|Occupation||Asha'man of the Blue Ajah|
|Affiliation||The Grey Tower|
Darian Gedwyn is a tall and slender man; son of a Domani mother and a Shienaran father. Being of mixed blood, he lacks the actual massive build of a true Shienaran. Compared to some other men, Darian is slender, yet muscular and perfectly balanced in strength and speed. He compensates his lack of great physical strength with astonishing speed and keen wits.
Darian has mid-long, black hair and light blue eyes. They used to have a very friendly, open expression in their gaze, but that changed a long time ago. Nowadays the same light blue seems more like frozen pools: cold and impossible to tell what these eyes have seen... or what they’re hiding. In general, Darian’s gaze is more or less wolfish: he doesn’t look at you, he looks through you… Darian has been severely wounded on several occasions, and his chest is covered with scars that remind of the wounds he suffered. Aside from these, he has another scar on the left side of his neck. When he’s absent-minded, Darian often strokes this scar by following its line with his finger.
Darian’s style of life is a very disciplined one. Every day he takes physical training (sword forms, running, working out…) as well as mental training. He often meditates on solitary places. He has an athletic figure and his way of moving is graceful but somehow cautious. This also makes him a good dancer. Darian was brought up with the sword in a Shienaran citadel and thus is very skilled with the blade. Aside from that, Darian lived in Cairhien for seven years and has mastered the Great Game of Houses, Daes Dai’mar. He has an aversion towards nobles because of his experiences in Cairhien. He knows the ropes of etiquette and protocol, but doesn’t rave about it. He just applies them when necessary. Darian hardly ever speaks about his past, and even if he does he remains as vague as possible. He would only reveal he has made mistakes he must atone for… Though he never mentions it, Darian is a rich man. He owns a fortune that’s invested in several financial institutions in Mayene. The money is, however, blood stained…
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Summary of Darian’s biography
This is an out of character summary of the biography of my character Darian Gedwyn. It’s meant for those who don’t feel like reading my entire biography, those who dropped in just to get a first impression of my character or those who came to look for a specific detail. However, this summary is nothing but a short synopsis of the content of every chapter, an enumeration of the most important events. I can only advice those who seek to read Darian’s thoughts or came to have an idea on his personality to read the entire thing. Good luck! *grin *
Part One: The Wheel of Time turns
Introducing Darian’s parents: Valura Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah (White Tower) and Yoritomo Orikanu, son of a Shienaran general. Important detail: Darian was originally named Seigan Orikanu. It was but later he changed his own name.
Part Two: A young boy in a land up north
A sketch of Seigan’s youth, his education in a Shienaran Citadel amidst the soldiers. In the second part Seigan if forced to witness the death of his mother Valura. The horrifying scenery is carved into Seigan’s heart.
Part Three: Tragedy one winter’s night.
Seigan feels guilty for not being able to protect his mother and blames himself for her death. For the next two years, he does nothing but practice sword forms and undergo physical training. At age 15 he’s one of the best swordsman serving under his father. One winter, looting trollocs attack the citadel and manage to conquer it. Yoritomo decides to destroy the citadel rather then let it fall into enemy hands, but before doing so he brings Seigan to safety.
Part Four: Kenjiro Seta
Bewildered by the loss of his father and friends, Seigan wanders around in the mountains. He is attacked by a bunch of trollocs and saved by a mysterious blademaster, Kenjiro Seta. Seta tells Seigan to travel to Fal Mora and tell the story of the trolloc assault to the Court-Martial. However, the Court-Martial turns a deaf ear to Seigan’s testimony. Yoritomo is considered a traitor and Seigan is exiled. He returns to Kenjiro, who accepts him as a pupil.
Part Five: Fal Mora’s Mad Wolf
After spending nine years as Seta’s pupil, Seigan has become an expert swordsman. Seta tells him to go and find a purpose in life. Seigan returns to Fal Mora and wishes to see the judges at his father’s trial once more. Again they turn a deaf ear to his arguments and threaten to arrest him for violating his banishment. Seigan decides to investigate the case by himself and ends up discovering the truth. Realizing how foul the world really is, Seigan goes rampage and ends up killing four prominent judges and stealing a considerable amount of money.
Part Six: Darian Gedwyn
Five years later – Seigan has changed his name into Darian Gedwyn and lives in Cairhien as a notorious and respected assassin for hire. Feared by all and only hired by the most powerful in society, Darian lives only for his sword and the huge amounts of money his employers pay him. The once kind-hearted and friendly young man has changed into a merciless and cold assassin and a master of Daes Dai’mar. He bears a grudge against the entire world and slights everyone around him. One night, Darian ends up getting wounded when killing someone. Confronted with his own limits, Darian suffers a mental blow. The young Domani woman Aurore confesses her love to Darian and that means the beginning of a slow process of regaining his humanity.
Part Seven: Running the Gauntlet
Another two years later, Darian has married Aurore and has recovered his humanity till the extent he is in two minds about his way of life. On the one hand, he feels he has the right to retaliate against a hostile world that has treated his unjust, and he realizes all his wealth and status was bought by making the world shiver upon hearing his name. On the other hand, he feels reluctance towards killing innocent people and using Seta’s teachings for killing fellow human beings instead of the trollocs the techniques were invented for. Part seven is an emotional chapter of Darian’s life; it shows Darian’s inward conflict and introduces the only two people who know him as he really is: his wife Aurore and lady Isabelle, a representative from Mayene.
Part Eight: The Cruelties of War
Darian is called to arms to fight in the second Aiel war. At this point of his life he has somehow fell back into his old, gloomy self as he spends less time with Aurore then before. Unconsciously, he has grown a slight tendency to distrust his wife, though it hurts him to do so. Reverting back to his old, cold self, he is furious to be called to arms and works off his frustration on the Aiel. Darian applies his matchless skills to create a massacre among the Aiel, though suddenly he is knocked down by the corpse of an armored knight and covered by the dead horse. A group of Aiel discovers him and tortures him by cutting the tendons in his thumbs. Duncan, a close friend of Darian, tries to save him but ends up getting killed. In his frustration, Darian discovers his ability to channel and kills the Aiel, but ends up getting severely injured by the powers he has unleashed.
Part Nine: Dark Clouds
Darian has survived the explosion and is taken to Isabelle’s house. It takes him weeks of recovery before he can leave bed. He learns that his house burned down during the Aiel war, probably due to one of the many bolts of lightning or fireballs. Apparently there were no survivors. The loss of Aurore and his ability to wield a sword – due to the tendons that were cut – are severe mental blows to Darian and it takes him months to recover from his physical en mental injuries.
Part Ten: Crossroads
Six months after the outbreak of the Aiel war, Darian decides to leave Cairhien. Now the Dragon Reborn is in control of the country, assassins are outlawed as they mean a danger to society. Darian keeps his survival in the war a secret, leaves everyone behind and sets off to start a new life. He is an extremely rich man, having killed countless people for good money, and over one and a half million gold sovereigns are waiting for him in several financial institutions in Mayene. Darian decides to reside in Far Madding, as its peculiar Ter’angreal will protect him from any harm he might do to himself now he has discovered he is a channeler. He soon experiences he grows depressed after spending too much time within the shielded area of Far Madding and realizes he must find another place for him to spend. After learning about the existence of the Grey Tower, and since he doesn’t have anything planned for the future, Darian decides to go and learn how to control his ability to channel. Darian has always been a loner and doesn’t realize how the trust and friendship at the Tower will end up changing his personality…
Part One : The Wheel of Time Turns
“The Wheel of Time turns. And by doing so, it weaves a pattern using human lives as mere threads. Knowing this, I can’t help but smile at its countless freaks every time again…”
~ Darian Gedwyn
My life is far from a short story. Nor is it a very happy one. But nevertheless, this is the story of my life. In order to come up with an actual moment I can call ‘the beginning’ I should go back in time 81 years. In that year, on a certain day, a Domani Aes Sedai of the White Tower, named Valura, married an young Gaidin with Shienaran roots, whose name was Yoritomo Orikanu.
Valura was a strong-minded, rather stubborn woman who had had a rather troublesome youth. Being the third child of low class noblemen in Arad Doman, Valura was considered merchandise rather then a blessing. Her father looked forward to the day Valura could be married off to a young nobleman of great wealth and high social standard. Till that day, she could help him do business. An attractive young woman always did better during negotiations then a serious, grumpy old man. Valura’s mother couldn’t agree more. She thought a daughter could relieve her from her duties, such as running a household. Valura’s older brothers had joined the army and were serving now as captains in some far-away outpost, and couldn’t care less about their little sister. The poor girl didn’t have that much of an enjoyable youth; instead she was taught the basics of negotiations, haggling, flirting and seducing, how to run a household or a marriage… all the things a Domani woman should know. After she got the hang of the basics, the more complicated stuff followed. So the young girl was crafted into a useful tool and the day of her marriage drew near.
Unfortunately, things would turn out another way. Valura was 19 years old and a woman of rare beauty when she discovered she could channel. Her father was furious, her mother out of her wits. All their efforts seemed in vain. At first they tried to cover it up, but gossip always finds its way to the crowd. In a few days the entire town knew the attractive woman all had noticed before would actually become an Aes Sedai. The marriage that was arranged for Valura was cancelled, despite the regret of her future husband, but ‘for the better luck of the dear child.’ Now she had become useless in the yes of her parents, the latter were more then happy to send her to the White Tower. Five years later young Valura had become Valura Sedai, Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah.
Around the time Valura left for the White Tower another main character in my story was born. High in the Mountains of Doom, in a Shienaran Citadel, the wife of commander Orikanu had her baby. The child was named Yoritomo. Yoritomo’s father was a high rank officer in the Shienaran army and commander of a strategically important Citadel that guarded one of the great passes into the Blight. Commander Orikanu took care of the education of his son. Every soldier in the citadel immediately adopted young Yoritomo. The women pampered him; the soldiers played with him and master of arms trained him… At age 15 he was considered an adult and ready to join the army. A blossoming career awaited him, as he was the son of general Orikanu, but the boy had decided otherwise: it was his dearest wish to become a Gaidin. In the eyes of his father, that was as honorable as becoming a soldier and Yoritomo’s wish was approved. He went to the White Tower, to train and become a Gaidin… After 7 years of additional harsh training Yoritomo considered his training complete. At that point he already held the rank of Gaidin for some time, but he didn’t consider himself worthy of that title. He refused to let an Aes Sedai bind him before he would be matured enough. When that moment finally came, Valura was more then eager to bind him.
Despite the difference in age – Yoritomo 22, Valura 41 – the couple got along very well. Valura still looked as young as the day she had arrived and Yoritomo was more then happy with his partner. Same could be said about Valura and 2 years later they married.
For many years the two worked together, but one day a messenger arrived from Shienar. Yoritomo’s father had died and Yoritomo was asked to take his place as commander of the Citadel’s garrison. The White Tower gave him permission to return home and Valura traveled along with her husband to his home country. A few years later, a child was born to Valura. The proud parents named their son ‘Seigan’.
Part Two : A young boy in a land up north.
“If one has lived a troubled life as I have, he might be inclined to forget about the parts without grief. Any normal human has had a youth, even I have. Some memories are pleasant, others are rather painful. Mine are no different…”
~ Darian Gedwyn
Eighty-one years it has been since my mother was born, sixty-two since my father’s birth and thirty-two since my own… Looking back upon my youth now gives me such a nostalgic feeling. As you’ve read before, I was born in the same Shienaran Citadel that saw the birth of my father. And maybe the birth of his father too; my fathers family has lived and served in this Citadel for a long time. Its fate is linked with the fate of my family, so it seems.
As any scion of my family, I grew up with severe discipline and military training. The soldiers at the Citadel made it a point of honor to teach me the profession of a soldier as well as they could. Since I was very young, they brought me up with swordsmanship and warfare. I accompanied soldiers on patrol even before I could read or write. At age 8, I could read tracks that were more then a week old. At age 9, I could ride on horseback as any other soldier could: without hands. At age 10, my parents took the responsibility for my advanced education. My mother would teach me everything she knew about manipulation, negotiation, Aes Sedai politics, etiquette, the ropes of Daes Dai’mar and so on and so on. My father and I trained several hours per day. He wanted to make me ‘at least into a Gaidin’, but I realize it was his secret ambition so see me grow into a Blademaster one day.
Time passed and everything felt the way it had to be. I had a busy life, but as my father used to say: “Who sticks to freedom will eventually become a slave to his desires. Who maintains discipline will attain freedom…” Among many other things my father was a philosopher, and a wise man.
But a youth embodies more then just moments of rest and training. It also embodies moments of great grief, and one of the gravest of all, one of the two images that are carved the deepest in my heart was about to unfold. That specific day my mother took me along on an audience with the local landlord. They had made it a habit to replace my father on occasions like that, since he had an aversion of all sorts of formalities or official meetings. I was thirteen years old and allowed to go along…
I had the time of my life; I could finally put all the lessons my mother had given me into practice. During my time there I subtly observed the people around me, while pretending to be but an innocent child. And by watching the people around me, I learned… I learned a great deal. On the way back home, I was delighted. I kept on talking without end about the things I had seen and done. Despite my harsh discipline and my strict education, I was but a thirteen-year-old after all and my eyes must have been sparkling like there was no tomorrow.
Then, within an hour from our estimated arrival at the Citadel, we were ambushed. Sometimes a hoard of looting trollocs or highwaymen would make it all the way here. The former in an attempt to get back into the blight without risking their necks on the dangerous mountain paths that led around the Citadel, the latter if they hoped to loot a prosperous courier or a rich traveler. After all, there are as much criminals in Shienar as in any other country.
Regardless, we were ambushed. It turned out to be a whole fist of trollocs, along with a couple of myrddraal. They were heavily loaded with booty and prepared to take a risk or two to get back home soon. Our escort immediately spread out to fight off the attack, while my mother tried to get me to safety. As I said before, despite my training I was nothing more then a child.
A whole fist of trollocs against a Shienaran escort makes an even battle, but unfortunately that still leaves the myrddraal. Noticing a woman and child make their way out of battle awakes all their bestial instincts and immediately they pursued us. After a wild pursuit, our horse finally collapsed. My mother hid me along the side of the road and returned to a nearby bridge to make a last stand. Soon, the two myrddraal arrived. Their horses were exhausted as well, so they were surprised to see they prey still within their grasp.
My mother, Aes Sedai as she was, knocked down their horses using the One Power. I can only describe the effects of what she did, as the One Power was even invisible to me as the breeze that blew through the cleft. The myrddraal rolled out of their saddles and immediately had their swords in their hands. They split up, trying to attack my mother from both sides. Recalling all my lessons on strategy and small unit tactics, I could conclude these two were used to fighting as a team. “Watch out!” I screamed. Now I had given myself away, my mother was even more serious. She wasn’t going to let them get to me.
The details of that fight are still engraved in my memory. The myrddraal fought like demons, and my mother like a wolf protecting its cub. At long last, both myrddraal lie defeated on the bridge. Relieved, my mother set the dying creatures ablaze and turned around. Paralyzed and speechless by fear, I saw one of the burning Fades get up. It must have been out of its mind from pain, since no living being can bear that much pain. Blinded, its hand reached out for a weapon and its fingers touched the hilt of one of their cursed Trakan’dar blades. With a horrifying scream the burning myrddraal jumped up and attacked. As in slow motion I saw it happen. I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t even scream. All I ever could do was watch…
At the sound of steel scraping on the ground, my mother turned around. She had a head-on collision with the living torch and I saw the cursed midnight-steel bore through her body. The flames immediately leaped over to her robe and hair. The myrddraal sank on its knees and fell backward. He moved no more. My mother turned around slowly. I could see the hilt of the sword against her chest. The sword had pierced her heart. Her head was wreathed in flames, her eyes wide from astonishment. She opened her mouth as if she wanted to say some last words to me, then fell over the brink and tumbled down the cleft. I saw her fall; it seemed like an eternity before she disappeared below the surface of the river that flowed on the bottom.
Only then my paralysis was broken and my voice restored. I screamed out the unbearable pain of the loss and tears rolled down my cheeks. I ran to the brink and stared down into the abyss, but couldn’t find a single trace of my mother. I don’t know how long I lay on the bridge, all I know it that I hadn’t moved a muscle till nightfall, when the remaining soldiers of our escort finally found me.
When reflecting on it later, their leader had a sad look in his eyes. He said he hardly recognized me as the boy I had been seen a few hours before. At first, he said, he feared I was out of my mind, driven mad by the loss. The sparkle in my eyes and the careless tone in my voice had vanished. From that day onward, my eyes have been the cold, frozen pools they are till present day. That was the day something died within me. The carelessness of my youth, everything young and pure-hearted Seigan stood for died, it fell down the chasm along with my mother. The raging flames that wreathed her beloved face were blazing as strong as ever inside my heart, and as time passed by, that raging hate was frozen solid; crystallized into a lifelong source of hatred.
Part Three: Tragedy one winter’s night.
“In the end, any individual is only responsible to himself and thus to his own personality. Therefore, the development of a personality is a process that requires extreme care and attention.”
~ Darian Gedwyn
The Wheel of Time turns, and it stops for no man. And so, even for grief-stricken Seigan the days turned into weeks, then into months and years. He went on with his life, but something had changed within him. As the years went by Seigan grew into an adult man. Being of mixed blood, he lacked the actual massive build of a true Shienaran. Compared to the other men, Seigan was slender, yet muscular and perfectly balanced in strength and speed. He compensated the difference in strength with astonishing speed and his keen wits. His eyes, that used to sparkle in delight in his youth were cold and icy as frozen pools and he rarely showed any emotion.
After the death of his mother a gap arose in Seigan's daily schedule and he filled it with additional physical training. He would spend hours all by himself on isolated places in the Citadel practicing sword forms, balance, unarmed combat and endurance. Every day he would go running in the mountains. He made it a habit to get up before sunset and meditate up high in the mountains in the freezing cold. Feeding on his everlasting hatred he easily endured all physical discomfort and he submitted to a discipline that surpassed that of the soldiers by far.
