Cinnamon. The spicy smell permeated Soutrik’s drowsy senses. She curled her toes and arched her back stretching like a sleepy cat. Her eyes were still shut but she sensed that her lover, her darling one, Svenson, was there in the room. She smiled thinking about him and her absolute love for that dark and devastatingly handsome man. Envisioning his strong chiseled visage and jade green squinty eyes, she cooed under her breath in delight. She could spend hours in Sven’s arms twirling his raven black locks through her slender fingers. Soutrik loved to hug Sven close and rub her soft cheeks against the stubble of his beard while she played with his lengthening goatee. The joy that man brings me is beyond anything that I could have ever dreamed of! Opening her eyes, she beheld her beloved arranging a breakfast setting on her table. She yawned then smiled and propped her head up on her folded pillow, still slightly weak from the Healing experience with Melanna, Mackenzie, Hesper, Sven, and Rayel.
Soutrik owed each of them her life. Do I ever cease incurring Life Debt? She rolled onto her side and struggled to sit upright in her bed. Her flimsy silk shift needed to be changed. Soutrik stood on wobbly legs and crossed her room to her dresser, kissing Sven good morning on her way; a light peck on the cheek to start the day off well.
“Good morning, my darling one. Oh, you are so thoughtful!” she kissed him again, and yawned raising her arms above her head with a stretch. Peering down at the table she beheld a feast suitable for four people and her eyes grew large, “Please tell me you’re going to eat some of that, too.”
“Nay, that’s all yours, angel. You are going to need your strength today.” Sven spoke in his mildly sarcastic tone then smirked at her getting an eyeful as the sun silhouetted her curvaceous figure in the loosely fitting shear silk shift. “Don’t tell me you forgot what day this is?” Sven’s voice was mildly chastising and it caught Soutrik’s attention.
She was just about to pull her shift over her head and stopped looking at him with a quirked brow. “Today? Is today all that special? What day is it anyways?” Soutrik had lost track of the days during her recovery. She still was behind a few days and she knew it and tried hard to remember what day it was. Then it hit her. “Oh, by the Light! It is, isn’t it?” She smiled dropping the wrinkled shift to the floor and smiling at Sven. “Happy Anniversary, my love.”
Soutrik swished to Sven’s outstretched arms. He lifted her to him and kissed her passionately. She felt the buttons of his Accepted’s tunic against her warm flesh, and their metal surfaces sparked ripples of shivers across her body. The ripples continued across her back and shoulders, then moved to the backs of her thighs.
“Sven, are you doing that?” She giggled lightly in his ear. “Stop. Stop it, or I just don’t know what I will do with myself.” She teased him using her commanding voice. He ignored her protest and the ripples ran across her body with new vigor.
“Whatever do you mean?” he continued to press her to him holding her eyes in his gaze.
Soutrik felt the warmth of his palms on her back enjoying the swirling motion he was applying to her shoulder blades. She pulled back from him, trying to resist. “Sven, stop this. You know we could get caught.” Her voice held a weak protest sounding halfhearted, and yet mildly inviting of further advances upon her person.
“Aye” he agreed, but did not stop.
Struggling only slightly to free herself from his arms and put her rising passions to rest, Soutrik pushed against Sven’s chest with her palms, but he held her closer.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Sven arched a brow and began kissing her neck.
“Sven, stop. Come now, we are Accepted. We cannot be doing this. If Madeline Sedai found out she’d…” Sven clamped his mouth down upon hers and she melted into his strong embrace, her protests lost as forgotten whispers on the wind.
The smell of cinnamon still lingered in the small quarters. The breakfast was now long cold, and the morning shadows had made their full arch across the white tiled floor, upon which Sven and Soutrik sat staring at each other in the bright morning light. Soutrik planted kisses upon Sven’s broad chest and then one on the tip of his nose. She stretched her legs out before her and wiggled her toes.
“Shall we eat? I’m ravished.” Soutrik stood and walked to her wardrobe grabbing a new shift and seven-banded Accepted’s dress.
“No, you have been ravished!” Sven grinned at her with his most mischievous smirk, and stepped into the left leg of his trousers. Quickly donning his tunic, Sven pulled out a chair for Soutrik and took his own seat.
“Oh, you!” Soutrik sat and began to devour the breathtaking spread he had brought for them to share. Mistress Laras had insisted that Soutrik eat twice her normal food intake for a week after her Healing session. The Yellow Ajah agreed wholeheartedly with the Mistress of Kitchens and thus Soutrik was subjected to unbelievable amounts of food. “I cannot believe they expect me to eat all of this.” What to start with? There is such a variety.
Mistress Laras had sent a vegetarian delight. Ripe fruits and vegetables of the season lay in enticing arrangements before her. Laras had shredded potatoes and smothered them with onions and brightly colored peppers of green, red, and yellow. Bowls of grits and butter stood cold, and Soutrik heated it with a small thread of Fire, dipping her finger in testing its warmth. Freshly made cinnamon buns smothered in a sugar glaze beaconed her to taste them, as did the bright green flesh of the ripe melons.
Soutrik popped ripe berries that had been smothered in honey and cream into her mouth, followed by toasted grains and raisins. Slathering her scones with clotted cream, Soutrik dipped them into her favorite black tea. Sucking on her fingers slightly, she stirred her tea with a Flow of Air, and heated it slightly with a Flow of Fire, hoping that reheating it would not make it bitter. Taking the delicate teacup in her hand she smiled noting that Sven had used her personal Sea Folk porcelain that Janitca had sent as a part of her dowry, intended for Svenson. The color pattern marked her Clan. Her heart sank for a moment, pondering the reality that she had lost her adopted mother, and that she had been away from the Clan for so many years.
“You look troubled, Soutie. What are you thinking about?” Sven had a somewhat concerned look on his face.
“It’s this cup. Do you know what this is?”
“It’s a Sea Folk porcelain teacup, angel.”
“It’s much more than that. It was the hopes of my adopted mother; her hopes for my future. It serves as a reminder of what I owe to her family, to my crew who awaits my return, and to my adopted Clan. This teacup holds much significance to me, darling one. Darling one…ah, that too.” Soutrik reflected that Sven had read the letter that was enclosed in the trunk that had borne this porcelain into her possession. He knew it was the dowry, but he did not say anything about it and she wondered why. A moment of doubt swept over her as she looked at him.
Shaking her head and causing her nose chain medallions to tinkle lightly she looked down at the table before her. She had devoured a good portion of the meal and could not believe it. She blinked at the crumbs that sat in her lap and realized that her tummy protruded slightly from its excess of contents. “Oh, dear, did I eat all that?”
“Yes. Yes, you did.” Sven smiled and nodded his head.
“You going to eat that?” Soutrik reached across the table and speared a sliced pear from Sven’s plate and smiled at him. He arched a brow at her and smirked some more. “I’ll consider it a part of my Anniversary gift.”
“Speaking of gifts…sit right there and close your eyes.” Sven rose from his seat and crossed the room as Soutrik closed her eyes. Rustling noses emanated from the distant corner of the room. “Alright, open your eyes.”
A bulky package wrapped in bright purple colored paper wrapped with a shimmering green bow sat before her on the table. “You’ve wrapped it in the colors of my Clan. How sweet. I take it this isn’t jewelry?” Soutrik chuckled lightly and spoke in her husky whisper voice.
“Something I feel is much more useful.” Sven stood to her right side and ran his fingers along the nape of her neck as she untied the shimmering green bow. She handed the strip of silk to Sven and he tucked it into his belt.
Unfolding the crisp purple paper, Soutrik beheld a beautifully crafted double bolt crossbow, obviously made for her. Its diminutive size would be too small for most men, and most women on this side of the Dragonwall. Soutrik being extraordinarily petite required clothing and weapons to be made for her, and Sven had paid extra attention to the detail of this gift, ensuring that it was of perfect proportion for her.
She noted the beautifully polished wooded grip. There, on the wooden grip, appeared a startling detail that made Soutrik gasp. Inlaid into the wood was a golden swan in flight before a blazing sun. The mother of pearl and gold accents on the insignia were obviously made by master craftsmen.
“This is the most beautiful…” the words froze in her throat, “the most thoughtful….” She paused and tried to keep herself from crying, “My family crest and everything. It’s too perfect, my darling one.” Soutrik began to weep and bowed her head spilling tears onto the purple paper causing its color to run.
“Soutrik, why are you crying?” Sven knelt before her and cupped her tiny chin in his strong yet gentle hands.
She looked at him. This man! He loves me. Surely, he does love me. All the trouble he has gone through to bring me this present. What thoughtfulness! I am so undeserving of this man! Oh, Svenson! “Do you know how happy you make me?”
She kissed his fingers that cupped her face. She kissed the palm of his hand and turned it over kissing the backside and pressing it to her moist checks. She felt his Golden Serpent ring and turned it on his finger following the snake as it ate its own tail. She tried to shake off her feelings of unworthiness, and sought comfort in Sven’s jade jewels of delight that were his eyes.
Sven stood before her, pulling the crossbow from her hands, setting it on the table, and lifted her from her seating position, hugged her tightly. He rocked her back and forth in his arms and Soutrik felt so safe, and comfortable. Moments like this made her feel that she had known Sven all her life. She hardly wanted to remember a time without him. Measuring time had taken on a whole new meaning for her. There was the ‘Now’ time of happiness with Sven, the ‘Before’ time when she and Sven were merely acquaintances, and there was the ‘Past’ time, which she had been pushing further and further into the recesses of her mind; especially in moments like these. Soutrik had to admit that she did feel guilty that she had not made more efforts in contacting her Sea Folk Clan. Ah, the Clan. Have I deserted you? Have you deserted me?
Sven pulled back from Soutrik and looked down at her, “Shall we go hunting?” He grabbed her crossbow and moved towards the door. “We can drop the dishes off on the way.”
“Sure. Why not? It’s my free day, and our Anniversary!” Soutrik cheerfully collected the dished onto the tray and floated them in front of her as Sven opened the door, and they made their way towards the Kitchens and then the forests.
Pressing her back to the tree, Soutrik held the double bolt crossbow tightly to her chest keeping as silent as she could. She could feel Sven through the link they shared. The link pulled them closer together than two people who couldn’t channel ever could be. He lived inside her and she felt as if she had never truly known love or life before. Through the link Sven was sending her signals, messages about their quarry. She could almost sense the quail in the bush, even before she could see them thanks to the link with Sven.
The moment was right and Soutrik lowered the bow into position steadying the stock against her forearm and taking aim. The bolt shot out of the trees and struck through the bird. The fowl didn't have a chance to shriek before it died. Soutrik felt the rush of excitement through the link and she smiled savoring the moment.
Standing, Sven smirked over at Soutie as she stepped from the trees, grinning triumphantly. Picking the bird up by the bolt, he crossed over to Soutrik and handed her the bird.
"You killed it, you clean it," he said with a grin.
Soutrik took the dead birds from him and walked back to their packs which they left leaned against a near by boulder. Tossing back the flap of her pack, she took out the dagger Jantica had sent with her dowry trunk and slit the bird throats to drain the blood out of them. She hung them up on a sling rope and channeled Spirit into the fowl’s carcass and forced the blood out the incision. After the bird was drained she walked back to Sven who had seated himself on a blanket he had brought with him and was leaning against a tall tree.
Leaning back against Sven, Soutie sat in between his legs. He rested his head on her shoulder as she plucked the feathers from the fowl. Taking in her Sea Folk perfume, he sighed and kissed her neck, resting his hands on her legs. Grinning mischievously, he continued moving his hands upward. Dropping the fowl, Soutie turned to him and kissed him, and in the midday sun, they lay together.
Soutrik was happy beyond words. Their time together was so special, so tender. Sven rolled off from on top of her and spooned her from behind kissing her neck and ears.
“Soutrik, I have wanted to tell you for so long, and have never found the right time, or the right words.” His hands moved over her body as they lay in the warmth of the sunshine cuddling close together. She rolled over to face him, nestling her head in the crook of his arm and wrapping one of her legs around his waist as he spoke to her. “Expressing my feelings has always been difficult, yet with you, I dunno, I feel safe. Comforted in a way. You understanding me, even when I don’t understand myself.” Sven continued to kiss her neck and face as he spoke to her. Soutrik held on to him, her arms draped around his neck.
Sven kissed her more and his hand moved over her with a compassionate familiarity. “Yes, my darling, Svenson. Sven. Oh, Sven, I feel the same way.” She moaned his name and with each turn the moan deepened. Soutrik lost herself in the moment and felt all her fears and inhibitions drain from her. She loved him more than…the thought stopped before she could bear to think of her dead husband’s name. His face floated in her mind and she tried desperately to block it. She needed to think about Sven, her lover, her darling one, the man she wanted to be with the rest of her life. The past meant nothing. Today is our six year anniversary of when we first met. (OOC: Actually, January 23, 2001 was when Soutie and Sven first).
Questions filled her mind and she wasn't watching where she was going and as she turned the corner down the long corridor that lead to her room she did not notice the two people engaged in conversation until she was upon them.
The coughing startled her which wasn't very difficult to do, she seemed to be startled quite easily lately.
"Oh, excuse me. I didn't mean to interrupt. I was just going to my room." Soutrik smiled politely to the gentleman in black and the Novice who held a flute. Soutrik pointed to the room next to the Novice, and the girl smiled.
"Well, fare evening to you, neighbor." The Novice stepped forward out of her room and into the corridor closer to the gentleman and blocking Soutrik's way. "I am Hesper L'pree, and this is...Svenson." Hesper foibled slightly over the gentleman's name.
"A pleasure to meet you both, I am Soutrik." She smiled the best she could and hoped that they weren't staring at her weirdness too much. She could handle polite questions and had answered many, but those who pushed too much had only succeeded in making her feel...well...angry, stupid, and worthless. She struggled for every inch of height as her two companions dwarfed her considerably. Have some backbone and invite them for a walk or into your room silly goose. "Are either of you seeking companionship this evening?" Soutrik hoped that didn't sound desperate, and she waited for hopefully, a receptive response.
Thinking of the day that she had met Svenson was a wonderful thing, but it did not stop the mental pictures of her husband as they played on her mind.
A tall ebony skinned man with a gorgeous smile and gleaming white teeth swung her round and round a ballroom floor and the beautiful music of the flute wafted through the air. Many people stood at the edges of the ballroom watching the two dance and dance, folding each other close. Many of the guests wore cloaks and hoods to hide the tattoos on their faces. They were decidedly separate from the other guests with tattoos. A large cake decorated with exotic looking birds made of marzipan sat on a table on the far end of the ballroom. At the other end of the ballroom were two thrones of ivory and gold with silk cushions. Slaves carried trays of food to the gathered people and all seemed happy and right with the world.
The men I love are all so tall, so handsome. Although Sven and her husband truly looked nothing a like, and Sven was years younger, they were so similar it was frightening. She had actually been with Sven for a longer amount of time, and just now, she realized, that she loved him more. She would banish the thoughts of her past and live only for now, and the future. Live for a life with Svenson. His long hair hung down and Soutie reached out and played with it and stroked his face feeling the stubble of his beard.
Sven sucked her earlobes and left them to the cool afternoon breezes, then he moaned, “Oh, Soutie, my woman.” Sven gasped as he realized what he said.
“I am yours! I am all yours! Take me, Sven, oh, yes, yes, Sven!” Soutrik moaned and lost herself in her own feelings. She loved him and she could not help but feel that this is what her life was leading up to. Happiness and passion with Sven. Nothing else mattered. The joy of the Power flowed through them.
Walking back towards the Tower with Sven’s arm around her, Soutie felt that the contented look on both their faces surely was a dead giveaway so to what they had been up to. Soutirk noticed the hustle and bustle around the grounds that seemed more then usual. Shaking his head, Sven sighed and kissed Soutrik's forehead, his line of three fowls slung over his other shoulder.
“We’ll need to drop these by Mistress Laras before dinner, and perhaps she’ll cook them for us. You think we should have her send one to the Mother? Or Madeline? It might be a nice gesture don’t you think?” Soutrik spoke casual as the pair strode through the Tower.
But, as they went deeper into the Tower, they both noticed something was definitely amiss. As they came close to where most Aes Sedai were going about their business, they moved apart slightly and dropped their link. Frowning, Sven watched as people began following their path towards Soutrik's room. Soutrik gave Sven an inquisitive look, but he only shrugged.
Around the Accepted's door stood a ring of other trainees milling about, and Sven had to push a few away before they even noticed he and Soutie. Walking to the door however, Sven’s eyes widened at what he saw within his love's room.
Madeline Sedai stood with a small frown on her face, and two Sea Folk women stood with her, faces set in stone. Soutrik gasped and clutched her stomach for a split second then looked back and forth between Sven, Madeline, and the two women that were with her. Sven clutched her hand tightly in his, very possessively in the face of the Sea Folk, narrowing his eyes.
When they appear, the news is usually not good. “Greetings Lyndia, greetings Hydrem.” Soutrik stepped forward offering each woman her forearm. They clasped each others forearms together grasping elbows then hugging each other informally after the formal greeting was done. “What brings you to Tar Valon?”
Lyndia and Hydrem looked about analyzing the persons that stood within earshot. Soutrik noted their nervousness and turned closing the door behind Svenson and herself, blocking out the onlookers who had gathered outside her quarters. Am I always to be a freak? A spectacle for other people’s amusement? Soutrik proffered the women a seat, remaining standing. Sven took up his her hand in his again and gave it a gentle squeeze. Madeline Sedai narrowed her eyes in a somewhat disapproving look.
“Can we speak freely, Sailmistress?” Hydrem looked at Madeline Sedai in a distrustful manner. “I know your ‘Cargomaster’ here is someone that can be present, but as for Aes Sedai…”
Madeline Sedai straightened her skirts and was the perfect picture of serenity. Soutrik knew otherwise, for Madeline Sedai did not take kindly to be referred to as if she were not in the room. Soutrik knew that she needed to smooth things over quickly to avoid further perceived insults to the Mistress of Novices.
“Anything you have to say to me can be said before this worthy Aes Sedai. She can be trusted.” Soutrik gave a brief gesture to the Sea Folk with her left index finger that was a signal for using guarded words yet with openness. How do I know that someone else is not listening. Immediately with that signal, Lyndia, the Sea Folk Windfinder, embraced saidar and wove a ward against eavesdropping around the room.
Soutrik noted that Madeline Sedai stiffened but did not embrace the Source herself. Brave woman, that Madeline Sedai. I would have grabbed the source in an instant if I didn’t know Lyndia.
“There is open rebellion among our Clan. All Sailmistresses have been called home to Tremalking for a formal vote on a new Wavemistress. You are commanded by the Mistress of Ships to come home immediately. The White Tower must release you, unless they dare meddle in Athan’mar politics.”
“My dear Windfinder, the White Tower will meddle wherever the White Tower sees fit to meddle if it is for their benefit. As I am Sealed to the White Tower and own them my life for the training I have received here, it is entirely up to them if I may leave Tar Valon or not.” Soutrik held herself poised for rebuttal from her crew, but none came.
“As you say, Sailmistress.” Hydrem bowed at the waist and her nose chain medallions which seemed to have grown thicker since she last saw the woman tickled with soft tones.
“I will need to discuss this with Madeline Sedai.” Soutrik turned to Madeline Sedai who seemed to be musing over the new situation. “Madeline Sedai, speaking as an Accepted I understand if you forbid me to go. Speaking as a Sailmistress, this is of the utmost importance to my Clan. Open rebellion among the Sea Folk is, well, unheard of, and I fear that there is more to the heart of this than the choice of a new Wavemistress.”
“Accepted are not allowed to leave the City of Tar Valon unescorted.” Madeline’s answer was short yet Soutrik got the message loud and clear. Find an Aes Sedai that will accompany you to Tremalking and you can go.
“Thank you, Madeline.” Soutrik turned to her crew, then went pale with shock at for getting the honorific title, “Sedai, Madeline Sedai, please excuse me.” She dipped a low apologetic curtsey to the Green Sister. “I have forgotten myself in the rush of this disturbing news. It will not happen again Aes Sedai.”
Madeline gave an approving nod and a sniff, but continued to stare down the end of her nose at the Sea Folk.
“When can we sail?” Soutrik turned to her crew with an arched eyebrow.
“We are in the South Harbor and can sail immediately.” Hydrem’s voice was anxious.
“Soutrik?” Sven spoke softly and squeezed her hand gently.
“Oh, darling, I…I must leave. I have taken the responsibility of Sailmistress.” She looked down at her tattooed hands which he held in his. “You were there the night I took that responsibility. You knew this day might come.” She looked up into his eyes. “I don’t know when I will return, but I will return. You know that. Deep within you, you know that don’t you?”
