Rose concentrated only on the sword, seeing only the patterns it wove in the air and her body moving in response to it. She made no attempt to attack herself; Master Matalina was giving her a run for the money.
Sweat ran off her brow and dropped onto her arm; was it raining? That thought almost broke her concentration. Mustn't think. Thoughts could kill. She knew that well enough from all those mental exercises the Masters had her practice, though she didn't really use those exercises herself while in the practice yard. What was the point? She was here to learn the sword, not to become some Light-blinded mystic. But that one belief was true. Thoughts could kill.
Suddenly, the pattern broke for a second, giving Rose an opportunity to attack. She quickly swung her wooden blade into the form called Eagle Swooping, hoping for a rare chance to score. But somehow, she next found herself sprawled on the dirt. She blinked dust from her eyes.
Matalina sheathed the practice blade expertly. "You never saw the trap I was weaving for you. I knew you would use Eagle Swooping or another of the Eagle forms, so I had prepared Mountain Rising to meet it. You met it, straight on and without seeing and stopping it." She smiled wryly and offered a hand to Rose.
Rose coughed. Her shoulder felt bruised, but she gladly took the hand Matalina offered. Matalina was one of her favourite teachers. She treated Rose fairly, ignoring the fact that Rose was a woman. Few women desired to learn the blade and fewer still rose to become Masters, but Matalina was one of them and one of the best. Rose dusted herself off and waited for Matalina's critique. She didn't have to wait long.
"Rose, you have good basic skills. You can parry, thrust and defend yourself when someone attacks you straight on with one form. Yet you seem to ignore the larger picture. You don't look at the larger pattern."
She paused, obviously looking for words to say what she meant in a kind way. "You don’t think ahead. Rose, you have to use your mental techniques more often, to find the Void and stay there during the fight. It will help you see more clearly what your opponent has up their sleeves."
Matalina picked up Rose's practice blade, wiping the dust off it. "I cannot teach you this. No one can. You must learn this yourself." She held the wooden blade out to Rose, who took it slowly.
"Then what should I do? Can you at least tell me where to start?"
"You know where to start. You have attended all the sessions on the Flame and the Void. Just find a quiet room and use them. Find your inner self and block all feelings, all emotion. You will know it when you achieve it."
Rose looked down. So Matalina had known all the time that she had been lying about using the Flame and the Void in practice. Shame blushed her cheeks, but she didn't say anything. It would only make things worse.
"Now go wash up and get some dinner, Rose. You have worked hard today." Matalina walked away to the Warders' practice yard, the day obviously not finished for the Sword Captain at the White Tower.
Ah. The water was hot, straight from the cauldron. Rose smiled unconsciously as it poured over her. Ah. Her muscles lazed under this pleasant treatment. Closing her eyes, her relaxed totally. There were rare moments like this when she could let her guard down, quite rare and always treasured. At times like this, the past seemed to be near, only a thin curtain dividing.
It seemed so long ago since she had arrived in Tar Valon, looking for the Warder's Yard, looking for someone to train her in the art of weaponry. Mama and Sis were dead from a crazed Asha'man. The Black Tower had covered up the entire thing. That was the other part of the reason why she had come here. She wanted the name of the man who had changed her life and she wanted justice.
Yet her resolve had weakened here, she idly made waves with her fingers. She had been in Tar Valon for … four months and not yet had she visited or spoken to any Aes Sedai or Asha'man of the Black Tower. The closest she had gotten was telling her story to Jon'atha, the White Tower administrator and that didn't count, because he was her friend as well.
What to do? Well, the thought of meeting Aes Sedai and Asha'man alone scared her. She didn't like channelers; they gave her the creeps. It was wise to be afraid of people who could wield invisible weapons with expertise. Maybe Jon'atha could accompany her and introduce her to some? But he had been very busy lately, doing work for the White Tower and elsewhere. She absently washed her back with a sponge.
Maybe she didn't have to see any of them at all. There were plenty rumour mongers in the street markets; there must have been someone who saw a group of men leave the Black Tower and return with an usual… guest. Yes, that would work. She would go tomorrow. Surely she could get some free time to visit the city; she hadn't taken any free time since she arrived here.
Hmm… She didn't know any people to ask questions to, though. Maybe one of the boys would know. The boys spent a lot of time in the city, drinking and doing things that they couldn't do while at the Tower. Who to ask? Some had despised her for being a girl and wanting to be a warrior, many simply ignored her existence. Still, there were a few that she could possibly ask. Maybe Edwin al'Ashin. He had been friendly to her during practice. If that failed, there was always Brin Dai, but he was so shy, he would blush at bumping into his own shadow. She still wondered why he was here. Parental pressure, I guess.
Noticing her skin starting to turn into a prune, she got up. There was no excuse for sloth; she faintly heard one of her teachers recite in her head. Without a shiver (she was quite proud of that), she dried herself and put on her clothing and finished fixing herself for dinner, just as the bell for dinner ran. She arrived just in time to catch a seat near Edwin and began to practice words to convince him to help her.
The moon rose slowly across the window and shone brightly down the hallway, flanked by newly lit lamps. The guards stood straight, accustomed to their duty, while the two girls in white dresses shifted from one foot to another, trying to keep alert. They had not learned yet that the Aes Sedai only checked them twice, once at midnight and once at daybreak, but they were only Novices and not used to the pattern of Tower life yet.
One of them yawned behind a hand, definitely soon to fall asleep. The guards did not blame them; the girls had been awake since daybreak. The other girl suddenly turned and blinked down the hallway, obviously listening for something.
"Cassie? Did you hear anything? I do swear that I did heard a cough."
The other looked down the hallway, back and forth quickly. "No, I heard nothing. You're just letting your imagination play tricks. There is nothing there. We are safe. Besides, the guards would have heard something." Yet Cassie sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
"I did hear something." The other muttered under her breath. The guards relaxed, used to Novices hearing strange sounds in the middle of the night.
Suddenly, the moon's light dimmed and darkened. The hallway suddenly felt small and … frightening. The lamps seemed to flicker weakly. Cassie licked her lips and backed towards the wall as the other placed a hand on her belt knife. "I do think…"
With a slight gasp, the two guards quickly died, eyes bulging at the unseen killer. Cassie turned to them instinctively and her eyes widened as she fell to the floor in a faint. The other Novice drew her blade and hissed through her teeth, "You will not find me easy bait, you…"
At daybreak, they found the two guards, the unconscious Novice named Cassie and what appeared to be the remains of the other Novice. A small knife lay in the middle of the hallway, the only evidence of a struggle against whatever had attacked the White Tower's storerooms early on a moon-lit night.
Yawning, Rose awoke. Light, dinner had been late last night! She wiped the sleep out of her eyes. She usually tried to leave as early as possible; on special nights, the meal turned into a drunken festival, but last night she had been forced to stay to get Edwin's help. He had kept delaying his answer until she had tricked him in a bet about how much Master Dark Blight could drink. Unfortunately, he could drink a lot, hence forcing her to stay up until the warder collapsed under the table, as he was wont to do. But she had at least gotten Edwin's ironclad promise to come with her today and help her get some answers. A start at least on what she had to do.
Light, what time was it? The sun seemed pretty bright for early morning. Unless… Oh no! She knew the sound of blade meeting blade quite well and that only meant one thing: the student drills were well into way. Muttering curses, she made her bed, put on clean clothes and made herself as tidy as possible within five minutes. She only paused to quickly clean her blade as she went out the door.
She found Matalina quickly on the student's yard and apologized. Rose knew that it was the best way to avoid being punished, punishment usually entailing losing one's free time for the week. But why today of all days?! Well, no use moaning; what was done was done. Matalina nodded and gestured for her to join the rest of the class, who were being taught by Master Toman, indicating that she would talk to Rose later, when class was done.
Immediately, Rose forgot about her lateness, as she became absorbed in the lesson on tactics. She loved hearing descriptions of battles; everyone did. Master Toman was a great teller of tales of history. He made the battles seemingly come to life in front of her eyes. She could see every move, every order and its effects; she could hear the sounds of battle in her ears. He did truly have a gift. If he had not been a warder, he would have made a great gleeman.
"And so, that was how Artur Hawkwing won the Battle of Pelisha. Now, can anyone tell me why this specific battle was so important?" That topic had not been covered in his lecture, but it was only common sense if you had studied the early beginnings of Hawkwing's Consolidation. Rose raised her hand; answering could make her punishment less, if she showed that she had understood the subject well. He waved a hand at her direction. She stood up and all heads turned her way.
"The Battle of Pelisha was one of the turning points of Hawkwing's Consolidation. It allowed him to quickly conquer the country of Farashelle, as well as it influenced the other countries who later surrendered to him without a fight." She saw that she had not covered all the points by Toman's gesturing. "Um, Farashelle eventually supported his armies with necessary supplies and men. He wouldn't have taken over all the countries of the world and created his Empire without them, the former people of Manetheren." Seeing Toman's nod, she sat down.
"Correct. Seeing such noble men treated with honour gave Hawkwing the edge he needed to add the other countries to his Empire. By Farashelle's example, the rulers knew that their countries would continue to thrive under the High King's hand. Now, the sun is nearly at the peak of the sky. Time for your real lessons to begin." Toman smiled. "Dismissed."
All the students got up quickly to look at the roster, guiding them to where they were practicing, what weapon and with whom. Automatically, Rose checked and breathed a sigh of relief to find herself listed as 'free time', as well as Edwin. No problems there. She was then conscious of Matalina watching her. Oh! How could she have forgotten her orders! Rose walked quickly towards her, honest embarrassment on her face.
She saluted Matalina. "At your orders, so do I stand ready, Master Matalina Gaidin!"
"At ease, Crimsonthorne. You will not be punished for being late today. There is some tolerance for an honest error. Some tolerance." She emphasized that to erase the smile on Rose's lips. "I trust that you will not make a habit of this, yes?" Rose nodded quickly.
"Good. So where are you going today with Edwin al'Ashin? I do have eyes and ears." She chuckled at Rose's start.
"Um, into town. I want some information on my home town and I figured that…"
"The rumour mongers would be best? Well, there is some truth to that. Just beware. Nothing flies faster than a bad rumour and it changes with every ear that hears it. Don't make decisions based on nothing but rumour." Matalina cautioned her. Rose paused, mouth half-open. How did Matalina know everything?!
