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The Hunt
#61
Quote:<dl>
<dt>Asha'man Daryen Daimon</dt>
<dd> King of Arad Doman</dd>
</dl>
Daryen's gaze shifted out across the sea of people trying so desperately to regain composure. He knew a name, a house, and at least three generations of family history for each of them. Every single one was calculated as a necessity or they would not be present, but just because they were necessary did not mean they were trustworthy. Most, yes - the vast majority possessed a loyalty he knew for fact - but there were those who would see the Seanchan's presence as a means to which they might settle old grudges. If some harm were to come to the Aes Sedai or her charge after Daryen had brought a Seanchan into the country, it would not much matter whom had actually harmed her.

"Keep an eye on our friends from the White Tower,"
his voice was lower this time, though he would not say anything he did not want his newest guests to hear. If that ivory girl at the High Lord's side was indeed blind - or near enough - she was wont to have excellent hearing. "I've got my own eyes on them,"
- and the hundreds of eyes in his employment, of course - "but an extra pair cannot hurt. Especially since nothing will save me from our mutual sister's wrath should some misfortune befall them."
He punctuated the statement with a pained laugh that underlined the truth of the statement, then gestured to the Gaidar at his back. "I'd trust this one to save me from shadow-kin and assassin alike, but not from her."


The Gaidar's apathetic shrug was her only response. She was not about to get in Fate's way.

Daryen watched Jai, but he was keenly aware of the High Lord speaking privately to his Voice. After what could only have been a handful of words she nodded and turned to approach Daryen. The living possession of his esteemed guest knelt before Daryen on the top step of the dais, a smooth and practiced motion. "My Lord is curious about your companion,"
it was immediate clear that the strange girl was speaking to him with her own voice, and not as the Voice of her master. Dilek's words had a softer, less-assuming tone, and Daryen could only imagine it was meant as some sort of honor that the High Lord did not use her to speak to him directly. Rather, she spoke to the King of Arad Doman as herself, for her High Lord. Like a proper servant, not a slave.

"Oh?"
Daryen asked coyly, raising a hand towards Jai, "This is my brother at arms, Asha'man-"


"No."
She interrupted, poorly veiled disgust flickering her pale, tilted eyelids. Perhaps not a proper servant.

Looking down into her face, he could see the pink shadows of her irises through the white film that glazed them, shifting from Jai back to Daryen. No, above Daryen. Over his shoulder, where Trista waited like a poised panther clothed in the scarlet wash of a fresh kill. So, the girl had some measure of vision then. "My Gaidar, then?"
He said with calculated understanding.

Trista's blank eyes narrowed to hear the King refer to her as his, but she knew better than to bring any question to his authority during such a delicate situation. If living with Aes Sedai had taught her anything, it was how to tell the difference between situations where insubordination would be laughingly tolerated and moments where it would be mercilessly crushed. She had heard the stories of his rise to the throne as surely as anyone else who had ever stepped foot in Bandar Eban, and knew better than to trust the sanity in that smile.

"Yes,"
the pale girl nodded this time, "My Lord knows of the men who are called Gaidin, but he has never seen a woman with the rank before. A...Gaidar. He was not aware that...men, like you, kept such protectors."
Maybe the High Lord Sivrikaya was as liberal as he made himself out to be, given that his Voice only hesitated twice in speaking so near to the topic of channelers.

"As far as I am aware there has never been another Asha'man to do so, but alas I find myself in a particularly precarious position,"
he gave the young woman at his feet a knowing smile. They knew the sword's edge he walked by extending them his hospitality, there was no need to pretend otherwise. "But they have become quite prominent among the Aes Sedai, and I have found all those I have met to be as elite as their male counterparts. I am surprised this is the first your High Lord has encountered such a woman."


"A Gaidar, yes. A warrior, no."
Her ghostly orbs focused on the ground under his sandalled feet, but not before he recognized a flash of pride. "Many women serve the Empire as such, including myself. The High Lord would have me challenge your lady protector, your Grace, to a contest of skill."


