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The Darkest Hour (Jaem!)
Fri Oct 27, 2006 09:32 (XFF:

The Atha'an Miere said the darkest hour was just before dawn.

If that were true, Akadias calculated, then it had been pitch midnight for years in his life, and there was still no bright ray of sunlight. There was work: he'd been called away to palaces, counseled lords, kings, and regents, but there had been no dawn. He'd arrived at the White Tower only the day before, but already, Aksana was back to her old tricks - no gaining honor in her sights - and now, as he sat on the end of Northharbor's long, natural jetty, one long boot in his large, callused hand, he let out a bewildered sigh. This life was not what he had wanted.

Truth be told - and how it must - he had no idea what he'd ever wanted. Perhaps his seven years in Novice whites should not have ended: he was as conflicted now as he had been then, cutting his classes to sit on the broad, sunny sills of the Great Hall's windows and sketch the skeletons of a beautiful city. Had he really blamed his own advanced age for that? He was no longer a novice of five and twenty: he was a full Aes Sedai, and nearly forty two. Why did he keep going - and where was he going to end up? Not even he knew, and the Father of Storms, but he hated to wander aimlessly. Direction had spurred him forward, but now it had deserted him, and that was just the least of his troubles.

He'd always hated having an adversary without a face, whose shadowed hand moved pieces to stand in his way - hated it more when he had no idea where he was going, or why. Ah, how Akadias hated to wonder: hadn't he become Aes Sedai to have, at last, things made clear to him? All he was certain of now was that nothing was certain! Suppressing a soft curse, the rangy Sea Folk man regained his footing, fitting the last-molded boot on. His sleepless night, at least, followed that old adage: the darkest hour had ended in dawn. Why not so his life? When did that sunrise come? Troubled, he bunched wide shoulders into his grey cloak, drew the hood over his tattooed and scarred dark face.

He didn't encounter a mirror until he shouldered his way through the Great Hall, standing head and shoulders over the petitioners come to beg boons of the Amyrlin Seat. Yesterday he had ruled the novices here with his usual lax fist, one of a dozen Aes Sedai kept waiting for the unexpected nobleman, messenger, or royalty come to the Tower. The only arrivals of note had been Aes Sedai, though, drifting through the hall like smoke, barely recognized - how years had changed the faces he knew - and then dissipated, like the memories he'd had of his twelve years of servitude.

It had all seemed so important then, somehow. Now, he barely remembered the boy who'd stormed off across Shienar to follow his nose, or the man who'd returned and unknowingly kidnapped a Keeper. Nor did he recall with much clarity his brief, stormy tryst with his first cousin, but he would never forget his first sight of the Tower. A reaching white finger, it had seemed to beckon and promise salvation, a fresh start, a clean life. It had lied. While Akadias believed there was a truth beneath every seducing lie, he'd never really figured out why the Tower had kept him. Certainly he was the only Sniffer he knew of, but the Tower had had others over the years and likely, they were coming out of the very woodwork now. And he was definitely the first surviving male Atha'an Miere to hold the sash, but what was the joy in that? There would be no others: the Sea Folk had counseled and now kept their own.

Here he was, the extraordinary: skin darker than blueberry tea with cream, eyes like river tar. A hooked scar elongated his smile now: a souvenir from the Training Yards and some Accepted foolery. The ghosts of past piercing marred his nose, leaving thick pads of keratin behind. He wore none of that jewelry now: the heavy gold had financed his purchase of a ship, the one thing that eased the pain of being unique. He had a taste of home, but that was all, and precious little at that: he had not even had his feet on Spirit's narrow decks for more than two years. He straightened from the mirror, hung at a woman's height, and not his own. Only in his own quarters could he relax - he was almost as tall as a young Ogier, if nowhere near as broad, and the Tower remained sized for women, even though male faces peppered the Servants of All like misplaced spice tossed into a saltpot.

What had it been that Aksana had demanded of him? Head down, ignorant of the curtsies that spread white and banded skirts as he passed, Akadias took the wide steps two at a time, his cloak flapping in the wind he created. Hadn't it had to do with a Novice? He was used to such menial tasks from the woman: she refused to count him as a useful Brother. She said he was headstrong, wrapped in himself, and proud: he could not explain that none of it was true. She didn't listen, for one thing, and for the other, he lacked the basic eloquence to admit to her that he had no idea what she expected of him. He was a diplomat in the blood, a cultural encyclopedia, but to her, he supposed he'd never be a Grey. Yet, she had welcomed him herself. The paradox spiraled on.

Yes, it had been something about a Novice, he decided, eyeing the narrow halls and tight confines of the Novice warrens. Somewhere in these halls, probably still asleep and unaware of what was to happen, a freshly recruited male Novice slept uneasily on a bed sized for a girl. He'd hated that bed: it was either sleep curled or wake with cramps in his legs. Absently, he thumbed through a yellowed sheaf of room directions, first reading the fresh ink at the back. Jaem, that was the boy's name - but Akadias was willing to bet there was very little boy left in the raw clay that the Tower had taken. The true boys left for the never-never Soldier fairyland that the Black Tower offered: learn to kill, learn to plunder, be a pirate king. It had never appealed to Akadias.

His knock sounded, loud to his own ears in the soft, unbroken silence of the sleeping Novice gallery.

    • Wonders and TrepidationsNovice Jaem Harlon, Thu Nov 2 07:21
      True to Doreen Sedaiís prediction it had taken the better part of the next day for the young borderlander to take in his first sight of the Shining Walls. Oh he had heard of them, no one who lived on ... more
      • Tea and SympathyAkadias din Starwind, Wed Nov 8 19:15
        "One's first lesson," Akadias said, allowing the humor of the situation into his voice, "speak when spoken to." The remembered intonations of a long-ago Mistress of Novices crept into his voice as he ... more
        • Terms over TeaJaem Harllon, Tue Jan 9 14:55
          The boy kept silent, but he absorbed what he heard in that silence as he followed his guide through the foreign halls of the White Tower. The savory aromas from the kitchen served as a potent... more
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