His father watched it all and was concerned about his son. If he continued at this rate, he would be sure to kill himself. But as the months passed Seigan didn’t collapse. As if he were possessed by some kind of demon he continued. In their daily sparring matches Yoritomo observed the changes in his son from close by. Seigan was developing himself into a trained killer. From the power behind his techniques, the speed and agility of his moves, the harsh expression on his face and the fire in his eyes, Yoritomo could see his son was perfecting his killing techniques. Two years after the deplorable incident, the roles were switched… Seigan broke through his father’s defense and Yoritomo felt the tip of his son’s blade against his neck. He admitted defeat and recognized Seigan to be superior to him. His heart was in two minds; proud as he was, his joy was nevertheless tempered by a feeling of unease about the murderousness that showed from his son’s eyes…
The next day, Seigan received his Gempuku present from the hands of his father: a sword masterpiece… No matter how well he compensated the difference in strength with real Shienarans, the heavy claymore swords were still a trifle too heavy for Seigan to be really effective. On the day of his Gempuku Yoritomo gave Seigan a custom forged sword with a light, thin blade rather then the actual heavy claymore-blade. This sword was made to suit Seigan’s strength and speed like a glove. And it did indeed… After his Gempuku a Shienaran boy is considered an adult and from this day onward Seigan formed part of the garrison at his father’s Citadel. He was the best swordsman of the entire garrison and not even the master at arms could defeat the young swordsman-freak. His father watched it all happen with increasing unrest…
Still, Seigan wasn’t crazy. The loss hadn’t driven him out of his mind and neither had he grown obsessed with death. He was still a friendly young man, reticent yes, absent-minded all right. His obsession with sword fighting was more of a way to lose his superfluous energy then an actual way of retaliation. And it’s not because he seemed cold and emotionless he actually was too.
Aged sixteen, Seigan was still part of the garrison. Being treated as an adult had a soothing effect on the young man and as time passed by he even loosened up a bit. A smile reappeared on his face and though the icy hatred never melted, it no longer determined Seigan’s every word and gesture. There were even some days his sword didn’t leave its sheath. A romantic spring turned into a soft summer and eventually into a warm autumn. But the winter turned out harsh…
Around the turn of the year, a sharp frost was driving the trollocs down south from the inland of the Blight and the garrison had to endure more and more attacks. Then suddenly, a big organized attack was launched. For the shadowspan it must have been a matter of life and death. The endless winter had driven them through their supplies and now they were dependant on marauding to stay alive. They had chosen this particular pass to make their breakthrough because it lie apart from the outside world. It could take days for support troops to arrive and Draghkars had spied on them long enough to know this.
So one winters night, an all out offense was started against the Citadel. No matter how unexpected it might have been, its defenders were still Shienaran soldiers and they were prepared for battle. Three days on end they fought, but they were simply no match for the huge numbers of aggressors.
By the end of the third day everyone was exhausted. No one had come out of battle unharmed and many soldiers were in pretty bad shape. Yoritomo convened a staff meeting. At the same moment Seigan was on guard duty on the walls. He had proven his worth on various occasions; at long last his extensive training proved useful and Seigan had slain his enemies faster then he could count. Yet even the skilled swordsman hadn’t come out unharmed. Twice he was hit by an arrow – once in his right arm and once in his chest – and he had collected a sword strike across his chest. The scar was healing badly, and in fact Seigan was exempted from guard duty this night but he had insisted. With his sword on his back he stood on the cant, looking down into the night. Suddenly, he noticed the reflection of a ray of moonlight on a metal surface. Immediately he gave alarm. Despite their exhaustion the soldiers immediately ran up the walls while Seigan ran to his father’s staff meeting.
Dropping into the room, those present looked annoyed. “Sir, we’re under attack!” were Seigan’s first words and immediately the annoyed looks changed into anxious ones. The men all looked at Yoritomo. The commander shook his head. “I don’t think we can hold on for long, considering things the way they are…”
His words were not yet cold when a second courier entered the room… “Commander, they’ve breeched the walls. We can’t hold them off for long; we were overpowered on the spot. It’s a massacre…” He was in panic and deep wounds covered his body. With a feverish gaze in his eyes the man collapsed on the floor. Seigan had already grasped the hilt of his sword. “I’m coming…” he yelled and was about to run for the battlefield as his father recalled him. “It’s useless, my son. We must take measures.” Seigan stared at his father in disbelief.
“You can’t be serious. You do so, my place it out there.” Again he turned around. “Hold him!” Yoritomo commanded. Two of his father’s lieutenants blocked the passage. Seigan turned around with a mixture of annoyance and disbelief on his face. “My son, it’s a lost battle. The trollocs will conquer this Citadel but I won’t let it fall into their hands as long as I have a sword in my hand and a breath in my body. Deep below this room lies a cave in which a peculiar liquid bubbles up from the depths of the earth. It’s inflammable and in high concentrations its vapors are even explosive. I’ll set fire to the entire source and blow this Citadel to smithereens rather then let it fall into the hands of my enemy.” As he spoke, an embittered expression had appeared on his face and he had moved to the loophole in the wall, gazing at the stars. When he had finished, he turned around and smiled heartily at his son. “Never forget your mother and I loved you,” he said. Seigan’s eyes widened in astonishment. The world exploded in a sea of stars.
Slowly Seigan recovered. His skull felt like it was smashed with a hammer and it took him ages to recover sufficiently to get up. Apocalyptic scenery filled his field of vision. He had lain on the slope of a mountain that looked out on the Citadel, on a blanket and some provision and his sword by his side. Two dead soldiers were sitting against the rocks; they had succumbed to their injuries during the night… Seigan looked down on the ruin of the Citadel that had been his home for all his life. The scattered remains were still burning and a stench of rotten eggs filled his nose and made him retch. Crippled corpses lie all around, as if thrown around by a giant. Injured shadowspan was swarming all around like monstrous ants. It took Seigan several minutes to recall the events of last evening and realize what had happened. Father, how could you! You robbed me of my honor to die as a warrior. The image of his father passed in front of his eyes, his smile, his words ‘Never forget your mother and I loved you…” “FATHER!!”
Many hours later, Seigan wandered around in the extensive mountain chains that surrounded the ruins of the Citadel. His eyes had a feverish glance and he was delirious. Absent-minded he dragged his long, silver sword along over the rocks and ground. He was carrying the supplies his deceased comrades had left for him without actually knowing here to go. He just kept on placing his one foot in front of the other.
It was icy cold, but Seigan didn’t notice. Around noontide he heard a sound behind him, and ever so slow he turned around. Two trollocs had still caught on to him. “Said it, did I. Heard a sound up the slope. Here it is, last one alive. Can keep it for us, his treasures.” the ugliest one snarled at the other. Seigan stared at them without actually realizing what was going on, he was too confused. After all those hours of training he didn’t even remember the sword in his hands. One of the trollocs swung a huge axe. “Dead you are, Grogrub will take treasures. Grogrub will take shiny sword…” The axe descended towards Seigan’s neck.
Part Four: Kenjiro Seta
“A mad wolf that tastes blood goes out of control. Humans are no different. Like a wildfire they destroy everything on their path until they learn how to control themselves. This control is an indispensable lesson that takes time to be learnt.”
~ Kenjiro Seta.
As I stood there, paralyzed again in a moment of crisis, I saw my life flash by in the blink of an eye. Oddly, the incoming axe reminded me in some way of the scenery of my mother tumble down the chasm and it seemed so bizarre to me the only thing I could do was stare at the weapon with a fascinated, nearly obsessed glance in my eyes. The blade would sure have cleaved my skull, but something unexpected saved my life. A long blade flashed in between me and the incoming axe and the weapon clang on the ground without inflecting any harm.
The amazed trolloc stared at the blunt of his arm, which suddenly ended just below the elbow. The other trolloc was staring as well, not at the chopped off arm of his friend but at the man that seemed to have appeared out of nothing. He was even taller then I was, had long black hair, broad shoulders and seemed extremely strong. He was dressed in brown leather boots, a blue pants and a green shirt and a long brown cape. He was wiping the blood off the blade of his sword with a piece of cloth, while having the most arrogant smile on his face. But his eyes radiated his self-confidence all over the mountain and from his practiced moves I could conclude it wasn’t a bluff.
“Hey you two. Get the hell off my mountain, you make it smell as if it were a pile of rotting fish.” Anger lighted up in the bestial eyes of the trollocs. “Who you!?” “No point in introducing myself to disposable pawns. Get out of my sight.” He dropped the cloth on the ground and checked out his sword. Good as new, it seemed. Not a single clip on it. Satisfied, the man smiled at his reflection in the cold blue steel. The trollocs snarled. “You talk big. You loudmouth.” The trolloc that had its arm amputated pulled out a knife and leaped upon the loudmouth. “Oh dear,” he mumbled. With insufferable arrogance and completely at ease he held his sword diagonally up. The idiot trolloc impaled himself on the sword. The man turned around and simply pushed the trolloc over the cliff while pulling his sword loose at the same time. My mouth fell open. That had been ridiculously easy…
The other trolloc had seen it happen with open mouth as well. He snarled and leaped forward, holding his sword above his head with both hands. With astonishing speed the man came in, and with a single, very strong, flashing strike he cut most of the muscles in both arms along with tearing the beast’s throat open. Suffocating in its own blood the trolloc knuckled down, his poorly crafted sword clang down upon the rocks behind him, the blade broke… The man reflected on his bloodstained sword and sighed. Picking up the cloth from the ground, he started cleaning the blade all over. I got up and sat down on a rock to look at the strange, arrogant figure. “You might want to use some oil,” I said after a while. “Makes the cleaning more easy.” Without interrupting his work, the man replied: “I don’t like the shine it gives the steel. This is a sword, no mirror.” I grumbled. “Sorry I bothered.”
This conceited human being was about to become an important person in my life, but at the moment I didn’t have a clue. All I knew was that he had easily brushed two trollocs of the face of the earth while I was somehow confronted with the limits of my guts. It was an interesting moment, to be sure.
“There, all done,” he finally concluded, and shove the sword back in a sheath he wore underneath his brown cape. “You’ve got to admit its shine was a lot brighter then the one you get when using oil…” “Definitely,” I lied and hopped down from the rock. The tall man walked up to the edge of the cliff, turning his back on me without hesitation. He stared at the wreath of black smoke that ascended over the mountaintops. “The Citadel?” he asked. I nodded, then realized he couldn’t possible see this gesture and answered affirmative. He sighed. “Too bad, Yoritomo was a good man. Perhaps a bit too impulsive…” He chuckled. “But at least he went down with a blast. Good Yoritomo.” I walked up next to him and stared along with him at the black wreath. “A bit too impulsive perhaps…” I said, not realizing I was repeating the man’s exact words. He turned his head at me. “And what was your part in this? Why did you lead this trollocs up my mountain?”
“I’m Yoritomo’s son,” I said, unable to look away from the black smoke that rose up to heaven. “And I made part of the garrison that guarded the Citadel.” “Then how dare you have survived?” The way he asked his question was refreshingly to the point, I smiled despite the void I felt in my heart. “I was unfortunate enough to go and tell him we were under attack. Next thing I knew, I was lying up the slope of the mountain, looking down upon the massacre. It wasn’t my intention to survive, I just didn’t have my day.” The man burst out laughing. Irritated I turned at him and demanded an explanation. It took the man more then a minute to pull himself together. “So typical, Yoritomo, I salute you,” the man chuckled. “What in the name of the Light is going on? Why does my story amuse you? And how would you know my father so well?”
The man slapped me on the shoulder. “You’re a seed my boy, a scion of the Orikanu family. Even now the main trunk has been chopped down the scion lives on. The family lives on in you. Quite the responsibility though.” I flickered my eyes. “So that’s what this is all about…” “Indeed young friend. Don’t you go easy on dying. Your time hasn’t come yet. Your father was ready for it, but you still have a long way to go.”
He turned around, his cape fluttered behind him. He walked away from the edge and started mounting the mountain path he must have come from. “H… hold it… You’re leaving?” The man stopped and replied without looking at me. “Off course I am. I wasted more then enough of my precious time here.” “Then… where am I supposed to go?” The man sighed, his shoulders sagged and the tone of his voice implied he considered me a complete moron. “How should I know? You must have family, relatives, friends… something. Do you expect me to take care of you; how old are you anyhow?” “I don’t have any family or someone else to go to. Yet… you can’t call it a family, but I could go to the White Tower. I’m old enough now to become a Gaidin, I guess. At least it’ll give me something to live for, until I can have my revenge.” Before I realized what was going on the man had jumped down again. In midair he drew his sword and dived towards me. For a moment I was finished all at sea. But I had already pulled myself together again from the earlier moment of paralysis and after a slight hesitation I countered his attack with a clean block. The man landed on the path behind me. I turned around immediately and prepared for another attack… which stayed away.
Slowly the man turned around and saw my ready-position. He grinned, this time it seemed as if he was pleased. “Young man, I misjudged you. It was my intention to show you how unsuited you were to become a Gaidin yet you seem more qualified then I thought.” Ignoring my surprise he continued: “It would be a total waste of talent to see a skilled young man like yourself be spilled to those White Tower wiseacres. Yet it seems you still have a lot to learn, so how about considering to become my student?” He laid his sword over his shoulder and sat back on a rock, apparently he was giving me time to consider.
I stared at the valley. Smoke was still emerging from the remains of the Citadel. The man sitting on the rock – I still didn’t know his name – was certainly extremely skilled, so it was no more then an honor to become his student. Still, wouldn’t it be better to wander off alone? Judging from the stories by travelers, life as a mercenary paid off good. Yet, that didn’t seem a good way towards rehabilitation of my father’s name. And… this strange fellow was actually strong. I would be able to continue the training I started years ago. That settled the matter; it was the best way of this mess. “I’ll do it,” I said. The guy put away a small brandy bottle and sighed. "Now I really brought something on to me,” he muttered, loud enough for me to understand him. “Now then, usually I wouldn’t have bothered to tell you but now you’ve become my student I should think for you until you are smart enough to do so yourself.”
His arrogance and resignation caught me off guard. “Now, as my student the first thing I want you to do is return to the citadel. At night, you sneak into the ruins and fill a barrel of the strange liquid your father told me about, I’m sure he told you as well. You bring this liquid to the bridge further ahead and set it aflame. That way the trollocs will be stopped in their advance.” He paused a moment as if to let the words dawn to me. “Then, second of all, you should travel to Fal Mora and tell your father’s superiors what happened here. You don’t want them to believe your father demolished his own citadel and killed his own men in a fit of lunacy, do you?” I realized how much sense his words made and got up. Despite the man’s arrogance he was keen-witted – and a superb swordsman off course. “All right! I’ll be on my way. Thanks!”
“Wait!” he commanded. “Damn, you’re a light-forsaken wool head. How would you ever return to me? Running off like that without thinking for a moment, how stupid can you get? Be glad you found me to take care of you or you would surely impale yourself on your sword before nightfall. Now listen, the bridge should take you about two days to accomplish, the journey back and forth to Fal Mora, let’s see… the entire thing should take you about two weeks. I’ll be waiting at the – hopefully – demolished bridge in fourteen days. Meet me there. If however, I can’t make it to the rendezvous, ask around for Kenjiro Seta. People around here know me. Now go… unless off course you want me to repeat everything I said…”
Part Five: Fal Mora’s Mad Wolf
“[Art. 32] Therefore, having heard all the parties involved, and after considering the submitted matters, the Court-Martial of Shienar declares unanimous that the successive series of events that lead to the loss of one of our strategically most important outposts in the Mountains of Doom was the direct consequence of the actions token by its commander, knight-captain Yoritomo Orikanu (…), in a moment of mental derangement. (…)
[Art. 34] Even after taking the extenuating circumstances put forward by eyewitness Seigan Orikanu (…) into consideration the Court-Martial has decided to ignore the declaration on account of article 2205 (…) of the martial law, stating a minor can’t be summoned as a valid witness. (…)
[Art. 39] The sentence of the court reads: the loss of the strategic outpost in the mountains of doom was due to the ignorant leadership and the impulsive acts of its commander Yoritomo Orikanu. As a result of the sentence, the death of 231 soldiers is likewise attributable to their commander’s ignorance. The Court-Martial condemns by default the person of knight-commander Yoritomo Orikanu to immediate and dishonorable demotion, followed by dishonorable dismissal from Shienaran military service and finally the convict shall be put to death by hanging till this results in death. (…)
[Art. 40] All possessions belonging to Yoritomo Orikanu fall back to the crown and all his distinctions are hereby revoked. Furthermore his name and the name of his family shall be erased definitive from Shienaran birth lists and registry-office. All living descendants of the convict are banished from Shienaran territory on the penalty of death. The exile shall be in effect at the latest five days after this verdict has been read out in public. (…) ”
~ Extracts from the report of the Shienaran Court-Martial on the case of Yoritomo Orikanu (Fal Mora military archives, copy of file 13038 – Original file missing for seven years.)
It took Seigan twenty-two days in total to make the journey, so upon his return he wasn’t cherishing any false hope of finding Kenjiro at the arranged place; and he was right: Kenjiro wasn’t there. It appeared the man had exaggerated slightly when telling Seigan ‘people around here knew him’. It took Seigan two days of intense questioning before he ran into someone who had ever heard the name of Seta before. But then it was a direct hit: the man gave him specific directions on how to get to Seta. Then again, it took Seigan an additional three days to get to Seta’s residence: a small, remote valley hidden in between the mountains, almost completely inaccessible and miles away from civilization. Clearly, this was a valley no one knew about and it might take decades before anyone would ever get the idea of exploring this particular piece of barren wasteland in between Shienar’s borders and the Blight. Kenjiro had built a hut in the middle of this small valley, along a lapping streamlet. Apart from the hut were a covered furnace and a shed. In between the house and the shed was a kitchen orchard and on the other side of the streamlet Seigan could distinguish an orchard from the rest of the pine-forest.
