9. Tale of Youth
Written by: Sakan al’Galrodan
Edited by: Matthew Garland
Sakan looked down at Chrys, shivering in her blanket. He could feel the cold of the bare stone through his boots; her feet must be like ice. Her face still had a red flush, even though the feverish tinge washed away when Marion Healed her. He wanted to comfort this young girl, young in years, old in experience. She had not been raised as a warrior, and the dark deeds of her past haunted her. He had been raised as a warrior, and although his past still haunted him, warriors expected to have to do dark deeds. Taking the life of another man, no matter what the cause, was a dark stain on creation. What haunted him more were the things that he had not done. Those were times he had felt lost, and only time had healed those wounds.
He glanced at Marion, unsure of what to say. Then he steeled himself. “As far as we, or anyone else, is concerned, you said nothing. No one will kill us, no need to worry. Especially you.” He laughed mirthlessly. “The purpose of this inquest is to determine whether or not I put you in unnecessary danger. No one is going to risk your life before it’s necessary.”
Chrys stared at him, barely comprehending, when her teeth gave a small clack before she could clamp her jaw down hard.
Marion reached across and touched Chrys’ cheek. “Your feet are blue, Chrys. You’re freezing!” She made a small gesture with her right hand, a motion that Sakan noticed her do when she channeled, and he felt a small swirl of warm air.
“Come,” he said, putting a hand on Chrys’ shoulders, “Let’s get you back to the infirmary. They’ll have some hot food for you, a nice, warm bed, and you’ll rest. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“No,” she said, setting her jaw. “I’m going to my room, to change, and go to dinner.”
“No, you’re not,” he said firmly. “You’re going to the infirmary.”
“No, I’m AAAH! PUT ME DOWN!” He reached over and grabbed one wrist, and effortlessly flung her over his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of whatever Marion had done seeping through his coat. Her hair hung down, and she beat her hands against his back. “PUT ME DOWN, SAKAN GAIDIN! I’M GOING TO MY ROOM!”
He grunted. “Unless you want me to join you in the infirmary, please stop hitting my kidneys. You’re stronger than you think.”
“Put me down!” she screamed, and they started towards the door. Marion appeared to be stifling a smile. He leveled her a flat look, and she raised an eyebrow at him and shrugged.
“It’s no use, Chrys,” Sakan replied calmly. “I’m not going to put you down unless you promise to go to the infirmary. You need to be taken care of. Shouting and hitting me isn’t going to help you.”
“I NEED, to GO, to my ROOM! And it’ll make you fall down and drop me.”
“So I’ll fall down the stairs, and you’ll land on your head.”
Chrys stopped hitting him and let her body go limp. “Sakan Gaidin,” she said, in a small voice. “Can you please take me back to my room? I’m really tired.”
“You’ll get rest, Chrys. Don’t worry.”
Minutes later, he lifted his foot to push open the infirmary door, when Marion coughed behind him, and the door swung open by itself. He called back over his shoulder, “thank you.”
Marion swept past him into the large, well lit antechamber and addressed a Yellow Sister. “Julhienye, we have someone who needs a warm bed and a hot meal.”
“Thank you, Marion and Sakan,” Julhienye replied. “I don’t know how she slipped out of here, but whoever was on duty must have been careless. We’ll make sure she is well fed and rested before she leaves again.”
Julhienye waved Sakan towards one of the small rooms off the antechamber. There were six along the back wall, and two corridors leading from either end, dotted with doors on both walls and stand lamps in between each door. Sometimes visitors came to the Aes Sedai to be Healed, and they needed a place to stay. Some Healings took more of the patient’s strength than others, and they’d stay in an infirmary room until they were strong enough to be moved to the Visitor’s Quarters. If the patient was a Tower resident, well, the Gaidin had their own rooms for recovery, but the Yellows didn’t like that much. Once they got you in the infirmary, you were there until they said you could leave.
Marion smiled as she helped Chrys into bed. Almost immediately, a servant brought a tray laden with a tureen of thick broth, freshly baked bread, a pile of steaming meat next to a bowl of gravy, and some fruit. Chrys was propped up against a pile of pillows, looking very worn out, but very relaxed.
“Am I in my room, Sakan Gaidin?” she asked sleepily.
“Soon,” he answered. “Eat, now.”
Chrys obediently broke of a chunk of bread and chewed mechanically. Sakan ladled her some broth. He looked at Marion, then shrugged, ladled a bowl for her, and took some himself. They sat on the ladder back chairs next to her bed.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. After cleaning his bowl with a crust of bread, Sakan said, “Chrys, I would like to tell you a story.”
“Mmm,” she smiled, through half-lidded eyes. “That’ll be nice.”