Sven’s eyes were tight, his lips clamped shut. Soutrik knew what he was thinking and she pulled him close to her. He picked her up off the floor letting her feet dangle, and hugged her close. She whispered in his ear and was barely audible, “I will not abandon you, if you will not abandon me. If you are willing to come with me and take the risk, there is room for you on my ship.” He pulled back and looked into her eyes with new hope, then stared past her to Madeline Sedai that was busy studying the Sea Folk.
Sven set Soutrik down and kissed her forehead. She turned and looked at Madeline Sedai. “Madeline Sedai, I will ask Melanna Sedai if she would like to go with me. She had been studying me since I was a Novice and is in the midst of a book about my experiences. I think that she would be most interested in going, and rather put off if I did not take her.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea, Accepted. Consider your studies suspended until you return.”
Just then the door to the room swung open and an excited Accepted Hesper and Accepted Elise burst into the room. All eyes turned to the frantic pair who came to an abrupt holt when they realized they had interrupted some type of meeting.
(This next section was written by my good friend Shurree Clouse, and I thank her tremendously for adding to the skein of my tightly woven threads of the Pattern)
Hesper Melody L’Pree’s Point of View
Yawning to herself lazily Hesper channeled a bit of Air to close the window in her room.
The air of Tar Valon was cool tonight and the wind had grown strong with the changing
of spring to summer. The Tower’s construction provided warmth in the winter and an
coolness in the summer. After years of living in Tar Valon, she still wasn’t used to the
humidity of the island. Ghleadan was in the shadows of mountains and valleys. The
Accepted used a combination of Air and Water to bring down the humidity in the room.
She wrinkled her nose as she watched beads of sweat run down the walls of her room and
down the small window pane. Such changes in the weather would normally be a problem
for her previous flute. But Hesper now kept it under a weave of Keeping in her wardrobe.
It was protected, along with all her other valuables, from the elements or anything else
that could threaten their condition. Even after closing the window and channeling she did
not manage to find the room comfortable. Saidar pushed the window open once
The dark wooded desk was littered with papers and books. The candle in the corner had
nearly burnt itself out and she idly poked at the wax till it dried beneath her fingers.
Hesper yawned again as she propped her head up. In front of her was the paper from
Madeline Sedai explaining a new assignment. She was to begin in the morning and attend
to duties in the dungeon. Needless to say, she was dreading it every moment. The blonde
girl rubbed her eyes noting to herself she couldn’t stay awake much longer. There were
papers to do and scripts to copy but tonight she could hardly stay focused.
Stretching she pushed herself out of the desk chair and paid no heed when it fell over
behind her. Tsking herself for not bothering with it she took off her rob and let if fall to
the ground. She yawned again and scratched at her hair as she gathered her shift and laid
on the bed. Air snuffed out the candle as she half made a promise to only sleep for a few
moments. Hesper pulled the plush blue blanket over herself as the wind picked up gently.
It did not take long for sleep or dreams to cover her heavily.......
Pulling at her blue skirts she moved quickly toward the Yellow Ajah’s quarters. She
wanted to see Soutrik this morning and talk to her. With so much going on lately she had
missed her sister. Her best friend had passed through the ter’angreal door way to
become an Aes Sedai only a few weeks past. Hesper, was still an Accepted but was not
far behind in her progression so she estimated.
Though she had no invitation she confidently walked the hallways of the Aes Sedai. So
close to their ranks she already counted herself. Casually she threw the long braid of hair
over her shoulder and knocked on the door when she came to the right one. Through the
other side she could feel saidar being channeled. Her quirked a brow in
“Come.” A voice directed. The Aes Sedai stepped through and surveyed the room
quickly and noted what was going on. Soutrik smiled as she rubbed her bulging middle.
Weaves of the power were directed at her back and other parts of her still tiny body.
“Come in dear sister. We were just talking to the baby.” Svenson sat on the floor at
Soutrik’s side as she rocked back in forth in the chair. His green eyes sparkled as they
rarely did. Only for Soutrik did they dance so.
“It should not be long before the baby will be here.” Hesper smiled as she pushed the
door closed behind her. “My mind estimates no more than two weeks Soutrik.” Taking a
seat on her knees she kneeled on the other side of the chair. “And how is the little darling
doing today?” she grinned coyly to Sven. “The little darling, is quiet active. Been kicking
up a storm. I believe the child is anxious.” commented Sven. “Not from its father I
should suspect.” she smiled. “And when the baby comes, Aunty Hesper will be here to
take care of it when ever you want. Have I ever told you I’m excellent with children?”
End of Hesper’s Dream
Rolling over she pulled the blanket from over her head with a start. A baby? Oh
Light! She quickly dressed even though the sun hard barely made it’s way over the
horizon to give off it’s orangey glow. Maybe it wasn’t one of those dreams. She
told herself though she knew full and well it was. Hesper had the Talent of dreaming.
Cursed thing. She grumbled as she buttoned up the last of the buttons on the blue
dress. She looked down at herself. “Blue. Wonderful.” she mumbled as she hurried out
By afternoon Hesper still had not managed to find Soutrik nor Sven. There was no telling
where they were. And she guessed that they were together somewhere. They always
were anymore. In the line for lunch she had managed to slop hot soup down the front of
her dress. The red-orange stain did not go away even with the use of Air and Water to
remove it. Heaving a great sigh she took a seat beside Elise and mentally worked through
what she had dreamed the night before.
“What’s wrong with you?” Elise observed as she picked at a hole in Hesper’s sleeve that
she hadn’t noticed. “You look frazzled today.” The Accepted picked up the spoon and
stirred the unappetizing soup. She couldn’t tell anyone what she had dreamed.....or yet
could she? For a moment she considered Elise. She had always been a good friend and
Hesper knew that she was trustworthy. “Can,” she looked at her soup. No she couldn’t.
“you help me find Soutrik after lunch?”
The Accepted’s halls were all a raucous as Accepteds and novices alike rushed too and
fro. “What’s going on?” Elise mumbled as they approached Soutrik’s room. “I have no
idea, but I bet its not good.” Hesper reached out and caught a short novice by the back of
her dress. The little girl looked at her wide-eyed through big browns. “Why are you in the
Accepted’s hall novice?” she smiled but used her height and status as intimidation.
“There are two visitors here for an Accepted. I heard they have ear rings in their noses
and that they ordered Madeline Sedai to let them in.” Hesper glanced at Elise. This was
not a good sign. “Very good. Now, I want you to find all the other novices and tell them
that they are not allowed to be in this hall except for actual business. Gossip and the like
do not count, understand?” The brown-eyed girl nodded once before turning tail down the
She and Elise fought the small crowd outside near Soutrik’s door. One by one they were
able to get them to return to their chores and studies. “What did you need to see her
about? And what do you think all this is?” Hesper shrugged and pushed the door open.
There was no telling what sort of things the novices had worked up by now. She and
Elise moved through the door only to find that they had interrupted something.
“Oh.” Hesper looked around. Madeline Sedai, Soutrik, Sven and two Sea Folk had
gathered in the room. “Umm, excuse us for interrupting but I needed to talk to Soutrik. I
didn’t realize that there was a meeting. If you want we’ll just be going.” they both half
turned to go when Soutrik asked permission for them to stay. Madeline Sedai agreed but
gave the two Accepted’s stern looks as they took seats on the floor.
“Let me bring you up to speed for a moment.” Soutrik explained as she waved to the two
Sea Folk. “This is Hydrem and Lyndia, part of the crew for the Rusty Nail.”
Hesper nodded in remembrance. It seemed she had seen these two before, or women very
similar when Soutrik had a party to celebrate her Acceptance. Why are they here
now? She wondered silently but waited for a further explanation.
“I am being called back to Tremalking because of some problems with Athan’mar. As
Sailmistress of the Rusty Nail I must go and help decide on a new Wavemistress
for the Clan. Sven and I will be going soon along with Melanna Sedai.” Hesper took a
deep gulp. “You’re leaving the Tower?” Soutrik smiled and shook her head.
“Only for a few months or so Hesper, not forever.”
Panic ran through Hesper’s veins. Should she tell her friend that very soon she would
become pregnant with Sven’s child? She knew how the couple pawed at each other like
rabbits in the springtime. On one occasion she had made the mistake of not knocking
before entry. That instance still have her nightmares and the shivers when ever she
looked at them for too long. And if the Aes Sedai knew......Light help them all.
“Soutrik, before you go...I need to speak with you. Its very important.” Hesper stood and
pulled the silent Elise along with her. “Excuse us for interrupting.” she turned a shade of
pink as she caught Sven’s eye. “I, I, I’ll be in my room.” she finally spit out. “Are you
sure you can’t tell me now? I’m sure what ever you have to tell me can be said in front of
everyone. I believe we are to sail immediately.”
She turned and eyed them all wearily. She couldn’t just blurt out that Soutrik and Sven
would have a baby that would be nearly due once she reached the shawl. She was less
than a year away in her training. Saying that would reveal their......activities. Accepted’s
had freedom but not that much freedom. Could it wait? Would Soutrik even want
to know that sort of thing? It would be a few months before she knew even when the time
came. Light say I’m making the right choice.
“Oh never mind Soutrik, it can probably wait till you get back. A few months did you
say?” she furrowed her brows in worry. “Is there anything I can help you with or do you
think Elise and I should go?” Elise glanced at Hesper in confusion, as did the rest of the
group. Her cheeks filled once more as she realized how long it had taken her to answer.
“Don’t worry about it.” she mumbled to herself. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel
(End Shurree’s contribution…Begin Soutrik’s Point of View)
“I am being called back to Tremalking because of some problems with Atha’an Miere. As Sailmistress of the Rusty Nail I must go and help decide on a new Wavemistress for the Clan. Sven and I will be going soon along with Melanna Sedai.” Soutrik spoke in hushed whispered tones to Hesper and Elise as Madeline Sedai questioned the two crewmembers regarding procedural matters. Soutrik did not want Madeline Sedai to know that Sven would be coming with her. Would he really come with me? Soutrik tried to keep the faith alive that he would although right at that moment with the current look in his eyes as he assessed the Atha’an Miere, she did not know.
Hesper took a deep gulp. “You’re leaving the Tower?”
Soutrik smiled and shook her head. “Only for a few months or so Hesper, not forever.”
Soutrik could see some sort of panic run across Hesper’s face.
“Soutrik, before you go...I need to speak with you. Its very important.” Hesper stood and
pulled the silent Elise along with her. “Excuse us for interrupting.” she turned a shade of
pink as she caught Sven’s eye. “I, I, I’ll be in my room.” she finally spit out.
Soutrik was a bit perplexed at Hesper’s odd behavior. Elise seemed to lean back and forth from one foot to the next whenever she looked at Hydrem and Lyndia. Soutrik turned Hesper back around to face her, “Are you
sure you can’t tell me now? I’m sure what ever you have to tell me can be said in front of
everyone. I believe we are to sail immediately.”
Hesper turned and eyed them all wearily. “Oh never mind Soutrik, it can probably wait till you get back. A few months did you
say?” she furrowed her brows in worry. “Is there anything I can help you with or do you
think Elise and I should go?”
Elise glanced at Hesper in confusion, as did the rest of the
group. Hesper’s cheeks filled once more as she realized how long it had taken her to answer. “Don’t worry about it.” she mumbled to herself.
“Elise? Do you wish to come to Tremalking with me?” Soutrik spoke softly, but Madeline Sedai’s ears picked up her voice.
“What was that?” Madeline stepped closure leaving the two Sea Folk woman standing their in mid-sentence. Lyndia and Hydrem were immediately offended. Soutrik could see the scathing looks they gave Madeline Sedai to her back.
“Well, I don’t know. I mean. Tremalking? What about my studies? I…I…We’ll see.” Elise stopped conjecturing as Madeline drew closure.
“Madeline Sedai, Elise and Hesper were offering to help me pack, and as I need to get to that task which is now at hand, I must ask for a few moments.” Soutrik brought her hands together in front of her waist, the signal to the crew that the Sailmistress was finished conducting business. Lyndia and Hydrem bowed, “As you command, Sailmistress.” They spoke quickly and swished from the room back to the South Harbor in a puff of musky perfume.
Hesper and Elise left the room heads together, but before she was out of sight, Hepser mouthed a few words quickly to Soutrik was closing the door behind her five unexpected visitors. “We need to talk…NOW!” Hesper’s words seemed urgent, and Soutrik nodded her head in acknowledgement. I wonder what that’s all about.
Soutrik turned around and faced Sven who was leaning against her dressing cupboard. His eyes were fixed to her, and she saw an expression of hurt upon his face, but something else she couldn’t put her finger on. She could hardly meet his gaze. Soutrik wanted desperately to reach out to him and forget all that had just happened here, but she couldn’t. Deep within her, the years of responsibility that had been bred into her through her family bloodlines, all the years of training, all the years as Empress Sh’boan, time spent in training to wield the One Power not only in the fashion of the Ayyad but in that of an Aes Sedai, and still, she felt inexperienced and helpless, especially when it came to emotional moments, such as the one that now faced her.
“Sven, I must go. There is no alternative for me. My path has been set by the Wheel. Will you come with me? Sven?” Soutrik bit her bottom lip in anticipation and waited for his answer. She hoped it would be the answer she wanted to hear, but she prepared herself for the worst.
Sven looked at her expressionless, squinting at her like she was bait in a trap. He shrugged, “I dunno.”
She looked away trying not to cry. That was not the answer she was looking for. Yes would have been the only acceptable answer. She turned away from him before the tears could run down her face.
He stood and walked to her placing his hands on her shoulders of a brief second, “I just…I dunno…I need to think.” He released her shoulders and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Slow undulations, ever-steady rhythms, the seemingly endless dark blue ocean, all of it overwhelmed Soutrik’s emotions. She gripped the rail of the deck and wondered if she was ready for the relentless sea and consuming loneliness. No GoldenSwan. No Svendahla to kiss my eyes open in the morning. Soutrik’s vessel the Rusty Nail had not left the South Harbor of Tar Valon yet, but she felt as if the White Tower was far behind her. It was a sweet memory longed for, and she hadn’t even left it yet. She gazed up at the pure white stone and sought her bedroom window, and Sven’s. She wondered if he was up there looking down at her. She hoped he was and that he could see her. She hoped he saw how sad she was to go, to leave him.
She closed her eyes and thought of the song she sang at Winter’s Night celebrations less than a few months ago. She hummed it under her breath and watched as large crates and bundles were loaded onto her vessel. She noted that her trunk had arrived and directed it into her bedroom. Looking west across the river, Soutrik watched the sun sink lower into the sky. She thought about Mistress Laras roasting the quail and delivering it to the Amrilyn, Mistress of Novices, and Mackenzie Sedai, Sitter of the Yellow Ajah. Soutrik felt a tad guilty, but playing the Game of Houses in the White Tower was expected, and if she wanted to be raised to the Shawl when she returned and have the Yellow Ajah accept her as one of their own, she had better start making the right connections.
“I am thinking like a Blue!” she huffed a little and mumbled under her breath. A passing crewmember stopped and looked at her.
“Is there something the matter, Soutrik?”
Soutrik looked out over the deck steadying her gaze, “This will be my first journey about the Rusty Nail as her Sailmistress.” She looked down at her bare feet, and at the toe ring Sven had given her that she wore on the fourth toe of her left foot. “I pray that my actions would make my mother proud.”
“Jantica was proud of you, and would be so today. Welcome home, Soutrik.” Gangia hugged Soutrik and patted her on the back, “Even a Sailmistress needs a hug from time to time.”
“Thank you, I needed that.” Soutrik sighed and shook her head, “I am going to my cabin to unpack. See to it that Melanna Sedai has the farthest away from mine. The woman snores louder than Thunder!” Soutrik chuckled, “Oh, and if an Accepted named Elise shows up, put her in with the Windfinder. Tell Lyndia I said it was necessary.” With that Soutrik turned and headed to her cabin. She felt her heart grow even heavier as the sun dipped behind the top peaks of the distant mountains. Her mind was on a million things at once.
Most comforting words from Gangia. She was not of their blood, but they had accepted her as one of their own. Jantica had opened her heart and was the first true mother that Soutrik or Aloysha had ever known. Madeline Sedai had been a great comfort to her through all of her tremendous breakthroughs in recovering her lost memory. Melanna and Soutrik estimated that she had recovered nearly 70% of her memories. Madeline’s strength and sage guidance along with the Keeper’s technical expertise had see her through the Chair of Remorse, and through many very mentally taxing lessons. Madeline’s Green Ajah lessons seemed to ring home with Soutrik, and she often would have flashbacks, moments of insight to her past, when Madeline made comments that Soutrik/Aloysha’s father had made in her youth.
Still, Soutrik did not want to acknowledge the one thing that was bothering her the most. No Sven. He hadn’t come back after he left her room. She had waited, and waited, but the time came for her to leave, so she did. Waves of guilt for abandoning him drove over her, drowning her in sorrow and shame. How could I do this to him after promising him I never would? Am I heartless? He must understand my obligations. I have a duty. But what about my duties to him? Wait…what duties? He isn’t my husband or bond mate. He isn’t even my fiancé. But, he is the holder of my heart.
Soutrik swished down the stairs that led to the central corridor separating the cabins. She swished her way to the rear of the ship and into her cabin. She was still wearing her Sharan hunting clothing, but now that she was aboard, she needed to change into clothing more suitable to her position as Sailmistress. She opened the door and stepped into the room. The setting sun cast odd shadows across the somewhat small cabin, the leaded glass windows add an odd glow to the room.
Soutrik no sooner stepped in than noticed that there were two trunks in the middle of her floor. “What the…?”
A nose from behind caused Soutrik to spin around quickly and she embraced saidar. She peered into the shadows and found a set of slightly glowing and dancing jade green eyes. Eyes that belonged only to one man.
(This next section was written by Josh Williams and is reposted here with his permission. Thank you brother, without Svenson, Soutrik would be a hollow woman. Love you.)
The sun was still hazy from the morning sky, and at the docks, Sven casually puffed on his pipe as he studied the Athan'Miere ship, the Rusty Nail. Absently, he wondered whether what he was planning would work, and wondered even more how harshly he would be punished upon returning.
Screw the Tower, he muttered, chewing on his pipestem. I never have to come here again. But, that thought was half hearted. He knew he wouldn't rest until he was Aes Sedai. Bloody hell.
Siezing saidin, he wove his crude Illusion weave around himself, praying no men around the docks could channel. Lifting his two trunks, he walked forward. The weave around his face made him look like an older servant for the Tower, a Saldean man in truth who had worked for Lord Jerim. Dressed in a pilfered servant's garb, he strode confidently towards the Rusty Nail.
No one spoke to him as he strode to the dock where the Nail was tied, and he even started up the ramp before he heard a decidedly irritated Sea Folk voice come from at the top of the ramp. Looking up, Sven grimaced behind his Illusion mask. Here goes nothing...
"What are you doing?" The older woman said at the top of the ramp.
"I'm bringing Accepted Soutrik's clothes on board, madam." He said with his most subservient voice.
"Sailmistress Soutrik's clothes have already been brought on board." She said suspiciously. Narrowing his eyes, he cursed Soutrik's tidiness. I should have known she would have her things brought on already. Tweaking the mask so it smiled, he let his instincts take over, and his mind followed.
"Well, I was given these trunks by the Acc... er, the Sailmistress herself. Perhaps they are other personal items of hers." The woman frowned and motioned him to come on board.
"We'll see. Open up the trunk." Cursing mentally, Sven tugged deeper on saidin. He knew little about Illusion, but perhaps he could pull this off. Unlatching the first trunk, he quickly wrapped the entire body in saidin, tweaking it just so until it looked like Soutrik's pillows. How lame. Pillows! He chastised himself. The woman began to lean forward to prod at the pillows, and Sven hurried shut the trunk, bringing an indignant squawk from the woman.
"I doubt your Sailmistress would appreciate you pawing through her personal belongings." He said harshly, and the woman frowned at him again. With a reluctant nod, she straightened and motioned him away, turning and strolling over to a group of young men and barking criticisms at their slow work. Narrowing his eyes at the woman's back, he lifted the trunks and dragged them beneath deck.
Dropping his Illusion, he settled his trunks in the cabin and sighed, leaning against the wall. All he had now was to wait for Soutrik. Crouching, he pulled a dagger from his belt and flipped it absently.
(End of Sven’s Point of View…return to Soutrik’s Point of View)
Finding a smile sliding across her face Soutrik stepped forward and Sven stood stepping out of the Shadows to meet her in the middle of the cabin floor. Ducking to be able to stand, Sven looked down at her his face as hard as granite yet his eyes dancing in the fading light of the sunset that was finally succumbing to the night.
“I hope penalties for stowaways aboard your vessel Sailmistress are not as harsh as I have heard tale about. You Sea Folk have a reputation for handling foreigners with less than welcoming enthusiasm.” Sven’s swagger and caustic humor caused Soutrik to burst out laughing. She jumped into her his outstretched arms.
