Cinderella?! We SHALL go to the ball!
Thu Oct 5, 2006 06:43 (XFF:

Ardan stood stock still before Novice Adem, trying his hardest to overcome his incredulity at the scene that was unfolding before him and to hide it behind an unreadable mask, such as the kind that would benefit any Gaidin. The corridor before them was only ten paces long if that and it tapered outwards as if it were a sentient being inviting them into the hall. The music was soft; for a slow, elegant dance, the tune tinged with a hint of melancholy. It reminded Ardan of an old bitter soldier that he had once met in a tavern common room, who was all tall tales of war and heroism, who regaled and reminisced, mourned fallen comrades by raising a glass to them, a hint of sadness glittering in his eye. Very nearly masked behind his old pride and foolish bravado.

He was brought back to reality by the gentle grip of Novice Adem’s hand on his arm. He spun to meet the novice, a sudden flash of anger quickly suppressed. Adem had done nothing to offend him, so why should the little man be the one to bear the brunt of Ardan’s shockingly new found anger? Still, when he spoke to the Novice, his words were snapped off and quickly spoken.

“What is it?” he frowned as he spoke, although he chastised himself for such a disrespectful and disgraceful manner.
“I am sorry Novice, I was lost within myself. I did not mean to snap at you so.”

The little man nodded at him, and raised his eyes to meet Ardan’s. There was something there, a wondering, a blazing curiosity that he had seen a thousand times before in people who wanted to know something, to ask something of you. He braced himself for the question that he had been waiting for, but hoping wouldn’t come.
“In the other room,” the novice began slowly, with a careful tone. “You mentioned a name. Shoni. She was someone to you? Someone close?” Ardan could tell that Adem was being tentative in his manner, cautious in his approach, hoping not to offend the big man, and his features softened.

“I love her” he said without a second thought. As soon as they came out, he wished he could take them back, but it was too late. He had never before spoken the words, only ever thought them to himself, and they sounded strange, almost foreign as they rolled from his tongue.
When the little man looked at him, for further explanation, Ardan sighed more heavily than he had meant to, and his shoulders sagged, for the briefest of moments before he could stop himself, and re-assert his ever-vigilant pose.
“Truth be told, I last saw her when I was just a boy. I was -am- a ‘noble’ of Mayene” he scoffed as he growled out the words. “A prison of nobility, and not a life that I would choose for myself, not press upon anyone else. One day I managed to escape into the city, and there I met a girl, a poor girl who has nothing in the way of possessions. I wondered how a person could let themselves fall so far, to disgrace themselves so much. But as I got to know her, she showed me the true value of her worth.” a small, ghostly smile flickered across his face as he remembered that one, beautiful day he had spent with her, walking through the streets of the city, talking endlessly for hours, about nothing and everything. Dreams, hopes, and futures they wished for themselves, but the futures that would realistically take them. “She was everything I was not, and a better person for it. Unknowingly, she taught me more of life in those few hours than my parents ever could.”
He told the story of how he was found by his parents ’bodyguards’ and taken back to their estates, and how from that day on he was never allowed unsupervised outings into the city, and how he vowed to be her knight in shining armour, learning all he could of horsemanship, archery, lance mastery, of swordsmanship and combat, so that one day, when he had the skills, he could escape his prison of nobility and become her knight.

“And so; when she was taken to the White Tower for training, I followed her here. Unfortunately though, I met with a few ’accidents’ along the way. However, I will succeed in this training, and I will be her Warder. It is the next step, and; the light willing, I will not fail.”
’I will not fail, even if the light does not will’ he thought grimly to himself, and then noticed something in Novice Adem that brought him snapping back to attention, capturing every moment of the young Novice’s movements.
When he had mentioned the White Tower in association with Shoni, a flicker of knowing, of understanding, seemed to pass in Adem. As though he had suddenly pieced together some important pieces of a puzzle that Ardan could not see. Of course it was possible that Adem knew of Shoni if she was a Novice here also, but Ardan decided not to press the matter, better not to get into this right now. And anyway, they had spent far too much time talking, when they should be dealing with the matter at hand.

