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The Gilded Gleeman
The Shining City.

Althor clopped along sedately, led loose on a gold-chased bridle worked with bells. His red coat gleamed, the caparison across his back sewn in myriad rainbow colours, all of them deep and luxurious. Another cloak hung from the shoulders of the tall man leading him, patched from the same elaborate fabrics. His bronze skin was almost as exotic and deeply shining as the horse. Dark tousled hair framed warm eyes, which saved the features below from being too sharp. But it was the hint of a rakish smile which tugged gazes back for a second look. Men and women both.

The thoroughfare was bustling, and even such an unusual pair did not naturally part the busy market crowds. A few shoulders bumped gentle in the tide; inevitable really. After a moment Zahir glanced down at a leather-worked pouch in his gloved hand, testing its weight before he spun suddenly, and waved a companionable arm at a man already beginning to disappear into the crowd.

“Ho, friend! You seem to have dropped this!”

When the surprised man turned, Zahir threw the coin pouch back. A confused hand brushed to find emptiness at his hip. Then he blinked and saw the patches, of course. Zahir grinned.

By the time he picked the first night’s tavern, there was already the low hum of a buzz around his arrival. A soft cushion of rumour was how he preferred to make his entrances. Tar Valon was a harder city to work than most, when its denizens were even somewhat used to the rarity of Ogier along their wide streets. A Gleeman was not quite the symbol it would have been elsewhere. Though, quite aside from his illustrious reputation, Zahir spent enough time on and off the circuit pursuing other ends that his name was one of diamond and golddust when it uttered on expectant lips. As it should be. So it wasn’t that hard.

After the performance that evening, he lounged wreathed in fragrant pipesmoke, copious glasses of proffered drink, and good company. He was vocal about his plans to compose the next great epic; about his desire to pick one sister in particular for the honour, once he’d chosen the perfect one from the worthy. It was met with some amusement, of course, but it was only important that people knew where he was going. Complicity smoothed the lie; made it harder to disappear in that viper’s nest. Though he was not without skills of his own. And it wasn’t even a true lie.

A few people both came and drifted away from the table as the night wore on, lured by the talent amongst them. Zahir’s was the type of charm that left none to escape in the shadows. When one woman in particular approached, however, he paid attention. An elaborate braid worked around her crown and fell heavy down one shoulder, her clothes elegant but simple, not unlike many patronising the various tables. She did not have an ageless face, nor even a ring on her finger, but he knew who she was. And what. 

“For the gleeman,” she said, brandishing a coin and a slim smile.

Zahir offered an easy smile in return, ready to accept and dismiss in the same breath as his raised palm. Though when she had the temerity to raise her chin and sniff, the winds changed and his grip snatched to capture her slender wrist instead. They always thought they were something more. Perhaps if they were, they could be trusted to sort their own affairs. Zahir’s hold tightened, drawing her in, but with a wayward crook of his lips he only lifted her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss there. “My thanks to the beautiful lady,” he said, voice deep and melodic; enough to make most women sigh. A flash of something unpleasant met her startled gaze, though he only let her hand slip free when she pulled back.

He’d never seen one of them walk so fast to get away.

Laughter erupted, and Zahir joined them. He palmed the folded note alongside the coin into an inner pocket sewn inside his jacket. “Alas, my charm proves too potent. Did you see how she blushed?”

The names he would peruse later.

And tomorrow, he would ascend the steps of the White Tower.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
White Tower, Tar Valon

She was the most incongruous candidate; in fact she looked the sort of musty Brown who never much deviated from hallowed library grounds lest she combust from a little sunlight. But she had been missing a short while recently, and more interestingly, returned with a ruinous injury to one of her hands. Intel claimed she had been oddly withdrawn since, though in Zahir’s own observations of her manner he could not see how anyone could rightly tell. She had been marked for odd visits peppered into the city, for an object she had carried bound in cloth, and for a nighttime conversation with a Kandori woman some claimed had bolted home after the sting of rejection, and others whispered had simply vanished. That she was no longer in the Tower was the only certainty; Zahir had looked.

He’d observed from a distance so far, spending much of his time ingratiating his presence in more general means, until his visit to the Tower was an accepted eccentricity that warranted more freedom than scrutiny. Zahir had the name of a sister who’d sanction him, should he need the extra validation, but so far he hadn’t needed it. And it wasn’t like he spent his time poking at snakes in halls Red or White, where even the fluttered promise of a gleeman’s cloak might have been cruelly spurned. In fact most of his time these past few days had been spent in the library, on the grounds, and at the infirmary; reasonably public spaces, and Zahir did anyway enjoy the challenge of a silvered tongue.

