Elijah was awakened by someone kicking his feet. He was awake in a moment, his belt knife gripped in one fist. The men had taken to awakening him by that method after the last time Elijah found someone bending over him when he woke, when he responded by throwing his would-be rouser to the ground and nearly slitting the man's throat before the poor fellow could explain.
It was Varnir, Elijah's technical "commander". He was a Tar Valon regular, but only a Bannerman, and by the look of him, he was new to that rank. He had been in charge when Elijah and his crew straggled in, and had at first been reluctant to let such a motley band into the town. Elijah didn't blame him...while they were plainly not Aiel, they looked like as murderous a band of villains as existed, and could have easily been bandits looking to loot the town. He had taken a bit of persuading, and only the fact that so many of Elijah's men were wounded had eventually convinced him to open the gates. Once inside, Varnir had made an attempt at command, but within an hour Elijah was pretty much running things. Nobody paid too much attention to Varnir except for a couple of other fuzz-cheeked boys in white-flame tabards and the civilians of the town, those that were left. Most had evacuated back into the city itself.
"Master Hawke?" Varnir asked nervously. It had taken about fifteen minutes to go from "soldier" to "Elijah", and about another twenty for that to become "Master Hawke". Lije supposed he was lucky the man didn't call him "Captain" or some such nonsense.
"Master Hawke?" He repeated. "Um, there are visitors. From Tar Valon, I mean. They, er...they're Aes Sedai."
"Let me guess," Lije said groggily, fumbling for his boots. "There aren't any regulations about welcoming Aes Sedai."
Varnir flushed, but didn't rise to the bait. "I thought you might wish to meet them with me. Since you are, well, the de facto leader of most of the Coalition troops." Took guts to admit that.
Lije's respect for the man increased by a sliver.
"All right, then, Varnir...lead the way." Elijah grabbed his weapons belt as he rose. He didn't bother with the mail...it was rent in a trio of places. He doubted it would save him from an Aiel spear thrust. A few moments later they were out into the crisp, bitter midwinter air.
As they walked, Varnir shouted orders--some actually making sense--at any armed man he saw, and kept up a steady chatter about the state of the town, and when they could expect reinforcements. Elijah didn't bother stating the obvious: the Tower was not heavily garrisoning the bridge towns. They were too hard to hold. If Aiel did breach them, they would still have to cross the bridge, and Tower Archers would make that a killing ground...and that was assuming Aes Sedai didn't find some loophole about using the Power as a weapon. Even Aiel couldn't be so foolish...or could they? The difference between brilliance and foolishness was very slim. It was usually measured by victory.
That said, even with the poor state of their garrison, Elijah wasn't sure the town couldn't be held, even against Aiel. They were not skilled at siegecraft, that he'd heard, and the town walls were in good repair. He doubted they'd keep Aiel out, if they wanted to come in, but they should at least slow them to the point where they could be killed. Night would be trickiest.First things first
. Aes Sedai.
There were two, he saw, as they approached...well, two Aes Sedai anyway. There were a trio of men, disparate in every way but one...the deadly way they moved, that might as well have been a sign around their necks marked "Warder". And there was another woman, little more than a girl...pretty, fresh-faced, but with a surly look. Lije took her for a servant.
One of the two Sisters was stern-faced, tall, her ash-streaked hair drawn back in a severe bun, and all three men loitered near her like hunting hounds. Lije felt sure she was the leader, but it was the other that stepped forward. A small, slight woman, with thick reddish hair and pretty but sharp features. She looked like a fox...sly and attractive, but ready to savage something.
"You are the commander?" She said, but the way her eyes moved it was clear she was not certain which man she was addressing. But to Lije's thought, they clearly lingered on him. They were...appraising. He hadn't had such a feeling of being weighed and measured since he'd left Arad Doman; Domani merchants had always looked at him that way. Even Belena...but with her he hadn't minded.
"I..." Varnir cleared his throat. "I am Varnir Halloran, Bannerman of the Tar Valon Guards, in command of this bridge town. This is Elijah Hawke, an underofficer in the Coalition army. He brought some men in recently, and has been assisting me in overseeing the defense."
"Really?" The woman was staring at him now. Elijah was not easily unnerved, but she was
Aes Sedai. Could Aes Sedai read minds? He didn't think so, but there were so many rumors... "Thank you, Bannerman Halloran, but I think you should see to your men. Master Hawke--or is it Captain Hawke?"
"Master will be fine. I don't know what rank I am anymore." Elijah said shortly.
"Really? I think Master Hawke can help me with what needs seeing to." As Varnir saluted and turned, she added, almost as an afterthought. "I think for the time being, though, you'd best take your orders from Master Hawke, rather than vice versa. I'm promoting him to acting Captain." Her eyes flashed back to Elijah's. Green eyes, and very sharp. "If that suits you, Master Hawke?"
