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The dancing is sweeter on the edge of a sword. -saying in Arafel
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This is a closed thread, tbcb Jasin. Enjoy!
Moonlight filtered through the windows at regular intervals, painting the alabaster halls with the purest blue. Though torches were hung, offering their flickering orbs of crimson and gold as guardians against the darkness, the deep violet and indigo of midnight still dominated the White Tower as Naidea Tovane made her way from her quarters in the Green Ajah’s halls to the room of one of her dearest friends. Her slippered feet made no sound as she glided down the halls, her ivory silk robe trailing her like the ethereal shroud of some long dead apparition.
A small frown marred the young sister’s exotic features as she reached the carved mahogany door of the woman who had been her mentor and friend from the day she had entered the Tower as a bewildered girl of fourteen summers. Emare would not have disturbed her in the middle of the night if it were not important, so she had not hesitated in answering the summons when the woman in Tower livery had knocked upon her own door. In fact, she had welcomed the distraction. Though she would not admit it to anyone else, she had been sulking in her room, fretting over that wretched man for far too long.
So she had been happy to have been needed, happier still when she had read the note written in such a familiar hand… yet she had been discomfited by the manner in which she had been called. In the past, if Emare had ever needed something of her, she would have sent her Warder, Kisane, and not a Tower servant to fetch her.
Worry hovered at the edge of her consciousness, but Naidea tried to push her tremulousness aside. Lifting her eyes from the intricate pattern in the green tiles beneath her feet, she schooled her face to calm and entered. After all, there was no need to linger in the hall, anticipating the worst, when her friend could easily set her mind at ease.
A small smile lit up her face as she looked upon the woman who had summoned her, the elder Aes Sedai’s lovely face obscured by the veil of ebony waves that cascaded from her head as she bent over a report on her desk. Though she could not see the woman’s features, Naidea was certain that Emare would be boring a hole into a blank spot on the parchment, formulating a plan of action while biting her lower lip, just slightly. Still smiling, the younger Green broke the silence, “Emare? You asked to see me, sister?”
Emare Morriaga straightened and welcomed her former student with a warm light in her eyes. There was no smile to soften her angular features, but her guest did not take offense. It was obvious something was bothering the Altaran woman. “Come in Naidea. Please, shut the door and have a seat.”
“Where is Kisane? When he did not come for me, I was certain he would be here, polishing his weaponry by the fire.” She tried to sound light, to put her friend at ease as she did as she was asked. Her former worry returned, growing in strength. Kisane Maeda was rarely away from his Aes Sedai.
“He is working. He will return when I need him.” Emare smiled slightly, almost sadly. “He always does.”
Naidea only maintained her smile in return, wondering what could have elicited such a change in her mentor. Emare was fire and stubborn will. She was not loud or boisterous like Kasia, but she also had none of the melancholy she had grown accustomed to in Ishayelle or even Miraya. There was little that could deter Emare’s endless, stubborn optimism. If she had sent Kisane away, if she seemed saddened, something was very wrong.
As if reading Naidea’s mind, Emare cut to the quick. At least that was unchanged. “It is bad, Naidea.” She allowed the younger woman to take that in for a mere moment, trusting she could still her misgivings enough to hear what was next. “You know I would not have summoned you like this if it was not.”
Naidea only nodded. This was the Emare she knew. There had been other instructors, other mentors who had done their best to soften reality for her, to bend the truth in order to allow her a sense of security and peace while rising through the ranks of the Tower initiates, but Emare Morriaga had never been one of those. She had always known how to give a student just enough information, enough truth that they would know what they faced, without overwhelming them or making them lose focus through fear. But she would never manipulate them and she would never withhold information if it was needed for growth. She had always told her that a woman is not made strong by subsisting on half-truths and fairy tales fed to her by the men who feel that they must protect her. A woman is made strong by staring into the abyss and learning how to inspire those around her to see a way out, a way past, a way to survive.
“I would not inform you of this if I believed there was any way you could ever forgive me for withholding it from you. But I know you would not.”
Naidea’s heart sank as she heard those words, her mind immediately flying to her wayward Gaidin. She had felt no distress from Rowan, yet he might have found some way to school his fear, to mask it. If he was injured, if he needed her…
Emare seemed to sense her thoughts again, quickly adding, “You would know better than I if he is well, sister. This does not concern your bondmate. I fear it is graver than that.”
A frown marred Naidea’s features and she opened her mouth to voice her confusion, yet she was silenced by Emare’s motion. The older Aes Sedai turned the note she had been studying and slid it over to Naidea, a look of utter remorse on her face.
The younger sister could only look at her with bewilderment plain in her eyes before she looked down and became lost in the reality the note proclaimed.
She read and re-read the note again, praying that the words would somehow change as her desperate eyes deciphered them, again and again. Yet no matter how she willed it, the message was plain. An agent for the White Tower, a Domani woman of middling years, had been compromised in the capital of Ebou Dar and it was thought that she could be used to target her daughter… an Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah, raised to the shawl only two years ago. The daughter was to be watched, kept ignorant of her mother’s situation, and the agent was to be recovered at all costs. Considering the nature of the information she had gathered for the Tower and the work she had done funneling channelers through occupied lands, securing them for retrieval by Tower teams in Murandy and Andor, a large team would be sent in to recover her. Great resistance was expected and loss of life was likely. Care was to be taken in the selection of the team.
The parchment crumpled in her lightly copper skinned hand as the young Green looked up, the candlelight dancing upon the multitude of beads hanging in her raven hair. She was a sight, she always had been, but neither she nor her companion cared about one whit about beauty in that moment. Gazing into the elder Aes Sedai’s eyes, Naidea cared about only one thing; with betrayal burning in her eyes, her youthful face contorted in fury as she broke the silence in anger, “You… you knew about this.” It was not a question.
