Dragon's Library Fiction Contest on November 22, 1998; updated December 14, 1998
Category: WoT Third Age

Towers of Midnight:
The Dragonmount

[Here is a continuation for PoD I wrote, by what I've heard, the next book is going to be called Towers of Midnight, so that is the name I've chosen. I hope you will like it. I'm stuck right now. Let see if you can continue this yourself.]

The royal palace in Caemlyn was a place of beauty, but today, Elayne saw none of it. She stared at Dyelin, unbelievingly. "It's impossible! Impossible!" She said, even to her own ears, it sounded like a whimper. It was strange, what she noticed. Birgitte's showed no emotion, face blank as new snow. But inside... Fear surged, and grief that was almost as vast as her own. But woven underneath it, woven through it all. Was worry, for her. Birgitte could feel what she did. Could feel that grief that seemed to be ready to swallow her. Sorrow that seemed endless. Coldness inside that burned her heart. Aviendha was pale in her green dress. She sat hard on the floor, unable to stand, and breathed hard. Usually the Aielwoman had her emotion in control. But now her eyes were wide with shock. Nynaeve held a hand to her mouth, eyes agonized.

"I fear it happened, Elayne." Dyelin said, Elayne closed her eyes. To shut the world out. To shut out the sight of the woman. She wanted so much to embrace saidar. To touch the True Source and destroy Dyelin, destroy the message she had brought with her to the Palace. "My cousin is very reliable. I trust him, The Dragon Reborn has gone mad."

Aviendha made a sound, half a groan, half a chuckle. "His name is Rand al'Thor, can't you say it?" She asked fiercely. Elayne opened her eyes tiredly, but the Aielwoman already had taken a hold on herself.

"Elayne...?" Reene Harfor hesitated at her glare, standing near the door, she looked almost frightened. The very first time she saw the woman hesitating, she always thought the woman as hard as the mountains. Her curtsy was deep enough for a scullery maid, "There is a man, coming to see you. He says he was sent by the Dragon Reborn and..." That was all she had a chance to say. The light of saidar enveloped Aviendha, and the first maid was dragged to the dais.

"Are you sure?" Aviendha voice held the quietness of the grave. "Did he came from Rand al'Thor?"

Reene nodded, that seemed to be the only thing she could do, Aviendha held her two feet above the floor. Elayne watched, another time, she might have stopped Aviendha. Now, she couldn't make herself care. "Send him in! Now!" She ordered. "Aviendha, release her."

Reene fell to her knees, "But... he's one of the Dragon's men." An Asha'man, not surprising that Rand would send an Asha'man, but why hadn't he come himself.

"I said, send him in! Go!" Elayne was surprised at the sound of her voice.

"That would not be necessary." A voice said, a man stood by the doors to her rooms. A tall man, a very tall man. In his middle age, with brown eyes and hair. He was clad in black, breech and coat. The sword on his hip looked like they were of one flesh. He had two strange pins on his collar. A silver one shaped like a sword, and another, on the other side, shining gold and red. Shaped like a snake with four legs. A dragon. The man was an Asha'man, a man that could touch saidin. A man that would go mad by the Dark One's taint on the male half of the True Source. A reason to the horror she saw on Reene's face, and even the fear, poorly hidden, in Dyelin's eyes. "I'm here." He had a very deep voice. And eyes that seemed to bore into her head. "Out!" He ordered, both Dyelin and Reene Harfor obeyed eagerly. The doors closed behind him, without a hand touching them. Elayne knew she had to be afraid, terrified. Only the Dark One has to be more feared than a man that can channel. So she was taught, but now, with the news Dyelin had brought, he could be Asmodean or Demandred for all she cared. If only he had some message from Rand, something to say that he wasn't mad. That she hadn't lost him before she even had a chance to claim him. Something... anything... the pain inside her increased with every heart beat. The man's eyes were locked on her, his gaze shifted to Aviendha, and back to her. Only his eyes moved, from her to Aviendha and from Aviendha to her. He made no sound.