The Aes Sedai of this morning’s question was quietly reading at a desk, surrounded by piles of books and scrolls like meagre battlements. Her dark hair was unadorned, the wrap of her dress shapeless and neutral. Both hands rested in repose, but one curled inwards like the movement had been compromised. Malaika seemed delicate as a butterfly perched on the edge of a finger. She spent more time ensconced in the library than anywhere truly private, which seemed odd given that she rarely spent time actually with others. She was never rude, that he had seen, or even impatient; rather she weathered the interruption of conversation like the erosion of the tide against the bank.

She made no indication of acknowledging his drifting presence as he finally came closer, though he assumed she was aware; she never really picked quiet spots for her studies. With another woman he might have boldly touched that hand, just a light and concerned contact, like he could not help himself. But it was difficult to charm someone who skirted eye contact, and he thought an overbearingly sensual approach might only make her startle. There was nothing remarkable about this Aes Sedai beyond what she had once been, but he was mindful of what it made her.

“I find myself too curious not to ask. Forgive me, Aes Sedai, does the hand pain you? What happened to it?” His voice was deep and mellifluous, and he had always found it amusing how easy a spell it cast on people, like the slow drip of honey dulled them sometimes to what he even said – a theory tested from time to time when he was in a particularly snide mood.

Malaika’s breath drew in and released quietly, in recognition or acknowledgement, he couldn’t tell. Her attention turned to it briefly. “It would make for a poor gleeman’s tale,” she said eventually. Ah, so she had heard the rumours of his presence. Gratified, the corners of his lips twitched. “Is there something I may help you with? There are attendant Accepted if you are wishing for help navigating the stacks.”

“I don’t need help navigating,” he assured. He rested his fingertips lightly on the desktop, where he knew her gaze might catch. He would court as much of her attention as he could. “I seek something more vital than words bound in books. You must have stories, Aes Sedai.”

“... I see,” she said. Silence lingered for a time, during which Zahir only waited patiently. Malaika did not seem self-conscious in her deliberations. “It’s true I have regrets, and I have pain. Perhaps that is the same thing. But neither would be to your liking, and I do not wish to lay down my burdens for a story.”

And oh, there was something; a loneliness so potent it was like the fanning of blood to his senses. There was hysterical laughing in the back of Zahir’s head; enough to make him giddy, and he almost hoped she had stolen what he’d been tasked to retrieve then. Imagined sheltering her misery with his own two palms, promising her everything of his protection while he encouraged the flames of her demise. It made him heady, that hint of vulnerability; especially in one so supposedly powerful. He almost reached to touch the ring on her finger like a claiming. Probably it was a good thing she did not look up at him. The hunger in his gaze was like to devour.

“Oh, I don’t know. The people love a good tragedy,” he mused. Smooth laughter made light; he would not press, it was only important that she remembered. This was a woman who craved a soul to share the burden, he was sure. “I assure you of my discretion. A master craftsman I am, yes; but not a thief, Aes Sedai. All stories deserve someone to hear them, even if it’s only once. I will be in Tar Valon for some time more, if you happen to change your mind.”

His hands withdrew. He wondered if she watched that, but he couldn’t tell. “I find crimsonthorn root helpful,” he added. “For pain. Small doses, though. If the hand is indeed ailing you.”

The Aes Sedai looked up then, and blinked in surprise. He could not say why. Her eyes were leafy dark, like the sprawling jungles he imagined had once been her home.

Zahir did not smile. This was not a seduction. Or at least not one that ended in her bed. Instead he inclined his head, let her absorb the warmth and empathy of his deceptively kind eyes, just to drive the hook a little deeper, and then left her to her thoughts.

He did not allow himself to smirk until he descended the steps back out into sunlight.

The next name he had been forced to defer, for now. Though he’d looked, the Yellow had been missing for days and would necessitate greater efforts to track down; fled, perhaps, because she realised the enormity of what she might possess, else certain sisters had already managed to spook her from roost. An annoyance, to be sure, but only supposing fruition did not come before then, in which case he could care not much less for flighty Aes Sedai politics. The next was a simpler lure anyway, because by all claims Greens were simple creatures. Thus he had spent portions of his last few days watching the warders sparring with the younglings, learning names and faces. Watching for weaknesses. Because if he was going to hold his own for long enough to draw a crowd, he needed the advantage.