“You came! Oh, my love, oh, thanks be to the Creator. Blessed be the Light!” She showered kisses upon him and they embraced, reunited.
“I understand your responsibilities. I was there when you took them on, was I not?” Sven smiled at his love.
Soutrik nodded and remembered the evening well.
“I know that is was my ‘mother’s’ last order for me to be Sailmistress, but we all know that the chain of command is not hereditary for Sea Folk. There is no need for this. Hydrem has many more years of experience than I do. I know that you all feel this is some way to respect Jantica’s wishes, but I can’t be Sailmistress. I am Sealed to the White Tower…I will be Aes Sedai…I….I…” She looked and saw the pain and disappointment that formed on the faces of the only ‘family’ she knew. “I will be Sailmistress.”
“What!?” Sven gripped her arm, “Soutrik…I…you…” Sven stammered until she put her finger to his lips and shook her head no, her golden medallions tinkling as they touched.
“I will accept the rank of Sailmistress,” Soutrik’s Blue Ajah lessons on the Game of Houses came into play and her mind plotted how to speak the next part so that those who heard it would know all that she really meant by it, “As Sailmistress of the Rusty Nail, I officially appoint Hydrem as my Voca Mei. She will speak for me, with my voice, and command the Rusty Nail until I can join the crew again, as a full Sister of the White Tower.” Hydrem’s eyes snapped open and she seemed taken aback by the statement. “Rouste will continue as Cargomaster, and I would like to offer Hydrem the opportunity to increase her share of the profits by marrying Rouste. Hydrem, you have my blessing, as your Sailmistress.” Rouste had not expected Soutrik’s announcement and his mouth hung open. As Soutrik’s adopted brother, she was the head of the family and she could and would give her brother in marriage to whom she wished, especially if it kept him far from her.
“I accept.” Hydrem quickly responded. Rouste’s head whipped around and stared at his betrothed.
“And there it is. Make it so.” Soutrik nodded at Lyndia who had a surprised look on her face. She pulled Soutrik aside leaving Rouste to gawk at Hydrem who was sizing him up with her eyes. Soutrik turned her head over her shoulder and said, “Just remember Hydrem, the one who leads in public must be submissive in private.” Both Hydrem and Rouste flushed furiously and stared wide eyed at Soutrik as if seeing her for the first time. Sven did not leave Soutrik’s side and the gathered Accepted in the room murmured their approval of Soutrik’s handling of the situation.
“It appears that Janitca’s intuitions about your leadership abilities was correct. You do know what you must do now that you are Sailmistress, don’t you?” Lyndia grasped Soutrik’s hands and held them in her own, which were tattooed in great detail.
“Yes. I do understand what must be done.” Soutrik looked down at her hands and realized what was ahead of her. “When must it be done?”
“When must what be done?” Sven looked perplexed. Tyrain moved up next to Soutrik between her and Lyndia opposite Sven.
“Our Sailmistress must be tattooed as is the custom, with our Clan markings, here, on her hands.” Lyndia pointed to the tattoos on her own hands. Lyndia looked up and sighed as she looked at Soutrik’s nose chain, “I see Jantica knew her fate.” She reached out and touched the medallion on Soutrik’s chain, “This here is the medallion for the rank of Sailmistress. I guess this one that I brought with me will now be given to Hydrem.” Lyndia pulled Soutrik to the side and sat her down in a chair. Many of the Accepted gathered near, peering at the pair from behind Sven and Tyrain who stood protectively behind Soutrik who was seated. Lyndia opened the pouch that she wore on her sash belt, removed three small jars of ink paints and embraced saidar. Creating needles of Air, Lyndia held Soutrik’s hands, and spoke, “By lighting this incense” she lit the incense burner on the gold lantern hanging from the ceiling with a Flow of Fire, “I offer homage to the memories of our Wavemistress, Jantica, may her soul forever watch over our new Sailmistress. By Soutrik offering her body to the Clan,” Lyndia began to tattoo Soutrik’s hands with the needles of Air, her blood pulsing forth with each prick of the needles, “she sacrifices herself to our people for our success, for our longevity, and for the preservation of our culture.” Lyndia finished her speech and chanted lightly as she swiftly tattooed Soutrik’s hands.
“When shall we sail?” Sven held her by the waist looking at her as she returned his gazes wrapping her fingers in his loose raven locks twisting the ends about, curling them.
“First, I need to change into appropriate attire and then I need to go up on deck, see that Melanna Sedai and possibly Elise are aboard and accounted for. Then, I need to meet with Lyndia and Roust regarding the wind and what cargo we carry and to where. I do believe that I noticed we took on several large bins of Saldean Ice Peppers. Jantica had attained a route on this river from Tar Valon to Tear the year before we died. Thus, unless Hydrem has been lax in her duties, and as the money I receive monthly has only increased since she became my Voce Mei, I highly doubt that she has, then we are going to Tear with cargo before we head to Tremalking.”
She began to strip off her clothes and search through the drawers within her trunks for the second finest fluffy silk pants she could find. She needed to dress in authority, and wearing the purple pants and green sash belt would certainly stress her fidelity to her Clan. “Which means, until we are out to sea you are going to have to be out of sight.”
She turned around holding her blouse in her tattooed hands. Sven arched an eyebrow, “I think I am going to like the open sea.”
“Yes, I am sure you will, I…” An angry voice in the hallway caught Soutrik’s attention and she quickly dropped her conversation and placed a finger across her lips cautioning Sven to stay silent. She stepped light across the cabin and pressed her ear to her cabin door. The angry person had lowered their voice and Soutrik could not make out what was being said. She embraced the power and her heightened senses picked up the words.
Soutrik could hear the voices clearly now, Rouste and Hydrem were arguing. She giggled under her breath, then motioned Sven to come to the door. “You’ve got to hear this. Marital squabble. Ah, Rouste deserves it that dirty wharf rat.”
“Rouste? Oh, yes I remember him.” Sven smirked and embraced saidin and the voices were magnified.
Muffled Angry Voices
“So, what do you mean by that then? You mean to let her see everything?” Hydrem’s voice was anxious.
Soutrik had noted a bit of anxiety in the woman’s voice when they were in her quarters. The open rebellion certainly has caused so much pain for everyone and here I have been sheltered in the White Tower.
“She is the Sailmistress, she shall want to see the accounts, and we can not deny them to her.” Rouste’s voice was calm, but held a tenseness so razor sharp, it was clearly paining him to restrain himself.
“She? The Sailmistress? You are kidding aren’t you? That woman is NOT one of us! She is Clanless. Some Sharan whore is what she is. You’ve seen those Sh’boan on Tremalking. They speak of two husbands, and often have more than that. You know how we found her. How do you think she escaped those Ayyad? Ordained by the Creator, ay? Shear luck, possibly? Come now Rouste wake up! You know she uses her body to get her everywhere. She has not earned the title. I…I am the one who has sweated for this Clan, for this crew. I am Sea Folk, not she. I am the commander of this vessel, not that wench. I am…”
Rouste slapped Hydrem across her face. “You dare speak of her like that? You are fish guts compared to her. She has heart, and you have greed. She is educated and you are witless. All the days of my life I will suffer for that one moment of weakness I displayed the moment I agreed to marry you. You disgrace me with your actions. You were made the Voce Mei and she entrusted HER estate into your hands. She has every right to see your treachery, Hydrem.”
“My treachery? You think this will when her favors. You are fooling yourself, Rouste. She does not love you! You should have seen her in the arms of the hulking ape, GoldenGoose, or whatever his foolish, foppish title is, Accepted whomever.”
“Svenson.” Rouste growled under his breath. “That is none of your concern. I am the ‘Cargomaster’ of this vessel and I will remain so. I would have been if she had not gone to the White Tower and I am even though that she did go. I am Sea Folk, too, Hydrem. And if you’ll remember your vows, in this marriage it is I that charters our course.
The arguing couple stared at each other in silence. The hatch at the end of the Hallway opened and Melanna Sedai followed by a large male crewmember lugging Melanna’s trunk, and Gangia a female crewmember stepped through and between a stoic Rouste and Hydrem. Gangia looked from Rouste to Hydrem who glared at each other and at Gangia.
“Just looking for Melanna Sedai’s rooms. Ah, Voce Mei Hydrem, and Cargomaster Rouste, this is Melanna Sedai. Melanna Sedai, may I present…”
“Yes, we’ve met before, at Soutrik’s Acceptance celebration. Quite and interesting evening now wasn’t it?” Melanna nodded to each and gave Gangia a glance and the crewmember dashed forward done the corridor towards the Aes Sedai’s cabin.
The voices move off out of hearing range.
Ear still pressed to the door, Soutrik looked at Sven, “I would have like to hear the beginning of that conversation.” Soutrik was little distressed by all the she heard. Sven looked to be musing over the situation himself. “Do you think I should say anything about this?”
“I think that you need to watch your back and be wary of both of them, and possibly others aboard. Who can you trust?”
“After hearing that, I am not sure.” Soutrik thought about seeking Melanna’s council on this matter as soon as she could.
“Well, now I am definitely glad that I decided to join you.”
“Does Madeline Sedai know about you being here? She doesn’t does she?”
“She need not be bothered with deciding my future for me.”
“You are positive you want to take the risk?”
“Yes, I am. I will risk anything for you, Soutie.” Sven stepped closer to her and looked into her eyes.
“You will still need to stay in this cabin out of sight until we reach the open sea. If Melanna sees you before we do, you can surely count on her putting you off the ship and sending you on the next vessel back to Tar Valon, or even Traveling you there herself.”
“Soutrik, I can handle Melan…”
A quick rap on the door interrupted their discussion, and Soutrik pushed Sven backwards into the shadows quickly weaving a weave of Concealment, hiding him from whomever might enter. The flows were inverted so that even a female channeler could not tell they were there.
“Enter.” Soutrik turned as she slipped her arms into the bright green and silver blouse tying the loose ends in the rear and securing it snuggly to her. Its billowing sleeves easily encompassed her bracelets. She was the vision of a Sailmistress.
Gangia entered the cabin and closed the door behind her. She turned and addressed Soutrik completely unaware that Sven lurked hidden in the shadows behind a Concealment weave. “Sailmistress, Melanna Sedai has been brought aboard. Accepted Elise has not arrived yet, and we are very close to having all the cargo stored. I anticipate departure within the hour.” Gangia bowed with a snap.
“Thank you for your attention to detail, Gangia. Please see to it that the Clan colors are ready to be hoisted. Oh, and here,” Soutrik pulled open one of her drawers and pulled out two banners. One was the banner of her Family, the Daughters of Delphic, a swan in flight before a golden blazing sun. The other was the banner of Hawkwing. “Place these on the center and rear masts, highest rigging.”
“You want me to what?” Gangia seemed shocked, “This banner here,” she raised Hawkwing’s banner, “this banner is the one seen on Seanchan vessels.”
“Then we will not be stopped and asked if we have sworn the Oaths. And how many other vessels stop ships that might be carrying damane? I mean to be in Tremalking no more than five days after we sail from Tear.” Soutrik crossed her hands before her waist and the crewmember saw the familiar signal, “Gangia, make it so.”
“Yes, Sailmistress, as you say, it shall be done.” She bowed and left the room quickly taking the banners with her.
Sven stepped through the Concealment weave and Soutrik let go of the source. “That was…impressive.”
Soutrik looked at him and nodded, “Thank you. I do try.”
“Apparently you do, Sailmistress.” He bowed as he had seen Gangia do.
Soutrik winked at him, opened the door and headed for the upper deck.
Melanna Tre’Afindi, newly raised Sister of the Brown Ajah, followed the Keeper of the Chronicles closely. The Keeper walked with her usual glide hardly blinking an eye at the various Aes Sedai, Accepted, and the few Novices that business in this section of the Tower. Melanna hadn’t been down this corridor in quite some time, and she noted that some of the tapestries were dusty and wondered if she should mention it to someone, her mind wandering to keep her from worrying too much. The corridors seemed much more silent than usual today, and Melanna’s tiny bells on the ends of her braids were the only sounds besides the footsteps of the Keeper and her own. Aeilla stopped before tall, paired doors, their dark wood each inlaid with a large silver Flame of Tar Valon. The young Brown Sister clutched a note tight in one hand and the green skirts of her traveling dress in the other. Aeilla opened one of the doors and began leading Melanna up a straight ramp of the same silver streaked white stone that made Tar Valon’s walls. Even here it seemed to shine.
The ramp let into a large, circular room under a domed ceiling at least thirty paces high. Melanna raised her eyes for a moment glancing at the dome. A raised platform ran around the outer edge of the room, fronted by steps except where this ramp and two others came out, spaced equally around the circle. The Flame of Tar Valon lay centered in the floor, surrounded by widening spirals of color, the colors of the seven Ajahs. At the opposite side of the room from where the ramp entered, a high-backed chair stood heavy and ornately carved in vines and leaves, painted in the colors of all the Ajahs. All the chairs were empty except for the three Brown ones. Aeilla brought the younger, newly raised Brown Sister forward. Melanna Sedai entered and greeted the three Brown Sitters who sat discussing the matter at hand without acknowledging Melanna’s presence.
“Thank you, Aeilla. We will be finished here momentarily. It was well of you to arrange the use of the Hall chamber.” The eldest Sitter took the note from Melanna, and exchanged it for three sealed envelopes. “You are to make contact with those particular persons as soon as you reach Tear. Be certain that you leave no trace of your coming.” The Brown Sister handed Melanna small carpet traveling case. “Here are the items we believe you may need once you Tear and Tremalking. Do not let its contents out of your site or off your person.”
The second strongest of the three spoke out in a crisp Tarabonner accent, “You be certain to memorize the linguistic nature of the Ayyad dialect if you have the opportunity. With only Evangeline and Soutrik’s insights to the language, neither of them gifted with the encryption traits we Brown’s hold as priority for linguistic imprinters, we hope we have armed you with enough information. We understand that there is an outcasts colony on Tremalking for Sharan refugees, learn what you can. If it is possible to direct Soutrik into possible encounters with the Sharan’s then by all means do so. It is in the Tower’s utmost interest to know all about the land on the other side of the Cliffs of Dawn as we can, so that we may aid the Dragon Reborn with his quest to unite the world.”
The three Sitters laid out the information that Melanna needed to know regarding the Ajah’s interests in the Sharan people. Her eyes widened as she listened intrigued that the Brown’s plans had be laid the moment Evangeline Sedai had held the Oath Rod, and now that Soutrik was close to the Shawl their plans had taken on a new urgency. “This is an opportunity for a windfall of information Sister. We can not stress the importance of this mission.” The eldest spoke again clutching her skirts in her bony hand.
Melanna nodded her head. “I understand my mission and I will imprint as much information as possible. I am bringing extra journals with me. I shall not fail you, Sisters.”
The Sitters dismissed Melanna and she hurried to her quarters and packed her trunks and smaller bags.
“Do you think we can really trust her? She is so young, so new to the Shawl.”
“Do we have a choice? That wilder chose her to go. We had no say in it, and Madeline certainly did not help. She gives her charges too much freedom.”
“Do you think the Sharan suspects anything?”
“I believe that we have done what we can, and regardless of what she suspects, it is now in Melanna’s hands. She will handle the situation appropriately. We did accept her as one of our own, and now is the time for her to prove where her loyalties lie.”
Soutrik left her cabin and got to the end of the corridor just as Melanna opened her cabin door. “Ah, Melanna, I see they gave you the cabin I requested for you. Do you find it suitable?”
“Why yes, thank you, very cozy. Having the end cabin will allow me to come and go without waking the others aboard. Most thoughtful of you, Soutrik.” Another crewmember carried the last of Melanna’s bags towards the two women standing in the open doorway of the cabin. “By all means Sailmistress enter.” Melanna held her tone a razor’s edge away from sarcastic and Soutrik knew that not using her honorific title of ‘Sedai’ just a moment ago had insulted Melanna slightly.
Bustling past the two women, the crewmember placed the Aes Sedai’s bags in the room and turned and left. “I see that you have come well…prepared.” Soutrik could not believe that Melanna had brought so many luggages with her. Soutrik noted how the Aes Sedai clutched the carpet bag she held in her left hand. “Let me assist you in unpacking. You will be living here among us for a while.” Soutrik managed a smiled and opened Melanna’s trunks while the women talked.
Soutrik grabbed a gray dress, then a marvelous red silk Saldean dress. Melanna’s wardrobe was varied and it surprised Soutrik a bit that Melanna had almost two gowns in every style and color. She blinked at the Brown Sister.
“I know. Aren’t they amazing? Each of the senior members of my Ajah gave me a different gown. They wanted to reward me for accepting the opportunity you have provided to me, to the White Tower.” Melanna tossed a scarf on around her neck, the bells on her braids sounding muffled by the scarf, “Shall we go up on deck?” Melanna did not put down the small carpet traveling bag and Soutrik made a mental note of it. Why is she clutching that bag so tightly?
“Here, I am almost through with this trunk, anything else needing unpacking?” Soutrik hefted the remaining gowns into the cupboard and closed the door. Melanna shook her head no, then turned and opened the cabin door for Soutrik. Soutrik smiled and headed out the door. Am I not going to be able to trust Melanna either?
Soutrik and Melanna walked out onto the main deck of the Rusty Nail glancing at Hydrem who stood near the center mast speaking with two other crewmembers. “I am glad you agreed to come with me, Melanna. I am looking forward to your observations, here and abroad.” Soutrik tried to hint at the present state of affairs aboard the vessel and what they could possibly encounter. Melanna nodded her head understanding the guarded tones that Soutrik used in the apparently casual conversation.
“Sailmistress!” A voice ran out from the crow’s nest, as many crewmembers dangled in the rigging preparing the sails.
“Yes?” Soutrik yelled back at the same time Hydrem did. Glancing at Hydrem, who bowed in acquiescence, Soutrik tried to keep the sneer from her mouth, barely concealing her anger.
“Storm clouds in the distance.” The voice resounded loudly with the use of a small megaphone. The crew in the rigging did not stop their preparations but actually began to speed up the preparations, knowing full well, what the command would be from their Sailmistress.
Soutrik looked to the North, the direction in which the lookout in the crow’s next was pointing. “It looks as though he need to way anchor and set sail immediately if we want to be ahead of that storm.” Soutrik said to Melanna, and then called up to the lookout with a Power enhanced voice, “Mark ten then sail, three.” Melanna looked a little confused, so Soutrik explained, “I told her to wait ten minutes then set all three masts to full sail. If you excuse me Melanna, I need to find Lyndia, my Windfinder, and take care of ship’s business.” Soutrik left without waiting for Melanna’s permission to go, and Melanna crossed her arms under her breasts clutching the small carpet bad closely, a bit annoyed at the Accepted. She watched Soutrik swish towards Hydrem who dismissed the crewmembers she was speaking with and turned her attention to the approaching Sailmistress.
Soutrik’s posture definitely indicated her irritation with Hydrem. Melanna watched at a distance as Soutrik spoke to Hydrem. “Hydrem, your service as my Voce Mei has made the Rusty Nail a profitable ship, and I thank you for that. Now that I have returned, I am reassuming my full responsibilities as Sailmistress. Is that understood?”
“Yes…Sailmistress.” Hydrem’s pinched expression was displayed for all to see upon her flat brown face.
“Good. Tell Rouste that I would like him to dine with me this evening.” Soutrik turned on her heel about to leave and wiped her head around causing her nose chain to tinkle and chime, “and tell him to bring his cargo ledgers.” Soutrik turned to leave and left a gaping Hydrem pumping her mouth open and shut looking for a response. Let her chew on that! Soutrik swished towards the cargo hold and peered in as the last caskets of wine and ale were finding their storage spots at the hands of her crew.
Lyndia stepped on deck and made a beeline for Soutrik. “Did I hear you call mark ten, three?” Her question held no sarcasm but was definitely a question of Soutrik’s order.
“Yes, we need to make sail immediately. I plan on being in Tear in two days.” Soutrik said as she met Lyndia’s stare.
“There is a storm coming, Soutrik.”
“Yes, I know there is, and I believe we can harness its power and use it to get us to Tear ahead of schedule.”
“It is…dangerous to use storm power when on a River, Soutrik. It will require that we have a full complement of crew at all times, meaning that some of our people will be pulling double shifts the next two evenings.”
“Yes, Lyndia, I understand that, just as Jantica did when she brought me to Tar Valon or have you forgotten?”
“No, I have not forgotten, but I have not prepared myself for two days of guiding the wind needless to say a storm. I will be quite drained by the time we reach Tear. I don’t know if that effort will prove too taxing for me to make a similar effort on our way to Tremalking.”
