Disclaimer: The Wheel of Time belongs to Robert Jordan.
This story uses characters from 'The official Wheel of Time MUD' accessible at www.wotmud.org.
The earth erupted under his horse's feet, and Cashel could hear his own hoarse cry of fear and desperation over the scream of his startled mount. His charger went over backwards, the force unleashed by saidin too much for the nerve of his trained mount. Cashel barely managed to throw himself clear before the beast could land upon him. The impact with the frosty Saldaean soil left him breathless and bruised, while his horse staggered to it's feet, trembling and bleeding. Cashel groaned - he was not sure if he could stand, and the pain throbbing through his body left him certain he had cracked ribs at the very least. Around him, the detachment he had led in a flanking attack broke up, scattered by the reserves of the other army that surged to meet him.
Thunderous screams and raucous cries filled the air as the leading elements of the Legion did battle with the band of men come to follow a man who proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn. The very air crackled with energy, and lightning stabbed down into the lines on both sides, rending men and beasts with equal vigour. Cashel raised his head - his spine creaking in protest at the move, seeing a grim faced group of women in Legion insignia facing the False Dragon alone on his jet black stallion. He could see his long term comrade, Jill Ta'barte, leading them, her strong features twisted in an effort to hold off an onslaught he could not even see. Abruptly the women were surrounded by a cloud of flame - only the lack of screaming let Cashel know that their immolation was not complete. A quick glance showed the man leading the bandits to be similarly gripped by the struggle of Power. He had chosen his position well, though, protected on two sides by an enormous circular stone tipped onto its side, some local landmark, most likely.
Cashel had faith in the discipline that the Legion bred in it's women, no matter what other talents some of them might possess, but he knew firsthand the fearful power men afflicted with saidin could command, and he had faith in steel and a strong arm. Movement did not seem so hard, after all, as he heaved himself to his feet, trying to move stealthily, though he was not a subtle man on the battlefield. Strangely, few of the men sworn to the False Dragon noticed him as he stumbled singlemindedly towards his foe. One or two sought to oppose him, but his thick arms and enormous axe dealt with them swiftly, hewing through armor and limbs with equal ease. He would not see war come to Saldaea again, and if this man had to be stopped, it would happen in lands that would not see people Cashel had grown up with die, either in conflict with this madman and the men come to ravage the lands at his beck and call, or by the inevitable bandits that would follow behind, pillaging the shattered nations.
Sheathing his axe and catching the reins of a horse nervously stepping its way through the battlefield, he pulled himself into the saddle with a grunt, his cloak flaring for a moment in the wind. Only his lack of rank insignia left him so unmolested - he needed no such ornamentation. Most in the Legion knew him by sight, and those that did not would come to the banner of House Or'Kenset through a shared loyalty and vision. Driving his heels viciously into his new mount, he urged the horse onwards to a full gallop, risky in this uncertain terrain but his only hope. He had to reach this man before he could notice the horse galloping towards him.
Cashel's heart was in his throat, though the seconds flashed by like heartbeats to him. He drew his axe again, still stained with the blood of his forgotten enemies, leaning low over the saddle in order to aim a crippling blow if he could just get close enough. The other man's eyes flicked towards him, and opened wide in shock at the sight of Cashel bearing down upon him, teeth bared in a wordless snarl, axe dangling from his right fist.
Kaygin thrust his left arm out, a weaving of pure Air slicing through the axe held in this impudent warrior's grip and through the horse. Wild surging of saidin was all that kept him from angling it up and finishing the fool, as he struggled to hold off the assaults from these Light-cursed women. He had thought he had only the Tar Valon witches with whom to concern himself - it was an unwelcome surprise to discover others had knowledge of such things.
Cashel had never heard such a glottal shriek from a horse before - he had but a moment for it to penetrate his thoughts before the horse simply dropped under him as if all it's bones had been removed. He was thrown headlong forward from his horse, the shattered remnants of his axe - what had happened to it? - flying from his grasp as he hit the ground at a horrific speed. A tremendous bolt of pain arrowed through him as he felt his shoulder splinter under the impact. He rolled, thinking of nothing but the agony that wracked his body, but coherence returned in a flash when he opened his eyes to see the man, Kaygin, only a few feet away. Purpose returned to Cashel a moment later - he would see this man die or else the dirge sung over his grave would lament a man fallen with his eyes to his enemies, his arm reached out for his foe's throat, a true Saldaean.