He took a spot at one of the fences, draping his cloak over it to flutter in the breeze like a banner, and sat himself on the top rung. The familiarity of his presence sparked general banter; he called out and commiserated and encouraged, spoke of legendary victories and near-misses, and generally made an entertainment of his narration. Only this time when one of them cajoled him into a spar, he laughed like his arm had finally been twisted, and slipped down from the fence. “Go easy on me,” he grinned, yanking the shirt over his head and chucking it over his cloak. If there was a little manic gleam to him, it was barely noticeable.

From the unblemished skin of his face, one would expect the bronze sculpture of his body to follow suit, but it was not the case. His muscles were wirey, svelte in the manner of an acrobat, but the skin was surprisingly damaged. All manner of scars puckered: slashes that might have been from knives, a scrawled tapestry of burns along his ribs, a scarification of incomplete patterns that dipped below his hip, and ill-knitted flesh that might have been the result of a bite else from meat carved clean away. To name a few. Amidst the ruin was the odd tattoo, too small to see at a distance beyond the smudge of ink. They did not look like art.

Zahir knew enough of sword-forms. Artistically speaking. There was performance and spectacle in the base movements, and he had dedicated time to it once – used them as a flourish during performances still. But gleemen did not carry blades like that. Despite a capacity Zahir was perhaps surprisingly unenamoured of violence. He had seen enough of it, and been in receipt of more, that it was only a sometimes necessity to him, not something he derived much pleasure in. Which was not to say he ever fought clean or bloodless. He honed his body with the tenacity of the self-survivalist. A man who refused to let weakness define him because once it had been chains.

It was a quarterstaff he hefted. Preferring the distance to hand-to-hand grappling or duelling with knives. Death could be intimate, but not a dance like this.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
She nodded in solemnity when a Sister imparted her regrets over Blakeahle. “Thank you for the thoughts,” she replied as they parted ways. Ever since Lythia returned without her warder at her side, she had to account for his absence. She couldn’t say that he was dead, as his face would prove her wrong the first time he crossed paths with any member of the Ajahs’ Eyes and Ears. Nor could she say that she released him of his bond out of some sort of obligation to his family. The implication that he was returning to Andoran politics would disrupt the balance of power in the country and draw even more attention than she wanted to start with.

The rumor that Blakeahle was a Darkfriend circulated shortly after she returned from Corartheren. Nobody in the Tower really knew its origins except Lythia, whose machinations gave it birth to start with. The hush and secrecy meant there was little inquiry and gave Lythia permission to side-step the conversations completely. Since then, generic messages of support were passed through various channels. Ly merely accepted them somberly and moved on. Today, however, she was drawn to the warder’s yards – a place she once visited on a regular basis. Caia’li had told her that Vladamir had spoken particularly well of a handful of recruits. Lythia detested the idea of a borderlander warder. They were always far too honorable and formal. She wanted someone with personality and heat. Adding in the requirement that they be a darkfriend shortened the list considerably. She would be Keeper soon, and she was seriously devoid of a warder. This was a problem she had to rectify sooner rather than later.

The day was nice, she thought upon leaving the shade of the Tower’s walls. Her mood only heightened when she came upon the activity of the training yard. A million years ago she’d snuck along these dirt paths as a novice. The novices she trained with looked down their noses when Lythia was caught with a warders in training behind a bush or in the weapon shed. She could still see the smug looks on the faces of Mierelle, Kekura, and Devane. They all ended up as Gray, Red and Brown – the most insufferable Ajahs. Even Whites were more lively. Just thinking of Devane tightened old angers in her chest; their fights were legendary. She’d give anything to face that self-righteous Brown now. Maybe after she was Keeper, she’d find where Devane ended up…

Lythia trailed her fingers along the training ring fence centered in the yard. Of course, she’d drawn attention simply by being there. Any Aes Sedai would be cause to stop an exercise and bow, but Lythia Sedai could disrupt the entire program. She smiled and waved away the accolades, much preferring to watch the men sweat and work to bowing and scraping.

After a few minutes watching a Shienaran AotS spar against two WiTs, Lythia decided that even if she found a Darkfriend among them, the boys were far too young. Her age was irrelevant, but she knew she wanted a man.