“Lyndia, you are not the only channeler aboard the ship any longer. I will be with you the entire time, and if necessary, we will ask for Melanna Sedai’s assistance, and possibly Accepted Elise Strang. That is if the Accepted makes it here in the next ten minutes.” Soutrik purposely left out Sven’s name but mentally she counted him as a useful channeler although he was weak in Air. Strong in Spirit and Water. She thought of that and gave a nod acknowledging her own thoughts, then added And Fire! The usefulness of calling down lightening bolts was not something Soutrik wanted to debate within herself right now, but somewhere inside she wanted someone who would use the Power as a weapon. Someone other than herself. She knew Melanna was bound by the Oath Rod, and Lyndia’s personal views had always dictated that she never use her abilities as a weapon.
Lyndia lifted an eyebrow, “You think you can handle the winds?”
“No, I think you can handle the winds. Yet, I know that I have a few things that you can use. Or rather, things we can use together.” Soutrik held up an arm and extended a leg.
Understanding blossomed in Lyndia’s eyes, and then excitement, “You mean those…? You can use, I mean I can use,…we can use the bracelets.” Soutrik nodded her head and Lyndia licked her lips expectantly.
“Yes, I cannot wait to see what an experienced Windfinder like yourself can do with them.” Soutrik smiled and rested a friendly hand upon Lyndia’s forearm. Soutrik was planning on learning everything she could from Lyndia now that she had the chance. She was strong in Spirit and Air, mildly weaker in Water. She hoped that the weaves she learned here could be applied later. Soutrik’s plans were being laid and her future was primary on her mind at the moment.
Melanna and Sven both on this trip was more than Soutrik could ask for. If she had an opportunity to speak with the other Sh’boan and Sh’botay that Elise had reported existed on Tremalking, then access to more ter’angreal and sa’angreal bracelets and possible allies in an invasion to rid the land of Shara of the Ayyad’s control was more than just a dream that she and Evangaline Sedai had discussed. Soutrik began to wonder if she should seek the help of the Sea Folk. Guarantee them sole trade rights to the Sharan seaports in exchange for support in overthrowing the Ayyad. The other Sh’boan and Sh’botay were key to the plan. Offer them some semblance of co-rule and the ability to look on their homeland again, and renew relationships with their families. Depending on who they were and what their families political status, Soutrik thought that between her family army and one or two major houses, and one minor houses armies, she, Sven, and the Sea Folk Windfinders could take the Ayyad, with the help of all those Power wrought bracelets. We will have the edge on them as the flaws in our bracelets have been repaired by a cleansed saidin!
Soutrik’s hopes rested on Sven and Melanna agreeing to fix the flaws in the bracelets. Melanna and Sven had been there when Mackenzie Sedai fixed the ter’angreal and Sven the sa’angreal and should thus be able to recreate the effect. Soutrik’s memories of that event were hazy but she could recall focusing on the bracelets with her own mind. She wondered if the flaws could be fixed for bracelets worn by non-channelers. What if there were others that could channel, or at least could be taught to channel and never knew it? The possibilities are endless. I could have the flaws fixed, find that the Sh’boan and Sh’botay could channel and teach them! What about the White Tower? A Tower trained monarch on the throne of Shara. OR, two trained monarchs on the throne of Shara with an Aes Sedai advisory for each Sh’boan and Sh’botay remaining to make up a Grand Council, and a freely elected Senate of the People! An end to slavery! Soutrik thought about the letter she would write to the Amrilyn Seat seeking an audience for the Empress Sh’boan of Shara Soutrik and her Sh’botay Emperor Svenson.
Smiling, Soutrik thought about what she would do, and how. I would ask Ariana to ask the Ajahs to choose among themselves a minimum of three representatives of their Ajahs to come to Shara to train the Ayyad, and learn the abilities of making sa’angreal flawed as it may be. I would offer the White Tower the opportunity to test the populace for children of both sexes for the abilities in the One Power. All persons not already Ayyad I would then allow to go to the White Tower for training. I think that offering the Aiel and the White Tower exclusive trade rights to the land routes for trade would be an added bonus as well. I need to make allies among the Sailmistresses of my Clan, and new Wavemistress, and possibly other Wavemistresses. I need to persuade the surviving Sh’boan and Sh’botay, convince Melanna and Sven, and as many Windfinders I can.
“Where is Elise?” Soutrik put her hands on her hips as the chain for the anchor began to be hauled onto the deck, the last lines being cast off.
"Stop! Halt the ship! I am named Elise Strang, an Amayar and ask for the Rite of Passage on the ship which bears an Athan'Miere named Soutrik!" The man stopped loosening one of the last ropes that bound the ship and looked up at Lyndia who stood near Soutrik on the deck.
“Allow her on.” Soutrik said softly.
Lyndia nodded and the man pointed Elise towards the gangway. Elise shouldered her laundry bag and boarded the vessel.
“Welcome aboard Elise Strang, I am glad you could make it.” Soutrik turned to Lyndia. “Lyndia, Windfinder of the Rusty Nail, may I present, Elise Strang, Accepted of the White Tower. She will be your cabinmate on our journey.”
"I'll just throw these things below and be getting out of your way. Soutrik, Lyndia." Elise turned and left.
“Soutrik, you and Elise are friends, shouldn’t she bunk with you?”
Soutrik shook her head no, blushing horribly thinking of Sven. “She bunks with you Windfinder.” Soutrik smiled and began to walk towards the wheel. “Engage sail, Lyndia, the wind waits for no woman.” Soutrik’s voice was commanding and Lyndia jumped rushing to her side, embracing the source and beginning her weaves that moved the ship away from the deck. “Hydrem, show Elise to Lyndia’s cabin.”
Hydrem sniffed and looked over her shoulder at the Accepted.
“I will show Elise to the cabin.” Lyndia was off below decks before Soutrik could stop her. Soutrik eyed Hydrem and felt like slapping the smirking grin from her face.
“You go help Elise unpack, and send Lyndia to me quickly.” Soutrik snapped at Hydrem, holding on to the small bits of her calm with a fingernails grip. Within moments it seemed, Lyndia appeared on deck and took her position.
Lyndia made sure to explain the weaves to Soutrik and pointed out the variations with Air and Water and Spirit that caused all the sails to strain to contain the force. The River Erinin rolled underneath the Rusty Nail, which skidded quickly through the water. Melanna hurried to Soutrik and Lyndia’s side and started asking the Windfinder questions.
“Lyndia, I know we are traveling twice as fast as we would without your help, but how fast could we go using my bracelets?” Soutrik arched at brow Lyndia who looked at Melanna and back to Soutrik. Melanna was handling the rolling of the ship well so far but Soutrik was sure how the Aes Sedai would do when they really got going.
“I don’t know. Let’s try.” Lyndia started to send flows of saidar towards Soutrik and Soutrik brought herself to the edge of embracing. The two women linked and Lyndia’s eyes grew large as Soutrik controlled the link.
Soutrik sent the follows of the One Power through each bracelet and explained to Lyndia what she knew about each one. She didn’t know much about the Yellow bracelet as she had never used it in Healing yet, though Mackenzie Sedai had said that she herself had used it when she was Healing Soutrik during the removal of the flaws from the remainder of her bracelets. The Yellow Sister had of course tested the bracelet that aided in Healing first. Soutrik frowned a little thinking about the Healing Lesson she would be missing from Mackenzie Sedai.
When Soutrik handed the link over to Lyndia the Windfinder immediately channeled through the bracelets that were tuned to Air, Spirit and Water. A smile crossed her face and she looked like a child given a box of sweats. Huge flows of the three elements leaped under Lyndia’s control. The Rusty Nail seemed to hover above the water as it sailed down the Erinin so quickly that the trees that lined the river’s banks seemed to blur.
The time flew by, night was settling, the moon rising, and the storm chased them, Lyndia channeling the power of the storms winds into the sails, then behind, and under the boat. The ship was enveloped in the power of the Windfinder and she lashed out with incredible flows Soutrik had never seen before.. Lyndia was teaching Soutrik the weaves and she was learning them quickly, though she had to admit to herself that the Windfinder’s explanation of how to hold and weave the elements was odd to her, and she relied more upon the information she obtained through the link and her keen sense of observation. Lyndia sure has an odd way of teaching. More theoretical than I thought.
“While you are holding the threads of Air and Water thusly, you can split the flows and direct the smallest thread of Fire to heat the air quickly. This is fast forming fog, and works the best over open water. Using the Fire to expand the Air, you can cause a clap of thunder.” Lyndia did just that and localized the thunder so it sounded like it was right over Soutrik’s head. Soutrik and the crewmember at the helm jumped. Soutrik looked at Lyndia in slight disbelief. She had been taught to make fog in a different manner and she explained how Madeline Sedai had directed her to make fog. Lyndia smiled and nodded her head.
“Yes, the sounds like how I would create fog if I were over land. Yet, for creating fog over the open ocean or on a river, it is necessary to heat the air slightly or the water will not condense in a manner to create fog. You know that the air on the ocean can be very cold and damp. It is also handy having the Fire already in the weave so you can create the thunder sound that you can use to aid in the case you need a diversionary tactic. I can aim the thunder clap where ever I want to.” Lyndia aimed the sound of the thunderclap towards the other side of the Rusty Nail and let it rip. Melanna jumped and then moaned loudly. Some of the crew giggled behind their hands as Melanna Sedai was slumped head down at the rail. She was staring down at the waters of the Erinin rolling past the ships fat full, and the frontmost sweep on her side as it swung into her vision and back again, cutting white furrows in the river. Melanna was most certainly queasy, and Soutrik walked to her side.
“You should keep your head down until you are accustomed to the motion. Raising your head will only make the sickness worse.” Soutrik patted Melanna’s back as the Sister heaved the rest of the contents of her stomach into the River Erinin. “We’ve only been a sail two hours Melanna. I was going to have dinner,” the Aes Sedai moaned at the mention of food, “but if you’d like me to stay with you.”
“No, no, you go on ahead. Have dinner. I’ll be…I’ll live.” Melanna’s head bobbed and she moaned again.
Soutrik swished across the deck and went below deck and found Hydrem coming out of Lyndia’s cabin with Elise. “Hydrem, Melanna Sedai has a queasy stomach. Make her a strong brew of Chainleaf tea, and bring up deck immediately.”
Hydrem rolled her eyes at Soutrik, “We are out of Chainleaf. What about marshwhite leaves?”
Soutrik puckered her lips at her memory of the bitter tasting marshwhite leaves that the Sea Folk used for queasy stomachs. Only non-Sea Folk passengers ever became queasy on this vessel, as the Antha’an Miere were used to the movement of this ship, the home. “Any bluewort on board?”
“No, there is no Chainleaf, there is no bluewort. There is only marchwhite leaves. That not good enough for an Aes Sedai? Can’t she Heal herself.” Hydrem’s rudeness had crossed the line. Elise gave Soutrik a look that begged her to tear this crewmember a new one for the lack of respect she showed, for her Sailmistress, not to mention Melanna Aes Sedai.
“Hydrem, make the tea and take it to her immediately. Then tell Rouste that dinner awaits us.” Soutrik was not going to stoop to Hydrem new level of rudeness she had not imagined had existed in her one time friend.
“I will tell MY husband you await him, Sailmistress.” Hydrem stared at Soutrik with icy daggers in her eyes.
“You do that, and be sure to remind MY Cargomaster that I want to see all of his ledgers.” Soutrik dismissed Hydrem who huffed down to the galley in a puff of musky perfume.
“She always like this?” Elise asked.
“No. This is a new and unexpected development. I am close to something she fears I will discover and she is angry that she is no longer in charge. Jealousy or envy, take your pick, it is all the same green eyed monster to me.” Soutrik was a tad melancholy thinking of the loss of her one time friend. She departed Elise’s side and returned to the main deck.
“Lyndia? How are we doing?” Soutrik swished to the Windfinder’s side and watched as the weaves moved and crisscrossed.
“At the unbelievable rate we are moving, we should be in Jurene before midnight.” The vessel moved with a quick twisting roll.
“Really? That far?” Soutrik voice was light and chipper. She was in a fairly good mood despite all of the plans that were rolling around in her head, and all the details that needed to be seen to, not to mention uncovering Rouste and Hydrem’s deception or whatever it might be.
“Yes, and if we can keep this up all night, we can be in Aringill by noon.” Lyndia tapped the shoulder of the crewmember at the wheel, “Watch the mud flats. This river is cursed with more than a dozen of them between here and Tear.”
Soutrik blinked and could scarcely believe the distance they were covering. “Well, don’t release the link. I will have dinner and be back on deck with you afterwards. Would you like me to take over so that you can have a break when I get back from dinner?” Soutrik arched a questioning brow at Lyndia.
“Soutrik, that is your decision. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do. You are the Sailmistress.” Lyndia’s voice held a slight lecturing tone. She crossed her arms under her breasts and arched an eyebrow at Soutrik.
“Lyndia, when I get back from dinner you will take a two hour rest. I will direct the flows while you are resting. Understood?” Soutrik used her most commanding voice and strained for every bit of poise she could.
“Yes, Sailmistress.” Lyndia nodded, then mumbled, “We might just make a proper Sailmistress of you yet, child.” Soutrik’s head whipped around for a moment, and Lyndia met Soutrik’s shocked expression with a small smirk.
Soutrik swished below deck again and headed for her cabin. It was odd to think of Jantica’s cabin as her own, but it was now, and she needed to start thinking of herself as Sailmistress. She opened the cabin door to find Sven unpacking the trucks. She noted that he had placed the stasis box on the bunk like bed. I bet he asks me about it. And what am I going to tell him? I haven’t even opened it. Am I chicken? What on earth could be inside there? Soutrik thought back to the day that she and Brazzelle had found it. Not so very long ago, but long enough. Soutrik had wanted to open it when Brazzelle got back from the Blight, but with the latest events that would be impossible. She had brought it with her for she did not dare leave it in her quarters at the White Tower to be discovered by just anyone. But now, Sven had seen it. She wondered what good could come of this.
“Oh, thank you so much for getting to the trunks. You are a doll.” She pressed herself close to him, wrapping her arms around his middle. “Dinner is on its way, and there is something we need to do.”
“And that is?” Sven squinted at her with a questioning look.
“Rouste and dinner will be here any moment. I am going to question him about the ledgers and trade. It isn’t something a Sailmistress does, and it might cause him to get angry. I don’t know what state he is in. Hydrem and he have been fighting, as you know. I need to ascertain precisely how much they have stolen from me, and if I can trust either one of them. Did you find my journal in the trunk?” Sven nodded and picked up a brown leather ledger and tossed it to her. “Thank you.” She acknowledge his help with a quick nod.
“What’s in that?” Sven asked and pulled Soutrik onto his lap while he sat on the bunk like bed.
“Every time Rouste sent me my share of the profits, I kept account of it. I noted how many stops, what was traded and how much. I had told him to include a report along with the gold. Jantica taught me well Sven. The trade may be a Cargomaster’s business, but it is the Sailmistress’ vessel, and I damn well will know about everything that is transported on my ship for profit!”
“I see. You sure can get feisty can’t you?” Sven said as he leaned in and kissed her neck. She leaned back enjoying the attention and realized that she could still feel Lyndia through the link, and wondered what the Windfinder would be thinking about what Sven was doing to her right now. Oh Light, she was bound to find out soon enough. Enjoy the lovely ripples of delight Lyndia!
“Darling one, I need you to Conceal yourself in the cabin and observe Rouste. I am also slightly afraid that he just might do something to me. I don’t know if it would be in the meal, or an actual physical attack. I need you, Sven, to be an extra set of eyes and ears for me. Love, will you guard my back?”
“Anything for you? Do I get dinner too?” Sven said with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Just then, there was a rapping on the door to announce Rouste’s arrival with dinner. Soutrik glanced at Sven quickly as he Concealed himself, blending in with the wall of the cabin. Soutrik opened the door for Rouste to enter with the large tray in his hands, “Enter, Brother. Shall we dine?”
(This section written by Josh Williams, Sven’s Point of View)
Wrapped in saidin, Sven lounged in his corner of the cabin comfortably, not worried for Soutrik's safety as long as he had her back. Honestly, he wasn't often concerned for her when he wasn't around; she was a formidable opponent for him, and he had A class training.
Yawning silently, he crouched down and watched as the two spoke of money, and eventually lost interest in what was transpiring. Keeping one eye on Rouste, he dazed a little, his thoughts drifting back to the past, then to the future, rarely staying on the present for too long.
The ship's gentle rocking wasn't an unknown sensation to him; though most of his targets had lived inland, circumstance occasionally called for a trip down river to dispose of a nuisance. Of course, the river barges and fishing vessels were much different the Sea Folk ships.
Drifting back to the matter at hand, Sven tried once again to pay attention to what was being said, scanning each sentence and facial expression for any traces of lies or indignation. He couldn't detect anything, but Rouste seemed competent at keeping his emotions well hidden.
Crouching back on his heels, he sighed inwardly and continued watching, ever certain that nothing was going to transpire. Tying off the weaves that cloaked his corner from the room, he let go of saidin and felt a little weariness wash over him, a mixture of holding saidin so long, and lack of sleep the night before.
It was then that he noticed Soutrik's slightly slumping posture, and he noted the turn in conversation. Before Rouste had even pulled the knife from his sleeve, Sven had leapt to the table. Rouste was a bulky man, bulkier then Sven even, but he wasn't expecting the attack.
Grabbing the Cargomaster's wrist, he used the man's forward momentum to flip the man forward onto the table. Grabbing the knife from his hand, he thrust it towards the shocked man's throat.
"You better pray she lives." Was all he said as he stared into the man's eyes.
(End Sven’s Point of View, back to Soutrik’s Point of View.)
Soutrik sat listening to Rouste’s explanations and was unimpressed. She could tell that he tried desperately to keep his emotions hidden, but he was unsuccessful. Soutrik read him like an open book. She knew he was protecting Hydrem, and that her Voca Mei had taken more than her fair share of the profits. She could tell that he felt ashamed and she pitied him, and felt slightly guilty for having given Hydrem his hand in marriage. It had relieved Soutrik from his pursuit of her, but she had inadvertently put Rouste in a union with a dangerous silverpike of a wife. She cursed briefly under her breath and took another drink of her tea.
Soutrik pointed out the difference in her ledger and Rouste’s, “When we get to Tear brother, I will be present when the transaction for the Saldean Ice Peppers…” Soutrik brought her hand to her mouth and yawned tiredly, “and I want to count the gold myself…” she yawned again and sat back in her chair looking at Rouste. Her vision began to blur and she realized that she couldn’t keep her eyes open. It must be so late by now! I am so tired…I can hardly keep my head… Soutrik’s mind wandered and she looked up at Rouste who was smiling at her with sad eyes. He was speaking but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She tried to shake her head but could hardly feel it above her shoulders. Realization dawned on Soutrik, He drugged me, oh Light, Svendahla, my darling one, save me…oh…I…can’t stay awake…I…Sven…help!
Soutrik slouched in her chair and a long rattling breath escaped from her. Suddenly, Rouste was leaning across the table with a knife and then Sven was there immediately, throwing Rouste to the table. Soutrik watched helpless, and breathless, wanting to open her mouth to take in a breath but couldn’t. Little white spots began to cloud her vision. Sven was speaking for she heard his baritone voice like a bumblebee buzzing about her ears. She wanted to reach out to him to touch him, to anchor herself to the world around her that was fading quickly. She felt dizzy and then light as a feather.
Out of the blue a soft velvet feeling caressed the back of her head and her body. She felt something soft from the back of her head to her ankles, fluffy like a quilt. She realized that she wasn’t breathing and she felt herself lifting from her body and pull away from the ‘something’ that touched her back. In an instant she was floating above her body in the cabin of the vessel. Rouste was sitting at the table staring at her body which was on the bed, tears running down his cheeks, his knife on the floor at his feet. She couldn’t stop looking at Rouste looking at her body. MY BODY!?
Soutrik’s unconscious mind felt a pull…somewhere above her…somewhere elsewhere, warm and full of light. The light beaconed her and she was ready to leave until she heard his voice and his pain.
“Don’t you leave me! You hear me! Don’t you leave me, Soutrik! NO, NOT LIKE THIS!” Sven was biting back his anger and pain that she could tell, and it pained her so to see him in such a state. She looked at the longing on his face, the utter devastation in his eyes was more than she could bear. She did not want to hurt him. She did not want to leave him. She struggled to free herself from the grip of the light and to will herself into her body to be back in Sven’s arms.
Sven began to beat upon Soutrik’s chest, stopping to listen for a heartbeat, then beating on it again. “She’s not breathing.” He was a split hair from frantic, but he kept his focus on Soutrik and demanded that she listen to him, “Breath damn you, breath!” She locked his lips to hers and blew a large breath into her. “No woman! You will not leave me! Breath, Soutrik, breath!” he beat her chest again.