As Seigan stood at the end of the small mountain trail studying the covert valley, a voice from behind him startled him to death. “It took you ages, you lazy pupil. What under the Light took you?” Seigan jumped up and almost fell down the abyss next to the path. “Sensei! You scared me to death…” The arching of an eyebrow was Seta’s only response. He walked past Seigan, carrying a bucket of fir-cones. A few paces further he stopped. “Well, are you planning to stand there forever? Don’t you think we have better things to do or did you think I took you as my student to stand there with your mouth open so the birds can build nests in that big gap?” He sighed. “What a lazy pupil!” A bit browbeaten and with a feeling of uneasy, Seigan entered the valley that would become his home for the next nine years.
“So, finally you showed some initiative! You moved two steps. Good! Now if you could just show a bit more initiative… yes. Walk over here. Wonderfull.” Kenjiro greeted Seigan in his valley. “Now, you help me distil brandy out of these fir-cones, all right?” Seigan looked around, still not feeling much at ease. “Come on, you throw them in there, yes. You’ll find the rest of the ingredients in the shed; I’ve put them in a bucket. Oh, and go fetch me some water. Meanwhile I’ll poke up the fire…” The distillation of Kenjiro’s brandy took three hours before the work was done. Satisfied, the two men sat down on a bench looking at the setting sun. Kenjiro was drinking some of his brandy from a porcelain cup. He seemed very pleased with the result. “Now, there’s nothing like a good brandy to lighten up the soul. What’s bothering you, Seigan?”
A bit surprised to hear Kenjiro show concern about him, Seigan answered: “I’ve attended the Court-Martial, but they wouldn’t accept me as a valid witness because they declared me a minor. Still, I’m sixteen years old and I’ve had my gempuku more then a year ago, so I was legally valid as a witness. Still… they completely ignored me!” “I didn’t expect the authorities in Shienar to be that corrupt. However, that’s how the world is in reality, my boy. Nothing will ever change that. The best thing for you to do, is to stay here some time, make up your mind, sooth your wounds and ease your mind and then decide how you to live your life from now onwards. And that’s something you’ll have to take care off by yourself. I can offer you advice, but you’re the one that’ll have to do it…” He knocked down another cup of brandy. “Argh, now that’s truly a good spirit. It’s a shame some people live and die without actually tasting a good brandy. It brings out one’s true spirit…”
Nine years passed slow but steady. Seigan studied swordsmanship faithfully till his skills surpassed those of most swordsmen by far. Then, one winter’s night…
Seigan sat on the bench in front of the house. It wasn’t the bench they had sat on nine years ago. It had broken and Seigan had crafted a new one. The house had changed too. Along with Kenjiro, Seigan had made a lot of improvements and now it was an actual house. Seigan had undergone changes as well. Instead of a short-tempered youngster he had become an earnest young man. The years of intense training had paid off and Seigan had become a very strong person, despite his slender figure. Kenjiro’s training had made him swift, accurate, fearless… lethal!
Seigan was staring at the sea of stars floating in the sky. The soft murmur of the lapping stream was conductive to daydreaming. Lost in thoughts, Darian dug up the wooden flute he had carved from a piece of wood years ago and played a melody he remembered from his youth. The tones lured Kenjiro. “What’s that awful… I should have known you would be playing that forsaken instrument of torture again.” Seigan ignored his teacher’s arrogant comments as he had learnt to do years ago. Kenjiro didn’t mean to hurt his feelings; he was in fact a really nice person though he covered that with his characteristic arrogance. Kenjiro sighed. “I guess I can’t convince you to throw that piece of good for nothing into the fire. You should feel ashamed for ruining my good mood, especially on a night like this.”
As any night he would spend sitting outside, Kenjiro dug up a porcelain cup and a jar of brandy. He carefully poured out a cup, knocked it down and immediately poured another one. It was his fixed habit and in all these years Seigan had never seen the man drunk no matter how many cups of brandy he drank. “I don’t get how you do it, but I’ve never seen you get drunk,” he said. “Drunk? Getting drunk from brandy, what waste would that be? Brandy awakes the spirit, it shouldn’t be used to undermine the strength of mind and body.” He paused for a moment, gazing at the stars. “The apple blossoms of spring, the stars of summer, autumn’s full moon and the snow of winter, that itself makes for good brandy… If bitter, it’s proof something’s wrong with you. Remember this, Seigan. One day you’ll taste brandy. When time comes, we’ll drink brandy together.” Seigan looked up, surprised by his teacher’s words. They sounded like… a parting…
“Well now, lazy pupil. Perhaps you can explain why you’re sitting here instead of being out there training your balance.” Seigan smiled, he had grown used to being called ‘lazy pupil’ a long time ago. It was more a nickname than an actual reproach. “I spent more time practicing today than you,” he countered Kenjiro’s remark and grinned. His teacher grinned as well. “Yes, I have to admit you’re quite the dedicated man. And you’ve grown into a good swordsman indeed. Not that you’ll ever beat me in an hundred years, but at least I managed in teaching you the basics…”
Seigan laughed out loud. “Clearly you’re giving me too much credit,” he goofed along. Both knew Seigan had grown into an extraordinary swordsman. Not yet a blademaster like Kenjiro, but obviously an expert. Kenjiro laughed as well. “These have been joyful years, I’m sorry it had to end this soon.” “To… end? What do you mean?” “I’ve grown sick of you playing that flute, so I’m throwing you off my mountain,” Kenjiro replied. Seigan looked at him as if he had gone crazy. Seta sighed.
“Swordsmanship on its own can’t be a satisfactory goal in life. It’s merely a budo, a way to live your life. Upon your arrival here, I said you had figure out a way to live your life from here on. Nine years have passed, so you must have come up with something. Anyhow, today ends your first stage of apprenticeship. You’ve learnt the way to live your life. From here on, you must find yourself a life to live and a role to play in this world. That’s the second stage.” Kenjiro stood up from the bench and opened the door of the house. “You were able to learn to first stage of my teaching here in this valley. You should learn the second stage in the world out there. Tomorrow you’ll be leaving on a journey. Take some good rest tonight.” He disappeared into the house, leaving Seigan behind in the cold winter night.
Two days later – Seigan looked up at the mountains where he had spent the last nine years of his life. Walking through the valley summoned memories. At a high pace, he was headed for Fal Mora. He felt it obvious to resume his life where it had ended: the journey back and forth to Fal Mora and the humiliating trial at the Court-Martial. Seigan was on his way to ask the judges to reconsider the unjust verdict from nine years ago. Traveling light, only packed with sufficient food for two weeks and his trusty sword, Seigan made the trip in eight days.
Fal Mora seemed different from what it had been during Seigan’s last visit: more soldiers in the streets and less people and those who were out seemed in a hurry and had shy looks in their eyes. Seigan felt strange, walking at ease in the midst of this chaotic stream of people. He could feel he was being watched by the soldiers and stared after by commoners. He had learnt to control such feelings of unease but still he didn’t feel quite right. He would have found the way back to the fortress that hosted the Court-Martial with his eyes closed, but the building seemed so different he barely recognized it. He asked an interview with judge Katsuragi and wasn’t actually surprised to hear the man was transferred. Yet he was surprised to hear he could arrange an interview nevertheless. A half-hour later he was shown into the office of Katsuragi, the judge at his father’s trial.
“Have a seat, my dear man. I’ll be with you shortly.” The man disappeared through a door in the back of the room, Seigan heard him talk to a courier. After a moment Katsuragi was back. He sat down at the desk and turned to Seigan. “Well now my dear man. The guard failed to catch your name. So, who are you and what’s your affair?” “My name is Seigan Orikanu and – if your Honor would excuse me my boldness – I came back to learn the reason behind the verdict you passed nine years ago. I know my evidence was wrongly ignored since I was not a minor at that time as was stated in the report.” Katsuragi looked up from the papers he had started reading after giving Seigan the chance to speak. He carefully cleaned the point of his pen, then placed it down next to the inkpot. “So… “ He said, stretching the word. “You do understand I can have you arrested and sentenced for violating the exile pronounced by the Court-Martial.” Seigan nodded. “I’m fully aware of that. I can only hope you see the harmless objective behind my initiative.” “I am aware of nothing, except that someone is ignoring the verdicts of the court in front of my eyes. And as a judge that’s intolerable. Now you listen carefully. I’ll call the guard and have you removed. If you are still in town by tomorrow, or anywhere within Shienaran borders, I’ll have you arrested… and executed! GUARD!”
Three minutes later Seigan was thrown in the dust in front of the gates of the fortress. Incensed, but hardly surprised about the treatment he brushed the dust of his clothes, doing it provokingly slow. The guards at the gate made him a remark, but Seigan threw them an irritated look and the man shut down. Due to the years of training, Seigan had grown a rather impressive fighting spirit that radiated from his eyes. After picking up his bag with an arrogant gesture, he walked away imperturbable.
A half-hour later Seigan dumped down in an inn. Rubbing his face with his hands, he tried to decide on his next move. A young girl stopped by his table and smiled lewdly at him. Seigan ignored her offer for a flirt. “What shall it be,” she asked on a bored tone. Seigan hesitated for a moment or two. “Brandy…” he decided at last. “One brandy for this guy here,” the girl repeated and walked away. A little later another girl, older and less handsome then the first one brought him the brandy and charged a ridiculous price for it. Seigan paid without protesting. Staring at the hilt of his sword – which he had placed against the wall next to him in order to be able to sit down comfortably – Seigan knocked down the brandy and gasped for breath… It was a lot stronger then he had thought. Still, it felt good as he felt the burning liquid flow down his gullet. He coughed, resulting in some strange looks from the people in the inn.
“Shall I get you another one, dear, or would you prefer milk?” the first girl asked for the entire taproom to hear, obviously insulted Seigan had ignored her flirt. “Thanks for caring about me, doll. But I’m afraid another one of your lovely smiles would choke me to death. Just don’t bother,” Seigan immediately countered in the same way he had countered every attack the last nine years: swift and with a counterattack… The girl turned up her nose and strode away with a jaunty step. Seigan gestured at the girl at the arch to bring another brandy. She brought it immediately, she seemed happy the cocky girl was put at her place. Anyhow, the second cup cost significantly less. Seigan spent a long time, looking from the cup of brandy to his sword, then back at the clear liquid in the cup.
Eventually he emptied the second cup with a blank face, refused to give in as the burning liquid ran down his gullet, took his sword from against the wall and quit the inn.
That night would be one of the most sensational ones in recent Fal Moran history. Four prominent judges, all members of the Fal Moran middle classes were assassinated in their houses, some right in front of their family or guards. These four people had once formed the court of the Court-Martial about a decade ago. Some people claimed it was retaliation in the crime environment, though nothing of the kind was ever proven. Each of them was beheaded in a single slash. An unsighned note was left on either four bodies, reading ‘Verdicts written in blood can only be washed away with even more blood.’ It proved the authorities that the murders were all committed by the same person.
In popular language these murders are referred to as ‘The massacre of Fal Mora’s Mad Wolf’. This was mainly due to the testimony of an eye-witness who declared the murderer had a mad, wild look in his eyes. The assassin was never found and brought to justice… The same night the royal archives were broken into. Around the fifth hour of the guard the alarm was sounded though none of the patrols sweeping out the building ever found an intruder. As none of the files was ever reported as missing, it was considered false alarm.
Also, the same night, judge Katsuragi disappeared from the face of the earth. None of his relatives or his family knew where he might have gone. It soon became clear when the treasurer discovered the theft of the pay for the soldiers of the city garrisons for the month year. As Katsuragi was never found again, his name became linked to the Massacre of the Mad Wolf and the theft. Some even attributed the murders to him. The man’s family lost most of its prestige due to the unfortunate incident.
Two days later; sunset in the Mountains of Doom. Seigan was sitting on a rock, looking down upon the ruins of the Citadel. “Traveling on horseback is definitely more convenient then traveling on foot. Most convenient horses are.” He looked down upon the two riding-animals that awaited him at the foot of the cliff. “I like to come here, I’ve been away much too long you know. In fact this is where it all started. Your downfall I mean. I guess you’ve never even seen the place. Yet… so full of memory…” Katsuragi mumbled. He was all tied up and dropped on the ground behind the rock Seigan was sitting on. He had a broken jaw that kept keeping him from pronouncing any understandable words, a memento to his attempted escape. “I wanted you to see it. That’s why I brought you here. You spent too much time inside that dusty fortress, you should get out in the open more often. The way things are now, I can understand Shienar allows worthless actions by worthless people.” These last words had a sharp tone in them. Katsuragi breathed more freely. “Then again,” Seigan continued, “there’s the other matter as well.” He shook his purse so the gold coins inside jingled. “You understand I can’t let you go back, don’t you?”
He recalled his conversation with Katsuragi a few nights ago… when he was about to kill him. The man had tried to buy time but things hadn’t worked out the way he had planned. “You? What are you doing here at this time of the night? Where’s my guard?” “I’ve seen to them. They’re fast asleep and won’t bother us.” “I remember you. You’re the son of that Orikanu guy we sentenced years ago, the man from earlier today.” “I am indeed.” “Then what… why…” “I seek justice, and if you people are too wretched to help me, I’ll make my own justice… wielding this sword!” “Justice… justice! Ha! My dear boy, what do you know about justice!” “Don’t try to distract me. Your life ends here. I’ve already seen to the other members of the court from back then. You’re the last one left.” “Wait… stop… Don’t do things you’ll regret later on…” “Believe me, I wouldn’t dare…” “Wait! Put that sword down in the name of the Light… WAIT!!!” “What should I wait for? No one’s coming to help you. But I’ll wait, since I have one last question: the question you refused to answer earlier today. Why? There was no need for a verdict like that…” “Ha! You conceited simpleton. You fool! Wasn’t there? You light forsaken idiot. If it would ever leak out that a stronghold such as that Citadel fell into the hands of the enemy while our soldiers defended it with their lives… can you imagine the effect it would have on the morale? That’s why we covered it up. Your father was made out a traitor, a lunatic who demolished his own stronghold after the brave Shienaran soldiers had successfully fought off their enemy. That’s why we needed your father to be a traitor, whether he actually was one or not. He was dead, so he couldn’t object. You were the only obstacle, but we considered you a minor so we could do away with your declaration. Now you get it? There will never be another verdict in this case, since we made your father a traitor and a traitor is what he must remain!”
“Perhaps it’s time to reconcile the two of you…” Seigan mumbled. He dragged Katsuragi down the path to the Citadel. He pushed him down the crater the explosion had struck. He forced the judge on his knees in front of a pit where the oil welled up. “Any last words, you Honor?” The man mumbled something unintelligible, hindered by his broken jaw, while tugging his shackles “I thought so…” A swift sword strike, a thud when the head hit the ground, it rolled over the ground and fell into one of the pits. The body sank down slowly onto the ground. Seigan took his time to overview the scene, then turned around and walked away without ever looking back. He felt… relieved …
Part Six : Darian Gedwyn
“A sword is a lethal weapon; swordsmanship is the skill of killing. No matter how beautiful the words you use to call it, killing is still the fact”
~ Kenjiro Seta
“Homo homini lupus”
~ Darian Gedwyn
“Welcome Darian, welcome. Light, let the man in. Please, have a seat. I do hope my servants received you with the necessary regards.” “The reception was acceptable...” “Oh yes, glad to hear. Glad to hear…” The fat man dabbed his front with a silk handkerchief. He watched the tall man cross the room with cat-like suppleness. His ice-cold eyes observed the room with an arrogance that came forth from a solid feeling of superiority. Darian’s mid-long black hair partially covered his eyes, but the parts of them that were visible were more then enough to scare the fat man to death. Those eyes have seen death over and over again. They are the eyes of someone who’s used to looking death in the face and stare right back at herr… These aren’t the eyes of a human being…
Darian sat down in one of the comfortable leather seats in the fat man’s study. In fact I am the one having the advantage here since this is home ground. Yet still he seems completely at ease and damn he has every reason. I bet he could kill me within the blink of an eye if he wanted to… “I like what you did to the place,” Darian said on his characteristic cold tone. “What? Oh… yeah, thank you. Thanks.” The man stammered. “You seem to be a bit nervous.” Darian’s voice set his teeth on the edge. “Me? Why… why would I?” Darian knew perfectly well he was feeling nervous because he was sharing the room with Cairhien’s most skilled assassin-for-hire. “Would you like to have a drink, brandy perhaps? I have a cask all the way from Andor. I’ve heard you’re the one for brandy…” “I must decline. I have an addiction.” “An addiction… to brandy?” Surprised tone. “Not exactly. Whenever I drink brandy, I feel like killing people.” He grin caused all the color to fade from the fat man’s face.
“Quite…a… an interesting addiction… to have…” he mumbled. “So no thank you, I never accept drinks from people I do business with. Call it professional disfigurement. Now on to business please.” The tone of his voice made the last line sound like a demand, making clear the exchange of civilities was done. “Oh yes. Surely. Euhm, Joram…” A sturdy-looking servant came in and handed over an envelope to the fat man. He peeped at Darian from the corner of his eye. Darian grinned wolfish and the man grew pale. He withdrew as soon as he could without making it seem like an actual flight. That didn’t seem to encourage the fat man. “Here is the assignment,” he said, having recovered his ability to speak in complete sentences. With his characteristic contempt of discretion when facing his employers, Darian ripped open the carefully sealed document. His eyes flashed over the fair written lines on the expensive sheet of paper. The fat man could recall every single word in the document and he read along mentally with Darian. At the end, Darian arched his eyebrows.
“So, that’s my man… You’re about to rob me from a good client. You know in these walks of life solutions like these is generally considered a token of little finesse in the art of Daes Dai’mar. Yet still you wish to proceed?” Beads of perspiration stood on the fat man’s brow. He merely nodded. “Oh well,” Darian mumbled. “It can’t be helped. You know my usual price, do you?” The fat man nodded again. “Joram!” The sturdy man entered the room again, carrying two heavy bags. When he placed them on the desk, the coins jingled promising. “As always, half now, half afterwards,” the man said. “You insult me, I am a man of my word.” “I would never dare to insult a man like you, Darian.” “No doubt you wouldn’t. You know… I’m not the man to be messed with.” “C.. certainly.” Darian stood up and beckoned Joram. “Bring me my cape and gloves. Then carry this for me and show me the way out. I don’t want to soil my hands on filthy lucre.” His wolfish grin and ice cold eyes sent shivers running down the spines of both men.