"I won't, Master Matalina." She spotted Edwin waving impatiently at her to hurry. "Oh, may I be excused now? Edwin is eager to go."
"I don't doubt that." Matalina grinned. "Use the common sense in your head and you will do well."
"I will! Thank you!" Rose ran off to join Edwin and journey into the magical city of Tar Valon.
There was a tense feeling around the Amyrlin's study in the center of the White Tower. You could see it in the Novices and Accepted running about and the shawls around every Sisters' shoulders. Brelyn herself was wearing her shawl, green vines spread widely across the fabric.
She didn't know why the Amyrlin had summoned her in particular. She was neither the strongest nor the eldest nor the youngest. She had not stood out while being a Novice or an Accepted. Perhaps that was the reason itself. No one would suspect an average Aes Sedai to be in charge of what looked like to be an important mission.
She sighed mentally. Of course doing that was her dream, had been one of the rare dreams to survive during her learning days at the Tower. Every girl dreamed of being one of the Green Ajah and fighting the Shadow all holds barred. Most realized it to be just that, a dream and moved on. That was one of Brelyn's faults, according to Tienna. Tienna was a White Sister now, of course, but she hadn't been that emotionless back when they had been Novices together. Thoughts of pillow fights lightened her mood slightly. The air was so depressive here. Gathering courage, she looked past the warders guarding the door to the Keeper's Study and knocked lightly before opening the door. Chissa was rather new to the Keeper's post, but she had been well known in the Hall before then. Brelyn has never met her personally before.
"Welcome. You have an appointment with the Mother?" Chissa asked professionally, her tone typical to all White Sisters. She had been a Sitter before she had been selected to take the Keeper's staff.
"Yes. I am Brelyn Monsarin of the Green Ajah." She barely kept her hands for touching her shawl. Light, it was not like she was newly raised! She had been Aes Sedai for a good twenty years, if not more!
"Yes, the Mother has been expecting you. Please enter." Chissa gestured to the door that lay behind her desk and looked down to the paperwork in front of her, obviously engrossed in some detail or other. With a nod, Brelyn walked to the door and left herself in. She had never been in the Amyrlin's study before. There had never been a need before.
The study itself was nothing spectacular. Certainly not as showy as some palace throne rooms Brelyn had seen before. There were few furnishings, but many of them quite ancient. Some of them she was positive came from the Hundred Years' War, if not earlier than that. There was no throne, no dais, and no chair of grandeur for one of the most powerful women alive to rest upon, yet it was clear where the power in the room sat. A woman of ageless age sat on a chair in front of a desk, waiting and looking at Brelyn with unblinking eyes.
"You are Brelyn?" She asked.
The words unfroze her. "Yes, Mother." She curtsied. "How may I serve you?"
The woman smiled slightly. "Sit down first. Would you like a cup of tea?"
Brelyn sat down on the opposite side of the desk, pausing to say, "Yes, please." as she arranged her skirts. The Light burn her if she was wrong, but Kathana Justinia Trevalaer looked worried and unsure that she could trust Brelyn. Yes, something was terribly wrong in the Tower.
She asked Brelyn pleasant questions at first, about her latest work among the Andoran farmers of southern Andor and her family. She quizzed her on her warder, Alven Durren that she had only lately bonded. No need to tell her that she and Alven had arranged that a long time ago, only waiting for Brelyn to return from her duties in Andor. When the tea finally came and both were served cups by a skittish Accepted, then they got to the root of the visit.
"So, I guess you are wondering why I summoned you here?" The Amyrlin smiled slightly. "Although I am trying to meet all of the Sisters, this is not a pleasure visit. What do you know about what happened last night?" Her eyes bore down into Brelyn's mind and demanded the truth.
"Last night? I heard some rumour about a robbery and death in the Tower and the usual whispers of Black Ajah, but I dismissed it quickly. After all, who would dare do such a thing here?"
"Yes," smiled Kathana slightly. "Who would dare do such a thing here, at the Tower?" She shook herself into the present. "The rumour is true. There was murder and robbery done last night. Two guards and a Novice were killed last night while guarding one of the storerooms in the basement." She ignored Brelyn's gasp. "One of the Novices is still alive and we hope to get information from her. Apparently, she fainted and the thief left her alone. We checked the inventory of the storeroom this morning."
She stood up and walked to the window. "There were two ter'angreal stolen. 'Unknown article one,'" Kathana mimicked the list. "'One rod of silvery metal of unknown origin. Use unknown. Reported to cause headaches when channeled into with Spirit. Unknown article twelve. One rod of white stone of unknown origin. Use unknown. Reported to aid in Healing when all Five Powers are channeled, but not confirmed in tests.'" Kathana stood silent, looking out the window.
Brelyn frowned. "Mother, was there any other rods in that storeroom? Perhaps those rods are part of a larger set? Rod-shaped ter'angreal tells us that the thief knew what he wanted and perhaps knows how to use the ter'angreal correctly, to a means that we probably don't know."
Kathana turned to her and smiled. "Now you are thinking. I was right in choosing you. I was not sure when I saw you come in. No, there was no other rods in the room. I have tripled the guard and have three Aes Sedai on guard at all the storerooms. There will be no other thefts." Kathana's cold eyes made that a statement of fact as she returned to her chair.
Brelyn swallowed. She knew what Kathana was going to ask, demand of her. Still, she had to ask her. "Mother, you want me to find our thief and return the ter'angreal?"
"Yes, Brelyn. You are intelligent and not particularly excellent in any category. The Shadow would assume that I would assign the best of the Aes Sedai to this mission. No one would believe that I would put the responsibility on the shoulders of an almost untested Green Sister who almost fail all of her tests as a Novice and an Accepted."
Brelyn felt a small shard of shame at the Amyrlin's cold statements of the facts of Brelyn's life. She had passed the Acceptance test on her third time and it had taken two tries before she had passed the test that made her Aes Sedai. Wait a minute! The Shadow?
"Yes, Brelyn. I believe the Shadow was behind this. Those people were killed by the One Power. After all, who else would know how to use the ter'angreal and be able to enter the Tower at all and break the wards surrounding the storeroom?"
Brelyn nodded, but it still chilled her. Light, innocent people being killed by the One Power?! "Mother, do you have people investigating how the thief came in and out? Someone who can read traces if he or she Traveled?"
"Yes, I have Lanfir and her warder, Dark Blight on the case. They are quite talented in that area. She reported that in the storeroom and the surrounding area, there is no remains of a Gateway. So the thief must have physically entered the area or Traveled to somewhere in the Tower and walked to the storeroom."
She suddenly thought of something. "Mother, which power was used to kill?"
"What weaves, you mean?"
"Yes and was it either saidin or saidar. Because I can't see one of the Forsaken doing something like that. They would use the One Power to go straight to the storeroom, do the killings and leave from the area by Traveling. They wouldn't waste energy covering the crime up."
"Hmmm… You might have a point. Straight Air was used on the guardsmen and a combination of Air, Fire, Earth and Spirit on the Novice. It was all done with saidin."
"Never!" Kathana slapped her hand on the desk. "I trust the Asha'man! If they ever need anything, Taim knows he can ask me!"
Startled, Brelyn continued to make her point. "Mother, we can't exclude anyone now. Even Aes Sedai, because a man can be disguised as a woman using saidin and we would never know it. We must find out if anyone new came into and out of the Tower yesterday or last night or if anyone was acting a little unusual. The evidence seems to point to a man doing it, however and a man working alone."
"How do you know that?" Kathana relaxed and seemed a little calmer.
"Firstly, he was using saidin. Secondly, he used a combination of Fire, Earth, Air and Spirit. Women use combinations of Air, Water and Spirit usually; men use Fire, Earth and Spirit, occasionally Air as well. Thirdly is the amount of injury among the Novice; I assume from that weave that she was killed quite savagely?" Kathana nodded, curious about this logic. "Men usually kill violently and quickly; women prefer a quiet and slow death. The guardsmen were killed silently to keep them from raising alarm to the Novices, as well as the fact that the man did not fear them. The Novice he was afraid of. She could channel and raise an alarm by merely weaving a flow against him. He panicked and killed her violently so that she stayed dead."
Kathana nodded. "Good logic, but you're missing something. The other Novice, the one who fainted."
"I know, Mother. That is what suspects me that the Shadow is not behind this. The Shadow would not spare lives. The man took pity on the girl and left her there unharmed. She couldn't do and see anything unconscious, right?"
"Hmmmm… Maybe. But we can't afford to forget the Shadow, Brelyn. Here." Kathana reached into a box on her desk and quickly wrote a note. "Give this to Lanfir and she will let you in on the investigation. She was right when she said that you were clever in solving mysteries."
Rising, Brelyn took the note and curtsied. "You honour me, Mother. May I leave now?"
"Yes, Brelyn. Do what you have to do, but remember," she raised a finger. "I want those ter'angreal back and I want justice for those people. None of my people die on me without someone paying for it."
Brelyn quickly left the study, the paper in her hand weighing more than a stone.
"So why are you looking for rumour mongers, Rose?" Edwin asked absently, eyes fixed on the road ahead.
She sighed exasperated. "Because I'm worried about home."
"So why don't you write a letter to home?"
"Because my whole family is dead, you nitwit!"
He didn't even have the intelligence to look remorseful. Now she knew why she had been considering taking someone else instead; Edwin al' Ashin had the brains of a mule! They continued their journey into town silently.
"Oh. Here we are. 'The Blue Whistle'. Merchants from the Borderlands usually stop in there. You're from the Borderlands, right?" The inn was a little raggedy, the sign hanging slightly askew, but she suspected that the inside was quite clean. All the horses around it were well taken care of, a sign that this was no ordinary slop-shop.
"Well, not technically. According to the maps that I've seen, we're part of Cairhein, although I doubt that they know that our village even exists. It's quite isolated."
"Oh. Near the Spine of the World?"
"Yes, south of Shienar. Between the Niamh Passes and Kinslayer's Dagger."