“A story,” he continued, “of a young man, many years ago. He had two close friends, and they were always together…”
Three young men stood atop a large stone wall fifty feet above the top of the steep slope down to the dry moat and the empty fields beyond, shirtless in the hot summer sun. They were above the gatehouse, an area nearly ten paces wide, holding bundles of wooden lathes. One of them, tall and lithe with broad shoulders, stood relaxed as the other two advanced on him from either side. One, a head shorter and twice as wide, held a practice sword in each hand, and the other, a hand shorter and thin as a rail held a single bundle of lathes in both hands, like the tall one. In that slim build, however, was a wiry strength that most people underestimated. The tall young man knew his friend’s strength, and was not going to underestimate it. Again. They were trying to corner him, block off any possible escape route by which he could evade their attacks, because of the three, he was easily the best fighter. His shoulder length brown hair, tied back from his face with a leather band, was covered in sweat.
“Is the tall one you, Sakan Gaidin?” Chrys asked drowsily.
“Yes,” he answered. “Hush.”
Suddenly, both attackers darted forward, swinging. With Arc of the Moon from one direction and both Dandelions on the Wind and Swallow Takes Flight – a difficult two sword combination, but effective – coming from the other, it seemed inevitable that he would take a wound. He flipped himself towards the tall, thin attacker, sailing over Dandelions on the Wind, and countered Arc of the Moon with Kingfisher Circles the Pond. The attacker staggered under the force of the blow, and Sakan broke out of the small corner he had backed into. He lifted his knee and stomped backwards, his boot landing directly on his friend’s ribs, and he heard a loud grunt.
Sakan raised his bundle of lathes over his head, preparing to attack with Lightning of Three Prongs, when he stopped. His friend lay on the ground, writhing. He looked at his other friend, and they dropped their lathes and rushed over, dropping to the ground next to the thin young man.
“What’s wrong?” Sakan asked quickly. His eyes widened. He couldn’t breathe. “Bennam, why isn’t he answering? What’s wrong with him?”
His large friend slapped him across the face, and he stopped. “Get a hold of yourself! You’ve never lost your head under pressure, now’s not the time to start! I don’t know what’s wrong. Valen, what happened?”
The thin young man opened his mouth, and blood trickled out.
Sakan jumped up. “Oh, Light! He’s dying! Light, Valen’s dying!” He rushed over to the edge of the gatehouse, and yelled down to the guards, “HELP! Valen’s dying!”
Bennam picked up Valen, gently, and grunted, “Get over here, you sheep brained idiot, and help me carry him to the sick room!”
Sakan’s boots thundered as he ran over and took hold, and together they carried Valen to the infirmary.
As they waited outside, a young woman with long, black hair came over to Sakan. “What’s wrong? I heard that Valen is dying, everyone is talking about it.”
Sakan looked at her with sorrowful eyes and said, “I kicked him when we were sparring, Talia. I think I killed him.”
With wide eyes, she gasped quietly, and gently touched his arm.
10. More Tale of Youth
Written by: Marion al’Kalimar
Edited by: Matthew Garland
Marion looked up at her Warder, who had paused. She could feel the sharp pain of the fading memory come to the surface across the bond. No matter how he tried to deceive himself, he still blamed himself and he still hurt. Oh, he’d deny it. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel Wills, Marion, he would say, cold and distant as he was when he’d go to his mental Void. Death is lighter than a feather. But she knew.
She kept her hands clasped on her lap, and with a neutral tone, she broke the silence. “Perhaps I should continue from here. My sister told me a lot about what happened next.”
Sakan’s eyes were cold and guarded, but he nodded.
Talia gently touched his arm. She was his carneira, and he was in pain. She could see it in his eyes. “Are you okay?”
Sakan stood like a statue, staring unmoving at the door of the infirmary. “I don’t know what happened,” he said. “We were sparring, me and Valen and Bennam. We always spar in the afternoons, on top of the gatehouse. There’s a lot of room up there, we don’t have to worry about the battlements crowding us in. I just… I kicked him. I didn’t mean to hurt him. Light, we were just sparring!”
Talia squeezed his arm. “It’s not your fault, Sakan.”
“Yes, it is! I KICKED HIM!” he almost yelled, and turned away from her. She was shocked at how close he came to violating custom. If Sakan was anything, it was bound to duty, and that meant upholding custom. Even customs from a dead land and dying culture. Even if he was one of a handful of people left in the world to whom it mattered. It was his duty. She was head and shoulders shorter than he, and petite as well. She knew he would never raise a finger against her physically, but she felt hurt at the wall he was building around himself – with her on the outside. He wasn’t supposed to do that.
She turned to Bennam, and whispered, “What happened? Why is he taking this so hard? He never loses his head, Bennam.”
Bennam shook his head, and the bells on the ends of the two long braids that fell down his back jingled. He whispered back, “I don’t know, Talia. I thought you might. You know him better than anyone, except Master Ogelban. Frankly, he’s scaring me.”
The door of the room suddenly opened, and an old, wizened man stepped out, with a grave look on his face.
“Master?” Sakan asked hopefully, almost begging. “Is he…?”
Master Ogelban dropped his head slightly, and replied, “I’m sorry, Sakan. Valen is dead. It is time for him to accept the Mother’s last embrace.”