The fat man stood at the window of his study, looking at Darian’s figure strolling through the crowd. The people in the roads gave way to the tall man as he passed by. He was a well-known figure in Cairhien. He carried the heavy bag of money over his shoulder with ease, yet no thief in the right mind would ever consider robbing Darian Gedwyn… A corpulent woman dressed in an extravagant dress entered the room. She walked up to her husband and together they watched Darian walk away though the avenue. “Did it work?” “I do hope so.” “Was it really necessary to hire him? It’s the first time you hire that man, so you don’t know how trustworthy he is… Besides, you could have afforded ten others for the same price.” “Quality has its price, dear. And don’t worry; he’s the best one out there. Besides, the others wouldn’t dare to take the job. They are way too afraid to insult Darian.” “Really? He didn’t seem that impressive to me.” “Oh for… Don’t you women ever talk about serious matters during banquets? No, never mind. That’s why I look after our interests instead of you. Don’t worry. By the time king Galdrian appoints a new harbor supervisor, I’ll the only acceptable candidate… And so I’ll be the one that collets the taxes on import and export for the next five years.” Darian had disappeared from their sight. “…won’t I, Darian?” he mumbled to no one in particular.
Darian entered his house on the Royal Avenue and slammed the door behind him. Immediately, servants came from all parts of the house to greet him and their combined greetings eased his temper a bit. “Rupert, bring this to the basement,” he commanded and one of his male servants took the bag of money, surprised at first when he felt how heavy it was. Darian handed the man the silver key he wore on a chain around his neck. The man opened a sturdy wooden door and descended down the deep basement where Darian stockpiled his gold. “Irene, be so kind to cook me a good supper, you know what I like the most, don’t you.” “Certainly, master Gedwyn.” “Lenore, you write an excuse for the banquet tonight at lord Forzach’s. Tell him I was unable to come due to professional reasons. That’ll be plain enough.” One of the two Domani women nodded. “Right away, master Gedwyn.” “Aurore…” “Yes master Gedwyn?” The younger of the two Domani sisters looked up. “Prepare my equipment for tonight. Warm clothes, pitch-black. Leather gloves, black cape. And…” “Yes, master Gedwyn?” She asked patiently. “Take Kago-Zuchi from it’s niche, would you? I feel like using it tonight…” “As you wish, master Gedwyn.” “Afterward, join me in the training room. I feel like practicing.” “Right away, master Gedwyn!” She smiled enthusiast. “That’s all, back to your duties everyone.” Rupert came back from the vault and carefully closed the door behind him. “Rupert…” Darian called. The man tossed him the silver key; Darian caught it in midair. v“Thank you my man.” He waved at his servant and walked up the stairs, halfway he gave way to Aurore who came running down the stairs. “I’m sorry, master Gedwyn.” She apologized. “That’s all right. Now hurry, come on.” “Yes yes, I’m running.” She turned around, ran down the stairs and entered a door on her right that lead to Darian’s meditation room.
Aurore and her sister Lenore were two Domani girls Darian had employed two years ago. They were the daughters of a friend who ran a wine-trade. The family was in small circumstances and Darian was happy he could do something to help them out as the proud and stubborn man refused any ‘charity’. So they had agreed for the two girls to come and help in Darian’s household and though he didn’t really need them he was more then happy he could do something to help the family out, apart from buying wine. Lenore, the oldest and most serious one helped Darian with his correspondence and agenda, till the point she had become some sort of secretary.
Aurore, the youngest, was the reverse of her serious sister. Always frivolous and cheerful as she was, she was the ray of sunshine in Darian’s house. At first he had had some trouble fitting her into a particular task. In the beginning she had served as servant-girl, running errands and looking after his wardrobe. But after he had caught her one day hiding behind a curtain and watching him train sword forms, he had taught her some combat techniques and now she served as a training partner. Aside from that, he enjoyed her company and from time to time they would discuss certain events in town or philosophical issues together. The girl was keen-witted and had a good insight and common sense. In general the two girls were more like friends or daughters to him then eventual servants, but in the end everyone got used to it.
Darian turned around as he heard the door open. Aurore entered the room, holding Darian’s trusted sword Kago-Zuchi in one hand and her rapier in the other. “Ready?” She asked while throwing him his sword. “Always,” he replied in a cold tone, catching his sword by the hilt. He swung it back so the sheath slid off and immediately assumed a ready-position. Aurore charged and their swords clang into each other…
“Darian! Good to see you. The usual?” “Yes Stefan, the usual.” Darian maneuvered through the taproom of the inn in the common quarter of Cairhien. It was a cheap inn, yet Darian came here often. Sometimes he would imagine the expressions on the faces of many of his prudish employers if they knew he spent his time here. It was a rather amusing thing to do. He sat down at a table in the back and placed his sword against the wall. The host brought the brandy himself and took the time for a short talk. Darian handed him a small purse – some people weren’t too proud to accept his charity – and received a short blink from the man.
“All right, Darian. You know the way.” His accent clearly wasn’t from around here, so that created another link between the two men. He spirited the purse away and left Darian alone at his table. Darian looked at the cup of brandy – a porcelain cup, just the way he liked it the most. The inn was too shabby to have a clock, but Darian had a good feeling of time. I’ve got some time left. He stared at his sword and remembered how he had named it Kago-Zuchi [Vengeful Spirit] years ago and how he had baptized it in blood one memorable day in the mountains.
Darian knocked down the cup of brandy and got up. Brandy is meant to awaken the spirit, not to undermine the mind and body, he recalled a certain saying. It was hard to imagine the times when he used to burst out coughing when the burning liquid ran down his gullet. Darian went trough a door in the back of the room and mounted the stairs. He walked through the corridor, passing closed doors that lead to small rooms. He knew what would be happening in some of them and the muffled sounds proved him right. A drunken man stumbled out of one of the rooms, the girl was still lying on the mattress, dabbing a bleeding nose. The drunk clung to Darian as he walked by, steaming his smell in Darian’s nose. Darian drew his sword halfway; the hilt hit the man on the chin. Surprised and disturbed, he loosened his grip and Darian freed himself immediately. A punch with the impact of a sledgehammer hit the man in the face, catapulting him back into the room. He smashed into the wall and collapsed. Confident the man wouldn’t get up again to bother him a second time, Darian walked further. Using another door and a small ladder he got onto the roof.
By jumping from one roof to another, Darian got away from the inn and after a few minutes he was in a different side of town. He saw a house without a first floor and got on its roof. A few moment later he heard people walking down the road. It was a young, ambitious Cairhienin nobleman along with three bodyguards. Only three? They clearly don’t know who was hired for the job! Darian was used to dealing with higher numbers, some took ten or more bodyguards along. As they walked down below, Darian cautiously jumped down and before the first guard realized what happened he was already taken care off. He collapsed, too silent for the others to notice.
Kago-Zuchi flashed up and down and the skull of the second man was cleaved. The last one whirled around. It was an old veteran and he gauged the situation at a glance. Brusquely, he pushed to young aristocrat aside, getting him out of the danger zone. The young man stumbled, fell and by the time he got up again, his final bodyguard lie dead on the street. “Uncle! No, how could you!” He yelled, one hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “You’d better give up now.” The young man drew his sword. “Never!”
More by hit then wit the man managed to survive two of Darian’s attacks, yet he sustained a few deep wounds. “Very well, yet what do you think you’ll accomplish?” Annoyed by Darian’s words and alarmed by the blood gushing from his wounds, the young man ran forward, swinging his sword like a madman. Surprised by the unforeseen reaction, Darian hesitated a split second before taking advantage of a huge gap in his adversary’s defense. The young man fell down at full length. A deep wound ran across his entire chest and he was losing blood rapidly. “N… no… It can’t…” The man stammered. He made final attempt to get up before his strength failed. Darian took a piece of silk cloth from his pocket and swept the blade of his sword clean with a single wipe. Carelessly he dropped the cloth in the pool of blood surrounding the dead body of the young man, sheathed his sword and walked away.
Using the streets instead of the rooftops, Darian found his way back home. Rooftops were very convenient for a silent approach, but in some parts of town it was difficult to get up there. That’s why he used the ladder in the ‘Sailor’s Haven’ most of the time. Sometimes he had to use ropes or other equipment. Two times on his way back home, he had hide in an alley in order to avoid a patrol. They knew assassins were out here doing their work and Darian paid their commanders enough bribes, but it saved both groups a lot of trouble if they didn’t run into each other. Over the course of time Darian knew their patrol scheme by heart and the commanders saw no use in changing it, convinced by the bribes Darian and his colleagues paid them.
During the five years he had settled in Cairhien as an assassin for hire, Darian had had to fight for his place among his colleagues, but his superior kills and merciless attitude soon delivered him a reputation. After elimination a big concurrent three years ago, Darian was the undisputed high-class assassin, earning him the monopoly on assignments from noblemen and other high-class residents. Now, after 5 years it had become sort of a law among assassins to take a job only after they knew for sure Darian was lying in wait for the same contract. Every living soul agreed to this enforced agreement. Some hadn’t, but they weren’t living souls any longer.
Carefully shutting the front door behind him, Darian went looking for a candle in the dark hall. He had made it a habit not to wake his servant when he returned from ‘work’. It took him some time before he had found a candle and he used a coal from the fireplace to light the fuse. He sneaked up the stairs and went to his dressing room. In the semi-darkness he threw his cape on a pile of dirty laundry, then took his sword from his sash and stared at it for a while. Suddenly, he heard to door creak and he whirled around, drawing his sword in the same motion. He was about to blow out the candle when he noticed Aurore in the doorway.
“Oh, it’s you.” Relieved he sheathed the sword again and placed it against the wardrobe. “It’s all right, come in. Shut to door, it’s cold. You didn’t stay up for me, did you.” “I just couldn’t sleep.” Aurore replied. “Let me give you a hand.” She lit up the chandeliers in the room and blew out both candles. “I heard you come in, your sword scraped along the wall.” “You’re a crappy liar, you know that? You shouldn’t stay up for me, who knows when I might return.” “What conceit to think I would stay up for you,” she said, teasing him as she often did, meanwhile taking the shirt he handed her. Suddenly her breath caught. Spotting a wheat spot on the shirt, she stared at him and stammered. “You… you’re bleeding.” Darian stared at her as if she had told him she had seen a ghost. “What?” He asked incredulous. Noticing the appalled expression on her face, he touched his own face. Suddenly he felt something warm running down his neck. Touching his neck, he felt a long, shallow wound that had been bleeding all this time. “I’ll go get some water and bandages.” Aurore said and rushed away. Darian stood motionless, bewildered.
How is it possible! It has never happened before… “Swordsmanship is closely connected with its user’s mental strength. If you have a strong mind, your swordsmanship has the potential to be invincible…” Shut up! I’m going crazy. I’m hearing voices.
Darian grabbed his sword, went through the door to his adjoining bedroom and sat down on the bed. Lost in memories he sat in the dark room staring out the window. A little while later Aurore found him there. As he remained motionless, she lit up the candles in this room as well, took a bowl of water and carefully washed out the wound. He left it to her, lost in thought too much to notice. Gently, she wound a bandage across his neck and tied it up. He didn’t notice. It was but when she ensconced herself on his lap and her lips touched his he returned to earth…
Part Seven: Running the Gauntlet
“In the higher walks of life all paths are paved with daggers”
~ Ancient Seanchan proverb
I recall a day I was sitting on the city rampart, just gazing down upon the landscape. The passing guards ignored me, despite the fact I had absolutely no right at all to be here. Perhaps they could judge from the look on my face something was bothering me or perhaps they were among the numerous people that had learnt to associate my name with danger and great influence these past seven years. Or they could have considered me an eccentric rich citizen and wished me the joy of whatever was on my mind. Anyhow, I was left alone and it suited me just fine. I haven’t got the slightest clue of how long I had been sitting there when Aurore found me.
“Darian, there you are! I searched almost the entire city. I couldn’t find you anywhere!” She said on a tone that showed her surprise. “Perhaps I didn’t want to be found.” I must have replied. I could hear Aurore run up the steps to the overturn. I imagined her satin dress rustle around her beautiful figure and her soft slippers barely touching the cold stone steps. I heard the tissue rustle as she kneeled down by my side, completely ignoring the other people on the rampant and most likely unaware of the dirt that would ruin her dress. “Darian… What’s bothering you? Please… I want to know,” she implored. In any other situation I would not have been able to bear the unhappy tone of her voice, but that time I turned a deaf ear to her appeal. “Darian…” she insisted and this time her soft voice was too much to resist. “It’s last night’s job that has set me thinking.” Her hands slid over my shoulders, softly caressing them. She sounded surprised by my words.
“What do you mean, set you thinking? Something happened? Something like…?” Her fingers found the wound I had sustained two years ago. Her soft touch could follow the exact line of the scar without even looking at it. “No, nothing like that at all,” I said, realizing my tone was colder than she had deserved. Yet still… I can’t stand it if anyone doubts my skill. It’s the central pillar of the life I built up. Then again… this is Aurore, she knows me best. She couldn’t have meant to grieve me.
I tried making it up with a faint smile, still not feeling relaxed. She smiled hearty and kissed my lips with the fake smile on them. “That’s more like it,” she said. “Please come back home, I’ve ordered to prepare a bath for you. It’ll help you relax. Lenore has cancelled all your appointments for today so you can rest. You can spend the entire day in the meditation room or in the inner court. I’ll look after you, see you’re taken care off.” Delighted about how well this woman was attuned to me, I agreed. “All right then.” I said. “You can be very convincing, you know that?”
She smiled playfully and stroke with her fingers through my hair. “I’ll carry this,” she proposed, reaching out for my sword. Instinctive my hand flashed forward, on its way to stop anyone that lays hand upon my sword. I couldn’t hold back but a few inches from Aurore’s delicate wrist. She looked at me in a questioning way. Not without effort I withdrew my hand. I lifted the hand up to her chin and kissed my wife. “I’m glad you’re so good at looking after me,” I said with a smile and walked down the steps, realizing very well this was the first time in my entire life I turned my back to someone holding a sword.
It must have been a few hours later, by the end of the afternoon. I had spent a few hours in my meditation room in order to soothe my mind. I had the room refurnished for that purpose years ago when I bought the house. From time to time I would seek the rest and tranquility of that room. Its decoration is actually very sober, a few cushions to sit on and a niche with a still life of my favorite flowers are the only things that alternate the emptiness of the room. One side of the room consists of moving panels that – if opened – overlook a restful inner court with its carefully designed and planted garden. The noises of the street don’t penetrate the inner regions of my house and the peaceful flow of the fountain is the only audible sound. A few hours in this room would suffice to bring me back from the verge of death, so great are its healing abilities.
A few hours later I spent the afternoon together with my wife in a luxurious living room, overlooking another inner court of my extensive residence. The moving panels were opened and we had a great view on the lawn and trees in the garden. I had imported some sakura trees from Shienar and their plentiful pink blossoms cheered up the garden. Sunlight poured in through the open wall and a soft breeze made the branches rustle without finding its way into the living room. Aurore was being lazy on a bench; she was reading a book from my library.
From time to time she would reach for a dish of grapes – very rare in this time of the year, I had them imported from who-knows-where – and accurately guided the grape up to her mouth before eating it. It enjoyed watching the scenery. As I looked around and saw the luxury I could afford, my feeling of guilt returned. It damped my blessed feelings and I suddenly felt a void within me. I stared at the garden, watching two pigeons alight in one of the trees in the garden. I wonder why they didn’t alight in the sakura trees. Perhaps birds don’t enjoy sakura blossoms as much as I do… That’s why they chose the apple tree. My eyes opened widely, I heard a saying echo through my head.
“The apple blossoms of spring, the stars of summer, autumn’s full moon and the snow of winter, that itself makes for good brandy… If bitter, it’s proof something’s wrong with you.” It sure tastes bitter. Something must be completely wrong with me.
Something hit me on the front. Completely off the map I looked around, it had been a total surprise. I overlooked the room two times before I noticed the juicy grape that lie on the ground next to my chair. Looking at Aurore, I saw her stick her tongue out. “It’s the first time,” she said “…I see you come out of the meditation room still bothered by your problems.” She looked around for something that could serve as a bookmark for her book, didn’t find anything and pulled the ribbon from her hair. She folded it two times and put it between the pages. She got up and walked towards me. “Sometimes you require as much caring as a baby,” she complained. “Now don’t you exaggerate,” I laughed. “Exaggerating. Master Gedwyn is making a joke,” she said, teasing me by summoning the memory of the times when she still was a servant. It was our fixed joke. She took a cushion and sat down by the head of the bench on which I lie.
“But perhaps my master Gedwyn wouldn’t mind telling his little Aurore what’s been bothering him all day,” she spoke softly, clearly worried. She picked up the grape, wiped an imaginary speck of dust away and made me eat it. “Please…” she insisted. “It’s last night’s contract,” I let out. “It was a matter of inheritance and the target was only a boy.” “You’re way too kind,” she said, supporting me completely and ignoring the fact that I was actually a cold-hearted assassin. “Still, I killed a fifteen year old… The sight of the scenery probably hurt me more then I hurt the boy. Because…”
Aurore didn’t say anything, leaving me the time I needed to relieve my feelings. “… I know how it feels to lose someone close to you. I could perfectly imagine how his mother must feel. Because… I know how it feels to lose someone dear. I lost my mother when I was thirteen years old. It was a horrifying accident.” Aurore was clearly surprised to hear me say something like that. I hardly ever talked about my youth so she didn’t really know what to say. “Also…” I came up, sitting down on the bench instead of lying so Aurore could come and sit next to me. She immediately nestled close against me. We stared at the garden and I saw her look at the pigeons in the blossoming apple tree. I smiled. “The apple blossoms of spring, the stars of summer, autumn’s full moon and the snow of winter, that itself makes for good brandy… If bitter, it’s proof something’s wrong with you.” I quoted. “It feels strange to see you in a philosophical mood today, dear,” she commented. “It tastes bitter today,” I said. She hugged me without saying a word.
