The Story

Written by: Sakan al’Galrodan
Edited by: Dannah Jones
(Reposted from malkierimusings.wordpress.com)

At its depths, the long staircase coiled into a darkness pierced only by a faint, dim light that flickered through an arch from the hallway beyond. A large, cloaked figure with a long, curved sword at his hip pressed against the wall next to the arch that led into the endless corridor, invisible in the deep shadows save for the faint outline of his head and shoulders. He peered into the dim light of the solitary wall sconce and listened for signs of movement. The torchlight danced dully in the thick layers of rust and grime that oozed from the heavy iron locks on the solid oaken doors that dotted the hallway and disappeared beyond into the darkness. Beside him, completely hidden between his shadow and the darkness of the stairwell, a motionless, diminutive figure ignored the dampness of the stone wall that seeped through her cloak. Although she could see nothing but a dim silhouette of the man next to her and hear nothing but the occasional drip of water falling from the ceiling, her serenity was palpable.

His head shifted a hair in her direction, his voice barely a whisper. “Remind me again why you’re here?”

“I seem to remember a time when you would obey my instructions without question, Sakan al’Galrodan,” she whispered back. In the near blackness he couldn’t have seen her arched eyebrow even if he’d been staring her in the face, but he could feel it through the bond.

“I never question yours orders, Marion Sedai,” he said. “Merely your decision to accompany me. You can’t channel in here without risking discovery, and I can find and rescue Iriana Sedai on my own. You don’t need me to tell you that, and yet you insisted on coming anyway. Why?”

Marion paused. “Call it a hunch.”

His silence was his response. She waited while he slid through the archway, boots as quiet as stockinged feet, a shadow gliding across the wall. Her eyes, adjusted to the darkness, could barely make out the outline of his hand when he held it up to signal it was safe to proceed. Through the bond, she felt his tamped down mix of displeasure and concern that she had joined him. Usually she took his advice. This time, a nagging feeling led her to accompany him on what should have been a simple rescue. This simple rescue had turned into a labyrinth, and she’d watched from the shadows at the trail of over a dozen warders and trained soldiers he had left behind so far. He – they – were going to attract attention soon, if they hadn’t already.

Iriana de Sevila, an Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, had been one of Marion’s mentors during her years as an Accepted. Iriana was out in the villages north of Jehannah when word reached Marion that she had gone missing. Marion pieced together reports from her Eyes and Ears that a Wisdom in one of the small villages in Andor west of Whitebridge had been buying forkroot, and she didn’t like the sound of that. In Bandar Eban, they had to cross the Mountains of Mist, but that gave her the opportunity to investigate in Andor before reaching Jehannah. Sakan didn’t object, of course. He never did. He was always protective of her, not only guarding her when she was most vulnerable but also caring for her when she pushed herself beyond reasonable limits. When her trail led them to a fortress, she remembered just how protective he could be. There was no way to know whether the people who had doused Iriana with forkroot and kidnapped her were plain darkfriends or if they were working for the Black Ajah, how many warriors were inside, what weapons they carried, or what they were willing to do. He hated working with no information even more than he hated taking unnecessary risks. But Marion controlled the bond. And more than that, he had pledged his sword to her.

* * *

“Marion al’Kalimar Aes Sedai,” Floating in the Void, his voice was detached. He nodded his head in greeting, eyes fixed on the horizon, as she approached from behind the tree beneath which he knelt. “To what do I owe this honor?”

She stood over him, fair hair shining, her laughter and voice music dancing on the breeze. Marion had chosen her words carefully during her approach. “Of course you’d know it’s me. So formal, Colonel Sakan al’Galrodan. A casual observer might think us to be passing acquaintances rather than nearly in-laws.”

Out there, no observers could be said to be casual. This was his place of solitude. Less than an hour’s ride from the garrison and border fortress where he had been raised, the trail down the steep ravine to the plateau overlooking the lake hidden from all but the keenest eyes. He went there to be alone because it was secluded and difficult to reach, and no one else knew of it. Almost no one. Marion’s words had the desired effect. His face was as still as a frozen pond, but she knew the turmoil beneath the mask. It was good; she needed him off balance for what she prepared to ask. A slight deepness of his breath was the only indicator she had, but she knew him since childhood. That breath was enough for her.

