|The Tale of Chialla Sedai
|An icy draft presided over the floor of the southern passage behind the walls of the Grey Ajah's library. It did not stir Chialla's heavy velvet skirts, but neither was it prevented from gripping her ankles and making her shiver. Perhaps it was more than the draft that made her tremble, though. Her dainty grey slippers, so carefully matched to the dress, made not a sound as she slipped cautiously into the secret vault.
Rooms like this were hidden all over the Tower, many unknown even to the members of the Ajahs their contents belonged to. Aside from the oddity of a Brown sister, the Head of the Brown, in fact, begging to use the Grey Ajah's libraries when her own Ajah's were far more extensive, this particular vault was quite well locked, warded, and hidden from view if one went to its proper door. No, much easier to slip in the back way, which the Greys seemed to have forgotten about. Dust lay thick on the shelves that lined the walls. Maps were tacked up in empty spaces. Tomes and ancient scrolls were crammed into the rest of the shelves at odd angles, tribute to the hurried lives of the diplomats who had collected this treasury of knowledge.
Chialla spotted the book she wanted almost immediately, and thanked the Light that it was in the middle of a stack. She need not leave a clean spot when she took it. She carefully pried it from the middle of the stack and rearranged its mates to mask its absence. She was just slipping out again when she looked down and noticed her footprints. The velvet slippers that had absorbed sound so well had taken dust into their soft depths as well. Her mouth twisting with her irritation, she set the book on a pedestal of Air in the secret passage and set about fixing the floor. It was unlikely that anyone would enter the vault for a number of years, given its current state, but when someone did, traces of old footsteps in the dust would lead whoever it was straight to the back door. Her secret back door. A bit of Air scraped lightly across the entire floor neatly bundled the dust into a compact ball, sealing it in to keep it tidy. Chialla took the book in hand and tossed the ball down the corridor like a child's plaything, allowing the Air surrounding the dust and forming the book's pedestal both to dissipate. An inverted invisibility weave from Grosvenor's book hid the door nicely from both sides, and Chialla was hurrying back to the Brown's library.
Emerging from a similar vault in the Brown library, albeit one public to all the Brown brothers and sisters, no one remarked on the state of Chialla's dusty gown. It was nearly the same color as the dust to begin with, a medium brownish grey, and Browns were often covered in dust and smudges anyway. If Chialla usually kept herself fastidiously clean, it had gone unnoted by her ink stained fellows.
Too easy, Chialla thought to herself, settling the book on her table as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And perhaps it had not, at that. Far, far too easy. There will be repercussions.
Treaties with the Shadow's dark leather cover was quickly relieved of its title by means of a small inverted weave. Books and inkpots and loose sheets of parchment were gathered up into a somewhat awkward stack, and the Brown library was left behind. Her office was a far more private - and therefore more appropriate - setting for such research as this.
Chialla carefully warded the door to her office, not wanting any surprises, be they pleasant or unpleasant. Putting the other books away, she settled into her chair with her newly purloined - acquired - book, a stack of blank notepaper, and pen and ink. Treaties with the Shadow recorded all dealings between Aes Sedai and the Shadow over the centuries. All known dealings, at least. It had been compiled by an asha'man who had spent his life studying all manner of treaties and truces, yet he never negotiated a single one. Perhaps he should have been Brown. The book had been completed when Chialla was an Accepted here at the Tower, and not given nearly as much acclaim as it should have. The asha'man was quite old by the time he finished it, and had not lived out the year. And here was the only existing copy, stolen from a forgotten vault in the depths of a private library.
Chialla dipped her pen in the ink and began to read.
* * *
Chialla sat cross-legged on the floor across the hall from her private office. She stared at her office door intently, looking for any sign of it. The smooth stones seemed to stretch on uninterrupted between the two doors on either side. A rather stunning floor lamp appeared suddenly, just in front of the spot where the doorknob would give away the illusion if anyone happened notice the strange invisible lump on the wall. The lamp was woven of Air, with small tongues of Fire flickering atop its three mirrored wicks. An Illusion, spun from Fire, made the invisible lamp turn gold, and inverting all the weaves hid them from other Aes Sedai. All but the flames. A continually burning lamp that did not seem to be of the Power would draw attention. She climbed stiffly to her feet and sought her apartments with weary enthusiasm. She had been some hours constructing the intricate illusion that hid the door, and it was almost morning. It did not truly matter anyway; wards protected the door and the more precious objects inside. She wondered idly what would happen if she masked her formal office door in such away, and laughed a little at the thought.