Emare merely sighed, touching one of her olive skinned hands to her forehead, resisting the urge to massage away the tension between her brows. It was a sign that her mentor was truly distressed, yet the younger Green sister felt no pity for the Altaran woman. Not this time.
“Yes.” Emare lifted her eyes, deep sable meeting the fire in the honey brown portals that returned her gaze. The elder woman’s voice was remarkably and maddeningly calm as she continued, “Your mother asked that she be allowed to renew contact with you after your father’s death. Considering her ties to my own family, I was consulted directly, asked to weigh in on the matter. Obviously, the Tower would not wish to grant this request, but there were circumstances present which made this arrangement… mutually desirable.”
Naidea opened her mouth in anger, yet Emare did not allow her to interrupt. “Or at least made it potentially mutually desirable. As you know, this type of contact is frowned upon in general and with good reason, but there was the matter of your mother’s connections and her ability to persuade those she sought to bargain with.”
Naidea felt a small surge of pride as Emare described her mother’s formidable talent for negotiation, though she was not able to indulge in the sensation. She was far too anxious to do more than acknowledge the feeling, the memories it elicited, before she pushed them away and continued to dissect every word the Altaran Green offered as an explanation for her years of betrayal.
“Elisinde proved to be the most stubborn parent the Tower had ever had to deal with. She offered numerous reasons why it would be beneficial to your training for her to be allowed contact with you again, so many and so well researched, that some wanted to grant her request outright. Her insight into your personality, coupled with her previous experience as a Novice herself, was thought by some to be enough of a reason to allow at least one visit. And in light of your condition at the time, even those opposed to the idea were nearly swayed… It was obvious to everyone who knew you how difficult it was for you to deal with the death of your father so soon after the loss of your brother that no one was willing to risk losing your potential to desolation… or worse.” Emare explained.
“So my mother petitioned to help me during the most difficult time in my life, during the most difficult time in her life, and she was quite convincing, but not enough to merit my getting to hold her once more, yes?” Tears threatened to materialize in her topaz eyes and Naidea did nothing to quell them. The thought of her proud mother, begging the Tower for a chance to see her only remaining family after having lost both her son and her husband in less than a fortnight was enough to make her want to sick up. Especially considering the outcome of those petitions.
“And who was the heartless cow who spearheaded the efforts to deny her that kindness? Who thought it was in our best interest to keep us apart?” Naidea could not hide her fury, she did not try to.
Emare sighed once more, straightening in her seat. She seemed to steel herself as she spoke once more, “I did.”
Naidea felt the air leave her in a rush, her vision clouding for a moment before she realized that Kisane had returned and was standing at her shoulder. His eyes were on Emare, seeking… what? Permission? What did he think she would do? What could she do…?
“Why, Emare…? How could you? She needed me…” Naidea’s voice sounded foreign, broken. Tears blurred her vision as she met her mentor’s eyes again. She was shocked to see that Emare’s eyes were also moist, shining with unshed tears.
“I did not want to make you go through that again. I could not be so cruel. How could I allow you to have her back knowing no one, not even those who had voiced their approval of her request from the start, would allow you to keep her?” Emare’s voice was soft, even. There was genuine affection there, laced with the bitterness of conviction and the uncertainty of regret.
“You were a child who had lost everything. She was a mother who had done the same. I knew what that felt like… I knew what you were both suffering and I could not bear the thought of making you live through that agony again. It would not have been easier, Naidea. The others were only concerned with your training, they saw your potential but they did not see your strength. I knew you could heal with time and I promised her…” Emare hesitated.
“You saw her?” Naidea’s voice was hollow and all too loud in her own ears.
“After we had all decided, when it had been settled that you would not see her, I asked to be the one to deliver the news. Knowing that she would recognize my family name, that she would remember my younger brother from her own childhood, I spoke with her of you and I promised her I would take care of you. She had me swear on my own life and on that of my nieces and nephews and their children that I would do all in my Power to protect you as if you were my own.”
The tears fell from Emare’s eyes as she spoke, “She knew of the Oaths. She knew what she was asking, but I spoke the words. And the Light knows I have done all in my power to be true to them.”
Naidea felt her body go numb as she thought of her mother facing an Aes Sedai, a woman of the Tower she had spoken of so highly, the Tower she had longed to be a part of herself as a girl.
Taking her silence as a cue to continue, Emare answered the question that was nagging at the younger Green. “After my vow, Elisinde told me that she was not satisfied and asked me how she could make sure that you were safe. I was startled by her lack of confidence, but she pressed me, telling me that she would not entrust you to the care of the Tower without feeling as though she could contribute to its strength. I was aware of her minor ability and thought that she referred to that, but she had not forgotten that she could not channel dependably or with any noticeable strength. Still, she was certain that her talents could be of some use. I returned to speak with the others, namely with a sister of the Blue now lost to us, and she suggested the Eyes and Ears... Your mother was… enthusiastic when she found out.”
Naidea was aware of Kisane moving to stand behind his sister, of Emare’s gesture and whispered words, of the Arafellan man departing from her field of vision again, but of little else. The thought of her mother having served the Tower for over fifteen years now shook her. She could scarcely comprehend the possibility that her mother likely had lived through this desolation having had news of her daughter this entire time while she… she had lived her life never having received anything from her mother, never knowing how she was doing, if she even still lived.
Naidea stood, her anger taking her over completely, “When are we leaving?” She only wanted the information she needed; she could not stand to even look at Emare anymore.
“Naidea…” The warning, condescending tone in her mentor’s voice was enough to make the Taraboner sister want to scream.
