(Writing this after drinking all night in Christmas cheer. Please don't make fun of me, the hangover will be bad enough! This is just for fun)
In order to know the truth of a cause, you must trust your sense of truth to begin with. Know this, or my tale will fall on deaf ears.
The flames that consumed the corpse of the fallen soldier left embers. Have no doubt of the finality of that release, dear reader. Grief or rejoice is your choice in this matter.
The Eagle stood before the flames; his glass still full and untouched as the mourners watched the fires slowly die. His friend, his partner, in all matters of war and peace, had left him to a world far emptier. The gold they’d made and the friends and enemies lost to time only spoke empty echoes in his cold blue eyes.
Mantorok placed the glass before the wooden chair he had been resting upon, deciding his wits and conscience would meet far better without such distractions. To himself, he muttered, “We built an empire of vice and greed to fight an enemy that held no such morality. Light burn me, we fought.”
The shrill winds that claimed his cloak held no pains as he wandered back to his vaults, born from the misdeeds and terrible claims of one that would do anything to win a war.
*Seven Years Later*
The Eagle sat before the bar counter, warm in the embrace of the flame that refused to thaw his demeanor. Another year had come and gone, with no further developments on the war front. His efforts had brought great chance, yet were met with further levels of resentment and opposition.
He looked up as the smiling man entered and ordered drinks for the crowd situated at the table nearby. An eye roll was all the man was met with as he clapped his hand on the back of the Eagle, as the grizzled man exclaimed, “You return without blood, I expect? You’re as useless as Leonar as he wastes wood for the fires.”
Surprisingly, the Eagle was met with a kind laugh, “Lord Mantorok, surely you can at least drop the part of the angry fool in this time of celebration?”
“Bah, what worth is there in cheer when our fronts are pressed without appreciation for festivities?”
“You once knew the value of such things. Why do you reject my attempts to suffice the man that knew that?”
“Because that man was not alone, as I am. Now leave me be, or else we all die in such naïve merriment,”
The kind man sighed, running a leather glove through his hair as he paced across the room. “At least let me offer my kindness once more, my Lord. It is the least I can do, all things considered.”
“Then your offer is advanced and not needed. I thank you to leave me to my thoughts, Klane.”
“As you wish, old man. Your annoyance will not darken the skies I have seen this season.”
In annoyance, the Eagle placed a few coppers on the bar and made haste to his own room. It was a shrivelous affair, devoid of all the brightness and comforts that marked the lower levels of the Eagle manor. The wood floors screamed as any approached their perch, and the fires were but embers to cast away the chill of the night.
And yet amidst this distancing flame, it was the effigy of the eagle that marked his door which caught his interest. It screeched and howled in anger as he approached, sending him back a few steps. The floor creaked as his feet backpedaled in surprise, before accounting the vision to his inebriation.
“Stupid drink. I knew I would regret such indulgence,” he said aloud.
It is from there, when he took his rest in the sheets of the unwashed, that the next part of our tale commences.
The Eagle awoke to the rattling of chains on the hard wooden floors. The scratching of metal upon wood would not have been noticed had it not been for the restless sleep that Mantorok found himself encountering.
“Who is there? I have no time for such games. An assassin’s mark may meet its target, but play my senses no further.”
The chains scraped further before being silenced by the soft carpet that sat before the bed. All luxury was lost as a soft glow came from not the fire, but from the chair that sat not three paces from the Eagle’s bed.
In defiance, the Eagle shouted, “What presence holds such Light? If you are an Imperial, then get your task done and let me be reborn in peace away from this battle.”
A soft voice replied, the sounds as winds blowing through the forest, “Speak with me, Old Friend. I know your mind and blood, as I know my own. It is time you knew much.”
In surprise, Mantorok rose from the sweat marked sheets and gazed at the form that awaited him. The soldier of the Eagle’s last crusade, known as Liyn, watched him with eyes as hollow as the now dead fireplace.
The form spoke, “Rest, old friend. My death is seven years past and I must know you again before I will let myself be reborn.”
In resignation, Mantorok yelled, “Is the Last Battle so soon found that the dead scream to help the living further their own continuation? I knew your death, Liyn, and it was as good as any could hope in this terrible cause.”
“Oh yes,” replied the ethereal form of Liyn “It was glorious by your standards. But shadows cast in the night are but momentary. I bring a warning of your inclusion of our sect before the Last Battle you so wish to be part of.”