"Oh well, that's close enough for those merchants to know about your village." He looked at his watch. "I'll leave you here then. I have some business with a… a friend at 'The Lonely Pigeon'. Meet you here at two." With that, he scurried away. He might as well gone on and said it. She was no child. Still, it was irritating to have to do this alone. She had never done this before.
Rose quickly tidied herself up and gathered her courage to enter the inn. As she had suspected, it was a rather respectable inn. Most of the tables were taken by Kandori merchants, wearing their long chains and sea-farthing Saldaean captains, their moustaches long and black. Quite an intimidating crowd in any place. Where to begin?
"Um, excuse me." She called out to one of the serving maids. "Are there any merchants here who had come lately out of Shienar or Cairhein? I have some questions."
"None coming, but Master Lirah is headed to Shienar, I believe." She pointed to a man sitting alone in a corner table. "But I'll be warning you, he's a right hard man who wants his money before he even takes a step. Not a one for easy bargaining."
Rose muttered thanks as she made her way. What if she took service as a guard with him? That way, she could see the village herself and ask questions. She could get a description of the man who had killed her family. That would certainly help her. In a second, she dismissed that idea. She was a student here. Students did not wander off just because they felt like it and she knew that in no way was she ready to leave Tar Valon. There was so much to learn.
Master Lirah raised his head from his drink as she approached him. "I don't need any help selling my wares, lovely, so you might as well try your luck on some other here fool enough to take you."
"No, sir. I'm not here to ask for a job; I need some information. Have you traveled through western Shienar and Cairhein before, near the Niamh Passes?"
"Yes," he answered cautiously. "I have."
"Would you have passed near a village between the Niamh Passes and Kinslayer's Dagger?"
"Nope, there's nothing between them. No good water at all. All travelers turn west and go along the route there. There's nothing up in those hills."
Rose forced her face to stay calm. "Well, that's not entirely true. My home village is there. I was wondering if you had made a recent run up there. I'm worried about it."
He smiled mockingly, his braids swinging. "No, I haven't. Although this run will take me that way, it will cost you to make me divert towards your supposed village." He smiled wider. "Much more if this village doesn't exist."
"That's not…! Well, if that's your attitude, then I'll ask another merchant to help me. Good day to you." She turned to walk away. The nerve of the man to think that she was lying!
"You will find no others. Few use that route now for fear of the Aiel. Men tell tales of them coming across the Wall again. Stop." She stopped and turned towards him.
"I will make a deal, childling. You know how to use that, or is it decoration?" He pointed a finger at her sword, lying as always on her side.
"Of course. I am a student of the Warders." She gestured unconsciously.
"Of course," he muttered. "Here is my deal. I will go to this village and stop there for a night as long as you accompany me on my travels to Fal Moran and back, whenever and wherever until then. Deal?"
Rose had to think quickly. This was a chance of a lifetime, to go adventuring and make a name for herself, as well as avoid Aes Sedai. She could also get a description of the Asha'man. But on the other hand, she would be going against her oaths. She hadn't sworn any oaths formally; that was true, but still… She could see Matalina's disapproval.
"Yes, sir." They shook hands.
"I expect you here at sunrise tomorrow, girl or whatever your name is." His eyebrow rose, making that into a question.
"Rose. Rose Crimsonthorne."
"Then Rosie, leave me now. I have work to do." He gestured towards the door.
Without a look back, Rose left 'The Blue Whistle', gathered Edwin with a glance and returned to the Tower with a heavy mind and heart.
Chewing on a pen, Brelyn examined the list. It was a bad habit, according to Tienna, but she didn't care. As long as it soothed her, it was okay. She needed soothing at the moment; the facts would alarm even the bravest.
She wished that the girl would wake up soon. After all, a faint was not a fatal injury. Still, Brelyn doubted that the girl, Cassandra 'Cassie' Greywall could help much. She had probably fainted before seeing the man's face and wouldn't remember the whole night at all. There was a way to make Cassie remember, but she wasn't willing to risk being caught doing… But the Mother had said… Hmmm, maybe she…
"Sister, the girl has finally awoken." The Yellow Sister seemed as impatient as she felt.
"Thank you, Sister. I will see her now." The Sister nodded and left down the hallway.
Brelyn got up and out of her seat in the hallway and entered the room where the girl had been placed. Lucky for her, Lanfir had happily placed the investigation entirely in her hands. According to others, Lanfir Sedai could cause problems when she felt she was being slighted. She sighed. Many of her fellow Greens could be like that. Perhaps it was the multiple bonds.
Cassie was sitting up, no doubt wondering where she was. She seemed unconscious of Brelyn's presence. "Hello, Cassie." Brelyn smiled at her, speaking kindly. You caught more wasps with sugar than with vinegar.
"Um, hello, Aes Sedai."
"I am Brelyn Sedai of the Green Ajah." Most girls liked Green Sisters best. Maybe that would help her. "I have come here to see that you are unharmed from last night's events." She made her voice sound like Serinia's, calm and comforting.
"I'm okay, Brelyn Sedai." She looked scared.
"Now Cassie, it's alright to be afraid." Brelyn sat herself on the bed. "It is not alright to be defeated by fear. Why don't you tell me what happened? The Amyrlin has many questions." Best to be gentle with a Novice prone to faints.
Cassie swallowed. "Eliza and I were assigned guard duty on the storerooms because we said Marle Sedai was mean and Heratia Sedai overheard us. It was nighttime. I was tired because I had been awake all day. The moon had risen; I remember that it was shining brightly through the window at the end of the hallway. Then it got dark. I was scared. Eliza said that she had heard a sound, a coughing sound. Then… Oh, I don't remember anything else! Please, Brelyn Sedai. That's all I remember, honestly." A pause. "Brelyn Sedai, where is Eliza, Eliza Taquinne? Is she okay?"
Brelyn sighed. What had to be done, must be done. "Are you sure that it is all you remember? Do you remember anything about the guardsmen?"
Cassie shook her head. "I remember them being there, but not anything in particular. Aes Sedai?" Brelyn embraced the Source and made ready a weave of mainly Spirit, a touch of Water and Fire as well. "What are you doing, Aes Sedai?" She did a final check for anyone else before she unleashed it. The weave held strongly. Brelyn had feared that the girl would have embraced saidar and the Light only knew what that would cause.
"Now, tell me exactly what happened last night after Eliza told you about hearing a sound."
Cassie spoke eagerly and quickly. Brelyn had her notebook open and took notes, often telling Cassie to be silent as she caught up to the girl's recitation. When Brelyn left the room, the Novice in a deep sleep of strange dreams, she had many answers to questions and many questions for her answers.
Rose stood alone on the cliff. She knew this was a dream because the last thing she remembered was packing her belongings and lying down to sleep. The cliff was very high and of black rock; she couldn't see the land below, all she could see was dark clouds occasionally lit by lightning. Strange that she was so aware of herself in this dream.
She walked along the edge of the cliff. Somehow, she knew this place was important. The edge curved. Suddenly, the grey air cleared for a second and she saw the other side of the cliff. No, not a cliff. A volcano.
There was only one volcano (the word just popped into her mind) on this continent. One volcano in the far northlands. Shayol Ghul.
Instantly, she felt small threads around her arms, dragging her down into the Pit below the clouds. A voice in the back of her head called to her. 'Serve me', it commanded. 'Serve me as you did before.'
"No…" Rose whispered. A shape began to appear in front of her; a man's shape. He was wearing a long black coat and his eyes… She didn't want to see his eyes. She somehow knew she had to run, do anything to get away from this man. There was only one place to run to. She ran over and into the wide gulf, falling...
She finally landed, safely and on her feet. It was not the Pit. It was a city, a great city. It felt familiar to her, although she had never seen it before. Pathways linked buildings that reached high into the air. The walls and pathways were of a crystal-like material that shone brightly in the sun, a spring day's temperature. A perfect city, but where were the people?
As if in answer, a little girl ran out of one building near Rose, holding a ball. Her clothing was very unusual, a short shirt and tight pants. Her eyes were of a bright blue and her hair light blonde. She paused when she saw Rose and her eyes widened. The girl quickly ran back into the building, yelling, "Mommy! Blackthorne is here! Save me!" Blackthorne? "No! Please don't be afraid! My name is Crimsonthorne, Rose Crimsonthorne!" She couldn't imagine her mind thinking up such a strange name to replace her own.
Silence. There would be no answers here. Where to go now? A sound of a chime made her turn. A woman leading Shadowspawn and what she guessed to be Dreadlords and Darkfriends appeared through a Gateway, all ready for battle. The woman was of the same height as Rose, with long dark hair and dark eyes. They looked brown, but somehow Rose knew they were blue. Her skin was of the palest white. She wore a long dress, black embroidered with red roses with golden thorns, all in detail. Half of things about this woman Rose just knew as well as she knew her own name. Perhaps this was the Blackthorne that the child had been so afraid of? Then it was Rose's duty to defend them. After all, this woman was surely a Dreadlord.
Easing her sword and forgetting this was a dream, Rose stood defiantly on the pathway between the raiding party and the city dwellers. If she died here, she would have died a true warrior and made all her teachers at Tar Valon proud…
Eyes flickering open, Rose awoke. It was still dark out. What a dream. I wonder if there's any truth to it? With sweat soaking her over-large shirt that she wore as a shift, she got up, still affected by the dream. It was so real! I will ask Matalina is she's ever heard of a woman, a Dreadlord named Blackthorne. Wait, I can't. I have to leave here by sunup at the most.
Pausing with clothing in hand, she decided to get fully changed. I doubt that I will sleep anymore tonight. There was one place that she should visit before leaving. She slipped out silently, not awakening the senior warder students that shared her cabin. Now would be the perfect time to reflect, quiet and alone in the pre-dawn darkness.
Brelyn slept fitfully herself. The night seemed so long. In the morning, she could go around the gates and ask the guards if they had seen the man that Cassie had described. She could ask some Aes Sedai as well, once she had discovered how the thief; it was easiest to think of him as a thief, not a channeling killer, came into the Tower.
Time was becoming short. The longer the man had to escape, the harder it would be to follow him. Yet here she was, nibbling mental fingernails, waiting for the sun to rise. Alven was content; he was in a deep asleep.