So we sat there for quite some time, till Lenore came in. She twitched her face at the sight of her sister. Lenore had problems accepting the fact Aurore and I got married. I didn’t know whether she was jealous, just disapproved of the idea or if it had to do with personal resentment against me… Both of the girls had changed during the last two years, but while Aurore had matured and become a rare beauty, her sister Lenore had adopted the looks of a rigid schoolteacher. At moments like these I was glad I had married the younger one of the two sisters and it struck me every time again how much they were each others opposite.
“May I remind my master he had a delicate appointment this evening at the royal palace where he was invited by the queen to attend her banquet? May I also add that this invitation is too delicate too decline…” I noticed she had started speaking like an argumentative schoolteacher as well. “Thank you Lenore,” I said. “I hadn’t forgotten about it, but thanks nevertheless for reminding me. I remember tomorrow is your day off. Please make my regards to your father.” I always tried to remain friendly towards Lenore. She snorted haughty. “Yes, master Gedwyn,” she said, giving the word ‘master’ a slight condescending sound. “… and perhaps my darling sister wouldn’t mind knocking first before she comes into a room. After all, she might be interrupting private scenes.” Aurore ragged her older sister. Lenore snorted even louder and turned around brusquely, slamming the door rather then closing it.
“I’m not certain whether or not I should attend the banquet…” Ignoring Aurore’s protests I continued: “I’m not in the right mood.” Aurore teased me with a comforting tone in her voice: “You should do that, dear. If you don’t feel up to it you shouldn’t go. Let me go in your place, that way I’ll finally get the chance to meet all these interesting young aristocrats you always talk about…” “I don’t talk a…” Then I noticed how much effort it took her to keep a blank face. “That’s blackmail,” I protested. “Off course it is, silly,” she grinned. “Now either you come with me and help me pick your outfit for tonight or you risk losing me to one of those handsome young men.” “I would rather duel with the entire court than allowing that to happen,” I warned her. She pulled me up from the bench. “I know, I love you too,” she said.
Long tables were arranged in one of the great halls of the palace. They were covered with the finest table covers made from snowy lace. The cutlery was expensive silverware and the ornaments in the hall were excessive. All together it was one of the best examples of bad taste I had ever seen. The wine flew liberally and an endless series of courses was served. I kept within bonds, as I despised the fat paunches of the gluttons around me. The main subject at the table was the increased number of border-conflicts with the Aiel tribes. Most of the nobles didn’t seem to care, but I had heard from soldiers on this might grow into a big problem if measures weren’t taken. “If a war should arise,” a corpulent duke declared with a rumbling tone, “we hire good old Darian to dispose of them. Can’t you charge us a group discount, Darian?” The entire table burst out laughing, except for me. I kept my cool and answered him on a cold tone: “I wouldn’t see a problem in doing my share. And I could always hire some back up to take care of the rest. After all, your combined generous gifts have made me prosperous enough to buy assistance from the entire Cairhienin army.” The laughing at the table broke down and nervous looks were tossed at me. Ignoring the simpletons around me completely, I took a distinguished sip of my wine – which tasted, between brackets, flatly awful. Soon the subject changed and I smiled discretely. I knew perfectly well my fortune had become the subject of many speculations and soon it might grow into an actual urban legend.
After the banquet a dance was given – another obvious token of bad taste, after all, who gives a dance after an excessive banquet? Even though Aurore had convinced me to attend this banquet I still didn’t feel in the mood and thus, as soon as I saw my chance, I slipped away and found refuge from the excitement on a terrace overlooking the gardens. Sipping from my glass of wine I stared at the sparkling stars. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and saw the queen standing on the terrace. I made a courteous bow for her. “Your Majesty,” I greeted her. Despite my aversion of the dull kind of woman I held intelligence and keen wits in high regard. That explains the sympathy I felt for the queen of my host country. “Lord Darian,’ she greeted me, paying me respect by a slight nod of the head. I smiled boyish. “Your Majesty must be mistaken, for I am not a nobleman. I am but a civilian,” I said, playing the humble servant knowing very well the queen wouldn’t fall for such false modesty. “Aren’t you? Oh yes, off course. Too bad perhaps, nobility could use men like you, Darian.” Striking were the transparent mistake in determining his status and the stress on the word Darian – without the ‘lord’-title this time. I smiled, admiring her skill in the Great Game of Houses. I couldn’t help but think: And unfortunately I need nobility as well.
“Perhaps your Majesty now wishes to correct the error she’s made. She’s offering a mere commoner too much honor by engaging a conversation with him…” “You’re right. We entrust you don’t feel offended?” I bowed again, knowing she would slip me a message or an assignment very soon. “I wouldn’t dare take offense after having had the opportunity for a private conversation with your Majesty.” She smiled, covering her smile behind the fan she had with her. These fans were the latest freak of fashion at the court and the ladies had quickly developed some sort of secret language using specific motions of their fans. I had learnt to read them to certain extent. Freaks like these were too temporary to be worthy of my close attention but it was always useful to be abreast of the latest curiosities. The queen waved her fan up and down slowly, holding it in the left hand and brushing the air more in my direction then hers. Roughly speaking it was a way to express respect, but it didn’t catch the more subtle meanings of it. They were unimportant. The queen folded her fan and left the terrace. As a means to say goodbye she handed me the fan. “As a memento, and to compensate the discomfort I caused.” “Not at all, your Majesty,” I said, not bowing this time, as three bows on such a short period of time would make me seem submissive. The queen gave me a final nod – showing appreciation of my worthy attitude – and walked though the curtains. She was followed by a small horde of ladies in waiting and pages. Looking at the fan, I noticed a sheet of fine paper woven in between the spokes. I sighed.
Why did they always have to make things this complicated? I took the letter and set the paper fan on fire at one of the torches that lit up the terrace. I sighed and decided to accept the inevitable: I had to show my face at the dance. Brushing aside the curtains I entered the hall. The orchestra was playing a waltz and many couples were already whirling around the dance floor. I went for a drink at one of the tables on the other side of the room. On my way there I had to stop from time to time in order to greet an acquaintance or allow a proud aunt to present her ‘wonderful young nice’. True to the tradition they turned out to be shy half-grown young girls. Every time again it was the same story. I sighed and muttered to myself how glad I was to have Aurore.
At the sideboard I ran into a duchess who was introducing a relative – perhaps her daughter – to the life at the court. Knowing I couldn’t keep avoiding contact all evening I gave them opportunity to start a conversation. The duchess took her relative by the arm and walked towards me. I had just taken a crystal wine glass from a silver platter and saw them coming. I produced a friendly smiled. “Duchess d’Chambray. A delight to see you.” It was good custom to ignore the shy relative till she was introduced. “Sir Darian,” she overestimated my social status, as did most people. They always assumed I was a nobleman because I got invitations for the parties. I bowed and kissed her hand. “Allow me to introduce you to my niece Rosalind. She’s the daughter of my youngest sister who holds the title of countess of Aville.” “A pleasure to meet such a fine lady,” I said while greeting her niece with a less deep bow. “My husband ran into some business relations and they started talking about all sorts of complicated matters, wasn’t it dear?” The young lady of Aville nodded meekly. I knew she was acting; she was cunning enough to understand everything that could yield her profit. It could only mean her presence would hamper the discussions. No doubt she would demand a detailed report from her husband afterwards. “I had the occasion to talk to him at dinner,” I smiled, recalling her husband had suggested to hire me to massacre the Aiel tribes. “He seemed quite in his element, I assume business is prospering…” “Oh sir Darian, how would you ever expect a simpleton like me to know about things like that? We didn’t understand a thing from what they were saying, right dear?” The girl nodded meekly, I suppressed the urge to retch.
“Count Darian,” I heard another mistake in my social status. Surprised to hear that specific voice, I turned around. “Lady Isabelle. Always a delight…” The speaker was the representative of the First of Mayene and a direct relative of the First. Lady Isabelle served as the spokesman of Mayene’s trade interests in Cairhien; she was an attractive, blonde haired woman who was as much the counterpart of duchess d’Chambray’s dull niece as Aurore was Lenore’s counterpart. The lady was a keen-witted woman with more worldly wisdom then this girl could ever hope to obtain. Isabelle made use of my services from time to time. In reality, she was completely different from the spoiled young lady she pretended to be. Followed by a group of young aristocrats, flatterers and admirers, lady Isabelle joined Darian and the other women. “I would believe no less,” she said with the gentle smile that could make Aurore flare up just like that. There existed some kind of rivalry between Aurore and Isabelle, because Isabelle had tried to seduce me in former days. At certain moments I still suspected her to have a weakness for me.
This evening she was dressed in a close-fitting ball dress made from azure silk, and her natural grace made the dress whirl around her figure. It was a dress without shoulder straps and the embroidery added even more to the tempting touch. As always, she looked beautiful, but I had concluded that was a distinguishing mark for all women from Mayene. They seemed to have developed seducing into an actual art form. She suffered me to offer her a hand kiss and from the huffy looks on the faces of some young aristocrats I deduced she hadn’t offered some of them the small favor. “If you could excuse us, duchess d’Chambray…” She took my arm and walked away from the rest of group, dragging me along to the dance floor. From the looks on the duchess’ face I noticed it had been her intention for me to dance with her niece. I breathed more freely. “It seems I have saved you from some inconvenience, my dear Darian,” Isabelle whispered. “As a service in return, I demand you offer me this dance.” Before I could protest she took my hands and lead us into the rotating circle of dancing couples. Isabelle scoffed at the old women and shy young girls sitting on the sideline. Some watched us with a jealous expression on their faces. I was quite the exotic person and I was known for my feeling of taste so many people – mostly women – sought my company as a token of their outstanding social contacts. Off course, an equal amount of men watched us envious, since Isabelle was at least as esteemed among the male half of the guests.
The orchestra was in great form at this point of the evening and played a long waltz. During the dance, the First’s representative took me closer, giving me the occasion to feel the luxuriant curves of her body. I didn’t like where that was going and told her so. “Don’t worry, my dear Darian.” She said, always teasing me with pet names. “I wouldn’t dare to do anything that would upset poor little Aurore.” I wondered what ‘poor little Aurore’ would have done if she heard Isabelle call her names like that. In any case it would be a troublesome situation if these two were ever confronted with each other. Anyhow, she widened the space between us and kept silent for the rest of the dance. I guess she felt incensed nevertheless. After all, she was far from unattractive and various men had laid themselves out to catch her attention. Too bad for her things were the way they were.
After the dance I treated her for a glass of wine. On the sideboard waiters were serving different kinds of wine; some of good quality, other were moderate. I selected a wine she would like and offered it to her. She accepted it with not the least sign of appreciation and I sighed. “Please don’t hate me,” I said. “Really, I enjoy your company, especially on times like this and I appreciate you as a person. Believe me, you’re one of the very few people in this room I would take outside if I knew an earthquake was about to demolish the palace.” I tried a smile and was glad to receive one in return and then she finally took a sip from her wine. It must have pleased her, as she stroke my cheek playfully and said on a teasing tone: “You’re such a dear.” I sighed. This woman would always be an enigma to me…
After that we got separated but by the end of the evening she came to me again and took me to the same terrace where I had met the queen earlier that night. Keeping her ignorant of this, I awaited whatever she had to say. This conversation turned out to be professional; she offered me a contract for the elimination of crime lord who extorted money from traders that fell under her responsibility. I assured her I would take care of it first thing tomorrow and she left the terrace without any further comment. From my position I could see her leave the palace in a sedan carried by four young men. I sighed, recalling that one time she had ever lost her self-control in my presence. It had – obviously – been a discussion about Aurore. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t hire you to take care of little Aurore…” Blazing with indignation I had answered on an icy cold tone and with my hand on my sword: “Because then you would surely find out my talents are for hire, while my loyalty isn’t.” After that I had shown her the door.
A short while later I returned home as well, with three new contracts in my pocket. I felt troubled, knowing Aurore would be furious after she heard about Isabelle’s behavior tonight. Feeling sad because I would have to hide things from the person dearest to me, I realized this life had a lot more negative angles then I had ever imagined.
Part 8 : War
“One man’s bread is another man’s poison.”
Cairhien was thrown into commotion. Civilians were called to arms and soldiers who had leave of absence were recalled. All units were prepared for combat and the whole city was in panic. Aiel had breeched their ancient, self-imposed borders and were advancing at high speed towards Cairhien. The Golden City was in panic and everything was done in order to defend the city. Supplies were claimed in the countryside and stocked in huge warehouses within the city walls. Huge barrels of drinking water were also stockpiled and the price of provisions rose to exorbitant high values. Everyone in town was hoarding like mad. Young men with visions of honor and fame signed up for the army in great numbers while crying mothers or wives tried to stop them from doing so. The king had countless meetings with his generals and strategists and the queen was trying to decide whether to prefer luxury in the palace of Andor or safety in the Stone of Tyr. The court, docile as ever, awaited her decision with impatience, because it was a foregone conclusion they would follow the example of the queen.
Darian looked down upon all the activity on the streets from the big balcony on the front of his house. He was sitting in a comfortable chair and on a small wooden table next to him stood a bucket of ice with a nice cool bottle of wine in it. He sipped slowly from his glass, relishing this year’s vintage. His extensive network of eyes and ears in the city had warned him about the upcoming Aiel invasion weeks ago, so he was already well stocked. It was extremely funny to see how ignorant rulers could be of signals of an upcoming disaster. Even during Darian’s occasional visits to cheap inns he had heard soldiers talk about the increasing number of incidents involving invading Aiel groups. But in the higher walks of life people didn’t pay attention to common soldiers and the lower walks of life were completely dependent on the higher ones. Darian wondered how many among all the people who had heard the stories of the frontier-guards had taken their precautions.
Considering the flood of hoarding people: none. Inspecting the color of the wine by holding the glass into the light, Darian grinned. He had taken his precautions. He had stockpiled a food supply that would allow him to survive for more then a half-year and water well in his cellar that provided him with an infinite supply of pure water. And – what was even more important – aside from lying in supplies he had also exported things: gold! The greater part of his considerable fortune was taken out of town more then a week ago. He had it shipped with a small frigate to Mayene, under the supervision of lady Isabelle. She had given him her guarantee the gold would arrive there safely and deposited with a trustworthy intention operating under the protection of the crown. The insurance papers had the whole transaction covered and soon Isabelle would bring him the receipt.
All this ensured Darian’s rest and he took a second sip. He had all reason to enjoy this glass of wine; he had everything taken care off. In an impulse he got up and walked up to the rail. Dressed in a smoking-jacket he looked down upon the crowd and felt like an eagle, drifting high in the sky, looking down upon the earth and inferior creatures. Perhaps it was the wine, but he felt a warm glow spread through his body and he muttered the thought that crossed his mind half loud: ‘This is power! This must be how the creator must feel. Looking down upon the earth, smile at its problems while knowing none of it will ever affect you… Yet still you enjoy looking down, merely as an amusing pastime.’
“What did you say, dear?” Aurore entered the balcony from the big room on my left. Disturbed and somehow annoyed with her underhand approach I looked around. “Nothing,” Darian replied with a sheepish grin. Imperturbable she strode to his side and slid her arm through his. She rested her head on his shoulder and asked softly: “Looking down upon other people?” Ignoring her remark, Darian asked her a question that had been on his mind all afternoon. “Where have you been? Lately you keep on disappearing on me. What’s going on?” His words conjured up a mysterious smile on her face and all she said was: “That’s not for you to know.” Obviously this made the man even more curious, especially because Duncan, the person responsible for keeping Darian abreast of all information gathered by his eyes and ears, had informed him Aurore was repeatedly noticed in quarters of the city she normally didn’t visit, for instance the quarter where foreign ambassadors, such as Isabelle, were lodged. “I see,” he said and let it go at that. “Now if will excuse me, I’ve got some things I must see to.” “Again,” Aurore asked in a complaining voice. “You’re always out lately, you hardly ever spend time with me anymore.” “What? That’s a lie!” Darian said on an indignant tone. “I’ve never been more at home then last weeks. The turmoil in the city has paralyzed the Great Game and I haven’t had an assignment in weeks. It’s you who’s outdoors most of the time. I even had to accept invitations for shooting-parties to beguile my time…” “Still… don’t stay away for too long, okay?” Darian grumbled a reply and left the balcony, closing the sliding-door behind him. Aurore watched till he had left the street and then left the balcony as well, leaving the half-full glass of wine and the bottle in a bucket of melting ice behind.
Four days later – Darian was furious. He stood near the front of a long unit, preparing to leave the city gates. He wore lightweight plated armor, covering his chest, a paldron protecting his right shoulder – the shoulder of his sword arm – and metal armor covering his upper arms. It was a high-quality armor, designed to protect him from any sever wound while leaving him free and able to move unhampered. On his back he wore Kago-Zuchi in a finely crafted sheath, also made from light metal so it could serve as a weapon as well. On his belt he wore a single edged, slightly curved short sword and he carried two throwing-knives in sheaths on his arms. With his 6 feet tall posture he rose above the surrounding soldiers. Duncan, one of his most trusted companions stood next to him, equipped also with quality armor, less expensive and adorned then Darian’s, but equally useful. The gate opened and the unit trotted across the bridge towards the battlefield. Yesterday the Aiel had reached the city and – despite his big surprise – Darian was called to arms as any other citizen. Darian hadn’t the least expected this to happen, since he thought his social status would grant him exemption from military service just as it exempted him from other things such as paying taxes or import duties. Still, protesting was no use and despite Darian’s the firm determination to take someone’s head for this afterwards he couldn’t avoid conscription. Nevertheless, there was something fishy about the whole thing, as the members of his household weren’t called to arms, just as the members of the households of nobles were granted exemption. Darian suspected some official bearing a grudge against him had taken advantage of the situation in order to play him a nasty trick. Still, Darian intended to take his head for this.
