I am rather vexed with formatting recently. I hate using the lines to separate scenes, preferring to use a double return between paragraphs. Sadly, this option seems to be unavailable currently.
I have been advised by a reader that my previous chapter tended toward run-on sentences. This is troubling, as I am usually the one correcting others on that matter. I believe this is a result of writing in the first person pov, when my norm is third person. My apologies for this, and I am endeavoring to bring this under better control.
I would also note that, in this chapter, we encounter the final of the main characters. I came to an early conclusion that there was no way for me to present his character that would not vex a portion of the readership. I can only say the following: He is as he is, for reason. Remember that I am postulating two centuries after Tarmon Gai'don, a period of time that allows for significant growth and development. I beg, therefore, your patience, understanding, and trust. Good news is, less exposition, more dialogue this time ^_^.
Finally, a reminder that I do not own the Wheel of Time series. I have too much of a background in slash/ yaoi writing for the idea to even be considered good by anyone, lest I toss out half the White Tower, and decide that Rand and Mat both need husbands instead of wives. That said, as noted in the summary, there will be no pairings as such outside of canon, aside from the occasional, incidental OC/OC.
This chapter has no warnings of its own, save for some Seanchan bashing (and Tuon bashing, I suppose). Please review, as I enjoy interactions with my readers. Thank you, and please enjoy!
Chapter 2: Sunrise
We walked quickly to the inn, our breath puffing in the air before us. Tanchico wasn't normally quite this cold in the winter, but many of the older generations could recall a few that were colder. This year was only made so bad by the famine. We passed a few faces I knew, but none approached--- it was clear we were following Jahar, and if we were in trouble with the Asha'man, no one wanted a piece of it.
As we approached the Garden of the Golden Bell-- a familiar place, as I'd done a thing or two for the innkeeper-- I noticed it was unusually busy, laughing men pouring out of the door to the sound of hands beating on tabletops and a merry flute. Tanchico was, in previous years, always a place where men were willing to loose their troubles in merry-making. But not much had been seen of that in the past months. Mistress Haret must have been raking in coin-- a good thing, because she was a good woman, one of the few people I knew that I halfway trusted.
I saw Jahar's face soften in a small smile as we neared the door. "My companion must have gotten bored. He does like to see people happy. . ."
He didn't stop in the common room, though he did exchange a look with the tall flute-player as he herded us up the stairs. I noticed that he was very careful not to touch Tally or myself as we went. Soon, we were in the Bell's best rooms, with windows lining two walls, two beds, and two ladder back chairs against the inner wall. Despite the cold, the windows were thrown open, allowing a small breeze, but no chill.
"My companion suffers from claustrophobia," Jahar informed us. "He's turned down much fancier places than this to sleep in a yard, simply because the windows didn't open in the rooms."
I had noticed that the flutist hadn't been dressed in the standard Asha'man black, nor had he been wearing either of the pins on his collar. "What is he, your servant?"
The door opened at that moment, the tall man entering with a flute in half-gloved hands, the door not quite closing shut behind him. Jahar gave a half-grin.
"No, certainly not my servant, though he does like to play the role when the fancy strikes him. More. . ." he paused in thought as the other raised an eyebrow. "More, he wanders about, and I. . . I follow after, and keep him from falling into too much trouble."
The words bore a genuine affection, but his eyes also spoke of a deep, long-held respect. Tally's hand tightened in mine, and I knew he'd noticed. Knowing him, he'd probably noticed more. The tall fellow chuckled softly as he carefully tucked the silver-chased flute into a protective case from a saddle pack. I noticed then, that there was something off about his left hand, although I couldn't tell you what it was. Just, something off.
"So tell me, old friend," he addressed Jahar, sitting on a bed where the breeze would caress his face. "I thought you were out to find a snack, and you come back with two little lambs. . ."
Both Jahar and I snorted at the same time, and Tally giggled. The Asha'man grinned. "Oh, no lambs these. The older is Sean. I caught him channeling to get some bread for himself and his younger brother here, Tally. They bargained me into agreeing to stop by the Court of the Wolf Lord in Manetheren on the way to the Tower. With your agreement, of course."