Finally admitting defeat, she got out of her bed and put on a light robe. It was a warm night, but one must be decent. She went to her desk and sat down, her notes in front of her. Might as well review them.
After a few minutes, she was pacing back and forth. I can't do anything here, not now anyway. Maybe a walk will calm my nerves.
Wearing her light blue slippers, she slipped out silently down the hall to a small balcony overlooking the warders' apartments. The moon was bright again this night and a soft breeze whispered through her robe. She had to smile. It had been a long time since she had seen a night so perfect, like the night she and Alven had…
A small figure dashed along the road, leading to the Water Garden. A Novice or Accepted making a midnight run to visit a favourite? Or perhaps the other way around; it could be a warder student. Smiling at memories of their youth, Brelyn turned and returned to her apartments.
Hairs stood up on her back as Rose ran around the yard. Anyone looking down from the Tower would see her. Hopefully, no one was awake at this hour and they would think her just some silly boy or girl visiting a lover. She hoped that, but she knew that at least one set of eyes had seen her.
The Water Garden was her favourite of all the gardens in and around the White Tower. The water lilies were pale blobs on the ponds, glowing slightly from lamps lights from inside of the Tower. Her destination lay across a small bridge.
The shine was a small building. It was a quiet place where many people came to sit and think. No one knew who had built it or why, but that was what they used it for. A place of contemplation, the Aes Sedai called it.
Entering the white building, Rose removed her shoes. It was required to proceed any further on. The night was warm anyway. Lamps flickered along the walls, casting shadows and ripples on the shallow water between the entrance and the inner sanctum. Water lilies floated here too, all white and light pink. Rose didn't know why the builders had made a stream run through the buildings. Maybe just to prove that it could be done.
Her footfalls made sounds unnaturally loud and echoing in the silence as she slowly walked. She always felt …special when she visited here. As if this place was sacred, close to the Creator's heart.
Beyond the water lay another chamber. Here was where all the most heroic people of the world were immortalized, according to Matalina. Statues lined the walls at intervals, names engraved under their marble visages. A stain-glass window was at the end, an unusual scene showing a tall man with red-swirly tattoos on both of his arms kneeling to a woman who was clearly the Amyrlin Seat (by the shawl), a group of Aes Sedai in colorful dresses, warders, soldiers and nobles in the background. It was all very strange. Perhaps an event from a long time ago?
The floor was raised near the window, the scene illuminated brightly by the moon. On that dais was two statues, seeming to be more recent than the others. There were also large cushions on the floor, donated by frequent visitors to sit on. Rose did not sit yet; one of the statues at the front had caught her eye. It looked familiar to her, that face and body. Looking at the name below, she gasped.
BORN IN THE DARK AND DIED IN THE LIGHT
WARDER TO SAM D'MA SHADAR AND FRIEND TO ALL
It could not be! Yet it was. It was the woman of her dream, the one leading the Shadow's forces into that city. Her name was so close to her own. What there a purpose behind that dream? She knew that she was no Dreamer, yet sometimes there was truth in dreams. Well, there was nothing else to be learned about this Blackthorne here. Perhaps she could ask this Sam d'ma Shadar about her. She could have been a sister, a cousin or something like that. Wait, this Sam had to be an Asha'man; who else would have a female warder? He was certainly no Aes Sedai. For some reason, fear chilled her chest with a touch of anger, but why? She disliked all people who could channel, Aes Sedai and Asha'man, but this was much worse and more personal. A personal hatred for this man, this Sam d'ma Shadar. Perhaps by pursing her questions about Blackthorne, she would discover why this man made her so angry. Maybe he was the man who had killed her family.
Licking her lips, she went to sit on one of the cushions. Calmness would be hard to find after this revelation. She had no proof, but she was certain that this man was the key to the mystery. There was no other reason, no other explanation for the dream. This had to be real. She would know the truth, no matter what the truth cost her.
"Alven, the papers were here! I was reading them right before I went to sleep!" Brelyn told her warder as she sat, sorting through the papers on her desk.
"I'm not accusing you of anything," the tall dark-haired man held his hands up. "I'm just saying that you might have misplaced them."
"No, I didn't. I'm sure of it. They were here when I went to sleep. When I awoke, they were gone." Brelyn told him.
"Well, let's retrace your steps. You were reading them."
"Yes. Then I felt restless, so I went out to the balcony and stood there for about ten minutes."
"Were the papers still here when you returned?"
"Yes. I remember seeing them there as I went to the closet to put my robe back."
"Then what do you remember?"
She frowned. "I remember feeling tired, so I went to bed. I feel asleep quite quickly."
He walked around, obviously thinking. "Is anything else different from the way it was last night? Was the door unlocked or the windows?"
"No, everything looks the same. The windows were open; it was warm and you know I keep my door open in case of a fire or some other emergency."
He sighed. "Well, let's hope that you simply misplaced them and it was not a thief in the night. Do you remember what was written on those pages?" She had deliberately not told him about her investigation. Too many people knew already. It was for his protection as well as her own. She was lucky that he trusted her enough to not ask questions that she wasn't willing to answer.
"Yes, quite clearly. But this means that I have lost all my written proof. I cannot present my findings to the Amyrlin."
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders in a brief, but quite reassuring hold. "I believe you. Besides, notes can be forged. The Amyrlin must trust you as well, or she wouldn't have ordered you to do this. Let's go out and question the guards as we planned. Nothing has changed."
Brelyn smiled, but quickly fell into seriousness. "Indeed. But I think we should visit the infirmary first. If my notes were stolen, something might have happened to my witness there."
Alven nodded. "Of course. Shall we leave now, my Aes Sedai?" He bowed politely, the smile and twinkle in his eyes making the gesture personal and special.
"Yes, my gaidin. But stay nearby me today. I feel there is something in the wind."
There was no answer to that, but Alven frowned and walked closely behind her, feeling that he was in the middle of the Blight instead of the Tower.
The last thing Rose expected to see was Brin Dai sitting on a fence post with his bags, just outside of the Tower's grounds.
"Brin!" She hissed. "What are you doing here!"
He smiled and blushed a little. "You have to take me with you, Rose! This is my own chance to get out of this place!"
"Brin," her hands rose to her hips. "This is not a vacation! Once I leave here, I'm not returning for a long time!"
"I know; that's why you have to take me. I hate this place! I never wanted to be a warrior. I love books and I thought Father was taking me here to learn among the Brown Sisters here. The Tower has the largest library in the world, you know. So I came here and he made me join the warders, to learn about fighting." His face twisted. "I hate killing and hurting people. Please, you have to take me with you or I'll die!"
She wasn't convinced. Why should she let some weak boy tag along with her? He would be more nuisance than a help. Yet she knew he was telling the truth; he did spend all of his free time in the Library and helping Brown Sisters. He would die the moment he was placed on the front line or bonded as a warder by some young Brown seeing him as a scholar friend and expecting him to be a great warrior as well. Brin simply didn't have the will to fight or the agility to be a good warrior.
"Alright, but only if Master Lirah says it's okay. This ain't no free deal. You have to work for your money as well."
His smile brightened his face. "Of course! I could do his books as well as help you in guarding the wagons! Thanks Rose. You're a real friend."
Rose felt ashamed that she had thought about refusing him. Brin did that to her a lot. Well, Master Lirah would probably send Brin back to the Tower in no time at all.
In no time at all, they arrived at 'The Blue Whistle' and Master Lirah allowed Brin to join them. In his own words: 'The lad can't be that much worse than a girl with a sword.' That only made Rose more angrier, but what was, was.
In less than an hour, a wagon loaded with fabrics from Tear and Illian left the city, heading north-by-northwest along a dusty road. Rose and Brin rode at the side of the wagon as Master Lirah himself sat beside the driver. He had been planning on riding himself, but he had let the boy ride his horse today. Brin had looked back often at the city and Rose had not taken a second glance. She had learnt long ago to never look back. There were no answers in the past for her. They all lay up ahead in the mountains and down in a valley, secluded from the rest of mankind until one man changed that all.
"Light! The girl was only a child!" Brelyn exclaimed in shock as she and Alven stood at the side of the bed where a sheet covered the body of Cassie.
The Yellow sister nodded. "Yes, it is sad when children die of such causes. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent such an attack ahead of time." She patted Brelyn's arm sympathetically and left.
The Sister believed that Cassie had died during the night from a serious asthmatic attack, her lungs seizing up as she struggled to breathe. But Brelyn was willing to bet that Cassie had been killed by the One Power, saidin to be exact, a fatal flow obstructing her throat. Of course, the Sisters here would not suspect saidin to be used to kill in the Tower. Why should they? She was only a nameless Novice.
Still, this was all the evidence she needed for her papers to be stolen instead of misplaced. She now suspected that she had been put to sleep by saidin; the Light knows that she had been having a hard time sleeping before. Yet Cassie's death revealed much about her killer. He was an intelligent man and professional in his killing. This was not the same man who had spared Cassie's life at the storeroom. This only meant one thing: this was not a single man working alone. This was a conspiracy. The more she thought about it, the more she suspected that Asha'man were behind it. The Shadow would have used a Grey Man or a Dragkar on Cassie, not a Dreadlord or, Light forbid! a member of the Black Ajah. One girl was not worth the risk of revealing a Dark Sister's identity.
"Alven," she spoke as she looked at the bed. "Send someone to inform the Mother of this and someone to fetch Asha'man Dark Blight."
He nodded. "Yes, Aes Sedai." She knew he heard the unspoken commands attached to her words. Words to keep this secret and confidential. Brelyn returned to her apartments and began to pack. The summons from the Amyrlin would come soon and it would be best to leave the Tower as soon as possible. Tienna had always told her that she was too indecisive, but she was certain about this. The interviews with the guards were unnecessary now; she knew the Black Tower held the answers.
"You are mad!" Kathana's eyes glistened at Brelyn.
"No, Mother. Not mad. It makes sense." She had outlined the evidence she had to make their thief an Asha'man and she had not taken it well. Kathana seemed to have absolute trust in the Asha'man, perhaps more than what she had in her Aes Sedai.
"You know what I mean." She eyed Brelyn frostily across the desk. "I cannot condone what you are saying."