It was a different sort of noise that pricked her ears next. This was clacking of wood on steel, and it was coming from a sparring circle featuring the artistry of sword-forms against the tenacity of a quarterstaff. Vladamir himself was overseeing the match. Lythia joined him with a familiar nod, but no amount of waving aside could dismiss his bow. It had been some time since she’d seen him last. Caia’li didn’t often leave the Tower, which meant her gorgeous warder was left alone.

“Lythia Sedai, it is an honor to have you with us,” he said with a bow. He’d aged more than she remembered these past few years. His attention turned back to the spar.

“Peace, Vladamir but you look about as content as a hungry jumara,” she said and instantly cringed inside. Blood and ashes but she had to watch her tongue with the jokes. Sarcasm and lies were two sides of the same coin and catching herself blatantly shirking the three oaths was a recipe for disaster. Of course, the stoic borderlander did not take to her joke well, which was all the best since he was too block-headed to even notice the faux pas. As a means to smooth wounded pride, she touched him on the arm as a sort of comfort, noting the reflexive tension quiver beneath the sleeve (and the rock of a dense bicep as well). As a WiT he was just as jumpy, especially around the girls, and it seemed nothing had changed all these years. Light but he was a waste on Caia'li.

She sighed and turned her attention back to the spar. Vladamir was a long-ago lost cause with weaknesses up to the top of his remarkably anti-shienaran hair. Caia’li was loyal as ever to Lythia. There was no more to gain than the whimpers of a sad puppy from pressing his buttons.

“Who is the quarterstaff?” she asked of him, hoping the change of topic would elicit some response. The man was unknown to Lythia, much to her disappointment as he brandished the staff with all the confidence of one accustomed to flailing around a long rod. Nor was he bad on the eyes with a mop of hair and sleek body. “By the scars, I’d say he’s lost more fights than won,” she added.

“You’re probably right,” Vladamir said even as he continued to study his brother in the ring. “That’s the gleeman.”
If this was a true fight, and one fought on Zahir’s terms, the man would be halfway to dead already. A needle-thin blade coated in poison did the work far more economically than dancing around with weapons, and he considered a threat better neutralised before it became a problem. He’d had to slash a throat cold once, and it had not been enjoyable. Watching the glassy realisation of death was incomparable in a moment like that, the power of it strangely intoxicating even as it disgusted him, but he didn’t care for all the blood as it pumped hot and gushing and seemingly endless. Such mess and drama was better left as glamour to the realm of stories. He hadn’t waited to see how long it took; just long enough to ensure the job was done.

Zahir could put on a good show though, and he did; a thing simply wasn’t worth doing without flourish, an ethos he carried and applied to much in his life. His muscles sang keeping up, jarring with every clash – it was not like he fought elite warriors every day of the week – but in stamina and agility he was unwinded. The breadth of Zahir’s travels took him to unusual places; as a result he’d learned unusual things, and had had more time than most ever suspected to hone skills. By appearances he was probably into his thirties, but in truth his face had long ago slowed; he was older and more experienced than he looked.

So he was holding fine

But then the warder snuck through his guard. The blunt smash of a hilt took him in the mouth, filling it with the tang of blood.

“Pay attention, gleeman,” the man grunted, acknowledging the flash of flame-hair in their peripheral. 

Zahir laughed, little more than a slightly manic sounding giggle, and spat the blood. “Easy now, I do need my face.” But the blow knocked all the loose connections to buzzing static in his head. For the knowing desecration of that last unbroken pound of flesh, like Zahir had not sacrificed and suffered enough worth several lifetimes already. The offense seethed like scorching desert winds, along with the desire to see this fool begging contrition in the dirt. When he attacked next, it was with a speed born of fury. The distance between them closed, and a blur of movement tangled untidy limbs. 

When they both fell, an accident surely, Zahir’s staff somehow ended up between them, jammed horizontal against the warder’s throat, like he’d tried to brace the landing without considering upon what he was bracing. Unintentional, of course, though you could kill a man easily like that; just lever upwards until his face turned the colour of overripe fruit. A howling gust in his skull demanded do-it-do-it-do-it, and he was tempted to adjust the pressure, just long enough for the realisation to run into cold certainty – that last second before struggle. Not because he wanted to see the man afraid and fighting, but because he wanted to see the relief of his being wrong when Zahir simply got off. His lips only pricked in a bloody smile, though. There were too many people watching. “Apologies, gaidin. You winded me. It seems I lost my footing.”