Rouste sobbed and sobbed and Sven continued with his rant. He hit her hard with his fist in the middle of her chest with all the strength he could muster. Soutirk felt her consciousness forced back into her body. She felt the ‘something’ soft against her backside, and then Sven’s massive fist beat down upon her chest breaking a rib in the process. She coughed and gasped for a breath, her eyes popping open.
Rouste screamed, “She’s alive!” and dove to Sven’s side, at the edge of the bed.
“No thanks to you.” Soutrik’s voice was weak and she rolled her head to the side to look at her betrayer.
Sven kissed her forehead, “Scared me again, Empress. This going to happen on a regular basis then?”
“Not if I can help it.” She tried to sit up but her broken rib prevented her. She clutched her chest weakly, “I think you broke something.”
Shivers ran through her body as Sven ran a delving weave through her. She felt a tingle on her arms and legs and knew that Sven was using the yellow ter’angreal to Heal her the way that Mackenzie Sedai had done. She felt the pain emanating from her broken rib slowly disappear. She sat up slowly and Sven embraced her.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again.” Sven kissed her passionately and held her tightly to his chest.
Turning her attention to Rouste Soutrik questioned him, “Why, Rouste?”
“I had no choice. You learned of Hydrem’s scheming and I could not risk you removing her. I am just as guilty and the crew would demand both of us removed from our station. The shame and mortification we would face is more than we could bare.” Rouste shook his head.
“So, killing me would serve what purpose? You think the crew, not to mention Melanna Sedai, would not notice?” Soutrik question and Rouste shrugged hopelessly, “What of Lyndia? Is she involved with this?”
“The Windfinder is not involved, not is any of the crew.” He hung his head in shame.
Soutrik sat holding onto Sven for balance and strength glaring at Rouste with a squint to her eyes. She pursed her lips, “If you would like to remain Cargomaster, you will listen to what I have to say, and do what you are told.”
“Anything you say, Sailmistress.” Rouste knelt before her completely abashed. Sven arched an eyebrow at her unbelieving of this situation that was before them.
Soutrik laid out her plans, “Firstly, you are not to mention that Sven is aboard. You will take this tray to the galley and dispose of whatever it is you used to drug me and bring me a new platter of food. You will go on as if nothing has transpired. You will lead Hydrem to the aft deck and tell her that I was unaffected by the poison. Let her believe that my ability with the Power makes me impervious to such treachery. Get her to talk about what she did, and what her plans are, and what her deception has been. I will take care of the rest. You, Rouste, will need to act as if you had nothing to do with this entire affair. You will entrap her, and the crew will see her for what she is leaving you blameless. This is a gift I give you, brother. Sven here isn’t as forgiving as I am and I am sure that my little assassin would much rather see you gutted and hung from the yard arm to rot.” Sven smiled a wickedly and fear was apparent on Rouste’s face.
Rouste agreed and left the cabin taking the tray with him. Sven turned to Soutrik, “Soutie, are you sure you want to forgive that bloodly louse?”
“I do what I must, darling one. The crew deserves to know the truth. I will let them hear it for themselves.” She ran her hand along Sven’s thigh, smiling at him, “You are always there when I need you. Say you’ll never leave me, Sven.” Sven looked down at her hand and twisted the Golden Serpent ring between his fingers. He looked into her eyes.
Rouste reappeared interrupting the moment, and placed the new tray on the table. Soutrik turned a hard glare upon him, “Taste every bowl, Rouste. It will take a while for me to trust you again.”
“Yes, Sailmistress.” Rouste bowed then tasted every bowl and the tea. Sven and Soutrik watched him for a good ten minutes and after it was apparent that he was unharmed, she ordered him to sit in the corner while she ate ravenously.
Hydrem cursed under her breath as Soutrik strode across the deck to Lyndia seemingly unaffected by the treachery that was afoot aboard the vessel. The moonlight cast a gray color across the Rusty Nail. Soutrik swished to Lyndia’s side.
“I did not leave my post even though I believe I had cause to. Hydrem ordered me to stay put so I did. Are you alright?” Lyndia kept her tone low for Soutrik’s ears only.
“I have experienced greater difficulties, but yes, I am fine. Thank you, Lyndia.” Soutrik smiled weakly.
“What is going on, Sailmistress?” Lyndia asked.
“Just wait, and all will be revealed.” Soutrik rounded on Lyndia and grabbed her wrist, “Give me control of the link.”
Lyndia did as she was told, and Soutrik drank in the One Power. She noted that the crew was changing positions, the night crew taking over as the day crew turned in for a long deserved rest. The entire crew was on deck. Rouste and Hydrem were alone on the aft deck. Focusing her threads of Air and Spirit she wove an eavesdropping weave over Hydrem and Rouste, then magnified it so that their voices were projected across the deck, but at the same time preventing them from hearing that they were being listened to. Some of the crew stopped what they were doing, and forced the others who were not paying attention to listen.
“You fool! I ordered you to kill her and you failed at that too! You are worthless and weak, and unworthy of me! You don’t deserve a cut on any of the pilfered profit, now be gone from my…” Hydrem looked up and stopped her words in mid-sentence, but it was far too late for her to recover from what the crew had overheard.
Soutrik leaned back against the rail next to Lyndia as the crew rounded on Hydrem, “I don’t think any of us will be getting rest tonight.”
“What’s happening?” Melanna Sedai and Elise hurried past the arguing crew and sent confused looks back and forth between Soutrik and Lyndia.
“Nothing more than what needs to.” Soutrik’s answer was short and curt and Melanna sniffed and went below decks. Elise eyed Soutrik and then wandered off.
The crew was pushing Hydrem towards the center mast screaming obscenities, and ripping her nose chain off spewing her blood across the deck. Soutrik walked to the crew and they began to shout for Soutrik to punish her. Rouste stood aside saying nothing. Hydrem did not dare deny the charges as all had heard what she said.
“Hydrem, you are relieved as my Voca Mei. You are stripped of your rank, and are to be flogged at sunrise. Rouste, I advise you to divorce this woman.” Soutrik turned to the crew, “You may do with her as you see fit.”
The crew stripped the traitor, and tied Hydrem to the mast. The night crew returned to their posts as the relieved day crew each took turns spitting in Hydrem’s face before they walked below deck. They nodded to their Sailmistress and she nodded back.
Lyndia sighed and shook her head. “Your justice is righteous and swift.” Lyndia nodded looking at Soutrik.
“Yes, I’ve heard that before.” She blinked at her own voice, recognizing words she had spoken to her advisors when she was Aloysha Delphic, Sh’boan of Shara. The Wheel weaves as it wills. Must I see the turning of the Wheel so vividly?
(Sven’s Point of View)
As Soutrik ate her meal, Sven crouched on the bed, his eyes constantly watching Rouste for any sudden movements. He had purposefully left a curved Sharan dagger on the bed beside him to remind Rouste that Sven was ready to end him at any moment.
The Sea Folk man probably thought he was safe, now, but Sven would prove to him later that he was now a worm for Sven to pick at his leisure. When she was finished with her rather sumptuous meal, she nodded to Sven and then motioned Rouste up the ladder to above deck. Sheathing the dagger up the sleeve of his coat, he grabbed Rouste by the arm before the man had started up the ladder.
"Hey," he said calmly, his voice like a frozen wind. "You're on thin ice as it is." He said, glancing at Soutrik. "Make sure you don't screw up again." With that, he let go of the man and walked away, sitting on the bed cross-legged again. Sighing, he pulled out his dagger again and examined it as the two strode up the ladder to the deck. Alone, Sven mused on how he was going to injure Rouste when the time was right.
(End Sven’s Point of View…begin Soutrik’s Point of View)
“Sailmistress, are you able to take the Windfinder’s position now? I do believe you said you would relieve me for two hours.” Lyndia spoke sweetly with beaming pride as to how Soutrik had handled the situation with Hydrem and Rouste. Lyndia had been aware but had sworn to Jantica before she died she would not shelter Soutrik from her responsibilities as a Sailmistress and a leader of her crew. Jantica knew that to be a Sailmistress you needed a crew that could respect you for making decisions that had to be made and in a fair and equitable manner. It was the Sea Folk way, and Jantica had impressed it upon Soutrik every moment of every day that she was aboard the vessel before going to Tar Valon.
“Yes, Lyndia, you may take your leave.” Soutrik directed the flows of Air and Water and Spirit into the sails directing the gaining storm’s power behind the vessel quickening the pace down the River Erinin.
The distant lights of the City of Aringill twinkled in the distance under the black sky glittering with tiny pin pricks of stars. They had been under sail seven hours and had traveled double the distance…it was as if they had been almost a full day from Tar Valon. Weaving the wind was certainly an interesting feeling, more exhilarating than she thought it would be. She pulled through her bracelets and played with the weaves intertwining Spirit about Air and thinking of swift hovering over the gentle waters of the Erinin.
“Soutrik” Hydrem’s weak voice split the silence that hung over the rocking Rusty Nail.
“Hydrem, spare me your words.” Soutrik shushed her quickly with a flat tone, emotionless and colder than a member of the White Ajah when spouting logic.
“Hear me Sharan whore!” Hydrem’s rasp was wrathful. Soutrik was shocked and whipped around to face the naked and spit covered traitor tied to the mast.
“What did you say?” Soutrik turned to the woman smoothing her features, erasing the anger that fought its way to her eyes.
“You heard me. I know what you are doing. I know you use your Power to influence people. You think you will return to your country now that you have your memory back. They will murder you at the very sight of you! I know you! You are not one of us, not Atha’an Miere…I have been to Shara and their wickedness in your very being!” Hydrem spit at Soutrik a drip of spittle from her swelling lips. Blood trickled down Hydrem’s face from the gaping wound that was the nostril of her nose, once bejeweled with a golden chain covered in medallions.
“You know nothing! You speak lies! You plot against your fellow crewmates, and soil an honored title. You have no heart of our Clan!” Soutrik lost control of her temper and lashed out with the one Power at the bound woman. She beat her with invisible sticks made from flows of Air and Spirit. She pummeled Hydrem who whimpered and moaned as the blows struck her. Soutrik slipped into a distant memory and saw it before her eyes as if she was there.
Soutrik’s Waking Flashback Dream
Aloysa screamed for her handmaids. It was time for her evening bath, and it had not been drawn yet, and she was cranky, to put it mildly. “Chesandra!!! L'iheap!!! Get out here this instant or I will have your hides.”
Aloysa began to search the North Wing of the Sh’boan’s winter palace. Ornate silk wall coverings decorated with fine handcrafted drawings of her favorite birds in snow scenes lined the walls of the main corridor. The carpet beneath her slippered feet afforded her silent movement while she searched for her two missing slave girls. She had bought them not more that two weeks ago and already they were beginning to show the signs she had hopped would not appear. She had purposely picked the ugliest women she could to be her personal servants, but to no avail. Her husbands taste for the flesh did not stop with homely faces or obesity.
“Chesandra!!! L’iheap!!!!!” Aloysa was becoming furious and began to strike out at her lovely Sea Folk china that sat in niches every twenty feet or so down the main corridor. She picked up a vase with a Flow of Air and hurled it at her husband’s portrait that sat upon an easel still wet from the afternoon sitting.
Calming herself in order to gain clarity of thought she opened herself to saidar and listened intently. Her heightened senses picked up many sounds. Sounds of slaves in the lower stables, of the scullery maids finishing with tonight’s dishes, distant sounds of wolves howling in the adjacent forest, and sounds of mice under the floorboards. Most of her staff had retired to their rooms but her personal handmaids, her slaves that slept at the foot of her bed, were her query this evening. Where are they? Aloysa embraced saidar and pulled it through her four tigers-eye and ivory sa’angreals bound to her skin. She picked up the sound of soft giggling coming from the South wing; her husband’s part of the palace.
“Chesandra, if you are hiding from me you will regret it, slave!” Standing to her full height, which was well below five feet tall, Alyosha took on a regal air of authority. Her face was masked in anger, command, and sheer forcefulness of will. She seemed feet taller than her actual height. Men had cowered before her in her past and her memory told her so.
Aloysha raced to Jackobar’s bedroom and flung open the door to reveal a scene of debauchery and as her stomach twisted into knots, flows of Air and Spirit formed themselves into sturdy staves and struck out at the copulating slave girls. Aloysha left Jackobar on the bed but hurled the women from him with shoves and blows with her Power wrought staff.
“I have caught you, harlot! Sleep with my husband will you!?” Alyosha stomped across the master bedroom suite.
Aloysha knocked Chesandra down and began to beat her wildly hurling curses at the woman. She heard Jackobar’s voice in the distance, and stopped beating Chesandra who was bloody and unconscious, yet alive in a heap on the floor.
“Why did you do that? Aloysha?” Jackobar gave Aloysha’s shoulders and small push and she rounded on him returning her attention to the cause of her anger. Jackobar slapped her face and sent her across the floor.
End of Soutrik’s waking Flashback Dream
“Why did you do that? Soutrik?” Melanna Sedai’s voice was shrill and piercing, so unlike her normal self it shocked Soutrik to her senses like Jackobar’s slap across her face. Soutrik blinked at the Aes Sedai who held Hydrem’s swollen and bloody, hardly recognizable face in her lap. Melanna was weaving Flows for Healing and was repairing the shattered remnants of Hydrem’s skull. Soutrik had almost killed her with blows from the invisible staff of Air and Spirit.
“Melanna you should stay out of my business.”
“You are my business, Accepted.”
Soutrik rounded on Melanna Sedai, “You are on my vessel, Melanna. I have been excused from the Tower to resume my life for a time being and thus that makes me Soutrik, Sailmistress of the Rusty Nail, exiled Empress Sh’boan of Shara, Ayyad. You will not address me in any other manner than that of a supplicant of my favors. Recall that it is I who invited you of all Aes Sedai to travel with me to Tremalking. I could have very well brought Mackenzie, or Lyra, or Xandrea, or any of them. They have all expressed an interest in both me and Tremalking, they would have agreed to come. Recall that I can revoke the right of passage and set you off in Tear.” Soutrik glared at Melanna who had finished Healing Hydrem.
“That silverpike poisoned my tea and sent my brother Rouste to stab me through the heart. She had attempted to murder me to prevent the truth about her stealing money from the crew. She has been skimming the profits that she distributes to me, to the crew, and to our Clan. It is Hydrem that has sent a shock wave of traitorous behavior throughout the Sea Folk. She is the catalyst for a civil war, Melanna. I see that, and so does my crew. She was to be flogged in the morning and executed when we reached Tremalking. Your Healing is mute, Aes Sedai.” Soutrik’s nostrils flared and she turned her back to the sickening display that Melanna was putting on by offering aid and comfort to her enemies.
Maybe Melanna will not help me after all. I will have to rely on Sven and Sven alone. But can just the two of us do it?
“My deepest apologies, Sailmistress Soutrik. You are correct. I have intruded upon your right to punish your prisoner.” Melanna rose and walked to Soutrik’s side. “Will you teach me the weaves, Sailmistress Soutrik, I am very interested in learning?”
Soutrik glanced over her shoulder at Hydrem who was unconscious and tied to the mast where she had left her. The woman had been Healed, but Melanna did not do the ‘best’ possible job she could on reconstruction Hydrem’s face. The woman would still have a broken nose and two broken teeth.
“Yes, I will show you, Melanna Sedai.” Soutrik began to instruct Melanna Sedai in the uses of the Windfinder’s flows for Air and Water, and Spirit control of the force of the wind. Soutrik used both Ayyad and Sea Folk teaching methods to demonstrate to the Aes Sedai how difficult it was for her to learn new weaves when the Aes Sedai had taught them. “See what it was like for me learning to do something the way that you do it. I will demonstrate both techniques for you, your style, then my style.”
Hours and Aringill passed and Lyndia returned, relieving her Sailmistress who quickly took her leave of Lyndia and Melanna. Soutrik made a beeline for her cabin. She opened the door and felt a tingle. Sven had warded it so only she could enter. What a man!
He was asleep under the covers on his back, his chest moving slowly up and down. It had been a long day and it was now at least 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Most of the ship was asleep, as was her darling Svenson. Soutrik stripped and crawled into bed besides him, running her hands across his bare chest and playing with the black mat of curly hair. She leaned forward and kissed him and then cuddled into the crook of his arm. Sven rolled over still asleep and clutching her to him, spooning her from behind.
Soutrik felt his warm lips upon her neck and she pushed herself back into him feeling the warmth of his body. She sighed and began to relax her muscles, the true exhaustion of the day finally hitting her as she released saidir which she had been holding constantly since leaving the cabin with Rouste after her hastily eaten meal hours upon hours ago. Her body reeled at the release and she winced and had a yearning to embrace immediately but found herself too altogether consumed in exhaustion. She passed out in Sven’s arms and did not wake until the Rusty Nail docked at Tear the next afternoon.
As the Rusty Nail wallowed toward the docks of Tear, on the west bank of the River Erinin, Melanna did not see anything of the oncoming city. She clutched her brown cloak about her as the cold from the swiftly rising afternoon early fog rose from the water. Slumped head down at the rail, she look intently down at the waters of the Erinin rolling past the ship’s fat hull, and the frontmost sweep on her side as it swung into her vision and back again, cutting white furrows in the river. It made her queasy, but she knew raising her head would only make the sickness worse. Looking at the shore would only make the slow corkscrew motion of the Rusty Nail more apparent.
The vessel had moved in that twisting roll ever since Jurene. She did not care how it had sailed before then; she found herself wishing the Rusty Nail had suck before reaching Jurene. She wished they had made the Windfinder put in at Aringill. She wished she had never gone near a ship. She wished a great many things, most of them just to take her mind off where she was, and what her Ajah demanded she do here. She had never thought it would come to this but it must.
The twisting was less now, under sweeps, than it had been under sail, but it had gone on for two days now, too long for the change to make much difference to her. Her stomach seemed to be sloshing about inside her like milk in a stone jug. She gulped and tired to forget the image.
The Rusty Nail docked and the gangplank was lowered. Melanna stepped from the gangplank into the Perfume Quarter of the great City of Tear. Taking her Golden Serpent ring from her finger, she stuffed it into the pocket of her copper colored skirts. She wove an Illusion to cover her in the clothing of this City of Tear. She stepped out off the docks and into a somewhat muddy alley and looked about the city.
Stone warehouses backed the long docks, and there were many ships anchored at port, large and small alike, they bobbed on the ports ebbing flows. Tear had been built on flat land, with barely a hill in sight. Down the muddy dirt streets between the warehouses, she could see houses and inns and taverns of wood and stone. The roofs of these buildings were of slate or various colors of tile, and had oddly shaped corners compared with the building of Tar Valon. Beyond the muck of this port area, Melanna could make out a high wall of dark gray stone, and behind it the tops of towers with balconies high around them and white-doomed palaces.
First I must check in with my “Ajah’s: Eyes and Ears here about. She continued to look about at the people who paraded by her, not even looking at her since her weave of Illusion masked her so well. The domes off in the distance had a squared shape to them and the tower tops looked pointed, like some of the roofs outside the wall. The Stone of Tear all but dominated the landscape though, and she found it hard not to look at it. The Dragon's banner that flapped in the wind on top of the mighty fortress sent a chill up Melanna’s spine.
Melanna gathered her skirts and struck out into the throng of people walking about conducting their business. Shirtless men and barefoot woman were hoisting baskets of fish out of boats, mounds of bronze and green, and silver and rainbows of colors of fish or all sorts and varieties filled the baskets to the brim. The thick mud of the streets did very little to slow the walking people. Carts and wagons lurched past, most pen with wide horns and bells around their necks. There were no carriages of sedan chairs in this part of the city, for what wealthy person would come to this area so rank with the stench of fish, and rot. The entire area did not look prosperous despite the bustle of activity and the obvious abundance of their trade.
The men wore baggy breeches tied at the ankle, and only a handful wore coats, long dark garments that fit arms and chest tightly, then became looser below the waist. Most went barefoot, but a good many wore low shoes rather than boots. Melanna looked about at the women who had small wooden platforms tied to the soles of their shoes, lifting them two hands out of the mud. They walked as if their feet were planted firmly on the ground and Melanna knew instantly that that was what her disguise was missing.
Darting into a shop that had these platforms in the window. Melanna purchased a pair and donned them on her feet quickly. She stepped back out into the crowd and walked among them with no problems. Making her way she spied the symbol she had bee told to look for. The shop sign did not have words, merely a needle and thread sign above the door. Thread of brown upon the spool, and brown fringes hanging from the canopy. Melanna opened the door and stepped in. The tailors shop had three patrons and when the shopkeeper saw the familiar woman enter her eyes widened, yet she continued to help her customers. Melanna had remembered seeing this woman before at the White Tower when she was an Accepted. She had seen her in the Brown’s quarters. Things were falling into place.
The patrons left after awhile with a few bolts of cloth and two completed dressed in the style of the lower classes of Tear. Melanna stepped forward, and the tailor woman curtseyed deeply.