"Mother, I know you can't… officially help me, yet I must do this. If this is even the slightest bit true, someone must stop these men. These men are either acting with the M'Hael's permission or they are rebels, men with their own agenda. Please send my warder and me. I will disguise us as workers there and I will not channel."
"You better not channel if you want to remain alive." Kathana barked with a grim smile. "I see your point, Brelyn, but I don't have to like it. Very well, go. Dark Blight will be our contact. You seemed to have already entrusted enough information with him, ordering him to investigate the Novice's death," she added dryly.
"I know, Mother, but I needed some proof. My intuitions are not enough to condone such actions."
"I know. When will you leave?"
"Today, Mother. As soon as possible."
"Then go. And Daughter," Kathana held her shoulder tightly. "Come back alive with those ter'angreal. We need more Sisters like you."
"I will, Mother."
The days blended into one. Sun rose, sun fell. Stars opened and then they dimmed and died. Rose was happy that Brin had came. He knew many stories and they made the time move quickly. She was also happy because he stopped her from being alone with Master Lirah. They was something about him, the way his eyes moved on her that made her feel very uncomfortable. It made her feel ashamed, except there was no reason why.
Rose had had a few unusual dreams on the road. One was about a Green Sister named Nina Bede Caedmon, except she was really this Blackthorne in disguise. Why a warder to an Asha'man would spy in the Tower was beyond Rose's understanding, but that was the dream. Perhaps all was not as happy as it seemed between the two Towers. The other dream she remembered less clearly, but it was very emotional. She was Blackthorne in the dream, not an observer and she was filled with sorrow as she walked in the Water Garden of the White Tower. So powerful was the emotion that Rose almost starting crying when she awoke.
Except what was the meaning behind these dreams? The first she could understand in a way. The Aes Sedai and Asha'man at odds could explain why the Asha'man attack was shut up. To avoid people from knowing the truth about these men, the Asha'man had to maintain a solid and silent front. No one saw the men who had gone insane. But the second? It seemed like Blackthorne was reaching beyond the grave, telling Rose about her life. What had Blackthorne known? What had she seen? Perhaps more dreams would tell her.
Today they had finally reached water. According to Master Lirah, this marked two-thirds of the way to her village. Rose knew he was telling the truth; it had taken her about three weeks of hard traveling to reach Tar Valon. Now they could refill their water bags and finally bathe! It had seemed so long since the last bath in Tar Valon; dust baths had been all. Now Rose was alone and washing in the river while the driver slept and Master Lirah went over his accounts with Brin upriver.
Water. She could understand why the Aiel valued it so much. The essence of life, reduced to a single drop. She gleefully played with it, splashing and swimming in the river. The water was starting to feel cold. Time to return to work.
Rising from the water, she looked for the rock where she had placed her clothing to dry in the sun. It was gone! Light! Was it another rock?! Frantically, she searched the shore quickly and walked into the water to search the other side of the river. A coarse laugh rolled out of the nearby bushes.
"Lost your clothing, girl?" Lirah held up her clothing. "Is this them?" He laughed again at her glare.
"Return them to me and leave!" She yelled, blushing.
"Come here and get them yourself, girl." He laughed.
Angry and embarrassed at this outrage, she spluttered, not sure what to do. He was a large man and she was small, her weapons by her clothing. A rustle of movement revealed Brin.
"Master Lirah, I was looking… Oh." He looked from one to the other. "Hi Rose. Master Lirah, the accounts on your last sale at Fal Moran don't add up."
Lirah frowned and glared at Rose, obviously angered at this disruption. "Very well, boy. Come."
He stomped off towards the wagon and Brin followed him after giving Rose a worried look. Rose sighed in relief. As soon as their footfalls vanished, she quickly got out of the water and got her clothing on and her weapons carefully replaced. That was too close for comfort. She decided then that Master Lirah was not going to visit her village and he wasn't going to have her accompanying him until they returned to Tar Valon. He was a user of people. She would leave when they were closer to the village. The villagers would give her food and provisions for the trip back to Tar Valon. Except what about Brin? He was not safe here with Lirah. She had to convince him to come with her. After seeing what he had just seen, he would understand her reasons.
Lirah glared at her as she climbed onto her horse and they set out on the road again. Within the week, Rose would be home and safe. Yes, nice and safe. Rose nodded at Lirah's backward glances. Brin just eyed them both and shook his head.
Sweat dripped down her brow. Flies seemed to enjoy buzzing by her ears and tickling her face. Rising to mop down her face, Brelyn saw Alven working down the road, carrying baskets of supplies for the Black Tower. She sighed and returned to her weeding of the cabbage field. It had been two weeks since she and Alven had arrived here as simple workers at the Black Tower. She was a middle-aged farm wife who had traveled here with her equally aged brother, both searching for work after insects had destroyed their small farm's crops, leaving them penniless. Asha'man Dark Blight had found them on the road and taken pity on them, bringing them here.
She had only started narrowing her suspects today. It was hard for a simple servant to question her superiors. The wrong questions to the wrong person could bring her and the Tower a lot of trouble, not to mention the possibility of death. Brelyn was forced to use more of a gut feeling than any real research.
Something that she had noticed among the Asha'man was a tattoo that a couple of them had on their upper arms. A dragon tattoo she could understand somewhat, but the tattoo of a black spider? She was sure that it meant something. Why else would this tattoo be on the upper arm, where it could be concealed easily and why more than one man bearing this mark? There was one of these men that she had chosen to question. He would be the perfect subject. Soldier Jared Damar was an introvert and easily startled. He was also a book-lover and bent to his superiors without hesitation and without shame. Brelyn had been studying his movements as she had worked. Brelyn paid special attention to the men he talked to as well. This spider thing may be nothing, or it may be everything. She was looking for a group and this was the only clear group of Asha'man that she had seen so far.
"You there, woman! Get back to work!"
Sighing, Brelyn knuckled her back and went back to her weeding. By tomorrow, she would know what this spider group was about. Tienna would be amazed to see me now, she thought to herself. Imagine me being a true Green and an investigator! Chuckling, she worked away in the field until the sun set into the purple haze.
Rose tugged at Brin's sleeve. "Come on, let's go. We're only a few miles from safety," she whispered near his ear.
"I'm coming." He yawned and stretched. "Any sign?"
No name was required. "No, but I'll not be happy until we're in the village and a long way from here."
He nodded and got off the wet ground where they had slept last night, exhausted from their night and day long escape. Rose had been right; Brin had needed no persuasion to leave Lirah. They have left at the moment that Lirah and the driver had fallen asleep in their blankets, taking only their own belongings. They certainly didn't need to make Lirah more angry. Rose only prayed that the man didn't hold a grudge and decide to hunt them both down or burn down her village.
The sun had barely risen as they walked near the outskirts of a forest. If attacked, they could seek safety in the trees. There was also some food in the forest. Not enough to live a long time, but berries and roots would have to do until home.
After a mid-day snack, berries with the addition of a rabbit taken on the road, the land started to rise and the forest veer south, following the river. There was an usually large stone on one of the hillsides.
"What's that, Rose?" Brin gestured.
She smiled. "That's a stone remnant from the Breaking. This means that we are very close. I used to play there as a child occasionally." Brin grinned. "So what do you called your village?"
"Well, I don't think that I've ever heard anyone call it by a name. It's always just the village. But I seem to recall one of the eldest women call it Hamarea."
"Hmmm, that's a nice name. But that's the name of this area back in Hawkwing's time, right?"
She nodded. "Yes, it is and was. Now let's move. I'm worried."
He tilted his head. "Why? Lirah doesn't know where we are and he doesn't know where Hamarea is either."
"No, it's not that, not only that. I've been having strange dreams lately."
"Really? Tell me then."
"Well, they're about this woman named Celeste Blackthorne. She died not so long ago. She was a warder to an Asha'man named Sam d'ma Shadar." She frowned. "She was also a Darkfriend, I think. I had a dream in which she was leading Shadowspawn. But she seemed so sad in other dreams. So much loss and pain…" Rose trailed off.
"Hmmm… Well, I don't know much about her, but what I know is like a love story. According to what I read, she was originally one of the Forsaken. But then she saw the Light and became bonded to Sam d'ma Shadar, a Solider, then Dedicated of the Black Tower and the man that she loved. Later, Sam left the Black Tower and became a lone wandering male channeler, leaving Blackthorne alone at the White Tower." He spread his hands. "She killed herself at the White Tower and that's where they buried her and that's her story."
"Really? That explains so much…" She bit her lip. "Then why am I having these dreams?"
"The first thought that come to mind is that you're Blackthorne reborn, but that's impossible. You're much too old for that." He paused. "You could be her daughter or maybe there's something that Blackthorne knew that you need to know and she's reaching beyond the grave to help you."
"I can't be her daughter; my mother died this year." She frowned.
"Maybe you were adopted?"
"Maybe. It looks like that I'll have to find this Sam guy though to know for sure."
Brin touched her shoulder. "You'll find the truth. Let's go."
He got up and started to walk into the hills. Rose followed reluctantly. There was something to fear in her village. Perhaps the truth, a truth she didn't want to hear. Was she Blackthorne's child? Now she even questioned all her past. Was anything of it real?
The figure opened the door slowly, praying that it didn't make a sound. Soundlessly, the figure moved in a quick crouched run, shutting the door. The man sleeping in the bed turned over and then all was still. The figure scanned the room and then moved to a table, lighting the lamp. The light illuminated the room and the man awoke groggily. "What… Who?"
The figure removed her cloak. "I am an Aes Sedai. Do not be afraid. I only want to ask you a few questions."
The man sat up straight. "I…Um, what are you doing here?"
The woman just sat on his bed. "As I said, to ask you questions. What is your name?"
"Um, Jared Damar."
"Good. What does that tattoo mean? You know, that spider one." She pointed. "It seems rather popular among you Soldiers."
He eyed her worried and a little defiantly, rubbing his arm. "I cannot say, Aes Sedai. A fashion trend maybe?"
"Jared," she chided. "You know that's not the truth. I know about your little group."
Jared's face crumpled. Whatever strength he had vanished. "Oh, Aes Sedai, I didn't want to join! They made me! You must believe that!" Tears coursed down his cheeks. "I didn't want to steal the rods, but Paitir told me to. Please, you must believe me!"