A sound behind her made her spin back. Birgitte stared at the man with wide eyes. The shock she sensed within her was something she never felt before. Relief surged in her warder in waves that seemed to drown everything else. Relief! And another thing, Elayne couldn't put a name to it, it was as if someone promised Birgitte that everything would be fine. And she believed him. "I should have known that this was some kind of a trick." Birgitte said, her voice was warm, as if she talked to an old friend. "It fits you, doesn't it?" She smiled at him, "Elayne, may I present you Lews Therin Telamon, The Lord of the Morning, The Prince of Dawn." She made a strange bow, left hand on left knee, her right hand gesturing in invitation.

"Birgitte," There was no surprise in the man's voice. "It's... interesting to see you here." He seemed to shiver, and then he melted. Rand stood where the man - Lews Therin? - was. "I haven't expected anyone to recognize me." The smile faded, he returned his eyes to Aviendha, then it slid back to her.

Elayne stared at him, she hated herself for doing it, but she searched the signs of madness in him. She found none of it. Save the shifting look, as if he couldn't decide who to look at. Her or Aviendha. He wore the same black clothes as the other man wore. But he had no pins on his collar. On the left side of his breast there was a red blood circle. In the center of it float the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. It did float, it must have been the One Power. Rand's eyes lied on her, blue and gray eyes. A troubled look in them. But that was the only sign of nervousness in him. He was so beautiful that she barely held herself erect. The relief she felt was almost enough to make her faint. She realized how she looked at him, her eyes wide open, smiling at him like a child. She couldn't erase the expression from her face.

Aviendha was the first to overcome her shock. Nynaeve still stared at him, with eyes that seemed to be ready to fall off her face. She jumped to her feet and glid to him. Rand watched her coming close, without moving a muscle, he seemed to be drawing back. He rose a hard, "Aviendha," he started, his voice were... hesitant. That was all he had time to say. Aviendha slapped him, as hard as she could. Elayne winced, she knew how strong Aviendha was. Rand's head barely moved. Aviendha rose another hand, and Elayne thought she might slap him again. Rand thought so too. She could see it in his eyes. She began to move to Aviendha, her knees were so week she could barely stand. Birgitte was on her side in a heartbeat. Steadying her. Aviendha sent two hands and caught Rand by his ears. Elayne wondered why he hadn't stopped her, he could. Aviendha was strong, but Rand was stronger. Aviendha pulled Rand's head down. Pulling his mouth to her, she kissed him. Rand hadn't moved away, he couldn't, Aviendha had a good grip on his ears. And Elayne doubted if he would have had he could.

Aviendha released his ears, apparently making the same decision. She put her hands on his neck, hugging him. Rand's arms went around her. Embracing Aviendha. Elayne moved her eyes away. It wasn't that she was jealous in Aviendha, not anymore. But she wanted to be in the other woman's place. Birgitte gave her a comforting look. "Go out," Elayne said, "and take Nynaeve with you." Nynaeve hadn't overcome her shock yet. But now Elayne thought she had another reason to be stunned. She looked at Aviendha as if she never saw her before. Birgitte stared at her for three heartbeats. Then she nodded. She practically had to push Nynaeve out of the room. By the time they were out and the doors were closed again, Elayne had calmed herself. Rand was still kissing Aviendha. Finally, he rose his head, taking a deep breath. Aviendha lied her head on his chest, breathing hard. "The last time you kissed me, Aviendha." Rand said pleasantly, "You made me chase you half way around the world and run five miles in a snow blizzard first. Did anything happened that I don't know?"