The tall man's eyes studied us with sudden intensity, and as his grey eyes met mine, my other self rose up, but didn't come forward. If the widening of the man's eyes was any indication, he saw it.
"Sean and Tally," he murmured, thoughtful. "I've heard those names on the street. N'er Sean and his brother, The Tally. I've heard a lot. . . probably not all to be believed, but likely some of it's true." His eyes glanced to Tally, and seemed to take in the way I kept him behind me. "The protectiveness seems to be true enough." And then he smiled, all the thoughtful discernment evaporating.
"I'm Carn," he said. "And I swear I intend no harm to either of you. Manetheren is a fine place to visit, and if we leave in the morning, we'll be there in time for Beltine."
"We're not going to--?" Jahar looked surprised.
Carn shook his head. "We open a gateway, and these two will bolt faster than a shadow at sunrise." He glanced at me. "Believe me on that-- there's not enough trust for us to heal a scraped knee in those eyes. Nope, I'm afraid we'll have to buy a couple more horses, prove ourselves on the way east." He grinned as he leaned back on the bed. "We can give them both a head start on the studies, too. We'll be in Manetheren for Beltine, and then to the Tower for spring."
Jahar pursed his lips. "Really. You're sure it has nothing to do with staying away from the Tower for longer. . ."
Carn looked affronted. "Of course not! But, we may find something going in the other direction, and I don't want to miss the slightest chance of a lead. And, what I said was true-- we could open a gate into the Grand Hall, with Lady Maighdin standing on the other side, and these two wouldn't believe."
Jahar relented with a shrug. "Beltine is nice in Manetheren."
And that was the plan. That night Tally and I shared one of the beds, Jahar and Carn the other. It was strange, feeling that breeze, but oddly comforting. I slept with knives drawn in each hand, Tally secure behind me, his breath on my neck a warm counterpoint to the softly stirring air in the room. It was an awkward, frightening thing, sharing a room with two strangers. Several times, I nearly got up, nearly woke Tally, nearly bolted. But each time, the faint, flickering hope that maybe, maybe, we would finally find home kept me where I was. My gut, always warning of danger, warned that this could be the only chance we ever had. It could be the only chance that Tally had of a better life. A gamble, to be sure, with all or nothing stakes. The only thing I was sure of was that I didn't want things to continue, didn't want Tally to have to eventually follow the path I'd taken.
Sometimes, Da used to say, when everything that matters is on the line, you have to bet big, and be willing to loose everything to gain everything. Tally was worth that. Everything. Even the risk that these men were like the others, waiting for us to be vulnerable before striking. Even knowing that if they were, there was nothing I could do to stop them. All or nothing. Remember the family motto.
Despite my lack of trust, I eventually fell asleep, and roused to the sound of movement shortly before dawn. Carn was awake, a moving a chair to sit before the east-facing windows.
Jahar mumbled sleepily, and then fell back asleep with an irritating mutter of "sentimental goat-kisser." I levered myself up as Carn sat. "What are you looking at?" I asked, softly so as not to wake Tally.
Carn smiled, then glanced down to where my blades shone in the pre-dawn gloom. "The Gift of Dawn," he said. "I'm sure you understand that."
I nodded. I rarely saw dawn, unless a job had taken unusually long, but I certainly understood being grateful to have survived for one more. I shifted on the bed to get a better view of the windows, sheathing my knives. They hadn't done anything strange during the night, and this desire of Carn's to see the sunrise was something more often found in kind hearts than in not-kind. Didn't mean I trusted him, so much. But after sleeping the night undisturbed, I figured he wasn't the type who would jump me or Tally just because he thought he could.
We didn't say much as the sky lightened with soft, warm colors. My gaze shifted between the window and Carn's face, hoping to catch him in a genuine moment. I caught one right before the sun appeared, as the man leaned forward in anticipation, eyes wide and lips trembling. The soft flame and rose colored sky seemed to reflect in his hair as his head tilted, as though listening to some far off sound. As the small, burning sliver peeked over the horizon, his lips creased in a smile fit to welcome an old friend, and he seemed to sigh in relief, although no exhalation indicated so. He continued to watch, never tearing his eyes from the sight, even as Jahar pushed himself up to sit on the bed facing him. No one spoke as Carn seemed to drink in the light, until the sun was free of the horizon, light flooding into the room.
