history and traditions”, the Aes Sedai said and smiled. The old Andoran scrutinized them, noticing the woman’s fair skin and complexion, then nodded to himself, murmuring under his breath. “History and traditions you say?” he said and a wide grin came upon his lips. “Well then, come in, come in strangers”, he said as he started to walk back in the shop, bidding them to follow. “Old Celter will give you some of our history”. He chuckled a little, then added: ”Come now. Hardly anyone visits my shop nowadays anyway, so little chance we will be disturbed. Come follow me. Follow me to the back. Follow old Celter.” They exchanged a quick glance, shrugged, and followed the old man to the back of the shop. He placed the plate of steaming food on a shelf in the back room and it was soon forgotten as he motioned for the two of them to sit down in a pair of heavily decorated brown wooden chairs that looked as old as the Trolloc Wars. The ancient chairs creaked slightly as they seated themselves and Carys and Elessar exchanged a silent glance which read: ‘please, let these antiques carry our weight!’ “Traditions... yes”, the old man mumbled to himself as he ran a finger down the side of his chair. “I don’t often get visitors”, he said and he pushed up his glasses that had fallen down on his nose. “History is all about us here”, he said, “but no one seems to care.” He shrugged. There was regret in his voice, but then, as if a switch had been turned, his eyes lit up and he studied them closely again. “But you do, strangers”, he said and a playful grin came upon his lips. “So all hope is not lost.” He smiled in a strange way but Elessar was charmed by this old man, who, he somehow felt, was more than your everyday shopkeeper and antiques-dealer. What is your history, old man, I wonder? the Warder thought to himself. I bet you have seen many things in your long life.. ● They met up downstairs at the appointed hour that evening. Taking a table at the back, they waited for the serving woman to come with drinks and a meal. The place was slowly filling up with a mix of locals and strangers (some more boisterous than others) and Elessar and Kathleen made some small talk as they waited. A smiling young woman with long blond hair, a lopsided saucy grin and a twinkle in her blue eyes served them drinks (Elessar winked back at her which made her grin broaden) and left to sort their meal-order. Meanwhile a gleeman entered the Common Room from the side door and stepped up to the stage at the end. He bowed to those sitting closest and received cheers from several. Soon Elessar and Kathleen got their meals. It was roasted meat with potatoes, vegetables and gravy and the Borderlander Warder found it quite delicious. The gleeman, a young blond and blue-eyed man of Andoran origin, wearing the cloak of many colourful patches of his profession, turned out to be more talented than his fairly young years might indicate. He played several jaunty tunes on his flute to great applause (and some banging on tables from some of the rowdier guests) and then sang several songs which the locals obviously knew and appreciated. Elessar, sitting at the back with Kathleen, clapped as well, always enjoying entertainment of this kind. After a ten minute pause or so the gleeman returned to the stage and, with some dramatic hand gestures and a theatrical voice, said he would now sing a song out of history. New cheers followed this pronouncement. When he said the name of the poem and song, Elessar’s smiled broadened. This was one of his favourite poems which he would never tire of, no matter how many times he read it or saw it performed. “I love this poem”, Elessar whispered to Kathleen with a glint in his eyes. “It never ceases to move me.” ● It was called “Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)”, author unknown, and was an old heroic and sad story about the ancient nation called Manetheren, in what was now a region of Western Andor, and its legendary Aes Sedai Queen Eldrene ay Ellan ay Carlan (the “Rose of the Sun”) who led them in their valiant fight against the Shadow. Not all historians considered it fully authentic material, but whether fact or myth, or a mix of the two, it was a great story, Elessar thought. He was pretty sure Kathleen, with her similar interest in history and stories, not to mention her Aes Sedai background with regards to the subject matter, would enjoy this performance as well. Echoes of the Past reverberated in the Common Room as the talented young gleeman wove his tapestry of history and myth, drawing in his spellbound audience. ● ►▼◄ ‘Rose of the Sun (The Fall of Manetheren)’ “Carrai an Ellisande!” For the honour of the Rose of the Sun! The Shield against the darkness, the Hammer weight to Stun. The Sword that could not be broken. Was shattered in the End. As valiant Manetheren, no longer could Defend. Brave fighters of the land. Fought with pride and with Heart. Under Red Eagle banner, they resisted Shadow’s Start. Until Mountain Home was taken. Noone came to their Aid. Weep for Manetheren!, all their allies were Afraid. King Aemon and his men ran to aid from Field of Blood. Countless miles they covered, daring river huge and Flood. Slaughtered beasts of Shadow. Crying battle cries of Might. “Carrai an Ellisande!” echoed everywhere in Sight. Brave warriors, brave King! They fell to Darkness’ Yoke. When Aemon husband died, Queen Eldrene’s heart Broke. Woe to the Shadow! With anger, grief and Pain. An Aes Sedai of might, she struck out like Insane. She filled herself to bursting. The Power oh so Sweet! The Sa’angreal beside her, glowed brightly with its Heat. She was an awesome figure. Her arms she lifted High. And then she threw her Balefire and Storms of Lightening Nigh! A harbinger of death. She destroyed the Shadowspawn. The messengers of Darkness disappeared from Battle’s Lawn. But her body came on fire. Flames of Saidar burned her Soul. In her agony she cried out, for Manetheren, her Goal! The destruction levelled all. Old Manetheren was Dead. The Rose of the Sun, she was gone, it was Said. But she would live forever. In many people’s Hearts. And Manetheren’s bravery, is eternal in its Parts. Oh Ellisande! Greatest Queen, we won’t Forget! Your fight against the Shadow and the death you Met. Mourn for Manetheren! The bravest place of All. Honour to the Mountain Home! Your enemies shall Fall. ►▲◄ ● ▀▄
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