Prologue – 968 NE
His attention fixated on the beautiful Cairhienin noblewoman across the ballroom floor, Luc Mantear had attempted several drinks from his goblet before realizing he was out of wine. Luc pointed the goblet like a sword at the nearest serving girl and began shaking it vigorously while fixing her with his most contemptuous sneer. The girl came as close to scurrying as Cairhienin decorum allowed at a wedding. While the girl filled his goblet Luc leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "I don't want this goblet to ever be more than half empty. Keep it full and I might just fill you with a little something later." The poor girl blushed so hard Luc couldn't figure out if she was about to drag him off to a closet somewhere or pull a dagger on him. With a sharp slap to her backside he sent her on her way and was surprised by the muted, flat tone produced. Definitely not the firm flank he was used to on a Cairhienin of her age. Must sneak sweets out of the kitchens, Luc mused to himself.
Once again alone with his thoughts, Luc resumed his fascination with the Cairhienin noblewoman. So far she had not noticed his stare. Luc wondered what her eyes looked like. She was short, he could tell that much. Even compared to the other Cairhienin at the reception she was short and slim of waist as well. Luc liked them petite. With hair like that I bet she has brown eyes. Dark brown eyes. Her hair was a dark brown. Almost black if not for the way her hair shown with an almost golden hue when the light hit it, but that might just be the torchlight, thought Luc. It hung in curls. Not the frizzy tight curls Luc had noticed some of the Cairhienin women wearing, but gentle ringlets that hung past her shoulders.
Luc couldn't take anymore. He had yet to meet a woman who could resist his charms when he was motivated, and this woman had him motivated. I bet her skin is soft as silk and smells of roses. Luc was maybe two spans away when she noticed him coming. Her large, dark eyes fixed him with a stare that could have melted steel and wilted flowers. Luc couldn't help but smile. This one is fierce! Luc liked when a woman had some spirit in her, maybe even a little fight. Luc's pleased smile shifted to a cocksure grin and he put as much swagger in his step as possible while closing the last few paces. As he opened his mouth there was a moment of doubt as the young lord realized he hadn't thought up a good line, but before he could stammer out something cliché he was saved by the whip-like crack of his own name.
Ouch. The lady had a voice like birds singing in the morning, but that did little to blunt the sharpness she put into his name.
"Nothing to say for yourself I see. Every Andoran woman, from the lowliest servant to the Daughter-Heir herself has warned my sister and I about you. Your reputation precedes you, and it is not one I wish to add to."
Luc took in the set of her jaw and the press of her lips. Stern, he thought, but the way her eyes were lighting up and the way her bottom lip trembled he knew she was bluffing. She wants me. He must have started grinning again because her expression went from 'playfully hard to get' to 'not so playfully outraged' in the blink of an eye.
"Oh, I'm joking am I? I'll have you know I could have my pick of any noble or royal heir in the Westlands. I have no need to sully my reputation on the likes of you, sir!"
Finally, Luc had something to say. "The likes of me? My lady, you know my name and much about me it would seem, but I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I know nothing of you, least of which your name."
"Wha-? You mean you came over here not even knowing who I am? Do you take me for some tavern serving wench you can bounce on your knee and steal a feel just because you wish it?"
With that the lady spun on her heel and left Luc for the company of a nearby circle of Cairhien nobles, her hips swaying in time with the music. Have mercy. Luc looked around for an ally. Any Cairhien he knew well enough to pose questions about a high-born woman. There were few Cairhienin nobles of an age with Luc, those younger than he would not be invited to an event of such importance. Instead Luc looked for one of the nobles he knew from the war. Not far away, surrounded by a small group of fawning ladies, stood Lord Dobraine Taborwin. Dobraine had a face like a brick wearing a long haired wig. Women would never call him handsome, but he wasn't ugly either. If not for the Cairhienin slashes of nobility across his chest Dobraine could have been mistaken for a common soldier. From the expressions of awe on their faces Luc guessed Dobraine was telling war stories, maybe even the story about the time Dobraine got the drop on Luc and his men on the fringes of the Braem Wood. Luc approached cautiously.
"…and then we chased him down the Erinin to the village of Aringill before finally letting up!" Dobraine joined the women in a round of polite laughter before spotting Luc. "Why here's the man now! Young Lord Luc, please join us. I was just telling these ladies about our battle before the peace was made."
"Not much of a battle, Lord Taborwin. You sprung an excellent ambush and had me outnumbered three to one. I'm not ashamed to say I ran to fight, and drink," he added with a wink for the ladies, "another day." Luc maneuvered his way through the crowd of noblewomen until he was close enough to address Dobraine quietly. "Lord Taborwin, I would have a word with you privately, with your permission."
"Of course, Lord Luc. We are all friends here now. What do you need of me? I hope you don't harbor any ill will for a little story telling. Those who have not seen battle are always anxious to hear stories from the war, and please, call me Dobraine."