Bolt of lightning were raining down from the sky and fireballs soared across the scene. Upon exploding these weapons of the One Power generated the most atrocious wounds and Darian had seen multiple warriors torn apart by the more powerful impacts. The One Power didn’t seem to discern friend from foe and from the early beginning Darian had felt strong feelings of disgust towards this cowardly way of fighting. “This happens when you allow worthless actions by worthless people! Damn all these forsaken, whether Aes Sedai or Shadowspan! Their actions are all the same. He gracefully danced out of the line of fire from another incoming fireball, immediately plumping his long sword in yet another man’s belly. With a swift slash he ripped the man’s entire chest open and a second later his sword was separating another head from its trunk. The enemy had lost his face, they had become mere puppets, dolls without a face or a name and at this point they had become vague colored figured. Everyone dressed in the colors of the cadin’sor fell by Darian’s sword. There was simply not enough time to have a closer look. Like a whirlwind Darian raged, leaving death in his tracks. Kago-Zuchi was red now instead of shiny white because off all the blood that stuck to its blade. Fresh blood flew along the blade faster then it could drip onto the ground so a thin layer of congealed blood covered the steel, giving it a disgusting red luster.
“Darian… Help!” Someone had been shouting for some time before it dawned to Darian’s mind that was running on pure instinct. Darian looked around, trying to locate the source of the sound. It was Duncan. The man was surrounded by a bunch of hot-tempered, young Aiel warriors. They seemed eager to prove themselves. Stimulated by the adrenalin flowing through his body, Darian ran up to the group of five Aiel. He ran through pools of blood and mud and jumped over dead bodies. He ran behind the Aiel that had surrounded his friend Duncan. In the run he beheaded one of them, spun around on the tips of his toes as he was taught to do by Kenjiro and used the acceleration of the spin to behead a second foe. Duncan noticed he was covered on one side and immediately assisted Darian in his attack. As Duncan used a nimble rapier rather than a long sword, it took him some time to kill his adversaries. That was the main reason why he had been unable to cope with five Aiel at once. One of the Aiel backed off a little in order to keep an eye on both men, so Darian killed a third by cleaving his skull while Duncan finally found an opening in the Aiel’s defense and stabbed his opponent.
Meanwhile, Darian had already plumped his faithful sword in the final Aiel’s chest. The sword penetrated right below the sternum and stabbed upwards, boring through both the heart and the left lung. The bewildered Aiel died with his mouth wide open in astonishment. The now useless shield hung on his left arm while the unused spears fell from his right hand. They splashed in a pool of blood and mud. Darian pulled his sword back in a swift motion as Seta had taught him years ago. The Aiel collapsed on his knees and fell forward in the pool, splashing the sludge on Duncan and Darian. Duncan retched and Darian admonished him: “Pull yourself together man. You think I enjoy this? I’m using techniques invented for an efficient disposal of trollocs and Fades to kill fellow human being. Have you even got the slightest idea of how I loathe myself?” Duncan nodded. “I’m glad to hear you say so, boss. I was afraid you might have started to enjoy killing people. You know, because of the profession…” Darian grinned. “Duncan, the best soldiers will always be the ones who feel resentment towards killing.” “Aye, sir.” “Now let’s get going.”
Darian had lost all sense of time by now. It could have been a half hour after he had rescued Duncan or two hours. The two men had gotten separated again and now Darian was assisting a small unit of cavalrymen along with about a dozen infantry soldiers. They were under heavy fire by a group of Aiel archers and another group of warriors was constantly waylaying them so they couldn’t get any closer to the archers in order to take them down. It was a hopeless position and as time passed the Cairhienin formation lost all structure. They had lost their commanding sergeant some time ago and despite Darian’s efforts to take command the soldiers refused to take commands from a civilian so now it was everyone for himself. The idiot cavalry men tried to force a breakthrough with their horses, impaling their mounts on enemy spears as a result. The Aiel archers on the other hand didn’t lack strategy and unity and at the moment they were fixing on the cavalrymen who were like sitting ducks on their stationary horses. One by one the armored knights fell off their horses. Darian had just created – or rather: slain – a breech in the enemy lines and was about to make a safe getaway. In a final impulse of fellowship he yelled at the soldiers behind him to follow his lead when suddenly the world exploded in a sea of stars…
An indefinite period of time later he came round. It took him several minutes to gather his thoughts and get any feeling in his limbs. Some time later he tried to get up, only to notice he was covered by something heavy. Lying on his belly and unable to turn, he tried to feel what was covering him. Whatever it was, it was heavy. Looking around for something that might help him escape from this parlous state he noticed his sword. It was out of reach and even it he had been able to reach it, it would have been useless. The blade was shattered by the corpse of an armored knight who had fallen straight onto the thin blade. Suddenly it dawned to Darian. If that’s a knight over there, there should be a horse as well. Blight and bloodfire, I’m lying underneath a forsaken horse! Darian tried desperately to get away, but the only result of his actions was that a passing group of Aiel warriors noticed him and came near. “Seems like luck has finally abandoned this loathsome whetlander,” one of them said. “He isn’t worth the effort of killing. Let’s go and capture some healthy gai’shan and leave this rat to his fate.” The other mumbled some words, obviously agreeing with this idea. “Yes, good idea,” their leader said, turning around and stumbling over a piece of Darian’s broken sword. Irritated, he looked down at the object that had made him trip and as soon as he saw the Kago-Zuchi’s hilt along with a piece of its blade still attacked to it, he recalled his companions. Holding it between his thumb and forefinger he took up the sword and stared at the blood stained blade. The others, who came back, seemed interested as well. “Is this your sword?” Their leader asked. Darian tried to reply but burst out coughing. He expectorated and spitted out some bloody foam. “Yes it is,” he still managed to reply. “Why, are you interested in it? Masterpiece of Shienaran craftsmanship, I can assure you that. I’ll have to charge a high price for it,” he mocked with grim humor. “Hard to tell how big he is, now he’s covered by that strange animal,” another Aiel said. “Has anyone clearly seen his face?”
Yet another Aiel answered affirmative and came forward, casually kicking some dust in Darian’s face with his soft leather boots. He kneeled by Darian’s head and took his chin in his strong hand. He turned the head back and forth while studying it intently, meanwhile almost snapping the neck. “It’s him,” he finally concluded. The other had grim expressions on their faces. “Could it be I have met you at some cocktail party? At least I’m sure you’re not one of my discontented clients, since none of them is in a state to complain…” Darian was irritated by the bizarre treatment these warriors gave him. Either they would help him or they would kill him, but tormenting him was needless cruelty. The Aiel seemed furious because of his words and kicked him in the face. “You shut up, dog!” “No you shut up, brave rat-head from that tainted dessert. Instead of looking down upon someone who has a blighted horse on his back, make sure to get it off of me, give me that forsaken shard of my sword you’re holding there and borrow some of those idiot chop-sticks from your retarded friends. I’ll be sure to enjoy killing you, then I’ll skin you, tan your worthless hide and hang it on the far eastern side of the spine of the world as an eternal warning for the rest of the disgusting offspring of your bestial kind never ever to set their cursed feet upon this land again!”
He spitted a blob of bloody spittle right on this tip of his boot and writhed from the pain in his lungs. The Aiel were chuckling and sneered at him. Their leader set his boot in Darian’s neck and pushed his face deeper into the dust. “Look at this dog bark in his final moments. He’s trying to make us angry so his death would be swift, right?” The other looked at him with blank faces. “But we won’t do so. We won’t have pity on your sad life, dog! Because – he swung the sword shard back and forth between his two fingers – because this was the sword that killed my first brother. My first-brother Erradin, the first born son of our clan leader.” “In that case, I’m sure he’ll have died like the crying sissy he was…” Darian mocked, hampered by the boot in his neck and the dust in his face. “We’ll make sure to leave you here. We’ll cut the tendons in your arms and legs and leave you here. That way you’ll live on as a paralyzed, useless warrior, a disgrace for as long as you live…” He pulled a knife from his belt and placed it in the fold between the thumb and forefinger of Darian’s right hand. Provokingly slow he knife blade cut trough the skin first, then it slowly slid though the tendons in the hand. A gulf of pain resonated though Darian’s body, followed by a gulf of adrenalin but no matter how strong his panic, the horse wouldn’t budge. The Aiel withdrew his knife.
“This is deep enough,” he said with a demonic grin on his face. “He’ll never wield a sword with that hand again. And since he uses the two-handed kind, he’ll never wield one again.” Darian had never felt so helpless and humiliated in his entire life. All those years of training! In vain! Despite his hurt lung he yelled out in despair. Then suddenly he heard someone yell a battle cry. Duncan jumped over the carcass that covered his companion, right in the middle of the group of Aiel. “Sir! Sir, I came to free you.” “Run you imbecile. You couldn’t stand against five of them an hour ago and now you’re taking on a dozen? Run for Light’s sake!” Ignoring Darian’s words, Duncan fiercely attacked one of the Aiel. It was a brave act, but he didn’t hold out for a minute. With blood gushing from deep wound all over his body, Duncan collapsed onto the ground. Despite his inevitable death the man grinned in the same way Darian used to do. “I’m glad I could return the favor, boss… commander…“ The light in his eyes faded. The bloodthirsty Aiel started pitching into the body of the dead lieutenant like a bunch of madman. Grief-stricken, Darian watched the scene. He was moved by the way Duncan had addressed him… ‘Commander…’ ‘Captain…’ All his life he had wanted to be someone people would look up at, just as the soldiers at the Citadel had looked up to his father. But now Duncan had called him ‘commander’. Darian was touched. And right in front of his eyes, a group of bloodthirsty savages was mutilating his dead friend. Anger welled up from deep inside him.
NO… The huge core of hate; the pent-up rage he had stored deep inside his heart at the moment his mother fell down that chasm long time ago; that central core of frozen anger in the center of his heart that even Aurore had never been able to melt, that core was now melting. Slowly the icy hatred was transformed back into raging anger and fed the stream of emotion that filled Darian’s mind…
NO… More and more raging fury flowed through his body like waves of energy. These flows of liquid fire battered against all restrictions in his body, pain and tiredness perished in the raging flames and Darian felt reborn. His head was pounding. NO… It can’t… It mustn’t… It won’t… Darian’s head felt like someone was chiming a huge gong that hung in between his ears. It grew louder and louder… YOU… WON’T! Now the pounding had grown into the sound of an attacking army that was breeching a city gate. Louder and louder it grew… I won’t allow it …
All the pent-up rage was taken up into the flow and the pounding had grown so violent Darian feared his head would burst. With a final effort the barrier was breeched. Darian’s mind was withdrawn from the outside world. It seemed as if he was floating right above the crater of an erupting volcano. Perish! Orange and red clouds surrounded Darian in the vision he had and he felt the final burst of the eruption. Fire was everywhere, engulfing him, surrounding him, consuming him. Through the clouds he saw the shades of humans. They stared up in the sky, paralyzed, cramped… They opened their mouths to scream out in pain but no words or sounds were uttered. Then, suddenly, a shooting flame burst out of their throats and the shrieking Aiel were consumed by flames.
Again, after an indefinite period of time Darian regained consciousness. Around him were the carbonized remains of a dozen people, unrecognizable by their burns. In the dust on the ground were circles created by fierce winds and the dark clouds in the air were spiraling around the place where Darian had released all his anger. After a while he noticed the horse had been flung away by the blast, still but the size of the impact wouldn’t dawn to him. Infatuated, he got up and started wandering about the battlefield. Unarmed and severely wounded, bewildered and completely off the map, he was an easy prey but no one seemed to notice him in the chaos that ruled. Bolts of lightning were raining down upon the terrified soldiers and the fiery red sky gave the battlefield an apocalyptical sight. Darian wandered trough the piles of dead bodies, unaware of the cruelties they represented. Darian’s mind was completely empty. Suddenly he heard a strange sound and a mad horse ran across a hilltop. Out of the blue three bolts of lightning struck down and after the clouds of dust descended the horse was gone and the top of the hill was burned to a crisp. None of this actually dawned to Darian.
After a while he reached the border of the apocalyptic part of the battlefield. Standing on the top of a hill he looked down on another dale with a blue sky and green grass. Relieved, he collapsed underneath a tree on the hilltop. Promptly it was struck by a strong bolt of lightning, which splintered up the tree and flung Darian away like a puppet. He smacked down upon the slope of the hill and remained silently in a slowly growing pool of his own blood…
Part 9: Dark Clouds
“Always keep an eye on the people you don’t trust. And have other people keep an eye on those you do trust. There are wounds that go deeper then a sword wound and some weapons are sharper then the sharpest blade.”
~ Kenjiro Seta
Darian came round after what had seemed an eternity of drifting in a huge dark void. He opened his eyes and felt the light sting in his eyes. After a while his eyes had adapted to the strong light. I’m lying in a bed… He sat up and looked around. His head was pounding again, he had a huge headache and he felt flabby. Suddenly he noticed something strange. Why am I tied up? It took him a while to realize the fetters were in fact bandages and he wasn’t tied up but wrapped up in countless bandages. He lifted his arm and stifled the pain that waved through his body. Slowly he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat down. On the other side of the room he noticed a mirror and after a while his eyes had adapted to the distance, hampered by an enormous headache. His chest was completely wrapped up in bandages, as were his entire right arm and most parts of his left arm and leg. His head and neck were likewise covered with clean, white, linen bandages. Groaning from pain, Darian stood up and looked around. On a chair next to the bed lie some clothes. He put on the trousers and the jacket, leaving the shirt where it was. He put some silk slippers on his feet – obviously belonging to a woman– and hobbled towards the door of the room. After a few steps it went better, but his head was still pounding like mad and he had a stinging ache in his side so he pressed his hand against the sore spot. Before opening the door, he reflected on his situation and grinned, immediately followed by a painful grimace.
Great, I can’t even grin anymore. That’s why I hate injuries so much; they make you feel so flabby. Oh blight and bloodfire. He opened the door and entered the corridor, mumbling the last words at loud: “Blight and Bloodfire.” By doing so he scared the heck out of an innocent servant girl. She yelled and prompt Darian’s headache worsened. He twitched his face in a painful grimace and tried to ask the girl to calm down, only to find out talking hurt and his ribs felt like they were hanging loose and rattling against each other. Darian groaned. “Oh milord, it’s you. You’re up. You shouldn’t be out of bed, it’s not right. The doctor…” Darian head was hurting like mad so he didn’t understand a single word of it. All he could do was stare at the girl with a feverish gaze. After a while she stopped and took a better look at him. “I’ll go and get the mistress. She’ll be relieved to hear you’ve finally waken up.”
Darian nodded, unable to pronounce his appreciation for the fact she finally shut up. The nods were sufficient to make him dizzy and he had to lean against the doorpost in order not to fall. He felt like he was going to vomit. He stood there for a while, motionless and trying to keep the content of his stomach from coming out when suddenly he heard hasty footsteps in the corridor. Soft slippers hurried through the corridor with soft flops. “Darian! Oh Darian, what have you done? You shouldn’t have come out of bed, are you insane? Come on, I’ll put you back in.” I know this voice, Darian’s clouded mind thought. He wasn’t able to recall from where exactly, since that moment his knees gave way and he had to be supported by the two women or he would have smacked onto the floor.
After a while the darkness fell back again and Darian found out he was lying in bed again. After a while he realized someone was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding his wrapped up right hand. “Who… are you? Where am I?” He tried to get up again but was gently pushed down again. Someone spoke to him on a soothing tone. “Don’t try to get up yet, Darian. You need to rest.” “Who are you?” Darian repeated his question, still unable to combine the voice with a specific face or name. “It’s me, Isabelle,” the voice said on its characteristic melodious tone. “You’re at my house and I’ve had several doctors have a looks at you. They say you have a chance to make it, as long as you take your time to recover completely. Now please go back to sleep.” “Isabelle,” Darian muttered and involuntary he did as he was told and fell back asleep.
It took Darian five weeks to recover sufficiently to leave his bed permanently. During these five weeks he had spent most of his time sleeping. He had alternated that with short walks in the gardens in the company of lady Isabelle, short periods of reading – short to keep him from getting headaches again – and long periods of meditation. By the end of the fifth week Darian, Isabelle and her doctor had some tea on the terrace of Isabelle’s stately residence in the upper city. The weather was lovely – the only reason why the doctor had allowed Darian to have his tea outside. The sun was shining and a soft breeze played through the long grass. A fountain in the form of a mermaid squirted its water cheerfully in a marble basin. He recalled Isabelle was passionate about the sea. They talked about the small things in life and Darian realized this was ordered by the doctor. It seemed Isabelle had something on her mind she was eager to speak about and she was clearly making an effort to hide it from Darian – yet in vain. He himself had something on his mind as well, but he didn’t have a reason to avoid the subject, unlike Isabelle. He wasn’t trying to go easy on himself as they were doing.
“Lovely fountain you have, Isabelle,” Darian broached the subject. Since long they addressed each other with their first names and during these five weeks their friendship had grown stronger. Before he hadn’t known where he was with her but now she had shown sincere care about him without abusing the situation for a flirt. It strongly contrasted with the behavior of others who seemed to care less about his well-being… “Oh yes, well. I’ve dedicated a great deal of care to its design. I’m very fond of it.” Isabelle replied, surprised by the direction he gave the conversation. “She reminds me of someone, though. She looks an awful lot like someone I know…” Isabelle grew a little white around the nose. “You… do? She does, I mean?” “As far as I remember though…” “You should be mistaken, Darian. She doesn’t look at all like anyone I know. Perhaps someone you know that I don’t know?“ Her flow of words came too fast to be normal and her attempt to divert his thoughts was ridiculously transparent. “I’m sure you know her, you even met her once before. She reminded me of Aurore, but that could be just imagination. After all, how long has it been since I last saw her? It must have been more then five weeks…” Darian’s words had gotten louder and louder and the excitement that showed from his final words – more yelled then spoken – alerted the doctor. The medic came up from his chair and laid his hand on Darian’s arm. “Now young man. You’re not in a condition yet to talk about such serious matters. Let’s put you back into bed.” Darian was furious and his tone was ice-cold. “What? Get your hands of me. Who do you think you are anyway? I’m thirty-two years old for crying out loud. How dare you patronize me like that, I’m old enough to know what’s good for me!”
