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Dazed, grazed, and confused.
Mon Dec 18, 2006 17:58 (XFF:

She was mentally exhausted. Physical drain was something she was used to – and indeed, it was an integral part of her day-to-day life – but this much strain on her mind was not something that she was used to. She could scarcely form a coherent thought after sitting in the dim room listening to the political maneuvering for countless hours on end. Now, as dusk was falling, they were on their way back to the camp. The Aes Sedai she was temporarily bonded to was, blessedly, respecting her fatigue and mostly leaving her alone. She could sense Solaris’ satisfaction with her – not that she was trying, but the effort she usually made to avoid that ball of emotion was currently beyond her. Apparently she had succeeded in something today.

They returned to a camp swarming with activity. Horses were being saddled, weapons donned, and ranks formed. It took several beats for all of this to sink in, but when it did, Tsuga felt herself snap back into gear with a rush of adrenaline. She straightened in her saddle, double-checked to be sure that her sword and knife were secure, and started to ride off into the swarm to find her orders. She had scarcely maneuvered a few steps before she recalled that she was supposed to listen first and foremost to her Sister. Stifling a groan, Tsuga stopped the steadfast mare on which she rode and twisted in the saddle to look at Solaris. No doubt the woman could sense her question. About that time, Tsuga heard Jield’s voice booming through the camp – the man was used to making himself heard, that much was obvious.

“For many of you, this will be your first battle so I don’t want you going in with any dreams of glory. Many of you are inexperienced and do not know just how hard it is to fell a Trolloc, so I urge caution. You all know your duties, and I expect you to stay with your different partners if you have them. The people of Podian need our help, so let us represent the White Tower to the best of our ability.”

Solaris shifted in the saddle, and Tsuga shook her head, turning her horse around and returning to the woman’s side. So much for charging into the fray head-first. “You seem disappointed.” The Sei’Tar fought the urge to scowl and instead merely nodded. “You’re mentally exhausted, and you’re inexperienced. This could very well save your life.”

She swallowed a retort, but something in her expression – or her emotions, which the Aes Sedai obviously shared in the same way that Tsuga shared Solaris’ thoughts – must have given her away. “What? You might as well learn to speak your mind with the person you bond with – they’ll be able to tell what you’re thinking anyways. As long as you don’t forget your place.”

That caused Tsuga to look at the Sister sideways. Was this a trap? Oh well – she shouldn’t be faulted for following what was practically a direct order, right? “It’s just that . . . well, I grew up out here. I’m used to Trolloc raids and the like. Granted, I’ve never really fought one in open battle, but I’ve seen what they can do, and I know how to handle them . . ..” She trailed off as she heard herself, and shook her head. “Never mind. You’re right.”

Solaris didn’t laugh – a mercy – though Tsuga could sense amusement through their temporary link.

“Behind you!” Tsuga wasn’t sure who the warning came from, nor even if it had really been directed to her, but she turned anyways – and lucky she did. A bear-faced Trolloc swung a spiked club towards her head, and as she cut under his swing to cut through a hole in its crude armor, she had the fleeting thought that she might have seen less action had she not been under Solaris’ charge. Indeed, the beasts seemed to be targeting the Aes Sedai, and thus those assigned to defend the Sisters directly were seeing the most combat of anyone.

The momentum of the bear’s swing carried it forward, and Tsuga had to gouge her horse in the ribs to keep from having her skull crushed. The spikes still grazed her back, and she both heard and felt the shredding of cloth and skin, but she blocked out the pain, instead spinning to face the advance of the bear – who, she saw now, was being cut down by a Gaidin she didn’t have time to recognize. She could feel blood trickling down her back, but the field was in such turmoil that she hadn’t time to contemplate how deeply she’d been cut. A sudden flare of anger charged through the bond, and Tsuga turned, eyes seeking Solaris. She found the woman, just in time to see the Aes Sedai char several of the demon-spawn and go running to a figure on the ground. Cursing, Tsuga kicked her horse – a steadfast beast, but not the brightest of animals – into motion, dodging as best she could through the wild blows and clusters of fighting. She cut at a few of the Trollocs as she passed, but she didn’t stop to fully engage, instead determined to reach Solaris, who was now striking about herself from her position by the fallen . . . person. From this distance it was impossible to tell who it was.

At last, Tsuga charged around a particularly intense cluster of violence and came to a dirt-spraying halt a few feet from her Sister. The poor horse was breathing hard and white with the lather of exertion, but he hadn’t panicked, something for which she was grateful.

“What happened?” The Aes Sedai’s mouth tightened, and she shook her head. Tsuga cut a glance to the body on the ground – she recognized the poor girl as an Aethan’Tar – and back to Solaris. There was no real distress or grief pouring through the bond, not like there would have been had the girl been significant to Solaris in any way but as a member of the Tower that she should defend. It was surprising that such an intense bout of anger could have been raised by an Aes Sedai over a mere Aethan’Tar. It was impossible for Tsuga not to respect that, and though it didn’t have much time to sink in yet, she would later realize that Solaris was not an abnormality in her protectiveness. It was strange to think of the Aes Sedai as protecting those that they bonded, as Tsuga had always been told that it was the Gaidin’s job to protect the Aes Sedai, not the other way around. She’d have to do some serious thinking over that one. But not now – now, she was in the middle of a battle in which she had to both prove herself and keep Solaris alive. Not as easy a task as she had expected.

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