“Enough, Emare.” Her voice was sharper than it had ever been with her friend, but Naidea did not care. “Only tell me what I need to know.”
“There is nothing you need know, little sister.” Emare stood as well, her own anger manifesting itself in the mask of Aes Sedai serenity she hid behind when she was upset.
Naidea opened her mouth to speak, but Emare did not allow her the luxury of voicing her anger once more, “The notice clearly states you were to remain ignorant of this situation and I have already risked the Mother’s anger in allowing you to know anything about this. Did you really think I would send you out like this into such a potentially volatile situation?”
Naidea could barely comprehend what she was hearing, “You would dare to tell me that my mother is in grave danger, a danger you are directly responsible for, only to think that I would sit here and allow others to do what it is my right as her daughter to do? Emare, I thought I knew you…”
“Do not be so dramatic, Naidea.” Emare sighed.
“Dramatic? Emare, this is my mother, my only remaining blood! You denied me before; I won’t let you do it again.” Naidea nearly shouted.
“Kisane, thank you.” Emare ignored her, addressing her Gaidin as he returned, setting a tray of tea down upon the desk between the two women. The man was stoic as always, but his eyes betrayed his discomfort. Though Emare was his Aes Sedai, and Naidea was certain the Altaran was more to him than that, Maeda had been the closest thing to a father she had had as an initiate and it was evident that he was not pleased with the current animosity between the two friends.
Emare spoke once more, “Naidea, I understand your anger and your desire to help your mother, but I told you this in order to prepare you for what may come. When your mother is recovered, she will be temporarily housed in the Tower and it is then that you will be given a chance to speak to her, but only then. Please do not allow your anger and desperation to cloud your judgment. You must remember that you are mentioned in the missive. Your mother may be used to target you and we will not allow that to happen… We will also not allow you to endanger both yourself and your mother by putting yourself in the line of fire.”
“Emare… ” Naidea began.
“There is nothing else you need know, sister.” Emare finished.
The Altaran woman had adopted a stubborn set to her jaw and Kisane looked slightly taken aback at her clear dismissal though it was not reflected upon the sharp planes of his handsome face. There was only a slight tightness in his eyes that Naidea recognized all too well, just as she recognized the set to Emare’s face. There would be no further discussion. Her mentor had made a decision and nothing would dissuade her from it.
Naidea’s mouth worked silently for a moment, before she gave up and clicked her jaw shut in anger. Though there was much she wished to say, the young Green could not even form a proper response. She had never been so livid in her life, but she was certain that nothing would be gained from her voicing her anger or arguing with one of the senior members of her Ajah.
Turning on her heel, she marched from Emare’s room in an evident rage, unaware of the fresh tears that began to stream down her mentor’s face.
~Bonded to Amine din Selei & Rowan a'Cafael~
Jasin opened the ornate door, more with his weight than anything as he leaned on it. He barely kept his balance as moonlight from the windows behind him flooded the already lamplit room. The light blue border to the orange light gave the room an odd look. He looked around as he took a few deep breaths. It was a long time since he'd had to climb that many steps. The room was simple. For all that it was on a floor with the Amyrlin and the Hall, there were no decorations. There was only the table in the center, chairs around it. Expensively crafted, to be sure, but simple at its heart. The room was rarely used. Jasin didn't know how, but it was one of those rooms for which an unpiercable ward was maintained.
Only one other person was yet there. Lucilla Marente sat there staring at him, one eyebrow raised like he was the most pathetic sight she'd ever seen. "Oh don't give me that look," he muttered as he took the seat across from her. "Just sit there and look good while we wait," he told her. "You're Domani. Just sit there in your Domaniness and be Domani." They sat there in silence, she in a decidedly undomani like fashion. She still looked good though. "Do you...?" he finally asked.
"Not a clue," she replied.
"What about..." he asked a half question about that old mission that entwined their fates.
"Enjoying her research," she said.
"Well at least that part of the world isn't falling apart around us." She gave him a questioning look at that. He just shrugged, "The last time I was in a room like this we did you know what."
"So we did..." she muttered.
The door opened again, this time for Aes Sedai. Informally dressed, that is to say, the only one with a symbol of office being the Amyrlin, he could only put the finger on the Ajah of one other. The Captain General of the Green Ajah, and not thanks to a shawl. He'd just figured it out. They weren't Warders, they weren't guards, and they both had a certain comfort level with Aes Sedai that intimidation of position just did not happen anymore. They both stood as the four entered, but only casually so. The Amyrlin and the Captain General took it in stride, something they were used to from people like them behind closed doors. A small right they'd earned for the work they'd done. The other two Aes Sedai gave them looks of disapproval.
"As you were," the Amyrlin said, taking a seat at the head of the table as one of the, as yet, unnamed Aes Sedai started handing sealed document folders around the table. Everyone took their seats and broke the seals on the folders in front of them. Jasin and Lucilla started flipping through the papers while the Aes Sedai let them sit on the first page. "Project ECHELON has been compromised," was all the Amyrlin said to open up the briefing.
Jasin froze for a second. He'd spent enough time in Altara to know what that word meant, at least vaguely. Of course they didn't tell him anything really useful. He immediately flipped to the last paper of the briefing. It was a written copy of an intercepted missive from the Seekers about an exposed agent of the Tower, and her relationship to a relatively newly raised Aes Sedai. The Amyrlin continued on with her quick introductory briefing as he slid that paper out from the folder to lay in front of him on the table. Flipping back to the front, he slid a drawing of what he assumed to be the compromised agent to lay next to the copied missive. He kept reading. This agent, this woman, ran the Tower's smuggling network through her business contacts in the region, them all none the wiser. Project ECHELON. And she was presumed captured alive.