Perhaps he’d gambled a little heavily on the fact the man would take pains not to create a scandalous and bloody mess by accidentally gutting Zahir through when they fell. Fortunately he’d been right. No it was skill. His grip tightened on the wood, and whatever his claim for the tumble, he sprang up nimble enough. Skill, and a little cheating. The staff hit the earth with a dull thump when he discarded it. If there had ever been any hint of malice, it was gone now, a trick of the wind. He grinned, offered a hand to help haul the other man vertical, no real harm done, then clapped him companionably on the shoulder when they were both back on their feet.

Afterwards he found his way to the fence. Spectators gathered, not that he expected any less, but there was only one he was interested in. The stern-faced warder watched over her. That one was a potential problem; too naturally suspicious, and too willing to stick his nose into the business of Aes Sedai not even his own. Given the unusual circumstance here he was even more likely to be a tiresome burden, but not one worth making an enemy of. And anyway, even that dour face could not hate a gleeman, and for certain not one of Zahir’s charm.

“Did you want a turn next, Vladimir? I’m sure I can go again, for you.” Zahir grinned, sure the man would either disapprove of the suggestive humour or miss it entirely. As he spoke he ran a thumb over his lowerlip, watched it smear away bloody against his fingers. He hated that reminder of mortality; briefly considered taking further revenge against his sparring partner later. Not that the man would ever discover the root of his misfortune should he indulge. But despite the clawing devil of his thoughts every time his heartbeat pulsed in his split lip, it would have to wait until his task was complete; the punishment meted out for failure would be far worse than a bruised mouth. He wiped his fingers idly along his lower stomach.

He knew who the Green was. Hers was the only name he’d recognised on the list he’d been provided, for the accolade attached to it spread even beyond the Tower’s shining walls – that, of course, being the very reason he had desired to set a lure rather than to seek her out like the others. As such Zahir knew her by description, one he’d gilded with his own tongue a time or two, but had never beheld the flesh before. His gaze roved her up and down without a care to be subtle, though he did flourish a somewhat theatrical bow. In part that was for the warder’s benefit, sure the mark of respect towards an Aes Sedai would not go unappreciated like its absence would. Though despite kind eyes the smile ghosting his lips did not speak much to honour.

“So,” he said, leaning his hands on the fence, aware how he laid himself out for display. He was speaking as much to the warder as the Aes Sedai, though it was clearly Lythia’s opinion he solicited. “Did I impress?”
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
The gathering at the training ring had indeed drawn attention.  A long, purposeful stride took her across the training proper and close enough to confirm the attendees.  A stern visage, scarred and imposing with piercing pale green eyes was more than enough to scatter trainees and accepted alike from her path.  

“You Sir,” the words carried all the command befitting her station.  Gleeman were born liars and manipulators.  This one…this one did not feel right.  Servants whispered.  There were no concrete reports or missives, yet here he was.  Loitering.  Displaying himself in public like the sell-see ilk by the docks.  

A respectful cant of her head was offered to the Green.  “Aes Sedai.”  A different, minute greeting between comrades-at-arms.  “Gaidin.”  

Then a clipped, “Perhaps a reminder on whose grounds you stand, sir?”  If a gaze alone could flatten a body, his would have winked from existence.  “I believe the Tower employs gleeman on special occasions but I have not seen your name in the ledgers of late.  May I ask by whose invitation affords you license to explore the grounds unaccompanied?”  She paused but a moment.  “The White Tower has protocols, you see.  For security.  Where is your Accepted escort?”  A polite smile.  “I am happy to spare one of our own Sword-Accepted take you where you belong?”  Her brows raised.  “So you might get back to work?”

