Mid-morning the wind picked up drastically and our course was smooth. No sign of the ribbed sails of the Seanchan within vicinity. All harbouring some doubt that even the Ever Victorious Army would dare approach the shore, not this close to the City where the Serpent flag is raised. Spirits flew high when the raker soared through, swifter than anybody expected. The playful escort of dolphins frolicking in the waters had been left behind earlier on the passage. The crew relaxed. Lightbringer will arrive at Port well before the merchants of the land know to contact us. Inventories of our wares run from a deck of porcelain …
Eponine rubbed her hands, frowning at the nib of her quill. It was a feather from an albatross and served her better than the usual gull feather, which do not retain the ink as well and tend to blotch the thin and already wet parchment. It was not the pen that creased the brow of Lightbringer’s Sail mistress, nor was it the close encounters with Seanchan vessels. The menance of the Seanchan was something Eponine’s crew had become familiarized with. Fortunately, most of the fights proved to be even, as all but one of the vessels they encountered had no channelers. The one had a chained woman and it was only luck that Loki placed the first crossbow bolt into the throat of another woman holding the end of the leash and pointing a lacquered finger idly at the Lightbringer, making the Damane weep piteously for her Sul’dam while the Atha'an Miere raker swept past. Eponine had wanted to free the prisoner but Loki advised that the Lightbringer should escape, claiming that the best battle was one you do not have to fight and that Lightbringer was not a warship. The raker was faster than most warships and more maneuverable yet it carried no kanons or weapons that could sink a larger ship. The clashes with the Seanchan would cause delay into Carhien if it weren’t for the unexpected wind. It was irritating that she wanted to be outside where she was in her element on the decks, shouting commands to stow the thick ropes away as the crew watched the sails billowing by themselves. Quite marvelous, almost as impressive a sight as the wind working by the Windfinders, and had blown steady for the last two shifts. Eponine remembered not so long ago when her mother and sister would be channeling and speeding the ships along. The crew is beginning to trust my command now that we’ve navigated lacking Windfinders and are coming to Port early, something that even I with my confidence in my raker had – hoped for- yet been uncertain about. A satisfied smile twisted her full lips and she sat up straighter. The Lightbringer was her raker, one of the best in Clan Rossaine’s history. Nobody, not even her family, could dispute the raker’s reputation for fleetness after this trading expedition.
Writing her log was just something Loki told her she had to do. The door opened and a small sigh escaped her as the grizzled head of the aging Cargomaster popped in, chirping. “Tea?”
“Form,” she ignored his question, gritting her teeth, though a cup of honeyed tea sounded welcome to her “remains the structure underlying the well-being of a crew. I swear your casual impudence caused my silver hair.” Her voice was calm, though inside she was rather indignant that once again the Cargomaster’s entry into her quarters surprised her. Did the man never learned to knock? And how had he known to avoid the creaking board she set up near the door each time? She named the clumsiest member of the crew. “Next time, send the deck boy with refreshments, young Alex will serve.”
The Cargomaster bowed, his dark eyes so earnest that she immediately became suspicious. He was always dabbling in something. “I am corrected. We have a care for formality when we are within a half league of the Carhien Port.”
She gazed out at the cabin’s circular window. The stormy skies pledged rain soon. Still looking over the blue green of the waters she said softly, “already?” The glass was scrubbed so clean that her reflection smiled back at her. Eponine tucked her long honey coloured hair behind her ears. She could see some silver streaks in her jagged bangs, yet that was premature and hereditary. Both her mother and sister had hair that became silver at an early age. That gift of the Pontmercy name had not skipped her, like the ability to embrace the One Power. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind as the gold that pierced her ears glittered. She was happy with her position. Turning back to him, she dropped proper stiffness and all propriety, still smiling “well Loki, this is good news. I might have just won our little wager.”
“Aye lass, so your Lightbringer did capably. Leave the rest of the deal to me.” He was not grudging in his praise as he flicked a half-crown at her, which she caught and slipped into her the golden scarf hugging her slim waist. Her blouse was the same light brown shade as her eyes. Eponine shut her book and stood up, drawing herself up to the full advantage of her 5’4 height. She knew that men had found her attractive, and knew also that it gave her an edge in the bargaining game she was wise beyond her seventeen years at. Eponine was old with experiences that was passed down from her line, and did not like that the Cargomaster was always thinking of protecting her.
Emerging on the deck, the Sail mistress walked barefoot on the sun-warmed planks as the suddenly silent crew pressed their honorifics on her person. She nodded, acknowledging their growing trust in her abilities. “I am accompanying the Cargomaster ashore.” As if the words were a statement, she felt drops of rain coalescing and the hiving activity on board trebled in its rush to stow away everything in preparation for a landing in the rain.