“Is it an enemy? Do the Seanchan move in the night against me? I thank you for such warning, as I would have a restless death if I was to miss what Manetheren itself begs to be a part of.”
“No, old friends. I bring warnings of a more personal nature. Will you hear me or cast my soul out?”
“This delusion should end only when it can, Liyn. What do you seek of me?” Mantorok replied, with a slight chill up his spine.
Liyn sighed, adjusting the chains around his wrists and ankles. “I warn you of your own admittance to my fates. In our friendship I beseech you to find a new way. This war has claimed your humanity.”
The Eagle cried out, “Surely you must be but an imagination of my own inner thought! I have spent my own life fighting a war versus an enemy far stronger. Do you berate my methods?
A sadness entered the gaze of the ghost, as it replied, “Oh no, Mantorok. In life I saw the same as you and all your kind. But the time has come for you to join me or save your humanity in this fight.”
The image haunted Mantorok as he scrambled closer, trying to discern if this man before him was but his imagination or truth. (n desperation he whispered, “You have always been so good to this poor soul. What would you have me do?
A strange, red light came from the fireplace then. It illuminated the ghostly form of Liyn Crossdale as he wrapped the chains around his arms in order to move. With kindness, he said, “You will see the true images soon. Make ready as they visit you after my departing, for it is the only chance you have to reclaim the Heart of Aemon you spent your life defying the enemies of Manetheren for. Surely you know the things of which I speak?”
“If you say it is so, Liyn, then my dreams will be full of such hope.”
“FOOL! I depart now, but know that your dreams will be beyond my grasp. Know, Mantorok, know that it comes for you as it does all men that seek it. Know that all such things are worth more than the gold you grasp for our war…” The light was fading, the chair becoming more visible as the form of the fallen soldier emptied into the reality that surrounded the room once more.
In a sudden moment of release, the Eagle fell into deep sleep and saw only blackness in his eyes.
A soft tick of the mantle clock awoke the Eagle, as he looked around in paranoia. The dream had seemed so real…almost as real at the light that emanated from the door frame. In sudden surprise, he blinked and rubbed his eyes to shore off the stillness of the night. The dagger he kept under by his bedside was forgotten in alarm as the light spread and grew to fill the night chamber.
A quiet whisper came across the rippling curtains, “Wake and know yourself, Mantorok a’Korvim”
The voice was kind and gentle, welcoming of the unknown that it represented. Mantorok turned his weary eyes to gaze at the light, making out a form of brilliant serenity. It held his gaze and formed into a man; bright cheeks and blonde hair masked by an almost deathly paleness.
His voice shaky, the Eagle dared to cry out, “Are you of the ones that Liyn asked me to tread with?”4
The form smiled, the brilliant light both covering and pushing away the sight of the Eagle as he climbed from his place of slumber. The clatter of the mantle clock faded as the face smiled, an almost unbelievable peace falling in his eyes and stance. “I am, Lord Mantorok. Know that I bring peace and knowledge, not the past of warfare you shroud yourself in.”
Mantorok replied in a trembling whisper, “And would you show me the past in your words so I may trust more than my sight?”
A soft laugh came from the form of the man before him. It held no scorn, but only warmth and sympathy as is answered, “Oh no, my lord. I show your past so you may see my truth.”
Running his hand through his matted black hair, the Eagle gave into curious temptation. “Then show me, unknown. Before I wake, I will know your name.”
“Then know it now. I am the Past…and I bring your past to the Light you have long hid it from.”
A sudden rush of air came over the Eagle as the figure placed his hand, warm even for life, upon his right hand. The world around them seemed to dissolve into a dark façade that mirrored reality. The wood suddenly turned hollow, but strangely remained just as solid to the Eagle’s feet as it rested beneath them. The walls of the Eagle manor gave way to a small and little remembered bar in the Two Rivers, many years before the war had claimed the town and the allegiances of all those within its borders that remained.
Rubbing his eyes, the Eagle looked around in wonder. “This is…this is Gredan’s Barrow. I didn’t think anyone remembered such a small village once the Seanchan’s foreparties took it.”
Again in the kind reply, the figure said, “None remember it save those who wept for its loss. Do you see any you remember?”
As he gazed around the now-dead village, Mantorok watched the faces of the passerby for any recognition. Upon seeing one face he knew, he exclaimed, “Master Partellas! Do you remember me?”