The Aes Sedai reached out and took the man's hand. "Why don't you start at the beginning, Jared?"
The man called Jared spoke to the Aes Sedai during the night, telling her all about the Cult of the Spider, lead by a Dedicated named Paitir Spyre. By the time Jared was finished, the woman was quite pale.
A figure clothed in rags left Jared's cabin as the sky began to lighten and moved quickly to the large building where all the Black Tower's workers slept. It had been quite a profitable night.
The village was almost as Rose remembered it as. The same dusty streets ran along between houses with balconies filled with plants of many colours. The same faces looked at her and then did a second take. Only one thing was different; her house was gone. She led Brin to a small house and knocked on the door. A reedy voice answered: "Come in!" They did as the voice commanded.
A man rose from his chair as they entered the house, furnished with simple and plain furniture. He was older, yet the muscles in his arms spoke for themselves.
"Rose!" he exclaimed. "You're back! Welcome!"
He hugged her tightly for a moment, then held her away at an arm's distance to examine her. Apparently satisfied, he left her go.
"Yes, Master Caw. I need some information. I have many questions."
"Indeed, you must if you have traveled all the way back. Come, sit down and introduce your companion to me."
And so they stayed the night at Master Caw's house, telling of their adventures as he smoked his pipe in silence, a crescent moon shining wickedly through the room's window.
In the morning, finally Master Caw spoke to them over breakfast. He had not said a word since inviting them to stay for the night.
"Well, you should ask the eldest folk around here. They could tell you the most about your family. I'm an outlander. I came here… hmmm… ten years ago."
Rose nodded. "Yes, sir. I know."
He nodded. "Well, I have to go to the square to work with Kris. Will you join us? Your friend is welcome to come as well."
She paused, teacup in hand. "I'd better hunt out some of the grannies, but if Brin wants to come, well, that's his choice."
Brin replied with a smile. "Sorry, sir but I'd rather accompany Rose. I have yet to really see her village."
"I see. Well, I will see you two later then. Good day and good hunting." He left quickly, taking his practice and steel blade with him.
Rose put down her empty cup. "We should get going too, Brin. I will ask Grandma Shail. She's the village gossip."
Brin nodded and wiped the crumbs off his hands as they left for Grandma Shail's house.
Brelyn kept her eyes on the ground in front of her, not daring to meet eyes with Jared or Paitir or any of the Spider Cult members. They mustn't know what she knew, not until Dark Blight came for his weekly check-up. The Mother and M'hael had to know about this threat. She wished that she could warn them, to stop the Cult from getting their hands on the remaining Rods, but she knew it was hopeless. No one knew where the other Rods were; Paitir did, of course and the members were so determined that nothing, not traps of One Power or death or any punishment would keep them from their goal. They had to all be killed or forced by Compulsion to leave the Cult and forget all their ideals. She felt eyes on her as a shiver ran up her spine. It would have to be Paitir's turn to watch over the workers. Still, she forced her hands to dig in the earth and pull up potatoes. She mustn't act suspiciously. She was a simple farm wife, not an Aes Sedai. She must remember that and keep calm. Butterflies still fluttered in her stomach. She could feel Alven's worry.
From the corner of her eye, she watched Paitir for a second. He was a tall and strong man, a born leader. He was harsh and brutal and a very dangerous man, for he was intelligent as well. Except for his blind belief in the Spider Goddess. Maybe he was slightly insane. What sane man would believe in a mythical omnipotent being that by using the Rods of Dominion to revive it, it would heal the taint on saidin? Maybe it wasn't insanity; Asha'man were a desperate lot. Who wouldn't if you knew that you would go insane and hurt the land and people you loved?
As Paitir's watch on the field turned her direction, she quickly forced her eyes on the task in front of her. Just a few more day and everything would be okay. The Amyrlin would know and she would stop the Spider Cult from using the Rods. The ceremony wasn't going to be held until the next full moon anyway. They had plenty of time. If only she could believe in her own reasoning. She sighed and picked up her full basket, carrying it to a large bin beside Paitir. Alven passed her with his own basket and gave her a quick smile and handgrip. If only she could believe her warder and that the sun and moon would stop turning.
Rose lay awake in the bed on the floor of Master Caw's main room, in front of the dying fire. She went over the day's events in her head, replaying the information from Grandma Shaile. So much was new and much of the old knowledge was confirmed.
She had been born to the woman Rose had always known as her mother and her sister was her sister. She had been an unusual child (that was hardly new), seeming to be very mature for her age. She had been born 16, almost 17 years ago according to how the village measured time; that had been a revelation.
Time flowed differently here. It was a remnant of the Breaking. Some poor insane Asha'man had altered time within the area of the village. A minute here was like an hour in the outside world. That fact made Rose's skin crawl as it surely did for Brin. She now wanted to leave the village as soon as possible. So Rose was about, what, 40 years or more in the outside world? The whole thing was crazy. No wonder no one left or came to the village. Well, Master Caw had and that was because he wasn't willing to die yet. He had all but confessed that to them. As for her name, so similar to Blackthorne's… Grandma Shaile claimed that her mother had said that the name just popped into her head and it just 'felt right'. There was such a thing as coincidence, right? Yet she doubted that. It was too alike.
Actually, according to Grandma Shaile, Blackthorne had visited this village once a long time ago. Out of curiosity, she had claimed. Of Sam d'ma Shadar, Shaile was less clear; he may or may not have been one of the Asha'man that had come to the village about a month ago. Rose grimaced at the time difference. One month in the village was a good half of a year for Rose.
Yet perhaps that was better for Rose, since they all still clearly remembered the Asha'man. She now had a description of all the men who had came here and in some cases, names as well. Those men would be visited soon and then they would answer her questions. Rose yawned and wiggled into the blankets. So tired. They would spend tomorrow preparing for the journey to the Black Tower and Rose had promised Master Caw that she would visit her old friends and give them a little lesson with the skills that the Warders had taught her. She was eager to go, but a promise was a promise. At least she could keep this one. With another yawn, she slowly drifted off into sleep.
The shouting was everywhere with the sounds of battle. Running, she scaled the tall stairway, leading to the Yellow Ajah's apartments. Sam was in danger; she could feel it. It was her duty as his Warder, no matter how many times he and the Aes Sedai told her to hide and let others fight, for she was the one that the Shadow wanted. They wanted their Lady of the Dark Knowledge back and they would get it, no matter the cost.
She killed the trollocs in the hallway without giving them much notice. Sam was nearby and in pain. So much pain. Turning, she saw an open door and she ran into it, not checking for traps at all. She was a Warder and her bondholder was in danger. He needed her. So it was too late when she saw them standing there in the room, Sam sloughed on the floor, blood on his face and smears on the tiled floor.
"You!" she cried in despair. "No! I won't let you! You cannot…"
"Really, little sister? I think not." Lanfear's cool and calm voice only agitated her more.
She knelt at the feet of the taller of the two men, his eyes red with the black specks of the saa. "Please Demandred, out of my former service, please do not kill Sam. I beg you humbly."
The man smiled very slightly. It was more of a sneer than a smile and a shadow of emotion at that. "I would have never imagined the day when you would kneel freely at my feet. I will not kill your Sam this time; I have better things to do. Now we will have what we came for. Lanfear! Ishamael!" He commanded. "Link and give me the ter'angreal. Stand, Blackthorne. This won't hurt a bit." The other two smiled feral grins as she rose to her feet. She didn't dare look at Sam; she knew he was alive, but failing quickly.
Lanfear shook her head. "Not us of course. What a foolish woman. You had it all and you left it for what? One mortal man? A channeling man at that." Lanfear made a sound of disapproval as she linked with Ishamael and Demandred. Then the weave of the One Power enveloped her, a weave that she only vaguely recognized as having memory-erasing properties and she lost all awareness as the pain came crashing down.
Rose sat up straight; another Blackthorne dream. Another painful Blackthorne dream. Her fingers still seemed to tingle. Why, why, why? No one seemed to know. Perhaps Sam would, but he probably wouldn't. He'd probably be angry at being forced to remember Blackthorne; he was like that. Rose ran a hand through her hair. Now where had that thought come from? Rose didn't know Sam d'ma Shadar, but… but Blackthorne did.
A shiver ran down her spine. Was Blackthorne trying to take over her body, discontent to stay dead? Now more than ever, she wanted a Yellow to poke and probe her. This was getting scary. Rose knew she wasn't going insane because she hadn't made this up; it was real.
Relaxing, she tucked herself back into her bed. There was nothing that she could do now. Yet there was a part of Rose that was curious about that ter'angreal the Forsaken had used. It was shaped rectangular with a strange shiny, flat and black thread running through it and the thread was wound on two small wheels, like a bobbin of thread. She wanted to find that ter'angreal. She wanted proof that these dream were real. People knew Blackthorne from the descriptions in the earlier dreams, but finding that ter'angreal… That would be all the proof needed and perhaps it would give her an answer to that problem as well. Yet she could only chase one thing at once. Talking with the Asha'man seemed to be the more important of the two. There was no rush to go to Shayol Ghul and steal one of the Forsaken's ter'angreal. Rose only wished that she didn't feel so guilty about putting that trip off for now.
"No, Rose, we can't go to Shayol Ghul because your dream told you so! It's madness! We'll have to go to Fal Moran for supplies and you know who is in that city. Master Lirah! Do you really want to see him again?" Brin was not taking it well.
"No, I don't, but we have no choice. We have to get that ter'angreal. I'm certain that it's the key to it all."
He snorted. "Oh yeah. Why do I remember you saying that finding Sam d'ma Shadar was the key to it all as well?"
"He is too! I need Sam d'ma Shadar and I need that ter'angreal!"
He threw up his hands. "Fine, you win. You always do. But you can go alone. I ain't stupid." He started to walk off.
"No, wait! Where are you going?"
"I don't know. Somewhere far from Shayol Ghul, that's for sure."
Rose made an exasperated sound. "Brin, I need your help. I can't make it there alone."