Akari Miyakawa
Scout-General of the Army of Kandor 
Gaidar of the White Tower
Warder to the Amyrlin Seat
[Image: Vladamir-Gaidin-e1642448476471.jpg][Image: Lythia-in-red-e1642448426223.jpg]

Vladamir Armendariz, Gaidin warder to the Sitter of the Green Ajah, Caia’li Sedai
Lythia Krean, Captain-General of the Green Ajah

In the blink of an eye, the stakes of the spar raised. A cloud of dirt kicked up. The slaps of weapons rang in the ear, but it was the grunt of weight hitting the ground that made the warder at her side tense. For a brief moment, the two combatants blended into one shape, and she just knew that blood was about to spew out of gurgled death cries. But true to the warder’s skill, or perhaps the Dark One’s own luck, the sword landed in the dirt rather than impaled through flesh. It happened so fast that none but only a bondmate may have known Lythia was poised to rush forward. Vladamir, however, lowered himself back to the ground as if halted mid-air from springing the rungs of the fence in one leap. The two partners were unharmed but for the gleeman’s trickling mouth. Losing a tooth would do his singing no favors, but it seemed he was only cut.

Vladamir’s tension was palpable. He was always on edge, but Lythia was so accustomed to his behavior, she hadn’t really noticed it until the gleeman’s taunts. She didn’t think he laughed a day in his life, or if he did, it wasn’t in her company. Nor did she think he shared the company of anyone besides his chaste bondmate. He kept quarters in the warder’s wings. Everyone knew where to find Vladamir when he was needed. If he wasn’t in Caia’li’s shadow, then he was training. Always training, though for what Lythia couldn’t fathom. Sharing even more intimate company was absolutely never a consideration for the Shienaran. He’d come to the Tower the same year Lythia became a novice, and they were practically the same age, or so she guessed. He’d been a breath past puberty and facial hair and muscle came years later. He was a boy when he arrived and never again left. The man was probably still a virgin. Light, let Caia’li take some pity on the poor man.

Which was likely to explain the stone-cold tension locking his jaw for the innuendo.
“You were punched in the face and tripped over your own feet, gleeman. You're lucky to be alive. That's hardly impressive,” he said.

Lythia’s amusement for the tension between men was superficial. She let Vladamir have his moment. She could tell that he didn’t like the gleeman simply for his brazen flourishing, bow or no bow for the Aes Sedai. Meanwhile, she’d not been blinded to his irreverent perusal of the Green’s shape and likely Vladamir wasn’t either. He was protective of all Sisters. She did not fault him for it, knowing herself to be what she was, but further still, she might have taken offense if the gleeman hadn’t been enamored with her. Lythia Sedai was the kind of figure that featured in gleeman’s tales, and Lythia intended to be a legend in her own right. A thousand years from now, the world would still speak her name.

She smiled a slim, yet toothy smile. The kind that was unable to discern whether she was mocking or flirting. Perhaps they were one in the same. “I am impressed that you got up,” was all she said just before Akari interrupted.

She stepped aside only to give herself a good vantage with which to witness the confrontation. Akari Gaidar was terribly intimidating to practically everyone. Even Vladamir nodded a deferential greeting for the warder of the Amyrlin Seat. Of course, when she and Kekura’s plan was enacted, the Amyrlin stilled and deposed, Akari would probably die. Most warders did when their bondmate was stripped of power. She would be a threat as long as she lived, seeking revenge or otherwise work against those who overthrew Kaydrienne.

Poor thing.

So Lythia was willing to watch Akari do battle one final time. Just to remember the warderess in all her glory.
He laughed a little, and pressed a hand to his chest as though to staunch the terrible wound inflicted there. Since Vladamir might later prove a problem, and Zahir did not like problems, it was no bad thing if the warder presumed him a clumsy fool. Not that he enjoyed the disdain, or the mark upon the reputation of his prowess, but it made it easier that he did not care about the humourless man’s opinion. Underestimation was not a coat Zahir preferred to don given a choice, but it fit him well; he’d worn it often enough during his long life, and much as he hated, it had saved him more than once.

To the Aes Sedai he cocked a smile, though her mocking was little better to stomach. It would be forgotten soon enough, now that he had an audience. “I always get up,” he assured. His dulcet tone sounded like the promise of a secret. Mischief glittered his gaze, but whatever else he’d intended was swallowed by the jaws of interruption.

Irritation sparked like a sheet of lightning. He was annoyed at the intrusion; annoyed too that Lythia retreated like she might not care what happened next, for it meant the hook did not drive nearly half so deep as he needed. His attention turned smoothly, though, expression amiable and curious, and perhaps a little amused that his performance garnered such lofty interest. He knew who she was once his eyes set upon the unusual colouring and warrior’s forbearance. It didn’t improve his mood any.