With a soft chuckle, the kind spirit replied, “This is a vision, my Lord. Nothing more. The man you knew as General Partellas is just as dead as he has been in your memory for years. Do you know this man’s hopes for now?”
In resignation, the Eagle looked at the face of the man that had taught him so much about his enemy. The traitorous Seanchan general had the hard brown eyes and tanned, weather worn face that had helped him blend in so well. Locked within that face was the truth of the war that raged across the southern continent long after his death. Long after his secrets had been passed to another.
In grief and memory, Mantorok walked around the hollow image. His feet crunched the snow even though they left no mark of his passing. To himself, he quipped, “I owe everything I have to this creature of happenstance. My fortunes were made on the things he told me. Through his information I walked upon Seanchan for the first time, born from the Waygates I was led from an Ogier friend now gone too. Did you know I made my estates by smuggling weapons and armor to Seanchan rebels, found only though such terrible circumstances? It was because of what he taught me after he fled his loss of daughters to the a’dam that I found my way to fight back.”
The spirit’s feed made no noise and left no mark, yet his voice still carried such weight. “He gave you a choice, which led to your loss of humanity and profit of a wage-able war. Had the Empire not taken his daughters as damane, would you have ever found your path to the war front?”
In remembrance, Mantorok shook his head, “No unknown child, I would not have. His guidance brought me to the fight with the Seanchan! His disagreement with their spitting upon his loyalty gave me the knowledge I used to actually make a difference. And line my own pockets to further those ends.”
“And do you remember what happened next?”
“Oh yet, Light I do. I found his only surviving daughter and named her Rose to honor my own allegiances to Manetheren. If she knows that origin, then she has not told me so.”
The light surrounding the spirit suddenly dimmed, even though his radiance still made Mantorok squint to view his full form. With a wave of his ephemeral arm, the village shifted again. In its place was left Emond’s Field, with a small bench sitting near the Winespring. The smell of honeycakes wafted across the Green and the shadowy forms of the past inhabitants walked unnoticing by the man they would eventually know and resent.
A woman formed on the bench, next to the Eagle’s own past apparition. She had long hair and a battle-worm tunic that was but a momentary replacement for her usual armor. It was Lillyan, the woman he had scorned and broken away from his own past grievances with. Her image was that of the weary; her face watching the man on the bench next to her with a look that spoke only of contemplation.
Her voice echoed in his mind, just as it spoke in the new false reality, “Do you know regret, Husband?”
The older Mantorok watched the younger carefully, begging him to answer differently than he already knew would come.
The younger man replied, “Regret for what, this time? I drink nothing and pay for anything others need. Should I feel regret for such actions?”
“You fight for yourself. Pretend and lie no more about that, my dear Lord. Liyn told me what you did in Anangore...He had the audacity to ask me to comfort such a monster that could do such a thing as that.”
Pain crossed the faces of both the younger and older Eagle. His life, his fight, his crime; all were laid bare in her demanding words. The older cried out, “This is it then, fool. This is when you slew our humanity!”
Still the younger had his reply to give. He spoke in a sharp voice that tried too hard to mask the merciless feeling that swelled within him. “I went with my fortunes. Do you take more of that than you should allow, Lil?”
Her indignation was barely hidden behind her stoic face as she whispered, “You asked with my betrothal to never let you become what you fight. Do you deny me that marriage right?”
“Lillyan, I fight a war and do whatever it takes to win. Would you have me seek another way, when I am so far past that check?”
“Then you should demand I release you from such a burden, such as I am? Then I do so, my Lord Mantorok al”Korvin. I release you from your own cruelty so you may do as you see needed to fight an enemy I can barely tell apart from you. It was not gold that broke you, dear one, but desperation.”
With that, she stood from the bench and walked off, trying to mask the sadness in her eyes. In a strange contrast to the older Eagle, her feet left soft marks in the newly fallen snow. The younger watched her go, wriggling his hands as if for a warmth he knew would never come. In final defiance, he muttered, “Then I annul you…so were are both free…”
The older man called out without a care for the implication, “YOU FOOL! SPEAK WITH HER! She is all that ties you before the oncoming storm, do you not see? The bridges you burn will never be repaired as the heart you built them with burns with them! FOOLISH CREATURE!!”
