Wheel of Time
The sun was standing at it’s highest point, it’s light reflected off of the hundreds of gold and marble domes and towers within the city walls and light sea breeze made the many flags and banners jump up and down. A short file of city guards hastely made their way through the gates and up the hill on which Raimund and Grianne were waiting. They had arrived near the city gates several hours ago but there were so many people trying to get in to the city that traffic had backed up considerably. Grianne had wanted to simply wait in line with the rest of the people but Raimund had protested, too many commoners supported the White-cloaks or the Dark-One these days for an Aes Sedai to stand in line at the gates for hours. He had insisted that she would send a message to the guards so they could escort both of them safely to the palace. The hill had been a quiet and safe place for them to wait. Now, finally, it seemed their escort was arriving. Raimund checked his sword and made sure he was standing between Grianne and the soldiers as they made their way up the slopes. The first man to meet them was clearly not a soldier. He didn’t wear a uniform and although the grace with which he moved told Raimund that the man was trained in using the sword on his hip he obviously lacked the discipline for being in the army. He was young and handsome. His eyes were dark, almost as black as his hair which was long and fell loose on his shoulders. For a few seconds he looked at Raimund who returned his gaze but then turned to Grianne. His eyes started to gleam mischievously and a wide smile appeared on his face.
“Welcome to Ebou Dar, pearl of Altara, Grianne Sedai. My name is Beslan Mitsobar, son of her majesty Tylin Quintara, High Seat of House Mitsobar and ruler of Altara. I have been sent here by my mother to escort you to back to the city.” Grianne returned the young man’s smile and even bowed her head as he mentioned who he was, an honor rarely given to anyone outside of the Tower. Raimund grunted as he he noticed her actions. Apparently the games had already begun and unlike Grianne he did not understand the rules. With a quick glance in his direction she told him she had noticed his indiscretion and wanted him to behave himself. If Beslan had noticed the short unspoken interaction between Raimund and Grianne he ignored it. Grianne turned her attention back to the young prince. “What an honor to be greeted by the crown-prince himself. A simple escort of city guards would have sufficed. I would have entered the city myself but Raimund here insisted on additional protection. I tried to explain that your streets are safe enough but when it comes to my safety I fear he is a little overprotective.” As she spoke Grianne took Beslan by the arm and started to walk down the hill. Raimund took position a few feet behind them and was himself followed closely by the six guards Beslan had brought with him. The last two guards collected the horses. “Not at all my Lady, your Warder is right to caution you. Times are tough and strange things have been happening all over the Westlands. Crime has been increasing the last couple of weeks, both here on the west bank of the Eldar as in the Rahad. Although I do not think the situation has gotten so bad that a Warder cannot protect you. I have read many books about them, their abilities are legendary, more than once I have thought about joining them.” His last sentence was accompanied with a sly grin that Raimund knew was meant for him. The boy was testing him, trying to see how far he could go. Typical behavior for Altarans. Raimund acknowledged the grin with angry glare. “You cannot simply join or sign up. You have to be invited or pass several very difficult tests. Standards need to be maintained.” Raimund immediately knew he had gone to far. The prince’s expression darkened and he clenched the hilt of his sword with his left hand. Raimund could see the man’s muscles tense. Personal honor was very important to Altarans and even the slightest insult could result in a duel. Outsiders’ behavior was usually excused except for very grave insults. If the prince had taken offence at Raimund’s remark the law allowed Beslan to insist on a duel. Grianne’s delicate hands found Beslan’s face and turned it back towards her. Even though she was smiling Raimund could feel her anger, anger directed at him. He had not heared the last of this. “Do not mind him, Raimund is just a little grouchy today. Tomorrow you will find him much more amusing. I am sure the Tower would gladly welcome you. As to what you were saying, yes our Warders are quite capable. They are however only human. They make mistakes just like any other soldier.” Raimund almost flinched at how she accentuated the words mistake and soldier. Beslan eased his muscles and the smile returned to his face. “I am not offended. How could I be? On a day as exciting as this. I must confess that my mother did not send me. She was going to send one of our captains but when I heared an Aes Sedai had arrived I could not pass up the opportunity to meet you in private.” Grianne’s laugh was perfect. Raimund almost believed she was generally amused, but he knew she was not, or at least not as amused as she pretended to be. He had been travelling with her for a few months now and he had seen her play the uncertain young woman to win someone’s trust and the age-old Aes Sedai to remind people of their place. Aes Sedai might not be able to lie but they could conceal and twist the truth better than a merchant selling the Horn of Valere. Grianne was especially good at it, that was probably why she had chosen the blue Ajah. Politics, intrigue, espionage,... She made it look like child’s play. And Raimund didn’t understand any of it. The subtleties of a conversation at court were lost on him. He had quickly learned that the best thing he could do was stand back, be quiet en let Grianne work.
