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The Wheel Turns
#4
The days began to blend.

No further word came from the Brown halls, and Nythadri would not chance approaching Malaika directly. It would seem a suspicious interest at best, else might only serve to remind her of an anomaly already forgotten. The matter would have to rest in the uneasy bed she had made it, and light send it stayed there. Still, it itched at her sometimes, the worry that all her secrets might be scoured bare without her knowledge; that slow gears began to turn inexorably towards the court of judgement.

She spared time to visit the city, but the Asha’man Araya was no longer in Tar Valon. Hana welcomed her nonetheless, serving hot tea and cinnamon glazed oat-cakes on the scarred kitchen table. Little changed in her stern manner at hosting an Aes Sedai when last an Accepted knocked on her door, and she did not ask about Jai. By the hearth Korene stretched out on jewel-toned cushions embroidered in a garish clash of colours, head buried in a book. A small brown puppy that had not been here the last time gnawed at one of the braided tassels.

She left feeling troubled, though she could not say why.

A dreary afternoon reflected her mood. Back at the Tower she half-watched a dozen trainees dancing with wooden blades under the supervision of a red-haired gaidin with gold discs for eyes, absently twisting the serpent ring around her finger. A brisk wind tugged the wool cloak about her shoulders, the silver-threaded waves sewn at its hem flapping like the sea against shore. She didn’t bother to pull it close. One of the gaidin hooked a foot on the fence beside her, forearms resting on the top rung, nimble fingers laced loosely together. Kabryn Asoor was barely taller than she, wiry and tough as old leather. Black curls coiled close to his skull, flecked with white, and a hairless scar dissected one cheek of his thick beard.

“Doesn’t do much for the soul to watch an Aes Sedai ragged around like a kitten by a mastiff.”

“That’s what you presume I was thinking?” she asked dryly, pale eyes meeting his. She already knew the mirth she would find there, and was not disappointed by the white slash of his smile. None softened her own features, but it was part of the game they played when he found her here -- shirking duties, as she usually called it, because it needled him to do so.

“Ah, I would not dare presume, Aes Sedai.” He laughed. “But you stare so intently I wondered if you were waiting for an invitation.”

This time she did smirk.

They spoke for a while, of careless things and not. He was one of Maylis’s, and free enough with his tongue in the company of his Aes Sedai’s Ajah sister -- at least to the tune she suspected Maylis wished her to dance. The woman herself had extended a motherly wing in the days since Nythadri’s raising; surprising given her somewhat fearsome exterior, until one realised she was as a lioness to cubs. Some of the younger Greens spared amused glances for the blithe way Nythadri accepted the association. But Maylis was Altaran, one born and raised long before the Seanchan occupation of her city, and her fierce nature never forgave it; she still kept an ear to such currents. Parsed amongst the other pieces of worldly gossip Kabryn had to share was the rumour of skirmishes despite Arad Doman’s recent treaty, little more than shadowy hearsay -- and unclear upon which shore they might pester. Still, that news troubled her.

He bowed before he left, still with that grinning glint in his eye, and mentioned in passing that perhaps she would drop in on Maylis this evening. The ulterior motive to his pleasant conversation she supposed. Nythadri glanced up at the sky, and decided to seek shelter. The thump and slap of wood on flesh faded behind.

She was on the paths of the grounds when someone came up beside her. 

Talin’s grip pinched unexpected on her arm, sparking irritation. Except Nythadri had never seen anything approaching the expression she wore now, colour drained, jaw tight. “Please trust me,” she said, tugging Nythadri into step alongside. “Just walk.” Inky hair brushed Nythadri’s shoulders as she twisted to seek the cause of the alarm, but nothing appeared amiss. Her heels dragged slower, a frown pursing her lips for the claws of urgency. The grounds were quiet, probably because of the bleak weather. Around them the air swelled with the distant promise of rain, robbing the day’s last hours of sunlight early. A few white-robed girls scurried along paths in the distance, clutching pale cloaks about their shoulders. The only person closer was a woman on one of the benches, elbows braced on her wide-set knees as she tamped tobac in pipe with more vicious effort than it really needed.

“For Light’s sake tell me what’s wrong.” Her heels dug fully now, though she could not quite reclaim possession of her arm. Talin’s stare burned. She seemed to take the lack of blind trust as a betrayal. A breath parted her lips.