His words echoed even as the light of the quiet figure faded further. The shadow cast from the nearby Winespring seemed to spread to them; the spirit and the old fool. In anger, the man grabbed the spirit by his softly shimmering tunic and pulled him towards the Winespring. None noticed, but the figure sighed in resignation as it said in a hoarse voice, “Cast me out and drown me in your own sorrows, my Lord. My brother holds no such pity as me…”
“Then stalk me no more! Break away, new enemy of my soul! I’ve known worse and I will know even worse than that. Make your choice to leave or go!”
In silence, the spirit faded into the waters of the past Winespring. His smile and soft laughter echoed like swords and bowstrings on the field of ancient battles that long pulled Mantorok toward their wonders. The world surrounding him fell dark, and he fell to the silent grown as it became softer and more malleable in his grasp. It became as cloth until he awoke suddenly in a fit of anger in his own bed, the look of peace on the spirit’s face still lingering long after the Eagle blinked his visage out of his vision.
A fight broke out in the bar downstairs, driven by some petty argument that needed to be broke up by the barkeep. It was just another ordinary night for the Red Eagles…all save for the man that found himself unable to sleep. Instead he watched the low flames of the hearth, feeling none of the warmth they case towards him. His mind was haunted by the mistakes that he’d buried for so long and the faces he had long since run away from.
The noise roused the Eagle from his restless fit, yet even the waking world held no comfort from his own mind. The shadows that danced on the walls seemed to judge him, want him to be more, beg him to become something less. There was no trace of the trance of alcohol left within him as he sat up and drew as much water as his bedside flask would allow.
Suddenly, laughter seemed to break out from the nearby door. It was a full bellied laugh of the amused and content. Untangling himself from his sheets, the Eagle looked around for the scene of such hilarity. All that met his eyes was pale light as it revealed only the normal visions of an almost noble bed chamber. It was from beyond the door that the laugh came, seeming to ignore the wood and stone that should have muffled it.
Pulling himself together, Mantorok carried a small lantern into the hallway beyond and looked for the source of such merriment. As expected, it came from the bar. Yet the bar was empty, save for the large image of a man in full battle armor. His armshield bore the crest of the Red Eagle of Manetheren, and his beared hung halfway down the dark crimson breastplate that held back his enormous girth. As the Eagle entered, looking around for the barkeeper and those that had roused him from his slumber, the large man laughed again and set aside his dented helmet.
“Do you know me, my Lord? Have you seen me or my kind before?”
In anger, the Eagle shouted, “Have you cast Vodan somewhere foul, apparition? Or have men come to walk the world again in his absence?”
The large creature pulled a drink from a canteen the size of Mantorok’s fist before he replied, “Know my brothers, for I am the Old Blood and the Old Blood is me. We carry on within all of Manetheren and give them the truth of their own bearings. I am the most recent, but you knew my elder brother many seasons past when you first entered this realm.”
Mantorok concentrated, trying to adopt the words into his own thoughts. “Then being, if you are to be my guide to…perhaps the present? Let us be off so I may continue my sleep unmolested.”
Another deep laugh met the Eagle as the figure stood, brushing the top of his hair on the roof of the bar. Easily the man was ten feet tall, but had the bearing of a man half his size. His voice echoed around the now empty bar as he said. “Then let us me off so I may show you my truth. Will you place your hand upon my armor?”
As Mantorok put his right hand on the only calf he could reach comfortably, the room seemed to shift as before. Soon they entered a realm with a small, quant town. It was Taren’s Ferry and full of the people and bustle that approached the northern Two Rivers before it bordered Andor. The people once again ignored the two figures, as they walked the markets and approached a small house at the edge of town.
As the two peered through the half-frosted window, Mantorok recognized Leonar as he sat with his family before a large meal. The Eagle’s ward was accompanied this day by half a dozen children and his stout wife. She was clearly of Two Rivers build and looked both lovely and strong enough to wield a blade in any of the battlefields of the world.
The table was well endowed, even as the four daughters and two sons hungrily made their claims on the feast before them. In his heart, Mantorok knew that despite what he felt was a charitous wage, his ward was going hungry for the sake of his family. It was admirable, and a fate that the old Eagle would have ridden to fix without question in the years before his reclusion in the Eagle manor.
