Gleeman Bob writes: yay! a short story that is actually SHORT! only 3,000 words, five times shorter than my supposedly short stories usually are, a mere ten pages! double-spaced, at that! see, the foolish Gleeman can curb his outrageously overlong prose sometimes...
this tall tale tells the story of how the legend become a myth of the Nightwatcher came into being... which reminds me - SPOILER ALERT! ideally, you should read Chapter 9: Below the Tomb BEFORE you read the Tale of the Nightwatcher, but it is not an ideal world, after all... I am not the boss of you... so do whatever you want! and that last chapter WAS kind of long... it was not supposed to be... Parts I & II were only 15,000 words each, I was doing well, but Part III ballooned like a balloon-animal and then I realised that I would have to add a Part IV and began to make whining noises and to pound my head against the laptop...
but that is all part of the fun of writing Wheel of Time fanfiction! hey, and at least I gave all of those parts stylish Old Tongue names! anyway, the moral of the story is that we should all be good and behave honourably or the Nightwatcher shall not trouble to watch over us whilst we sleep...
Walk in the Light!
"...that is strange," observed the Nightwatcher, "I did not know that there existed blue fruit in the world."
"Thth!" lisped the informative snail, "not tho loud – the Gianth will hear you!"
[extract taken from – 'The Nightwatcher in the Gardens of the Fire-Giants' – author unknown]
The Tale of the Nightwatcher
The Aiel-children were too young to have fully accepted the Covenant into their hearts and souls, so they were a little nervous, rather than fully acceptant, regarding their imminent deaths. Outside, they could hear the bestial howls of the monsters as they slaughtered their parents, who had formed a ring around the armoured jo-car, using their bodies in a futile attempt to delay the inevitable. Finally, silence, just low snarling. And crunching, eating-noises. The thick door of the jo-car was firmly closed, if unlocked, but one of the turrets had been left slightly open and these hideous sounds drifted down to them through it.
The Aiel-children waited for whatever the Wheel had in store for them, staring calmly and resolutely at the door that the last adult had closed firmly after swiftly herding them all inside. For a time, nothing happened. Then; slow, heavy footsteps approaching. The handle twisted and the door was roughly pulled open.
A big, wolf-faced Trolloc stood there. It looked at the Aiel-children with its horribly human eyes and grinned, running a long tongue over sharp teeth, the matted hair on its muzzle dark and sticky with blood. It had eaten its main-course. Now, it wanted dessert. Strange, that these human brats were just looking at it wide-eyed, and not screaming and crying with terror, as might be expected…
A low thump on the roof, as though something had landed there. Some of the Aiel-children glanced at the armoured ceiling above. The Trolloc did not seem to have heard, it gripped either side of the doorway and pulled itself up, crouching, framed there. It was drooling, and it stank. They watched quietly, infinitely calmer than children not born and raised as Da'shain would have been, in such a situation. But even so… they just hoped that it would be over quickly.
The voice came from above – the Trolloc leaned back and looked up, startled. A booted foot took it full in the face with great speed and presumably, force, as the Aiel-children clearly heard the monster's neck snap. The Trolloc fell away, crashing to the ground, and they watched as a dark shape swathed in fancloth dropped lightly down to stand squarely before the open door of the armoured jo-car. Shielding them.
The other Trollocs looked up from their feast and roared angrily, but the Warman in the fancloth simply ignored them, glancing swiftly over his shoulder at the Aiel-children. He had strange blue eyes, that seemed to glow in the dark a bit.
"Stay there, Da'shain," he told them, pulling off his gloves, then slammed the armoured door closed. There was lots of noise after that, the savage howls and agonised screams of Trollocs, interspersed with the occasional wet, slicing sound.
At one point, the Warman's voice could be clearly heard, shouting; "and where do you think you are going? Come back here, Shadowfilth!" The sound of running feet diminishing, a final Trolloc scream, some distance from the armoured jo-car. Then, silence. Approaching footsteps, though much quieter than the Trolloc's had been.
The Aiel-children watched as the handle twisted and the door swung slowly open again. The glowing-eyed Warman in the torn fancloth (he had a strange metal badge on his chest, underneath) stood there awhile, looking at them. He looked sad. Then, he scrambled up inside.