Her greeting was cool as mountain winds beneath a veneer of civility. Bare civility, really. It was plain the pale-eyed woman did not like him, and meant to leverage his exit in a cloud of overbearing protocol. The Tower was a tiresome audience at the best of times, but even here people did not generally turn such a damning gaze upon gleemen like Zahir. It might have shriveled the insides of an ordinary man, but Zahir was not that, and besides which, he had been the recipient of far worse gazes.

Whatever her opinion of gleemen, it was ill-advised to make an enemy of one. But perhaps her muscles made her too dense to realise that.

“Your comrade did not hit me so hard that I’ve forgotten where I am,” he assured, touching his bloodied mouth with a wince. She had the flat expression of one who would refuse to soften beneath any amount of Zahir’s charm, which meant it would be a waste, but needs must. He’d be polite at least. The velvety smooth voice did not hurt either, the edge of contrition at having apparently been caught in an unknowing wrong, yet unbowed by submission.

“I’ve been nowhere I shouldn’t, as I’m sure you already know. It’s not like the cloak makes me difficult to keep an eye on. I’ll be rather offended if you tell me it’s not bright enough.” He didn’t wink, though he was tempted, just to witness the stone of her expression harden further. The cloak itself fluttered its rainbow patches across the railing where he’d left it – untouched so as not to marr its beauty with the blood of his injury. Zahir’s vocation meant many different things to him, foremost amongst them a way to open barred doors, but the garment was a legitimate source of pride for him. He reached for his shirt.

“I’ll share a secret, gaidar. Much as I’d prefer you to think the art comes effortlessly, gleemen are not made in vacuums. I’m not here to entertain; I’m here to pluck stories from grit and turn them into diamonds. A ballad for the Age. Where else would I find it but the White Tower? An invitation I could not pass up.” She had asked to ask after his patron, made a self-snare in the politic politeness of her own phrasing. Zahir had resources here; a sister’s name he could offer, and he might have given it simply, but he was toying. An escort would be an inconvenience, but not much of a problem.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
She expected the sweet-cheeked Gleeman to turn tail and cower away. Most would mutter incomprehensible apologies and duck from sight before they were thrown over the walls. Instead, he faced the heat of Akari’s scrutiny with composure. Lythia was impressed enough to watch with more than idle interest at this point. It hadn’t escaped her that despite his thorough visit with the dirt, he wasn’t too visibly wounded. A small wince made the wound known while the blood on his mouth made a lipstick of his lips. Despite her proximity to warders and Asha’man constantly honing their bodies and minds to perfection, Lythia wasn’t fond of the taste of blood-flecked kisses. If his lips were shining, it wasn’t out of lust that she leered at them. He spoke with little adaptation to his voice. He didn’t rummage around the injury with his fingers or squirm at the sight of his own blood. Instead, he was relatively undisturbed by the whole ordeal. Either he trained more than the average gleeman or he was accustomed to visiting the dirt, and by his own admission, he always got up.  So how often was he thrown down? She just had to ask him.

She looked at Akari with a placating smile. “Tar Valon would be the place to find the seeds of legend. Perhaps he should interview yourself, Gaidar?” She asked knowing full well the Kandori would be more likely to subject herself to that torture than to refuse actual torture. “If he interviews me, that should suffice for the loophole in security,” she added. “And the Tower is far more comfortable than a stuffy table at a city inn. The views are better too.” 
When the Green finally deigned to step in, Zahir inclined his head in half a bow to admit her into his exchange with the Amyrlin’s warder. It was his neck in the noose, but flapping his lips now was likely to earn less charity than holding his tongue – gilded though it was, he knew the value of silence. It would seem the cause was not entirely lost. Just as well since he’d sacrificed a blow to his face in the gamble, and if it had proved a fruitless sacrifice, the itch for recompense would have been an unbearable distraction. He fell into an easy sort of formality, like a man reminded of the duty of his work, and his reasons for being here. Zahir did not think the gaidar would find reason to deny the request, but he was already thinking ahead to the light-brained warder hovering by Lythia’s side. The fewer reasons given for interference from that quarter, the better.

“The view is indeed incomparable.” His lips twitched; a secret smile imparted. He met the Aes Sedai's eyes for the length of a breath, and then he turned to bow to the gaidar. There were no theatrics this time, just flawless grace. It should be contrite enough. It wouldn’t hurt the sour chit to smile, though, would it?

Then, to Lythia: “Lead on, Aes Sedai. I am yours to command."
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 

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