Loki’s face darkened, the rings attached to his earlobes jingling in loud protest. Eponine noticed that, despite the jewelry on the Cargomaster his trinkets never made a noise unless he wanted to make a statement, and he definitely wants to make a statement. He looked ready to explode. “Might we talk, Sail mistress?” He went aside. She grabbed her quarterstaff and followed him, head held high and peering down her nose at him coldly for all of his being a head and shoulder taller than she was.
Loki was exasperated. “See here, ‘Ponine, I told your mother and sister that no harm will touch you and you want to wander all over the shore-bound City!”
Her left hand itched toward her daggers secreted in the folds of her pantaloons. She stared at the Cargomaster flatly. “Loki” No traces of the friendliness and warmth remained in her voice as she addressed him. He knew how she felt about being protected and he sniffed in disapproval, and his expression soured. He seemed so stern that Eponine couldn’t help bursting out with laughter. The old man managed to look and sound like her mother!
“Oh dear!” She grinned at his glower, “Sorry.” Eponine went and rested her hands comfortably about his broad shoulders as the Crew tied Lightbringer competently without their supervision, “Cheer up, Loki. You are to accompany me around Carhien, perhaps we will learn something valuable pertaining to the whereabouts of a teacher.” Perhaps after Carhien I shall continue my search for an Aes Sedai teacher in Tar Valon since a willing Windfinder was not to be found elsewhere. I must win over a teacher for Clan Rossaine. She thought as she looped her arm in the crook of Loki’s arm. Loki had little choice but to be dragged along, muttering under his breath about her needing a firm hand. She, of course, ignored him. It would suffice that she could be part of the trading.
Loki and Eponine glided down the ramp way while the Crew settled. She lowered her eyes to the gleaming wet walls of the City gates. The bitter bite of the cool wind stung her skin, giving irony to the territory of the rising sun. Her hair matted to her skull and she was drenched. However she would not go back for an oiled skin cloak. The heavy rain washed Loki, who was also cloak-less. He ignored the wetness while Eponine rejoiced in its freshness. The soil was squishy between her toes and she wished that she wore slippers at least, or one of the pairs of clogs that she bought on a whim while they were trading in Tear for the oil. She had heard of people contracting worms while walking in mud and hoped fervently that would not be the case. How unpleasant would that be, and Loki would be counted on to say his favourite four-word phrase: I told you so. Eponine glanced at him. Loki’s jaw tightened, he was aware of her looking, and his face was dangerously impassive. She clenched at the frills of her blouse instead of his left arm. His muscles were tensed and rock-hard.
A man approached and introduced himself as the Dock Master. He spoke very quickly and to the point. Eponine was surprised by the directness; she had heard that the Carhienins were quite subtle in business. He did not seem to know her for the Sail mistress, for clearly that crystal words were chiming at the Cargomaster, and Rovan dismissed her after a curt bow. She allowed Loki to reply that they were a trading vessel and no, the raker did not carry passengers. Loki’s reply was formal and yet Rovan of Carhien looked suspicious. Finally he penned the Lightbringer down in his thick book, and mumbled “Two Sea Folk vessels on the same day!”
Loki’s sharp ears caught that. “Come again?” His head swiveled like an owl’s in surprise. It was the first time Eponine saw the Cargomaster startled. She perused the docked ships and was shocked to see the Crimson Water II in Port. The Sail mistress was present when the ship had been outfitted with its formidable kanons. What was the CWII doing here?
Several guards eyed Eponine but did not interfere or move from their posts as she strolled past unhurriedly, her hips rolling and her motions fluid with the grace of one used to achieving the perfect poise and balance. “Eponine din Pontmercy of Clan Rossaine requests an audience with your Sail mistress.” She called out. Clan Rossaine's moderate trade was a shame they were born with. Theirs was not a strong Clan, to say that Rossaine was not influential like Shodein or Takana would be a dire understatement. Clan Rossaine did not interfere with the conflicting politics in Tremalking but it is preparing for the future return of the Co’ramoor with establishing more relations, and while the bicker for Power continued within the other Clans, Rossaine rallied to increase honour to the former glory of the Clan’s trading reputation. The newly chosen Sail mistress was determined that Lightbringer would be a part of the restoration. Talking to the Sail mistress of the Crimson Waters II will help establish useful relationships.
Dark figures of the warship’s Crew paused. One man leaned over and said, almost uneasily “You must ask the Master of the Blades, who is on the land.”
They exchanged another startled look. “Might my Cargomaster come aboard?”
The Cargomaster hesitated and then nodded for Loki to go up. Eponine whispered fiercely, “Ferret out their true purpose and see if it matches ours, Loki. I have to talk to the Master of Blades.” She was excited but very nervous about her task.
“I shall.” He pressed a fingertip to his lips then hers, pledging his service. “Be careful.” His dark eyes were strained with worry.