Rihari would wake when she came in. What would have been merely a certainty with the bond became inevitable when one considered her husband’s wolf-senses. Which, now, she had to. But Rhiiav...perhaps Rhiiav would stay asleep. Thinking again of her husband, a small smile twisting her mouth upward, she fervently hoped her son would not wake up. In fact, she sent a slight tremor along the bond as she drew near, shivering a little both in anticipation and the chill of night-cold stone.
Anticipation lasted until the book crossed her mind again. The last chapter, stunning conclusion to the compilation, was an account of the murders, mostly taken straight from Zaria Sedai’s article. There were other notes, though. Informal interviews with Indigo brothers and sisters, answers so subtly drawn out that the speakers often did not realize they had been asked. It was the only “Treaty with the Shadow” ever close enough to home for Devereux Asha’man to get such answers, and it was far too close for Chialla’s tastes. She would have questioned Devereux’s uncanny successes, but he was no longer alive to be questioned. Perhaps that event, Devereux’s death, was something worth looking into, as well. A dangerous book, Devereux’s. Exceptionally dangerous. Chialla gave herself a mental shake and pushed open the door to the apartments she shared with her little family, forcing a smile before going to bed.
* * *
It was midday when Chialla awoke. Bright sunlight flooded the room through the floor-to-ceiling windows that ran along the northwest wall, hindered hardly at all by the thin silk drapes. One pale hand came up to shield dilated eyes. It had been a long time since she had seen the midday sun.
Chialla took a long time bathing. The night’s pursuits had left her feeling soiled, both in body and soul, and a long soak helped wash away the sensation. She dressed in a gown very unlike the one she had worn to the Grey’s library. Where that one had been heavy velvet to absorb sound and dust alike, this was filmy silk the colour of dark copper, the skirts divided for riding and whispering against each other at every step. The bodice stopped just under her breasts, and was embroidered with a few tiny red flowers. The sleeves were long and full, nearly hiding her white hands, just as the skirts hid all but the toes of her silken slippers. Her hair, the day before, had been pinned up to avoid the betraying sound of the beads she usually wore. Today, it hung in long, thin braids, each adorned with a copper bead, and they swayed and clinked as she moved.
Having Caba’donde saddled took very little time, and Chialla was mounted and riding through a Gateway only half an hour after emerging from her bath. It would have been sooner, but for taking the time to dissolve the Illusion that hid her private office, collect her notes and Devereux’s book, and replace the usual wards on door and window. Now, her fringed Shawl tucked into a saddlebag and a brown velvet cloak settled on her shoulders, she rode into the city of Tolmara.
Talinne Calir’s mansion stood on a small rise near the entrance to the Arcanus Quarter. The former Imperial, who thought herself an expert at court intrigue, was living in Tolmara to avoid assassins hired by a former rival. Her brother had provided her with ample money to live out her life in comfort on the other side of the civilized world. Her brother also had an extensive library in the family’s ancestral home in Orend. A library that contained several volumes Chialla would have liked to look over. Her plan for the day was simple; to blackmail Talinne, threatening to provide her whereabouts to her rival should she fail to write a suitable letter of introduction to her brother, allowing Chialla entry to the family library.
At Talinne’s house, Chialla was ushered into a somewhat garishly decorated sitting room featuring mismatched pieces of lovely Cyradi furniture. The furniture would have been all right if it had not all been intricately carved and gilded in Imperial fashion. No thought to matching anything but cost had been put into decorating the room, and the result was something like the way a mercantile might decorate a room, if one ever abandoned his wagon. She was served cool tea and stale biscuits, and made to wait a good deal longer than she was accustomed to being made to wait. When Talinne finally made her appearance, Chialla was silently calculating the benefits of allowing the rival to do away with the woman whether she got her letter or not. It would probably be viewed as a contribution to society.
“Welcome, Aes Sedai,” she said in a low, breathy voice. She wore a gown of Cyradian cut, but dark in the Tolmari fashion. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head in the tower of curls typical in Tolmara. “Would you like some more tea?”
“No, thank you Talinne,” Chialla replied, not having finished her first cup yet. “Please, be seated.”
“May I ask why you’ve called, Aes Sedai?” Talinne gritted her teeth at being granted permission to sit in her own house.
Chialla smiled coolly. “You may.”