"I thought you have gone mad, or worse!" Aviendha said, her voice still held the fear Elayne felt herself. "I thought... I..." Elayne stared at Aviendha, her eyes wide. The Aielwoman had tears in her eyes. And she blinked, trying to hide it. Rand saw it too. He rose Aviendha face at him with one hand, the other still held Aviendha close to him, he didn't seem to be ready to let go, forever, and kissed Aviendha again. It was even longer this time. Or so Elayne felt, she hadn't divert her eyes this time. She was surprised to find out that she hadn't felt that stab of jealously this time. She still wanted to be in Aviendha's place. But she hadn't felt it half as strong as before.

Elayne cleared her throat, for the third time, before they took any notice of her. Aviendha moved back, Rand's hands slid off Aviendha's shoulders, regretfully. He didn't even have the manners to blush. The red in his cheeks came from Aviendha's slap.

Rand smiled at her, her mouth tightened. He had no right to smile at her that way. And that with him still holding Aviendha's shoulder. But she couldn't make herself angry about him. Simply couldn't! But there was something she could do. Something she promised herself she would do. She had to force herself to walk to him, a part of her wanted to run to him.To be sure that he wasn't a dream. To hug him, to be sure that he was... sane. That last thought came in a grimace, she didn't like thinking about it. She embraced saidar, and readied waves of Spirit. She sent a hand to his face. He would be her warder. She hadn't realized that she was smiling at him, a soft smile. She wove the flows.

The air against her was fire. Every breath was agony, every heartbeat sent weaves of pain through her. Saidar surged in her, feeling her till she thought she would burst from that flow of light. And more. She was reaching her limit. Despite the pain, she tried to stop it, she failed. Something fell between her and the source. A wall that cut her off the light that filled her. A shield. But not one she could feel. Rand's shield. The pain began to fade almost immediately. And she rose to her knees, she wasn't sure she could stand. She was ten feet away from Rand. He was on the floor, breathing as hard as she was. His face was agonize. Aviendha was by his side. Sending worried glances at her, and demanding to know what happened. Rand hadn't even noticed her, he was too busy cursing. Every curse she had ever heard, and many she hadn't. She thought he might have a better control on the dirtier parts of the language than Mat had. As if he had read her mind, he shifted to the Old Tongue. She didn't even know he knew it.

She was on her feet, leaning on the wall. When Birgitte rushed in, a long dagger, almost a short sword, in each of her hands. "What happened, I felt... " She began, she stared at her for a heartbeat, than moved her eyes to Rand. Readying herself to attack him. Rand stopped cursing, he took Aviendha's hand and stood. Obviously leaning on her. It was a sign to his weakness, she doubted if he could stand by his own. She thought she could, barely. He felt it worse than she did, whatever it was. "Next time you will try to kill me, Elayne," Rand said, with only a touch of anger in his voice. His eyes burned a hole into her, "use a dagger."

"What happened, Elayne?" Aviendha said, helping Rand to sit on a carved chair. "You wove something, and..." She seemed to be searching for the words.

"She tried to do something impossible." Rand said, his face was still pale. But every sign of pain was gone from him, how he managed it she had no idea. She still felt her skin burning. "Saidar will let you guide it, you can't force it to do something. It should have been the first lesson you had to get in the White Tower. It will kill you if you will misuse it. What did you tried to do?" Birgitte held a hand for her, but she nodded, for now, even with Birgitte's help, she doubt if she could make three steps without falling flat of her face.

Elayne wiped a tear from her eyes, her body still ached. "You had to thank the pain, Elayne." Rand said grimly, she hadn't realize she said it aloud. "You are lucky to be only shielded, I tried to sever you. A reflex your sisters were quite good at teaching me." His voice was full of bitterness. Sever, the thought echoed in her mind. That was how they called stilling in the Age of Legends. Never again to touch the True Source. She shivered. This time, Birgitte didn't bother to see if she want her help or not. She carried her to a chair near Rand as easily as she would have carried a little boy.

"What were you trying to do?" Aviendha asked worriedly, "It almost killed you and Rand both." Birgitte glared at her, her warder never believed that she could take care of herself crossing the street.