“If you need something from me, Marion, just ask. I’m not a harp to be played.” Voice flat, his clenched jaw told her that her words really hit home.

The late afternoon sun seemed to dim beside her smile. She wanted to calm him slightly. He needed to be shaken, not cracked. She hated to do this to him, but she had made her decision and didn’t want to leave his to chance. Few others knew that this subject was his weakest point, and she could easily snap him if she pushed too hard. So she said nothing, but held her smile, sweetly. Innocently. Almost too innocently. Watching his outer facade to see when the cracks would start.

He spoke again. “You didn’t come to disturb my meditation just to discuss your sister, Marion. What do you want of me?”

Ready, she thought, her smile brightening. “Sakan, I need your help.”

“An answer fit for an Aes Sedai. Answering without answering,” he looked up at her, his eyes bored holes into her head. “I never thought you would feel the need to speak with me that way.”

She ignored his comment and the slap it was meant to be. I’m sorry, my friend, she thought to herself. Aloud, she replied, “Master Ogelban tells me that you ride north at dawn. To the Blight.”

He didn’t answer for a moment. He returned his gaze to the horizon. “So much for closely guarded secrets.”

“You know he disapproves,” her tone was light and even.

“I do not answer to Master Ogelban anymore,” he replied stiffly.

“And what of the Hero of the Shadow’s Lance Massacre?” she demanded. “Of the Guardian of the Northern Ridges?”

“My duty is done!” he growled. “I have carried my mountain, now I get to hold the feather! I feel the Blight call to me. The Shadow will flee from the sound of my name before I’m welcomed by the mother’s last embrace.”

She winced that time, knowing his pain and desire for vengeance. He had given into his pain and convinced himself it was strength. But she would not, could not, let him. She gathered her skirts and knelt down beside him. They sat side by side in silence, the reds and pinks of the evening sky washing over them.

“Thank you for spending these last few minutes with me,” he said softly, after a few minutes. “Of all people, yours is the company I will miss the most. You know, there was a time when I could not bear your presence, because I see Talia in your face. That time has long passed. Your face and your voice bring me solace.”

Her throat caught, and with a deep breath she noiselessly choked back a tear. Forming a rosebud in her mind, she mentally opened each petal, one by one, and held her tongue until she was sure she could speak evenly. When she did speak, her tone was gentle but direct. “I need you to come to Caemlyn with me. I want you to be my Warder.”

He did not respond. The silence stretched. She turned to him, to repeat her request.

The pain in his whisper belied his calm face. “Please, Marion, let me go.”

She reached out and squeezed his wrist, her words impassioned. “Sakan, the Pattern weaves as the Pattern wills, you must accept that! The darkfriends who murdered my sister paid with their blood and flesh, you saw to that. The Halfmen who led the attack on Fal Dashar paid with their lives, you saw to that as well. You avenged her, and I love you for it, but you do her memory no honor by seeking your death in the Blight. Even you cannot kill a Forsaken. ”

He opened his mouth to speak, and she pushed on.

“My sister would not want you to die needlessly for the sake of vengeance. We fight the same war, you and I. Go to the Blight alone, you throw your life away. Come with me, and make true difference. When the Wheel turns again and spins you two back into the Pattern, you will find each other again and live the life you wanted – have children, grow old, maybe raise some chickens, free of the pain you feel now. I can’t remove your pain, but I can give you a new purpose. Fight with me. Fight to rid the world of the Shadow’s touch. If not for me, for Talia’s sake.”

“That’s low, even for an Aes Sedai,” he pointedly avoided her gaze.

“Whatever it takes to get you to abandon your suicidal mission and join me. Sakan, you are like my brother. You almost became my brother. Please, don’t make me beg.”