"Come and let me welcome you properly." the woman whose name was Elizabetta D'Holliday spoke with the poor accent of the Tairen underclass. She bid Melanna welcome with the proper greetings as did Melanna in her coded language. Melanna opened the carpetbag that she had been commanded to take with her and handed the woman a sealed letter. Elizabetta took her to her back rooms that were where the woman lived. Stocking the fire in her small wood stove, Elizabetta filled a kettle with water and readied tea for her honored guest. "I am so glad to see you, Mistress. You honor me." she curtseyed again, handing Melanna a cup of tea which the Aes Sedai held but did not drink.
"I have come to inquire why my associates have not received their weekly pigeons from you, Elizabetta." Melanna was always straightforward and to the point. "You know that they have entrusted you to do the Great Lord's work for them. Are you lax in serving our Master?"
"Oh, no, Mistress," Elizabetta dropped to her knees and kissed the muddy hem of Melanna’s copper skirts through the Illusion. Melanna was a bit taken back as this woman had never been described to her as subservient. She studied her and wondered, "I have sent the pigeons. They must have been intercepted. I follow the Great Lord of the Dark with all my heart and would serve HIS glory."
Melanna noted what the woman said. The Brown Ajah’s suspicions were confirmed. She wondered how long she could fool this Darkfriend. Melanna fumed and masked her anger from the kneeling woman. She raised the teacup to her lips and noted that Elizabetta had a gleam in her eye. Melanna sniffed the tea and found that it was thick with mint that masked any other smell. She was instantly suspicious of the Dark agent.
Grabbing the woman by the throat with Flows of Air, Melanna lifted the bulky tailor to the ceiling of her private rooms and pressed her flat against it. "What have you tried to do to me?" Melanna’s voice was strong, sharp and held a thick weave of Compulsion in it. Elizabetta convulsed.
"I was told I must. She came here and told me I must. I was to alert her when I had you subdued. I am sorry my Mistress, but she tortured me." The woman kicked off her shoes and Melanna noted that her pinky toes on each foot had been cut off.
"She did that to you?” Melanna was intrigued at who had commanded this Darkfriend to kill the Black Ajah member that was supposed to meet her this month. The Brown Ajah had intercepted the messages, captured the Black Sister and sent Melanna in her place.
"She cut off my toes and forced me to eat them. She burned my back with hot pokers. She...she..." Elizabetta's sobs were more than Melanna could handle, and she twisted the woman neck, snapping it quickly.
Melanna wondered how the next three of her prey handled the situation. She needed to be back before Soutrik left her here as she had threatened to do.
The Saldean Ice Pepper sale had gone as planned and the crew was given their proper amount of money. The buzz was all over the ship as many of the crew figured out exactly how much Hydrem had possibly stolen from them over the last few years as Soutrik’s Voca Mei. The flogging had gone as planned but many of the crew were demanding Hydrem’s death before reaching Tremalking.
“She will meet with her judgment before the Clan she had wronged.” Soutrik pronounced sentence, just as Melanna returned from her journey into Tear. The crew set sail and they moved through the fingers of the Dragon with ease. Finally, through the last bit of the land, Soutrik motioned to her crew and in one swift motion, the women removed their blouses. Soutrik stood bare chested and proud as her vessel headed home to Tremalking, her crew reunited under her command and ready to bring order to her Clan.
Just then, as if ordained with the best timing in the world, Sven exited her cabin and made his appearance on deck. Melanna Sedai rounded on him, and Soutrik stepped back watching Sven’s expression, interested in how her beloved was going to explain himself.
(Sven’s Point of View)
It had been far too long in the cabin, but Sven was already wondering if the fresh air was worth the argument he was certain was about to take place. Melanna had very displeased look on her face, but Sven hardly bothered noticing it. Walking towards Soutrik, he glanced around at all the shirtless crewmembers.
"So, it wasn't just a rumor," he muttered with a smirk, giving Soutie a quick peck on the lips. Turning, he took in an eyeful of the crew, his smirk constantly growing, but more in amusement then lustful content. Melanna, finally sick of being ignored, stalked towards Sven.
"What in the name of the Light are you doing here, Accepted?" She demanded, fists on hips as she tried to mimic the classic Aes Sedai dominance. She came only to his shoulder, which made it easier for him to maintain his wry indifference.
"Afternoon Melanna. Lovely day, aye?" He said, looking around. She growled softly at being ignored.
"I asked you a question!"
"Indeed you did," he said softly. "I'm here to watch over Soutrik," he said, only loud enough that no one passing by could hear. Grinning a little at Soutrik, he put an arm around. "Not that needs it. More for my own peace of mind." Melanna narrowed her eyes.
"I was not told you had permission to travel with us," she said, her anger barely contained. Sven had never really gotten along with her, but it had never come to full blown conflict until now.
"I didn't ask permission, because I wouldn't have been given it." He said simply.
"Then you're in big trouble, Accepted," she hissed. "You will stay with me from here on in."
"I think not," Sven said, looking around the open sea. Melanna's brows rose in mock surpirse, but genuine anger.
"I beg your pardon?" She asked, and he smirked.
"I'll be where ever I wish to be. We're no longer under Tower law," he said finally, and Melanna began to speak.
"Sven," Soutrik chimed in. "Will you help with the lines?" She asked, and Sven nodded.
"As you wish, Sailmistress," he said respectfully.
(End Sven’s Point of View…begin Soutrik’s Point of View)
Her tiny feet pounded the paving stones with a frantic rhythm that matched pace with the thumping of her heart. The Sh’botay must know of her arrival. They all must know! Tabitha had only seen the woman once before, on the day that the woman was introduced to her Master’s only son who would be Sh’botay to this woman as Sh’boan. The marriage arranged when the woman was born, her Master’s son a mere twelve years old at the time. My Master, he will not believe it!
Tabitha reached the large red doors that opened to a huge courtyard of a small palace. Slaves rushed about with platters of food and wine to the various chambers and suites where the Masters and Mistresses of this very unique palace lounged. Weaving her way through the brilliant blue tiled corridors, Tabitha stopped and knocked on the doorway of the partially opened door.
“Enter,” a deep rumbling basso voice resounded from inside the chamber.
Tabitha entered and prostrated herself before the ebony skinned man seated upon a large blue velvet cushion which appeared more lavish than any throne in the world simply because it held this poised man. He himself was adorned in a brilliant green silk robe with water scenes of lotus, alligators, and pink flamingos embroidered on the twelve foot long sleeves.
“My Master Sh’botay, I have extraordinary news! She’s here…Aloysha Delphic is on Tremalking.” Tabitha’s nose was pressed against the finely woven brushed silk Sharan picture rugs.
“The Delphic line has come. Alert the others and prepare the sedan chairs immediately.” His expression went from alarmed to intrigued. He mused another thought for a moment, “And prepare the traditional homecoming banquet, Tabitha.”
“Welcome home, Lyndia, Rouste, Elise” Soutrik smiled and nodded as the Rusty Nail pulled close to the dry docks of the Clan Somarin that they maintained on the island of Tremalking. A group of people awaited them on the docks waving and smiling. The crew tossed ropes to the waving hands on the dock and quickly the Rusty Nail’s gangplank was being lowered. Soutrik clutched her fir-lined cloak to her and put the hood up over her head. It was unseasonably cold, as if summer had ended early and winter was fast approaching leaving fall a short time to golden the features of the beautiful Tremalking.
Soutrik walked down the gangplank and was greeted by many women she had only met once or twice and always in the company of her adopted mother Jantica. Soutrik smiled and embraced the women returning blessings and welcomes, and giving thanks to them for their kind words over the loss of her mother.
Triste, the Sailmistress of a vessel recently captured by the Seanchan, wrapped her arm through Soutrik’s and patted it gently and in a soothing manner. “I understand loss my dear, my Cargomaster was lost in the battle with the Seanchan.” Triste shook her head and the medallions of her nose chain tinkled and sparkled in the intermittent sunlight. “He was the joy of my life, and such a Trader you’ve never met.” She smiled weakly then smiled.
Sven and Rouste were dragging Hydrem down the gangplank and Triste blinked as if she could not believe her eyes, “And what is the meaning of this?”
Rouste looked up at Triste’s voice caught his eyes, “This worthless woman, Sailmistress is a traitor, a thief, and a would be murderer.”
“She is being brought before the Clan Council of Sailmistresses…to be executed.” Soutrik’s voice was a dry rasp as she gazed upon Hydrem’s swollen face, “I doubt any will speak in her favor, or listen to a word her foul lying mouth speaks.” Many of the crew mumbled their agreement.
Triste nodded her head approving of Soutrik’s control of her crew, “I see that your crew supports this. Why did you not execute her aboard your own ship?”
“I wanted none to believe that my decision was biased because it was I she tried to murder, and it was my profits that she skimmed. I would rather lay the evidence down before the Clan Council.” Soutrik kept her words as brief as possible as she glanced between Rouste and Sven. “When will the Council meet?”
“All have arrived, we were merely waiting for you.” Triste smiled and led Soutrik to the Clan Governor’s house just off the docks with a view of the bay.
“Triste, I need to speak with you alone. There is much that you need to be aware of. Rouste, please see that Hydrem is delivered to the eldest Cargomaster, and be sure that fresh food and water is brought aboard. I am growing weary of salted eel.” Soutrik turned and whispered in Triste’s ear, then gave Sven the follow us sign. The two women went to walk alone, except for their Saldean shadow, in the gardens behind the house.
“We are gathered here to speak of the trouble that is plaguing our Clan.” Triste stood and walked to the center of the circle of Sailmistresses and Windfinders. Soutrik sat with Lyndia at her right shoulder. “Traitorous acts have been on the rise, and Sailmistress Soutrik of the Rusty Nail has approached me with valuable information on the source of this disturbance within the Clan.” Rouste entered from a side door with Hydrem in chains before him. Gasps and mumbles circled the room.
Soutrik stood and read the list of charges she had prepared against Hydrem. She explained all the circumstances leaving Rouste out of it as much as she could, and noting that he had revealed this all to her when he could, to further insure that the Council did not pass judgment on him. She handed her ledgers to the seated Sailmistresses, and Rouste’s ledgers. She passed out letters that she had received from Hydrem detailing the trade route and the costs associated with maintaining the ship.
“That’s a lie! Right there,” the angry woman rose and pointed at words on the page she held in her hand, “ she did not pay Citi the dry dock master that amount. I was there when she did pay him, and she talked him down to half his original price!” A Sailmistress that Soutrik did not know very well stood and pointed a finger at Hydrem. “Is this your handwriting, Hydrem.” The prisoner simply nodded her head yes, and the crowd mumbled again.
“See, here again is another instance of this woman lying to me, skimming my profit, and mocking my authority as her Sailmistress. I trusted her, made her my Voca Mei, gave her my brother’s hand in marriage, and how am I repaid? How does she repay my mother’s kindness or the Clans? Rouste I am so sorry that she had come to disgrace us both so.” Soutrik wrung her hands at her waist and Lyndia rose putting a hand on Soutrik’s shoulder.
Lyndia began to speak of the many lies that Hydrem had spread to other Sea Folk vessels on the amount of money the ship was making. Hydrem had not sent the proper amounts of tribute to the Clan Governor’s accountants for the maintenance of the Clan’s dry dock, or for the tributes to the Mistress of Ships, further inflaming the seated Sailmistresses when she mentioned that Hydrem had suggested that other ships in the Clan do the same and they had. “For these and many more reasons too numerous to name here, our crew asks the Clan Council to pass judgment on Hydrem, setting the appropriate punishment.” Lyndia sat as she finished her request that sounded much more like a command.
“I believe that our Wavemistress should make this pronouncement.” Jarrel, Sailmistress of the Yarrow Flower, stood and spoke calmly, “We, after all, elected her to be our leader, and I think that this is the opportune time for her to make the decision.”
All the gathered Sailmistresses and Windfinders nodded in agreement.
“My pronouncement is thus,” she cleared her throat, “ for Clan unity, and to reinforce our laws and traditions, Hydrem, you shall be thrown from your ship bound and gagged, pulled by heavy stones at your feet, to drown in the Ocean that saved our people from the Breaking, and shall continue to save us from the likes of you. The wrongdoer must not go unpunished. I, Triste, Wavemistress of the Clan Somarin, have spoken.”
The cold morning did nothing to lighten Soutrik’s mood. Hydrem stood naked, bound and gagged on the deck of the Rusty Nail, defiant even in the face of her own death. Soutrik walked to the woman and removed the gag.
“Would you like to make a final statement, Hydrem?”
As Hydrem opened her mouth to speak memories of the past and her first archway passed through her head.
The Ayyad smiled at her and she rose from her kneeling position. “Please, take the prisoner to the execution block, Aloysha. It is time for the Will of the Wheel to remove the traitors of Shara from the land.”
Aloysha jumped and grabbed hold of her sister and forced her out of the door. Tamara did not fight, but spoke softly, “I will forgive you, for you know not what you do. You have been blinded by lies, but soon enough you will know great sorrow, and I pity you.” Tamara’s voice was soft yet strong and the Ayyad that followed behind the two sisters did not notice the small lecture issuing forth from Tamara, they were engrossed in their own conversations.
“Sister, listen to my voice. You are to become Sh’boan, you must know this. The Sh’botay did not die by my hands.” Tamara pleaded, Aloysha was stone faced.
Aloysha looked at her sister out of the corner of her eye, “I will not hear another word about the Sh’botay’s death.” Aloysha hardened herself against her sister’s plight.
“Well, then, listen to these words and try to be a good leader of our people, I say to you, and I hope you are listening, continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you, to bless those cursing you, to pray for those who are insulting you. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also,” Aloysha almost began to cry as her sister recited the word from their sacred text on love and forgiveness, their Golden Rule that had bound all Shara in peace for 3,000 years. All Sharan people knew it by heart, and the pain of loss began to well with Aloysha. She would be losing her sister when the execution of the traitor was completed. Her sister’s words flowed over her.
“Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask them back. Just as you want a person to do to you, do the same way to them. Moreover, stop judging and you will by no means be judged, and stop condemning and you will by no means be condemned. Keep on releasing and you will be released. Practice giving and people will give to you. They will pour into your lap a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” Tamara stopped as they approached a large wooden platform with a chopping block in the center and a basket in front of the block. A throng of a thousand Ayyad stood around the platform to witness the execution by beheading. No ounce of the One Power was to be used against a traitor who was not a channeler.
Ayyad Teresa took hold of Tamara’s arm and led her up the stairs to the platform. “Do you have any last words?” Ayyad Teresa spoke to Tamara. Tradition dictated that the condemned was allowed to speak their peace regardless of what was said.
“I have but this to say,” Tamara began to quote the holy text again, “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Both will tumble into a pit will they not? A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone is perfectly instructed will be like his teacher.” Tamara’s eyes were fixed on Aloysha, and Aloysha knew these words were meant for her ears. “Why, then, do you look at the straw that is in your sister’s eye, but do not observe the rafter that is in your own eye? How can you say to your sister, ‘Sister, allow me to extract the straw that is in your eye, while you yourself are not looking at the rafter in that eye of yours? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw that is in your sister’s eye! For there is not a fine tree producing rotten fruit; again there is not a rotten tree producing fine fruit. For each tree is know by its fruit! I have said my peace.” With that Tamara knelt next to the block and with regal dignity placed her head upon it.
“I hope Shai’tan burns each and every one of you!” Hydrem screamed at the top of her lungs at the gathered Sailmistress.
“Ah, always the repentant, ay Hydrem?” Soutrik could not bear looking about the traitor any longer and pushed the woman backwards off the ship not replacing her gag so her screams echoed across the bay as she fell into the icy water. She turned to Lyndia, “Take us back to dry dock.” Soutrik walked to Sven and buried her face in his chest and sobbed, What am I, Tamara? A killer? Again and again I am the executioner? Why me?
The Rusty Nail approached the dry dock, seven sedan chairs of the Sharan variety along with at least one hundred beautifully adorned ebony colored slaves stood waiting for the return of the Sh’boan. A loud cry went up as all the slaves fell to their hands and knees foreheads touching the ground, then springing up on their knees hands crossing before their eyes, palms raised.
Tabitha stepped forward, and knelt before Soutrik kissing her slippered feet fervently, in an almost whorship like manner, and spoke to Soutrik as she stood at the bottom of the gangplank arm in arm with Sven, still wearing her fur-lined cloak, hood covering her head and face partially. “All Hail, Aloysha Delphic, 23rd Daughter of Delphic, her royal majesty, Daughter of the Morning Light, Keeper of the Eternal Peace, Empress Sh’boan!” The cry went out again and rose petals were tossed in the air and on the ground before Soutrik and Sven’s feet. Horn blared and drums and cymbals pounded and rang out.
Soutrik looked up at Sven and grimaced a little, “I guess they found out I was here.”
“Yes, I would say they did.” Sven arched a brow looking between Soutrik and the assembled crowd.
“His most regal majesty, Isaak Vandeveer, 19th Lord of Mateo, Keeper of the Eternal Peace, Emperor Sh’botay requests the pleasure of your presence at the Palace. He has sent his personal slaves, and his sedan chairs for you and your attendants.” Tabitha rose from her knees and eyed Sven, Melanna, and Lyndia up and down. Tabitha was the epitome of slaves to royalty, always looking down her nose at other slaves, or ‘attendants’ as they were called on Tremalking, as the Amayar and the Atha’an Miere strictly outlawed slavery.
Soutrik calmed her nerves at the mention of the Sh’botay. She could not believe her ears, she was shocked almost into a stupor, yet she collected herself and responded, “Send a runner ahead, and let the Sh’botay know that I accept and will be on my way as soon as I can change into something more appropriate.” Soutrik spoke in her regal commanding voice and Melanna was so shocked by the difference in Soutrik’s carriage that she nearly tripped over the ropes on the dock from staring at her and not watching where she was walked.
A quick change into the only Sharan clothes she owned, a supposed gift of the Sh’boan and Sh’botay exiled on this island, was required, and Soutrik changed quickly, adding her fur-lined cloak over her leather trench coat.
“That’s an odd combination.” Melanna remarked as she arranged her Brown fringe shawl over her shoulders.
“From what I gather from information from my dearly departed mother, and from Elise, the Sh’boan and Sh’botay exiled here are not allowed to receive information from Shara. They most likely don’t know that I am also, Ayyad, or Accepted of the White Tower, unless Jantica told them, and I highly doubt that. They must not see my tattoos until I am sure where I stand among them.”
“Why not just create an Illusion?” Melanna was flippant about the use of the One Power for such things, and rolled her eyes in frustration at Soutrik, “Concealment and Illusion are very similar to each other, and you have the Talent.”
“I do not know if any of the Sh’boan that are here can channel, and I need not to risk letting them suspect that I can. That is, until the time is right, and only I will know when that is. Please Melanna, keep quiet at this meeting.”
“Accepted, you will not take that tone with me.” Melanna crossed her arms before her chest.
“My dear Aes Sedai, these people are not used to speaking to anyone except each other, their slaves, and Ayyad. You are not among that number and will be seen as an outsider intruding upon Sharan business. If you aren’t flogged on the spot, and you are tolerated, I will be greatly surprised. Keep your mouth shut and observe. I need you to be my eyes in places I cannot be. If all goes well, I may just deliver Shara into the hands of the White Tower.”
“What are you planning?” Melanna’s eyes narrowed as Soutrik sighed.
“I guess now is as good as time as any to let you in on exactly what I have been up to.” Soutrik laid out her plans for Melanna to assess the abilities of the Sh’boan present on the island, and the possibility of teaching the Windfinder’s of Soutrik’s Clan how to weave GateWays. She spelled out the plans for invasion of Shara with the help of the fixed bracelets worn by the Sh’boans and Sh’botays, Windfinders, and the army of her Clan lead by her new Wavemistress Triste, and Triste’s new Cargomaster, Rouste. Melanna blinked at that last bit of information.
“Triste is a Wavemistress. She needed a Cargomaster, and a ship. I gave her mine. In exchange for that, and for the sole trade rights with all of Shara, we will have the entire Clan for the invasion and quite possibly a few more Clans if Triste’s messenger ships arrive at their destinations as expected. Which means, many Windfinders, all strong channelers, to use those many bracelets, which I am hoping that you and Sven will fix as you did for me with Mackenzie Sedai’s help.” Soutrik sighed. She knew it was a long shot, but she had to proceed with the plan that she and Evangeline Sedai had spoke about. Freeing the slaves of Shara, and the Sharan people from the rule of the Ayyad was more important than anything except Sven and the Shawl to Soutrik.