"Birgitte, there is nothing here for you to guard from. Will you leave us?" It was an order, and surprisingly, Birgitte obeyed.

"Guard her." She said to Rand, just before she left.

"With my life and more." Rand's murmur was direct to himself alone, not to Birgitte. But she heard it, and Aviendha too.

With a groan, Rand rose from the chair, only to seat on the floor. He motion Aviendha to seat too, Aviendha never sat on a chair. For some reason, it surprised her that Rand was so polite. She hadn't expected it, though she should have. And looked at her, "What were you trying to do, Elayne?"

"I was trying to bond you, as my warder." She said, seating, falling, on the floor. "It... didn't work quite well." To say the least, if Rand wasn't shielding her, she would have burned out. Aviendha lied a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she hadn't took her eyes from Rand. The woman looked... eager.

"You tried to do what?" Rand's voice was sharper than any sword. He seemed to be looking inward for a moment. "Allana..." It was barely a whisper. "She it gone." He threw back his head and laughed. That rich laugh she remembered so well. "Light, she is gone!" He looked at her, "You made me a great service today, Elayne. Greater than you know. And as for the bonding," She didn't even saw him raising. All she was aware of was that she was suddenly standing, feet dangling a foot in the air. And Rand arms were around her. He kissed her, as thoroughly as she had ever been kissed.

Warmth flowed into her, a little like the light of saidar, only stronger, softer somehow. Light that filled her to bursting, and beyond. She was a ray of light, dancing over a frozen lake. She was a flower, a rose, warming itself in the sun. Then it faded, all the warmth in her simply disappeared. And with it, every last shred of pain remain in her from that accident. In the back of her head, two sets of emotions lied. One, the familiar one, was Birgitte's emotion. The other one... Rand's emotion, she was suddenly aware of how good he felt, holding her. She could sense his pleasure, his surprise, his joy. But more than all, she could feel love, as strong as she felt to him. But there were other feelings also. He was pain from head to toe. How he ignored it, how he kept it hidden so well, she had no idea, the pain was fading, it already faded completely in her, but it lingered on him. The pain she had caused him, it made her want to cry. She wanted nothing to hurt him. Nothing!

But although the pain was beginning to fade from him, one pain remained. His side, it felt like fire. As if the pain he felt at the moment of stabbing never ceased. In horror, Elayne understood that that was what happened. There were tears in her eyes, for him. How could he live like this, she felt him pushing the pain away, ignoring it. How could he do it? How could he smile at her so, full with pleasure, when his side burned like fire? He saw the tears in her eyes, he understood. He hugged her even more tightly, "What cannot be changed must be endure, Elayne. The Wheel weaves as it will." It didn't help her, she still wanted to cry. But she understood, she thought she loved him more for this acceptance. If she could love him more than she already did. She was still floating in the air, saidin, strangely, it didn't made her even slightly nervous. It should have, although Rand was the one channeling it. She touched Rand's cheek. Aviendha's hand was marked in red, and she could feel the pain of it. Aviendha was very strong, but he ignored this too. So many pains in him, so many he ignored. She didn't understand how he could do it. She wanted to cure every last pain in him, every last one of them. He deserved none of them, he was a good man, the best she had ever met. And that she loved him didn't affected her judgment in this area. Although the light knew that it did in many others.

Rand's hand wiped the tears from her eyes, gently, his touch burned on her skin. Aviendha watched this, smiling approvingly. Approvingly! How the woman did it, Elayne had no idea. When she was in Aviendha's place... Rand laughed suddenly. For no reason she could see. He laid her on the floor gently. He still grinned to himself when he took a step back and made a bow. Finer than she thought he could, a flower appeared in his hand seemingly from the air, blue and green and yellow and white. "I promised you a flower, Elayne. In the Stone." Was all the explanation he offered. She took the flower, the trembling in her hands had to be the affect of the bonding. She didn't tremble because of Rand. She didn't shiver because what the man felt inside. This time, the tears in her eyes were of joy, not of grief. I can't spend my life crying about everything Rand does, no matter how sweet it's. She thought to herself, she was acting as bad as Nynaeve. It was beautiful rose, cold as metal in her hands, and as she watch, the color of it shifted, blue becoming white, green darkening into black, white becoming yellow, and yellow turned into red.