Luc chose his next words carefully. Words in Cairhien had more power than other cities. The nobles of Cairhien played at Daes Dae'mar the way other men breathed. The harder Luc tried to hide something the more likely Dobraine was to pick up on it and the more likely Dobraine was to interpret some sort of political maneuvering. "Who's that woman over there?" Smooth, Luc. Real smooth.
Dobraine followed the line of Luc's pointed finger and smiled. "That's Anvaere Damodred. Your new brother-in-law's half-sister. No one has introduced you yet?"
"I tried to introduce myself, but apparently she was warned about me. I don't know what she could be talking about."
"I'm sure she has been warned. Some have said more Andoran women have fallen victim to your charms than have not. I dare say any noble here with a daughter of marriageable age is worried you'll ruin all their wedding plans." Luc found Dobraine's meaning hard to decipher. Even with a few cups of wine in him and celebrating a wedding the Cairhien were a reserved people. For all Luc could tell Dobraine may be expressing how ludicrous he thought that was or saying the other nobles were right to be worried.
Anvaere Damodred, thought Luc. What a prize. Luc clasped Dobraine by the shoulder. "Thank you my friend. Perhaps we'll talk again before I return to Andor. I think I've had as much wine and dancing as I can take for the night. I shall retire to my chambers."
That night Anvaere had strange dreams. Everywhere she went a man was following her. Someone she knew but could not name. He was tall and strong for his age, with dark red hair. At first she ran from him, but no matter how hard she ran he was always there. Sometimes he was right around the next corner or standing behind the door she opened. He never seemed to run or walk. He was just there, as if out of nowhere. Sometimes she wouldn't even know he was there until he reached out a hand and brushed her hair.
Anvaere woke with sweat covering her skin and her breathing coming in rapid but deep breathes. For a moment she thought she might drift back off to sleep, but a sound outside her door caught her attention. Ever so feint she heard the sounds of footsteps easing themselves down the corridor. Slipping out from under her blankets she tiptoed to her door and placed an ear against it. The footsteps got louder and louder until they sounded as though the person was just outside her door. A sharp rap on the frame caused her breathe to catch and her heart to leap into her throat. Against her better judgment she opened the door a crack and peaked out. Standing outside her door was the man of her dreams, candle in hand. He was just as handsome as she remembered.
"Lord Luc, would you like to enter my chamber?"
The young lord smiled and replied, "Absolutely."
Chapter 1 – 998 NE, Adar 15th
Tarin stood upon the wall looking down on one of the palace courtyards. Below Galad and Gawyn trained with practice swords. Galad had exceeded the capabilities of his former master-at-arms years ago and Gawyn was not far behind him in talent. The two were forced to spar each other for very few swordsman in Caemlyn were able to present a challenge to either. Galad flowed from stance to stance and form to form with an easy grace. In stark contrast to the grace of Galad, Gawyn almost seemed to flail at his opponent. Indeed, Tarin guessed more than half of Gawyn's parries were the result of luck more than skill. Of course it was natural to start flailing when faced with someone of superior skill, experience, and physical prowess. Tarin fingered the shape of the heron on the hilt of his own sword. Perhaps I should remind Galad of that fact before returning to my duties, Tarin mused to himself. Of course if he did that Gawyn would undoubtedly want another try at Tarin. If there was one thing Tarin didn't want to experience again it was explaining to Queen Morgase why her son could barely move for the bruises on his ribs. Apparently, "it'll be good for him," was not sufficient reason to injure a prince. Tarin reached up and touched the new knot of rank on his shoulder, his third now. Morgase is a difficult woman to understand.
Tarin caught the movement of a man approaching him along the wall, coming from the direction of the palace. Turning he watched the man. His hair was graying, almost white at the temples now. Despite his age he was still powerfully built. His stride was purposeful, and the sword at his hip seemed almost a part of him. Tarin had known the man for as long as he could remember. After Tarin's father and aunt vanished he was left with no one and became a ward of the palace. The men of the Queen's Guards had raised him, and for most Tarin's life the men of the Queen's Guards had answered to Gareth Bryne. As Bryne neared Tarin snapped to attention and offered his salute. "General, inspecting the battlements or here to spy on the boys?" he said, giving a nod to the fight below.
"Neither, Captain Taringail." Tarin rankled at the use of his proper first name. The general continued as though he had not noticed. "Have your men had many problems with the troubles in the city?"
Tarin was unsure what the General was getting at. Protesters had become common in Caemlyn's streets. Spring was late in coming and many believed the Aes Sedai were responsible. By traditions the Queen of Andor maintained an Aes Sedai advisor. Understandably some were venting their frustrations, but the Queen's Guards still commanded respect. Even those opposed to Aes Sedai in Caemlyn wouldn't dare cross the guard. "None, General. There have been some fights between Queen Morgase's supporters and the others, but nothing the Queen's Guards couldn't break up. None of my men have reported any aggression directed at them."