Now, thought Eponine, if I was to avoid attention, where would I go? She frequented shop after shop, never staying long but long enough to hear some tidbits, until she gathered there was a man that could be the Dragon. She was after was a person with serpents over his bare arms, apparently. Was he the Co’ramoor? Eponine stopped in front of a sign of a hawk at the corner of the engraved name of the inn The Feathered Hunt. The fish in its talon was gasping and helpless and it made her uneasy. It was a decent picture, and the details of the drops of water that fell off the waving tail looked real. Her grasp on the plain wood of sturdy quarterstaff tightened instinctively. Light! Loki’s alertness is contagious even when he’s not around. It would not give her much leeway in a narrow space like this, but then again Eponine had always trusted to throwing her knives, which she was pretty skilled with. The heat of the tavern made her shiver, but she squared her shoulders and walked into the depths of the common room.
When her light brown eyes adjusted to the change in light on the inside, her eyes widened as they scanned the room and found a Sea Folk man deep in conversation with a handsome young woman. As the woman’s face turned to face the man whose back was to Eponine, the Sail mistress saw her eyes were glowing. What in the Light have I gotten myself tangled into? she wondered as she walked across to where the two talking and –not wanting to disturb - waited for the Master of the Blades, she presume, to notice her. Her gaze took in the other patrons, and she settled for examining the man who was seated near the couple. His brow was furrowed as he stared into the cup of strange liquid that he nursed between his hands. Eponine smiled at the man, “Pardon, mind if I sit here?” She could do with a drink right now.
Eponine slid in the seat next to the man as he had cleared up the space for her. He had a charming smile and she liked his sparkling eyes, which were fixed on her face but she was not here to flirt.
"Call me Eponine, please." She took care not to touch him because she was still wet though her hair no longer dripped with the rain, but the bench had some room for her to settle in comfortably. She rested her quarterstaff against her legs and propped there she was reassured by its presence, though in close quarters her knives were much better if there should be any fighting. Her smile widened. Well he does have pretty eyes. A serving maid came over and she ordered a cup of steaming spiced wine, placing her half-crown that was won from Loki into the startled girl's hand she asked, "and do be so kind as to refill my friend's cup for him." Buying him another drink will serve as her apology, and perhaps she could strike up a conversation with somebody who had been watching the couple for some time now furtively from the corner of his eye. She would also learn more if he was less than sober, a clinical part of her mind said.
She eyed him. Eponine thought he was Illianer because of a faint accent but wasn't sure, despite having traded in both Tear and Illian. She decided to ask, "are you from anywhere hereabouts?"
As the Sail mistress waited for his answer she felt herself the focus of some scrutiny from another man, who seemed so extraordinarily patient and was it?... entertained. that her gaze shied away from his and she self consciously fingered the fat rings in her ear, blushing. By chance, she spied a middling-aged woman dressed in stripes, rank she had heard was displayed in this fashion, talking to the serving maid that Eponine gave her coin to and the noblewoman was looking her way, her high brow creased as if trying to figure her out like a puzzle. Eponine wanted to groan. Not a half-hour in Cairhien and already it was games within bloody games, and herself a pawn on land. Well if she was a pawn, to what purpose was she drawn here?
Eponine felt a strange burst of satisfaction as the man introduced himself in a civil soft voice. He was from Illian, the bodyguard admitted as his face wore a handsome smile. She took heart from his ale-buoyanced grin and was about to take the liberties of calling him Bael instead of the customary Master Zostram, when Bael’s interested eyes widened and his smile slipped abruptly. He reached for his blades swiftly, his movements accompanied by a little jump. She glanced up uneasily. The Master of the Blade’s companion was walking their way. The Sail mistress’s dark eyes locked onto the burnished gold of the guardswoman’s eyes, trying to fathom a reason why. The woman’s impassive face was carefully composed, giving nothing away. She covered her surprise and puzzlement, broke the glance and turned smilingly to Bael, who took no notice, as his eyes were fixated upon the woman approaching them. She forced herself to stop fingering her sash-like scarf under the table and took a sip of the ale. What it tasted like didn’t register at all. Her attention was funneled into maintaining a semblance of normalcy, and she kept her gaze on Bael’s whitened face, studying the man, using the time to gather her wild thoughts. She feigned nonchalance though her fingers – knitted smoothly together into a tenacious clasp - wanted to smooth her honey colored hair behind her adorned ears, which listened to the soft creaking of the floorboards as the boot steps came closer.
She stiffened instinctively as the woman leaned into her personal space and began whispering, her words crisp and precise, but they were not pronounced with the accent of the Cairhienins. Eponine cocked her head, considering the Master of the Blades, who was not looking anywhere within vicinity of their direction but rather seemingly absorbed in his drink. She wondered why did he send this woman to tell her something that he could not do himself inside the inn, unless the objective was not to inform her of anything but to protect her from something more personal. The hair at the nape of her neck rose, though the hand squeezing her right arm was warm and firm. She did not ask where they were going; knowing only that the Master of the Blades wanted her out of the inn. At first it crossed her mind to disobey and demand an explanation as to why, but after a second’s hesitation, she bowed her head slightly and relaxed. The woman held her elbow as she stood up. Smoothing her pants, Eponine knew she had to make a choice whether or not to follow. There would be questions later, she decided for now she would trust this woman as she clutched her quarterstaff and replied animated by the warm smile she received.