Elijah didn't need to see Varnir's face to feel the heat that must be reddening it. "As you think best, Aes Sedai," he said, curtly but politely. I thought you a fool, Varnir, but I never meant to shame you.
"Captain Hawke, then. Splendid. You are dismissed, Bannerman." Elijah's glance saw Varnir's iron-faced salute, and then the other man was gone. His attention turned back to the Aes Sedai as she spoke. "I am Bresha Maconnel, Captain. This is Galeana Wyndham, and her Warders." The Warders were not introduced, Elijah noted. "Another of our Sisters is here as well." Elijah thought he deteced some actual emotion there...was he mistaken, or was that amusement in her voice? "We are here to see to it the Aiel do not get anywhere near Tar Valon. If you wish to be helpful, do as we say, and keep out of our way. We in turn will assist you as best we can. Is this...agreeable?" Now her voice sounded almost playful. What sort of woman is this?
"Our goals seem to correspond. I'll give you what assistance I can." Elijah kept his voice neutral. That much seemed safe enough.
"Excellent. Galeana, you'll probably want to see to the walls. I'll leave you to it. If you'll come with me, Captain?" She glided out the door without looking back. He saw little point except to trail her.
As they walked, she asked questions about the status of the men, their food and health, their equipment, and how he had placed them. She seemed knowledgable enough about military matters, he conceded grudgingly. If she was Green Ajah--and that seemed likely--she had probably seen more than one battlefield. He kept his answers short and to the point, and while they were mostly bad news, she seemed to take them with nonchalance. From anyone else he would have taken her manner as overconfidence...from an Aes Sedai, it was merely arrogance, but possibly justified.
They arrived at the building he had turned into an infirmary, and Bresha called to someone named Karishyn. The girl from earlier? Or was this the third Sister she had alluded to?
As it happened, she was both. Lije had known very few Aes Sedai in his days, but he couldn't imagine anyone talking to one the way Bresha talked to Karishyn. He supposed while everyone else treated Aes Sedai like demigods, they must have some sort of heirarchy amongst themselves. He had just always supposed it to be more of a...precedence among equals, perhaps. But then, he supposed it could have something to do with Karishyn's youth...she scarcely looked old enough to be Aes Sedai. If Bresha hadn't named her one, he would have doubted.
Before long, Elijah was leading the young Aes Sedai towards the smithy. The very irritated
Aes Sedai, he was fairly sure. Lije himself resolved firmly to keep out of whatever power plays seemed to be at work among the Sisters. He needed no Aes Sedai troubles. He had plenty on his plate already.
Once there, he began showing her some of the pieces of armor that needed work...there was no proper smith, and while Benji had been a decent farrier, watching him try to repair a breastplate was almost painful. As Karishyn looked it over, he asked her, "I'll admit to not knowing much about Aes Sedai work. Aren't you forbidden to make weapons?"
"Yes," she said, fingering a hole in a mail-shirt made by an Aiel arrow. "But armor is not weapons, now is it? While we are forbidden to make weapons for men to kill each other, you might say making--or fixing--things that are designed to prevent such killing is not at all against our Oaths." With that, she seemed to grip the mail tightly...but that was all the outward effort he saw. He watched with widening eyes as the steel seemed to flow
, rings re-forming themselves. In a moment or two, the holes were gone.
"How?...How does that work?" he asked, reaching out to touch the place where it had been pierced.
"I can't make the metal...you can't see it unless you look close, but those rings are slightly thinner. I have to 'steal', as it were, metal from elsewhere in the shirt to make up the new rings." She seemed a little embarrassed by his awe. "It's just a trick, really...if you know how, it's not as hard as a blacksmith works to do it."
"Aye...you don't seem to have sweated a bit."
"Oh, it's not that it doesn't take effort," she said quickly. "Channeling wearies you. But I meant...I don't have to know as much as a smith. It takes a long time, I expect, to learn to forge good mail...but once I know what I want done, I don't need to necessarily know how
the Power does it. I make the Weave, and the Power makes the metal obey me."
He watched as she made more repairs, smoothing dents out of breastplates and helms by passing her hand over them, knitting up torn mail more easily than a farmwife would have mended a ripped garment. In half an hour she had done more than Benji could have done if he'd worked a week. But he could see, now, the effort it had taken her...there were drops of sweat on her brow, and she looked slightly wearier than before. As though she had just marched a few hours. Lije had no real sympathy, though...he and all his men had been through worse. That sleep he'd been wakened from--a few snatched hours--had been his first in nearly two days.
"Would that your Sister can patch up my men as easily as you patched their armor," he said gruffly. And then had to hide his surprise when she glared at him, anger at that statement plain in her eyes.