Cashel's right arm was useless, the impact having done serious damage, but he had one good arm, and it was never over, not while he lived. Awkwardly drawing the dagger from his belt, he rolled, ignoring the stab of pain, and threw himself forward, driving his dagger into the False Dragon's hip, feeling it grate over bone for a moment before his body crashed into the other man.
Kaygin saw the warrior throw himself forward, but he was unable to react in time, feeling the throb and pull of saidin, barely able to hold off the assaults of the cursed women. He half turned, but the other man was solid muscle, although small, and he was inside Kaygin's arms, and Kaygin felt a flare of pain across his hip before he was knocked backwards, to crash back against the enormous stone protecting his flank. Saidin flared, surged, uncontrollable, and he could do nothing but ride the torrent.
Cashel never knew his uncle. Dainar Or'Kenset died in the Aiel war, and his family barely ever mentioned his name. A farmer's life was a peaceful one, but he could never escape the feeling that this was not the way things were supposed to be. He married, but his wife was barren, and they had no children. He had little to offer the world when his wife died, and cared little when the invaders from the other side of the Aryth conquered the world. He cared less that they had torn down the White Tower and salted the ground where Tar Valon stood. He had lost family to defend the Shining Walls - fruitlessly, it seemed, and little else mattered to him anymore. When the waves of Trollocs bore down on Saldaea, wave after endless wave, he fought from the woods, because they killed his sheep and horses, and did not seem to be content with leaving him alive. When a group of them chanced upon him, he fought like a cornered wolf, snarling, but they bore him down with greater numbers. As the wrist-thick spear transfixed him, his last thought was that this was not the way it was supposed to be...
Cashel raised a banner, and a dream that men could follow, and men came, but not in enough numbers to help truly make a difference. When Exodio Hinane came to him, he donned the white. Rising through the ranks, he stood below only Exodio and Pedron Nialle, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of Light. Seeing eye to eye, he and Exodio manipulated the Council of the Anointed to do their will, and the power of the Children grew, and grew. Yet, there was a canker within the heart of the flowering. Jaichim Carridin was eventually found to be in the employ of the Dark One, and the news shocked the Children of Light to the core. Then Exodio Hinane fell in battle, driving back the Myrrdraal and Trollocs that had assailed Shienar for months. Then the Seanchan came.
Split by dissension in the ranks, the Children, despite the thousands that now bore the sunburst on their white cloaks proudly, could not drive them back. Pushed back beyond Toman Head, they fought on, men dying by the hundreds for every mile that the Seanchan took. The lands were steeped with blood, and none would see the threat the Seanchan posed except for the Children of Light.
When the Seanchan came to Amadicia, Cashel rode at the head of his personal guard, hand picked and trained by his most trusted subordinate, Child Dorien. King Ailron had mustered the army of Amadicia, and though they were a laughable group compared to the gleaming precision of the Children, still, they fought for the Light. When the leashed witches hurled fire and lightning at his men, naught but cold steel and courage faced them. Children died, but the Seanchan paid a terrible price for their victory. Cashel was thrown to the ground when a flurry of lightning slashed into his detachment. Even though he could feel his face singed by the fury of saidar, he still rose to his feet, clawing his sword from his sheath. "For the Light, rally!" he roared, and the Children gathered as if for one purpose. The Amadicians too pulled themselves together, and they charged.
As the damane reacted again, the ground heaving under their assaults, balls of fire burning through the ranks, all Cashel could think about was the feeling that this was not the way it was supposed to be that had gripped him for much of his life. Then one of those balls reached him, and he fell from his screaming horse, burning brightly. His last thought before the agony gripped him was 'this is not how it should end.'
Cashel nearly died in the Blood Snow, and it was only the intervention of an Aes Sedai's healing that kept breath in his lungs and light in his eyes. He knew from that moment that he had to preserve such power, and so he pledged his sword to the defense of Tar Valon.