“Marianne, it’s Eponine!” She did not have to fake her incredulous outcry as the sentences rolled off her tongue, of the first lies that came. She had to give her real name because the man would have realized she was lying otherwise. The act would have been more convincing with a hug but she did not think she could have pulled it off if she embraced the woman. “I think it’s lovely, growing out your hair, long hair looks very well on you. It has been so very long has it not? Oh look at you, you’re just as I remembered you from when last we were together. At the inn when the Lightbringer was in port at Tear, do you recall? You danced with Loki there, oh he will be so excited when he finds out that you are here, what a delightful surprise it will be for our dear Cargomaster.” The woman was intelligent, and had caught on the hint about Loki and asked after his health, giving proof that they shared an encounter somewhere and seeming as if they were close mates who wished to be reunited. She nodded to the woman’s inquiry, which was appropriated and was there a hint of relief? “Loki is faring quite well. After we parted the last time, a gleeman in the inn began reciting in High Chant the tale of Mara and the Three Foolish Kings, which Loki wouldn’t admit had ever happened…” Still talking together, chatting about pleasantries, they glided together, weaving their way slowly past the tables.
It required a lot of willpower not to look back at Bael, who might take the sign as a plea for help, even if it was a stern look for him not to interfere, which might have given the game away. Anyway, the fact that the woman played this charade out was for his benefits, and Eponine did not want the friendly man to get involved. It was bad enough that she herself was caught in the intrigues. She did not know what plot she had stumbled into but nobody except herself can dig her out now. Eponine was curious about this woman who was also, from the glimpse of the naked expression in her shining eyes before they turned to amber gems again, more than a little afraid. Squaring her shoulders once more, she walked with the posture that her Windfinder older sister had make her balance cups of tea on her head aboard the Clan ship she had grown up on, toward the entrance of the inn.
Her brown eyes brightened with fear when the sturdy doors of The Feathered Hunt slammed behind them. She had allowed the other to lead her out but now she voluntarily linked arms with the strange auburn haired woman, similar to what she did with Loki, except when she was with Loki it was comforting… no, that is not quite right, with this woman the Sail mistress felt soothed in after an odd fashion, perhaps it was the woman scanning everywhere at once while seeming not to care at all, tensed but used to an environment where one has to navigate carefully to survive. Sometimes, one simply has to surrender to the wind and be carried to sanctuary. Her heart felt less heavy with this adage and her tread lightened. The ferocity of the falling raindrops diminished but the ground was wet and as muddy as before. She was careful not to slip and make a bigger fool of herself. They moved up almost to the end of the street, when something disturbed the rocks above them, shattering windows. Among the scattered debris, she realized and did not suppress a yelp that the something came in the form of a crossbow bolt, and then another. She surveyed the decaying ruins and buildings all about them in dismay. Anywhere could have been a slit for the assassin. Worse, as she turned her head out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a man wielding a sword before he melted back into the shadows again and her gaze swept past him turning to the woman beside her who was also unscathed but warily taking in the situation they were both marooned in. They were in the middle of the road and there was nowhere to get down that would not make them a target, but at least they weren’t stationary targets anymore. No longer pretending to be strolling leisurely, they kept moving. Wondering if her eyes deceived her about the sinister man with the sword behind them, the only thing she knew for certain was that whoever shot the missiles was shooting to miss, to warn. Well, whoever the crossbow man was, he had gotten their awareness. Her suspicions were confirmed, and her eyes and ears were alert for any motions as the drumming in her chest sounded its loud tattoo.
Eponine froze in shock as the striding woman stumbled. Her head fell hard to the ground, which smeared the beautiful auburn hair with mud. The sail mistress prayed that the woman was still alive but dared not take her eyes off her surrounding as she desperately looked about for a rock or missile that might have cause her companion to collapse, trying to blink away the rain for some visibility of their assailant. Her right hand clutched the mahogany tightly and her other hand went to her sash, in the process of drawing out a dagger, when a man flashed into sight so quickly her brain didn’t register any particular details about him. Is he the person the arrows warned against? Swiftly was the impact of something hard delivered above her brow, and the quarterstaff fell from the young woman’s limp hand. Her last thought before her eyes rolled up was that of the eventual chastisement she would get from Loki when the Cargomaster finds out about her leaving the inn where, despite her judgment, it was safer than the outside city.