"You know," Jahar murmured grumpily. "The Sun will rise even if you don't wake to remind it to get up. It's very punctual without your help."
Carn shrugged with a grin. "Our lives are saturated in miracles, and it would be a shame for me to miss the more obvious." He looked outside, and his smile was exactly like that of one glancing at a dear old friend.
Jahar grunted before settling back down. Carn laughed softly. "Jahar hasn't ever really been a morning person. When needed, he's one of the most disciplined men in the world, but when not. . . he's likes his beauty sleep."
A mumble came from the bed that sounded suspiciously like, "I would if you'd shut up!"
Carn laughed softly again. "I'll go down and get us breakfast from the kitchens. Anything you need?"
I shook my head, and the man was out the door, leaving me alone with the still sleeping Tally and the trying-to-sleep Asha'man. They were certainly an odd couple-- an Asha'man who was grumpy in the morning, and his very cheerful companion who had an uncommon appreciation for living another day. Not only were they themselves a puzzle, but I still didn't understand their relationship with each other. If not master and servant, were they brothers? Best friends? Lovers?
My musing was interrupted as Carn stepped back in the door, one tray with fresh kaf in his hands, two more trays floating behind him filled with bowls of porridge, a small plate of dried fruit, two small bowls with jam, and several slices of bread. That was one question answered, only about a thousand left to go.
The trays behind settled themselves on the empty chairs, while Carn lay the kaf service down by the bed, pouring a cup of the rich, dark brew.
"Wakey, wakey, Bell-boy. . ." Carn teased as he waved the aroma toward Jahar's nose. A groan answered the playful words, and then a sigh. Soon Jahar was sitting up, hands wrapped carefully around the small porcelain cup, inhaling the aroma of the kaf like incense, and occasionally taking small sips.
"Oh, yes, that's how the Creator intended for men to wake up," he sighed. "Not the best I've had, but not bad, all told."
I didn't know what he was talking about-- we'd never been able to afford kaf, but the porridge was good, and I shook Tally awake so his wouldn't get cold. We both eyed the dried fruit, and the little bowls of jam, but kept ourselves to our porridge. We didn't know who the fruit or jam was for, and best we not start stealing from our erstwhile patrons. Well, not yet, at least.
But apparently, we'd misunderstood something.
"I realize it's not fresh," Carn chided us, "but you two are malnourished enough as it is. I'll have to insist that you boys eat some fruit. If you two clear that plate, then you can have some bread and jam."
"That's for us?" Tally's surprise was plain, while my immediate reaction was suspicion. Fruit of any kind, fresh, dried or preserved, was near impossible to find, and he was insisting we eat all that he'd brought?
For some reason, Carn looked suddenly sad, before he smiled again at Tally's words.
"Well," Carn seemed to hesitate. "It does look awful good. All of it. I would have a piece if I could decide what I wanted. Hmmm . . ." He peered at the plate, and then addressed my brother. "What do you think I should have, Tally? A prune? An apricot? Perhaps a nice slice of pear. . ."
Tally plucked up a dried apricot and handed it to Carn. "Well, thank you, Tally. I love apricots!" He took a bite, chewed with relish, and swallowed, looking at me the whole time. As though to say, See, not poison.
It had been a long time since we'd had any fruit, and my mouth was soon stuffed with three slices of dried pear, while Tally was delightedly nibbling on dried apple rings. Carn ate his little apricot slowly, peeling the rest of it in half, chewing on one half while holding the other up to the morning light.
"Like stained glass," he mumbled. "Such a lovely color . . . Jahar, don't you think--"
"Yes, Carn, it's lovely." Jahar's voice was drier than the fruit. "The Good Creator made it pretty to entice people to eat it, not stare at it all day. . ."
"Spoilsport. . . can't even see the little wonders all around us. . ." Carn wasn't actually pouting-- it seemed this sort of banter was well established between the two of them.