Again they sat in silence. Minutes passed, shadows lengthened around them, but she knew she had said all she could. Without warning he whirled around, drawing his sword and facing her on one knee. Startled, she leapt up, furious with herself. He was always faithful to ritual, and beneath his stoic exterior was a flair for the dramatic. She should have expected some grand gesture, yet he still surprised her. She regained her composure and stood over him in silence.

Head bowed, he held his sword to her in outstretched arms. “By my mother’s name, I will go where you say, and stay by your word. By my mother’s name, my life is your life, my blood is your blood. My sword is your sword, Marion al’Kalimar Aes Sedai, by my mother’s name.”

She covered her surprise with a wry smile and placed her hands on his head. “My cousins always said, Malkieri men are all the same – a strict sense of honor and a flair for the dramatic. That part wasn’t really necessary, you know, strictly speaking, but I appreciate it. And reserve the right to remind you of it at my discretion.”

She channeled, weaves of Spirit into his head. As an awareness of him appeared inside her head, she instinctively held his head to her body in an embrace. She would have to find a way to cope with his pain that was now a constant presence in her mind.

As he rose smoothly, she lay a hand on his arm. “It gets better with time.”

He stared at her, meeting her eyes this time, “Some pain is worth holding on to.”

* * *

They had reached the darkness beyond the torchlight. Marion hugged the wall, allowing Sakan to inspect the last door in the light, touching the wood in places and feeling the hinges before moving beyond. It would create a racket if he tried to open it. She knew he wasn’t going to take her further into the blackness without scouting ahead first, and with his misgivings, she decided not to press the matter. Across the hall, a door was ajar. The hinges, while not shiny, were oiled, and the rust had flaked off. Sakan touched it gently, and it swung open silently. He disappeared inside, and reappeared a moment later.

“This room sees use, but is empty now. Wait in here,” he breathed, barely audible, in her ear. Before she could reply, he slipped off soundlessly, leaving her in pitch black.

“You have the eyes of a cat,” she murmured to his retreating back, as she stared in the direction of the door. Time seemed endless to her, and she began to run through her novice exercises, opening herself to Saidar without letting it flow into her, to keep her patience in check. It was all she could do not to channel a small globe of light in the room.

As suddenly as he left, he returned.

“There is a room down an adjoining hallway that had two guards. They are now dead and guarding the inside of the next room. I can pick the lock on the door they stood in front of to get us in.”

She stared at him. “Let us pray that they weren’t bonded to any Black Ajah, or they’ll be on us like a swarm.”

Sakan quickly grabbed the torch from the sconce, and they ran down the hallway. He slid to a stop in front of the door. She took the torch from him, and he pulled some pins out of his wristband. Moments later, the lock clicked and the door swung inward.

“Iriana!” Marion hung the torch in an empty sconce outside the door and pushed past Sakan. She ran to Iriana, on a chair bolted to the center of the floor. Drawing her belt knife, she sawed at the ropes that bound Iriana to the chair. Iriana lifted her head. Her eyes, hazy from the forkroot, were also red and puffy as though she’d been crying. Few things could bring an Aes Sedai to tears.

Sakan didn’t like what that meant. “Blood and ashes,” he growled. “Bennam?”

“Dead,” Iriana choked through her tears, as Marion pulled the gag from her mouth. “Light! You just killed two of Gellany’s warders, and I can’t channel a breath of Air.” She burst into tears.

“Shh!” Sakan motioned, and moved towards the door.

Marion helped Iriana to her feet. “Don’t worry. If need be, I can…” she trailed off as she felt an invisible knife slide between her and the Source. Her face smooth, fear flashed through the bond. Sakan felt her fear and took a step forward, and then melted backwards into the shadows behind the open door. Whoever it was could channel, and hadn’t seen him yet.

A woman glided into the room, flanked by four men. Sakan pulled a dagger from his sleeve.

“You can what, dear? Channel when you’re shielded?” Gellany laughed. “I would really enjoy seeing you try.” She spoke over her shoulder to her men. “She didn’t come alone. Find her Gaidin. I want these two left alive and unharmed, but kill the warder. Make it as painful as you like, he deserves no less for killing Freim and Paitr. And I think I’ll enjoy watching this young one feel the loss of her bond even more than I enjoyed watching the older one lose hers.”

