The Other Side of the Wheel

Chapter Five: Cats and Mice

"Shall I tell you the tales of Jedar Blackcoat, or of the Rose with Thorns? Shall I tell you of Jarim Knifehand and the lesson he taught to thieves?" The gleeman posed flamboyantly, flourishing his rainbow cloak. "Shall I tell you of Andarel the Harper King, who (so it's said) began as a mere gleeman like myself?" He waited for the half-drunk cheers to die down. "What shall I tell you tonight, my lords and ladies? Your wish is my command."

Rayan shared a smile with Kyana as people started calling out stories. In the firelit inn, with talk and music surrounding them, thoughts of Aes Sedai or False Dragons seemed remote. No one was going to come chasing them here.

"Every gleeman thinks himself a king," Kyana whispered. "My father used to say that. This one seems to agree."

"He doesn't look much like one, though." Other than his cloak and booming voice, the man looked no different from any of the customers. He was swaying slightly, too; Rayan suspected he had drunk a fair bit from the tankard at his side.

"Gleemen have to have imagination."

Rayan chuckled. Abruptly the gleeman stopped, still swaying, peering around as if he was trying to see something. "No," he boomed out. 'That is a common tale. Not fit for such exalted ears..." He looked around again, seeming confused at the many interested faces that looked back at him. "No. I have a better story." He reached out for his tankard and, after missing it the first time, drained it. "A better story!" he intoned. "I shall tell you of the Breaking. Of how the Dragon in her madness slew all she held dear - "

Kyana jerked back in her seat, all the colour draining from her face.

Rayan swore. He was not the only one; other customers were protesting, complaints of bad taste drowning out the gleeman. Not surprising. He took her arm, half-turning her away from the crowd. "He's drunk. Kyana, listen to me, the man is drunk, no more."

"I'm not mad!" she hissed. "I'm not!"

"I know you're not mad!" Although he was no longer so sure, seeing her glare greenly at him. The gleeman was slumped in his chair, snoring. "As far as everyone else here knows it's just a bad story to tell. For the Light's sake don't show it's anything more to you."

She seemed to force herself to relax. "I'm sorry. Can we move seats? It's so stuffy here."

It was, a little, but he knew that wasn't the reason. "There's an empty table right over by the window." He guided her over. Well away from the fire, it was largely in shadow. "Better?"

"Much better." She leaned back in the new seat, closing her eyes. "Rayan, is it raining outside?"

Puzzled, he opened the shutter a crack to look. "Yes. A storm, in fact. Why?"

"I knew there'd be a storm." Her voice was almost too soft to hear. He started to ask why again.

The door opened for more customers, a man and woman in dripping cloaks. From his seat in the shadows Rayan saw nothing unusual about them at first. Then he noticed the sword worn by the woman and the deferential bow the innkeeper offered the man.

He shifted as casually as he could, moving to block Kyana from view. Throwing a glance over his shoulder, he saw the pair clearly lit by the fire; the woman dark-haired and pretty, the man short, stocky, ugly, but with a gleam of gold on his right hand.

"Have you seen them before?" he whispered, turning back to her.

"He was one of Shanis Vayar's guards." Kyana sat very still, only her eyes moving to follow the couple. "He can't see me, I think - they've gone upstairs."

He relaxed. "They must be here for something else. Probably just to get out of the rain." The room was filling up. "The same as everyone else. I should settle our rooms now, if we're going to get more than a pallet on the floor here."

She shook her head. "Don't."

"Why? Cost isn't a problem," he added, quickly. "I have the money. You can pay me back whenever you like."

"Rayan, I don't want to be in a room alone."

Dreams, she'd said. The kind of dreams you wished for someone to wake you from. "A pallet in here sounds fine to me."

The evening wore on, and the fire died to embers, and to Rayan's intense relief, the Aes Sedai and his Warder did not reappear. Customers stopped coming in, and started drifting out to their rooms or wherever they had found a space to sleep. In the end only they, the still-snoring gleeman and another girl were left in the common room.

She looked over at them and grinned wryly. "Should we wake the gleeman, do you think, or just put a peg on his nose?"

"Gag him," Rayan suggested, going to help her set out the pallets. She was petite and boyishly slim, silky dark hair cropped short over her ears. "Or just leave him. We're not going to sleep much on the floor anyway."

She sighed. "True. Is your friend sick?"

He glanced hastily over at Kyana, but she was only pale, her eyes half-closed. "She's tired, that's all. Nothing more than that. She's called Kyana," he added, changing the subject. "I'm Rayan."

"Miriane. But everyone calls me Mira."

The door rattled, and they both jumped.

"Definitely no sleep," Mira said after a moment. She frowned. "Was that just the wind, or is there someone out there?"