Jahar snorted. "Oh, I can see the little wonders. Like kaf, proof that the Creator does in fact exist, and does in fact care for his creations. A marvelous blessing, this little drink. However, I also realize that the very same Creator expects me to accomplish certain things in this life, none of which will get done if I sit around all day mooning over how pretty dried fruit can be when the sun shines through it!"
It was like that most of the morning, Jahar sniping at Carn and Carn smiling back. Even with the bickering, though, I got the strange sense that the Asha'man ultimately deferred to Carn. Not always-- just sometimes, a change in the tone of voice, a shift about Carn's eyes, and Jahar would quiet.
Like the way it was Jahar who had to clear it by Carn that we go to Manetheren, not the other way around. I realized. I'd learned early in Tanchico that there was always some sort of hierarchy, even between only two people. It might shift from moment to moment, depending on the situation, but there would always be one who tended to give way more than the other. It was the only way to avoid bloodshed, usually. From what I could tell, Carn was the big dog in that couple. And that made no sense at all.
Tally thought it was all great fun, of course, giggling as Jahar would toss off a barbed comment, and Carn would deftly riposte with a gentle smile. Tally especially liked it when he got a mount of his own, a calm red gelding he quickly named "Pips."
For just one moment, both the men's faces showed shock. "Why that name?" Carn asked, as Jahar worked to make sure the saddle straps were tight.
Tally grinned. "That's what the great General, Matrim Cauthon named his horse. For luck, right? So I wanna have a lucky horse, too!"
"There will be no racing." Jahar murmured as he stepped back. "And yes, General Cauthon did indeed have a horse with that name."
We rode out with the sun still less than halfway to its zenith. I was thankful we'd started at a walk-- neither Tally nor I had been in a saddle in four years, and the city streets were no place for remembering how to keep out seats. Somewhere, the two men had found cloaks for us which, while not new, were certainly in better shape than the rags we'd been using. There were also mittens for Tally, and gloves for me. They shook their heads over the ragged state of our shoes, but said they'd have to wait. They needn't have bothered, though, because the horses kept us plenty warm as it was. Riding out that morning in my less-tattered-than-previous cloak was the warmest I'd been in months.
Northeast we rode, along the road that paralleled the Andahar, one of them always riding slightly ahead, the other with us. Tally gazed at the countryside and the river as though he'd never seen them before. When I thought about it, I'd realized he hadn't left the city once we'd arrived, more than one third of his life inside those walls. I split my attention between watching Tally, the road, and our escorts. But the road was rather empty, the fields barren, and Tally seemed to be glued to the saddle.
Satisfied that there was no immediate threat, I turned my attention to our guides. Carn was on point, looking over the farms that lined the road with a frown. A few times he dismounted, peering at the bottoms of fence posts, his long legs keeping pace easily.
"What's he doing?" I asked, as he rubbed dirt through his fingers.
Jahar shrugged. "Probably looking for flowers. We're far enough south yet that there should be some snowdrops, even hound-tooth violets. . ."
I was unconvinced. "Flowers?"
He turned to me, bells catching the sunlight. "You don't believe me? Didn't you see him with that apricot this morning?" He shook his head incredulously, bells tinkling with the movement. "I've seen him stare at a single buttercup for hours on end, entranced. When asked why he stared at it for so long, his explanation was his surprise at how very yellow it was."
I looked ahead, watching as he dismounted, and plucked something from the dirt, his nose scrunching with delight. "He seems a little . . . off . . ."
The Asha'man's sudden bark of laughter caught me by surprise. "No, no. . . He's, err, he's fine. Definitely fine."
It was nearly impossible to hide my lack of faith in that statement.
"Really," he continued. "He used to be insane. He's much better now. Much better. Believe me. . . "
"He used to be insane? How insane are we talking about?" Tally's eyes echoed with my incredulity where he rode beside me, listening in.
Jahar sighed, sobering. "Well, it's never good when a man starts quarreling with the voice in his head. Especially if he can channel. Most especially if the voice can, too." He looked at us. "But don't you worry, as I said, he's much better now."
"So, he was cured then?" Tally piped up.
We were answered with shrug and a nod. "That's a word for it, I suppose. . ."