He met another man in training, Dalanar Shal'nara, and they strove to compete in feats of arms and in the matching of wits, though none could say who was the better in either. Yet there was a blackness of temper in Cashel that lent him a madman's strength at times, when he could not master himself. Little could rouse him from these black times but the verbal needling afforded him by his friend, but time and again he did recover. Those around his whispered that his already dark storm-gray eyes became nearly wholly black during these times, but there was no Shadow-touch upon him.
His strength of arm and purpose led him to victory against the Shadowspawn time and again, and soon enough the Hall of Sitters approved his bonding from the dark haired Green sister who snared his eye, though not his heart. But Black Sisters walked the Halls and the Tower was split asunder. Cashel fought until his arms were red with blood from elbow to wrist, red with the lift of his former comrades, but he was still in mastery of himself. Until he felt the searing pain and a moment of loss and regret, and he knew the bond had been broken, and the Aes Sedai he had set to guard was dead.
The blackness rose up within him, and the madness, and he hunted the halls and streets of Tar Valon, killing nameless and faceless men around him. He did not even know whether they sought to oppose him or aid him - it mattered nothing to the darkness within him. Still, one man fought him for a time, but even he could not face Cashel's maniacal blows for long, and as he fell, he gasped only a few words.
"Cashel, behind you," the man gasped, and his hooded cloak fell back to reveal the face of Dalanar, his features relaxing as death took him.
Cashel froze as the blackness lifted, turning to see a wave of Trollocs, driven on by scores of Myrrdraal, swarming through the streets to support their Black comrades. He did not even raise his blade as they descended on him, and his last thought was 'this is not how it should be,' before he died.
The Legion had grown in strength beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, and in Saldaea, more men and women bore the black and white than did not. When Davram Bashere fell in one of the constant skirmishes with the Shadowspawn in the Blight, Cashel was the obvious replacement. His face grown cold from the heartache he had suffered - the light of his life, Slyea al'Miere, had died in childbirth, as had the daughter she bore. Cashel wept for the last time as he named his unborn child Elasande, and from that moment onward never spoke of them again. Yet his grief did not blunt his military mind in the slightest, except perhaps to make him more relentless and demanding. Marshalling the strength of Saldaea, wedded to that of the Legion, Cashel drove his forces further back into the Blight, managing for a time to halt the advance of the Blight. When the Seanchan came, though, Tenobia ordered Cashel to maintain the pressure on the Blight, instead of riding south to face what might be the real threat. By the time the Borderlands looked southwards from their self-imposed vigil, Tarabon, Altara, Amador and most of Andor were under the sway of the slurring invaders, and they were firmly in place. Despite the jolting raids that the Saldaean army staged, they could not push back the Seanchan, and eventually Saldaea too served the Empire.
Cashel was dragged in chains before the Empress, seated high upon the Crystal Throne, face cold and remote, and given a last chance to swear. He looked up through the one eye that still worked, speaking through lips chewed to ragged shreds by a man determined not to scream. "I will never swear allegiance to those who do the Shadow's work," he grated, his words echoing through the large chamber. He heard a hiss as the guards around the room all took breath in outrage at his temerity. As the Empress nodded to the guard behind him, Cashel heard a sword being drawn from its scabbard. His last thought as he tried to surge to his feet - he would not die on his knees in chains - was that this was not the path the Pattern intended for him to walk...
The Legion hit the Seanchan hard in Falme, before they had time to rebuild the damage done to the city walls. The Seanchan had not been able to put in place as many soldiers as the Legion, and they had few damane yet. The Legion's use of saidar was enough to overmatch the Seanchan, and they took countless prisoners as they routed the Seanchan forces. Cashel personally hacked down a pair of the Deathwatch Guards, moving into the palace with a handpicked group of men. Echelon Rei'hand, Kegan Jha'ren, Varicos al'Krom, Rustac al'Jennshar and Baer De'Vries stood shoulder to shoulder with him, fanning out to keep the guards from Cashel and his purpose. The man facing him seemed effeminate, painted with oils, perfumes and lacquer, yet when he shucked his robe and almost delicately drew the sword another man hasted to present to him, he did not seem so feeble after all. The servant withdrew on his knees, the scabbard strangely unadorned, unlike anything else in this testament to the Seanchan love of penury. Cashel drew his claymore slowly, his heart in his throat as he saw the heron on the blade of the other man.