He turned back into the hall, and tensed as he came face-to-face with a servant, who was patiently awaiting their attention. The man was old, grey hair neatly combed, but clinging to his skull with the effort of a balding old man who wanted to look his best, and wanted everyone to see him with a full head of hair.
’Old Pride’ Ardan thought to himself quietly.
The man’s attire was impeccable. He was dressed mainly in black silk, crisp and smart, save for a white shirt that barely showed through a neatly buttoned coat. The collars and cuffs of his clothing were high and rigid, and of a design Ardan had never seen before. That kind of clothing, on a servant! It would have cost his master a fortune, and even minor nobles could be seen dressed in worse!
When the old servant spoke, his voice was heavily accented, and he spoke so fast that Ardan had to replay the dialect in his mind to make out all of the words.

“Good evening my lords. May I have your titles so that I may present you to the Lord-General and Steward, blessed be his name; Deldren Meraniel.” he flourished as he spoke the name, the light of pride shining in his eyes. Not old pride this time, that was for sure, but pride in his master. It seemed to radiate from the man. Now was not a time for foolishness, nor blunt statements, no matter whether they were in a world concocted by Aes Sedai or not. If either of the pair said they had never heard of Lord Deldren, or had no idea which land he was Steward of, the servant would no doubt be deeply offended. And the last thing they needed in this place was enemies.
He made forward as though to introduce himself and Novice Adem, but Adem stepped past Ardan and towards the servant, every inch of him calm and serene down to his very fibres.
“We are emissaries of the White Tower.” he began in a proud, booming voice. The servant’s face went pale, draining of blood at the mention of the Tower, but Adem did not see it as he continued. “I am Novice Adem, and this is my companion, Ardan Aethan’Tar.” he said, gesturing to Ardan, who stepped forwards with a slight nod of his head.
Moments passed, and the old man seemed lost within himself, almost lifeless as he stood incredibly still, his face getting whiter by the moment. It was gaunt now, and it made him look the old man that he was. Deep lines creased his forehead and cheeks, and his eyes were sunken and lightly glazed. Mention of the Tower was probably not the wisest move, and not the path Ardan would have taken, but still, what was done was done, and the Wheel would continue to turn.
“You may proceed to announce us” Adem prompted, bringing the old man back from his thoughts.

With a deep bow, one far too acquiescent for a Novice and Aethan’Tar of the Tower, the servant pivoted precisely on one heel and began to stride back down what remained of the corridor, and out into the hall beyond.
’Much too elaborate a bow for us’ thought Ardan, and when he moved as though to indicate such to Novice Adem, he only then noticed that the Novice was already a step in front of the servant, regally gliding into the hall with all the grace of an Aes Sedai. Muttering a soft curse, Ardan quickened his pace, although deliberately remaining some paces behind Novice Adem, trying to blend into the shadows of the walls as they entered into the immense hall. It was decorated much the same as the previous room, blood red walls with a beautifully sculpted marble border and base half of the walls. There were wall hangings here, this time much more properly depicting ballroom scenes and grand dances, which seemed to flicker with life as Ardan’s eyes passed over them. Wonderfully beautiful mosaics glimmered against the ceiling, perfectly placed to depict winged humans with instruments, playing sweet sounds amongst the clouds. Really, the whole scene was breathtaking, but Ardan remained vigilant, constantly looking for any dangers that might present themselves.

On the ballroom floor, which was dark wood, waxed to a shine, couples danced rhythmically, in perfect synchronisation with each other, every step, every movement mirrored the others perfectly. They were extremely well disciplined to have every step in time with the other couples, and very good. Yet there was something off about the scene, something not quite right, but Ardan couldn’t place a finger on what it was.
All of the couples, every single one that Ardan could make out, wore face masks, which was not unusual for some grand balls. Some nobles preferred masked events such as this; the anonymity of it all giving them the ability to free themselves from the entrapments of the Game of Houses. Not that Ardan had received any first hand experience at the Game of Houses, but he had read of it and heard of it, had even been schooled in it for a time, but had ran away before he had ever needed to put it to any real test.
The musicians played on a raised platform of marble in the middle of the hall, and some of the instruments that were being used seemed vaguely familiar to Ardan. One of them could almost be a lute, the next something very similar to a harp, while others were completely new to him. Still, the sound was a pleasant one, and that was all that nattered for the time being. The musicians themselves were also very well disciplined. They sat rigid, unmoving in their chairs, save for whatever appendages were needed to play the instrument; hands, mouths, fingers worked methodically to produce wondrous sounds. Each of the musicians had a face mask on, but had a thick crop of black hair neatly oiled and tied back in a tidy ponytail. It was like watching quintuplets performing, and yet one more thing to add to the synchronicity of the scene.