The words were barely out of her mouth when Sakan’s dagger flew, landing true in the center of Gellany’s neck. She collapsed in a lifeless heap. As the four men bellowed in rage Sakan was already in their midst, his sword whirling.

Marion yelled, “Sakan! She tied off my shield, I can’t help you yet!”

Sakan was in the Void, one with his sword and the room around him. Time slowed as he danced the forms, flowing from one man to the next, whirling and circling to keep them from surrounding him. In the outer rim of his consciousness, he knew he needed to create an advantage. Skilled as he was, against four trained, berserk warders, he’d still take a cut for every two he gave. Those odds were pretty grim.

The first warder went down, Sakan’s River Undercuts the Bank spilling the man’s insides to the floor. The next man slid on the blood, and his blade pierced Sakan’s thigh. He bellowed with pain and with Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, took the man’s head off. Sakan grunted as he pulled the sword from his leg, breathing a small prayer of thanks to the Creator that it had only gone through muscle.

Sword in each hand, he pushed himself deeper into the Void and became a blur. Black Pebbles on Snow and Tower of Morning met Low Wind Rising and Twisting the Wind. Dandelion in the Wind took the third man in the throat, and Sakan felt a shocking jolt as the last warder’s sword entered his side. Through the Void he heard the man yell and Marion scream. He grasped the man’s elbow and pulled, locking the sword into his side, and with Whirlwind on the Mountain, the last warder’s head rolled to the ground.

Sakan sank to his knees, breathing slowly. The Light shone on him that day, as the second sword had also missed anything vital. He held his hand to his side to slow the bleeding. Marion rushed to him, her hands outstretched.

“I’m fine,” he croaked. “I just need… a little pressure.”

She knelt beside him, and squeezed his shoulder, taking the blade sticking out of his side by the blade. “This is going to hurt,” she whispered. “On three. One… two…”

Marion pulled the sword from his side cleanly, and Sakan grunted in pain.

“That wasn’t three,” he growled, pressing his bleeding wound.

She threw the blade aside, took his head in her hands and channeled a small Healing weave. “I can’t do much now. Too much power will draw the attention of any other Black Ajah who might be here. Your wounds are closed, you won’t lose any more blood. I will Heal you fully when we are safe,” she whispered.

He tried to stand and fell to his knees. With great effort, Marion and Iriana helped him to his feet.

“We need to move quickly,” Marion said to Iriana. “Can you do this?”

Iriana gritted her teeth through her tears. “They took my Gaidin, I won’t let them take yours, too.”

“Well, your hunch was right,” Sakan muttered, as he stumbled down the hall, supported by the two Aes Sedai.

Iriana led them back up the hallway.

“We’ll never get him up the stairs,” Marion said, “Not without attracting attention. Is there any other way out?”

Iriana nodded. “There’s a servants’ exit to the river, through a room at the beginning of the hallway into the next hall and down to the last door.”

* * *

“I traced the disappearances to this town,” Iriana explained with a shaky voice, as they quietly scurried through a room. “I was making inquiries of the Wisdom. We took tea, and before I knew it, I woke up shielded and bound.”

“What is… was… Gellany’s plan?” Marion asked. “Were you able to find out?”

Iriana nodded. “She was sowing seeds of discord, creating distrust and hatred between friends. The Wisdom made people disappear from towns and villages all over, making it look like other townspeople or villagers. It made them vulnerable to her to recruit them to her Darkfriend army.”

“Did we stop it? Or is it only one part of a larger plan?” Marion breathed heavily under Sakan’s weight. She was suddenly aware of the feelings through the bond. “Light! Sakan, your leg is broken! How are you walking?”

“One foot after another,” He gritted through his teeth. “Just like everyone else. I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter.”

“We’re almost there,” Iriana told them, before Marion could respond to Sakan’s uncharacteristic sarcasm. She was still in shock from losing her warder, but an Aes Sedai had to be able to control her emotions and keep her wits about her. As they reached a room at the end of a long hallway, she left Marion balancing an increasingly unbalanced Sakan to throw open a door, revealing a small pathway through heavy undergrowth.