The introduction done, the Aes Sedai next to the Captain General introduced herself as one Emare, and took over in a more detailed fashion. Jasin kept flipping through the papers. There was very little on the agent, more to be said on the operation itself and its current efforts. Emare had an idea to send some of the more powerful sisters to head up the operation. "Terrible idea," Jasin muttered to himself as he slid the a fifth sheet from the folder to sit next to the row of critical information he'd created. Lucilla was doing the same next to him. Some of their sheets matched, some didn't.
"Pardon?" Emare asked with some calmness.
"This situation isn't a nail," Jasin told her as he pulled out another sheet. "You don't hit it with a hammer. That will just break it into pieces." There seemed to be a slight bit of satisfaction on the Amyrlin's face as he interrupted Emare. "Aes Sedai are fine, but power level is not an issue as long as they are espionage trained. It's better that we spend a month crossing the lands of Altara, Amadicia, and Tarabon than it is we go in with an untrained sister able to Travel out."
There was some silence as Jasin kept reading through the pages, until finally the Captain General suggested, "The agents will make their suggestions, we will assess from there."
Emare didn't bother continuing, "And other suggestions?"
"Page seven," Lucilla answered as she picked one of the separated sheets from the table. "Whoever analyzed this seems to think this is one large operation."
"Yes?" the Aes Sedai Jasin couldn't quite identify asked.
"We have five operations moving people and artifacts out of Altara as it is." She set the sheet down, "That means we have five operations. The smuggling by boat we can do nothing about but leave it to fate. The other four, send four seperate operatives after to modify as necessary."
"The fifth team focuses on ECHELON itself," Jasin added. "Is she trained?"
"Trained?" the same Aes Sedai added once more.
"Can she resist interrogation for any amount of time? The file doesn't say."
"She is not a field agent," Emare answered carefully. "But she does know what to expect of the Seanchan to an extent."
"If we can get to the city within a week that gives us time to burn her records before we find her," Jasin said, thinking out loud. Jasin could only watch as Emare left the room without warning for a minute, and return. He raised his eyebrow in question.
With nearly everyone around the table doing the same, she had no choice but to answer. "Naidea has left the Tower."
Jasin slammed his folder shut. "Mother, with your permission, I'd like a word with the Green Aes Sedai," he asked formally. Her eyes gave off a cold look of their own as she nodded her own approval. Before he followed the two Green Aes Sedai from the room he dropped the names of two Aes Sedai, one Blue and one Grey, that worked well in these operations, from what little he'd worked with them. The Amyrlin gave a small signal to the mysterious Aes Sedai, Blue, Jasin was starting to assume, who left with him. Jasin stopped just outside the door with the Greens as the Blue continued down the hall. Out of earshot, he whispered loudly, "Who told her!" A second of silence, oh how they wanted to say something, but he had the blessing of the Amyrlin here. He added as if they planned to at all, "No, don't answer."
Jasin walked to the window, looking out at the late night moonlight, taking a slow deep breath to calm his temper. "She's the target and she might as well be walking into the Blight itself," he didn't bother looking at Emare, but stared straight at the Captain-General herself. The look in her eyes said she suspected he knew who she was. "This is about family to her," he said sharply. "If we cross paths with her we're going to have to tie her up with a pretty little bow to keep her safe for delivery." He added, to save himself the questions later, "You both need to put your house in order."
Taking a breath, he went back into the room. The two greens didn't follow, their part of the briefing done. "Mother," he said on entry.
"Lucilla suggests Bridge Town Travelling Point Seven in five hours, just before sunrise," she said as soon as he shut the door. "Exit would be farmland three days outside Altara. The Aes Sedai are being woken as we speak. You two will brief them on exit."
"That is," he paused for just a split second. "Excellent, Mother."
"We've had our disagreements on assignments in the past," The Amyrlin said, a worry creeping through her voice. "Get her back," she ordered. "Others will be dispatched for the operations. You four. Get. Her. Back."
Covert intelligence involves a lot of waiting around. Know what it's like being a spy? Like sitting in your inn's common room twenty-four hours a day. You read books, sip ale, and every so often, someone tries to kill you.
Dawn had broken cool and crisp over the wilds of Murandy, yet the fast approaching midday sun was quickly turning the winter morning into a blazing semblance of midsummer.
Taking the reins of the black gelding under the harsh light of the late morning sun, Naidea smiled softly. Stepping elegantly forward in a deep emerald silk dress of Taraboner cut and a light linen cloak of a deep sable she also did her best to ignore the oppressive heat just as she did the wandering eyes of the young Murandian stablehand who watched her diligently as she appraised the beast. As her eyes wandered the length of the animal, she had to concede that she had never been the best judge of horseflesh, that particular talent had belonged her late brother and her mother. Still, she had learned enough from both to know a good horse when she saw one. And this was indeed a fine beast. The horse was well muscled, well kept, brushed until he glistened and possessed of a lively spirit she had noticed when she had first walked into the stableyard two bells ago. Despite these many virtues, however, she had a completely different reason for purchasing him.
Though the straw haired man who followed the lines of her own figure thought he only saw a lovely woman of noble birth gracing his isolated establishment on the far southwestern border of Murandy, his ‘wares’ knew there was more to this woman than a lovely face, a full coin purse, and an easy smile. Many of them had whickered slightly or sidestepped as the young Aes Sedai had approached them, their eyes betraying their discomfort and the fact that they were fully aware that she held the Source and was pulsating with Power as she had reached out a lightly copper skinned hand to pet them affectionately.
The only beast that did not react with hesitation had been the little gelding she patted now. He had also seemed to be aware that she was different, though he had evidently not thought this to be a detriment to her character. He seemed perfectly calm in her presence and was proving to be obedient as well as she led him around the yard. She would need that kind of serenity and dependability where she was going.