High Lord Turak showed his teeth - it could not be called a smile - and advanced. "Come," he said, "Let us see what it takes to earn the right of command on this side of the Aryth." The cries of his men and the elite Deathwatch guards that warded Turak rang in Cashel's ears, along with the thunder of his own heartbeat. "Aye, it is as you say," he answered coldly. "I will show you the right by which I have come to defeat you and yours."
Turak swept forward, his skill with the blade blatantly outmatching Cashel. Time after time, only Cashel's armor saved him from a crippling wound. He caught Turak with awkward blows several times, sending the taller man sprawling, but he could not seem to bring the edge of his claymore to bear on the Seanchan blademaster. He knew as finally Turak's blade nicked under the gorget of his armor to open his throat that he was overmatched, but he could not but help that think this was not how it was supposed to be...
The Legion hit the Seanchan hard in Falme, before they had time to rebuild the damage done to the city walls. The Seanchan had not been able to put in place as many soldiers as the Legion, and they had few damane yet. The Legion's use of saidar was enough to overmatch the Seanchan, and they took countless prisoners as they routed the Seanchan forces. Cashel personally hacked down a pair of the Deathwatch Guards, moving into the palace with a handpicked group of men. Echelon Rei'hand, Kegan Jha'ren, Varicos al'Krom, Rustac al'Jennshar and his own adopted son, Patrim, stood shoulder to shoulder with him, fanning out to keep the guards from Cashel and his purpose.
The man facing him seemed effeminate, painted with oils, perfumes and lacquer, yet when he shucked his robe and almost delicately drew the sword another man hasted to present to him, he did not seem so feeble after all. The servant withdrew on his knees, the scabbard strangely unadorned, unlike anything else in this testament to the Seanchan love of penury. Cashel drew his axe slowly, his heart in his throat as he saw the heron on the blade of the other man.
High Lord Turak showed his teeth - it could not be called a smile - and advanced.
"Come," he said, "Let us see what it takes to earn the right of command on this side of the Aryth." Cashel smiled coldly at the other man. "You have already lost. No martial glory will redeem you," he grated. "But this I swear - the work you and yours have wrought will not be permitted to aid the Shadow." The cries of battle from his men fanning out to keep Turak's guards from his throat meant no more words could be exchanged, but Cashel cared not. His message would be delivered with the edge of his axe and writ in blood.
Turak swept forward, and Cashel found himself in the fight of his life. He had faced countless scores of men and beasts in his time, but none had ever pressed him so sorely. Time and again it was only the desperate sweep of his axe that kept him from being fatally slashed - the Seanchan blademaster did not seem to tire, and his sword flickered like lightning. Still, after they had exchanged a flurry of blows that left Cashel labouring for breath, Turak drew back, his face taut with concentration. He flicked a gaze to his left, where Patrim fought mightily, and it was only a slight tightening of his eyes that gave Cashel warning of his intent. He started to move forward - started to shout a denial - but Turak's intent and blade was faster. His sword flickered out, and Patrim screamed once and crumpled, stricken from behind and from the heavy blows his opponents dealt to him as he crumpled.
The world went quiet to Cashel as he saw his son fall down amidst a gout of blood. Patrim he had found as a small child, and succoured him, and taught him what he knew of being a man, and Patrim had made him proud. It was a terrible thing for a father to have his child die before him, and Patrim was a son of his heart as surely as any child could ever be sprung from his loins.
Cashel looked up at Lord Turak, and the other man's cruel half-smile slipped for a moment as he read the indomitable intent there.
Cashel moved forward, his whole body burning with rage. One of the Imperial Deathwatch Guards sought to impose himself between the Seanchan lord and Cashel, but Cashel sent the man sprawling clear across the floor with one mighty sweep of his axe. The guard lay still, dead, dying, or feigning injury. Cashel thought little of it and cared less. Turak swept forward, venturing a thrust that would have surely spitted Cashel like a pig on a spit had it landed, but Cashel swept the other man's blade aside with a sweep of his axe. Years of training had taught Cashel lessons few other men knew of the axe, and he let the shaft of the axe slip through his gauntleted fingers, clenching the axe behind the head for a moment, long enough to sweep the other man's longer blade far wide from his body. Then, with a brutal jerk he threw the axe up, grasped it with both hands and put his entire body behind the swing. The savage impact and tearing noise, followed by the gasp and spray of blood told him his last swing had not gone astray.