The angry seas were calm on the last name day when she wept salt into the blue green waters for her childhood. It started as the happiest morning in Eponine’s memory, when her mother told her that she forgave her thoroughly. The Windfinder still loved her second daughter for the spirited way she would direct a course by triangulation using iron devices and the stars above, though she didn’t have the ability to find the winds. This was supposed to be a secret as families should not show favoritism, but she couldn’t help smiling for the crew to see as another gold ring is presented to her, and this one her older sister pierced quickly and painlessly through Eponine’s left ear, ending the ceremony. Yet the rites were not finished. Her mother approached the Wavemistress, who nodded and asked Eponine to name the raker of her very own command. In that instance, Eponine understood that the morning’s pardon was a farewell in advance, and all this show of respect was carefully arranged beforehand, and that though she’s considered an adult she had been granted no option but to either accept or lose face of honor for the family. She knew a brief moment of anger at herself for not realizing what would happen. Wondering when she would ever be reunited with her family again, Eponine answered with a heavy heart and was sent aboard the “Lightbringer” without a last hug for her mother and sister. But she was not utterly alone, of the Pontmercy’s crew, the Wavemistress of Clan Rossaine denied Loki a place aboard the ship publicly, knowing well how devotedly he would serve Eponine on the raker in all the capabilities of a teacher and a friend. Brown eyes gazed furiously into the waters, intense and burning with stored tears until Lightbringer left the harbor, then she allowed them to flowed down. Blinking through the tears, she glimpsed a white legendary shape plummeting. Lifting her eyes from the albatross, the newest sail mistress called to Loki the Cargomaster.
Eponine opened her eyes groggily and gaped in a silent fish-like fashion. Where is Loki? Her sash hung loosely about her waist, and her blouse hung out of the sash like surrender signals. But for her aching head, splitting as though she had indulged in drink the night before, and minor bruises on her shoulder hurting, Eponine came to no major harm. The sail mistress grimaced when she moved her head slightly and saw foggily the edges of her pantaloons were frayed as if she had been dragged, for they were her most comfortable pair. She felt as disorientated as she appeared, for she was on the wooden boards of the very inn she regretted leaving before she was unconscious, and now she regretted that thought as it was dangerous from the smoke that filled the common room, and the Master of Blades was right in telling her to leave. She was very sorry for her curiosity, though there was no helping it now, even when a part of her is hoping fervently for Loki to come most of her was screaming for him to stay far away. Through the haze she saw a part of the wall connecting the common to the kitchen was burnt. What happened to the golden woman who was protecting me? She was dismayed to see that the man who had been so warm to her lay unmoving besides her. Bael, the name came to her, I must check if Bael is alright, she inched closer to the Illianer, crawling until she saw his chest rose and fall with the breaths of life. Eponine fumbled for her dagger tucked in her already disheveled sash, fingers clumsy as if they were all thumbs. Amazed that the dagger was not confiscated, was the man so confident that his blow would tame me for so long? I must have a hard skull, she thought wryly as she finally took hold of the elegant bone hilt. She didn’t think her kidnapper noticed as his back was to her and he was distracted confronting the Master of Blades and another Sea Folk man (from Crimson Water II?) together, but as the woman and yet another man was facing her directly she was careful to keep her movements inconspicuous and deliberately slow as she raised her hand to aim the dagger. His last mistake, she thought as she hurled the weapon at the mysterious kidnapper who brought her here.
Eponine was ready to prop up into a standing position when her breath caught. The look on the lady transformed her amused face into an abstract of pure fury seen only in nightmares. Brown eyes widened at the loud green that captured her will to move, the flickering fire casting shadows over the raging pupils that directed their wrath at the Master of Blades, twisting that serene countenance into formidable… determination. The strange man seated with the burning green-eyes lunged forward. The Sailmistress pressed her hand to her stomach, rendered ill by the transition between perfect stillness and motion. She suppressed the bile that rose as something flung the Master of Blades and his man hard. The Master of Blades attempted to anchor himself with his jeweled dagger but it was all to no avail as the blade snapped. They flew but the wall behind the two stopped their flight with another sickening crack. The man beamed, his white teeth even and straight.
She watched mutely, too frightened even to scream, as the men were immobilized and kept against wall, elevated and pressed by an invisible force. The lady must be an Aes Sedai. Eponine glanced at the woman’s skirts, which were well made, and the fist that was clenched, but there was no Great Serpent ring. The thought that the Sister abandoned her trinket vanished when a melodious voice rang out “Release them.” Her head turned, as if in slow motion, to the Warder who was ordered. He was still smiling as the bodies against the wood went slack and after a moment began to wiggle upright. The woman was no Aes Sedai and her man wielded the flows. Eponine struggled not to scream. Light! What is happening? Her kidnapper jerked rigidly to his feet and approached the woman. She glimpsed a familiar hilt and felt a brief satisfaction that her dagger bit deeply into her kidnapper’s side and caused his clothing to be strained with darkness streaming down, but the weak triumph was overwhelmed by shame. What I am doing? She forced her rubbery legs to support her weight. Without knowing how she reached the fireplace and there she grabbed at a piece of ornament at the mantle. One end of the obsidian rock was jagged and could be a makeshift knife, as useless as anything when fighting the One Power. The Master of Blades also stepped closer to the woman, whose head didn’t even raise from the kidnapper’s face, which Eponine tried to commit to memory but couldn’t scribble the details in her mind. She made no eye contact with the man regained his broken blade and glided into her path quickly, merely watched the kidnapper intensely as he dragged himself over to her. Yet the Master of the Blades stood still about a foot away from her silken skirts and seemed to be confounded. There was no way that the lady could have seen out of the corner of her eye but without a visual she smiled as if knowing what turned the Master into a statue where only his eyes were free to roam. Her man paid his own handy-work (for it must be the man who channeled) no mind but was looking at her kidnapper. His lips were thinned with distain, the folds of his mouth drawing that otherwise handsome face into a disapproving severity. Eponine could sense some tension there as well, and it nagged at some thing in her thoughts, but before she could remember the notion was gone.