The Aiel-children flinched back against the armoured walls, something they had not troubled to do for the Trolloc. Their parents had told them that as part of keeping the Covenant they must avoid Warmen, for though they fought for the Light, they were tainted by what they did. 'If you battle with monsters, you become a monster in so-doing,' went the ancient adage. Which sort of meant that Warmen were monsters also, did it not?
This Warman seemed a little different from the other Warmen though, apart from his odd eyes. He wore the fancloth poncho and cadin'gai of a Warman-scout, a mantle and veil of the same colour-shifting material draped about his broad shoulders, and like the scouts did, had smeared streaks of dark camo-oil on the bare skin of his upper arms and lower legs, with more in a broad stripe across his strange eyes... but unlike a scout, he had a black headband stretched tightly about his brow, pure white stubble lining his skull. Added to which, he was smiling at them in a reassuring way (though his teeth looked rather sharp) and the Aiel-children had never seen a Warman smile before!
"Do not fear, little Da'shain, help will arrive presently."
The Warman-scout, if that was what he was, had a nice voice, husky yet melodic, if he had been born Da'shain Aiel and not chosen-out at the age of ten to be a Warman, he might have sung the seeds well indeed. He was also liberally spattered with dark blood, and in addition to his strange eyes, had black, shiny claws at the ends of his powerful, thick fingers, instead of just ordinary nails. They seemed to disappear up inside, you could see them, under the skin.
The Warman realised they were staring at his hands, flinched a little, then reached for the belt of his cadin'gai, but it seemed that what he looked for was not there. The Warman (though the Aiel-children were no longer sure if he was a man, regardless of whether he made war on the Shadow) closed the armoured door of the jo-car, then gazed at them awhile with those eerie, blue eyes, before sitting down.
N'aethan sighed as he opened the door of the armoured jo-car and examined the contents… the Da'shain should never have been up here, but where their Aes Sedai went, then so did they… but bringing their children so near to the Northborder! He found himself feeling guilty gladness that the self-important Governance Ajah Sitter who had come to review the troops was dead also, killed in the Shadowman ambush earlier… it would not have been right for her to survive the massacre of her Da'shain, who she should have refused permission to attend their Aes Sedai and left behind in the relative safety of Paaran Disen. Especially their children. It was an Aes Sedai's responsibility to protect her Da'shain from the harm they could not – would not – protect themselves from, just as it was his duty to protect the Aes Sedai in-turn.
N'aethan was feeling very relieved that he had got here in time (though he wished it had been in time to save the others) because, while the Creator-knew he was well-accustomed to seeing dead Citizens, the sight of murdered children always made him feel very sad indeed… sometimes, he would even find himself weeping over it later, when the Warmen were not around. The Warmen never cried, or smiled, or laughed, or did anything like that – they seemed to be even less human than him, sometimes!
And here were these Aiel-orphans. Other Da'shain would care for them now, he supposed. There were a dozen of the poor things, crammed into the back of the armoured jo-car, wearing the smocks and leggings that Aiel-children wore before they were old enough to put on the cadin'sor, ribbons in the red-gold hair of the little girls. It was very strange, these children had just heard their parents being brutally slaughtered and devoured, right outside… ordinary Civilian children would be catatonic at this point, if they were not still screaming with terror, sobbing their eyes out – but these were Aiel-children, so they just sat there, cross-legged, their little faces solemn. Acceptant. Leaves on a branch. Fully prepared to go with whatever the winds of the Pattern intended for them, no matter how awful that might prove to be…
N'aethan knew that he was a brave man (or a brave monster, at least) and he always did his best to be courageous, though he had been scared when he fought the Gholam… but compared with a Da'shain, even a child-Aiel, he was little more than a trembling coward! They had such courage! If not for the Covenant, they would have made formidable warriors… he had unwisely said so to Kiam Sedai once, during one of their infrequent tcheran matches, and she had given him a look of such disgust... well, that was Kiam, after all, she held strong opinions on the subject. Why, the Da'shain were the only people she ever actually bothered to be nice to!