With her mind made up, she turned and stunned the entranced Murandian further with a dazzling smile. “I will take him, young Master Alin. Please inform your mother that I wish to add this gelding and two days of traveling rations along with the special provisions I spoke to her about last night to the rate I will be paying her for my room. And please send for my things to be brought and my horse saddled as soon as possible. I wish to leave for Altara before midday.”
An hour outside of the tiny hamlet that had once been home to her new mount, Naidea found the large stand of oaks she had gated into the night before. She dismounted and took a small survey of the clearing, memorizing the details she needed to open a gateway into Altara. This was a necessary step when Traveling, though Naidea was well aware that in this instance she was merely being nostalgic. The Green had been able to gate to this spot from her room in the Tower because she had once passed a long, harrowing night here with her Warder under the cover of these very trees. The incident had occurred not long after they had bonded. Naidea allowed herself a small, sad smile as she let her eyes slide over the familiar fallen sentinel and remembered that night with Rowan. She could feel him so much more sharply now that she had closed the distance between them; she had been able to sense his confusion and sudden focus as soon as she had closed the gate leading from her apartments in the Tower.
Though a vocal part of her mind wished to stay, knowing that he would soon try to find her, she could not delay any longer than she already had. Rowan would ride out to the south, but it would be too late. He would be safe; a problem for another day, once her mother was no longer in danger. He would not like it, would likely be furious at her having come so near without asking for his assistance, yet she could not bring herself to see him. He had left, mirroring the actions of the man who had almost preceded him. It was true that whatever it was that had drawn him back to Murandy had not been enough for him to ask for his freedom, but that fact had done little to soften the blow dealt by his departure. Rowan had simply become increasingly distant, and when Naidea had pressed him on his odd behavior, he had only told her that he needed to return to his family, to assist them in an important matter, swearing that he would return to her as soon as things were set to rights.
Naidea knew she was being unfair, comparing her Warder to Jenncue. Rowan had asked her permission, after all. It was not as though he had left her in the middle of the night, disappearing without a word for her like the other. No, Rowan had done her no wrong. He was simply needed elsewhere and had trusted that she would have been mature enough to understand that, that she would keep her own word. Wasn’t that what you told him when you bonded the man? That you would never use the bond as a leash? That he was not to be your servant, but your equal in battle? Why then do you balk now that he took you at your word? Your mother and father taught you better than to chafe at the conditions of a bargain, Naidea… You would do well to remember that, yes?
Grimacing and trying her best to put Rowan out of her mind, Naidea forced herself to focus on her preparations. Taking a breath, she took a knife to her dress and rubbed dirt onto her face and hands. She knew that she would have to adopt the role of a refugee having fallen upon hard times if she were to suddenly appear in Altara alone and her current finery would not assist her in giving that impression. After she had ruined her dress, Naidea pulled a handful of golden beads from her braids, tossing them in her belt pouch. After another moment of consideration, she also summoned forth tears, hoping they would leave convincing trails down her now filthy cheeks. With the way her heart was hammering in her chest, the exercise was easy enough. Then, after having made herself appear as filthy as she dared, the young Green sister took one more calming breath before she began to prepare the weave for Traveling.
Naidea thanked the Light not for the first time that she possessed the strength to weave a gateway at all, much less one large enough for her and her mount. In fact, she was fairly certain she could create one large enough for two mounted men to pass through, side by side, though she would not be so foolish as to try that here. Though her first gateway into Murandy had been an incredible risk, considering she had absolutely no way of knowing whether she could have killed an unlucky traveler who had happened upon this stand in the middle of the night, she had been fortunate enough to only have to create a gateway small enough for her to step through safely, the only collateral damage being a small severed branch from one of the nearby oaks. But now, with her target being the Altaran shore a bell’s ride from Ebou Dar, she was risking her own life in a very real way.
She remembered the stretch of shoreline from her extensive travels with her parents as a child. Her mother and father had always loved the sea and had endeavored to stay by it at every opportunity. During their travels to Ebou Dar, this was seldom a problem, except perhaps during high festivals when even a full coin purse, a pair of silver tongues, and stellar reputations as honorable merchants were not sufficient to secure a warm bed. It was during these times that her parents had chosen to take their rest at a small village a half a day’s ride from the capital, knowing that they could perform their business in the capital during the day and be back in time to share in the commonroom’s entertainment with their children in the evening, all without having to sacrifice half of their stock in order to secure rooms for the night.
It was to this village that Naidea now planned to Travel.
This was an enormous risk and not just because of the location she had chosen for her gateway. It was true that she was putting herself in extreme physical danger by trying to position the weave on the very edge of a cliff overlooking the Sea of Storms on the far southern end of the Rhannon Hills, but it was the threat of detection that caused her to slow as she prepared the final strands of the weave.
Naidea would be Traveling toward the village of So Maldar when stepping out of the gateway, with the sea directly at her back. She had chosen the spot because she remembered it as a place where her brother had scared her senseless as a child. While playing on the shore while waiting for their parents to return from Ebou Dar one evening, Vesean had discovered the spot and had fallen to the floor clutching his sides with laughter after he had seen the effect his ‘trick’ had had upon his little sister. Naidea had not thought the jest so funny. The boy of eleven had terrified her by traveling down a minor depression in the shoreline that had made it appear as though he had fallen off the cliff into the sea. The Green sister smiled sadly as she remembered the night, the look of disapproval on her mother’s face and the stern lecture her father had given Vesean before the boy had apologized for frightening her. It had been a cruel joke, yet Naidea could not help but thank her brother for it now. The discovery could likely save her life in the next few moments.