The door rattled again, more insistently.

"It is someone." Rayan started toward the door.

"It's locked. I'll wake the innkeeper - " Mira stopped as the handle turned with a screech. "It was locked," she muttered, looking bewildered. "I saw her lock - " She cut off again as the door swung open, so hard it slammed against the wall.

The man who strode through was tall and hard-faced, wrapped seemingly in a cloak of shadows. No, that was fancy. His cloak was only cloth, dark certainly but not... Rayan blinked, but his vision did not change. Mira hissed a soft oath; she had seen the same thing he had.

The stranger's cloak was dry. He had walked in from a raging storm; rain like sleet blew in the open doorway, and not a drop of it touched him.

"So." His eyes swept past Rayan and Mira as if they were not there, and landed on Kyana. There was an odd quality to his speech, as if the language itself was new to him. "I am the first, I see."

Kyana stared back at him as though trying to work out a puzzle. There was a brief flicker of recognition in her eyes, gone as quickly. "I do not know you," she said slowly. "What do you want with me?"

"Do you not?" The man smiled, amused. He was not an Aes Sedai, Rayan thought; there was no ring on his hand, and his face did not have the look. But there was no doubt he could channel. "It was many years ago that we met, little one, but you had very different words then. No matter. It will be easier for you if you never know."

"Know what?" a voice said from the stairs. Rayan turned slowly to look.

"Ah," the man said, as he too turned. "I half-expected you. But this Age makes poor excuses for Aes Sedai."

This Age? His tone held a contempt that was almost as inexplicable. But - This Age?

"I am Fergas na Manoc of the Gray." If the Aes Sedai was either angry or afraid, he showed no sign of it. "Your name I do not know. But although I have forgotten a great deal of what my teacher told me, I believe I can narrow it down to one in thirteen. No, in eight. Must I continue guessing?"

Thirteen? There were thirteen Forsaken. Eight were men - No, that's absurd!

"So you have courage, if little else," the man said calmly. "I am Daimon."

Rayan's heart clogged his throat. The Dark One and all the Forsaken are sealed in Shayol Ghul, sealed - Ah, sweet Light! No one would claim that if it wasn't true! He was only half conscious of moving, lunging toward the black-cloaked form. If he could distract the Forsaken...

The air cracked like a whip. Something unseen caught him and hurled him back, his head hitting the wall with a thud. His vision blurred; for a moment two Forsaken confronted two Aes Sedai, two sword-bearing women crouched poised to leap.

"No, Marya," Fergas growled. "This is my fight."

The Warder did not leap, but nor did she move from that battle-ready crouch. Her eyes flicked back and forth between the men, waiting her moment.

"Fight, then." Daimon sounded almost bored.

Rayan struggled to sit up. To stand. His sight still blurred, but he managed, leaning against the wall. Daimon and Fergas stared at each other, eyes locked. He stumbled away from them, toward the two girls.

Mira was pressed against the door. He did not remember it closing. Kyana, seeming lost in a dream, had not moved from her seat.

"We have to get out." His whisper was hoarse. "Light, we have to warn somebody!"

"The bloody door won't open." Mira's voice was flat. She too was fighting back terror. "Nor will the windows. I tried."

Rayan forced himself to breathe deeply. Behind him was only silence. "Kyana! Kyana, can you do something?" He ignored Mira's bewilderment, reaching out to shake her shoulder. "Kyana!"

Her eyes focused. "I don't know how."

We're going to die here. He did not realise he spoke aloud until he was answered.

"Yes. You are."

He turned slowly, dreading what he knew he would see. Marya lay unconscious, her hand still wrapped around the hilt of her sword. Fergas was collapsed at the foot of the stairs. His face was white. He did not look as if if he was breathing.

"He was not such a poor opponent," Daimon said, "for these times." Dismissing the battle, the Forsaken regarded Kyana. "You have always attracted defenders. But these two children are of no use."

"Leave them alone." Kyana had risen to her feet, her face pale, but her voice steady. "Leave me alone! What do you want with me?"

It was many years ago that we met... Words circled in Rayan's mind, repeating and changing.

"Sooner or later you will find out. I grow tired of this." He took a step forward, and Kyana lifted a hand as if to ward him off. "Do you expect that to do any good?"

I'm not mad! I'm not!

"Leave me alone!"

I shall tell you of the Breaking. Of the Dragon in her madness...

"I think not. Come, this is pointless - " Daimon took another step forward.

Sweet Light preserve us all.

"Leave me alone!" And white fire blazed from Kyana's hands, fire hotter and fiercer than any blacksmith's forge. Fire like molten light.

Reality - jolted.

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