There was a brief silence, broken by uneasy laughter from Talinne.
“A mutual friend of ours,” Chialla began, smiling slightly. “She was asking me if I knew how she could find you. I thought I would come by and ask whether you wanted to be found.”
“A mutual friend.” Talinne’s voice was very flat and somewhat faint now. “Does this friend have a name?”
“Why, Karane, of course.”
If her face hadn’t been a mask of Aes Sedai serenity, Chialla’s smile would have grown quite vicious. Instead, it became rather sweet and innocent looking. Talinne’s face paled visibly, though she fought to hide it.
“I…see,” she stammered, searching Chialla’s face for some indication of her intentions. It was obvious enough she meant to blackmail her, but she could not fathom what the Aes Sedai wanted from her. “What…? What did you tell her?”
“Oh, this and that. It’s not really important. Now, your brother, his library….”
“This is about books?” Talinne cried, quite nearly losing her composure.
“Please don’t interrupt,” Chialla murmured. “I’m sure one of your stable boys has burned hands by now from trying to open my saddlebags. Don’t tell me you allowed him to stop before he succeeded? No, of course not. So you know that I am of the Brown Ajah. Your brother, he must allow me to use his library. You will write a letter to him, begging him to open the library to your dear friend. Really, it is only polite for you to do so, isn’t it, Talinne?”
And if you don’t, I’ll tell Karane Tavosi where you are. The words hung suspended in the air for all that they remained unspoken.
“We understand each other, don’t we?”
“Y…yes, Aes Sedai. Of course.” Talinne tugged on a silken cord that hung near her chair, and a maid appeared in the doorway a moment later. “Fetch my writing things at once,” she snapped, and the girl scurried out again.
“I’m so glad we worked things out, Talinne,” she remarked, smiling again.
* * *
Chialla looked over the letter again, pleased with Talinne’s ready cooperation. She was back at the White Tower long enough to pack some clothes and kiss Rhiiav goodbye. She slipped out without a word to Rihari, leaving him a note to explain. It did not mention her destination.
Another Gateway took Chialla and Caba’donde to Orend. It was still quite late there, where it had been early evening in Tolmara by the time she had left Talinne. The letter of introduction took her through the Calir family’s palace gates and into Sirion Calir’s private office. It was decorated much less ostentatiously than his sister’s sitting room, and she was offered wine instead of cold tea. The man himself was dressed not unlike his sister, wearing well-cut garments of sober hue. The expression of shrewd calculation seemed more genuine on his face, though. And more dangerous.
“A friend of my sister, Aes Sedai?” he asked skeptically. “I was unaware that my sister had such influential companions.”
“A dear friend, my lord,” Chialla corrected, smiling sweetly. “Your sister, she has been a great help to me of late.”
Sirion sat back in his chair abruptly, running his eyes over Chialla speculatively.
“Are you enjoying your wine, Chialla,” he asked solicitously. “Sedai?”
“Immensely,” she replied, raising one eyebrow slightly. She was beginning to wish she had brought a Warder, except that her Warder also happened to be her husband. “Your hospitality is quite nearly overwhelming, my lord.”
“Please, call me Sirion.” His full, sensuous lips curved into a slow, insinuating smile as he stood up and moved around the desk to lean against the corner of it nearest Chialla. “Allow me to extend it farther. Treat my home as your own while you are in Orend.”
“Thank you,” she replied demurely. “I am afraid I cannot accept tonight, as I’ve already made arrangements at an inn. Perhaps tomorrow night.”
“Please, I insist. I’ll send someone to your inn to fetch your things.”
“Perhaps tomorrow night.”
* * *
Refusing Sirion’s hospitality had been no easy thing; not because the offer was particularly tempting, but because the man was so insistent. It had also been difficult to evade his questions without lying. Chialla had not, in fact, made arrangements at an inn that night. She had made arrangements for a room in Orend in the past on several trips with Rihari while they were still students, and a room would be waiting for her when she was done with Sirion’s library. Of course, that meant that it was certainly time to visit an inn now, or go back for the night. After opening four Gateways and weaving several intricate wards and Illusions already that day, Chialla thought an inn might be the wiser choice.