Silence reigned between the three of us, the horses plotting hooves our only accompaniment. "What's that he's looking at?" Tally asked.
"Light only knows," Jahar replied with a sigh, but his eyes were bright with fondness.
A few minutes later, Carn was falling back again, turning to speak with Jahar.
"There's nothing sprouting in the fields, and no sign of winter crops. One lucky lady-beetle larva, but I should have seen many more." His silver eyes scanned the farms. "And there's no feel of any singing." I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but stayed my curiosity.
Jahar tilted his head. "But, with the trouble, why wouldn't they try?"
"I don't know." Carn's face was still,thoughtful. "It concerns me."
The Asha'man nodded slowly, then nudged his mount ahead for his turn on point. We continued on for a few minutes, questions slowly burning though my brain.
"Your self-restraint is admirable," Carn's voice sounded almost amused. "But it may be you will find answers, if you ask the questions I see burning behind your eyes."
Since he'd issued the invitation, I felt no hesitation. "Who are you?" I felt my eyes narrow slightly, and fought to school my expression. "You channel, but you're not dressed as an Asha'man even though you travel with one. You seem to be quite familiar with farms, but you don't carry yourself like any farmer I've ever seen. Jahar says you used to be looney, but you're better now. And you seem to be the big dog, even though you're easily distracted by shiny things. And that's a whole other deck of cards-- are you two brothers? Lovers . . . ?"
Jahar didn't bother to hide his chuckles as Carn tackled the last question first. "We are brothers, though not by blood. And brothers is really only an approximation. But it's close. As for who I am . . ." he shrugged. "I am Carn. It's true that I can channel, but I'm not an Asha'man. I have an affiliation with the Black Tower, though it's hard to describe my exact relationship to the hierarchy there. I was a farmer, once, and a shepherd. I've also done a bit of soldiering, and quite a bit of traveling. I found I wasn't much good at diplomacy or politics. I really enjoyed my time as a cook--"
The chuckles ahead of us suddenly erupted into full-blown laughter. "Forgive me!" he exclaimed between breaths. "Oh, forgive me, but you reminded me of that morning the M'Hael first found you in the kitchens, patiently stirring that pot of jam. I thought he was going to have a brain-storm, finding you there, of all places!"
Carn smiled. "He really did like that jam, though, didn't he? As outraged as he was." He trailed off in thought for a moment. "The thing with cooking is, everyone needs to eat. But to make something as prosaic and everyday as eating into something special, something to make them smile. . . that's a very good thing. I think that's why I actually liked making the jam for the kitchens." His eyes lit up as he met our eyes. "It's like taking jar-fulls of summer and locking them away for winter. People open the jar, taste the jam, and all the winter cold and shadow melts away as you taste summer again, if only for a short time."
"So," I summed up. "You're saying you like jam."
There was no denying that, not after Tally and I had practically inhaled the jam and bread at the end of breakfast. "So, what is your current occupation?"
Carn cocked his head to the side. "I suppose, I'm a treasure hunter at the moment."
"Like the Hunters of the Horn?" Tally asked, eyes alight with the thought of such adventure.
"Like. . ." Carn grinned back at my brother, eyes lighting with mischief. "Only, the treasure I'm hunting is far more precious than some rusty ol' horn!"
"What is it?" Tally was still young enough to love good stories. Well, to be honest, so was I.
Carn lowered his voice conspiratorially. "I have to be careful. This treasure, it's very fragile. So fragile, that if I speak of it out right, or in the wrong way at the wrong time around the wrong people, it'll shatter and vanish into nothing. We've been hunting it for nearly four years, ever since the Tamrlyn lost it, but it's been a hard effort. Very few clues to follow, and it could be anywhere."
I had no idea what sort of treasure would up an vanish if you even spoke of it in the wrong way. Maybe one of those Ter'angreal things. "It belongs to the Tamrlyn?" was what I asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Carn replied. "It was in the care of the Tamrlyn's family. The Seanchan had agreed that they would not be harmed, but a Seanchan's word and a copper still won't afford a dipper full of water. . ." he shrugged. "The Seanchan attacked the his family, trying to steal the treasure, but in the confusion of the attack, it disappeared. We've been looking ever since. . ."
