The stars were hidden beneath a coverlet of clouds, but the darkness didn't touch her. Not this night. Though her features looked as they always did - a terrible mask of burns and queerly patient calm - her mind was working, faster and faster. Is this the will of HoonDing, then-? Is this what I was meant to seek?
She turned the bits and pieces of conversation over and over, running her thoughts across them. Her tongue rubbed the pearly smoothness of her teeth, as if reliving the words it had spoken.
To make way, to find the path. A grain of sand cannot stand against an ocean; I do what I must.
Is this what he wanted from me-? A woman who rides alone, to find a banner at last and hold to it, to gather others to the cause and...
And what, exactly?
She paused, looking to the street thoughtfully. Rainwater pooled against the stone cobbles, reflecting lamplight. Her own disjointed reflection, battered by drizzle, stared back at her, aloof. Daniyah watched it a moment, gaze lingering on the hideous marks that ravaged her features. Her head tilted, and she could feel the cold pellets of rain striking the scars, running over them and down her gorget, into the coarse gambeson that she wore beneath the heavy plate.
A shiver clutched at her spine, the cold and wet seeping through the many layers she wore. After a moment, she began walking again. To be still was to be subject to the cold; at least when she was walking, the motion kept her warm. Though she'd lived in High Rock as a child becoming a woman, the damp and chill had never felt like home to Daniyah.
To do what I have been doing, only better. To be more than just one grain of sand against a treacherous storm that threatens to upend all things as we know them. That is the purpose I have been given, and in doing so, I will face my weaknesses and my failings.
A woman who rides alone, now bears a banner and must represent more than just herself.
A crooked smile briefly stole across her features, almost a grimace. It was only fitting that a thing which would test the strength of others, would also test her own. It was as the merchant had said, after all - a Company was a shield-wall, and her faith in those within it would be more than fleeting fancy. Wasn't that the point, after all?
She couldn't do it alone. And it would be a bitter lie, to call a man Brother, to call a woman Sister, and then to doubt them in turn, to hold herself aloof or above them; it wouldn't do.
It was a problem for another day. A bed waited at an Inn nearby, and she had much to consider. Daniyah was nothing if not patient; the answer would find her in time. She had only to look, and dilligence would eventually wear through uncertainty. She bowed her head against the rain and made her way through the dark city streets.
It never occurred to her to be afraid; she hadn't been afraid for her personal safety in a long, long time. There were bigger things to be afraid of, and Daniyah al-Amin was not the kind of woman who was often seen as prey.
But as she pressed her way into the Inn, grateful for the warmth that replaced the chill spring midnight, she was met by a messenger - a Redguard boy of scarcely twelve who wouldn't look the fiercely ugly woman in the eye.
"Are you Daniyah-? Daniyah al-Amin, trained by Hakeem Sulayman?"
She nodded, her undamaged eyebrow raising to be addressed so accurately in a strange city. She drew the door closed behind herself, surveying the low-ceilinged common room with a brief glance for other faces. Familiar ones, perhaps.
"I have a message for you. It's urgent; my lord said you'd want to know..."
Here, he trailed off before shoving his hand in his thin vest and withdrawing a sheaf of papers bound with sinew. She frowned. He was hardly dressed for the weather. "Where did you come from, boy?"
He still wouldn't look her in the face, and instead addressed her boots, proferring the bundled papers urgently. Her frown deepened as she noticed the tremor in his skinny arm - fear, or illness? Whoever had sent this boy so far into strange lands, she was not pleased.
Grim, she accepted the bundle, and quickly undid the ties to skim the first pages...
And she felt her heart sink inside of her. The air seemed to grow cold. Her muscles turned to water, and she felt her features stiffen.
Hakeem Sulayman has succumbed to his long-standing illness, and has named you his heir. Your presence is required to commence with the burial proceedings. Further details to follow.
Her voice was not her own for a moment; it was as if someone else was speaking with her tongue. She drew a deep breath and fought for stillness.
"Thank you for delivering this to me. I will be leaving tonight. You may accompany me if you wish; it will be safer for you."
A thousand moments stretched out before her mind's eye, golden memories, the passage of time slowing, stopping. Hakeem Sulayman, one of two men who had taught her, the man who had shown her the Alik'r and the Book of Circles.
It was not pain that she felt for his loss. All men must die someday, and Hakeem's illness had been particularly cruel... but the world felt somehow hollow for his loss. In times of conflict and trouble, he had been there, a wise man with a sharp tongue and sharper wit. There was no one else she had felt closer to, but for her own lost squire.
The boy shook his head quickly, bobbling on his feet. "No, dame. I'll travel home with the traders who got me this far." His voice was deferent, but his eyes told a different tale - this giant armored woman was more fearful than comforting. Daniyah scarcely noticed, still clutching the papers as she fumbled with a few coins for his troubles.
They fell from her fingers and struck the floor, seeming loud in the silence. Abruptly, she turned and strode from the Inn, heading straight for the stables and for her beloved Mazin.
The cold rain and wind didn't bother her now, as she tucked the papers into her cloak - her once-fine red cloak, a treasured gift she'd born for ten years or more - and she murmured wordlessly to the fine grey mare who was her closest friend in all the world. In an hour's time, she was in the saddle, flying through the darkness, her beaded hair streaming behind her like a penant.
As one door opens, another falls closed - it was no mistake.
The Waymakers; a fitting name. Hakeem's teachings live in me, and they will not die with his name - or with mine.
Other stories featuring Hakeem Sulayman: The Temerity of Youth, Ovank'a