“Why does he not speak to me of this? He knows my pockets are deep enough to sate even a family of this size…”
The larger figure again laughed and drew from his mug, shaking the amber liquid from his beard. “And let any know that his family is vulnerable? He learned such things from his mentor, my Lord. He’d sooner cast himself naked in the snow than reveal to any that his family is in need. Do you know of what I speak?”
In spite, Mantorok shook his head angrily. “I hate such pride, but I know such weakness. Our enemies would…”
“YOUR ENEMIES WOULD WHAT? Care that such a man has a family to contend with? He is led by your example, but is too kind to be the lone wolf you’ve found comfort in being. Would you that he would break from that safety YOU provided so that he could himself find merriment? Do not rejoice, and do not denounce. The man is learned within his place and you have made it so.”
“This is beyond my caring, as he chooses to believe this is betterment. Do you not see what this is hardly a burden to place upon my shoulders? His pride kept him in this state, and I will give more should he ask. Be gone, sir, if this is all you offer.”
The larger man scratched his beard and quietly adjusted the straps on his vambraces. The snow that fell was empty of the cold and bitterness that Mantorok felt within. He was being blamed for the mistakes of another! Such a thing would have been laughable had he not been caught up in the visions of this large man.
In a harsh whisper, the bearded man cried, “Follow me, my Lord Eagle, and see another scorn.”
As Mantorok grabbed the thin cloak of the larger man, he noticed the armor seemed more dented than before. The crimson paint was scratched and the metal worn thin. He was about to ask about such a state of things when a harsh wind smacked him in the face. It was bitter and it was cold; far worse than anything he had felt before. The snow let up, but the wind continued and pushed him towards a small house. It was brick, and a fire in the hearth showed that it would be warm. The Eagle welcomed the feeling, even as he knew he should not feel it at all.
Within the home was a small family, and certainly far less residents than Leonar’s domicile. The welcoming room of the central room was born of the plaster and soft curtains that kept the cold at bay. And yet it was not the comfort of the room that held his attention, but the voices that came from near the fireplace.
“I know the old man has known better, but I owe it to my well-being to offer him the comforts he has given my family. Would that he could be the founder of our feasts, even if in past knowing only!”
It was Klane, and he was surrounded by his wife and friends. Their looks of skepticism told that Mantorok had interrupted them amidst some debate. Klane continued, “My mother and father trusted him, and many that were there still speak highly of his appraisal of the wedding of Lord Liyn and Lady Rose! Light but he paid for the whole thing out of pocket and only showed up to discuss matters with my father and mother. Their union as second in importance!”
His wife looked at him as she brushed her auburn hair from her face, “He held his own takings more important than your parent’s own wedding. Why praise him?”
“Because, Eldrene of my Heart, he chose to show up and let them retire that night. My own life is owed to him releasing them from their tasks in their war. Why he even spoke of my grandfather for the only time I remem…”
She interrupted him suddenly, seemingly annoyed, “You are as carefree as your father then. Perhaps you’d better to take after your mother then? None in this room hold your parentage against you, but remember that the very people you honor in this toast are the people they saw as enemies. Please Love, take care of such things. He speaks highly of your parents, not you.”
“So it seems, but I will still try to bring him back to the warmth of Manetheren for their sakes. His humanity is only as lost as those who know him let it be…”
In sudden alarm, the older Eagle ran from these truths. He had hidden Klane’s parentage for years against his better judgement. The boy’s allegiances were always in question so he had kept him at a distance. “Take this boy away! My own children may put me at arm’s length, but not this one! I was never ready for such things and now you ask me to beseech you for them? Tell me, armored creature, what do you show me her spite for?”
The armored man looked rusted and worn, like armor left in the attics of the Eagle homeland for generations too long. Yet his voice remained kind as he said, “You ran from your own kind…father, son and daughter…would you do the same to the one man who would greet you as a friend of his generation? Tell me, Eagle, and I will make your will known. This man is born of love such as what you threw away. He has found mercy such as you felt you could no longer give. His enemies are not monsters in the night, but ones to face as men and women…not as the faceless that slaughter in their names. His son is Hope. His daughter is Compassion. Would you throw them away so easily? Anangore could have been a beginning or an ending, but you chose to let it be the end of your own humanity. Do you deny the teachings this humble child of Liyn would give you for your betterment?”
