|Affiliation||The Grey Tower|
Sarkaska is extremely tall, at six foot four, and has a willowy build rather than the thicker, more muscular one common to Shienarans. His hair is dark and falls down his back when it's not tied up, and he has dark eyes. There is a small triangular scar on one cheek. His nose is straight but has been broken.
He's a horseman by nature, and is awkward on his feet, although he can use a blade with some proficiency.
He had traveled so long with the Rage that it had acquired not only capital-letter status, but that of a companion. He wasn't quite to the point of holding conversations with it, but it was getting rather close. It was only to be expected, he guessed, when he bothered thinking about it at all - it had even laid cheek and jowl in his cradle with him, a bright and shining twin to his dark self. The Rage was like a sister or perhaps a lover to him: he had embraced it long ago to the point of shoving everyone else away.
He had been born the fourth son of a minor Shienaran House, House Kol, and not exactly on the right side of the bed. No, he had the misfortune of having to be the son of the eldest daughter, debatably by his own grandfather but that had never been proven, since upon his birth, his mother had been hung and he'd been stuffed in the kitchen. He'd grown big on the milk of a kind mother, but more than that, he'd grown the Rage on the whispers of what had happened to his own mother. Some said she'd been a whore, and others, a flipskirt, and the last, that she'd done nothing save be soft in a hard place. At any rate, the final and not-so-common denominator (or so he insisted and fought to prove) was himself.
He'd been cast out for fighting the lordlings (and he voted he had been winning, at that), and also, for daring to spread his own, winnowed version of his birth. Lies, he was told, do not belong in Shienar: in Shienar all things are bare to the light, not veiled behind something so ephemeral even as a conspiracy might be. The truth, he had been told, was that his mother was a fool, and he, a fool's get. Unlucky, cursed, even - even his name meant "cursed," come to think of that - he had shouldered what little was his own and left behind all that he could not claim - well, he'd taken the Rage, and really, what else was there? There had been no justice done in Shienar.
He'd started his quest hoping for justice, but the only court in Shienar higher than his own family's was that of the King, and that House, Shinowa, had been poisoned for him. How could anyone not have heard of the Cursed Bastard? Killed his own mother, he had, and by doing nothing more than passing between her knees on his way into the world. It was with deluded steps that he turned for Tar Valon, only to be turned away by the news that the Amyrlin Seat heard only the cases of women, not men. It was erroneous, but he didn't know that then: he was young, hungry, stupid, and tired, simply too strained to think even to ask a few questions and determine a truth for himself.
He'd been told to try Hama Valon for the truth he wanted, but when he arrived, exhausted, half-starved, and full of rage, justice no longer mattered. He had come to realize that there would be no revenge on the rich and twisted, and that perhaps going back would be the most foolish thing he could ever attempt. Why not, then, stay where he was? There was honor in serving the Aes Sedai, if they would have him. Honor could be won on the point of a sword, or in the grim grasp of his own death. Why be the Cursed Bastard here? No one knew what he was unless he told them.
Why, then, did the Rage grip him in its claws every time he tried to release himself from the past?
The summons came as the autumn leaves began to fall. Dressed in woolens, scavenged from friends, he stood before the Master of Arms. Last time he had simply left. Then, he had not known who he was, or what he wanted. He knew that now, but he also knew duty: he had to respond to this summons. It said very little, but he understood enough to know that his uncle had died and he was now without a castellan in a clan that would scheme and kill to take possession of what he owned. What was his by right.
Anxiety made him dance slowly from foot to foot, and perhaps that was why the Master of Arms took pity on him. Together, they traced his route and he was given a short list of inns to patronize along the way. Matters of nobility were common amongst the Gaidin, as many came from noble Houses, and Sarkaska was glad not to have to explain too much. Admitting that he simply didn't know more was irritating.
The woolen clothes itched as he rode Cueran Ayende steadily northward. Taking the far more direct path that he'd been given, he cut more than a month off his travel time, and he did not have to hide from the few Gaidin he saw along the way. Despite his speed, the journey there was nearly four weeks. Wishing there could be an Aes Sedai to speed him on his way with Traveling, Sarkaska concentrated on teaching Ayende to better follow the shifting of his body. By the time they crossed out of the Caralain Grass, he could sleep in the saddle for brief times – she had learnt to pace her stride and he had learned to relax. It wasn't the most restful sleep, but it meant they could push on earlier.
Days passed in a chilly haze: winter was setting her teeth into the world. As he stood waiting for the ferry across the river, Sarkaska reflected on how much had changed between his visits to this point. He'd been here nearly four years ago, shorter, scrawnier, and dirtier, since he had been so paranoid of being rounded up by a Gaidin or a border patrol party that he'd skulked the entire way across the Grass. All he had wanted then was relief from the crushing guilt of being born as he had been, but he hadn't found it. What he had come to was a kind of quiet peace – the Wheel had willed. It was not up to him to decide how, only to decide how best to serve since he was here.
He'd figured that out, too, and the knowledge that he was far from the Tower weighed on him. He'd given his uncle full rights, though, and that meant that he had to go through and find a successor, someone to manage his estates for him. At least he did not have to search for a murderer: the summons had said he'd died in his sleep. Running over his list of candidates for the position, he frowned. Not for the first time, he resented his noble birth, but he knew that without it, he'd have a hard time paying for such things as horses and steel. Already, he struggled with his meager allotment, meaning that his keep needed to increase its production.
Shienar spread out before him like a willing woman as he led Cueran Ayende off the boat. She was well enough trained to walk on a ramp, such as the permanent one erected on the shore of stone and wood. Most horses needed the winch, but Sarkaska had gotten his passage at a discount by promising the horse could disembark by ramp. She was a warhorse: she would not like being lifted in a sling anyway. Hoisting himself to her back with the stirrup, he settled back into place and tapped her with his booted heel.
Just like that, she was off again.
The journey to House Kol took several more weeks: it was at the farthest northwest point of Shienar, meaning that he had to ride through Fal Moran and then take the Kingsroad west. It was something that he had always wondered on, why his house was not beholden to Arafel instead of Shienar, but it was nothing he would change. He was Shienaran, bone and blood. He was also the Grey Tower's, but in this case, and he hoped it was the last such case, he needed to settle his home life. He had not asked to be a lord, but he had asked to become Gaidin. Feeling his separation as something that could be counted against him, he wondered what else he could have done.
By the time he arrived at Burstwood, he was relatively certain that he wanted to elevate one of his aunts, a gaunt creature with a great pride in keeping house and being efficient, to the title of seneschal. It would not be the first time his House had had a shatayan who was also in charge of everything else, and it wouldn't be the first time he left his entire family wondering how he thought. His justification was that her home was always clean, her servants well ordered, and she had been kind. If his uncle had had to die at such an inopportune moment, at least he could be swiftly replaced and that replacement would end the quarreling before it became very literal backstabbing.
Burstwood Manor was curled into a curve in the Kingsroad. Once it had been a proud sight, banners bearing the tree insignia and those of the King whipping in the wind over its whitewashed rocks. It was not so now. The more Sarkaska saw, the more he understood his meager allowance and how his uncle had died. Aunt Minelda would be good for the place, he thought, swinging himself off Cueran Ayende. I should speak to her first, he decided.
With his home securely squared away and all its funds finally diverted toward his House, Sarkaska turned his horse the next morning, set to head back to Hama Valon and his training.
- Ji'val (6 February 2009)
- Gaidin (14 January 2010)