The Master of Blades appeared to be deep in thought, or listening. All of a sudden constrained no longer the Blades Master faced Eponine and commanded her – no, all of them - to head back to the ship saying that his business here was finished, then raised his serpent tattoos, which danced in the firelight contorting as if being boiled alive in a crimson sea. Eponine began to doubt her own memories from this point on. Her mouth hung open, as the city-dwellers outside gasped at the ruined wall against which the patrons were pressed. This is the Master of Blades, not - ! The sailmistress stared aghast as he walked through the emptiness through what he destroyed, the rain had stopped and the exposed sunshine drenched the Feathered Hunt, feeding her aching head. It hurt too badly to be a dream. Eponine heard laughter somewhere from the Master of Blades’ vicinity, joyful in the carnage of the inn. What a madman!
Where is the lady? She had to squint through the dust and crumbling wreckage behind her. The kidnapper was also gone. Eponine thought she saw a strip of fragment - the man’s cloak - but he too had vanished. He has to be put down. She thought, not sure whether she meant the man or the Master of Blades anymore. The sailmistress didn’t know who were the good guys in this fight. Nothing makes any sense today. Why did the lady leave them when the Master of Blades ordered it, when her man had everything under his control? And what exactly was this business in Cairhein? He was heading back in trying to push through people, some of who had fallen into the mud as if knocked out, but a shout of warning came from the rear of the building, sounding oddly gleeful even flippant in contrast with the words “Alright, watch your heads!” Somebody had set the inn on fire!
She scanned the inside of the inn, as the flames consumed the curtains by the window seats. The roar and crackling of the burning building collapsed and doused some of the fire but did not diminish as the red and orange licked every wooden board with their hunger. Her heart blocked her throat and then she gasped, finally catching sight of the fallen patron. Coughing, she cried “Bael!” She ducked under a few creaking timbers and knelt next to the prone Illianer, and with all her might slung him over her shoulder like a bulk of hunted meat and tugged him across the clear path to a side the fire had not decimated yet. Somehow she got the man out without dropping him, handicapped by her own clumsiness in addition to his heaviness. Her shoulder was numbed with the strain of pulling him along. As soon as they evacuated the Feathered Hunt however the fires died away before they could spread to the warehouse next door. She laid Master Zostram into the mud to gape in wonder at the smoldering remains of a reputable place. They were at the back of the inn that no longer was there. Something contained the fire to just one isolated region of the City, which was the inn. Rubbles piled high to obstruct her view of the other side. Eponine turned aghast from the sight, made more horrible because she knew the cause was unnatural. It had been no ordinary fire.
Looking up at the sky as if hoping for something to deliver her from this nightmare, Eponine glanced up just in time to see a silver vertical slash and another room at the other end. She caught a glimpse of the strange man with the cloak as he and the opening vanished.
Blinking, she would have screamed if she could remember how to use her voice. Screams still pummeled the air, and people ran from the walled stores into the slick cobblestone streets the guards rushed in, some sliding in the muddy ground towards the inn. Eponine felt a pain on her side and then realized thick blood spurting then seeping through her fingers were that of her own. Shuddering, she scrabbled for some herbs on her sash to staunch the bleeding. The sailmistress tried to remain calm and clear-headed.
The moss in her palm was dried and felt brittle to the touch. "This will do," Eponine thought wryly as she applied the moss to her side. I'm bleeding, she wondered what had caused the wound, for she hadn't noticed before. The sail mistress watched Bael as he stared at her. “I must have been...” She tried not to mumble but she doubted the words were audible to Bael, anyway she had forgotten what she was about to say. Despite the moss, her wound was still bleeding as she peeled away a little bit. Light, but how she couldn't stand the sight of her own blood! She swayed and wished for her quarterstaff, or Loki in the interval when the fighting ceased. Hearing a soft groan behind her, she spun and saw an ordinary man die, as his throat had been slit. Blood drained from Eponine's face. Glancing up from the fresh corpse, she was horrified that the Illianer ripped a long strip of unstained fabric off the dead man's body. He moved closer to her and she allowed him to press down on her side. She bit her bottom lip and tried to ignore the sharp pain blossoming on top of the dull ache. "Eponine, I can cauterize this wound and stop the bleeding until we can get a healer, is that okay with you?" He asked as he assisted her to the ground into a sitting position. No! She thought vehemently but she knew the wound had to be closed. She didn't think she was thinking clearly. She wondered where the Master of the Blades and his men were. Her light brown eyes implored Bael's suddenly brightened ones. I’ve no choice but to follow what is woven "Is there somewhere with a fireplace that's safe?" asked Eponine, faintly. She wished she didn't sound half as out of breath, but there was no helping that now.