The Three Bells was a large, prosperous inn in a clean neighborhood, with bright lanterns hung all around it. It was a safe place for a woman traveling alone, but that wasn’t why Chialla chose it. At least, that wasn’t her only reason. The innkeeper was a woman who had once been employed by Karane Tavosi, and an old friend of Chialla’s. She dealt in information as well as rooms and ale. Undoubtedly, she could provide Chialla with someone who used to work for Sirion, or, even better, currently worked for him. If there were any hidden books in the palace, Chialla wanted to know about it.
Nari Lesaan met Chialla in the common room, embracing her warmly and placing a kiss on each cheek. Chialla returned the gesture and allowed herself to be swept into a chair and a wine glass pressed into her hand. Nari rattled off orders for Chialla’s things to be taken up to her room and supper brought, all the while watching the door for Rihari’s appearance.
“He’s not here, Nari,” Chialla said quietly. “This is my business, and he’s stayed at home.”
She neglected to mention that she hadn’t actually told him about either her business or this excursion.
“Of course. Why don’t you take your supper in a private dining room, and I’ll tell you what the pigeons have been bringing lately.”
* * *
Sirion was in the library when Chialla arrived the next morning. His clothes were a bit less plain than they had been the night before, and he affected disinterest in her after wishing her a good morning. He watched her whenever he thought she wasn’t looking, though. Her own clothing was simply another version of what she had worn the day before, this time in pale blue silk instead of brown. The beads on her multitude of thin braids were blue glass, ranging from deep as midnight to nearly as clear as ice.
Despite Sirion’s dark eyes following her around the room, Chialla managed to find what she was looking for, and something else besides. A collection of notes and rumors cobbled together by an Aes Sedai who was little more than legend herself was quoted extensively in a book about the Third Age that predated the founding of the Second Empire. The darling, deceased woman’s notes concerned the beginning of the Shadowspawn created on Andurin. Chialla spent much of the morning copying the section into a small journal before turning to her other find. The second was really just a curiosity; an account of a Kernin’s experiences with the people of Hyboras. Chialla took a few notes on a loose sheet of foolscap, but mostly just enjoyed reading about faraway lands.
At midday, Sirion interrupted Chialla’s studies to invite her to luncheon. Chialla refused politely, though he insisted she dine with him that evening. She took all the fruits of her research with her and went back to the Three Bells, again taking her meal in a private dining room with Nari. The innkeeper had produced a footman in Cyradi livery who told Chialla of a hidden vault behind one library wall, much like what existed in the White Tower and probably every other major library in the world. Considering the way Sirion had watched her all morning, Chialla doubted she would have a chance to look into it. She gave the man a few gold pieces to find out for her whether there was anything in the vault concerning the Third Age, the Circle of Blood, or Shadowspawn.
Chialla continued to read about Hyboras that afternoon, making a show of taking more notes, though it was primarily for Sirion’s benefit. She needed time for the footman to look through the vault. Sirion’s eyes continued to follow her as she went in search of more books of interest. She shivered a little when a draft caught her, and he immediately built up the fire. His attention was more than a little unnerving, but Chialla ignored it. She would not have to endure it much longer.
* * *
Supper that evening, she was told, was to be a formal occasion, and she dressed accordingly. Her usual clothes had been traded for Tolmari gown of thin silk, the colour of age-darkened ivory. Her hair was out of its usual braids and piled on top of her head in a loose mass of auburn curls, held by intricately carved ivory pins. Creams applied to her eyes, lips, and cheeks completed her Tolmari garb, and Caba’donde had been left in the Three Bells’ stable in favor of a palanquin. Her Great Serpent ring had been tucked carefully into a safe at the inn, along with all of her research. With the wards around it, not even Nari would be able to open it.
As she stepped down onto the front step of Sirion Calir’s palace, Chialla realized something was wrong. She had assumed that formal occasion meant a fete, yet there were no other carriages or palanquins. It was possible he had told her to arrive early, or perhaps she was late and the other guests had already arrived. More likely, though, was that Sirion had arranged a private dinner with her. Careful, she warned herself, twisting the wedding band absently.
Chialla nodded slightly as she entered the house. The lamps had been extinguished in favor of a few candles, and their dim light provided a path to the smaller of the two dining rooms. Inside, so many candles burned that she wondered they did not set fire to something. Sirion stood at the far end of the room, waiting for her. Without speaking, he handed her a glass of dark red wine. She watched him warily as she sipped from her glass, and he from his. The taste of forkroot was almost entirely hidden by the heavy spices in the wine, but she recognized it as the glass tumbled from her suddenly clumsy fingers and the rest of the wine spilled across the thick white carpet. Her lips formed one soundless word as she lost consciousness; no.