A loud coughing hampered his final words and it took a while to pass off. Darian held a white handkerchief in front of his mouth and afterwards he noticed stains of blood on the white tissue. He stared at them with unbelief and then looked at Isabelle and her doctor for an explanation. The medical man snorted indignantly. “You haven’t got the slightest idea of how serious your situation is, young man. Or at least how serious it has been… You were on the verge of death when they brought me to you. You had lost gallons of blood; you had wounds all over your body and not just your average cut from shaving. You had the most adorable concussion of the brain and apart from that you have some internal injuries as well. If they hadn’t told me otherwise, I would have sworn you were dead.” The doctor paused for a moment, suppressing his anger. “And to make things even worse you have been struck by an explosion. You had some broken ribs and one of them damaged some lung tissue. Milady had called the Aes Sedai as well, knowing their healing can sometimes do more then doctors can but those conceited wenches wouldn’t even have a look at you. They had put you off on first sight! It was me who brought you back for Light’s sake. And then you’re telling me I wouldn’t know just how bad your condition is? What insolence!” Darian had listened to the man's words with ever increasing unbelief. Afterward he stared at Isabelle and saw a tear sparkling in the corner of her left eye. His moods softened.
“I thank you both, I didn’t realize how much both of you have looked after me. I truly appreciate all the efforts you’ve gone through just to preserve this single life, the life of someone who didn’t even deserve a second chance.” Isabelle lowered herself in her armchair and even the doctor seemed pleased to receive the gratitude from his patient. “But…” Darian continued, “That doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to know things that are important to me.” He saw the doctor was about to protest and stifled it by raising his hand. “I realize now how fragile my body is on the moment, but my mind is as strong as ever and as long as I have a strong mind I refuse to worry about my condition. Eventually my body will be fully recovered, won’t it doc?” The doctor had a doubtful expression on his face and Darian grinned. “Off course it will. Don’t underestimate your own skills or the determination of your patients. Within two months I’ll be better then ever.” The doctor snapped at breath and Darian added: “At latest.” Dismayed, the doctor sank down in his chair. “Now then, to put it simple: where is Aurore? Is she dead?” Darian’s question was asked with a blank face. Isabelle sighed, it seemed this had been the matter on her mind as well. “In all honesty, Darian, we don’t know. I haven’t got the slightest idea on her status or whereabouts. I’ve done some research but none of my sources has a clue.” “Isn’t she at the house? What happened to my people?” “Most of them have joined the army in this battle after they heard you joined as well. It seems you have more influence on your men then you ever thought, Darian.”
Darian assimilated this with mixed feelings, feeling guilty, as many of them would have ended up dead. “And the house?” “Burned down to the ground. It happened during the battle when the lightning was simply raining down and fireballs were all over the place. It’s very likely one of them set the house ablaze.” “I’m afraid there were no survivors, Darian,” the doctor said. “I was called to the place to offer medical assistance but the only one who got out alive was your hall-porter Rupert. He succumbed to his wounds a few minutes later. He was delirious and passed out almost instantly.” “Did… did he say anything?” “Nothing important. Wait, I guess his words were like ‘Dead… they’ll die… Help them… The mistress… warn the master…’ At that point he made a final effort. He came up a little and repeated ‘please tell…’ That should have been ‘please tell the master’ or something like that but before he had time to finish his sentence he passed out and he didn’t came round.” He shrugged. “I’m very sorry to place yet another burden on your shoulders, Darian. I was planning to keep it from you a little longer but you actually forced me into telling, didn’t you?” Darian nodded absent-minded. “I don’t blame you for anything. It’s just… - he sighed deeply – quite the unpleasant news. Anything else?” “We heard screams on the upper floor, but we couldn’t do anything so secure people from the inferno.” On an uncertain tone he added: “If you’re thinking about your wife, Darian, you should accept that she’s gone.” “Yes…” Darian heaved a painful sigh and Isabelle shivered from the look on his face.
Late at night - a soft knock on the door echoed through Darian’s room. “Darian?” a soft voice asked. “Can I please come in?” Isabelle heard no answer but noticed there was still a light burning, so she went in and softly closed the door behind her. She had been on the way back to her room after taking a bath as she did every evening. She hadn’t even taken time to stop by her room Her hair was still whet and she wore a silk dressing gown that was carelessly tied up. Many men in Cairhien would have given good money to catch a glimpse of Isabelle the way she was dressed now but Darian was way too absent-minded to notice. He didn’t even look up from his place by the heart when she entered the room. He kept on staring in the flames. Isabelle crossed the room and kneeled by his side. “Are you sure you’re all right, Darian? I know we have had some… conflicts before. Disagreements…” Her words sounded uncertain. “But you should me believe when I say I’m actually very concerned about you. I was horrified by they way you looked when they brought you in and I absolutely don’t want to lose you. Please, Darian…” She was actually begging now. “Please go to sleep so your recovery goes as planned. You don’t know how close you’ve been to death and you can’t realize how worried I’ve been. I spent days by your side… Please! Darian!” He still didn’t reply and she couldn’t even see if he was aware of her presence.
“If you want I can stay with you. I’ll ask Lena to bring me some blankets and I’ll sleep on the settee. I’ve done that already you know, on the moments they told you weren’t… you were going to…” The thought was too much for her to bear and tears rolled down her cheeks. She buried her nails in the soft covering of the chair. Still Darian didn’t pay attention to her, even when her tears gently dripped on the back of his hand. “Mother,” he whispered softly, almost inaudible and Isabelle held her breath. She quickly realized he was talking to himself. She sat motionless by his feet, doing her best not to disturb him. “Mother… not a single night has passed… or I saw the horrible scenery…” Isabelle couldn’t understand half of his words but Darian seemed to return from a deep descend in his most inner thoughts. “It’s carved into my heart. Every night again I see you fall down that chasm. Burning like a torch…” He was still muttering but Isabelle could understand his words clearly. She gasped for breath. Disturbed by the soft sound, the dreamy glance vanished from Darian’s eyes. He seemed very surprised to notice Isabelle sitting on the ground by his feet, dressed only in a peignoir that wasn’t tied even up. Involuntary his eyes drifted off for a moment… “Isabelle,” he mumbled. “My house can’t have burned down.” Isabelle came up and listened to Darian’s words. “It’s just can’t be…” Darian shook his head while speaking. “There is nothing I abhor more then the thought of being burned. That’s why I had a well dug in the cellars of my house. There was a winch to hoist the buckets up to the upper floors and in every room there was a bucket filled with water. We’ve never had to use it, but…” He looked around in the room, then turned back to Isabelle and looked at her with a tormented expression on his face. “But everyone knew! And the doc said they were awake. I don’t understand, they should have been able to control the fire… There are things I don’t understand, Isabelle.” His shoulders shocked and he sobbed, but for some reason the tears wouldn’t come. Despite how much Darian felt the urge to cry, it seemed as if he hadn’t got any tears left. Dismayed and exhausted he collapsed and never noticed Isabelle tucked him in carefully, took some spare blankets and spent the night on the settee right next to his.
It took Darian four months instead of two, but his recovery passed off quietly and without complications. The summer was slowly shaded off into fall. Darian was spending the last weeks of summer on the countryside in south Cairhien, where he enjoyed the peace and tranquility and the simple pleasures of a shooting-party. Sitting on his horse on a lonely hilltop he awaited the return of his eagle Avila. Hunting with birds of prey was an ancient tradition in Cairhien and there was a strict hierarchy in the sorts of birds a person was allowed to use, depending on his social descend and status. Lowborn nobility used; highborn nobility had the right to use hawks, buzzards and other kinds. The right to hunt with eagles was strictly reserved for the seven archdukes and the royal family. Darian’s bird of prey Avila was an eagle. Because of his unique social position, the strict rules of hierarchy didn’t apply to him and too many people, including the king were in his debt to complain about this preferential treatment. This way Darian had obtained the exquisite right to hunt using eagles. In order not to give any offence or focus attention on his privileges and wealth Darian mostly used other kinds of birds, mainly hawks. But now Cairhien was changing under the rule of the Dragon Reborn, the need for Darian’s services had decreased strongly since the lord Dragon disapproved of the great game of houses in general and its more drastic ways of ending disputes in specific. Some of Darian’s less estimated colleagues had ended up on the scaffold and Darian had thought it more wisely not to blaze the word of his survival abroad. Instead he kept a low profile and hardly ever quit Isabelle’s residence when they resided in Cairhien. On the other hand he enjoyed the moments they spent out of time to the fullest and often he set out early in the morning and stayed away the entire day. From time to time he enjoyed a good hunt.
The sound of a strong flap made him look up and high in the sky he noticed Avila, flying stately towards Darian. The bird’s movements were casually as if he knew he was the undisputed king of the sky. In the beginning, the hunting had been a bit chaotic since Avila often did not return the wild but set off to dislodge dominant males from the terrain he had claimed as his own. By now no bird risked defying Avila’s sharp claws. The stately bird settled on Darian’s arm. To keep himself from getting hurt by the claws, Darian wore a leather cover on his arm. The prey disappeared in Darian’s saddlebags and he put the leather cap back over Avila’s head, watching out for the bird’s sharp beak. “Looks like we have enough for one day, right boy?” Avila shrieked, objecting to Darian’s proposal to end the hunt. “I’m sorry, but I’m the one in charge and I say we call it a day...” Darian had noticed a solitary horseman riding through the valley who seemed vaguely familiar. He spurred on his horse and the three of them rode down the hillside. In the middle of the prairie the two riders met. The familiar horseman turned out to be Jason, one of the few people among Darian’s associates who knew their leader was still alive. Darian pulled up his horse and the fiery thoroughbred pranced. “Jason. Good to see you. What brings you all the way south?” “Business, boss, serious matters. “Let’s set up a camp and make a fire. We can have dinner and then talk. How about that?” “Sounds good, boss.”
A half-hour later a small fire burned lively and the smell of roast meat hung in the air. The horses were rubbed dry and curried, and given big portions of oats. The two men lie casually in the light and warmth of the fire, enjoying a good piece of roast meat and a bottle of wine Darian had brought along. “Now then, Jason. What brings you here? More then the image of a good bottle of wine and my cooking arts I hope.” Darian grinned, knowing his cooking was far from wonderful. His grin was contagious and a moment later Jason was grinning widely as well. While Darian was tossed Avila a few pieces of meat, Jason said: “Hardly, sir. I’ve come to warn you about the situation in Cairhien.” Darian shrugged. “I couldn’t care less about Cairhien. I’ve got no more business there and most people think I’m dead anyway.” “The political situation is tense, sir. Many nobles nurse a grievance against the Dragon and his bunch of Aiel savages. He’s trying to change Cairhien’s political structures overnight. Half of the nobles plans to collaborate with the Dragon till he appoints some sort of governor who is more accommodating while the other half would rather see him out of the way…” “I see, and for that they could use a skilled assassin, isn’t it?” Jason grinned. “I’m not saying you should decide right now, boss. But when you disappeared from the scene the entire local underworld was in turmoil. You’ve offered them stability for the last seven years, even the sectors you had nothing to do with. You had more influence then anyone could ever imagine. You were the first to organize a section of the market without keeping everything to yourself and many other crime lords followed your example. Your disappearance robbed the underworld from its corner-stone.” “You mean no one has claimed my position yet?” “No one, boss. There have been a few attempts but the candidates were quickly recalled by their colleagues. They’re all keeping an eye on each other but instead of teaming up and dividing the market they stay back and wait. It seems they’re afraid you might still return. You’ve bought your position with too much blood, boss. They don’t trust the situation…”
Darian laughed out loudly. “Now that’s some amusing news, Jason! I’ve tamed the assassins in Cairhien! I did what no king or bailiff ever did before.” “I’m saying that Cairhien might be ready for your return, boss. You could serve as a representative for the entire population and demand changes with the Dragon. There’s a good chance nobility would support you as well.” “That’s insanity, Jason. I’m a killer for crying out loud. Why would the population support the man who held an invisible blade over their heads for the last seven years? No man of any importance has felt safe the last seven years because of me. In general I only eliminated people who were superfluous or dangerous to the court and indirectly to the population, but few people realized. And nobility will never support someone who’s not from their kind. They might pretend to, but I would have to grow eyes on my back.” Jason seemed not very pleased to hear Darian’s words. “Believe me, Jason. The golden age of crime in Cairhien is over. At least for me it is. Over the course of time the void my disappearance left will be filled and new stars will rise. As for me… I’ve earned a decent living the past seven years so in fact I can retire.” “I see…” Jason said. His voice sounded cold. Very likely he had expected Darian to return and grow even more powerful then before. His own star would have risen along Darian’s if he would have been the man to bring Darian back. Jason lapsed into silence.
“Jason?” “Hmm?” “How about the other thing? The other matter I wanted you to investigate?” “What? Oh, that… Well, it took me quite a lot of time to gather the information. The turmoil hasn’t spared our network of eyes and ears and most of them went underground or left town so we’re fragmented and badly organized. But I managed to track down some people who saw the incident. They could swear no bolt or fireball whatsoever struck to house. Anyhow, I’ve heard seven bodies were recovered after the incident. Also, a pickpocket told me he saw a carriage by the house in the middle of the night, but he admitted he was drunk at the moment so he couldn’t tell for sure if it was the right house or not. But that doesn’t matter, I guess things speak for themselves.” Darian said nothing, but nodded as if he had expected things would turn out this way. “I’m not sure boss, but I would say some strange things happened there.” “My exact thoughts, Jason… my exact thoughts.”
Part Ten : Crossroads
“Anyone will suffer bad luck during his life, so it’s not right to judge people by their success or bad luck. It’s how they deal with these situations that determines who they are…”
~ A wise person…
“Are you sure, Darian?” Isabelle sounded worried and Jason’s face expressed doubt as well. Even the doctor, who had shown up out of the blue, seemed to have mixed feelings towards this. "Yes, yes. I’m positive. I have some business to attend to. Don’t you all worry, I feel perfectly fine. It’s been more then six months ago now.” The four of us were standing in Cairhien’s harbor. I was about to leave for Tear, or at least that what I had told them. As far as they knew I had business to attend to in Tear. Isabelle had assimilated the news with mixed feelings, while her doctor thought it was madness for me to travel in my condition – an opinion I didn’t share. Jason didn’t seem to like the idea either, but that was for more selfish reasons. I believe he had never abandoned hope I would change my mind and decide to make my comeback on the Cairhienin scene. Now we had gathered in the harbor and my luggage was brought on board of a fast barge, he was finally confronted with reality.
“I still believe it’s madness, young man. Some of your wounds are…” “My wounds have healed completely, doc. The only thing that keeps bugging me is my thumb and that’ll last for the rest of my life.” “Still, Darian…” Isabelle made a final effort in convincing him. “Why don’t you stay here a little while longer?” “I can’t live on your back forever, Isabelle. And by the way, I’ve heard you won’t stay in Cairhien for too long either. You’re getting transferred back to Mayene now your first is in town, aren’t you?” “Yes I am, but…” “No buts… I’m thankful to all of you but now it’s time to move on. Perhaps someday I’ll come visit you in Mayene. Anyhow, Cairhien is a past chapter for me.” It seemed the trio on the quay didn’t consider this discussion closed, but I noticed the gang-way was being removed and the ship was about to set sail, so I simply turned around and walked away from the rail – the easiest way to end this sentimental chit-chat. Two sailors came to pick up my luggage and I tipped them both a silver piece. There was plenty of money, or at least there would be. Next, I walked to the forecastle and leaned with my back against the rail, looking at the industrious sailors while the ship slowly moved away from the quay. The three figures on the shore were waving and I waved back briefly. I’ve never been fond of sentimentalities. Finally the trio was too far away to be seen and I was relieved to turn my back at Cairhien and its problems. I filled my lungs with air and was pleased to feel it didn’t hurt anymore to do so.
It had taken an awfully long time to recover completely, so in the end I had to believe them: I must have been on the verge of death. The concussion of my brain had left no damage – praise the Light – and my mind was as clear as ever. All of my injuries had healed and all that was left was a great deal of scars. I was wearing black linen pants and a stylish half-long jacket. Underneath I wore a white silk shirt I left half unbuttoned. The cool breeze blew over my chest and the cobweb of scars that ran across. I had resumed physical training as soon as I was able to and I had lost virtually nothing of my form or physical strength. My swordsmanship on the other hand… I stared with horror at my right hand and its paralyzed thumb. It would be impossible ever to wield a sword again if the hand did not recover and I had lost all hope to see that happen. All I could do was trying whatever one-handed style there was, but that would mean all these years of training were in vain. Apart from the reflexes and strategic insights, the vast majority of things I was taught was useless now and that bothered me.
Standing on the forecastle I placed my hands on my hips and suddenly became aware of the showy short sword Isabelle had offered me as a goodbye present. It testified of her ability to enter into my person, but she had failed to come up with a solution that actually pleased me. The sword was way too expensive and showy to be effective and after a closer look I had concluded the sword wasn’t made to be of practical use. For a moment there my irritation got the upper hand and I was about to fling the useless piece of craftsmanship into the water, but then changed my mind. Even if it wasn’t useful to me, people knew I had it with me. It might come in handy to set out a false track. Especially since I wasn’t headed for Tear as I had told everyone. I grinned wolfish… The 1 433 764 gold sovereigns waiting for me in Mayene would have to wait.
Eleven days later – the bark finally approached the place where the Iralell and the Eranin flowed together. It had been a boring journey with lots of adverse winds and a two-day delay in Aringill. The port master and the captain were unable to agree upon the taxes. The port master said the tax rates had increased now the political situation in Cairhien had changed. Apparently the new government hadn’t made agreements on lower tax rates with Andor as the previous one had. To me it was the umpteenth example of the ignorance of the Dragon and his crew of savages and renegade Aes Sedai to govern a country the way it should be. Realizing it was a good stunt to draw attention, I offered the captain to pay the additional taxes. It ensured me the man was in my debt and apart from that it would be a good lead for anyone following my tracks. If they heard I had paid the taxes here – which they certainly would – they would be confident I hadn’t lied about the ultimate destination of my journey. But now this part of my journey had come to an end. I had the captain take me ashore with my luggage in a rowing-boat. Then the barge left, as if nothing had happened, officially still having Darian Gedwyn on board – off course traveling under a fake name. Some time later I was picked up by one of my most trusted men and two days later we arrived in Far Madding.