A strange look appeared on Sakan’s face, and everyone froze for a brief second. Talia was shocked. Valen was her friend, too. That morning, over breakfast, he had teased her about not using Sakan’s daori enough, and she had replied that the daori wasn’t meant to be used in public. She had also stolen one of his breakfast rolls, and he had just smiled and told her that if she was that hungry, she should take it. She had thrown it back at his head. She burst into quiet tears.
The eerie silence was broken by a cry from Sakan, “NO!” He ran off down the hallway, as fast as he could.
Talia’s tears fell faster, and she called after him, anguished. “Sakan! Come back! Wait!”
Bennam, his face wet, put his arm around her shoulders. She looked defeated, and turned to Master Ogelban. “What happened, Lord Ogelban?”
Blademaster Ogelban turned to Talia and smiled regretfully. “Sakan killed one of his closest friends. That is a pain he will feel to his final hour.”
A look of horror spread across her face. “Oh, no! What is he going to do?”
Master Ogelban sighed. “I do not know. He did react as I would have expected. He has fought before, and he has killed before, but never by accident, and never a friend. That is going to be hard for him. He is going to take this very, very hard.”
“He’s going to do something drastic!” Tali said through her tears. “I can feel it. We have to find him!”
“And how do we do that, my dear?” Master Ogelban asked calmly. “Sakan knows the Keep like the back of his hand, and there are hundreds of places to hide. In the past, when something has bothered him, he has come to the training hall, to meditate and wait for me. Then we would discuss the matter. I fear he does not want to discuss this.”
“No, he doesn’t. He’s going to do something!” Talia began to shake. Sakan’s erratic behave frightened her.
Master Ogelban stared at her for a long minute, and finally said quietly, “A man’s carneira knows him better than he himself, so I would be wise to listen to you in this matter. Where do we look?”
“I know,” Bennam spoke up. “We used to play a hiding game, and there’s one place that Sakan always liked to hide.”
“No,” Talia said, suddenly. “Where did Valen like to hide?”
A small smile of understanding appeared on Master Ogelban’s face. “Yes,” he agreed. “Take us there. But first, you need to get something from your room.”
Sakan stood atop a crenellation at the top of the northern tower, on the edge of the battlement, and looked far out into the north, towards the Blight. Towards a place that he would have called home, had he been born fifty – even thirty – years before. The tower rose thirty feet above the outer wall of the Keep, which rose fifty feet above the hill on which it was built. The steep slopes of the hill dropped down another eighty feet or so to the dry moat that circled Fal Dashar. Ten paces deep and twenty paces wide and filled with sharpened logs. Like most fortresses in Shienar, Fal Dashar would not fall easily. He felt the wind rush by him, buffeting him as he strove to keep his balance. Somewhere out there, Valen was being prepared by the Wheel of Time to be woven back in to the Pattern. “May your shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand, and may last embrace of the mother welcome you home,” he said, through a lump in his throat, as tears streaked his face. He had killed his friend. Why should his friend have died, while he lived?
“Stop, Sakan!” Talia’s voice carried to him on the wind. “Come back here, please.”
Sakan turned his head. “Why should I?” he shouted. “Valen is dead because of me.”
Talia stepped towards him and held up a well oiled braided cord of hair. His hair. When she chose him to be his carneira, she had cut his hair to his shoulders, and he had braided it for her. She did not take full advantage of the customs that bound a man to his first love, but every once in a while she made him oil it and sing to her, just to remind him. “This is why,” she shouted to be heard over the wind.
Master Ogelban’s strong voice called out. “No one blames you, boy. It was not your doing. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”
“Please come down from there,” Talia begged him, as she crossed the tower. She stood below him, looking up. “Please?”
“Sakan,” Bennam called, in a shaky voice. “I don’t want to lose both of my best friends on the same day.”
Suddenly, something in him snapped. His carneira had given him a command, and even though a part of him protested, he had to obey. Tears that had been dripping began flowing, and his tense muscles started to relax as he tried to step down from the battlement. A gust of wind rose up, and pushed him backwards.
“Sakan!” Talia shrieked, and she jumped forward and grabbed his hand. He dangled over the side of the tower, a hundred and fifty feet in the air, holding onto Talia’s hand. Through tears, her frantic eyes caught his cold and distant eyes, and something passed between them. Bennam rushed forward, and they hauled him up, and over the edge.
Marion looked at Sakan. “You really scared her. She was convinced you were going to jump.”
He held in a grimace. “A part of me wanted to. All the physical pain I had ever endured up to that point was like a candle next to a bonfire compared to the emotional pain of killing Valen.”
Marion nodded and turned to Chrys. “Chrys, there are times when we do things that we regret. Sometimes they are accidental, and sometimes by design. We just have to keep them close, but move on.”
“What happened to Talia?” Chrys asked.
A painful looked crossed Marion’s face. “I will tell you later. For now, get some rest.”