* * *
Chialla struggled to lift her hand to her aching head. Her limbs felt stiff and heavy, and it was difficult to think. There was another dull throbbing, lower on her body, but its meaning escaped her for the moment. The rocking motion of the floor was a much larger problem, and one that meant she was not where she wanted to be. The dark and the stench were other problems, but not nearly as pressing; they would be solved as soon as she was somewhere with a stable floor.
“She’s awake. Get more of that concoction of yours. Move!”
Rough hands forced her mouth open, and Chialla choked on the bitter liquid that was poured down her throat. The mere blackness of the ship’s hold gave way to the total oblivion of unconsciousness.
* * *
“He assured me she was an Aes Sedai witch,” a boorish male voice insisted. “She’s the look of one, anyway. I want two thousand golden septims.”
Fat drops of rain spattered on Chialla’s upturned face. Her clothes were already soaked, the close folds of the Tolmari-cut silk clinging closer than usual.
“She has been…damaged…,” a slurred voice replied. Thendrin. Damaged? “But we will not require reparation. You may go now.”
A cold piece of metal closed around Chialla’s neck. The soft snick held a disturbing note of finality, and her eyes flew open. A woman with almond shaped eyes, sallow skin, and dripping black hair leaned over her, her delicate fingers still touching the collar, the matching silver bracelet on her wrist attached by a narrow leash. An a’dam. And so, Chialla, the White Tower’s foremost member of the Brown Ajah, became no more than a piece of chattel, a weapon in the hands of the enemy.
“Sala, take her in out of the rain while I see to these men. I expect her to be clean and dry by the time I come back.”
The orders came from a woman somewhere out of Chialla’s vision, and the woman holding her leash inclined her head obediently. She helped her to stand, Chialla’s long-unused legs wobbling unsteadily beneath her as they moved toward a weathered grey building. The street was muddy, and Chialla watched the stains grow on her ivory slippers and skirts. She saw, too, another stain, red, streaking down her skirts. Damaged. Raped. By Sirion, most likely; those sniveling sailors in the street were too fearful of her, even drugged as she was. Her jaw set stubbornly; she would not be a damane forever, and Sirion Calir would pay when she escaped.
The inside of the building was warm and dry, filled with lounging sul’dam and a few damane kneeling at their mistresses’ sides. The woman at Chialla’s side pulled her toward the rear, leading her through a doorway to a small chamber with a steaming bath tub. She silently helped Chialla to undress, and helped her to wash and dry and dress again in the severe grey gown of a damane. The steam went a long way to clearing the drug from Chialla’s mind, and the reality of her situation was beginning to sink in; she would not be here forever, and Sirion would yet pay for his actions, but she would likely be here a long, long time.
“What is your name?” The woman’s slurred speech caught Chialla by surprise, having been silent so long. She was brushing Chialla’s long auburn hair, careful not to brush out the loose curls beginning to form at the damp ends. Unbraided, her hair reached nearly to her waist.
“Chialla,” she replied laconically, sitting passively under the woman’s ministrations. The actions were performed not as by a sister or a maid, but as one would groom a favorite dog.
“Chialla,” she repeated, her accent making it sound more like Shyalla. She set the brush down on the table, using her fingers to stroke Chialla’s hair one last time. “Come, Rhianna will want to see you.”
It took all of Chialla’s practiced calm not to react to the petting or the small tug on the leash. Her unreadable Aes Sedai face showed nothing, though, and she only lowered her eyes to the floor and followed Sala quietly back to the common room. Rhianna was waiting for them, the woman who had dealt with the sailors. Chialla had not seen her there, only heard her voice, but it was evident by the set of her face and the respect accorded her by the rest of the room’s occupants that it was she who issued orders in this house. She waited while Sala led Chialla up to her, and Chialla curtsied low, keeping her eyes downcast, her head bowed. It had been a long time since Chialla had offered such a sign of respect to anyone, and she did so now only because the cold metal around her neck demanded obedience. Rhianna tilted Chialla’s chin up with one finger, examining her features, then looked questioningly at Sala.
“Her name is Shyalla,” Sala supplied quickly.
Rhianna took Chialla’s hands and examined the fingers, seeking the tell-tale white band where a Great Serpent would have hidden her skin from the sun. Chialla spent too much time indoors for the mark to be very distinct, but it was there, on the middle finger of her right hand, and another on her left hand where her wedding ring should have been. She supposed the sailors had taken it. Rhianna nodded to herself and rubbed her thumbs over the places.