Their group reached the city gates and started to make their way to the Tarasin Palace. The people on the street made Raimund nervous, all of them were armed even the women. Women in Altara carried “marriage knives” with which to defend their honor. By the patterns and jewels on the knives one could tell if the woman in question was married, if she had children and so on. Raimund didn’t know the meaning of the different patterns however so they all looked excessive and exotic. He moved closer to Grianne but she ignored him and picked up her pase to create a greater distance between them. Beslan ignored him as well but his smile only grew wider as he noticed Grianne’s reaction. Raimund sighed. “All part of the game I hope.”
Raimund was furious. For the last three hours he had been passing in the room he and Grianne shared. Things had moved fast after they had arrived at the palace. Beslan had brought them before his mother, Queen Tylin Quintara. Grianne had talked to the queen and the prince while Raimund was waiting on the other side of the throne room. Normally he stayed close to Grianne but he must have really made her angry because she ordered him to stay near the entrance of the hall. The meeting had ended with prince Beslan saying loud enough so Raimund could hear: “Very well Grianne Sedai, I will leave you be for now and we will see each other again for dinner.” Grianne and he were then escorted to their rooms and as usual Raimund had insisted on 1 shared room. Strangely enough Grianne had not objected. Normally she refused, saying that she would be able to see any assasination coming leagues away, but not this time. That had only made her next announcement so much worse. “I will be dining with prince Beslan in his quarters tonight, alone. He is the crown-prince and I am sure his guards are more than capable of guaranteeing my safety for one evening. He is quite taken with me and he knows the city like no other, this will be an excellent opportunity for me to get some information.” Of course Raimund had protested, but her answer had been clear. “You will not accompany me this evening gaidin, do not force me to make this an order. Besides…. I have another mission for you.” This had softened raimund reaction a bit, until he heared what she was talking about. “You will dine with Queen Tylin herself. She seems to be very curious about Warders and their, ...ahem, capabilities. And you will behave yourself and do as she wishes, it is important to keep her on our side.” Resisting her had been futile, so he had accepted her orders. She had picked out the clothes he had to wear to the dinner with the queen personally and had even surprised him with a present, a new sword. His old sword had been the one he had received from the quartermaster at Tar Valon when they had set out on their mission, a good hand-and-a-half sword but nothing special. The sword she had given him was clearly not made by the Tower. It was decorated all over and had a large bleu sapphire on the end of the hilt. For a moment Raimund feared the jewel would offset the weapon’s balance but as he weighed it in his hands he could feel the blade was more than just an ornamental weapon. His new sword would be just as deadly as his old one. Grianne’s words had made him think however. “You can’t go visit a queen with that butcher’s blade now can you? That is why I had this made for you.” He wondered where she had the blade made and how she had gotten it here because he knew for certain that she hadn’t carried it around. It also made him wonder if this dinner was entirely the queen’s idea if Grianne had planned it weeks ago. Oh he was certain the queen would think so but what had Grianne told her, His dinner with the queen had been uncomfortable. She insisted that he call her Tylin and all through dinner she had stared at him. Tylin Quintara was a beautiful woman. Her beauty was that of a mature and confident woman who knows what she wants and is used to getting it. Like her son she had long black hair with only a few grey ones. The grey hairs seemed to be there on purpose, to accentuate her wisdom. Her eyes were also very dark and in them Raimund could see a gleam of mischief like he had already seen that day. The worst part of the evening had been when Tylin had asked him for a demonstration of his skills. He had performed a couple of sword-forms but the queen wanted more. Before he knew it Tylin had him protecting her from servants who had to throw all kinds of fruit at her. Each time a piece of fruit or drop of sap got through and made a stain on her expensive silk dress she would wink at Raimund and tell him that it was indecent for a queen to walk around in a filthy dress so she would have to take it off. When all the fruit was gone the servants left and Raimund had made an excuse to leave as well. He wanted to get back to his room before he had to find out if Tylin was playing with him or if she meant what she had said. Her words had been stuck in his head all the way back to his room. “You may leave Warder. I had fun tonight, although the night ends a bit too early for my tastes. I understand that Grianne Sedai is planning to stay with us for a while so we can spend some more time together. I have heard wonderful things about your kind and I intend to find out if all of them are true. Goodnight.”