I very carefully avoided looking at Tally, and silently prayed he didn't reveal anything himself. While any number of things could have happened at that time, the fact remained that Tally was carrying a treasure on his back, beneath his clothes. A treasure that would have "disappeared" from the world four years ago.
It didn't mean he was looking for what we had, but there was that possibility. Too bad for him, though, because we were only to reveal the treasure to the Lord of Wolves, or to the Tamrlyn. Only golden eyes, or dragons in the skin would get us to reveal our secret. And as it was, we hadn't mentioned the treasure to anyone.
The air shifted before I could make a response, Jahar falling back to us. "Carn." The name held warning, and the taller man's face stilled. "Deathwatch ahead, some civilians, too. Think we should?"
I wasn't sure how Jahar could tell at such a distance-- the group was still a smudge far up the road. Then I noticed the air in front of his face was shimmering, almost twisted. He was channeling to see farther, somehow. The shimmer extended to before Carn's face, and his eyes narrowed, freezing into hard, silver stones. "Ogier." he snarled. "They should be singing to the fields. . ." he was silent a moment. "Yes, I think I need to speak with them. The entire premise of both the Treaty of Ebou Dar and the Treaty of the Two Rivers has clearly been violated. I wish to know their reasons."
As the other party came closer, I checked my knives, making sure they were all sharp and accessible. Jahar shook his head. "There should be no need for those," he said. "I'm just going to make sure all is well with the civvies, and Carn will speak with the Ogier. And if there is fighting, it will be Carn and I doing it, not the two of you."
I kept my knives ready, anyhow. The Deathwatch Guards were not to be messed with, and I would not let them near Tally. I didn't fool myself, though. I'd never taken a contract for an Ogier, but I had fought them on other jobs. They key, for them, was not to go right for the killing blow unless you knew for sure you were going to make it. The key was to understand how sensitive the nerves in their hands and arms were-- it's why they made such good masons and sculptors. If you focused on causing them pain, if you attacked their arms and hands, you could disable them pretty quickly. Then, if you had time, you could kill them.
I explained this to Tally as I made sure he had his knives ready. When I was done, I found Carn and Jahar staring at me, faces seemingly of stone. I felt the other inside of me watching warily through my eyes.
"There are very few men in this world who know what you have so easily spoken of," Carn said, his voice seeming to come from a distance. "I will thank you to avoid using that knowledge unless there is no other option." It seemed, in that moment, that Carn was an entirely different man. Gone was the smiling, laughing, gentle soul we'd been traveling with, replaced by something cold and ruthless. The other within whimpered, and I almost heard it whisper, This here is the most dangerous man we have ever seen.
I managed to nod, and that unyielding stare moved away. We were silent as we came upon the group, Tally and I sitting to the side as Jahar, pins flashing in the sun, rode up to the head of the group. There was some consternation on their side as they saw the silver and diamond sword, and the red and gold dragon. But the guards gave way as he moved to speak to the civilians, and seemed to answer as Carn began asking them questions. We couldn't hear much from where we waited, but Jahar only paused once, speaking intently to a boy who looked to be between Tally and myself in age. Carn seemed to be pressuring the Ogier. At first, they seemed to resist but, after Carn scratched an itch on his arm, they seemed to suddenly back up, their low buzzing voices speaking faster as they made placating gestures.
"What do you reckon that's all about?" I asked Tally-- he was always better at reading people than I was.
He shrugged. "I don't know. It sounded like Mister Carn was really upset about the farms, and something like the Ogier should have been singing to the fields, but they weren't . . ."
After a few minutes, Jahar rode back to us and Carn followed soon after, the other group moving on. The men stared at them with blank faces until they were out of sight.
"So," Jahar broke the silence as we nudged our horses forward again. "What did they say?"
Carn scowled. "They haven't sung to the fields," he snarled, "because they have not been ordered to do so." A few feet ahead of us, a pebble shot forward over the road, as though kicked by a frustrated foot. "I told them to remind the High Lady of Tanchico of the treaties that constrain the Alliance. I think they will relay the message. How was your end?"