"Thank you." Was all what she could say. But it wasn't enough, she crossed the space between them, and kissed him, a noticeably longer kiss than the first one. Noticeably more pleasurable than the first one. It was the first time she could feel Rand's side of the kiss. It must be as strange to him as it was to her. An eternity passed before she found herself leaning on Rand's chest, breathing hard. He said something, but she didn't bother hearing it. She was aware to her arms around him, and his around her. The sound of his heart beating, the sound of his breath, his smell, everything else was ignored. Rand didn't seem to mind. Part of her mind was amused, the method of bonding Rand had chosen was peculiar to say the least. "It's a strange way to bond someone." She said. Stepping away from him was harder than releasing saidar. And his hands lingered on her shoulders for a moment, he didn't want to let go of her.

Rand shrugged, "It's the way the Asha'man use, the way they taught me, it works well enough." He smiled at her suddenly, "Besides, it had its... advantages." His mood shifted, as quick as a lightning. He became deadly serious suddenly. He looked at Aviendha, the Aielwoman came close as soon as she herself left Rand's arms. "Elayne wanted the bond, and Min forced it on me. But you have the choice, Aviendha. You can..." Aviendha didn't waited for him to finish.

"I... didn't knew this hurt you so." Aviendha said quietly some time later. Her hand almost touched Rand's side then snatched back. It pulsed with every breath he took. Elayne couldn't understand how Aviendha kept her calm so well. She still had to fight down tears. Maybe being an Aiel had something to do with this, Aiels were like warders in many ways. And Elayne had yet to see the warder that would complain if he had a spear in him. She didn't doubt that Rand could be a warder as good as Lan. A warder to me, so I thought, but now I'm the one who is bonded. She thought, amused. Nothing seemed to be going as she planned, but on the other hand, it wasn't going too bad at all.

"What did you say, before, about Min?" Aviendha asked, Elayne had almost forgotten it. Min forced him to bond her.

Rand suddenly became cold, grim as death and twice as dangerous. "Seat! It's a long story." He said, "And not a pleasant one." He added in a murmur barely heard."You will not believe me," he began. "Light, I don't know if I believe it myself. But I've to. I hear a... voice, in my mind. Lews Therin's voice." Elayne heart froze, Aviendha's face became blank. Rand winced, muttering something she was glad she hadn't fully heard. Something changed in him, she wasn't aware of it until it was gone. A turning of Rand's stomach. A rotten taste on his tongue. The Dark One's taint. It was gone now, he released saidin. The small knot of emotion in her head became... dizzy, fading quickly. Then it became normal again. "I'm not holding saidin." He said, before she even began to form the question. "You felt it, haven't you? Like there are two of me?" He didn't wait to their nods, and reluctance ones at that. "It happen every time I grab the Source, or release it. As if not only I grasping saidin. It must be Lews Therin!" He sounded as if he wasn't certain, as if he wanted them very much to believe it. "It's not the taint. I know this, at least." He closed his eyes shut. Pain that had nothing to do with the body well in him, "I remember being mad. It was nothing like this." The pain was push aside, ignored but not forgotten. He opened his eyes. Elayne was ashamed in herself, and in Aviendha too. None of them made any move to comfort him. The pain in him was as real as any knife wound. If only she could understand why.

