As Lheorik approached the high walls of Canluum, he realized the last time he’d seen them was the night he’d visited the Lady Rodril. He stopped at the gates to confirm the Lady had remained in her manor. The officer on duty sent a rider for him.
While he waited, two young guards watched him. Eventually, one of them spoke up, “Kandori Cavalry sword, what unit are you with?”
“Seventh Mountain.” Lheorik said.
The man looked doubtful, “I’m not familiar with the Seventh, who’s your Commander?”
The other soldier spoke up, “Shut up, Rendt.” He offered a gauntleted hand to Lheorik. “Forgive my friend, he was still playing with sticks when you rode. It’s an honor.”
Lheorik shook the offered hand, “The honor is mine, Corporal. No need for apologies.”
The rider returned, pulling up next to Lheorik, “Looks like she’s still there Sergeant, you can pass.”
Lheorik nodded to the soldiers and made his way passed. Behind he could hear Rendt cursing the Corporal as he demanded an explanation.
In the day, the manor appeared much more welcoming than it had that rainy night five years ago. White walls contrasted with red shuttered windows, and a collage of colorful flowers framed the stone walk up to the large front double doors. Lheorik knocked on the heavy polished wood.
Belna opened the door wide, still tiny in frame but now a woman grown. “Welcome back Sergeant. Please come, the Lady is expecting you.” She stepped back, motioning Lheorik into the manor.
He followed her up a large curved staircase and into a grand room on the second floor, overlooking the gardens in the back of the manor. Lady Rodril stood on the balcony, a pitcher of wine on a small table with chairs beside her. She poured two glasses and handed one to Lheorik.
“Welcome back, Sergeant Grayson.” She raised the glass a took a sip, a knowing look in her green eyes. “Goes down easier than the Oosquai.”
“I’m afraid I share your husband’s inclination ma’am, but a good wine isn’t too far behind.”
Lady Rodril motioned to the sword on his back, “And you’ve decided to return to another of his inclinations.”
“It’s been many years since I've worn one, but I’ve settled that it’s time to start again.”
“Well Sergeant, I approve. What is it that I can do for you?”
“I aim to re-enlist ma’am. And as I can’t return to the Seventh Mountain, I thought I would do the closest thing. Where is it your sons are serving?”
Lady Rodril raised an eyebrow, “I’m sorry, Sergeant? Hayden and I never had children.”
Lheorik hesitated, “His ring, you mentioned its recovery would mean a lot to his boys. I assumed you meant his sons?”
“Ah…” Lady Rodril tapped her fingers against her glass, considering Lheorik. “I was speaking of two of your comrades in the Seventh Mountain, Atlan and Marshall Ruhier. Did you know them?”
Lady Rodril nodded, “The very same. Hayden took them under his wing when they were but boys. The closest thing to sons he ever had. He dispatched them just days before the battle.”
She didn’t need to explain which battle. Lheorik sat heavily on a chair next to the table and downed the rest of his glass. “I thought I was the last…”
“You are, of those who remained.” She took the seat opposite him, “There was an Aes Sedai traveling with you. Hayden charged them with escorting her back to Tar Valon and, unknown to them at the time, apprenticing among the Gaidin once they arrived.”
Lheorik nodded, taking in the information. Men who had ridden with him, Seventh Mountain men, were still alive. “Tar Valon you said, is that where I can find them?”
“That, I cannot answer, but it would be the best place to start.”
Lheorik stood, placing his empty glass on the table. “Thank you for the wine. Is there anything I can do for you before I go?”
“Keep wearing that sword, Sergeant.”
The trail had started in Tar Valon, three weeks prior. Lheorik had sought an audience with the Aes Sedai immediately upon his arrival, but quickly learned that the Tower kept little track of its residents. He was pointed to the Warders practice yard and sent on his way. A few day’s sparring with the apprentices, albeit rustily, earned him enough goodwill for some of the Gaidin to point him north, to Fal Dara.
He’d arrived in Fal Dara the night prior, took a room at the Peaceful Knight’s Rest, and set out the next morning for the Keep. Aes Sedai were honored guests in the Borderlands, and he hoped if the Warders were here, he would find them there. The rest of his day was spent chasing a never ceasing trail of ‘last saw’s' and ‘If I had to guess’s' across the city and back. He returned to the Inn weary but confident, he was close.
He approached the bar, “Ale, please. Something strong.”
“Lad, it’s best you keep your wits about you.” The bartender nodded his head toward a corner table. Two men sat there, one picking at a large plate of roasted meat, the other staring at Lheorik. They were both draped in color shifting cloaks, distorting and concealing their bodies. “At least til you’ve answered some of their questions.”
Seeing their faces a wave of nostalgia washed over him, he could almost hear their laughter at the tent side fires of the Seventh Mountain camps. They had been skilled scouts and soldiers at the time, but he could tell the past five years had transformed them from skilled to exceptional. Each man wore a heron-marked blade, and their postures made him feel like a mouse in the eyes of lounging cats.
“You’ve been asking around about a pair of Warders.” Atlan stated, watching Lheorik as Marshall continued picking through the meat.
“Yessir. I left Canluum several months back, on a path to find you. We served together, in the Seventh Mountain.”
Marshall stopped picking through the meat. Atlan nodded thoughtfully.
“Lheorik Grayson, I was there at the end, the Battle of the Seventh Mountain.” Lheorik cleared his throat. “I should have died on the Plain of Lances with my brothers-“
Marshall looked at Lheorik for the first time, “If you should have died, you’d be dead, boy. The Light wasn’t through with you.” He looked knowingly to Atlan.
Lheorik sat silent a moment, processing. “My horse… it was brought down on top of me. I blacked out until the battle was over and whatever shadowspawn remained had fled.”
“Lady Rodril wrote us, after you returned to Canluum and confirmed her fears. Thank you for speaking the last words over him.” Atlan said.
“I didn’t come for thanks Gaidin, I came to get back in the fight.”
“There are easier ways to get back in the fight Mr. Grayson.”
“All respect sir, I’m not looking for easy.” Lheorik said.
Atlan stood, “What do you think, brother?”
Marshall nodded, “Looks sturdy enough, let’s find out why the Light left him here.”
Atlan extended his hand, “Think hard before you shake Lheorik, if you struggled with Red Horse training, apprenticing to a Gaidin will break you.”
Lheorik hesitated, then reached out and shook. He felt the cold, heavy, metal of Hayden Rodril’s Signet ring on Atlan’s hand.