Soutrik stepped from the sedan chair, Sven close at her right shoulder, and stared up at the exact replica, only one third the size, of the Imperial Palace. Melanna gasped slightly. “Is this what your architechture looks like? It is like nothing I have seen before. The arches, and striped columns, and the tile? What on earth is that?” Melanna pointed to a creature standing on one thin leg in the midst of the water feature lavishly covered in lotus plants on either side of the footbridge they crossed. “It’s…it’s…”
“It’s Pink!” Sven’s voice was as amused as Soutrik had ever heard it be.
“That, my dear Aes Sedai, my darling Svendahla, is just how pink the flamingo really is.” They both looked at her as she giggled. She blinked, “Haven’t you ever seen a flamingo before? They are quite common birds in Shara. Pink and white, but mostly pink, and mostly shocking bright pink at that.”
“How pink the flamingo really is? Soutrik, you are…” Sven stopped as Soutrik shook her head and creased her brow.
“You are only to call me ‘My Empress Sh’boan’ from here on in. Both of you. Do not call me Soutrik. My name here is Aloysha Delphic, but that is reserved only for those people of my own class and station, namely, other Sh’boan or Sh’botay. They will not look kindly on you if you call me anything but ‘My Empress Sh’boan’ for it will be putting yourself in their station, of their rank, which you are clearly not…to them that is.” Melanna sighed and rolled her eyes again, Sven only smirked and muttered something under his breath. Soutrik hoped they understood.
Lyndia joined them from behind catching the last bit, “Yes, My Empress Sh’boan.”
“Thank you, Lyndia.” Soutrik smiled at her Windfinder.
The quartet moved through the courtyard following Tabitha to the main chamber. There in the long mostly darkened chamber sat seven figures on large blue velvet cushions trimmed in silver. Each figure was adorned in the finest green silk robes with different scenes of the Sharan landscape hand embrodied on them. Two woman, and five men sat shrouded in semi-darkness, all but their eyes hard to discern. The man in the middle spoke with a deep basso voice.
“Greetings, my Daughter. I bid you welcome to your new home.” The regal man eyed the trio surrounding Soutrik and motioned with his bracelet laiden left arm at them, “send your slaves to the kitchens, there is plenty for them to eat there.”
“Slaves?” Sven muttered under his breath and took a step forward but Soutrik stopped him with a hand gesture. She looked up at him, around the edge of her fur-lined cloak that hid her tattoos, and noted that the look on his face was a very dangerous one. She knew that not many had seen that look and lived to tell about it. She needed to straighten this matter out quickly before the Sh’botay insulted the easily bruised pride of the new Aes Sedai that was sniffing and adjusting her Brown fringed Shawl as he spoke.
“Not slaves, my honorable Sh’botay.”
The man leaned back in his cushion, “You brought no slaves with you from Shara? The Ayyad allowed each of us to bring all of our slaves, why is this different with you?”
“Before I answer all of your questions, my most gracious and understanding Sh’botay, may I ask whom I have the pleasure of being presented to?” Soutrik was regal and commanding yet spoke as if to her equals, and no insults were taken by the seated ex-rulers.
“I am, Isaak Vandeveer, 19th Lord of Mateo, Keeper of the Eternal Peace, Emperor Sh’botay, husband to your sister Tamara, 24th Daughter of Delphic and father of Danaquin, your husband, or have you forgotten me so easily my daughter?”
Soutrik trembled under her cloak and held Sven’s arm for balance. The voice stirred memories she dare not delve into right here and now. “But…you’re dead.”
A small giggle went up from the seated ex-rulers. “Aren’t we all ‘dead’?”
“But,…you were assassinated by Tamara and my brothers. They were executed for killing you. I executed them! You were granted retirement? But how…the Ayyad said…”
Another amused giggled issued forth and this time a woman spoke, “I am, Anivere Destrin, 12th Daughter of Reka, Keeper of the Eternal Peace, Empress Sh’boan.” She stood and took a few steps into the light. She seemed anything but ancient and frail, but just then two more figures stood and walked towards Soutrik and her trio. They introduced themselves and Soutrik blinked in amazement. “If there is anything we have learned it is never, ever, trust an Ayyad.”
Soutrik didn’t hear the last part She was married to him, and he was married to both of them. Soutrik tried to follow all the titles and link them to the history she had been taught. These three had been the most revered Sh’boans and Sh’botay in recent history…more than one hundred years ago, but the three of them did not look past their middle fifties.
Soutrik turned a quick look to Melanna and Lyndia who both nodded their heads in agreement. These women have the ability, yet no it not. I must use that information. Soutrik then looked at Sven.
“I will have to make an assessment later, My Empress Sh’boan.” He arched a brow as he stared at the man and added a little touch of sarcasm to the title he was required to use.
Anivere continued to introduce the seated Sh’botays and Soutrik tried to keep her eyes from looking at Isaak, but he rose and walked toward her into the light. He was the spitting image of her husband, her beloved, Danaquin. She hadn’t spoken his name since the day she drove the curved dagger into his beating heart. She shook her head and mumbled something about the Ayyad under her breath.
“Yes, those damnable, cursed Ayyad. A pox upon their retched tattooed faces, those freaks!” Anivere spit the words out and all the others agreed saying similar.
Soutrik stood as tall as she could and tossed back her cloak allowing it to fall on the floor. The Sh’boans and Sh’botays gathered around her gasped when they saw the rose tattoos on her face.
“I am, Ayyad, and I would prefer that you not speak of me in that manner.” Soutrik crossed her arms and her bracelets clicked together as they touched. She embraced saidar and nodded for Melanna and Lyndia to do the same.
“She glows…and they too, they glow as well….Ayyad! Ayyad!” Anivere turned to run and Soutrik wrapped her in a Flow of Air and brought her back to the crowd gathered about her. Soutrik noted that a few of the Sh’botay shivered and itched their arms, she wondered if they could feel the women embrace and were possible channelers. The bracelets brought out the Talent in me, why not them? We are all interbred, cousins in one way or another.
“Aloysha, how did this happen? If you are Ayyad, that means that Danaquin…he must…what of Danaquin, my Daughter?” Isaak looked longingly at Soutrik and she lowered her head.
She could not look at him and she spoke to the floor, “It was the Will of the Wheel, my Father. The law of our land had to be obeyed. The Ayyad said so. Had I not been made Sh’boan, and had not these bracelets been placed upon me, I mostly likely would never have learned to channel the One Power and be Ayyad. Danaquin and I would have enjoyed many years together as the bodyguards of the Imperial Families. With my sister Tamara’s crime of assassinating you, though, she was put to death, and the Ayyad had to honor the Age old treaty of with my family, thus I was made Sh’boan.”
“But you were destined to be Sh’boan from your birth, that stupid Teresa had promised me that you would be, that is why your father and I made the agreement to wed you to Danaquin. Had I known that Tamara was to be Sh’boan, I would have arranged for her to marry him. As the fates would have it, it ended up being I who wed your, sister.” He wrung his hands in exasperation. “Those cursed Ayyad had sworn to me that you would be Sh’boan, and Danaquin Sh’botay. When they made Tamara Sh’boan, I was mortified. They gave me one option. Help them dispose of Tamara, whom was reeking havoc amongst the slaves and the common folk, by faking my own death, and I would not only be granted retirement rather than death but my son would indeed be Sh’botay. I accepted their bargain, and now look where it has wrought us.” He dropped his head in his hands and began to cry, “My Danaquin…Dana…Dana…” he mumbled and Soutrik began to sniffle holding back the tears she had longed to shed for her dead beloved.
“So, then, why have the Ayyad sent you?” Anivere was not pleased at being held in place by unseen bonds. She looked down her nose at Soutrik who stood a full head shorter than the tall and graceful ebony woman.
“They did not send me. I left Shara some years ago, after my seven years were finished. The Ayyad were not going to offer me a generous retirement as they did you, and I was not going to stand for the alternative.”
“But you are Ayyad? How can they do that to their own kind?” Anivere was perplexed and so were the others who mumbled. “You were Sh’boan and Ayyad? How could they not offer you retirement?”
“Let me tell you something that the Ayyad learned about me, Anivere.” Soutrik paused and weaving a slight weave of Illusion, she caused herself to grow and used Flows of Spirit and Air to enhance her voice making it thunderous, she reached a good head taller than Sven in her Illusion and looked down at her fellow Sharan’s, “I am more than Empress Sh’boan, or Ayyad, Anivere, I am hope for a new Shara. The Ayyad fear me, Anivere, and for good reason.”
“Yes, I am sure they do, especially if you treated them how you are treating me, young one!” Anivere spoke with a hiss as she struggled in the bonds of Air.
Soutrik released the woman, and saidar. Melanna and Lyndia still held the Power and Soutrik smiled slightly, knowing that Anivere was untrained and probably couldn’t even grasp saidar. “Anivere, I apologize. We have gotten off the subject and to a rocky start. Let me explain, please.”
“In mixed company?” Isaak eyed Sven up and down, and the Golden Swan took it with ease, the embodiment of composure.
Soutrik envied Sven in that regards, his emotions were masked so well. She wondered if he was embracing saidin and dwelt within the Void. When he did that he always looked and sounded cold. Except when we are making love. She blushed at her own thoughts for a split second and tried to take control of her emotions so she could control the situation she was faced with.
“These are my trusted advisors. I give you my word as a Sh’boan, and I swear on the Delphic Family’s honor that these three can be trusted with the most sensitive information.”
“You flatter me, My Empress Sh’boan.” Sven’s voice held mild contempt for being spoken about as if he was not present, while he WAS present, although he smiled at her with the dancing light in his eyes that told her he understood and loved her no less.
“May I present Lyndia, the Windfinder to Triste, the Wavemistress of the Rusty Nail, Melanna Sedai, Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah, Sister of the White Tower, and Svenson GoldSwan of Saldea…” Soutrik paused for a moment as a tight felt silence gripped the room, “Accepted of the White Tower…” she eyed Isaak and searched for strength within her to finish her statement. Her mouth felt dry like the sands of Tunisia and she licked her licks lightly, “and my…” she looked up at Sven and wondered how she could relate their commitment to one another in words that truly explained it, and found her vocabulary lacking. She struck out with the closest description that she could, “my beloved partner.”
Silence. Nothing more than silence filled the chamber. Soutrik looked at her fellow Sharan’s before her, noting the look of shock on their faces.
“You said these ‘people’ are your trusted advisors. What pray tell do they advise you in, Aloysha?” Anivere tried to suppress her disgust, eyeing Sven head to toe.
“I am sure she will explain what she means,” Isaak looked at his former daughter-in-law, “and how all this has come about.” He clapped his hands crisply and his slaves appeared as if from nowhere with trays of food and drinks, and cushions for the guests to sit on. “Come, Aloysha, explain about the Ayyad, and what this is all about.”
Hours flew by and slaves scurried near and far baring goblets and pitchers, platters and tureens. Soutrik explained how she learned of the plot to kill her, and how she managed to escape Shara with the help of her now deceased slave girl Matille. Glancing sideways at Sven a few times, Soutrik continued to relate the story of her memory loss and how she came into the hands of the Sea Folk and the White Tower. She started to explain about her training at the White Tower, when something dawned on her. She looked at the woman seated on the very end, Anivere had named her, Akana A’numan, and the man seated between Anivere and Akana, husband to them both was Koitobi Umanais! Soutrik’s heart pounded and she was glad that Melanna began to speak describing to the ex-rulers the White Tower and it’s desires for relations with Shara.
Soutrik searched her memory and recalled the words Evangeline Sedai had spoken to her, so long ago, words that haunted her, and were now realized as the turning of the Wheel. She whispered under her breath as she took in the revelation before her, and her mind flashed back to that distant day when she was set upon her quest like a hound.
"You recognized me as Ayyad, though through my own folly," she started. She did not know how to breach the subject of her past, but breach it she would. "Though, my first impulse was to serve you, when you called yourself Sh'boan, my second impulse was to kill you." Evangeline stopped for a moment. Maybe she was being too candid about the situation. It was too late now, so she continued on. "You see child, my mother was Akana A'numan, Sh'boan of Shara. I was told she had gone down in history, as the most hated ruler. You may recognize the family crest," she said as she turned her hand upward. Soon an image of a bird encircled in flames appeared and rotated on her hand. She never knew the name of that bird, but it was burned into her memory as it once was burned onto her body.
"Her lover, my father, took her place seven years after I was born, thus making me her child when she began being Sh'boan. I was not loved by her, but in fact considered a curse by her. When I was tested and marked as Ayyad, she quickly disposed of me to my father, Koitobi Umanais. That man loved me, and took care of me, and because of him, I lived my first fourteen years of life in his protection, away from becoming a slave. But he died on my fourteenth birthday, and since I was not trained enough to protect the next Sh'boan, I was to be thrown into slavery." She fought the tears that were ready to escape. Evangeline thought she had made peace with her soul, but apparently it still plagued the recesses of her mind.
"I could not even be Sh'boan. I, Kusansa A'numan Unanais, was now outcast, because I had no siblings or other family to tie me to a family name. So I was left with only the teachings my father gave me during his time as Sh'botay. I learned about the world, and about history, and most importantly, about a land that did not have slaves. This land, where I stand now, was my dream, the place I wanted to be.”
“Your Kusana’s mother?!” It was a question and a statement of fact all at the same time and Soutrik watched Akana’s face drain of color.
“Where did you hear that name?” Akana squinted her eyes at Soutrik, yet Soutrik was unphased. She leaned over to Melanna and Sven and spoke softly. Melanna and Sven’s eyebrows rose in unison as they stared at the ebony colored woman who was starting to get impatient.
“Kusana is an Aes Sedai of the White Tower. She was the one that started me on my quest to free Shara.”
“She’s alive!?” Koitobi’s eyes showed a strange fear that had not been there earlier and Soutrik wondered if this could be the edge she was looking for.
Soutrik explained Kusana’s (aka Evangeline Sedai) journey with the Aiel and her years at the White Tower, “She is far from being Ayyad, and will never return to Shara until slavery is abolished.”
“Abolish slavery?” Anivere wrinkled her nose at the thought. “You have got to be joking. Shara’s economy is based on slavery. How would we ever survive without it?”
“Well, for starters, if the Ayyad stopped killing all their sons, right there, there is a largely unused population. If the Ayyad came out of hiding and helped the people do the things that the slaves are usually used for like the mining of ore. It takes an Aes Sedai one-tenth the time to delve for ore than it does for slaves to mine it. Now that saidin is cleansed, men could be tested for the ability and there could be great strides made in many forms of industry.”
“May I mention that within the countries currently held by the Dragon Reborn, and their surrounding neighbor nations, slavery has been outlawed for Ages. Servants are paid for their services, and the rulers of the nations still are able to live in the manner that you are accustomed to.” Melanna Sedai spoke in a matter of fact tone.
“It is about human dignity, my dear Sh’boan, and as an Athan’a Miere, I must say that I am disgusted by your uses of these people. I must admit I never knew of the bargain that was made between your Ayyad and the Mistress of Ships so long ago, or that Sh’boan and Sh’botay from Shara lived here on Tremalking. BUT, here on this island, slavery is not allowed, and now that I have seen for myself that your ‘attendants’ are truly slaves, I must report this to our Clan Council and to Wavemistress Triste. Your bargain and sanctuary may very well be at an end.” Lyndia’s tone was all to clear. She was deadly serious. This Windfinder did not make idle threats.
Soutrik whipped her head around her eyes large and glaring at Lyndia. She realized that Lyndia would tell Triste no matter what she had to say, so thinking quickly she decided to make her move. “I have much to offer you, and I don’t see how you can refuse me. Shara is our homeland, we her beloved rulers.” Soutrik smiled as she looked at Akana whom she knew was far from loved. “We took oaths. We swore with our blood to protect Shara and her people. The time has come. Anivere, Akana, and Koitobi, you all have the ability to learn to channel, just as I did. It may not have been the spark that comes with being born, but it is there thanks to those bracelets that the Ayyad gave you. Sven has not finished assessing the others yet, but I am sure the results will be the same. The Ayyad in their desire to control us, have given us a great gift, the means of their own undoing.” Soutrik sat forward on her cushion and drank from her golden goblet in a quick gulp. “Wavemistress Triste has agreed to send the Clan’s fleet to Shara, to carry troops for an invasion on all Shara’s coastline. For this service she asks exclusive sea trade with Shara. Melanna, Sven, and the Windfinder’s will teach you how to channel, well, a crash course really, and they will fix the flaws in those bracelets of yours. The Windfinder’s will be with you until you have learned to control your own strength with the Power, and with the use of those bracelets,” Soutrik smiled most wickedly, “the Ayyad forces in the Capitol will have no chance against you.” Soutrik embraced through all of her bracelets and glowed like the sun to all the women who could channel in the room, she cast a small delving weave into the floor and began to shake the entire palace with a slow rumble. The Sharan’s eyes were fixed upon her, “And that was a small demonstration of just my strength. With the one hundred Windfinder’s I can provide you and the seven of you, and your one hundred and ninety six bracelets in total, you could wipe the Ayyad completely out of the Pattern. Still, I do need your assistance.”
“You need our assistance?” Anivere gawked at Soutrik. “I should say so!”
“I need you each to Travel with me to Shara first and meet with your families. Between our eight family lines we can mass an army. I believe that if we reveal the truth about the Ayyad to our families they will support us. They all think us dead. Can you imagine if we walked in and explained that they have been lied to and manipulated by the Ayyad?”
“But you are Ayyad, Aloysha, or have you forgotten?” Akana’s voice was not kind and almost matched Anivere’s for its bitterness.
Soutrik wove a simple weave of Illusion and inverted the weaves, hiding her rose facial tattoos. The Sharan’s gasped, as did Lyndia, the Windfinder, who had never seen such a demonstration before. “I believe that will not be a problem.” Soutrik continued in her plans.
“Traveling to Shara? How are we to get there unnoticed? Come now, your fantasy is flawed, young one?” Anivere leaned back proud of herself that she had pointed out a flaw in Soutrik’s plan.
“Yes, daughter,” Isaak chimed in, “how will you overcome that?”
“Melanna, Sven?” Soutrik stood and held out her hands allowing Sven and Melanna to grasp them. They each embraced the Power and linked together. Sven passed control of the circle to Melanna, and she, pulling on Soutrik’s bracelets, opened a GateWay. Lyndia and Soutrik memorized the weaves, for Soutrik had not been taught how the Aes Sedai wove a GateWay, for that was knowledge reserved for full Sisters, although she herself had opened one that fateful night when she sleepwalked her way back to Shara.
The vertical slash spun open and revealed a hillside over looking the valley that led to Dragonmount, and to the River Erinin, and finally to the island city of Tar Valon. “There in the distance, that is the White Tower.” Melanna spoke casual proud of herself for stupefying the assembled people.
“It’s a trick!” Anivere spoke always the skeptic.
“It is no trick.” Melanna closed the GateWay.
“It is, it is a trick. You are no better than the Ayyad!” Anivere crossed her arms and glared at Melanna.
“Anivere, it is no trick.” Soutrik turned to Melanna, “May I demonstrate Melanna or she will never believe.” Melanna nodded her head and passed the link to Soutrik.
Soutrik copied Melanna’s weaves and focused on the Imperial Palace’s throne room in Shara. She hoped that nobody was there at the moment. Soutrik knew that Anivere would never believe unless she saw it for herself. Soutrik opened the GateWay in the middle of the throne room, which was thankfully empty at the moment except for the ivory jewel encrusted thrones. The gathered ex-rulers were silent and grim. They all believed that they would never again behold this room, and here they were staring at it. “This is no illusion. You must trust me.” Soutrik walked towards Isaak and took his hands in hers. Her heart pounded when she touched him thinking of Danaquin and how much she had loved him. She pulled Isaak to his feet and walked him towards the GateWay, stepping through it into the throne room. The rest of the Sharan’s followed and they stared about them in wonder. Akana began to cry and shake.
“My Empress Sh’boan, this is dangerous. You have proved your point.” Lyndia’s voice was crisp and stern and she gave Soutrik a few hand signals that told her she felt channeling not too far away. The Ayyad were alerted to their presence all the while the GateWay was open. “Come we must go back.”
The group stepped back through the GateWay to Tremalking. “I hope they can not trace that.” Melanna clutched her skirts and shook her finger at Soutrik.
“Tracing is not among the Talents of the Ayyad. Neither is GateWay making, Melanna. There is nothing to worry about.” Soutrik turned her attention back to the Sharan’s. “I offer you the chance to return home, the chance to learn to wield the One Power, the chance to free the slaves of Shara, and free the people from the Ayyad.” Soutrik saved the best bit for last, “I offer you a chance to return to rule.”
“What?” A simultaneous question was raised in seven voices.
“I propose that for your cooperation, and sacrifices, that once we overthrow the Ayyad, we establish a ruling council, made up of you seven, and one member of each other the remaining higher families, totaling eleven. I also suggest that we allow each township to select a representative and send them to the Capitol to create an assembly of the people. The only way to keep Shara together is to have the support of the masses. Armies are good when there is need for battle, but maintaining peace is what the goal should be.”