They reached a slow flowing river twenty paces across. Iriana staggered to a halt, looking to Marion. Sakan slid off her shoulder and landed on the ground with a thud.

“I have a plan,” Marion looked from Iriana to Sakan. She waded into the water, pulling Sakan in by his shoulder. She looked up at Iriana. “We have to leave the horses. He can’t ride now, anyway. Come on, grab hold of his arm.”

“You’re not serious,” Iriana stared at her.

Marion looked back up the trail. “He’s a floater, we can do this. We don’t have time.”

Iriana followed them into the river and held onto Sakan’s left arm, and Marion tugged to pull them into the current.

“It helps if you kick a little,” Marion said, across Sakan’s chest.

“Why do I get the feeling this isn’t the first time you’ve done this?” Iriana asked drily.

Marion didn’t answer, instead focusing on staying afloat and wiping water from Sakan’s closed eyes when the current got choppy.

An hour downstream, Marion decided they were far enough from the fortress and pulled Sakan up on the opposite shore. She Delved him, and channeled the Healing weave into him. His entire body shuddered, but she could feel the bone mend and the pain subside. He was going to have another scar in his side, but there was nothing she could do about that. Healing wasn’t her strongest skill.

After channeling them all dry and setting up a small campfire, Marion folded Sakan’s jacket into a pillow and placed it under his head. It would take some time for him to recover from that amount of Healing. She joined Iriana in front of the fire, pulling some small bags and cups out of the satchel Sakan wore on his back.

“You bonded quite soon after being raised, Marion,” Iriana said casually, glancing at the unconscious warder.

Marion was shocked at her mentor’s bluntness. What was Iriana getting at? That he wouldn’t have survived without the bond? That she was impetuous? She coolly replied, “The time was right. And he will recover quickly, he’s stronger than even the stories say.”

“I heard that Malkieri keep their distance from Aes Sedai, especially those who wear the hadori and maintain the old customs. How did you convince him to accept the bond? Or does that reticence not extend to Malkieri Aes Sedai?” Iriana asked over a cup of steaming tea.

Marion was quiet for a minute. “He and I shared a loved one, lost to the Shadow. I convinced him it was better to join me than to sacrifice himself in a meaningless battle. Are you…?”

“I will be okay,” Iriana breathed slowly. “It has been over forty years since I lost my first gaidin, Jeryl. The pain of loss lingers, but dulls with time. In the early days, when I would lose Saidar at the mere thought of him and wake up with night terrors, I found that learning about Jeryl’s family and friends helped me feel more connected to him while my mind learned to let go. An easing of the transition, if you will. It might ease the pain of losing Bennam to talk about your warder. Bennam spoke of Sakan, they were friends as children.”

“I know,” Marion smiled sadly. “I grew up with them. I have only a few years on them. Bennam was a great man and a great warrior and an even better friend. Had Sakan grown up elsewhere, Bennam would have been the strongest and fiercest fighter by fair margin. With Sakan around, he was always second best. But they loved each other like brothers. Always standing in Sakan’s shadow never bothered Bennam in the slightest, not for a minute.

“Sakan received his first sword when he was thirteen, younger than almost anyone before him. It is a sign of becoming a man, in Malkieri custom. When he fights, he dances with death, fights with an almost reckless abandon. It’s both beautiful and brutal at the same time. Yet, he’s almost more dangerous without his sword than with it.

“My sister was Sakan’s carneira. It was highly uncommon – a man’s carneira is almost always a more experienced woman. But in Malkieri tradition, it’s the woman’s choice, and Talia wanted Sakan. What’s more, they were in love, which was even less common. But he had lost both parents during infancy, and despite – or perhaps because of – his harsh upbringing and grueling training, this love was the one thing his uncle, the Lord of Fal Dashar, didn’t want to deny him.