Cashel cared not, his vision blurring as he dropped to his knees, his gore-spattered axe falling unheeded to his side. He had seen the death of his son Tolack in the Borderlands, and he did not know where Elasande was, wrapped somewhere in the fighting in Falme. But Patrim was here, and he was dead. Cashel heard a high keening note as he clutched his son to his heart and wept, but he did not know it was his own sound of mourning. The blades of the Deathwatch Guards that avenged their lord, taking advantage of his grief, did not make much impression on his mind, over the mantra he kept chanting inside his head. 'This is not how it is supposed to be...'
Jill Ta'barte supervised the building of the cairn near to the enormous circular stone, heedless of the occasional tear that streaked her strong cheekbones. The Legion had routed the remnants of the army the fool Kaygin had raised, and near enough erased them from existence. There was a large area of charred soil that Jill did not think would be fertile for some time to come, that covered the pit the Legion had dug to contain the funeral pyre for the dead. An honor guard of the Legion stood nearby, to pay homage to the man who had led them for so long, and had vanished, taking the false Dragon with him. Then there was an abrupt flash of light - and two men lay sprawled on the ground, though they were not there but an instant ago.
Cashel felt all of his breath rush into him with a giant gasp - the feeling sent awareness through him of just how badly he had been injured. Just a foot or two away lay the false Dragon, Kaygin, on his back and struggling for breath as though he had barely escaped from drowning. Everything hurt in a way that nothing had hurt him before and he could taste the sourness of defeat in his mouth, over and again. Still, pain reminded him he was alive, and none could ever gainsay him when he saw the path to aid the Light. By his actions or his blood, he would buy Saldaea free and see the Light flourish. When a man could not walk, he would crawl, if there was need enough, and Cashel was a man.
The two feet he crawled might have been a league or more for the effort it cost him, but Kaygin was still stunned by whatever he had gone through, and soon enough Cashel was able to let himself fall, pinning the other man down under his weight. His right arm felt as though it was submerged in boiling pitch from wrist to shoulder, and sweat stood out on his face, pockmarking his rigidly clenched jaw. Still, with an effort that forced a groan from between his teeth, he supported his weight on his arm and dragged the dagger that still protruded from Kaygin's hip from the other man's body.
Kaygin opened his eyes, trying to fight his way clear of the other lives he had just lived and the horror that he had caused, denial plain on his lips. The pain that suddenly flared through him brought sudden vision to him, and he saw the face of the man who was pressing him to the ground. Blood slicked one side of the man's face, and bubbled slightly through his clenched teeth at every tortured breath, but there was nothing broken in his dark gray eyes, and there was something about him...
Cashel laid the dagger at Kaygin's throat, shifting his position slightly, and felt a jolt through him as the other man spoke. "I saw you, many times... and I see it in you now. There is a glow ab.." Kaygin's words ended in a strangled choke and bloody froth as Cashel seated the tip of the dagger in his throat and drove it home. His actions lay heavy in his heart, for this was not war, but butchery, but Kaygin threatened too much in life. Cashel had been taught the lesson of Guaire Amalasan and Raolin Darksbane, and he would not see this man borne to the White Tower to be gentled. A cleaner death, he had given this man. But an end, here and now, with clean steel and the strength of a man. Somewhere deep inside, Cashel hoped he found his end in such a way.
Jill crossed to the two men embracing each other in a spreading pool of blood, her heart in her throat, bringing several other Legion members to her at a glance. The man on top bore the tattered and torn remnants of a cloak with the Legion's colours and heraldry upon it, though the white sections were quickly becoming sodden and crimson. He raised his head with a groan, and with a rush of relief she recognised Cashel, though there was a set to his jaw that spoke of pain, betrayal, disappointment, and a strength that had not gone there before...