Jahar shrugged. "One with the potential to learn. I made sure he understood that he had a choice in the matter, that if he was never in extreme danger, he'd never touch it unless taught. Based on his reactions, I expect to see him at the Tower once he's of age. I gave him one of Logain's trackers, though, just to keep things covered."
Carn nodded, then turned to us. "See?" His face was melting back to the former cheerfulness. "No need to attack Ogier. In fact, as long as you're with us, those knives will get little use."
We rode in silence for a few minutes, Carn moving forward for his turn on point. "What was that, though, back there?" I asked Jahar.
"Inspection." he said. "According to the Treaty of the Two Rivers, the Empire is not allowed to take men as damane. All men found who can channel are to come to the Black Tower. Therefore, when an Asha'man like myself is traveling though Seanchan territories, it is customary for him to be allowed to inspect anyone he comes across. We generally don't unless we have reason to suspect something, but it's good to remind them of the conditions of their peace. Since Carn had to chide the Ogier, it was a good chance for me to inspect some civilians. As I said, I found one with potential. It's not inborn, but he can learn."
I thought about that for a moment. "So, they almost expect that if they see an Asha'man, he's going to stop them and inspect them? Even though the Tower isn't part of the Empire?"
"Yes." Jahar shrugged. "After Tuon's Betrayal, the Dragon made very strict demands for the Treaty of the Two Rivers. The premise that Carn mentioned was betrayed was that the Empire would care for all people within her territories with the greatest concern. That the fields have not been sung to, that the damane have not been seen outside the cities, this is a violation of that premise. In addition, if we run across any man who is collared, or any man being prevented from traveling to the Tower for any reason, this too is a violation of that Treaty."
"What happens with all these violations?" Tally asked, as my mind attacked the consequences.
Jahar sighed. "If, after multiple warnings, the Empire does not seek to correct the problem, then the Treaty is considered void, including all the parts calling off war and violence. Four years ago, when the Seanchan attacked the Tamrlyn's family, the Lords and Ladies of the Alliance of Free Nations swore that when the Dragon called them, they would answer. He held back, at the time. However, now that the people are dying of starvation, he may consider the Treaty broken for true. If that happens . . ."
"War," I breathed, eyes wide.
"War," he nodded. "But he'll try to avoid that. He doesn't want war-- he hates it-- but if it's the only way to get help to the people, it may happen. If the Dragon calls, all the Free Nations will rise up, as will both Towers. It will be a horrible thing, but he considers all people to be his responsibility, most especially those who have no one else to speak for them."
"I thought Aes Sedai don't fight." Tally always had good questions.
"They won't," Jahar answered. "But they will make gateways, and they can heal. The Asha'man have no such prohibitions, save for our distaste. But if there's damane involved, it'll be messy anyhow."
We were silent again as we pondered what we'd learned. "Is. . . is a famine really worth war?" I asked, still trying to get my mind around the idea.
"If the famine was preventable. . ." the Asha'man shrugged. "This could have been easily avoided. It can still be stopped from getting even worse. But, until the damane are brought to harrow the fields, until the Ogier sing to them, this famine will get worse, and worse still. Until country and city all starved to death. I'd give it a few years, factoring in aid from the Alliance and a few farms at the edge still able to produce. So on the one hand, everyone dies a slow death of starvation or, in the summers, plague. On the other hand, you get a full-scale invasion for a season, some bloody battles, a lot of blood that really needn't have been shed. But, after that, the fields are harrowed by Aes Sedai and damane, and Ogier sing, and the ground brings forth goodness again. Which is worse?"
I nodded, understanding to horrible decision the Tamrlyn might have to face soon. How terrible things must be, when war was the less-bad option.
"You think . . . you think he will?" I finally asked.
The gentle smile finally returned to Jahar's face. "I know him well, and I know that he will do everything he can to keep it from getting to that point. He'll charm, he'll threaten, he'll cajole and deal and even, if he has to, he'll beg." he laughed. "Of course, by that point, the Saldeans will likely have taken Arad Doman in their impatience."
Ahead of us, Carn laughed again and, just like that, everything was fine again. The sun was shining again, the breeze was soft, and the horses were still warm.
We avoided the topic of war for the rest of the day.