“They were perfect for each other, and would have wed at eighteen, if it hadn’t been for the tragedy. In their sixteenth year, there were many Shadowspawn raids on Fal Dashar. There are always raids on Fal Dashar – it’s so close to the Blight where Malkier was swallowed, you can practically see the Blight from the watchtowers. But that year, they came more and hit harder. I was at the White Tower at the time, my second year as Accepted, when one particularly large attack came. Darkfriends and Shadowspawn spouted from the Blight, as if it were an overflowing well of evil and putrescence. Fal Dashar was overrun.”

* * *

His breath misted in front of his face. In light mail over his heavy coat, the night chill didn’t seem to touch Sakan as he paced back and forth from one corner of the watch tower to the next, his eyes constantly seeking movement that he prayed would never come. He peered into the eastern horizon towards the sliver of orange that pushed back the inky black sky. Crossing back to the western lookout, he stared back into the blackness of the foothills of the Mountains of Dhoom. The entire blackness seemed to move, like a carpet rippling. He stared harder. In the far distance, from the west, a line of men and Shadowspawn stretched as far as he could see, disappearing into the pre-dawn darkness. They moved slowly, as quietly as an army could.

“Blood and ashes,” Sakan swore. He ran to the giant bell in the center of the watchtower. Tugging the rope with all his might, he began to yell. “To arms! To arms! Shadowspawn in the west! To arms! Wake up, you flaming goat-kissers, Shadowspawn in the west!”

He raced down the stairs, running through the garrison, banging doors and yelling orders. “Archers, to the battlement! Start the fires, boil the pitch! Chiriko, get your men to the gate tower! Otoma, take the west and the north towers! Bennam, set the forked poles around the perimeter, they have escalades!”

They sat and waited. The occasional curse and creak of leather broke the grim silence. As the sun rose, Lord Ogelban joined Sakan in the watchtower, watching the massive army march inexorably on Fal Dashar.

Lord Ogelban strode toward Sakan. “Status, Sakan?”

“Riders went out to all of the farms, Fal Dara, Fal Moran, and Shol Arbela. All farmers were sent to Fal Moran. I hope that Fal Dara will send us their lances and Shol Arbela their swords, but this could be a multi-pronged attack. Agelmar will send scouts to Tarwin’s Gap first before he can part with his men.” Sakan reported.

“Thank you, Sakan. You’ve done well. The Light willing, your precautions will be unnecessary, but I don’t remember seeing an attack this large since Malkier.”

Sakan’s face hardened. “This will not be another Malkier, Uncle.”

His uncle put a hand on his shoulder. “I want you on the western tower. You’ll be able to move easily around the western and northern walls. The infirmary will set up in this tower; I’ll have men two deep around the base, up the stairs, and on the lower balcony.”

Sakan nodded as he left. “The Light willing, your precautions will be unnecessary, Uncle.”

He took his place atop the western tower, and the storm hit. Darkfriends and Trollocs fells by the dozens to Fal Dashar’s archers, but for every one that dropped, two more appeared to take his place. The bodies were pushed into the moat, piling up on the thick, deadly spikes that dotted the deep trench around the wall. Despite constant arrows raining down, giant planks soon spanned the moat. Bennam’s men set fire to the escalades and ladder towers that crashed against the walls, and pushed them down on the men and beasts below. But there were too many. Boiling pitch and tar poured down on the Trollocs trying to ram in the main gate, followed by flaming arrows. Chiriko’s men cheered at every bonfire that engulfed the entrance bridge and the burning Trollocs that jumped into the sea of spikes to escape the inferno.

Sakan ran back and forth along the battlements, shouting encouragement, slapping men on shoulders, and slicing down darkfriends who tried to jump from the siege towers to the fortress walls.

Hours turned into days into weeks. Sakan took too many shifts, refusing to change out until he had to collapse in a corner for a few hours, and then he was back at it again with a renewed vigor. The battle was not going well. The Shadow hit fast and hard, and the Shienaran forces were being overwhelmed. No messengers could return, and no reinforcements were in sight. The main gates still held, but the pitch and tar had run out, and the men on the walls couldn’t keep up with the ladders. Sakan danced from ladder to ladder, slashing at the men who made it to the top and pushing the ladders down.

BOOM!