At which point, N'aethan abruptly came to the realisation that the Aiel-children now looked a little less accepting of things than they had done… that they were all staring at his hands. He had forgotten to put his gloves back on, after wiping them clean… stupid! (The excitement of killing Shadow-wrought often made him forget things, or act foolishly, it was a little like being drunk, really. Or the way he felt after he chewed some catnip.) He reached for his belt, but the shatter-cloth gloves were not there, they must have fallen out while he was chasing that last Beastman… even were he to put them on now, it would still be too late, they had seen, they were all staring. Poor little mites… after what they had just been through, now they were shut inside an armoured jo-car with a weird-eyed black-clawed man-monster! They were not having a good day… Perhaps he should go back outside, and Shield them from there? But they might follow him out and he definitely did not want them to see what had become of their parents…
The Aiel-children continued to stare at his claws, wide-eyed, though had he not forgotten about the gloves, they would probably just have been staring at his eyes, in any case. Even if he did leave, they would doubtless wonder about it, maybe even have nightmares… they were only children, even though they were Da'shain Aiel with far greater control over themselves, and he didn't want them to be stuck with an extra bad memory on top of the other events of this horrible night… N'aethan supposed he owed them some sort of an explanation, at least. He was going to have to make something up…
N'aethan closed the door to give them all more protection (he could not sense Shadowmen, or Draghkar either, but there might be more Beastmen about, even though he had not smelt any) and sat down, cross-legged. Tucking his hands neatly behind the front flap of his fancloth poncho. He smiled at the Aiel-children, though not that widely, so as not to expose his teeth too much.
Clearly, it was time for a story…
The Aiel-children eyed the unusual, clawed Monsterman, waiting. Was he going to eat them, like the Trollocs had eaten their mothers and fathers? He had funny eyes and his teeth were quite pointy but it was definitely the claws that were the most monstery thing about him, this strange Monsterman who was dressed like a Warman-scout... perhaps he had devoured a Warman and stolen his garments?
"You look at my hands, children," the Monsterman said to them softly, in his husky voice, "and the black claws upon them. Do not be alarmed, for they are but the claws of Tashanda…"
The Aiel-children continued to stare at him, though with perhaps a touch of curiosity in their unblinking, light-coloured eyes.
"Who is Tashanda?" one of them asked, eventually. The other Aiel-children moved a little closer, to better hear the Monsterman's answer.
"Who do you think? Why, Tashanda is the King of the Cat-Demons, naturally!" The Monsterman said this with an odd, mewling laugh and a toss of his head, as though anyone should know it.
"What is he, this King of the Cat-Demons?" prompted another Aiel-child.
"Do you not know, little-one? He is a very bad… Cat-Demon, the son of the old King, and he lives in… Cat Mountain, with his cold-hearted wife Tashandra."
The Aiel-children looked at each other, then back at the Monsterman.
"Who is she?"
"Tashandra is the Queen of the Cat-Demons, of course! If you are the wife of a King, then that makes you a Queen, even if you are a nasty old Cat-Demon!" And the Monsterman laughed again, scornfully.
The Aiel-children thought about this for a while. "Why, then, do you have King Tashanda's claws upon your hands?" enquired one, finally.
"That is a very good question! And the answer is – to claw the Shadow with!" The Monsterman's tones became confiding; "you see, children, I wished to fight for the Light, but did not want to use a stupid shocklance and since I am a Shieldman and not a Warman, I do not have the right to wear a sword on my hip…" he sighed, then shrugged "...besides, it is not good to use these weapons, as you know, Da'shain."
From his seated posture, the Monsterman – no, the Shieldman – bowed to them, leaning forward with precision before straightening. He must be a Shieldman and not a Monsterman, like he had said, for if he was a monster, he would surely have eaten them by now... and besides, monsters did not tell stories.
"Honour to those who keep the Covenant," the Shieldman added, politely.
The Aiel-children nodded in acknowledgement, this was something they could certainly agree upon with this strange Shieldman in the fancloth who had black claws and funny eyes. He continued with his tale;
"I was unsure what to do so I asked the Creator and He told me what, like always. The very next day, I went to Cat Mountain and I challenged King Tashanda to a big fight. We duelled for a long time, right in front of his mountain, while all of the other wicked Cat-Demons sat around us in a big circle and watched and waved flags and cheered. It was a hard fight. Tashanda was strong – but I was stronger! Tashanda was fast – but I was even faster than that! And so I won, and old King Tashanda had to agree to give me his sharp, black claws so that I could go and use them to scratch the stinky Beastmen into little tiny bits!"