“Is everything okay, Aes Sedai?” Nythadri glanced over with little more than a glare for the question. Eleanore Aramorgran’s gaze bounced between the two of them with a frown. The affability of her easy smiles in the Green halls seemed a distant dream, perhaps for the reasons Maylis had intimated, though if the woman wanted to brood and smoke in the rain rather than face whatever bothered her, it was nothing to Nythadri. Talin murmured a curse at the intrusion rather than whatever she had been about to say, or maybe at Nythadri’s recalcitrance. 

Somewhere distant, a bell tolled.

Was it already so late? She half turned to stare at the Tower, until Talin’s wild embrace of the source stole her attention. A hole sparked in the air ahead, burning its way larger, but too slowly -- hardly big enough for one let alone two. Surprise barely registered as Talin’s nails drove deep, dragging her a few stumbling steps forward. It was never going to be big enough for the both of them. Light. She reached for saidar, drawing the flows desperately to widen it as Talin yanked to plunge them through. Everything shivered. She felt more than saw Eleanore dive after them, and wrenched the threads frantically to jam it open before it slit the Kandori clean in two. Resistance met the effort. 

Her steps hit softer earth as the Yellow sister’s grip released. The gate shuddered like a stick clamped in the jaws of a beast before the whole thing crushed to nothing, and behind them the Tower winked away, replaced by a sea of endless grass. Grey skies still banked above. The other woman stumbled a few steps before she caught her balance and twisted. Red hair arrowed either side of her face, blue eyes momentarily wide.  

“Light, what are you doing? You nearly--” A hand jerked Nythadri backwards none too gently. Eleanore Aramorgran, clearly in one piece, inserted herself to the fore, one calloused hand pressed to her hilt. Nythadri might have rolled her eyes, but ahead a man stood with three sets of reins tethered in one hand, and half an inch of steel bared in the other. The sides of his head were shaved, a dark braid following the slope of his skull to hang down his back. She blinked. One of the horses was black as a raven’s wing, soft enough to look velvet even in the growing gloom. The mare tossed her head, pawing at the ground, and recognition flushed Nythadri cold.

Dovienya. Luck., in the old tongue.

‘Make good friends, Nythadri. We will need her.’

“Blood and ashes, what have you done, Talin?” The words were not much more than a grimaced whisper. She tried to start forwards, but a well placed shoulder kept her behind. Irritation surged. The man with the horses shifted, almost casual but for the deadly way he did it. Dark eyes glared like shiny riverbed stones. And Talin did nothing to bloody stop it. The Yellow’s expression was tight, her mouth a thin line. Cool eyes appraised the tall woman like the sprout of a weed in a well tended rose garden. She did not even look at the lean warrior behind her.

“I should have counted on your ability for complication, Nythadri. All you had to do was walk.” A little frustration nipped at her demeanour, but it faded quickly. Composure recloaked her now, though behind that tight gaze calculation whirred. A nimbus of light still enshrined her. Calmly she smoothed her skirts, a slash of red and orange, like fire.

“We’ve only supplies for three,” the man interjected. His gravelly voice had the bite of the north, though Nythadri could not discern where. That narrow braid might have been a topknot once, though.

“I can’t send her back now, Kaori,” Talin said. She did not look behind her, but Nythadri saw the man nod. Eleanore stiffened, and understanding prickled Nythadri’s skin with surprise. Talin had tried to close the gate on the Kandori woman, and she probably thought no more of it than the most succinct way to eradicate the first seeds of a problem. But why?

“Put your bloody weapons away, the both of you.” The words came out firm, but something wary circled within as the precariousness of the situation began to settle. Even without all the necessary pieces. Can’t send her back? Light, Talin, what’s going on? Her mind raced, not yet seeking answers, but for leverage to dispel the looming threat -- and perhaps wrestle some sense of control. The man paid less heed to her order than he did the horses whickering restless at his side. If that deadly grace uncoiled, Nythadri could not aid a defence. Not unless he threatened her too, and one of those horses had clearly been brought here for her.

She pinned her glare on Talin, waiting for her support, but she did not instruct them to stand down; she only stared, thinking quietly.