"Do you mind, for once, to give me some privacy?" Rand growled suddenly, talking to the air. His eyes were unfocused, he seemed to be trying to look into his own skull. One of Rand's hands began to tremble. Inside, Rand was full of hate and rage and fear. Grief and sorrow, pain and amusement! And half a dozen others she couldn't even name. Rand flowed to his feet, as if he had no bones in his body. "Come! Lews Therin has a... suggestion. I can show you him." She felt the dizziness in her head as he grasp the source. The air... shimmered for a moment, that was all. Rand took five steps forward. Elayne saw no difference whatsoever from where he was standing before and where he was standing now. "Come." He said again.

Aviendha rose slowly, and arranging her skirts, walked to him. She had a strange look on her face, Elayne thought she had the same on her own. She didn't thought that Rand was mad, but she couldn't accept what he was saying.

As soon as she reached Rand she stopped, aghast. "Tel'aran'rhiod!" She whispered. There was no mistaken in that feeling. "Rand, it's dangerous to be here in the flesh, the Wise Ones said that it can take away what makes you human." No one had ever ignored her as fully as Rand did. He stood, eyes closed, shaking. She counted twenty heartbeats before he opened his eyes and took a deep breath. Aviendha put a hand on her shoulder.

"The Wise One remember something from long ago. The memory had been twisted too much to be recognize." Rand said suddenly. He still had his eyes close, but he didn't seem to be shaking anymore.

"Some of us had came here, where anything we harmed in our madness was fixed." A voice said behind her. The voice Rand had, when he first entered her rooms. Using illusion.

"Elayne, Aviendha," Rand said, opening his eyes and pointing at a man that suddenly stood near him, "let me introduce you Lews Therin Telamon." The man looked like the form Rand had chosen, using that weave of illusion, as tall as Rand, with brown sad eyes and dark hair. Wearing strange cut cloth in brown and gold and red. The man bowed slightly. Smiling faintly.

Elayne watched the man nervously. She couldn't decide whatever he was real or not. It could be something that Rand had created. A simple thought was enough to create things here. But she knew it can't be so. The small knot of emotions in her head seemed to... the best word she could put on it was split. One for Rand, and a second one for the man Rand called Lews Therin. And Birgitte too. The man, she couldn't think about him as Lews Therin, not quite yet, seemed sane. Not at all like she expected. She blinked, the cloths the man wore were as fine as she had ever seen, but they were covered in dust. And there was more than one spot of blood on them. There was tiredness in the man's eyes, and sadness that echoed through the bond to him. "You're suppose to be mad." That was Aviendha, as forward as always. Elayne winced, waiting for the explosion that must follow this words. Rand felt very amused for some reason, though he showed none of it. Lews Therin looked at the Aielwoman, simply staring at her. A chair appeared behind him, carved ivory and ebony, above his head the ancient sigh of the Aes Sedai shined.

"He is," Rand said quietly, "as much as he was when..." Lews Therin didn't look at him, but Rand fell silent, though for a heartbeat only. "The reason, though, is different." The sadness and grief in the older man hadn't weakened, maybe they couldn't. The grief had the feeling of something that never ceased, as if it was always there, always would be there.

"Grief can drive a man mad." Lews Therin said, his voice was deeper than Rand's, in a different accent. But the way he said it, the silent sureness, almost commanding tone, was so much like Rand's that Elayne blinked, stunned. "Especially after... what I've done." The only different was the sadness. Compared to Lews Therin's voice, to his tone. A fade sounded cheerful. "When you're going to tell them? You did the right thing, although I doubt if they would think so, but they have the right to know. They must know."

"Later." Rand said, glaring at Lews Therin, the man ignored the glare. How he could do this, Elayne had no idea, Rand's eyes burned. And he was full of fury to bursting. "I hadn't come here for this. Later will do."