The Shieldman briefly raised his hands and mimed doing-so. His thick fingered, clawed hands seemed to blur in front of him for a moment, almost too fast to see. The Aiel-children gasped. He tucked his hands back behind his poncho.
"And then, do you know what happened? King Tashanda ran back to his Throne Room, deep in the heart of Cat Mountain, running without his claws so he was slipping around on the smooth elstone tiles, with me chasing after, running right behind him, right back to where Queen Tashandra sat in her favourite sung-wood chair, playing a game of tcheran with another Cat-Demon – and winning, as usual! But she looked up when we came in and instantly saw how upset her husband was – he was crying and moaning because I had beaten him so bad and taken his claws! And Tashandra glared at me with her scary, glowing, cobalt-coloured eyes, which then narrowed alarmingly!"
The Shieldman scowled, his pale brows drawing down, and his pupils shrunk to slits for a moment. The Aiel-children made some 'ooh' sounds. The Shieldman grinned.
"What did Tashandra do?"
"Did the Queen become annoyed?"
"Was she angry with you?"
"Yes, very – she hissed and spat at me and called me 'Lightborn' to my face! Then she challenged me to a game of tcheran, which I won (because she was overconfident) and then she became really angry so we duelled each other too, right there in the Throne Room, though it was much harder to beat Queen Tashandra than the King, let me tell you! That woman fought dirty!"
"What does that mean?"
"Oh, nothing... and she could fly, Tashandra could, she kept cheating by whizzing about over my head in a very distracting manner... but I beat her in the end, anyway!"
"What did you do then?"
"What do you think? I made the Queen of the Cat-Demons give to me her eyes. I wanted to be able to… watch the night, so that I could see the Shadow coming and protect good children... not bad children who disobey authority and do not eat their greens, but good. You are all good children, are you not? You certainly seem like good children to me."
The Aiel girls and boys wasted no time in assuring the Shieldman that they were, indeed, good children. He nodded approvingly, then raised a hand and made a sign in the air with one of his claws, like an upside-down triangle.
"Then I shall watch over you also. And all of the other Da'shain Aiel-children too, for so long as I live. Let there be a little-covenant between us – if you are good, then I shall watch over the shadows of the night and protect you while you are sleeping. If you have bad dreams, remember that if any Shadow-wrought monster tries to harm you, they will have me to deal with… me, with my sharp claws and my eyes that see in the dark, which I took off those wicked Cat-Demons all those many years ago."
The Aiel-children nodded, solemnly.
Outside, N'aethan could hear the low whine of the jumpers approaching. About time too! When one of his scouts reported that the convoy was being attacked, the War-Sisters and Warmen would have set out from the Border-fortress immediately, but he had already been out here by then, mopping-up the last of the Shadowmen. One of the Aiel-children raised a small hand, asking;
"Did not Queen Tashandra mind that you had taken her eyes?"
"Hmm? Oh... well... of course she did! She minded very much! Her Royal Highness, Tashandra, she shouted at me in an angry way and shook her fist and waved her twisty, ivory wand in the air, hoping to blast me into a million pieces with the One Power – but I was long-gone from Cat Mountain by then, trotting off down the road feeling rather pleased with myself, though she did not know it because she could not see anything… I did not leave her my eyes in return, you know!"
"Where, then, are your eyes?"
"I keep them in a box under my bed. But though blind, Queen Tashandra still has her husband King Tashanda to help her to get about, and yet has her claws to cut up his meat for him, so I expect that it all worked-out well for them in the end…"
N'aethan could hear the jumpers landing outside – now, how to get the children on-board without them seeing what was left of their parents? Beastmen always made such a mess… even more of a mess than he had made of them.
The Shieldman did not notice, but the Aiel-children were all watching him very closely. He might have meant it as a joke, but that did not matter. They were going to take the little-covenant seriously, and tell other Da'shain children about it, tell them that they must be good also. It was well to know that this strange (yet nice) Shieldman would be protecting them while they slept, and watching over the night…
sleep well and wake!