“No,” she said evenly. “Her name is Teia.”
Teia stared back at Rhianna for a long moment, and her green eyes seemed lit from within by the fiery strength of her anger and hatred. Her lips twisted into a small smile, and she bowed her head again, obedient.
* * *
Winter winds swirled around the travelers, plucking at cloaks and whistling mournfully through the trees. The two of them pressed on, bent low over their horses’ necks, determined to reach their mark despite the weather. They followed only the man’s general sense of where his Aes Sedai was; he was a Warder and an Asha’man in his own right. His wife and bond was still far away, but he and his companion, another Aes Sedai, and an old friend, grew closer with each passing hour.
Rihari and Phylia argued about stopping to make camp for the night; both were eager to press on, but Phylia had no wolf-senses to find a safe path through the dark, and she knew that neither of them could go on day and night without rest and the warmth of a fire. They stopped in the end, making camp well into the night, and rising well before dawn, a compromise Phylia was more than willing to agree to. The days continued like that, stretching into weeks, and then months. A storm caught them in the mountains, snowing them in for days. Winter had long lost its grip on the land by the time they neared Thendranor, and Rihari could tell exactly how far away Chialla was.
* * *
Rhiiav glared into the small looking glass that hung over the wash stand in his room. His mother’s eyes looked out from beneath his father’s brow, both set in a lean face that echoed theirs, but was his own. The razor scraped the last bit of dark reddish hair from his jaw and he set it down on the wash stand, his hand shaking. He scooped up his sword belt from the bed and fastened it around his waist. The daggers followed, slipping into their sheaths. The thick quilt from his bed was rolled up tightly, and saddlebags were stuffed with dried meat and travel bread. He threw his thick woolen cloak around his shoulders and pinned it, then took up his saddlebags and bedroll and set out toward the stables.
* * *
Damned if they’ll leave me behind. Each long stride carried him closer to his horse, and to outright disobedience. He had never, in anything important, disobeyed either of his parents before. They were Aes Sedai and Asha’man, and as such deserved respect, from everyone, and foremost their own son. But in this, his father had been wrong. Sick with worry, perhaps, and too distracted to see that Rhiiav had been right. He’ll see eventually, he told himself. When we find her, and he needs me, he’ll know I was right, and we’ll save Mother together.
The chestnut stallion had been a gift from his parents on Rhiiav’s sixteenth birthday. He and Chęne knew each other quite well now, and the horse whickered softly as Rhiiav unlatched his stall. It wasn’t long before horse and rider had slipped out of the Tower grounds and picked up Rihari and Phylia’s trail up into the mountains.
* * *
The inside of Tčia’s window was damp, the beaded moisture resulting from the warmth of the brazier she held her hands over. She reached out once more to wipe clear one thick pane, then rubbed her hands together over the coals again, staring out the window. She glanced down at her hands; they were white, and no longer bore the marks of the rings she had once worn. She wondered sometimes if she really had worn them, or if she had only imagined it.
She looked out the window again, dreaming of home; she sometimes remembered a dusty room full of leather books and potted plants, and sometimes there was a man there, and a little boy, both darkly colored. Her husband and their child. Sometimes, she thought the boy must be older now, nearly grown, and others she thought he had only been as tall as her waist when she had left him. She shook her head, tears of frustration filling her eyes; it was so hard to remember, and she wanted to so badly. All she could remember clearly was that she had not always been there, that it was not right for a woman to be kept on a leash. Someday, she would be free again, and Rhianna would pay.
* * *
Phylia stayed outside the city while Rihari went on. A small tent in a small clearing in a small stand of trees became her home, and the place Rihari returned to night after night to report all he had found. The bond had led him immediately to the inn that housed the damane, and his wife. Tug at that bond how he might, though, he had received no response from her. Phylia pondered the meaning of that while Rihari prowled restlessly night after night, gathering what information he could during the long, cold days.
Their plan formulated slowly. The months of separation from his beloved had left Rihari impatient for her return, and somewhat reckless. Phylia, too, was anxious, but her cold logic held them both in check, waiting for an opportunity. And so the months went on, and spring stretched into early summer while they waited.