Lews Therin shrugged to this, as if this wasn't important. Elayne could almost feel something passing between the two of them. "Then why have you came here? To show them I'm real?" The smile on Lews Therin's lips seem out of place. It quickly became to a snarl. "Or to prove this to yourself? Am I a creation of the madness?" The man spread his hands wide, "A madman's illusion?" He shifted his look to her and Aviendha, none of them said a word, Elayne doubted if she could make a sound. She barely breathed. "Maybe there is some justice in the turning of the wheel." He said. "The reason he brought you here, save from making you believe that he isn't mad, yet," Her heart missed a beat to the last word, "Is that he needs you. Loves you, both of you. And you need to see something." Rand gaped at him. Surprise and pain surging in him. Lews Therin felt... determined.

"See what?" Aviendha asked, she wasn't afraid. Aviendha was far braver than she herself was. Far braver than she could ever be.

"The day you died in," Rand said, his voice held no emotion. He looked, and felt, sane. "I hope it can be delayed, but..." He sighed, so tired suddenly that he barely stood erect. Lews Therin lied a hand on his shoulder, murmuring something that only Rand heard. Rand nodded, whatever Lews Therin said, it helped, a little. A window appeared in the air to their left. Fifteen feet tall and twice as wide. And she saw... Aiels was running through a gateway, a gateway into utter blankness. She recognized the place, the outer side of the garden when she first met Rand. There was seemingly no end to the column of Aiels spreading wide all across the gateway. Some of them began to climb on the wall. Rand and Aviendha passed through the gateway, the woman in the window had a hunted look in her eyes. Rand's face were ice. Mat followed them, holding that strange spear of him. The gateway closed behind Rand. "It's the day you killed Rahvin." Aviendha said, Elayne glanced at Rand, his back was firmly turned to the window. And his emotions were unreadable.

"Look!" Lews Therin commanded. And so they did. Lightnings stroked out of cloudless skies. In the window Rand looked up, his face were stone, his eyes fire. Something appeared in the air above him, a disturbance in the air. Spinning slowly. Lightinings that stark the disturbance were gone. But it was already too late. Elayne saw the lightning landing, directly on a man holding a harp. Mat had been hit by another. Aviendha stared at the window in horror. In it, another Aviendha lied on the ground, staring at the sun with open eyes. Rand stood three feet away. The disturbance still spreading above him. It took some time before he looked around him, he knelt near Aviendha, touching her cheek momentarily. His face, when he rose, was something that Elayne would always remember. She would face a Myradraal gladly, shielded, rather than see that expression on Rand's face. The prophecies of the Dragon said that he would break the world again, by the look on his face on the window Rand had made, he was eager to do so. "It wasn't so!" Aviendha said urgently. "It wasn't so at all! You were there, and then you weren't! This hadn't happened, Rand al'Thor! It hadn't!"

"It did," Rand's voice sounded distant. The window winked out. "Rahvin killed you, the day I killed him. You were dead." He laughed suddenly, bitterly. As if he couldn't help it, the sound of it made Elayne cringed. "Balefire," Rand's voice was dead, "balefire erases the pattern. Erases the actions one had done. Only the memories remains."

"You don't explain it very well." Lews Therin said, surprisingly, he sounded... calm. "Balefire burns threads of lives out of the pattern, the problem is, it burns it so strong that it burns the thread back in time. The result is that the actions of the one you killed using balefire were erased from the pattern. It can be dangerous, very dangerous. Every time you burn a thread, the pattern is weakening. In the War of Shadow, the pattern nearly unraveled itself." Lews Therin stopped suddenly. "It might be better if you will show them." He said.

Rand stared at him, his eyes were blue gray stone, slowly burning. He let out a long, ragged breath, before nodding slowly. Inside... he was trembling, shivering, a branch on the point of break of snapping. The window appeared again. Rand was on hands and knees, his eyes still had that look, as if he searched for something to destroy. Not caring at all if he would be destroyed too. He rose to his feet unsteadily, his eyes searched for something. Then he rose both his hands, and a ball of... light, jumped of his hands. Solid light, molten fire, brighter than the sun. Twice as wide as Rand was tall. Sweeping upward, everything it touch was simply... gone. The window was gone. The air shimmered once again, and Rand strode through it, face like stone. Eyes that burned through everything he looked at. Inside, there was a tight bundle of pain, stronger than any pain of the body. And this, he couldn't push aside, couldn't ignore.