At the furthest end of the room was a large table of beautifully carved dark wood, the ends of the table carved into the shaped of hawk’s, their wings spread wide, eyes so magnificently carved that they truly seemed alive; searching the ballroom for it’s prey. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but Ardan was becoming accustomed to it by now. The table itself was packed with as many platters of food as the table of the previous room, and then a few more on top of that.
There were seven chairs behind the dark wood table, five of them filled with elegantly dressed nobles, men and women, with full face masks as the others. These people, whichever country they were from, seemed to value anonymity at grand events such as this. The focal point of the table and chairs however, was definitely the dark marble throne in the middle. It was larger by far than any of the other chairs, and a marble-crafter had must have worked for months, perhaps even years, on it’s design. It was a spectacle to behold, with twin tendrils entwining up the arms of the Throne, just as he had seen in the previous room. The headpiece of the throne sparkled with gold etched runes and numerals, which was in a script Ardan had never seen before.
The chairs on either side of the throne were currently vacant, and a quick glance to Novice Adem -who was now strolling through the ballroom floor towards the table at the other end of the room- confirmed Ardan’s sneaking suspicions that they would not remain vacant for much longer. He made to follow Novice Adem out into the ballroom floor, and as they came to the marble platform in the middle of the floor, Adem on one side, Ardan on the other, the servant’s voice rang out through the air, cutting the music like a sharp knife cut through a thin rope.
“My Lord Deldren, may I present to you the emissaries of the White Tower!” the proclamation stilled the music, and the dancers stopped dead in their tracks, as though time had frozen them mid-step. Lord Deldren, who had been lost in thought before the servant’s announcement, suddenly snapped back to attention, and his keen, sharp, intelligent eyes swept over the pair in a glance. In that moment, Ardan knew why he was the steward of this country. He was a presence that he had not felt until now. Strong and powerful, he at squarely in the Throne, knowing full well that he had earned the right to be there. Icy blue eyes stabbed into them as he gazed upon them, and Ardan felt as though the man was searching through their souls, rummaging for some information. A full mane of red hair was neatly combed and tidy, braided strands fell across a powerful chest, and a tidy red beard was neatly trimmed and oiled to a point below his chin.
“I present to you Lord Adem Sedai, and his warder Lord Ardan Gaidin.”

Ardan bit off an oath as he turned to glare at the servant, who seemed not to know what his mistake had been. He moved off silently, moving through the shadows as Ardan turned back to meet Lord Deldren’s gaze. Adem began walking again, and Ardan followed behind until they came to the front of the table, just before Lord Deldren, who stood to meet them. Now, as they could see, just beyond the Throne was a door, a plain door, which was latched with a bar of wood that Ardan would not like to try lifting himself. A large bucket rested on top of the thick bar of wood, which he did not understand, but the gateways were Adem’s speciality. Ardan just had to protect him. The prospect of having to fight this, Lord Deldren, was not a thrilling one. They were matched in muscular stature, and Ardan stood a little taller than the Lord Deldren, but in his eyes was a cold malice that seemed to seethe every time he looked at Novice Adem.
“I welcome you both to my table, and to take seats beside me as we enjoy the festival of veils, but there is one rule that you will follow at all times, and that will be simple. In here, there will be no channelling of any kind. If that is in any way unclear, then we will have a problem. The White Tower has been good to this Region in the past, but as of late, the One Power has brought me and my people nothing but trouble, and it will not be tolerated in here.” his eyes seemed to bore deep into Novice Adem, who stood firm, raising an eyebrow lazily at Lord Deldren, but he merely nodded slightly.
“As you wish my Lord” was all he said, before moving around the table to take a seat. Ardan moved around the opposite end of the table, but stood behind Adem’s chair, looking down at the Novice, who had yet to acknowledge him in any way since they had entered the room.

A gong rang out, the sound seemingly from nowhere, and the dancers stopped, arms dropping to their sides, and more entertainers ran out, this time dressed in long, flowing silks, each moving with a catlike grace and skill. There were eight of them in total, and they moved to surround the marble platform, where the musicians had taken up a different set of instruments, and began to play a darker song, with a fast pace and low, deep, rumbling sounds. The beat of a drum came across loud and strong as the performers began with various acts of juggling, knife throwing, fire breathing, sword eating. An assortment of tricks that Ardan had never seen before, but a deep sense of unease was growing within him. The dancers never moved, not a single inch, and it was then that Ardan noticed that all the male nobles were dressed in the exact same attire, as were the noblewomen. It was unnerving, to think that they had all decided on the same outfits to wear to a festival. There was no distinct im

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