“Don’t you mean there will be 12 on the ruling council. What of you?” Isaak looked at Soutrik with deep questioning eyes.
“I will be Aes Sedai, Isaak, I cannot be on the ruling council. I am merely Accepted of the White Tower, and I must finish my training.” Soutrik’s voice was calm and her eyes down cast.
“You offer all of us power beyond our comprehension and you expect us to believe that you want nothing in return.” Anivere was still not prepared to give up her suspicious nature.
“Aloysha, daughter, I always knew that you had a pure heart.” Isaak smiled, “You are your father’s daughter most definitely.” Isaak turned to his fellow Sharan’s and nodded his head. “You will excuse us a moment.” The Sharan’s left the room leaving the quartet standing about staring at each other.
“I am proud of you, Soutrik. Turning down the opportunity to be a ruler of your land, that was most humble. I am glad to see where your loyalties lie.” Melanna crossed her arms under her breasts and smiled as the brown fringe of her shawl swayed with her movement. “You are a good negotiator, you sure you want to be Yellow and not Grey?”
Soutrik chuckled and smiled at Melanna. Just then the Sharan’s reentered the room, Isaak taking the lead, “We accept you offer, Aloysha, on one condition.”
“And that is?” Soutrik was eager to hear what her price would be.
“That after you become Aes Sedai, you return to us and take your place among us on the ruling council.” Isaak’s eyes glistened with hope.
“It shall be so, Isaak.” Was all Soutrik said. The deal had been struck and the time to prepare for the invasion was now.
Anivere and Soutrik stepped through the GateWay onto Sharan soil, well outside the grounds of Anivere’s family’s palace. Sven and Melanna followed closely behind, stepping off the skimming platform and through the GateWay hardly a heartbeat behind Soutrik. They had opened the GateWay on the top of a far away hill. Between their location and the family palace stood a small, unwalled town fifty times larger than most of the towns and villages in Saldea. The quartet made their way through the town headed for the family palace.
It was more an overgrown village, really, few of the brick and stone buildings more than a single story high and only the inns rising as much as three, with roofs of wooden shingles or thatch as slate or tile. Now the streets, most hard-packed dirt, were thronged with people. The townsfolk were of every sort of shade of brown to dark black blue. Melanna’s eyes followed the few white people she did see, dressed in definitely lower class clothing. She opened her mouth to say something to Soutrik, but quickly saw the error that was coming and cut it off her question. Soutrik turned on Melanna and spoke for her ears only.
“You may have questions Melanna, save them for later. Slaves here do not speak unless they are spoken to. Keep your head down and do not draw attention to yourself.” Soutrik pulled her cloak farther down and made sure her bracelets were covered. She looked over at Anivere who did the same.
The townspeople hurried about their business, for the most part ignoring Melanna and Sven, who were dressed as ragged as any of the slaves about. Everywhere rode breatplated horseman in bell shaped helmets with lances and swords. Hawkers wove through the masses with their trays, crying spools of thread and silver ornaments, and ointments they claimed would be good for any wound from blisters and watery bowels to fever and heart pains. The din was such that any hawkers bellows were swallowed up three or four paces away.
Keeping her voice low Anivere spoke, “It has gone extraordinarily well with the other families, but mine is stubborn to say the least. Isaak should have accompanied us. They would agree more readily with him here to plead our case.”
“He would have drawn too much attention. With the four of us here we are Ayyad, Great Lady, and a personal attendant for each. Isaak would stand out.” Soutrik tried to keep most of her thoughts to herself. She had distanced herself from Isaak these past weeks trying to avoid having to tell him the whole story about the death of his son, her first husband, Danaquin. She used many excuses to avoid him, training the slave troops, his needed hours training with Sven in the use of saidin, anything to avoid staring into that face that was so like her dead husband’s face it had renewed her nightmares that she had all but vanquished in her Novice days.
Thunder rolled across the low, brown grassland hills in a continuous peal, though the sky held not a cloud, only the burning sun, still with a way to climb. Soutrik knew that beyond those hills was the great desert that gave Shara one of its many names, Tunisia. She longed to divert their journey into the desert just briefly. None of the other Great family’s lived so close to the desert, and she hadn’t seen it since the fourth year of her own reign. She slowed her pace a moment as a Bedouin tribesman and his family moved slowly with their camels through the village, carpets and tents neatly rolled, bodies draped in light fabric so reminiscent of the desert. Her heart yearned for it, but she knew that her task at hand was more important.
They reached the gates of the Great family’s palace and the guards snapped to attention as they saw Soutrik’s tattoos on her face. “Greetings and honor to the Ayyad!” They fell each to one knee briefly then rose holding their spears next to them.
“I have come to see his Lordship. Alert him that Ayyad Aloysha has come.” The words hardly out of her mouth, and one of the guards was at a dead run. Moments later a slave woman dressed in palace livery scurried forth from the antechamber of the palace and fell upon her young face of maybe twenty years.
“Greetings and honor to the Ayyad. Greetings to her Great Ladyship.” The slave rose and backed out of the way, turned then lead the group through the antechamber and hallways of the palace.
Anivere held a stiff upper lip, but Soutrik could tell this was most difficult for her. She had been on Tremalking at least fifty years, and had not seen her old family home in at least that long if not longer. Tears were welling in her eyes. Soutrik proffered a handkerchief. Anivere snatched it and glared at Soutrik with less than grateful eyes.
“His Lordship will be here to attend you Ayyad Aloysha. May I offer you wine while you wait.” The slave girl began to pour two cups of wine for Aloysha and Anivere, ignoring Sven and Melanna completely as was appropriate.
Soutrik grasped the goblet and did not thank the slave for that was not expected of an Ayyad. The slave left the room and Anivere turned to the group.
“I can’t bare this. It is too much. They will have forgotten me. It has been to long.” As the words left her mouth the door opened behind her back and his Lordship entered trailed by half a dozen slaves and secretary attendants. Anivere spun around and stared up at his Lordship, who was a ruggedly handsome man in his early seventies. “Ellian!” Anivere collapsed in a heap.
“Mother!” his Lordship followed his mother to the floor fainting dead away.
“It seems they have not forgotten.” Sven’s voice was heavy with sarcasm and Soutrik looked up at him suppressing her smile at her love’s wittiness.
“That went better than I expected.” Soutrik strode quickly through the crowd anxious to get herself back to Tremalking and the preparations for the invasion.
“Yes, if I had known my son still lived, I…” Anivere burst out crying again. For a woman in her nineties Anivere truly had little control of her flailing emotions.
Soutrik draped her arm across Anivere’s shoulders to offer comfort to the woman. Anivere pushed Soutrik’s arm from her, “I do not need your comfort!” She marched ahead of the group, spry in her old age that was moderately slowed by the Ayyad’s use of her bracelets and her inner ability to channel. Soutrik wondered how strong Anivere would be in the One Power once she worked with saidar a while.
“That ungrateful hunk of …” Soutrik lost her train of thought as Melanna snorted and chuckled under her breath slightly.
“Ah, so now you see how I have been feeling since we left Tar Valon!” Melanna arched a brow at Soutrik who turned around a little stunned.
“What do you mean by that, Melanna?” Soutrik crossed her arms under her breasts indignant.
“Oh, Light, here we go again.” Sven mumbled under his breath stopping and waiting for the catfight to begin. Anivere continued to march her way to the hilltop.
“You make my point for me, Accepted!” Melanna grabbed Soutrik’s arm and dragged her, hustling her along so quickly, Soutrik stumbled slightly. Melanna’s fury was evident on her face.
“What are you doing?” Soutrik demanded breathlessly.
“I have been more than patient and most likely altogether too lenient with you Accepted Soutrik. After I speak with Madeline Sedai, we could keep you scrubbing pots for the rest of your natural life.” Melanna kept her voice conversational. “You could work in the kitchens all day, or I could have you switched every day instead. Peel your hide off in strips. Nail you into a barrel and feed you through the bunghole in the end. Mush of course, and only stale mush for the likes of you.”
“What?” Soutrik was flabbergasted. “What are you…”
“You routinely disrespect me, you forget my honorific title, and you disregard all that the Tower has taught you. You who claim you want to be Aes Sedai so badly have been maneuvering yourself back onto your old throne. Do not doubt for a second that I don’t know what you are up to. You forget whom you are talking to. I know you well Soutrik. We shared quarters or have you forgotten? Oh so noble of you to not want to be on this ruling council you are creating! HA!”
“Melanna Sedai, you must believe me,” Soutrik protested trying to free her arm from Melanna’s vice like grip, “You said you’d…”
“Regardless of what I said, you have gone to far. Look at me! Here I stand in rags acting as your slave! I have done many things for the honor of the White Tower and yet this! The Mother would rarely ask so much of me.” Melanna glared at Soutrik.
Melanna released Soutrik as they approached the top of the hillock. She smoothed her features as if nothing were the matter and turned to Anivere, “Shall we return to Tremalking?”
Melanna opened the GateWay without saying a word and the group stepped back into the palace on Tremalking. Anivere bolted towards her quarters and Soutrik attempted to follow her, but Melanna stepped in front of her.
“You will attend me in my rooms, Accepted.” Melanna turned and headed for her quarters. Sven muffled a snort. “And you, Accepted Svenson,” Melanna used flows of Air to smack the smirk off Sven’s face, “get back to teaching those Sh’botay.”
Soutrik turned to Sven and shrugged, “What’s with her?”
Soutrik ran to keep up with Melanna, who was almost trotting. “Melanna Sedai, please forgive me, I can explain.”
“Can you? You can account for all your behavior these past few weeks. You act as if you owe me nothing, Soutrik, or shall I still call you my Empress Sh’boan?” Melanna opened her the door to her quarters with a flow of Air and banged it against the wall. She released the ward on the carpetbag and began to shuffle through her chest of drawers. Floating clothing about her room she began to pack.
“What are you doing?”
“I am leaving on the first vessel back to Tar Valon, or better yet, I might just GateWay there immediately.”
“Wait, Melanna Sedai. I am sorry. I can explain…”
“You keep saying that. You can explain why you have forgotten all that I have done for you. Who was it that sat up with you night after night when you were plagued with nightmares? Who was it that helped you keep your relationship with Sven a secret while you were a Novice? Who was it that Healed you when you were on your death bed? Hmmm? Speechless ay? Well that’s a first!” Melanna slammed the lid to her trunk.
Soutrik slumped onto Melanna’s bed. “I can’t help this Melanna Sedai. I must do what I am doing to save Shara. I have made certain promises.” Soutrik did not want to tell Melanna that Evangeline had done something to her with what Soutrik suspected was a Compulsion weave.
“What? Explain yourself!”
Soutrik looked down at her shoes and felt like she was a Novice all over again. Melanna Sedai loomed over her, arms crossed under her breasts. The new Aes Sedai had that patented Aes Sedai look across her face and Soutrik knew there was no way out of the explanation so she spilled everything.
“She WHAT?!” Melanna tried to sit on her trunk and missed it landing on the floor with a thump. “I can’t believe she would do that. Evangeline? No!” Soutrik simply nodded her head.
“Yes, I constantly feel compelled to save Shara, at any costs, even to myself. If I don’t, well, I ache, and feel itchy all over. I haven’t gotten a good nights rest unless I am utterly exhausted. Many have thought I was throwing myself into my studies with extra vigor since I am so close to the Shawl. It is true I do enjoy my studies, Melanna Sedai, but mostly it is to keep me occupied so that I am not burdened with this inner Compulsion.”
Melanna nodded her head and thought back to Mackenzie’s speculation about someone placing a weave on Soutrik which constantly activated her bracelets, thus causing that terrible episode not long before this most recent journey began.
“I believe you, Accepted. Yet, I will no longer tolerate your disrespectfulness. Keep a lid on it, or you will be howling before we reach the Tower. Understand?”
“Yes, Aes Sedai. Melanna?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Can you ever forgive me?”
Melanna arched a brow ready to be stern, but looking upon Soutrik’s tired, sagging shoulders, and truly noting for the first time the dark circles under the Accepted’s eyes, Melanna acquiesced her anger and moved to Soutrik’s side, embracing her as she sat on the bed.
“We are and shall remain friends, Soutie.” The two women held each other in the silent night.
Long preparations for the invasion were over, and all was ready. Soutrik stood at the front of her battalion of slave troops, Svenson at her side. Melanna was busy with the Sh’boans and Sh’botay weaving GateWays for them, and the few Windfinder's she had taught to weave GateWays to the appointed message spots, to the spots were they would rendezvous with their family’s armies at various Shara ports and cities. Melanna approached Soutrik and Sven.
“It is underway. I have received the first message from the Windfinders. Three of the southern ports are well under way towards collapse.” Melanna handed Soutrik some papers.
Grasping the reports Soutrik steadied her nerves, “Shall we begin? Where is Anivere?”
“She was loosing her breakfast the last I saw her.” Sven was trying to maintain a calm outward appearance, but Soutrik could see the tension in his eyes.
Anivere strode next to Soutrik leading her gray stallion. A slave boy moved wooden steps into position for Anivere and she mounted her stead. “I am ready to reclaim my birthright.”
Soutrik arched a brow at Anivere who had been less than enthusiastic about the invasion since its inception four months ago. A churning began in Soutrik’s stomach and she herself felt like hurling. She had done so a few times the last two weeks at different times during the day. Melanna was worried that the Compulsion weave was starting to affect her. Soutrik tried to stand strong, but honestly she was worried. She hadn’t seen Elise in a long time, and now they were leaving Tremalking for Shara. Soutrik nodded and linked with Sven, then Melanna, pulling heavily on her sa’angreals. Melanna opened a long GateWay in the grand square in the middle of the Imperial Palace of Shara.
“Attack!” Soutrik’s voice boomed above the standing army and her troops poured through the GateWay, hundreds passing through in mere moments.
Melanna, Sven, Soutrik and Anivere stepped through. Soutrik headed for the walls and main gate to let Anivere’s family’s army through. If all was going as planned they had begun their attack this morning and the Imperial army and the Ayyad would be distracted engaging them on the North side of the palace. Soutrik’s troops would surround them, taking them by surprise.
Arrows whizzed passed her group, as Soutrik headed for the walls. Men jumped out from behind walls, and Sven took down one after the other with balls of Fire and by exploding the earth beneath them. Soutrik had armed herself with many daggers, her crossbow slung across her back. She moved with deadly skill at Sven’s side, dagger’s flashing. She cut a guardsman’s throat and took his sword, and began to use it to hack her way towards the walls.
The battle raged and Soutrik hoped to the Light that the rest of the Sh’boan and Sh’botay were doing as well as they were. She crossed her fingers thinking about the Windfinder’s and their troops who should be landed at all the ports and engaged in battle as well. The mass invasion was twice as large as Hawkwing’s daughters. Triste had come through as she promised she would and brought four of the other twelve Sea Folk Clans into the fold. The Ayyad will fail this time! Soutrik stayed her nerves and pressed forward, finding the stairs to the walls and jumping up them two at a time.
Reaching the top of the walls all her hopes and dreams came crashing to a hault. Anivere’s family army was nowhere to be seen. Soutrik felt sick in the pit of her stomach. She turned and looked back over the Imperial Square. The Imperial troops were hacking her slaves to bits, and the Ayyad were massing in the distant corner of the square.
“NO!” Soutrik held herself in check, wanting badly to send lightening bolts in the Ayyad’s direction. “NO! NO! Melanna!” Melanna was at Soutrik’s side in a moment, her face smeared with blood.
“Where are the reinforcements, Soutrik?” Melanna gasped as she peered out over the tops of the walls at empty fields, “Our distraction?”
“ANIVERE!” Soutrik growled, “She betrayed us!”
Melanna’s face went white, and she opened a GateWay to the designated message point. A slave on Tremalking ran to the GateWay with reports in her hands. Melanna closed the GateWay just as lightening bolts rained down upon their location.
“Oh, Light!” Soutrik’s voice was tight. She readied her crossbow, and shot bolt after bolt into the mass of people battling below them in the square.
“They sensed the GateWay, Melanna. Don’t do that again.” Sven barked at her, as he returned lightening on the Ayyad’s position. Soutrik knew he was right. They could not feel him channel, but they could certainly feel Melanna.
“What do they say?”
“All is well with everyone else’s plan but ours. Anivere must have betrayed us. Where is she?”
In the midst of all the commotion, Anivere had removed herself from the scene. Her mount was visible but she was nowhere upon it or around it. Soutrik tried not to panic. She knew that the Imperial Palace held many troops, but more importantly, it held several dozen Ayyad. Soutrik wondered if the three of them could hold off that many Ayyad, even with her bracelets. Plans had been laid, but what use were they to her now. No more were needed.
A shrieking flood of palace servants fled in all directions, away from the Square. They fled just in time. Soutrik’s wildly screaming slave army was starting to make headway with Sven blowing up the Imperial army right and left.
Soutrik looked out over her former home. She felt terribly ruining it so, but this was necessary. For Shara! The Ayyad had no way of telling what was happening since Sven was channeling, but Soutrik would bet her eye teeth that Anivere was spilling her guts to them right now about the situation. “I have got to find that traitor.”
“But our vantage point here, Soutrik; we shouldn’t leave the walls. The battle…” Melanna’s voice was tense.
“Melanna, we are outnumbered, and have no reinforcements, not even from Tremalking. Anivere has sold us into bondage if we are caught. Do you understand?” Soutrik was tense and grit her teeth.
“You want to leave your troops?” Melanna sounded concerned.
“Do I want to? Of course I don’t WANT to! There are but a few dozen left, Melanna. They were more slaves than troops, and were really only intended to be a mop up crew, not the main force. This is hopeless.” Soutrik shook her head. “If everyone else succeeds, we still will have lost the capitol city. The largest Ayyad concentration is here Melanna. Not in the palace, but in the surrounding hillside townships. We will have to leave this up to the other armies. It will take them months to march here, and I am afraid that we will be unable to stay here a few moments longer, hardly enough time to accomplish much.” Soutrik’s mind whirled. She had started an invasion, but was unable to finish it. She hoped that Triste was okay, and somewhere inside she knew she was. “Well, at least we will free parts of Shara.” Soutrik felt a small tingle in her mind as if something within her melted.
Spotting a flash off in the distance, Soutrik embraced the source and with her power enhanced eyes, saw Anivere streaking towards the Ayyad. Even at such a distance, Soutrik could see the Ayyad’s reaction. Anivere was struck down with harsh flows of Air and Spirit practically split in two. “I guess I will not have to find the traitor after all.” Soutrik pointed out the situation to Melanna. “What a waste. Her bracelets would have been useful.”
Melanna looked from Soutrik to Svenson in wonderment. Sven had been handling the situation well, as she knew he would, but she had no idea that Soutrik could be so callous about the loss of her own troops. Melanna was shocked to say the least.
“Come, I will sound the retreat and we will move our troops back to Tremalking. We will live to fight another day.” Soutrik gave Sven a nod and they began their decent off the wall. Melanna stayed close to the pair looking about wondering how she had ever gotten herself into this mess. Soutrik send out a blast of sound with flows of Spirit and Air quickly as they moved their position before the Ayyad could attack them focusing on her weaves.
The trio snuck around trees and potted plants. Off in the distance, the palace gates opened an Ayyad flooded into the Square. “Oh, Light! We must leave NOW! Melanna open the GateWay, quickly.” Soutrik sounded the retreat again and only a dozen or so troops made it to there position. Melanna opened the GateWay and the bloody mass of her remaining troops poured back on to Tremalking soil. Melanna closed the GateWay just as the Ayyad were about 50 yards from them.
Soutrik and Sven embraced each other, and she began to cry, shaking her head, “That damnable Anivere. Wretched woman!”
The messenger slave ran to Melanna Sedai and handed her more reports. “The other battles have been successful, Soutrik. Shara is on it’s way to being free.”
A glimmer of hope blossomed in Soutrik’s eyes as she clutched Svenson for support, still in a stupor and fury over being betrayed yet again by a fellow Sharan. “Then we have accomplished something, haven’t we?”
Silence. It was too soon. No congratulations. No consolations. Melanna stood holding the reports in her hands, saddened for Soutrik.
Soutrik shook her head and mumbled, “Someday. I vow it.” Defiantly Soutrik released Sven and opened a GateWay without asking Melanna’s permission back onto the bloody Imperial Square. She stepped partially through and amplified her voice with the One Power, “It is not done between us, Ayyad! Aloysha Delphic will see your heads on pikes! I shall return!” She stepped back through the GateWay and it snapped closed.
She turned to Melanna and Sven who looked at her with odd expressions. “Shall we go home, love?” she walked towards him, pressing her bloody cheek to his chest, wrapping her arms about his middle and sighing.