Her attention finally turned to Nythadri like an afterthought. “I will explain what I can when I may. But we must settle this first.” She took a small step forward. For half a second Nythadri thought the man’s sword would prize free of its scabbard, but only his expression darkened. It was to Eleanore she addressed herself, cold, as though she studied an insect under glass before deciding how to pluck out its wings. She stood almost of a height with the tall woman, though was thin as a willow reed in comparison. “Foolish woman. But it’s done now, and I’d prefer not to begin in bloodshed.” Those vivid blue eyes slid to Nythadri then, unashamedly pointed. Accusation? Or the weight of responsibility bestowed. Given what she said next, it was possible the damned woman even thought she was doing a favour. Nythadri watched, blank-faced, as Talin raised out a palm, gesturing to her, though it was still to the Kandori she spoke. “If you will agree to make your oaths to her, and she to take them. You are tied to us now. You were tied to us the moment you stepped through that gate.”

“Oaths?” Nythadri repeated, tone as dry as scorched wind. For a moment it seemed a rather cruel jest, but nothing twitched in Talin’s expression. She was talking about bonding. “You cannot ask her to do that.”

“We cannot take the risk of her without it, Nythadri,” she snapped. “I cannot dot it. You’re Green. Surely it will be as effortless as taking a bloody bath. It is your fault she’s here.”

Fault? We? Risk? It took much to truly earn Nythadri’s ire, but she could feel it storming up in her, jerking her as viscerally as Imaad’s threats in Arad Doman. The woman practically hauled her through the damn gate, to the Light only knew where, and with less warning or explanation than one might give a dog. She did not take the manipulation well, and for a moment it clouded any sensible thoughts in her skull. She bristled like chips of ice dug her skin. Light but the woman had tried to shut the gate right on a living person! And now she blames me for it!

Eleanore shifted imperceptibly. “What have you flaming well gotten me into, baby Aes Sedai?” she muttered, low under her breath. She stood almost a head taller, but did not deign to look down. Her short dark hair fanned around her face, hiding all but a sliver of her expression, and that grim to behold. She stood overbearingly close; close enough that she smelled like rosewater, tartened by sweat from the fields. Nythadri’s eyes narrowed.

Baby--?” she hissed, momentarily distracted, but cut the spite from her tongue abruptly -- if the resultant silence still glowered cold. She yanked the chains around her temper; she could not afford the blindness of emotion. No one asked you to follow.

Her eyes pressed closed for a moment. She did not know where they were. Perhaps she might fashion a gate of her own -- she’d seen some of how it was done in the rush through it. Would Talin try to stop her though? She’d never had cause to mistrust the woman, but she’d never acted so strangely either. Though if there was anything Nythadri could trust, and trust unquestioningly, it was to her ruthlessness in pursuit of her goals; the woman had never baulked from the most sadistic extremes during their practises. The Healing was an afterthought.

Yes, she would try to stop another gate.

“We cannot tarry here long. I cannot send her back, yet she cannot continue with us if I cannot trust her.” The words were measured and even. Certain. Nythadri knew Talin well enough to know the threat was utterly bald. She cannot harm us. With the True Source at least. And only if her oaths held (Light, did you really just think that?). Nythadri glanced towards the man, Talin’s Warder presumably, though such had never been mentioned before, and Nythadri could not recall his face as familiar.

She’d told Jai once that trust either was or it wasn’t; that sometimes it had not more substance to it than a feeling in the gut. Nothing like that lit her path now. She should have paid more attention to that first visit; to the curl and hook of the woman’s words. Talin had spoken of the future. She’d spoken of the Tower’s faults, perhaps a hair’s breadth from treason, knowing the irreverent company with which she shared the thoughts. Nythadri was not exactly a paragon of virtue.

Her ignorance snared her. Light but her pulse was racing. She could not leave until she knew what Talin had done that she would consider murder to protect. She could not leave until she knew the Yellow walked in the Light.

A small smile twitched Talin’s lips. The hint of victory. The bloody woman knows me too well.

“She means no harm to me,” she said eventually, folding her hand against the crook of Eleanore’s arm. She could not have said that if she did not believe it true, but the muscles beneath were corded as iron, uncompromising to the touch. Nythadri felt some discomfort for the cage Talin tied so neatly, and for her own powerlessness at its centre, but it was worse that the solicitation felt disingenuous. Poor foundations for such a binding tie, but better than the death Talin so obliquely promised in its stead. Some friend you are, Talin. 