Completing the weave, she was assaulted by the smells and sounds of the tempestuous sea. Leading her horse slowly, she tried to urge the beast forward, grateful when he did not hesitate long before passing through. Naidea felt every muscle in her body tense with fear as she passed through herself, closing the gateway as quickly as she could and urging her companion up the hill and toward the road in the distance, her eyes casting about furtively. She hoped that the little dip her brother had shown her had kept her sudden appearance on the shore from the eyes of any others heading toward the hearths of So Maldar, though she knew that there were other eyes she needed to be weary of. The Seanchan had beasts who took to the air at their command and if she was unfortunate enough, her sudden appearance could have been detected by eyes she would never even know were there. She listened for a strange cry, a sound that would announce the appearance of a raken or to’raken as the Browns had learned the creatures were called, but heard nothing. Thanking the Light, she mounted and made her way to So Maldar, fear driving her and her mount both.
Less than an hour brought her within sight of the modest homes and buildings of So Maldar, the smoke drifting up to the sky a beacon for the weary traveler. The trader’s town had changed little since the Green sister had seen it last so it did not take her long to navigate it’s clean, cobblestoned streets on her way to the inn she remembered from her childhood.
As she approached, however, Naidea felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. The mounts being led to the stableyard by the young boys she saw looked noticeably finer than what she would expect from the average merchant and there was something in the boys’ eyes that made her feel ill at ease. When a small child of no more than twelve summers came to fetch her own horse he looked startled at the sight of her and hesitated before taking the reins of her mount. Naidea had wished to exchange a word with him, perhaps press a coin into his hand to get him to give her information or give her the name of the current owner of the Wayward Colt, but she remembered her disheveled appearance and thought the better of it. With her looking as though she had been dragged in the mud for a mile, she couldn’t really blame the boy for shying away.
Walking into the commonroom, Naidea realized that she had been wrong to dismiss the boy’s reaction as simple mistrust based upon her appearance. What she had seen in his eyes had been a silent warning. She understood it as she made her way to the long bar along the western wall, drawing the eyes of several of the Seanchan soldiers who filled the room.
~Bonded to Amine din Selei & Rowan a'Cafael~
Four days. It took longer for them to reach Altara than they wanted, the countryside crowding with tinkers and other travellers. The tinkers overwhelmed everyone with their colors though. The bright reds and blues and yellows, clashing with each other as much as they clashed with the greens of the trees. Farmfields weren't touched, but they greens of the grass didn't add too it anymore, trampled to mud as it was. They were treated the same by the Seanchan, though. The same as anyone else. Better, in fact. The Seanchan learned pretty quickly that if a Tinker was involved in a crime, they were on the recieving end. For four days they made their way to the city, assaulted by the colors around them. The crowded road was the only bastion of normalcy.
Nora, the Blue, led them from the gateway to the road as Jasin briefed them. That wasn't her real name. And the red haired curls and bright colored eyes weren't her normal look. She looked, older. Not ageless, but older. Jasin had worked with her three times before, and each time was with a different name. The Grey, Kayla, another mismatched name to go with a mismatched, but more subdued look of greying brown hair with equally dark eyes, started planning their operation with Nora once they were at the road and surrounded by a crowd to cover their subdued conversation. Jasin and Lucilla followed on their own animals, dreessed simply, dressed as servants. Everyone had their role, and everyone played their role.
In the afternoon of the second day, Kayla let her horse slow down to fall back and ride beside Jasin. A patrol of Seanchan soldiers passed down the center of the road as they crowded over to the side. A larger patrol, now that they were closer to the city. A hundred soldiers that would break off into their own patrols through the estates. Nora and Kayla gave them respectful nods, Jasin and and Lucilla too. They got no looks, no response. The patrol just kept going as the wagons and people walking crowded into the center of the road again. They rode for another mile. "I understand you know one of the Seekers," she finally asked.
"I do," Jasin answered carefully as their horses picked a path through a large group. "We've worked together before."
"Will he be an issue?"
"He's the most dangerous man I know," Jasin told her bluntly. "We've worked together, hunting darkfriends before. When he finds out I'm in the city, which he will, he'll start to wonder."
"He'll ask questions," she said with a sigh.
"He'll ask the right ones too," Jasin shrugged. "I'll handle him. But the rest of the Seekers will still be our mess to deal with."
With a nod Kayla rode back up to the front. A few minutes of following, and he exchanged looks with Lucilla. She shrugged and nodded. Jasin sighed and kicked his horse to a fast walk. The road was crowded, but it wasn't hard to force a path. "I'll see you guys at the inn," he said as he passed the Aes Sedai. "I need some space for this." They nodded as he rode on ahead. As he got closer to the city, the streets got more crowded. A few miles ahead of the Aes Sedai, he was forced to slow to a walk. The walls of Ebou Dar appeared over the horizon as more patrols passed. The gate watch lined everybody up, forcing them into the city one by one. Jasin got in line to wait.
Some time later, the sun setting, Jasin sat at a table of the Ale Trappe, sipping a dark ale as he waited. He'd done nothing since entering the city. He'd just answered a few questions for the gate watch, hadn't spoken with anybody since. He had a plate of spiced bread he occasionally ate, bit by bit, as he listened to a gleeman pluck strings on his harp. The tune was one he'd heard many times as gleemen and bards in Tar Valon told their stories, their myths. This one was one of the many stories of the Great Hunt. The many great hunts really, not all of them really having anything to do with the Horn of Valere itself. The story was of Rogosh Eagle-Eye. A story of a country that no longer existed, but had centuries ago.