* * *
It took Rhiiav longer than he had expected to cross the mountains. He lost his father’s trail after the first few days, but trusted that they were crossing the mountains; he headed for the nearest pass and thought to catch up with them on the other side. Snow storm after snow storm had ravaged him, and he sought refuge in caves or built makeshift shelters for himself. He and Chene were both thin and ragged by the time they reached the foothills on the Thendrin side of the Galandarel Mountains; food had run out sooner than expected, and there had been little foraging for Chene. It was late spring by then, and the horse soon looked healthier for eating the new grass. Rhiiav, though, was still lean and hungry when he reached the Imperial province of Thendranor. His beard had grown again, thick, and redder than his nearly black hair.
* * *
Green eyes stared out of an open window, watching folk come and go, the bright colors of their clothes muted by the grey-brown dust that clung to everything, even in the city. A dry spring and an early heat wave made living on the top floor of a small inn a miserable thing. The feeble breeze that clambered through the single small window did little to cool Teia, and so she sat fanning herself weakly, and drank another small mouthful of warm water.
She was certain of it now; the dark-haired man who passed the inn every day was watching her. Teia could feel something pulling at her every time he went past, and now and then he would glance surreptitiously up to her window for a moment. Almost, she thought she should know who he was, should know why he watched her. She sometimes wished she could go down to him, and beg him to take her far away from there. That was ridiculous, though; she had left her old life behind because she had been marath’damane, one who must be leashed, and so she had boarded a ship and come to Belorian to give herself up to her fate.
She shook her head tiredly as the man walked on, and she took another mouthful of the warm water. Rhianna had drilled her well in her dogma. Her name was not Tčia—Tčia had been Rhianna’s pet when she was a child—but she had to answer to it all the same. She could scarce remember being called anything else, now, so strongly had the sul’dam driven the name into her. Her name was—no, her name was Tčia. Her name had always been Tčia.
* * *
Rihari was livid when he and Phylia found Rhiiav, alone and starved half to death. Chene was as well-fed as his master was lean, grazing constantly on the grass beside the road. After a few meals and a night of rest, Rhiiav was as strong as ever, though still leaner than he had been. He was unapologetic, though, which made Rihari even more furious; only Phylia’s intervention kept father and son coming to blows. Despite Rihari’s anger, a place was soon found for Rhiiav in their plan, and they waited only another day before going into Belorian to implement it.
* * *
Shouts erupted below, startling Teia from her idle reverie. A sharp, acrid scent soon filled the air; within minutes, smoke was seeping around the door to her room. Sinking to her knees to stay below the smoke, she began tapping on the door, then pounding, begging for someone to come save Teia. She could hear the other damane doing likewise, all of them unable to move past the ends of their leashes, unable to work the latch on the doors that separated them. None of them received an answer. Tears filled her eyes, but whether from panic or the smoke, she could not tell.
* * *
“Smoke,” Rhiiav whispered, fingering the peace knot that bound his sword to its sheath.
Rihari nodded grimly, but Phylia made no response; her eyes simply seemed filled with more frost than usual, her features more stern without actually frowning. The three stood several buildings down from the inn that housed the damane, Phylia in a sul’dam dress, transfixed bye a plume of smoke rising up from the small structure, soon followed by angry red and orange flames. The windows shattered, pierced by the heat of the fire, and the flames spread to the second story. With a panicked cry, Rhiiav dashed forward, followed by his father and their friend.
Phylia pushed past Rihari and Rhiiav as they neared the inn, slowing to a fast walk, looking for all the world as though she belonged there. Resolutely, she made her way up the steps, ignoring the smoke and flames and cries of trapped damane. Going down the hall, Rihari and Rhiiav forced all the doors open, and Phylia followed behind, snatching each bracelet from each peg, snapping each shut around her slender wrists, the damane trailing behind her, most of them crying softly. The last one they found was Chialla, green eyes bloodshot, pale face flushed and tear-stained, her hair not in the familiar thin braids, but loose, with a thin silver ribbon twined through one strand. She knelt on the floor staring up at the two men and six women who filled the corridor.
“Stand up,” Phylia snapped, picking up the bracelet, speaking as though to one of her students. “Come.”
Drawing sai'dar from the women through the six bracelets, Phylia opened the widest gateway she’d ever made, and she pulled them all through, waiting for Rihari and Rhiiav to step through before snapping it shut. The group now stood at their camp site, where Rihari had already struck the tent. The horses were saddled and waiting and the two men mounted, leading Theory as Phylia made another gateway, going this time to far side of the Galandarel Mountains, not far from the Tower itself.