“She means no harm to you,” Eleanore repeated acidly, finally breaking her hard stare from Talin’s Warder to glance roughly over her shoulder. Her voice was deep and strong, but there was an awful lot of mocking in her tone for one who called the Borderlands home. “So why did she flaming well drag you through that gate?”

Nythadri’s pale gaze stung an accusation on Talin’s smooth face. Nothing betrayed the tension of her now but the rise and fall of her chest. A fair question. But one with no forthcoming answers until she smoothed out this impasse. She was not sure she could get Eleanore away before the Warder reacted, and by the rigid muscle tight beneath her palm she did not think the woman would follow easily. It narrowed what remained of her options.

Her jaw twitched. “Will you consent to it or not? It’s what you came south for, isn’t it?” She snapped it, regretting the sharpness almost as soon as it cut from her tongue. It wasn’t often she found herself wrenched so far from control, nor so uncertain: forced into action not knowing which way the consequences would ripple. After a moment she lifted her hand, half flexed her fingers, then let the arm drop to her side. Talin watched blandly. Nothing had passed between them, but the Warder’s sword was fully covered now, if his hand had not strayed far. Eleanore’s grip finally loosened on her own. Wariness still lingered, though.

The woman looked tired now she really saw her; hollowed out, and somewhat bitter as she arrowed her attention down. Dark hair ghosted around her chin, and faint scars nicked at the strong beauty of her face, though she wore them like badges. A sullen set to her features held her lips sealed. Perhaps she regretted the instinct that forced action before thought. Maylis had said she planned to return to the Blight after her fingers burned on Razmira Sedai’s empty promises -- after being led by the nose all the way to Tar Valon, no less. If she did not want this; if she would not accept it, could Nythadri force it? It would save her life but at a cost that turned her stomach.

With one more glance at the other Aes Sedai, Nythadri drew on the power to ward the air around the two of them from listening ears. Challenge flared her expression -- Talin still held saidar herself -- but the woman only folded her arms and continued to watch. Her pale gaze returned to the Kandori, lips pursed in the enormity of the silence. She thought about honeyed words, but dismissed the manipulation like it were grave dirt on her soul. Her hand was forced, but it would not be forced to deceit. “I’m asking with as much grace as I can muster considering there is all but a blade held to your throat. I’m sure it’s not what you wanted, but for now it will protect us both.”

“For now,” Eleanore said, bitterly. A scathing bark of laughter issued, but it seemed to be only for herself; she swallowed it down, glancing frustration up at the billowing sky. Nythadri frowned. Rejection coated the words like a sour pill. The emotion was clear on her face, unbridled, and it finally reached somewhere that made Nythadri loose a sigh, at least partly in commiseration. Regrettably they did not have the time for respect of feeling. In the stead of more gentle introductions she had only stark honesty worth the offering, and hoped it would be enough. They could smooth the edges later. Light, they would have to.

“Talin has long been a friend, but I swear I know not why she brought me here. It seems neither of us currently has the option to leave. I could use your support, Eleanore, for as long as you will give it.”

The woman did not answer. If there were questions they were buried deep, and she must have them, even if her trust of Aes Sedai was ingrained as tightly as most who hailed from the Blight border. Nythadri supposed she ought to be thankful though, for as the weave dissipated from around them Talin’s patience seemed to be wearing thin. The Yellow was never flippant; if she was wary of wasting time, Nythadri hated to think why. Light, what did you do? Eleanore threw the Aes Sedai a tight glance too before she drew her sword in one smooth motion and thrust it point-down to the earth. No smile softened her features as she knelt. Hand on hilt. Hand on heart.

Above them the first spits of rain began to fall.
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Messages In This Thread
The Wheel Turns - by Natalie Grey - 10-03-2019, 01:19 PM
RE: The Wheel Turns - by Natalie Grey - 10-04-2019, 03:36 PM
RE: The Wheel Turns - by Natalie Grey - 10-29-2019, 07:38 AM
RE: The Wheel Turns - by Natalie Grey - 12-03-2019, 04:47 PM

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