That women served in the Seanchan military Daryen knew all too well. He had fought many in the name of the Dragon; rained lightning down on those riding raken - seemed they were favored for riding the beasts because they tended to be smaller. When he took back the palace he halved one with a sword of fire in the dining room. Daryen had seen her face every time he ate dinner for the first few weeks after the battle. A pretty girl... And the poor cooks had thought he just didn't like the food.

Daryen touched two fingers to his lips, his interest obviously peaked by the suggestion. "I would allow it. Trista?"
His eyes sparkled like faceted jewels when he turned them on her questioningly. Warders typically did not care for such contests, and by the flat expression on her face she was not an exception. And yet... There was something there. The spark of lightning in the distance, charged by a hate even the apathetic Gaidar was not immune to. Trista had never fought the Seanchan, but she had seen the damane brought home from war. Had seen a sister who had been chained and then rescued. Had known sisters chained and not rescued. The Aes Sedai were not her favorite people, but they were her responsibility. To have them treated so offended her in a deep, dark way.

She looked out at the crowd, most of whom were caught up in their own circles of chatter, unaware of the discussion on the dais. The Warder was not though. He met her eyes immediately, and though he could not possibly have overheard the conversation at such a distance, gave a discreet nod of approval. Her gaze returned to the pale child before her. "Can you truly see well enough to fight competently?"


If Dilek took offense, she did not show it. "I do."
She answered, and offered no further explanation.

With that assurance Trista unfolded her arms, nodding in acquiescence.

Daryen made the announcement with a proud smile, and Trista could not help but regard the gathering crowd with muted suspicion as they cheered her name along side that of their country as though she had championed their wars. Drunken fools. They were not all very drunk, of course, but they would have clamored for a lame mule if it was contesting these Seanchan newcomers.

The ivory girl had found herself a sword, nearly as slender as Trista's rapier and engraved with a sleek, striking cobra. In the torchlight her milky eyes had a reflectiveness that hid any color, and the Gaidar felt a pang of what might have been guilt. She could not possibly see with such damaged corneas and she was only a slave, however much she loved her master. Trista's anger may have made her hasty in accepting such a challenger.

"Now remember, "
Daryen bellowed as he raised his hand "no bloodshed! I'll not have you ruining my new flagstones!"
Another radiant smile, and he dropped his hand.

Trista held on to her doubt concerning the girl's vision for almost a full second. Dilek struck first without hesitation, her precision with a sword immediately obvious. She was a fierce little creature, and although Trista danced like water around her strikes there was little room for offense, and no room for error. The Gaidar realized quickly she was not going to win this with a sword.

The fight was not as long as such spectacles were meant to be, but the Tower elite were not trained as performers. They were taught to take out danger quickly, efficiently, quietly. No glory, no pride. End it and move on until the charge is safe. The Gaidar baited, swinging out just a little too far and the girl bit, swinging the butt of her sword down hard into the Gaidar's wrist. The pain was fed to the flame as Trista dropped her sword and swung her body inside Dilek's guard, twisting her free arm around the Seanchan's outstretched sword-arm. Trista's hips lifted and her shoulders twisted, and the girl fell hard. The crowd winced at the sound she made when she hit the stones.

The Gaidar was knelt over Dilek, having followed her to the ground, one hand splayed on the stones beside her snow-white hair, the fingers of the other wrapped so tightly around Dilek's fingers that they could not release the sword being forced against her own neck. She could slip. It would be easy. It would be so, very-

Daryen laughed as he jogged out to Trista, beckoning her to release her challenger. Short or no, the victory still pleased the masses, who resumed drinking and chanting with new found fervor as the King declared her victorious. Trista stepped out of the way and sheathed her sword as the King helped her felled competitor to her feet, his face falling at the red seeping into her hair. "You are hurt. I am able to heal you, if you would like."


Her hand reached up to touch the back of her silvery hair, blood staining her fingers when they returned before her face. "No. It is part of my failure. I am sorry if I have stained your courtyard with it."
The High Lord rose from his seat of honor to join the small group gathered around the two women. A look passed between the pair of strangers and Dilek bowed deeply, her voice changing back to one of pride and assurance when she turned her face back to the King of Arad Doman. "I appreciate your hospitality, but we have traveled far and wish to rest."