* * *
Tčia stared at the familiar landscape, confused. Turning to look back at the sul’dam, she stumbled back to the end of her leash; that wasn’t a sul’dam! Falling to her knees, she waited for the inevitable; the removal of the collar she had sought out, that Rhianna had given her. Tčia was a good damane; Tčia wished only to obey. She watched in horror as the woman wearing the sul’dam clothing unclasped each of the six bracelets, a look of profound distaste on her pretty but almost unfriendly face. The woman let each one drop to the ground, looking up at the men as though not sure what to do next.
The younger of the two men had jumped from his horse and run to Teia’s side. She watched him expressionlessly while he knelt and tugged at her collar, trying to take it off. She raised one hand to touch his cheek, curious. The older man stood nearby, watching, a pained expression in his golden eyes. I should know who they are. She looked up at him, wondering why he looked so sad, but not caring enough to ask.
Snick. The collar came off in the young man’s hands, and he threw it aside, looking at it as though it were a serpent. Her fingers left his face and flew to her mouth, her eyes going wide. She was free. She was marath’damane again. She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth while the young man put his arms around her. She did not open them when she felt him move and another set of arms encircled her.
Chialla. I am Chialla. Rihari, and Rhiiav. A deluge of memories swept over Tčia, overwhelming her. Her husband, and her son. Phylia, her friend, White Ajah, the head of the White Ajah. They were outside the White Tower, where she had lived for years. The true damane watched her warily, their eyes frightened, worried that they, too, might be freed. She shut her eyes for a moment, unable to look at them any longer. She repeated a silently litany, reminding herself of who she was. Chialla, Rihari, Rhiiav. Chialla, Rihari, Rhiiav. Her eyes were hard when she opened them again. And Sirion Calir.
Hardly able to see for her tears, Chialla fumbled at Rihari’s belt, grasping for the knife she knew hung there. Pulling it from its sheath, she embraced the source of her own free will for the first time in months and opened a gateway to Sirion Calir’s library in Orend. She stepped through, Rihari just behind her, and left it open while she advanced on Sirion. He was there, seated at the very table she had used so long ago, a quill in his hand, a flash of gold gleaming between the open laces of his shirt. He had half-risen from his chair, astonishment written on his handsome coppery features. Fiery rage blazing in her eyes, she seized the golden trinket, pulling the chain so hard it broke, then stabbed the long, curved hunting knife through his heart.
The gateway still open, Phylia and Rhiiav and the five damane watched as Chialla killed the man who had raped her and sold her into slavery. Her wedding band, still on a thin gold chain, clutched in her hand, she wove Fire until the whole library burned. Ringed in flames, she stood over Sirion’s body, shaking, until Rihari gently pulled her away, back through her gateway. She stood in his arms, still shaking, unable to look at anyone. Her hands were stained red, and one still clutched the ring.
* * *
Later, in the apartments they had once shared, long cold from disuse but with a fire in the hearth once again, Chialla sat enfolded in a heavy blanket at one end of a velvet-upholstered sofa. Rihari handed her a glass of wine, and she took it gratefully; her hands, clean now and wearing her wedding ring once more, still shook violently. She drank down half before she realized it was drugged, and then it was too late. This has happened before. Forkroot...? The chalice fell from her limp fingers and clattered against the stone floor, spilling claret wine across the Tolmari carpet and polished grey flagstones. She sank into oblivion once more. Forkroot, yes, a small amount, and herbs from a Yellow Aes Sedai, a mild sedative. Rihari carried her to the bed they had not shared in months and curled around her sleeping form protectively.
The screaming began hours later, when he realized she was dead.
* * *
The clouds swirled above the mourners at Chialla Krislen al’Taihu Aes Sedai’s burial, as though the sky itself wept for her. One of the mourners watched with somber expression and downcast eyes as Rihari and Rhiiav shoveled the last of the soil over the dead woman’s grave. The yellow fringe on her shawl had bunched about her elbows, and she concentrated on smoothing it, working hard not to smile. She painted a small frown onto her thin red lips and bit the inside of her cheek hard enough for tears to spring to her eyes. As the crowd broke up, she wiped the tears away and picked up her yellow skirts, hurrying back to her private apartments.
And so it is done. Payment for killing one of the Great Lord’s servants.
Her black hair fell loose of its pins as she threw her head back and laughed and laughed.