In surprise and broken heart, Mantorok shouted, “This world of enemies has born me no fair sons or daughters. My enemies would have broken such bonds and torn such happiness from me! They ran to the far reaches of the world and I was left with such idle despair. The man that Klane praises lived before he helped bring death to a Seanchan village. I am the husk that remains to bear those crimes until my grave is but dust!”
The armored man suddenly began to weep as his face turned a soft shade of red. The tears fell upon the armor and finally began to break it apart as the man continued to shed large droplets that were born of such defiance. He wept until all that remained was a travel-worn cloak, the red faded pale as the face that had worn it not moments before. As the sobs gently abetted into silence, the figure faded into a skeletal form of a man; a creature that was as pale as the moonlight and as thin as the worst off beggar. Finally, he whispers, “Your own truths will bury you, my lord. Face them or know the depths of your own enemies hatred…Children born of such things can never know peace, parents that allow such pains can only grant knowledge of war.”
The form turned into dust and collapsed into a pile, which Mantorok tried desperately to dig his fingers into and hold tight. The ashes blew away with his breath and carried on an unspoken wind into the night. As he looked around, he noticed it was the forests that were unbidden and forsaken near the Eagle Manor. Except there was no Eagle manor now, all that remained was burned out ruins.
His gaze shifted around the trees, looking all places that his eyes could meet All that spoke to him was the nearby rock face which was moored in a light mist of the evening. Mantorok’s ramblings were met with only his own replies, until he gave up and began to walk around the now empty grounds of his home.
The mists parted slowly, allowing Mantorok to see the rock upon which he sat. It was a grave marker, but unlike most it was filled with names. Many of the names inscribed on the stone were ones he knew: Thoros, Ica, Mortox, Chiaka, Caela, Sundar and his wife Tahla, Isktamost, Pe, Maral, Xathras, Avail and Rentris...the list of names on the stone went on and on. With a heavy heart, Mantorok noticed Lillyan among them.
He fell back onto his heels as he tried to register what he was seeing. “What is this…? Who has…”
From the mists, a figure approached the gravestone. It stood silently with head bowed, as if reading each name as carefully as Mantorok himself had only moments before. After a terribly quiet moment, it turned to look at him with a hooded face. The cloak was dark and of Tarabon cut, but the hood shadowed whatever face was held by the wearer.
Mantorok hesitantly asked, “If you are the next of my tormentors, then what do you ask of me?”
The hooded figure remained silent. Instead, it sat down on the very rock it had shown such reverence a few moments before. It motioned Mantorok closer, in an almost comforting embrace. The cloak felt dull to the touch, and fell heavy around his shoulders as the figure wrapped its’s arms around his shoulders. He was resigned to whatever came next.
The world shimmered, and shifted to a fortress far beyond the knowledge of the Eagle. It was thick stone, and clearly meant to hold back a siege should it come. The softly blowing wind that came across the Taren felt longing, but so distant from whatever realm his soul inhabited. The town had been fortified with walls and a palisade, but what caught his attention was the large fort he stood on the wall of. The entire town had been made into something seen before only in the Borderlands.
“What is this place? I do not know it, and yet I feel is so close to me.”
The spirit motioned towards the nearby guardhouse, which was keeping warm half a dozen people as they came into the opened gate of the fort. They were bundled against the cold which the Eagle could not feel on his skin. The voices that came from within pulled his attention away from studying the fortifications.”
“You sure it’s his? I’ve seen fake emblems claim it before?” A man’s voice.
A woman’s voice replied, “Yes yes, it’s his. Dug it up from his empty grave myself when Lady Hail mentioned he was actually buried in some pit in the Taken Lands. Probably the old Eagle manor or the Fallen Protectorates if I had to guess! Ohh, poor Ogier. I wept for what became of Yandar.”
“Alright, alright. Just show me what you have to offer for protection Maize.”
The woman pulled out a small figure from her bag, in the shape of a woman with a circlet over her head. She followed it with a small band, barely larger than a ring, which was cut with arrows and letters. “See, see? We KNEW he had a stash for some great plan of his, but he never bothered to divvy it out to help.”
“May…I don’t know if I can afford to buy these off you if they’re real. Lady Rose would cut me throat to protect em of they are. Are you telling me Manty was hoarding male and female angreal for his campaign? Ridiculous.”
“Don’t care much for whatever he had planned now he’s dead. Take it or I sell elsewhere. Just need enough to get myself set up in one of the nations not conquered yet, as rare as they’re becoming.”
