The fireplace was giving off a steady heat and warm glow when I entered the common room, taking the chill off and warming me up. I grunted as the barrels dug into my shoulders and increased my pace, walking past the tables and into the hall that led to the kitchen.
The smells of fresh bread and other food reached me as I neared the kitchen and I couldn't help but gulp, remembering that all I'd had for breakfast was a piece of fruitcake.
"Is that you Bram?" called a voice from the kitchen.
"It's me Mistress al'Vere," I called back, heading towards the cellar stairs.
There was a reply which I couldn't make out as I headed downstairs and into the cellar. As usual, it was full of other barrels and goods, all marked with the date they'd arrived, where they'd come from, and where they'd been made.
Bram was quite the orderly fellow when it came to organization.
Rubbing my shoulders, I headed back just in time to see Mat and Ran enter into the hall from the common room and Mistress al'Vere from the kitchen. She had a tray of crusty loves, pickles, and cheeses, which set my stomach rumbling again.
She smiled in a motherly fashion. "This is for Bram and your Father but I made you that meat pie you're so fond of, it's sitting in the kitchen, but do take care it's still hot."
"Light shine on you, Mistress al'Vere," I said, rushing past her and into the kitchen. My stomach was rumbling on a timer now.
Quickly entering, I glanced around and spotted it lying on a table, steam rising from it. The smell was heavenly and I wasted no time in picking up a spoon from a nearby rack and taking a bite.
Thank the light for Mistress al'Vere and her cooking.
It burnt my tongue as it went down, but it was oh so worth it. Everyone in the two rivers knew that Mistress al'Vere was one of the best cooks in all the two rivers and an even better baker. Her fresh loaves were to die for, and everyone would welcome the chance to sit at her table. It was one of the reasons why I always helped her when she needed a hand or something fixed or made. She always fed me well and sent me off with a full belly and food to take back to mother and Lyla.
Bite after bite, I quickly devoured the pie, then washed it down with the moldwine that had been set for me next to it.
I sighed and leaned back on the chair, rubbing my belly.
"Enjoyed it did we?"
I turned and found Mistress al'Vere herself staring down at me with a pleased smile.
I smiled. "I always do, your pies are the best."
"Just my pies?"
I rolled my eyes at her fishing for compliments. "You know that's not what I mean. Have Rand and Mat finished unloading the cider?"
"I think so," She said, walking over to the pot, and slowly stirring it with a long spoon. "I've left some honey cakes out there, by the way, for you and the boys mind you. I know you always eat everything when left to it."
I blushed slightly. A lot of exercise and training meant I needed a lot of food, especially since I don't want to end up lanky and tall. I needed muscles which meant I needed a lot of food, and if that led to a tendency to eat a lot then was I to blame?
Entering into the hallway, I just saw the form of Ewin Finngar disappear down the cellar steps.
No doubt Mat and Rand are down there.
With a quick glance at the cellar, I made my way back into the common room then outside. It was still cold, but there were no longer any gusts and it was somewhat brighter, if not any lighter for it.
Taking a seat on the Inn's front steps, I thought about tomorrow. It was undoubtedly going to be a fun day, but it was also going to be the first time in months that I would see Nynaeve, and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen.
The last time I'd see her had been from a distance and when she'd met my eyes then it had been with clear dislike.
I really hope it doesn't ruin things tomorrow.
The feeling, the odd feeling I'd felt earlier, suddenly came back along with an odd itchy feeling.
Standing, I followed the feeling, not really knowing how or what it was, and found myself staring at a large raven. It stood atop the roof with a single of these beady black eyes locked directly onto me.
The itch didn't grow but somehow it became more persistent, and I found myself reaching a hand up to itch my neck. Unfortunately, that did little for it.
"Are you ok?"
The raven suddenly launched itself into the air, flying off with a shrill caw.
The itch faded, but the feeling grew as I turned to face the woman who had spoken.
The woman who stood before me was unlike anyone I'd ever seen before. Her face was delicate and without blemishes of any kind, and had an odd ageless quality to it. At first, I thought she was a younger woman, but her large dark eyes spoke of long age and something more.
She barely reached my chest in height, but somehow it was as if she was towering over me. With her dark hair in soft ringlets and a sky blue cloak with thick silver embroidery. Her dress, a darker blue than her cloak, spoke of wealth and had a hint of cream to it. If that wasn't enough she had a necklace of gold links around her neck and another gold chain that supported a small sparkling blue gemstone on her forehead.
I moved my gaze downwards and stopped when I saw the golden ring on her left hand. A serpent biting its own tail, an ancient symbol of eternity even older than the wheel.
That ring and that face, I've read about something similar but what was it about…
"Vile birds aren't they," She said, turning from the rooftop to meet my eyes. "I'm Moiraine and you are?"
I stared into her eyes for several seconds before I finally opened my mouth and said. "Locke, Locke al'Thor"
The feeling had gotten even stronger but instead of it being a constant feeling, it seemed to pulse, if a feeling could pulse.