Daryen made one last announcement, begging his leave and asking his other guests to enjoy the hospitality of his House as long as they desired. A small entourage of those exhausted from the night's excitement joined him, Liridia and Yui among them, Accepted in tow. But it was Jai whom Daryen looked for when the guests had been shown to their rooms, and the Accepted taken to the Travelling quarters to be collected by his sister. Where had that man gotten to?
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#62
“Child.”
The Aes Sedai’s clipped tones razored the heels of Nythadri’s question, her gaze snapping from the dais as if broken from a trance. Her face was smooth, of course, but there was a tightness about her mouth and eyes; a sudden hardness that no amount of Brown Ajah vagary could cloak with absentmindedness. How much did Fate tell you? Was Liridia surprised by the Seanchan’s presence, or was it simply the sourness most channelers expressed when confronted with that terrible reality? Where does the White Tower stand in all this? There was a third option, of course – that the Sister was just displeased with the brusque Accepted sat before her; the sheer gall of there having been a demand to her tone. Not that Nythadri’s flat stare softened. Fate could not bring her here and then refuse her answers. Surely. This was not some fickle game or some abstract lesson. This was Seanchan.

Liridia’s firm stare suggested a warning, but it was too late now for Nythadri to present a face of meekness; there was so much fire and frustration roiling beneath the surface of her thoughts it would have been a poor attempt had she tried. As it was it was all she could do to swallow a vexed sigh before it escaped, replaced instead by a slight but very intentional purse of her lips. It was probably a foolish choice to even show that much insolence, but Liridia’s permissiveness for much of the day wore a hole through Nythadri’s caution – and Light but she had been so bloody reckless this evening she was surprised she had any restraint left. Poisonous words tainted her tongue. Was the Aes Sedai just going to sit here while Daryen welcomed vipers into the heart of his county? But she curbed her ire, tightened her control – though light it felt more like nocking an arrow – and waited.

The Brown laced her fingers. “How pleasant of you to join us.”
Though the constricted core of her otherwise sugared voice did not make it sound much the pleasure. Liridia’s lips flattened in a way that for a moment shadowed her face with age, and the disapproval there was clear. “I trust you have not been wasting your time, child. Parties hold many pretty distractions for the careless, and it would be a shame to have wasted the opportunity you have been given.”
Slender fingers reached for the stem of her glass, her gaze still firmly on Nythadri. Did Liridia’s eyes burn with the effort of turning away from the Seanchan on the platform? Or did she trust intrinsically to the Warder at her back? Seanchan, Liridia. She wanted to urge the words, to feel the flame of support a common enemy - welcomed or not - should have sparked. She felt nothing. Nothing but waves of disapproval for her prolonged absence from the Aes Sedai's side.

Nythadri’s eyes narrowed, but only for a second. Then her expression smoothed to its usual apathy, pale and detached. Glacial. If there was a barb in the Brown’s words, as doubtless there was intended to be, it would find little purchase; Nythadri felt no shame, not for any of her actions public and private alike. A ripple of grim amusement was quickly banked by a familiar weariness. The one person she should have been able to rely on for alliance, and Liridia was more interested in the politics of Tower hierarchy than the threat under her nose. Or at least insofar as an Accepted would ever be allowed to see. She was surprised to feel disappointment sink like lead in her stomach. The emotion froze over. Quickly. It was no matter. She was accustomed to this.


“If I might be excused, Aes Sedai.”


There were no answers here; at least, none Liridia was willing to impart. It was Fate who held all the cards, all the answers – and it was Fate Nythadri would be wary of, if and when the time came. When, more likely, though with a Brown – even one as unusual as the golden Domani – that “when” might be the moment she returned to White Tower soil or tennight from now. Liridia shook her head, replacing her glass on the table. "No, child. No, I think that would not be wise."
And for the rest of the evening Nythadri felt the unwelcomed iron of the Aes Sedai's protective wing, until later she was escorted to the Travelling grounds and a Gate home.

[[Nythadri's story continues here, following Jai's escapades in Caemlyn]]
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