“True enough, true enough. I’ll give ya a hundred for the lady figure if that runaway Sedai says it’s real. Can’t do nothing with the other one even if it’s what you are suggestin.”
“Not like it’s any use to anyone now. You know where to send the gold.”
It was then that Mantorok recognized some of the stolen goods from his cache. He had planned to leave it to any that could fight the Seanchan. To see it now broken up to pay for travel expenses angered him enough to begin to storm after the woman. The only thing that stopped him was a gentle hand resting on his shoulder; the slender fingers hinted that the cloaked figure was a woman.
“So this is it then? My legacy is one of greed as the world falls to my enemies? I can do nothing but cry out then, and you know it. Show me more so that I may understand!”
A soft exhalation whispered that the figure sighed in resignation, and began to slowly walk away from the fort. When Mantorok looked away from her, he saw city he had not been to in many years. In exasperation, he called out, “Bandar Eban? I have no place here to know. Will you speak to me or let me guess from silence?”
The figure raised a hand, and pointed to a small gatehouse nestled by the main entry to the city. Within sat several soldiers cloaked in the garb of the Sword and Hand. All but one of them. The last wore a tattered cloak, faded red from travel but hinting at the origin not in Blood.
The crimson cloaked figure slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the mugs set before then. “NO! Rodel will fight and so will I. Is it not enough that Tarabon finally fell last summer? I’ll not parlay further to bring unity now. We need to fight.”
A firmer man placed his hand over the young man’s and rplied kindly, “Son, Rodel isn’t going to be able to stop them. It’s too late.”
The younger man began to weep, throwing his mug at the wall with enough force to dent it. “I won’t allow it! Not while I draw breathe! My kinsman all died AGAIN at the field of Aemon to hold them back. And yet I was sent away! All my family is gone to this war…my mother disappeared. My sister enslaved to an a’dam…my father died before he was needed as all cowards do! And for what? His secrets amounted to nothing and his will was dust. I hate the fool, no matter the good intentions! I mean, he tried so hard to…but still…” The boy’s words were lost in sudden sobs. The sobs of despair of a son trying to find anything redeeming about his father. The very same thing the Eagle had tried to do so long ago…
In that moment, Mantorok recognized the face. That nose, those eyes, that matted black hair. In defiance, he turned to the shadowy figure watching it all. “You’d have me watch my own son plot his death? My own life is as nothing, but to show me this…to learn these children were fools enough to come back to the war I sent them away from…Speak, you bloody graveling. SPEAK! I would know your name, if you would show me everything I wanted undone!”
Behind them, the boy was shouting again. His voice became garbled as the Eagle’s attention was fully turned to the shadowy figure that watched both of them in silence. As the moon parted from the clouds, the figure casually raised her hand to the hood and pulled back. The moments bled into an Age as he watched in interest. Until the light struck her face, and he cried out in rage and sorrow.
“No! You cannot know that face, for it is one but lost to time and war. What rouse is this? Do you strike me at my heart? My own blood would scream that I never found Aemon’s Heart…my sole ambition. Touch my soul no more should that be the truth. I defy you! Speak, damn you!”
The figure smiled. It was a familiar smile that had not been seen by the Eagle’s eyes in longer than he could possible still hope for. It was the face of…
“My Lady…my friend…speak now please. I beg you. You never left me to such fates without a word before…Lady Shyra please tell me that is your name.”
She remained silent, standing there with her hands hidden in her sleeves as she watched him. Her eyes chanced a glance at the boy at the table occasionally, but still she remained silent.
To himself, Mantorok begged. “Is this really what my secrecy brings? You warn me of more than death…should I have listened when last we parted? No…please say this is but a dream. A nightmare of my own making. The boy must remain up north. And the girl must never go near the invaders…not with her chance gifts…”
He began to weep in desperation, seeing that his foolishness would last long past his death. In a hoarse whisper, he cried, “Tell me this can be stopped, spirit of the Lost. Tell me anything, so I may hear your voice to know the truth. You never lied to me until you left…Please speak now and tell me this is falsehood laid bare!”
Again the figure kept quiet, but carefully walked towards him. Her hand was upraised; her palm was aimed at his forehead.
“Give me words so I may stop this! I thought to end the cycle when I freed Rose from the a’dam, but now my own flesh is given to it? What fate is this to bear?”
Closer the figure approached.