“The gate’s been breached!” Sakan heard. “Defend the inner bailey! Defend the watch tower!”

He watched as men scrambled down the stairs to assist the soldiers below.

“Hold your positions!” He yelled. “Don’t abandon the walls!” He raced back to see darkfriends hopping from scattered ladders onto the walls. His blade flashed, and where he ran, men dropped like flies.

Something caught his eye. Darkfriends had made their way up to the western tower, and were hacking at the flagpoles, trying to cut down the flag, the symbol of Fal Dashar, and take its army’s morale with it. In moments, he was behind them, around them, whirling and twirling with a deadly speed they couldn’t follow. As the last man fell, he inhaled deeply and stopped to wrapped a strip of cloth around a gash in his arm.

“Sakan!” He heard his name screamed in terror, and for the first time since the battle began, a blanket of fear settled into his bones. In the middle of the outer bailey, surrounded by soldiers fighting darkfriends and Shadowspawn, the watchtower had been breached. His carneira was on the second balcony, tending to wounded soldiers. She backed away from three men with swords who burst through the door.

To Sakan, time slowed as the darkfriends cleaved the wounded soldiers’ heads with a remorseless ease. They grabbed his carneira, and tore her dress from top to bottom.

“NOOOOOOO!” He roared. He vaulted over the edge of the western tower to the battlement below, and landed with a roll into a sprint. Years of exploring and climbing the fortress had given him an instinctive knowledge of how to move from one place to another with terrifying speed. He ran three steps up the wall of the main gate and leapt, grabbing the parapet, and swung himself up. Coiling down, he sprung, flying across the gap between the main gate and the second balcony of the watch tower. Talia lay on the ground, limp, bleeding from between her legs and the many gashes that dotted her body. The four men standing around her turned as he landed, sword in hand. Seeing his eyes, their faces whitened as if they were in the presence of the Dark One himself, and tripped over each other attempting to reach the door.

He ran and slid, slamming the door in their faces with his boot, and was back on his feet before they could blink.

* * *

Marion took a deep breath. “My sister was dead by the time he reached her, a very small comfort that she could have suffered much more. Sakan is the farthest thing from cruel a man can be, but he chopped off their feet, so they could not run, then their hands, so they could not fight. Then he made them suffer. Did you know that a man can die from sheer pain? When Sakan was finished, he threw their bodies off the balcony, sat down, cradled my sister’s body in his arms, and cried.

“Sakan had given up. If the battle had continued as it was, Fal Dashar would have been destroyed to the last man, and I don’t know that Sakan would have raised his sword to save his own life. It was the second time in Fal Dashar’s history that the outer keep had been breached. But Shienaran lancers arrived from the east, Arafellan infantry from the west, and Aes Sedai with Tower Guards from the south, forcing the Shadow’s forces back and turning the tide of the battle. To Sakan, it was too little, too late. Bennam was the first to reach him, holding his dead, broken, lover. Bennam sat with him and held him until he was all cried out.”

Iriana squeezed Marion’s hand. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Marion smiled. “Thank you. Time has had many years to dull that particular wound. Bennam was one of the few people who helped Sakan keep his sanity. For years, Sakan no longer fought as if he had nothing to lose; he wanted to die. It was truly a fearsome sight to behold. I’ve only heard of one other fight like that without quickly dying in battle, and he was gaidin to Sairi Karinachi when she was killed in a Trolloc ambush. He had a bond that snapped and lashed around in his psyche, driving him insane. Sakan had a deep love that snapped and lashed around in his psyche. I used that love of my sister to convince him to accept my bond.”

“You both benefited from that bargain. For all the times he has and will save your life, you started it by saving his.”

Marion simply nodded. She could envision her life, as a thread in the Pattern, stretching far ahead. There were more tasks she would undertake, more injustices she would correct, and they blurred, indistinct, in her mind’s eye. She didn’t know where her roads would travel, only that they would certainly be darkened with danger. And she saw Sakan’s thread, woven with hers, strengthening her surely as she would strengthen him. They would strike at the Shadow wherever darkness lay, and they would do it together. After they helped Iriana return to Tar Valon.