It happened all too quickly. Bael gave her a pretty smile to match his rare eyes, which displayed great sadness at their grim circumstances. "No fireplace needed my dear, I have my own means to help your wounds. However, you'll have to promise you won't become alarmed. We've had enough screaming for today." At first she felt indignant that he'd think she would do so when she practically saved his life dragging his inert body out of the buring wreckage of the Feathered Hunt. But as a uncanny uncertainty changed his subtle smile, honey brown eyes widened and she licked her lips nervously. All of a sudden she noticed that the Illianer was really tall.
"Be strong, Eponine," a little frown of his brow was his warning as he bent over her side, lifting the cloth carefully and concentrated. His hair was so dark a black it seemed to soak in all the light around them, dimming her sight.
Suddenly, there came a flash before her eyes. Eponine jerked and cried out despite her promise not to scream. She was in a great deal of pain and try as she might she had no control over her flailing limbs. Her fingers tickled his face as Bael tried to stop her wild motions from injuring herself. The heat seared up along her side and the touch of his hands, though gentle, was like fires arousing more agony. She still couldn't see anything but knew that he was near her, and his presence was very comforting to the Sail Mistress. Shame spread as she had broken her word to this man, though her cries of pain had been lost to the chaos encircling them. Their fingers linked.
He helped her stand up, almost lifting her in his arms. Her legs seemed to have lost all desire for independent movement. Eponine's light hair was slicked back and matted with sweat. For a moment she paused, blinking salt out of her eyes, surprised at how perceptive and gallant Bael was. I’m so cold. Her teeth chattered. He must have noticed her shivering because he offered to escort her to an inn. Overwhelmed by gratefulness, she leaned against his shoulder and laid her cheek by his, feeling his warm breath scented like the spiced wine they had drunk together like comraderies not so long ago.
Eponine tried to catch her breath, to steady the rate she was breathing. His soft touch below her elbow, supporting her, sent incessent prickles down her spine. As they walked, or rather he walked and she hobbled along, Eponine asked Bael how he sealed her wound. She couldn’t figure it out, or perhaps, a small voice nagged at her, she hadn’t really wanted to know. She felt scared and what's more, showed her fear as she wondered aloud. It took all her will to keep her tone light-hearted. "So, what did you do to me?" She took satisfaction in that her voice wasn't shaky. "I thank you."
Mismatched eyes avoided her, not just her gaze or her face but her. Do I appear as wretched a sight as I feel? Eponine tried not to limp so much though putting her weight on the right foot hurt. A part of her became very disturbed by how vain she was, and disjointedly her mind and eyes jumped from one point of digression to another, noting his strong jaw, his built and altogether the aura of something formidable, some intense quality he has. She couldn't tear her stare away, or seem to stop looking at him, for everything around her seemed to be drawing her eye to him in invisible lines. He lead their way to his quarters, unaware of being the object of her focus.
"Well, I guess we've arrived." He wasn't nonchalant either. After coughing twice in the dust road, the tall Illianer watched everything keenly but seemed to ignore her, the only sign that he knew of her presence alongside him was his gentle touch as he eased her into the door under an engravement scripted with fiery crimson letters, the Brazen Shield. She wondered why he picked this particular tavern by the wayside, but reckoned it was better to be a bit isolated. All questions were driven out when he continued, "Just let me do all the talking all right, love?"
Love. The word echoed in the sea of her mind, resonating like a deep tolling of her own feelings growing toward him, and hope, ah vain hopes that opened her emotions to him, that spark going unreciprocated. She searched, but he did not look at her. Disappointed, she turned her attentions inside as the door slammed behind them loudly proclaiming their entrance.
His grip tightened, and she was dismayed to see how crowded the Brazen Shield was.
By the noise encircling a scantily garbed dancer with gaudy sequins and jewlery that sparkled of fake probably painted rocks, she was both origin and catalyst of the rowdy drunken lot cheering her own and grinning lewdly at the frightened serving maids being pawed. Eponine looked sharply at the volumptuous dancer entertaining these men, and wondered if this was indeed the sort of retreat that pleased Bael to patron.