As he took a sip, a well-dressed man came in from the The coat was simple, but of a fine cut, dark green. He had an awareness about him, as if he took a measure of the room, and nothing was hidden from him. He was a heavyweight, and in fact didn't look in shape at all, but Jasin wasn't fooled. This man couldn't run down who he was after, that was for sure. But that wasn't how he worked. He had a talent for figuring out where they were going to be and heading them off. A dangerous mind for anyone to have to deal with.
"Took you long enough," Jasin said as he set his mug down and signaled one of the serving girls. The Seeker took the seat across from him. "It's been quite some time Sanya."
"I wanted to make you feel better about yourself," Sanya answered with a sarcastic look. The serving girl walked up, "I'll have what he's having." She turned away as he tore off a chunk of the bread for himself and took a bite. "But now, I wonder if you tried."
"Me? Not try?" Jasin said with mock severity.
"Why?" Sanya demanded as the serving girl set his mug of ale in front of him.
"I'm on leave," Jasin said with some little severity.
"Dressed as a servant?" he took a drink from his own ale. "I still think your people do so well with ale because kaff doesn't grow here," he said in good nature. Then his voice took a serious turn, "You don't go on leave as a servant. You go on leave as Blood of low stature. What are you doing here?"
"Calling in a favor," Jasin said with the same serious tone.
"It's that time, is it?"
Jasin didn't miss a beat, "You still control Amadicia." He took a long pull from the beer mug. He looked over the mug at Sanya, smiling, "I will give you the identity of an agent of the Seventh Circle."
"There's a condition," Sanya retorted without pause. "Let's hear it." But his interest was piqued. It was an oppurtunity nobody like them would pass up.
"You go yourself. You take your team. You travel by land, and you take your sweet time getting there. And you dismantle all of his network that you can find."
The Seeker leaned back, mug in hand, and looked Jasin in the eye. He stared Jasin down for a full minute without so much as twitching. Jasi gave nothing away. Then he took a long pull from the mug. "Deal," he said.
Jasin pulled a folded piece of paper and slid it across the table. He held up his mug as the Seeker put it in his pocket. "To our life's work." The Seeker tapped his glass against his.
Covert intelligence involves a lot of waiting around. Know what it's like being a spy? Like sitting in your inn's common room twenty-four hours a day. You read books, sip ale, and every so often, someone tries to kill you.
Deception was not something she indulged in unnecessarily, though throughout her life Naidea had found that it had often been quite necessary. This was definitely one of those times; and she silently thanked the Light that her mother had not been remiss in her instruction of the art. Careful to have not let her dismay over the nature of the patrons in the commonroom show on her face, the young Aes Sedai allowed her youthful features to contort into a mask of overwhelmed relief before she took a wobbly step forward and faltered, stumbling slightly. Only a fraction of a second passed before armored arms supported her suddenly weak limbs and several voices asked her if she was well in an odd, drawling accent. Her torn clothing, dirty hair, and dried tears were noticed and she was asked if she could remember who had done this to her and from whence she had traveled. She had only had time to whisper the word Lugard before another pair of arms encircled her and a familiar voice broke through the din.
“My lady! My lady! Thank the Light you survived!” the man sounded on the verge of tears as he embraced her and Naidea could not help but show genuine happiness as she looked into his eyes. Dane Torval had only been fifteen when she had seen him last, but he had matured quickly and his voice still resounded with the same deep timbre she remembered. Dark of hair and light of eye, he had caught her own eye as a child and she had been enamored with him for an entire summer though he had not been aware of it. Time had been kind to him and he had matured into an even more handsome young man, though his attractiveness had nothing to do with the happiness he inspired in the Green. She had ridden toward So Maldar in the hopes that the Torval family had still owned the Wayward Colt and she was infinitely thankful that she had been right. Dane and his family had been close friends of her parents and his assistance now would be invaluable.
“Dane, my husband…” Naidea whispered, sadness weighing down her words with the threat of tears.
“He did not survive, my lady. The lord, his father… His family was stubborn; they did not welcome the chance at a new life.” The Aes Sedai could have kissed the man for the ease with which he continued the conversation. Though she was not certain whether her parents had told Dane and his family of her initiation into the ranks of the White Tower, it had been through the Wayward Colt that her family had passed when they had sent her on the journey to the ivory spire fifteen years ago.
Naidea allowed tears to overwhelm her for her ‘late husband’ and all but a few of the soldiers withdrew, returning to their drinks now that the excitement was past. It was those who lingered, those whose faces she marked in her memory, that she would have to be wary of. It was evident that they would not be satisfied with a skeletal story.
“He was a fool,” Naidea continued, “and heavy handed with me as you well know, but… I don’t know why he wouldn’t listen. When we first heard the stories, I told him that if the time came, he was to surrender his lands just like all the rest, but he was so proud, so foolishly proud... he swore he would fight…” Naidea began to sob again.
An officer stepped forward and looked at Naidea in earnest, studying her face with care. “You speak of the Lord Gaunlein who held property two days ride outside of Lugard near the Altaran border? The man who mustered the armies of two minor lords behind his banner and charged our forces when we attempted to assert proper control over the territory?”
Sniffling, Naidea allowed herself to look afraid. “Yes, sir. That… that was my late husband. The ridiculous fool…”
The man’s face remained impassive. “My lady, I was a part of that short lived battle and was there when the manor house was put to torch. The men who reported to me told me that a woman’s charred body had been found in the arms of the lord after he had barricaded himself in his home following his disastrous charge. It has been long believed that that corpse belonged to his wife, the lady Talina Gaunlein, aged 31.”
