Cueraina patted her purse and smiled as she walked away from a mercerâ€™s shop. Andoran merchants were no challenge. Her journey had taken her all the way from her home of Bandar Eban in Arad Doman to Caemlyn, and had yet to meet a man of any kind that had challenged her. Her mother had taught her well, teaching her all the necessary skills that a Domani woman should have, but even her mother had commented on how unnaturally good she was in dealing with men. She always got what she wanted from them.
Cueraina frowned: it was about the time that she really became good at dealing with men that the Seafolk began to refuse to deal with her, and not allow her on their ships. It was puzzling, she had not done anything that would have offended their customs, she was simply not allowed to board their ships any more. What puzzled her further was the fact that it was the Seafolk women that did the bargaining; they were much more challenging for her in negotiation than any man was.
It was actually rather disappointing for her, her family had been conducting business with the Athaâ€™an Miere for generations, and Cueraina had harbored the idea that she would continue the family business. Her mother had encouraged the notion, believing that her negotiating skills and business acumen would bolster the family business. Sensing her disappointment, her father had come up with an alternative idea: Get out and travel, go out and discover new business prospects for the family, learn about the world before returning home. Cueraina was to travel to the midland countries of Andor, Cairhien, and Murandy, sending back letters of her experiences and business dealings as she traveled.
At first she was skeptical of the idea, traveling so far from home and family into foreign nations did not appeal to her. Several times during her first few weeks of travel, she almost turned around and went home, as she began missing her family, friends, and her own bed. As time passed, however, she discovered that she liked traveling with the merchant caravan, looked forward to her time on the road. She found the new people she met to be fascinating, and looked forward to each new experience and each new city. It had almost gotten to the point where she could not imagine her life stuck in one place; such was her enjoyment of being on the road now. If only she could find something to challenge her in her journeysâ€¦
She paused at a nearby merchantâ€™s booth to examine the gloves on display. The flowery embroidery on the wrists of the gloves was very good, and the quality was certainly well above average, but the merchant was certainly overcharging.
â€œâ€¦Goodâ€¦â€ she thought, and smiled quietly to herself. She searched through the display until found a set of slim white gloves with thorny red roses that suited her taste as well as fit her hands, and proceeded to negotiate with the merchant on the price. She flirted with him as she haggled, casually touching his hand as she talked. She felt a strange surge of something as she touched him, a brief intensification of her surroundings, and a brief sense of power. The feeling passed as quickly as it came, and she resumed negotiating. The merchant quickly agreed to her offered price, the look on his face of a man that didnâ€™t know what had just hit him. â€œStill no challenge,â€ she thought, and turned away from the booth intent on finding her way back to the inn that she was currently staying at.
A fleeting movement from above her caused her to look up at the roof of a nearby tavern. She was astonished at what she saw. She found that she was looking up at a man hiding on the roof, but he was like no other man she had seen before. He was certainly well armed, carrying numerous spears, a bow on his back, and a large dagger on his leg, but only a small shield for armor. His clothing was certainly very different from what she was used to seeing; it was a mottled assortment of browns, tans, and grays that helped him to blend in with the brown tile roof he was perched on. His short hair was a brilliant shock of red, the kind that was not seen anywhere in her native Arad Doman. It took Cueraina a moment to match the stories with the appearance, and realize that she was looking at an Aielman. She didnâ€™t know much about the Aiel, only the stories that her father had told her of his days as a soldier during the Aiel war. What he had told her had fascinated her; of their prowess in war, their skills in stealth and survival, of the wasteland they came from beyond the Spine of the World. Everything she had heard about the Aiel told her of how dangerous they were. She smiled to herself; she liked dangerous.
As she watched him, the Aielman looked right at her. She tensed for a moment, wondering what he would do. He regarded her with no expression, seeming to analyze her from his rooftop perch. His gaze covered her from head to foot, leaving her feeling as if she had been weighed and measured. She had never been so casually regarded like this by a man before, certainly not since she grew up and began negotiating on behalf of her family. She was still making up her mind about what to do about him when he casually disregarded her and looked away. No man had done that before, certainly not when she wanted to be noticed. This Aielman was veryâ€¦
She weighed her options, and decided that he was too interesting of an experience to pass up. She headed toward the tavern he was perched on, looking for a way to clamber up to where he was. She wanted to confront him about his presence in Andor up close where he couldnâ€™t ignore her. She was the negotiator for her familyâ€™s business, and she wasnâ€™t about to pass up a challenge like this. She wasnâ€™t going to admit even to herself the fact that a man had dismissed her first was cause for irritation for her.
The front of the tavern had no easy way to climb to the roof where the Aielman was, so she began heading around to the side of the building searching the walls for an easier route to take. The wooden tavern walls did not offer an obvious means of assent, there were windowsills to stand on and rafters to grab, but she didnâ€™t want to be obvious in what she was attempting to do. It would be very unladylike to be seen attempting to climb the wall of a tavern, so Cueraina headed deeper into the alley alongside the tavern. The alley was strewn with junk and debris, broken glass and pallets discarded by tavern workers and tavern patrons alike. Dust and filth covered the alley. No easy climbing routes up the wall were readily apparent, causing Cueraina to second-guess her decision to come back behind this â€œQueenâ€™s Palmâ€ tavern. The Light only knew what was back there in the dim recesses behind this dingy little place. Perhaps if she waitedâ€¦
She turned about to head back up the alley into the street, and saw too late that there were several thugs that had followed her into the cluttered alley, blocking her way back out. They hesitated, not expecting her to turn back around so soon, but quickly closed ground to where she was. They knew that with their numbers, size, and weapons, they could easily overpower her. She barely had enough time to pull her dagger before they were upon her, knowing even as she unsheathed it that her dagger wouldnâ€™t be enough. She would go down fighting, no matter the cost.
She slowly backed away, waving her dagger menacingly in front of her. The thugs hesitated slightly, knowing that while they would win through sheer numbers alone, none of them wanted to end up on the receiving end of that dagger. They all wanted their sport without the pain or injury. Deep down, they were really cowards. She would have to use that to her advantage to live.
The thugs kept moving forward, focusing on her dagger. They were so intent upon their quarry that they did not notice a top-knotted Shienaran racing up the alley with a sword in each hand, bared for combat. He laid into them from behind with catlike grace and speed, killing one before any of the others could even turn around. He moved on past the still falling body of the first to engage a second, blades flashing with blinding speed.
The thugs turned to face this new threat, all but forgetting about Cueraina and her dagger. As the remaining seven closed on the Shienaran, she took advantage of the distraction he provided to plant her dagger squarely between the ribs of one of the thugs who had turned his back on her. The grimy-faced thug grunted with sudden pain as the dagger met its target. His breathing became labored as he tried to breathe with her dagger firmly embedded in his side, her hand still clutching the handle. His companion noticed his difficulty, and turned to face Cueraina. She desperately struggled to pull the dagger from her adversary, which had become bound in his ribs and clothing as he had twisted around. The grimy-faced thugâ€™s companion advanced on her, his rusty sword poised to strike. He knew that she was effectively unarmed with her dagger caught in his companions side, and really didnâ€™t seem to care that his fellow thug was dying. His scarred face was painted with sadistic glee as he moved in for the kill, relishing the moment. He raised his sword above his head to strikeâ€¦