He turned around. "Oh, so you're finally giving me some credit! After I have gone places just because you wanted to and ran away when I had reason to stay…" He rambled on as Rose's mouth hung open. What a time for him to find his backbone! Without thinking, she approached him and reached out to touch his head for some strange reason…
He gave her a double take. "What did you do to me? Why can I sense you?" His eyes widened. "Oh blood and bloody ashes! Blood and bloody ashes!"
She forced her face to stillness. She was amazed and confused herself. She had no clue how she had bonded him; that she was sure that she had done. She couldn't channel!
"Right, and I'll let you go when we get that ter'angreal. Until then, you will help me and follow where I lead." Rose walked north slowly, knowing that Brin had no choice but to follow. With a long-suffering sigh, he walked after her, briefly giving the south one last glance.
Fal Moran was big, larger than what Rose had expected. Not as large as Tar Valon, of course. It was the center of all the world's trade route. But this city was pretty formidable in it's own right.
Rose sipped slowly at her drink. Brin was getting their supplies; they didn't want Lirah or that driver to see them and Rose's face would certainly be the worst of the two. So Rose was here at this cheap tavern, waiting for her warder to return.
Strange that, being able to channel and no one in the Tower ever noticing. Rose did avoid channelers as much as possible, but still… The Aes Sedai must be as weak in the One Power as rumour said. She wasn't sure that she could release Brin from the bond, but she would try. It was another promise that Rose would try her best to keep.
Rose gulped down her drink as she felt Brin come closer. It was time to leave this place. Give her weapons a last check, she meet Brin outside of the tavern, leading their horses and provisions. Now the real adventure began. The dangers of the Blight awaited them and the dangers of the Fortress of the Dark. Rose was sure that she saw Lirah's cloak as she left the city, but it was soon lost in the swirl of the crowds.
Today was the day. Dark Blight would meet her at sundown and she could finally be relieved of her duty and responsibility. To think that this was what she had always wanted. Brelyn almost wanted to laugh. No wonder so many Sisters stayed within the white walls of the Tower. Still, Tienna would die of a heart failure if she saw her now, she had to admit with a grim smile. Tienna had always thought of her as a weakling that should have been taught enough to survive and then kindly put out of the Tower. How wrong Tienna was, that snotty harlot. Paitir was on guard again today and as Fate would have it, his partner was her darling Jared Damar. Jared was really of no use; he spent all of his time watching Paitir nervously, sweat marking his shirt. Light, get me out of here.
The sun seemed stuck up in the sky; it hadn't seemed to move an inch since she had last looked up. Light, it had to be afternoon by now, didn't it? She rose to look up as a woman nearby shrieked. Brelyn automatically left her work to run to the woman. "What is wrong?" The woman was crying. "A snake… I do swear it was a garden snake. He bit me while I was working in those leaves." She showed her hand to Brelyn; the bite was quite vivid and the venom was quickly spreading from the bite.
Brelyn looked quickly around. Neither Jared nor Paitir seemed to have heard the woman's cry or were paying attention in their direction. To Heal or to not Heal… If any of the men suspected her… If she didn't, it would be against her Oaths as an Aes Sedai. Not the Oaths upon the Rod, but the sacred oaths to preserve life and to help mankind that were engraved in her heart. She turned back and saw the swelling was now past the woman's wrist. Brelyn bit her lip. There was no choice.
Taking the hand, she quickly embraced saidar and Healed the woman. The woman reacted as all people without previous experience or without some warning did; her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. When Brelyn was finished; the woman quickly looked at her hand and her mouth dropped open again. "Aes Sedai, I know not what to…"
"Silence, Daughter. Say nothing."
Brelyn quickly turned to look at the men, to see if anyone of them had noticed her channeling. She prayed to the Light that neither of them had paid attention to the inevitable goose bumps that accompanied saidar in use near a channeling man. Neither seemed to have noticed. Brelyn sighed a breath of relief.
The woman gave her a wink of pretended knowledge as Brelyn quickly returned to her assigned workplace. She was alright and so was the woman. All would end as it should end; she and Alven back safe in the Tower and those men wishing for death when the M'Hael and Amyrlin dispensed Tower justice.
Jared suddenly walked to Paitir. Brelyn saw it; she always kept an eye on those men. They spoke with each other for a long time. Sweat pouted down her neck. What were they saying? Had Jared noticed her small display? Was it a new Spider Cult plot? Then Paitir turned to Brelyn with a look of malevolence on his face; Jared squirming as usual and Brelyn knew. She knew death was descending upon her as Paitir walked towards her, his steps slower than the sun's movements. Her thoughts were strangely detached. I wonder if Alven can escape or if they will hurt him? Too bad that I'm not strong enough to Travel. That would be quite handy right now. She obeyed without question when Paitir told her to follow him and Jared joined them as they went to Paitir's cabin.
Black marble was the perfect décor for the Forsaken's home; Rose had to admit that. The trip there from Fal Moran had been strangely quiet. No attacks in the Blight, nor any as they traveled through the Wasted Lands. They could only conclude that the rumours at the White Tower had been true. The Armies of the Dark were occupied elsewhere in the world.
Their footsteps echoed hollowly in the hallway. Rose was not sure how she knew this was the hallway where the Forsaken's own apartments branched off of; she just knew. There, a right and they were on the way to Demandred's apartments. That was surely where the ter'angreal was kept.
As they turned, Brin saw the man carrying the laundry first. "Back," he whispered in her ear, but Rose had already seen and stopped. "He'll go away. Just wait." Brin whispered again. He was definitely playing the warder to the hilt. After all, they both knew that she was the better fighter of the two.
They waited. The man went into a door and came out empty handed. All would have been well, except that he turned and walked up the hall to where they were hiding. Rose made the first move. "ARRRGGGGHHHH!" She bellowed, trying to frighten the man away. It didn't work, but he was startled. "Who are you?"
Brin didn't give him an answer; he leaped out after Rose and ran towards the man, smacking him on the side of the head with his oversized pouch. The man fell down unconscious instantly.
"What's in that bag, anyway?" Rose asked him as they ran down the hallway. Company would arrive soon. They would be hunted after this.
"Books," he smiled. "I knew 'The Travels of Jain Farstrider' would come in handy someday."
She had to laugh and suddenly they were there at Demandred's threshold.
"Wait here," she instructed him as she slipped in.
The room was as she expected it. Bare yet the few items were priceless. Spinglass, light bulbs and furniture from the Age of Legends, mirrors from the Sea Folk islands, Seanchan kaf beans, the list went on. She walked quickly through the main room; Dem didn't keep his real treasures out there.
In his bedchamber was a long shelf where all of the artifacts using the One Power sat. Well, he did have another cache, but the ter'angreal was not there; she knew that. Pushing and tossing angreal and ter'angreal on the carpeted floor, she finally saw it hidden away behind a ter'angreal that Rose knew was called a flashlight. There was the ter'angreal containing Blackthorne's memories.
With a touch close to one touching a holy relic, she gently caressed the ter'angreal with the black ribbon and wheels, half-unbelieving in its existence. As she touched, flows of saidar and what had to be saidin curled around Rose Crimsonthorne, melding together into a weave of all the Five Powers around Rose. Any channeler would have seen a halo of soft light, like the light of the moon shining through midnight's clouds. Then the light abruptly vanished and Rose collapsed onto the floor.
Mmmmm… What had happened? Where am I? She fingered a lock of hair absently. Why am I in Demandred's room? What has happened? I remember being in my rooms in the Tower and then… Her eyes widened. She rushed to the mirror to see her face. A face that was definitely not hers stared back. It was younger, more innocent. So, she had been reborn, as she had suspected. Or had her former master recalled her. That made her think. No, I would have known. It is not His way to let his revived Chosen live peacefully.
Now, she had to remember this body's… this girl's past. What was her new name? Ah, yes, Rose Crimsonthorne. She smiled a quirky smile; how strange that the names were so similar. But was she now really Rose Crimsonthorne or was she the woman she had always been, the one feared and loved as Blackthorne?
Hmmmm… A question for the Whites. She decided that for now she was Rose Blackthorne; she was willing to change her first name. She could compromise, no matter what Sam said. Sam. The sheer name brought her pain and anger. Her memories of him were quite dimmed; she had been eager to forget those during the long sleep, but those feelings alone were too powerful to be quieted. He had wronged her and he would pay. It was as simple as that.
Now, what to do? The girl had apparently been seeking revenge for her family; a noble cause. In the very least, she could finish that before she went to pay her respects to Sam and perhaps Demandred. He would instantly know that she was back in business and ready to receive some compensation. She had to smile; neither of the men would recognize her in this new body. No one would, in fact. That stopped her smile; what fun was that? She wanted to visit her few friends in the Tower and catch up on old times. She wondered if Narell and Lannie and Morgan and what's-her-name… Ah, yes, Ilyena were still around. But first things first.
Blackthorne left Demandred's quarters and greeted the surprised boy outside. She didn't know why the girl had bonded him. Well, she suspected that the bonding was actually Rose's first experience with the One Power; Brin was the thing that she had needed most at that moment, was it not? An accident, but Blackthorne would try to not get the boy killed until she could get them somewhere safe and unbond him or pass his bond to someone else. Hmmm, maybe Lanfir or Laurelann would take him. Yes, both were always looking for new warders.
"So? Did you find it?"
"Hmmm? Ah, yes. It was exactly where I thought it would be. Come on, let's go. It's dangerous here."
It took little urging to get him moving. Getting to that ter'angreal and using it must have triggered some alarms and traps, not to mention that Darkfriend's knowledge of intruders. Holding the Source, she could feel Shadowspawn nearby. "Brin, there's going to be trouble. Stick with me and we'll be okay." It was a shame that she hadn't had the time to memorize the place well enough to make a Gateway. She probably could make one, but it was too risky. Blackthorne may be old to channeling, but Rose, the vessel that contained Blackthorne's soul, she was only a hatchling. She could still be burnt out.
He nodded and placed his hand on his sword. He would make a good warder to a Brown, she thought proudly. As they rounded a corner, five trollocs and a Fade were there, waiting.
Brin gasped, but she was used to this. Without thought, she threw her knives, killing one of the trollocs instantly. She then channeled some fire at the remaining trollocs as Brin wrestled with unsheathing his sword. The undead trollocs ran away, knowing an expert when they saw it. The Fade had its sword out, the naked blade drawing up the light in the corridor.