"Locke," she said. "A unique name, I've never heard of it. Tell me, Locke, how old are you?"
"Nineteen years," I said, still trying to remember where I'd read about the ring.
"Nineteen," she smiled slightly, a smile that seemed to say she knew something no one else did.
I opened my mouth to ask her about the ring but stopped when the door to the Inn opened, and Mat, Rand, and Ewin walked out together. They all stopped when they noticed Moiraine, and I could see the awe and shock in all their faces.
It wasn't really a surprise, someone as beautiful as Moiraine and dressed as nicely wasn't a common occurrence in the two rivers.
All three stood there for a long moment before Rand finally said. "Good morning, Lady Moiraine."
The other two echoed the greeting, and Moiraine's smile grew. "You know my name, but please call me Moiraine, not lady. And what of your names?"
As Ewin rushed forward and started babbling his name and how he knew her, I turned my attention back to the ring. I knew it from somewhere, but I couldn't quite put my mind on it.
"Brothers?" Turning my attention back to Moiraine I found her glancing from me to Rand with the barest hint of a frown on her face as if she was confused.
"Yes, La-, I mean Moiraine, we were born together," Rand said.
"I see," She said more to herself than anyone. Her frown disappeared suddenly, replaced with a small smile. "Would any of you be willing to assist me? I have some small tasks I must get done while I'm here."
I rolled my eyes as the three fell over themselves, agreeing to help her.
She smiled at their response and turned to me.
I went to nod but stopped and glanced at her ring. "I'll help you if you tell me where you got that ring from."
Rand and Mat shot me questioning looks while Ewin just continued to stare at her.
"My ring is something I earned," she said, slowly walking closer to me. She lowered her voice and whispered. "Something I earned in Tar Valon."
It suddenly hit me. A serpent ring on the left hand, and an ageless face no normal person could possess.
"Aes Sedai." It came out as the barest whisper.
She nodded and reached for my hand. I was too shocked to do anything so I let her take it. She placed a silver penny in my palm with a symbol I didn't recognize, a woman balancing a single flame on her upturned hand.
"A token," she said, smiling slightly. "I didn't expect someone to recognize me for what I was, but your eyes… far deeper than any I've ever seen."
She slowly backed away and I watched dumbly as she gave the others a coin each.
An Aes Sedai here, in Emond's field. A woman who could wield the power to do incredible and impossible things.
"There is a bond between us now, and I hope that when I call you will come and help me." She said the last words while staring directly at me, and I could only nod in response.
An Aes, bloody, Sedai, here!
"Later we must talk," Moiraine said. "And you must tell me more about yourselves."
With that said, she turned and began walking away, actually, it seemed more like gliding.
Rand opened his mouth but I made a shushing motion and he closed it, giving me an odd look.
As she left a tall man which I somehow hadn't noticed in front of the Inn moved and began following her, his hand resting on the hilt of a sword and a cloak that seemed to fade into the surroundings, shifted in the wind as he trailed her like a hound trailing its master. His cold, blue eyes met mine briefly and I couldn't help but feel as though he was weighing me. The way his face had a grim cast to it didn't help and despite the gray hair held back by a narrow leather headband, he showed no signs of age as he strode like a wolf.
A warder's cloak.
"What did she say to you," Ewin asked, with what sounded like jealousy in his voice.
If only you knew Ewin if only you knew.
"Nothing much," I replied in a nonchalant tone. "Just gave me a coin and asked for my help when she needed it."
I thought about telling them the truth but kept my tongue. I didn't really think it would be a good idea to reveal her secrets especially since if she wanted them to know she would have said so.
Let's not anger someone who can use the equivalent of magic on this world.
"A silver penny!" Ewin exclaimed, "She gave me a whole silver penny."
Glancing down I realized that she had indeed given me a silver coin, large enough to be worth quite a bit.
And she gave one to each of them as well, wealthy indeed.
"I wonder what kind of tasks she has," I said aloud.
"I don't care," Mat said. "I'm not spending mine even when the peddler comes."
Rand nodded in agreement but Ewin didn't look so sure.
"You don't need to keep it just because they are, Ewin," I said. "Especially since the peddler is going to have quite a lot you can buy."
"But what if I never get one again," He said.
"I doubt that," I replied. "It's just a silver penny, no matter how fancy, when you're older you'll see more than that."
"Just a silver penny." Mat said. "We don't make coins like you do, Locke, I barely earn a few coppers working with my da."
"I don't earnt that mu-"
I paused as shouting drifted from across the wagon bridge, and I turned to see a milling crow of villagers following alongside a huge wagon drawn by eight horses.
"And there he is now," I said, smiling.
"A gleeman, a peddler and strangers," Mat said. "This Bel Tine will be one to remember."
"You can say that again," I muttered under my breath.
Looking down at the silver penny, I placed it into a pocket. There was no reason to spend it when I had other coins to spend.
And besides, it's not every day an Aes Sedai gives you a Tar Valon mark.