From the highest window in the White Tower, the city appeared insignificant in the vast landscape, a merely shimmering bauble dropped into the Erinin to shine in the late afternoon light. Nariko had never been this far up in the Tower before, and the view dizzied her senses. And yet, despite the vertiginous tickle in the pit of her stomach, she felt calm standing there. The other woman in the room ceased to exist for a moment of quiet respite for the Blue sister. The center of the storm
, was all she could think for that moment. The Tower is the center of the growing storm. It will break here, and the Tower must stand strong against it.
A hand fell on her shoulder. She turned her head to find Keiji there, supporting her. If she said yes to this, it would commit him to this cause, too. A ghost of a smile flitted under his moustache, a familiar expression that said he somewhat enjoyed her, and by extension his own, precarious position. If this was what she wanted, he would walk happily behind her, his sword and fists her shield to the world.
Her eyes slid back towards the window, drifting across the mass of humanity below her. If she chose this thing, it would be for them though they would never know or care. Her last mission had seen her in Illian, where the people had tried to stone her after learning she was Aes Sedai. They hadn't cared that she had effectively removed a tyrannical plantation owner who treated his workers little better than slaves. It made no difference to them that she and Keiji had put themselves in harm's way for them. All that mattered was their fear and ignorance, the Dragon's fang scrawled on their inn's doors, the hurtled curses and screams as they fled on horseback. She didn't regret her decisions to aid those people, and she didn't do it for thanks. But it stung to think no one outside these walls cared that she cared.
Slowly, she turned to face Cordelia. The woman hadn't moved a muscle since Nariko had gone to the window five minutes ago. Her blue eyes gave nothing away. Licking her own lips, Nariko asked, "Why me, Mother? Surely there are other women better suited for this job."
The Amyrlin Seat lifted a frosty eyebrow. "You doubt my judgement, daughter?"
A blush rose in the Blue sister's cheeks. "No, Mother, I only meant...My Talents are meager and my strength is far from exceptional. I would think you'd want the strongest sisters on your team. I was lucky to be allowed to test for the shawl."
"Nariko, what I need is not skill with the One Power, although it is certainly useful. You have other skills that can be utelized for the Tower. Is that not how you work successfully anyway?" She waved over to her desk, where reports were stacked neatly on its surface. "I have read over every one of your field ledgers. You have learned effectiveness without relying overly much on saidar
. Have you no idea the use in that?"
Nariko smiled faintly. "You have a point, Mother."
Cordelia sniffed. "Of course I do. You know the laws of some of these countries better than tenured Grays, and you know the back way around those laws, as well. Don't," she warned, with a raised hand and a glare, "bother denying or defending it. Such workarounds also have their uses." She shifted her gaze from Nariko to her Warder. "And you, Master Mingon? Aside from your own skills as a master weapon, are you willing to follow your Aes Sedai in this endevour? I understand a number of your countrymen have understandible enmity towards the White Tower, and will understand if you must deviate from your promised course here."
Keiji rose to his full height before bowing. Nariko could sense the amusement bubbling beneath his smooth expression, and she knew what he was thinking. She recalled her own similar questions to him, the night he'd come to assassinate her."Are you only a lapdog for your master, Keiji Mingon, or do you answer to yourself?" Nariko remained seated calmly, as if a hulking Malkieri had not broken into her room and held a sword to her throat. "Have you sufficient reason to kill me here, in cold blood, simply because your master tells you it must be so?"
His black eyes had narrowed in anger. "You do not know me, Lady, though you've seen me perform. Do not presume otherwise."
She shrugged. "Oh, but I do presume otherwise. You have great skill in the ring where you beat on men younger and more foolish than you. The people here in Kandor pay good coin to see your show. And I cannot deny your skills with your hands and feet. But if you think that I am unaware of your skills with your sword," her eyes flicked briefly to the steel held to her neck before returning her cool gaze to his, "then you must think I
am a fool. I have been watching you for nearly a month as you go about Soren Dosariev's dirty work. Does he pay you well for it, Keiji, or is it your mother's safety he buys your services with?"
"How dare you bring my mother into this! You've no idea what she has suffered."
"That her husband died so she and her ten-year old son might escape a dying country? That she did what she had to with no money and no protection? I had a long talk with Edelyn not long after I arrived here, Keiji. She is not happy that you're her husband's enforcer. I believe that, if you are amenable, an arrangement can be made with your step-father."
With a flick of her wrist, his sword flew from his hand and skittered across the floor. Before Keiji could react, he was lifted off his feet and pressed up against the wall. Nariko rose from her kneeling position, smoothed her skirts, and glided to where he hung. "I can offer you a way out, Master Mingon. You can choose to decline, and I will respect that decision. Tar Valon did not do enough to aid Malkier before her fall, and if you want nothing to do with Aes Sedai, I understand. But if you are willing to pick up your sword and guard my back, I can guarantee your mother's well-being."
His expression made heartstone appear soft. "In exchange for what? My sword, my life - I understand these things. But an Aes Sedai would not go through all this subterfuge just for a sword she could find in any city along the Blightborder. What is it you want from me?"
Nariko smiled up at him. "For one, you're smart enough to know it's more than steel I want. Two, I genuinely want to help you, Keiji. What Soren has forced you into is unacceptable. I give you a choice to fight rather than the demand, and I will always hope you will ask if you no longer wish it."
"And," she added with a laugh, pleased at his cleverness, "three, I want your contacts. Not just the ones here in Kandor - they're mostly harmless. No, I wanted Soren's partners in Arad Doman, Tarabon, anywhere else he does business. As a trader, he's bound to be connected to the wrong people in other countries as well as his own."
Keiji closed his eyes for a moment, lost in thought. Then a smile spread across his face, the peaceful expression of a man on his way to the gallows having made things right with his conscience. "Very well, Lady Muraco. I will join your cause. Can I get down now?"
"I live to serve," the Warder replied, still bowed. "Where Nariko goes, I follow." When he straightened, that same smile played on his lips. This time, though, Nariko suspected it was because she was the one being dangled in the air and not him.
Nariko chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip, considering. "Will I still be able to continue with my own cause, Mother? If I see a situation that needs rectifying, I want permission to handle it."
"Yes, daughter, what you seek with your need for justice will, I suspect, cross often with what I need from you."
The Blue took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "Very well, Mother. We will join you." Off in the distance, she heard the faint rumble of thunder. Yes, the storm was coming, and she would be caught up in it. She would do everything in her power to keep it from crashing against the Shining Walls for as long as she could.