"Rose, I'll take this. You go." Brin's voice wavered as the Fade stared at him, but the sword did not. Blackthorne gave him points for that.
"No, Brin. This is past your level. Let me do this." Blackthorne already had her sword out.
"Rose, please! All my life, I've wanted to be a hero. Now is my chance! Go home and tell them all about me. Tell everyone about my battle at Shayol Ghul." His voice firmed. "Rose, I have to do this. You must understand. This is Fate."
She shook her head, but she understood. Death came to all and it was every man's right to choose his day to have his last dance. She only wished that Brin's wasn't like this, so soon.
She had no chance to reply, because the Halfman started to attack Brin. Brin was doing well, but he could not hold. He didn't know the secret to fighting one; you had to overwhelm it before it overwhelmed you. Brin kept defending himself when he should have attacked. Knowing an ending when she saw it, Blackthorne slipped out and released Brin from his bond. She didn't want to see Rose's warder fall and the sensible part of her didn't want to feel the loss of a warder. Not now, not ever possibly. She would not feel any guilt; Brin had chosen his path, not she, yet there would be a part of her that would always remember him fondly. A man-child willing to die for her. It was sad, yet touching.
She killed many other Shadowspawn along the way with the One Power as she made for the stables. Taking a sturdy horse, she left Shayol Ghul, only small dust clouds rising from the ground marking her trail.
She kept her eyes closed most of the time; it made it easier to forget what was happening, yet the rope digging into her wrists and ankles reminded her constantly. Jared had finally recognized her as the Aes Sedai that had interrogated him and he had told Paitir immediately. She had had no choice but to come and let them take her prisoner. Now she was here, bound and gagged in Paitir's cabin, Paitir gone and Jared kneeling on the floor whimpering like a lost dog.
She wished that her feet were free so that she could kick Jared a couple of times for getting her into this mess. Everything had been going well until that man, that boy… She knew that was a lie and that she was using him as an excuse, but it felt good to lay the blame on someone else. The Light burn Kathana for letting her do this! Alven's irritation and worry only added to her own. At least he was free and alive. The door squealed open and light trickled in. Paitir had kept the cabin dark for fear that some Asha'man would see in and be suspicious of a woman sitting on the floor in an unnatural position.
"So, you kept awake for me. Good." Paitir's deep voice rumbled like thunder. Jared knelt at his feet. "Master, it is good that you have returned. That Aes Sedai scared me. She has the evil eye."
"Rise, worm," Paitir glared at the other man. "Go and fetch the others for me. Now!" Jared fled out the door like the wind. Brelyn shifted. She did not want to be alone with this man. He was dangerous and in the position of power over her very life. Paitir looked down at her with sorrow filled eyes. The bonds suddenly released as if a knife had cut them, but she didn't dare move an inch. He was too dangerous.
"Come, Aes Sedai. Stand. I would not kill you if I did not have to. There is still time for your redemption. If you swear to the Great Spider, then you may go free and serve the Great Spider and Her Chosen." Still she did not move or speak. His words sounded too much like those of Darkfriends for her comfort. She had never thought that this cult was actually a face for the Shadow!
Paitir obviously didn't like her silence, for he quickly bent down and dragged her to her feet. "I said 'stand', and I meant it! You will learn to obey me, woman!"
"Yes, Master." She tried her best to look submissive. It had been a long time since she was an Accepted. She had to stall Paitir and give Alven time to warn everyone. Aes Sedai and Asha'man would surely come to free her. Wouldn't they? She shivered as she saw Paitir's eyes glowing.
"Please, Dark Blight, you must listen to me! Brelyn's in trouble and she's in there! I am a warder! Would I lie about the safety of my bondholder?" Dark Blight nodded, but still looked unconvinced. "Light, man! What would you do if Lanfir was in there? The same as me!"
Dark Blight sighed. "Alven, I understand, but you've also got to look at this from my point of view. The M'Hael knows nothing about Brelyn and the Amyrlin is pretending that she is also blind. If I take in a bunch of Asha'men with me, it would be a political disaster. There would be stories of channeling swat teams arresting and killing innocent men, men who were never even suspected of crimes before." He looked at Alven sadly. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do." Alven's face twisted with pain as he walked quickly out of the office.
There was only one thing to do. He went to his room and took out the cloak and sword. If he was going to die, he would die like a true warder. Maybe even Brelyn could escape with his diversion. Light, they had waited so long to be together finally as Aes Sedai and Warder, but now… It was so soon, too soon for a good-bye, but it was meant to be. Too bad that he couldn't tell Brelyn how much he had loved her since the day he had first saw her in the yard.
With sword and cloak on, Alven marched quickly to Paitir's cabin. That man would know the vengeance of a warder and he would know it well.
"…And so the Great Spider will weave for us all a new thread of hope and prosperity." The woman finally opened her eyes and looked at Brelyn with eyes still glazed over with the feeling of her tale. Brelyn shivered; it was the same woman that she had Healed in the field. Perhaps it had been a trap all along.
"Now repeat her recitation of the basic tenant of the Great Spider," Paitir commanded.
She obeyed without hesitation. Good thing that she had always been good at that, a necessary trick for a Novice. "In the Beginning, there was…" The Light send Alven here soon. She didn't know how long she could last. She had heard the tricks for brainwashing people without the One Power and hunger was the strongest tool. Repetition was the second. Within a week, she would be one of the cult members and there would be nothing that anyone could do to make her return to her former self.
Suddenly, the door slammed open and a figure with a sword stood in the doorway before running at Paitir, sword extended. All the cult members were so stunned at the sight, that anyone would dare attack the Master, that no one channeled to stop him. No one, including Paitir himself. The swordsman ran his sword straight through Paitir's heart and removed it smoothly with practice. Paitir collapsed into the arms of his frantic followers.
"Master!" Jared cried. "You must not leave us for the Great Thread!" The woman merely cried as the others in the room wailed and recited poems for the Great Spider and Her Chosen. No one paid any attention to his killer, except Brelyn.
"Alven," she breathed. "You came for me alone?"
His smile was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, even more than his first smile at her so long ago. "Of course. You are my Aes Sedai and I am your warder. We are one." She chuckled and held his hand, content.
Lost in their eyes and their bond, neither of them saw Jared rise from the floor and leap at Alven, snarling like a mad dog. With a cry, he launched himself at the warder and slammed in his small belt knife to the hilt in Alven's chest.
Time slowed. Brelyn heard herself cry aloud and Jared fell on top of her beloved. The other cultists were only silhouettes in the background. She threw Jared away and quickly knelt at Alven's side, frantically trying to calm herself enough to channel. That had been her major stumbling block from becoming Aes Sedai; to channel under pressure.
A voice spoke from above her. "Where is the one called Paitir Spyre?" The cultists moaned, but she cried, "He's dead!"
The voice spoke again. "Where is Jared Damar?" Brelyn pointed without looking at the shivering curled up man in the corner.
"Thank you." The voice's feet moved to the man in the corner and there was channeling there, but Brelyn paid no attention to it. She was focused on Alven and touching saidar. They were the only two things that mattered in her life.
Alven's breathing started to slow. His eyes opened at last and he smiled! The bloody man smiled as he lay there dying! "Good night, my love," he whispered softly. "Remember me, but don't mourn me too long."
"No! I'll never! No!" His breathing stopped. She felt for a heartbeat. There was none. "NOOOO!!! This can't be!" She shook his body, his eyes open and starting to glaze over. "I am your Aes Sedai and I commanded you…" She stopped and fell into sobbing on his chest, not caring about the blood.
A hand touched her shoulder. How long had she been crying? She wiped her tears and looked up. It was a woman, more like a girl. Her dark hair was a little messed, but her dark eyes shone with concern. ' I understand.' was all she said in that deceptively soft voice, but it was enough. Brelyn fell into the girl's arms, weeping her heart, her soul out.
When she could cry no longer, the girl sat her down and gave her a cup of tea. How comforting were the rituals of life. They were alone in the cabin; Paitir and Alven's body was gone as well.
"Would you like to know?" the girl asked.
"Yes," she spoke softly, her voice hurting from her earlier cries.
"The Spider Cult within the Black Tower has been abolished. All the members have been rounded up and taken to a farm where they will be… taught to forget. Your warder told Dark Blight all about it and despite his misgivings, he went to the M'Hael and informed him."
"Taken back to where they belong. I don't know how Paitir was proposing to use them, but anyway, they're safely tucked away from the world's harm."
"Jared." Her voice was cold.
The girl's smile was as chilling. "He has been dealt with. Do not worry. He has paid and justice has been dispensed."
Brelyn was somewhat pleased, but she still wished that she could have done it herself. A hand touched her arm. "No, that is not the way. An eye for an eye makes the world go blind. Jared was a sick man, a very insane sick man. What he did was very wrong, but he can't be held responsible for his actions." Brelyn nodded and the hand was released.
"I must go."
The girl left Brelyn sitting there with more questions than she had answers for. Sighing, Brelyn went to her horse and rode back to Tar Valon, two Asha'man bearing the byre with Alven's body for burial at the Water Garden shrine.
Smiling, Blackthorne looked at the newly raised statue. Alven Durren had died a true warder, a model for all. Brelyn would eventually recover from her grief, but a former warder never did. Turning, she saw a female warder watching. Ah, yes, that was Matalina, Tarishma's warder.
"Rose?" Matalina sounded concerned. "Why are you here? Why did you leave the Tower? You know the rules. I cannot teach a runaway."
"I thank you for your concern, Matalina, but I have not returned to learn the sword. I am here to merely visit old friends. If you would excuse me," Blackthorne nodded and took a step forward. Matalina stepped back and looked at her strangely.
"Rose, could you please go and visit the Yellow's before you leave Tar Valon? Please, for my sake?"
"Of course. Good evening to you, Matalina and may the Light keep you safe."
Blackthorne walked past her and out of the shrine. It was time to leave the Tower. Pausing, she turned to look back to see a new moon rising, shining over the glowing White Tower. It was time to go. Was this a beginning or an end? She did not know. Like the moon, she was reborn again and free!
*** The End ***