"That is good, Captain, but not what brings me here. I need someone I can trust." Bryne pulled a rolled parchment from pouch on his belt and handed it to Tarin. To Tarin's surprised it was sealed with the royal seal of Andor. "Do not open that here. I want you to take a troop of Queen's Guards west down the road to Whitebridge. Only take men you can trust. Two days outside Caemlyn open that parchment, memorize the orders, and burn it."
Tarin was shocked, though he kept his face calm to hide it. Secret orders and missions were not common to the Queen's Guards. This was something Tarin might expect from his Cairhienin kin, but not Gareth Bryne. He slipped the parchment under his tunic. "Understood, General. I will assemble the men and leave at first light."
Bogdan Shevkovni's head hung until his chin rested on his chest. His black hair hung in two braids, one to each side of his face. Ever so gently the Arafellin rubbed at his temples. Had I known I'd be riding out at first light I wouldn't have finished off those last four or five ales. His horse started to drift toward the road's edge once she realized no one was holding her reins, but Bogdan corrected the mare's path with some pressure from his calf. The horse obeyed and went back to following the track ahead. You don't want to eat that dead grass anyway, girl. Concern blossomed somewhere in the part of his mind that still thought like a Warder. The voice of the man he used to be spoke up¸ spring should be here. The Dark One touches the world again and you waste your time hunting men. "Shut up you! I don't need any of your lip!" Bogdan yelled back at the voice.
"By the Light, man. I didn't say anything," responded the rider next to Bogdan. Together the two men made up the front of a formation of 32 riders all dressed in the uniforms of Queen's Guards. An hour before dawn they had made their way two-by-two out of the Whitebridge Gate. Though they made no effort to hide, Taringail clearly did not want too many people aware of their departure. Once Bogdan might have found that odd, but he was beyond care now.
"I apologize, Captain Taringail. That was not meant for you."
"Could have fooled me. Any louder and the rear guard would be biting their tongues. How much did you drink after I left you last night?" There was no reproach in Captain Taringail's question, only concern. Probably concern that a friend would pass out, fall from his saddle, and be trampled to death by the horse behind him.
"None, Captain Taringail. I went straight to bed like a good little soldier. If you wanted me in prime condition for this endeavor you should have found me much earlier in the night."
"I wasn't sure if you were still in Caemlyn or not. I found it prudent to inform the men I was sure of before scouring the New City for one drunken Arafellin. I was surprised to find you so well into your cups. I would have thought your…" Tarin rubbed his fingers together as he searched for a polite word, "mission, would require you sober and alert."
Bogdan removed his fingers from his temples. He straightened in his saddle and fixed Taringail with a cold stare. "My mission is my business."
If Taringail was affected by the look he did not show it. Instead Taringail returned the stare with one of his own, a stare that told Bogdan just how wrong he was. When Taringail spoke it was in a quiet voice so none of the other men could hear. "You have hunted and killed Whitecloaks within the walls of my city. You forfeited your right to personal business when you brought your vendetta to Caemlyn. Count yourself lucky to be breathing. If the Queen or Gareth Bryne knew what I know your appointment with the headsman would have come and gone days ago."
Bogdan was not accustomed to being scolded by someone who was neither Aes Sedai nor Warder. He studied Taringail's face and weighed his words. There was nothing Bogdan could say. Taringail was correct. Bogdan owed Taringail his life no different than how Taringail once owed his life to Tamsin. With no response worth saying Bogdan hung his head once more. The scolding continued.
"Tamsin Sedai saved my life when anyone else would have left me for the crows. That is the only reason I didn't drag you to the dungeons myself." Taringail added in a lighter tone, "Well, that and the fact that I don't mind having fewer Whitecloaks roaming the streets of Caemlyn, but if Pedron Niall were to catch wind of your actions Caemlyn could wake one day to find itself besieged by every legion of the Children of Light." Taringail adjusted the weight of his shield before continuing. When held the massive piece of steel-plated oak would protect Taringail from his groin to the bridge of his nose. "Your actions endangered Andor, much better for us had you sought your death in the Blight like other Warders."
Bogdan broke his silence at that, and not in the whispered tone Taringail had taken. "It was neither shadowspawn nor Darkfriend that killed Tamsin. Tamsin died by the arrow of some coward Whitecloak. I will get my revenge even if I have to carve my way through the Fortress of Light all the way to Pedron Niall's chambers myself."
"And you still might," answered Taringail. "However, not until I have determined your service as a member of the Queen's Guard has ended. You owe Andor restitution for the danger you have placed Her in. Until I deem that debt repaid you are mine."
Bogdan picked at the bottom fringe of his red undercoat and frowned. "Do I have to wear the uniform? Between the red clothes and the burnished breastplate I'd be lucky to hide in a gleeman's cloak."
"You will wear it, and wear it with pride. For as long as I deem necessary."