Well, that was convenient. A body and now a name, though it had to be her luck that this particular officer had been there to see the destruction. Stifling her frustration, Naidea did not hesitate before answering, “No, sir. That the woman was in his arms is no surprise to me, but she was not his wife.” Another sob, a short pause for effect, a prayer to the Light that the memories of the lord and lady Gaunlein would forgive her for her deception, then a steeling of her voice, “I am the lady Talina, widow of Gaunlein. That woman was a trollop from Lugard he had dressed in my silks and paraded around in my absence. As it is evident I am not from Murandy, I had gone to visit family living in Andor when my fool husband decided he would test his mettle against your forces. Had I been with him, I assure you that would not have been the case. I have family still living in Tarabon and they have told me of the changes your people have wrought. My country is no longer weighed down by the sins of corruption and greed. I thank you for that.”
That last bit was difficult, but Naidea managed it convincingly enough. Though she felt bile rise in her throat after having thanked a Seanchan for the destruction of her homeland, she knew that her life depended on this ruse. Seanchan were notorious for the culling of the nobility in the lands they had taken and she might be seen as a loose end if she did not play this properly.
The officer looked at her once more, then met the eyes of the innkeeper who still held her. “She is known to you, Master Torval?”
“Yes, Captain Marzal. The lady Talina and her husband traveled this road to Altara many times and have long been friends of my family. She was wed to him in her 16th year as you may know, so I have known her since I was but a boy.” Dane offered a shy smile to Naidea, which she returned in kind.
The Seanchan captain seemed pleased by this. “Very well, Torval. Do you renounce all ties to your late husband, Talina?” The lack of the honorific was surprising, but Naidea caught onto the officer’s intentions quickly enough.
“Yes, Captain. I renounce all ties to the late lord Gaunlein, his name, his title, and his lands. I bore him no heir and he had sought to replace me with some painted sow so he is as nothing to me.”
The Seanchan nodded. He began to turn then pivoted back, fixing the pair with a smile. “You said that your husband was heavy handed, Talina?”
Naidea only nodded, sadness in her eyes. The Seanchan officer smirked in response. “Practice care, Torval. Perhaps then she will become better known to you.”
Naidea allowed herself to color and drop her eyes, eliciting a laugh from the officer and a few of his fellows that had been watching the scene unfold. Dane then wiped at her dirty face gently and asked her if she would like something to drink after her long journey. Letting the innkeeper take her into the kitchen and away from the soldiers and their coarse jokes, Naidea breathed a sigh of relief when they were alone.
“Dane, it’s been so long.” She embraced the man and smiled as she pulled away and really looked at him for the first time. He really was as handsome as she had remembered and just as kind.
“Naidea, Light… What are you doing here? Are you really ok? I know all of that was for them, but you look as though you’ve been dragged for a thousand paces…”
“I’m fine, I had to be convincing, after all.” She managed a smile and was pleased when she received one in return.
“Light, but it’s good to see you. You’re all grown up now, so regal and beautiful. The… place of your instruction… has been good to you.” Dane smiled knowingly.
“So they did tell you.” She laughed a little and tried to fight the urge to color like a foolish girl, before her voice dropped lower. “Then you know exactly what it is you’ve done for me, what could have happened...”
Dane cut her short by raising his hand to stop her, “You are simply Talina, a woman I’ve loved for almost fifteen years, newly widowed.” He smiled and the Green sister was reminded again why it was she had fallen for him when she was a girl. “My family owes so much to yours; it’s all they’ll ever know as long as I breathe, Nai.”
“Dane, thank you.” She nearly embraced him again, but noted that the light in his eyes spoke of more than gratitude. It had perhaps been a bit too easy for him to play the part of the lovelorn innkeeper and though he was a sight, there was a bond she needed to keep in mind, a bond she would never break, no matter how strained it might currently be.
Pulling away from him and trying her best not to notice the flash of disappointment in his eyes, Naidea returned to the business she had come to attend to. “I will need a room, if you have any to spare, Dane. I need to get to Ebou Dar.”
“A room will be difficult, but my sister can allow you to use hers to wash up in and you can have my bed for tonight… No, don’t protest. You are practically family and my younger brother can put up with my snoring for a night.” Dane laughed lightly. “Though I don’t know why you would want to go to the capital, Naidea. So Maldar is an outpost, but Ebou Dar is their stronghold. It’s incredibly dangerous, especially for… people like you.”
“I know. Believe me, I would not wish to venture so deeply into Seanchan territory, but Dane… they have my mother.”
His eyes went wide for a moment, and then he looked away. There was guilt in the gaze he tried to hide from her.
“Dane, do you know something?” Naidea inquired, trying her best to keep her voice calm and low.
“Naidea, I…” He avoided her eyes, looking everywhere but at her. “Elisinde and I…”
“Dane, so help me if you did anything to hand her over to them-” Naidea’s voice was tinged with anger and she desperately wished to reach out to the Source.
“No!” His whisper was nearly too loud, but he controlled himself quickly, “Naidea, when my mother died yours was all I had for a long time. She visited often and made sure my siblings and I were doing well. I would never do anything to put your mother in harm’s way and I would defend her with my own life. I… I helped her, Nai.”
“With her work, for the Tow-”
“Yes,” Dane replied, “With that work. There are tunnels…”
Naidea put her hand to her forehead and fought for serenity. She took a breath and tried to still her sprinting heart. Light, but it seems as if the entire world knew what was happening while she lived in miserable ignorance. “I am going to need to eat something and clean up, I can’t think this way and those ants out there will notice if I don’t make an appearance later. When I am through, I will await you in your room and where are going to have a nice, long talk about everything you and my mother have been up to while I’ve been gone. Do you understand, Master Torval?”
The innkeeper only swallowed and nodded quickly. Though she had thought she was calm, perhaps she had lost that fight for serenity.
~Bonded to Amine din Selei & Rowan a'Cafael~
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The Wheel grinds exceedingly fine over three thousand years imprisoned. -Aginor
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