Surrounded by the hills of Kintara and shielded by the huge Ter’angreal that blocked off the One Power I felt secure for the first time in months. Here I could do no harm to myself. I was the proud owner of a stately house in the city. It wasn’t as big as the one I used to have in Cairhien, but it was a house and still a big one as well. And it was mine… For the first time in a long time I felt safe AND independent. It had the additional advantage that no one was aware of the fact that I owned this house, and I didn't have any reputation in this city either. Here I was a perfect stranger; I was relieved. Vincent and Stefan, the two men who had looked after the house during my absence were two people I had a blind trust in. Vincent was still a young man rather than an adult. Two years ago he had ended up in a duel with a hot-tempered young aristocrat. It had something to do with a girl – obviously. Out of the blue I had offered Vincent to be his second and that alone had sufficed for the challenger to withdraw from the duel. Vincent was still grateful to me and when the girl turned him down after all for the young aristocrat Vincent had felt it necessary to leave Cairhien. I had offered him an occupation as a caretaker of my house in Far Madding and Vincent had accepted. Stefan was a local who helped Vincent out once in a while.
The first thing I did upon arriving was collecting the silver keys each man had been entrusted by me. Along with a third key – the one I always wore on an chair around my neck, the one that opened the lock to the cellar where I had stocked my gold in my house in Cairhien – the keys would open the door of the safe in this house where I kept some financial reserves. Most shortsighted people thought I kept all my gold somewhere at home, but I had always seen to it the money was transferred out of Cairhien as soon as possible. Here in this house I had laid by a little money for a rainy day – twenty thousand gold sovereigns. The vast majority of the money, however, was always shipped to Mayene, where it was saved up in a few local banks with Isabelle’s expert assistance. That was how I had met her in the first place. Off course, in order to keep this hidden from anyone but my most trusted co-operators, I always kept a considerable amount of money in the basement at home. That amount was now lost, as was to be expected. I had been to the ruins of my house once and had noticed the pits in between the rubble where treasure-diggers, attracted by the legends of my wealth, had been looking for my money. I’m sure the discoveries will have been disappointed; not that there wasn’t a considerable amount of money in that basements but in the imagination of many people my fortune must have taken ridiculous proportions. And after all, the actual amount was indeed one that made even my head spin.
On the first evening I gave a private party, with only Vincent and Stefan present. I had decided to stay in Far Madding for a while, but that turned out to be disappointing. After the months spent on Isabelle’s properties, hunting, reading, strolling through the many parks and gardens or in discussion with Isabelle, Far Madding turned out to be incredibly boring. Not that the town itself was boring; actually it was a prosperous trade city. I just didn’t know anyone and I didn’t feel like starting all over making social contacts. And – to be perfectly honest – I must admit I actually missed Isabelle. I still hadn’t completely recovered from the loss of Aurore, but in the past months I had learnt to appreciate Isabelle’s company. After all, she was a very intelligent and keen-witted young woman and those were qualities I highly appreciated in women. And yes, it must be said she was a rare beauty and I realized I missed the sight of her perhaps as much as the long conversations. After all, Far Madding had to offer nothing but boring, slow merchant-daughters. I realized I had become spoiled and exacting and did my utmost best to revive my appreciation for the simple life in Far Madding. I managed till a certain extent.
Still, there was something to drive away my boredom: the young Vincent. After a while he started to get more and more attached to me. I believe I must have been some sort of father to him. One day he asked me to teach him swordsmanship and so I did. Using the showy sword Isabelle had given me I taught him the basics. After a while – and with a little encouragement from my side – Vincent started to develop interest in a social life again. He started by going outdoors more and more and since he felt confident because of my support and the success he experienced in the teachings I gave, he managed to conquer his inborn shyness. Three weeks later he started to bring girls back home and from then on the fences were down. I watched it all with great interest and supported the boy when necessary. He seemed to be doing fine. Another two months passed without any remarkable events that concerned me. Vincent on the other hand was a completely different matter.
After a while I noticed I was getting more and more depressed, without an actual reason. In general I had taken over the same daily habits as in Cairhien, such as meditating, lay out a wonderful garden, physical exercises, reading… From time to time I even accepted an invitation to dinner from a local who had grown curious about my backgrounds. Lately there had been an ever-increasing number of invitations for dinner with the families of the girls Vincent was seeing, though mostly I declined such invitations. Still, for no specific reason at all I was growing more and more depressed. I noticed the gloomy mood would change for the better on the rare occasions I got out of town. After a while I started suspecting it had something to do with Far Madding itself and its strange Ter’angreal. I started reading some specific lecture on the subject of channeling, especially about male channelers. In some ancient records in the library of the hall where the Ter’angreal was stored I read about the taint on Saidin and the breaking of the world. There was a passage in which the author described the effect of an Ogier Stedding on the mood of male Aes Sedai, on the run for the taint and the insanity that would follow. It wasn’t that difficult to conclude the Ter’angreal that shielded Far Madding from the One Power had the same effects on me, since I had accepted the fact that I had to be a male channeler. It took me another month to gather rags of information on the institutions where channelers were educated. I already knew about the White Tower, since my mother had been an Aes Sedai, but the presence of the Red Ajah inspired few confidence. A little while later I accidentally heard someone speak about a place called the ‘Grey Tower’. At first I thought it was some kind of joke, mocking the White Tower, but as I entered in conversation with the man I learnt there was a second institution where channelers were welcome. The interesting fact was that this Tower didn’t seem to have a Red Ajah and my hope revived.
I had spent a little more then four months in Far Madding and I had tried to ease my gloomy moods by taking long trips outside of town and it helped a great deal indeed. One specific evening Vincent entered the room while I was reading a work on the trolloc wars. I was surprised to find him at home at this hour, since he had been obsessed with taking girls out and he hadn’t been at home in the evening for a long time. Interested in his strange behavior I asked him what was wrong. “Darian,” he said, “I’ve something on my mind and I wanted to talk to you about it…” A long time ago we had decided to say ‘thee and thou’ so I was perfectly fine with being called ‘Darian’ by him. “Well then, out with it.” I grinned. “Now what could be bothering a youth like you?” It took Vincent some time to gather his thoughts, and after some stammering and mysterious grinning he finally took it out: “Darian, you remember Gladys?” “Not by name but perhaps I’ve seen her before? What does she look like?” “Darian! She was the girl I took out last week.” “The one you were so nervous about? Right, I remember. The one you called the girl of your dreams!” “Yes, that’s the one. I’m glad you remembered.” Vincent had a blessed grin on his face. “Now then, you bandit. What about her?” I noticed I had taken over his grin, contagious and spontaneous as it was. “I’ve been thinking about her all week, and yesterday I couldn’t hold anymore. I had to see her, Darian.” “I can understand,” I said, having a presentiment where this was going. “So I plucked up my courage and went to her house.” On a soft tone, as if they were conspirators, the young man continued. “I went to the back of her house, I know a place where I can easily climb over the wall…” He grinned again, he seemed very pleased with himself and I wished him the joy of his little victory. “I see you’ve learnt quite a lot lately,” I chuckled. “You bet. Now, as I’m sneaking through the gardens I suddenly see her walking within three feet of the place where I was hiding. So then I revealed myself to her and she was very pleased to see me as well. So then we looked for a quiet place and we…” “Save me the details…” “…talked for some a long time,” Vincent continued imperturbable and enthusiastic. “Eh, you said something?” “No, nothing, just go on…” I said, trying to look as innocent as a new-born baby. As soon as I noticed that wouldn’t work I tried at least to hide my grin behind the back of my hand. “So then…” He inserted a dramatic silence, trying to make me curious. I played it his way. “Yes? Come on, what happened then?” “I asked her to marry me off course!” Vincent yelled, supremely happy. “And she said ‘yes’, Darian! She said yes!” Now there was no way to hide my fun anymore and with a wide grin I complimented him on his achievement, giving him all the time he needed to tell the whole story again with all the bells and whistles.
Afterward we drank to their both health and I started asking some practical questions, such as whether he had already made a formal proposal, whether he had informed her family, if he knew about any other wedding plans her parents might have for their daughter and how he planned to organize his life from now on… From his replies I could conclude this hadn’t just been an act on the first impulse but rather a well-thought off plan. I was impressed by my young protégé. “I was planning to start a small business, importing wine or something like that. I’ve heard from some people in town there’s good money in wine.” “I must dissuade you from doing so. I know from experience just how hard life as a wine trader can be. It could turn out a goldmine, but only if you have the right contacts. The exceptionally good vintages are in most cases reserved for some privileged traders.” “Then don’t you have any of these good references, Darian?” “I’m afraid not,” I lied. I knew some people in the branch but I didn’t want anyone to know I was still alive. Vincent seemed extremely disappointed. “I’ve got another idea. How about setting up a little trade in luxury-goods? If you have some funds to start with, you can start a trade. Tear knows peace now so the economy should be blossoming. At least it’ll soon be better. If business goes well people feel the need for luxury-goods. Try trading some jewelry, spices or fine tissues. You could even start a shipping company and sail from one country to another. These are interesting times for keen-witted people.” Vincent seemed interested, yet still sounded a bit uncertain. “Not a bad idea, Darian. Her father is a trader as well so that gives me some capital to start with. Only, he won’t be pleased to see me come and ask for the hand of his daughter and take his fortune along as well.”
I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Vincent seemed insulted. “My lad, if money is the only problem the don’t worry about a thing. You just go out there and ask for his daughter’s hand. Tell him about your idea and assure him you have no need for his money whatsoever. I’ll provide you with twelve thousand gold sovereigns so you can start your own business. The only thing I ask in return is that you spend them wisely. Money doesn’t buy happiness, they say, but in this world it buys power and freedom. I’m offering you a blank ticket to the future so I expect you to do your utmost best to succeed. And for the rest – I blinked an eye – I wish you the best of luck in discovering the virtues and pleasures of marriage. Now go ahead and hurry to your girl. Talk to her about it. Ask her opinion as well before you drag her into anything. Try to be a good husband, right lad?” “Don’t you ever worry about that, Darian… Sir…” The emotion that sounded from the last word touched me deeply.
The three people in the room had their eyes fixed on me, something that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Vincent and Gladys sat down on the bench in my living-room. I had poured out a glass of wine for everyone but no one had taken a sip so far. There hung tension in this room and that was mainly due to the sturdy man who was pacing up and down through the room. The two lovers were watching him anxiously, I watched the scenery with a slight feeling of amusement. Gladys’ father William was a bad actor. “So, mister Gedwyn. If I understand this situation correctly you’re Vincent’s father.” I smiled friendly. “No I’m not. As I’ve already explained you I’m not Vincent’s father. I wasn’t at that time and I that hasn’t changed so far. I’m more like his guardian though that’s incorrect either since Vincent is an adult man. You could consider me a good friend of his who means well by him. Vincent is my protégé.” “You must understand, mister Gedwyn, that the proposal your son made couldn’t come at a more tedious moment. There were already arrangements, you see…” “Yes off course,” I said, ignoring the fact that the man had called Vincent my son again. I knew this was a bluff. I had Stefan do some research and the man was absolutely sure that so far no marriage was arranged for Gladys. It all came down to a bluff, the greedy William had heard Darian’s offer to financially support the young couple with twelve thousand gold sovereigns – a small fortune – and was trying to secure more profit for his daughter. “I’m very glad to hear you say so, my dear William. Please, have a seat, try your wine. It’s truly one of the finest bottles I’ve tasted in a long time. Cairhien’s first vintage from last year. Very rare since most of the vintage was ruined due to the war, but what has been preserved is most excellent.” William could barely keep his mouth from falling open – Cairhien’s first vintage had been exclusive for many years and last year’s vintage had the reputation to be almost prohibitive. I enjoyed to manipulate the narrow-minded, transparent man; the more so as the vintage was really Cairhien’s first from last year. It made me feel good to know I had managed to secure some of the bottles before the prices went through the roof.
William sat down and had a sip from his wine, ever so carefully. Vincent and Gladys were happy to see a change in the man’s aggressive behavior and had a sip as well. With a smile on my face I observed them. “Gladys,” I said, deliberately ignoring her father who seemed to be recovering from some sort of shock. “Vincent told me you’re truly amazing at playing the piano. If you wouldn’t mind, dear, could you please treat us to a little sample of your skills?” “Yes mister Gedwyn,” the girl answered shyly. Perhaps she was a little too shy for the lively Vincent but it was more likely she felt affected by the atmosphere. In fact, even Vincent tried to keep a low profile… A little later the sparkling sounds of the piano drifted though the room and I had to admit Gladys played wonderfully. After the final sounds, the three of us started applauding spontaneous and Gladys made bow with a smile on her face. I was glad to see she seemed to have more spirit then I originally thought.
“You have the most remarkable daughter, mister Wellsworth.” “Thank you,” William Wellsworth said, pleased to hear me compliment his daughter. “I’m glad you’ve decided to give them your blessing.” “Eh? Hold a moment….” “Please mister Wellsworth. We both know you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t approved of Vincent’s proposal. At least you wouldn’t have brought your daughter along. Now, it’s up to you, shall we drink to the good health and prosperous future of the young couple or will we end our conversation here?” I was playing with the man, sending him right where I wanted him. In one sentence I had called attention to two major points that would help convince the man: the most exclusive wine and the prosperous future of the couple, making allusions to the twelve thousand sovereigns. Williams seemed to doubt for a single moment, but then he was first to raise the glass. “To the good health of the young couple,” his voice rumbled. “To Vincent and Gladys,” I supported him. The two lovers raised the glass as well, having attention for nothing but the other one. Pleased with what I saw, I slapped William on the shoulder, and promptly the man choked in the wine.
Later that night I took William and Vincent to my study. I walked towards a plank in the wooden wall and turned it open. A small niche in the wall was revealed, showing three keyholes. I inserted the three keys that had kept held by Stefan, Vincent and me. A faint click could be heard and a hidden door opened, revealing a small hidden room, more like a big cabinet. Most of the space was taken by a huge iron safe; I took the three keys from their keyholes and used one of them to open the safe. As they all seemed alike no one would ever know which key it was. Only I knew it was the key that had been in Vincent’s possession. Inside the safe were, aside from some securities, ten heavy cloth sacks, each containing the exact amount of two thousand sovereigns. I took six of them and placed them on the desk, allowing both William and Vincent to check the content. Gladys had declined my invitation to come along, trusting her father and Vincent would take care of business. It was a remarkable token of trust and I was sure Vincent felt honored. I was even more sure William felt only greed at this moment. The sturdy man buried his fingers in the gold over and over. It was but when Vincent proposed to count the money that William recovered from the gold-fever. “N-no, that won’t be necessary,” he said on a doubting tone. I took the six bags, tied them up again and with Vincent’s aid I brought them back to the safe, closing it carefully, as well as the hidden cabinet. I was sure William would have counted the planks in the wall by now, but I knew perfectly well that the safe was well-protected. I handed Vincent on of the keys, in order to show William the gold belonged to him as much as it belonged to me. William had a calculating look in his eyes…
Two weeks later – Vincent and Gladys were married for six days now. They seemed as happy as the day they met and I had good confidence in the outcome of this marriage. Besides the three of us, William and Stefan were present as well. We had gathered outside my house on the court-yard. A carriage was ready to bring Vincent and Gladys to Tear. William and I had hired some men to secure the carriage and its valuable content. My motives were for Gladys and Vincent to be all right, perhaps William had thought more about the six thousand gold sovereigns the couple had along with them. The other six were deposited with a local bank and thus out of reach for anyone but Vincent and Gladys. I trusted everything would go well. The couple was young, ambitious and they had the necessary means of subsistence, even if things would turn out disappointing. Even if their concern would fail, they could always return to William. He wouldn’t dare show his daughter and her husband the door. I guess that was why this interested him so much, he wanted to know whether or not this enterprise would turn out successful. Maybe it was just his way of being concerned.
“So you’re leaving on the same day as we, Darian?” “Yes indeed,” I smiled lively. I could taste freedom and it tasted morish. “There is nothing that binds me to Far Madding any more. Not for now, anyway. Stefan, take good care of the house as you did before.” I flung him the third key to the hidden room and in William’s eyes flashed a little light… “Now then, I wish the two of you the best of luck. Work hard, but above all: enjoy your life… together I mean.” I blinked an eye and the two burst out laughing indignant. “Hey, what are you insinuating?” Gladys demanded and now Stefan and William joined the ones who were laughing. I blinked an eye. “Take good care of Vincent, will you? In fact he’s still a little boy you know.” “What the…?” Vincent flared up, a big grin covering his face. “I’m sorry we have to say goodbye, Darian…” “We would have to say goodbye anyway, Vincent. You’re leaving anyhow, but now I’m leaving as well.” “Disappearing would be a better word. You’re disappearing again, Darian?” I blinked an eye – again. I felt happy and carefree. “I’m a loner, Vincent. Everyone follows his heart in the end.” “Yes, yes. I know. But still I’ll miss you…” “Don’t go and sound so depressed. I hate this kind of sentimentalities.” Vincent grinned apologetically. “You know, Darian, my father used to compare life with a long path with many crossroads. I guess this is a crossroad for both of us.” “It is indeed. Farewell. All of you, farewell.” I waved them all goodbye and before anyone could utter another word I had turned my horse and left the court yard. I wasn’t lying when I said I hated sentimentalities. Galloping freely though the gate, into the free world, my thoughts drifted off to the Tower… I wondered how life would be there… Suddenly I left the shielded area and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of freedom and happiness… Life was wonderful!
- Asha'man of the Blue Ajah
- Sitter of the Blue Ajah