Abruptly, she realised with horror that since her hidden kidnapper had torn her blouse and pants to rags while she had been knocked out, and her headache returned with a vengence. Eponine was alarmed to see a few men heading their way, attracted by her exotic appearance and enboldened with the drink. A pair started cutting them off their path upstairs where she presumed was Bael's room. Her hand inched for her dagger, but touched only the soft material of her sash. She finally noticed Bael looking at her.
He rescued her. The fires ablaze in his eyes as they delved hungrily into hers made her jaw drop, then his mouth closed over her open mouth. Time passed though she was in ecstasy, and when she felt she couldn't stand the drugged happiness any longer she closed her eyes and trusted Bael to guide her, and he did so even though they were still kissing, with her fervently clinging to him.
They fell into the room and connected intimately with the uncarpeted floor, which felt cool in contrast to her flustered face. She looked away first and somehow worked up the strength to get off the floor and, standing upright, find a looking glass as she started tugging and adjusting her clothes then her hair into some semblance of their usual orderly elegance. There was a dark cannister on one of the tables. Eponine looked for glasses, but finding none with her cursory inventory, she poured the plum brandy down to fortify her own nerves before handing the remainder to Bael with an apologetic smile. Poise, the creed of another Pontmercy, her mother's stern instructions suddenly surfaced. The smile dropped off her face and she opted for a nod instead, inclining her neck gracefully. I am a sailmistress. her knees gave out and she dropped onto the chair.
"I'm sorry Eponine. I just wanted to get out of there and had to find a diversion." Diversion... Oddly enough this brought necessity back to her, and her composure with the impossibility of him actually loving her in reality, instead of pure lust. Her countenance was paler than before, but calm and collected.
"You've found one effectively, of course." Wonderful, just what I want, falling for a man who turned your brains to food for silverpikes, who does not and should not care for you.
Bael, she thought longingly as her light head of hair hung wearily and limp on the pillowcase on the arm of her chair. After a moment of just laying there, she caught her breath to ask "what happened in the Feathered Hunt? Don't try to spare me, my dear." My dear, that rolled off her tongue as if natural, though she never addressed anybody with such familiarity ... these terms of endearment had better not voice themselves again. Eponine wished she had her dagger on her.
The sail mistress of Lightbringer wasn't a woman known to sulk but she came close to it when Bael left her to get more blankets for them. Eponine didn't know whether to laugh or weep as her sense were flooded with extremely worrying intelligence and she trusted neither her heart nor head. Secrets. She shivered and tried not to let her fear express itself on her face, which turned cold as she retreated to memories of what took place before as her love related his story to hers.
Her first shock was when Bael allowed her to see his scar that puckered across his forehead. It was of her mind that the less scars a person acculmulates the better a guard he is. Yet for Bael she felt compassion, and curiosity as to how he had gotten the scar. But that was a question for another day, if they had - pessimistically she inserted - another day to enjoy together.
"Well if you're sure Eponine. I'll tell you, love." Bael started gravely, and true to his word, in his tale did not spare her what he knew, including that secret about himself. She didn't let her fear show but inside the tormoil intensified accompanied by general confusion as he related to her the strange woman, the man with her, her kidnapper, and how the Master of the Blades was the one who choked him into submission.
Cowardly, yes, but terrified for her own sake? She knew that he would not hurt her. Eponine wanted to laugh because she was glad he cared for her, especially when he spoke of blasting her kidnapper with his fire. That inner fire, however, was not something she could find humorous. It was an ability that was dangerous more to its weilder in a society that considers male Aes Sedai shameful. The Atha'an Miere viewed the false Dragons as criminal... yet Bael did not seek to declare himself.
I will do my utmost to see that he survives. Eponine thought, determined to help.
When the door to Bael's room creaked open, she stared at him in consternation, as he had returned as empty handed as when he went out. "Eponine, we are completely out of blankets. So this is all we have on this one bed." Her mouth curled into a smile at this. She became greatly amused that the Illianer's face resembled spectrums of sunsets. Abandoning her demurred facade she laughed without abandon or heed to conventions.
"I'm tired and I know you must be exhausted. We can huddle together for warmth, Bael." She had heard of and now felt like a Saldaean farmgirl at harvest-time as she came to the bed and patted his hand with hers. All she knew was that she loved this man, and it is a truth that cannot be refuted. They were both fully clothed. That fact does not matter as she curled facing him as they shared the middle of the mattress space where it was warmed by the heat of their bodies. Looking into his sparkling eyes, she breathed. "Today was very trying for both of us, dear one." It was silent except for the faint commotion coming through the thin walls and the sound of them inhaling, and exhaling softly.
When Eponine woke up it was still dark but she was startled to find her hand was not free. She had clutched Bael's and did not let go. The other hand laid upon his chest, which she drew back. Sometime during the night she had selfishly stolen most of the blankets. She grinned and pushed some of the coverings back on the poor man. She wondered how long she had been sleeping in his embrace, but dwelt no longer on this as he was stirring. With a slight turn of her head, Eponine pecked him on the cheek. "Good morning, Bael. Did you rest well?"