“Is this really all my own doing? I tried to play them away from the fight, but they are still the Old Blood…”
The figure’s hand cast a shadow on his face as a distant bell rang out. The cry of alarm as the Seanchan attack finally came to Bandar Eban.
“Release me! Give me back to my own bed so I can break these chains! I will leave nothing but ruin as I am, but instead if I give in to events I can at least die bravely!”
The figure suddenly stopped, and instead hugged the Eagle close to herself. She was a full head shorter than him, but still her cloak enveloped them both so fully that his tears were hidden by the thick cloth.
Into her hair, he cried out, “Then let me know my own selfishness so I may shatter it. Let me find another way…A way to stop Anangore from spreading beyond my own crimes. This…this is what Liyn was trying to tell me. My hate will burn nothing but my own home.”
The air suddenly grew chill. The first the Eagle had felt of it that night. He clawed at the cloak that surrounded him so that he could breathe properly. His eyes were blurred by his finally released tears, hs heart finally letting his past crimes out. They would never leave him, but they were not hidden anymore.
He would never allow himself to be the very enemy he hated enough to kill.
*The Next Morning*
He clawed at the cloak, trying to find passage beyond it. The more he fought, the more he felt a warmth embrace him until a sudden light pained his eyes to witness. In his eyes he held his bedsheet, darkened from sweat and the rampages of restless sleep. Yet the memory of those visions haunted him still.
Looking at the mantle clock, he noticed it would be daybreak soon, if not so already. The heavy shutters kept the light at bay, and had not been opened in a very long time. As he crawled out from the cloth and unhooked the lock, he winced as the light between the wood spread to form a full window. Daylight had finally hit.
Around the outside of the Eagle manor, the constant goings of the day were already in full swing. It could not be far past full daybreak, but already men were gathering wood. There were people in the training yard, and the smells of the kitchen wafted to his room. In the distance, he could barely make out an emptied farmhouse he had long since tried to cover up with rubble.
From below, he heard the call of the young taskman that did random jobs for the Eagles, With a whistle, Mantorok caught his attention.
“Young man, have the Council met yet? I think I have some time before they gather…”
The younger man looked up in annoyance as he kept trying to fold the papers of his packages properly. “No my Lord. They’ll be together at midday. Why?”
Grinning, Mantorok motioned the boy to wait for him as he skipped down the stairs.
Get Jorran for me please. I’ll give you a full crown if you get him down there before I get to the yard.”
He gathered strange looks and pulled many curses as he made his way to the backyard of the manor. Behind the thick double doors he found the boy sitting on a wooden box next to Jorran. The older man looked annoyed but curious as he called out, “What’s going on this early? Lad caught me mid-shave. Luckily it was just my face this time.”
Mantorok flicked a gold crown at the boy and motioned for Jorran to follow him. Warily, the older man obeyed as they wandered towards the ruined farmhouse.
“I need a favor, Jorran. A big one. Well…a big one and a little one.”
Arching his eyebrow, Jorran looked over the younger man and waited for his requests.
“I need…” Mantorok hesitated, “I need you to get people to dig up the floor of the old Bale home. About halfway through past the front door. You’ll know exactly what it is when you see it.”
“I’ll get the boys to do it later. Why?”
“I’m trying to be…” Mantorok couldn’t find the proper words.
“What’s the second one, Mant?” Jorran interrupted.
“Do we have a spare homestead? I’d like to move someone closer to here, down from Taren’s Ferry. Big enough for a big family. The guy apparently never misses. I’ll pay out of pocket if I have to.”
Chuckling, Jorran nodded and kicked the upturned floorboard in the ruins. “What am I gonna find down there?”
The younger Eagle sighed, and pulled up one of the floorboards and dug at the foundation beneath it until his nails hit what looked like a large coffin. “That, Jor. There’s a lot of angreal down there I gathered with Rose, Liyn, and the Twins. I kept em away from the Sedai, but I wanna see if we can find people to actually use em.”
Jorran stared at him, holding back his anger, “Were you planned on telling me this before, lad? That’s not a small thing to hide from me of all people.”
Mantorok looked down in shame, then laughed, “Get over it. I am going to get Klane to come down. He’s going to be as good at planning a war as Liyn was. These will come in handy if you can keep the Tower from knowing.”
“And if they do find out?”
With a grin, Mantorok placed the floorboard back where he found it, “We lie.”