As soon as Rand took three steps and Lews Therin, with a surprised expression, simply vanished. Rand exited Tel'aran'rhiod, Aviendha was the first to follow, but Elayne was the first to reach Rand. "Now you know what I'm afraid of." He had his back turned to them. "I've seen you die, Aviendha. There is nothing I wouldn't do to stop this. The actions erased, but the memories remain. And I will not have it again. Never!" He turned to look at them, determination, eagerness, anger, fury and grief welling up in him. Ready to explode. "The bond, it had a trap, woven into it. If forces you to obey. Ilyena died because she refused to leave. I will not have you dead for being to brave to know when it's time to leave. I... I..." his voice, utterly cold and commanding at the beginning, began to falter. Elayne came to him. Hugging him, and Aviendha was there too. Holding him up, looking at him, she thought he might begin to cry. Light, there is so much pain in him. So much he never let out. So much he endured, how much more can he endure without snapping? She hadn't realize she was humming. An old song Lini used to sing her while brushing her hair. A song its words she didn't  remember anymore. It always calmed her, and now, it seem to help Rand, just a little bit. But every bit was important now. Every bit to keep Rand sane. Blinking, Elayne chased the tears from her eyes. It was no time for crying. She could cry later. But she knew she might as well cry over Rand's corpse all too soon.

Aviendha stood on the dais in the Grand Hall in Elayne's palace. It took a true effort, only standing. She felt like her muscles might simply tear her body apart. In the last three hours she had more shocks than in all her life. Rand had seen her dead, no wonder he had been so cold afterward. Simply thinking of him harmed was enough to bring tears to her eyes. And he had seen her dead, she didn't doubt it, not anymore. No wonder he became so cold after he killed Rahvin. On top of Lanfear's attack, she could understand why he had try to avoid her. But that was only the beginning, he held no secrets from them, none at all. She had been practically on his heels ever since he reached the Three-Fold land. And he kept so many secrets from her even so.

Asmodean, the thought chilled her heart. She had knew the man, talked to him, even shouted at him once. She could hardly believe it. And now the man was free, Rand thought he might have broken Lanfear's shield. If so, only Rand was strong enough to face him. She didn't know when she began to think about him as only Rand. It seemed important, for some reason. And other secrets, so many of them, he kept so many things hidden, so many pains buried. And trusted them enough to let them know every last weakness in him. She was becoming soft. Light, any moment, she might start crying! And knowing about Asmodean was only the beginning. Elayne had flashed in rage stronger than Aviendha believed possible as soon as Rand mention Allana, and what she had done to him. At least it was gone now, Elayne's attempt to bond him severed the bond to Allana. Neither Rand nor Elayne knew why.

Light, she had lived next to him all this time, despite him trying to avoid her, she knew almost everything he had done. Following him without him being aware of it. And he had kept so many secrets that she hadn't even began to suspect it. Not even in the beginning, when she thought she hated him she thought him as less than he was. A very complex man, to do all he had done. A very complex man, and one with more self control one would expect to find in any Wise One. Elaida, the thought tighten her mouth. If she ever laid her hands on the woman... she didn't know what she will do. She couldn't think about something that would fit what had been done to Rand. He wasn't... forthcoming about the details of his prison. But she knew him enough to learn as much of what he hadn't said as she learned from what he had said. So many secrets, so many that he had hidden from everyone, maybe even from himself. But he had hidden nothing from her and Elayne. How much it had costed, to bare himself so for them? She couldn't see Rand, she could feel him being close. But she had the feeling he stared at her, he felt worried. For her, she was sure of. For some reason, it didn't made her angry at him as it had before. It made her feel warm inside.

Elayne sat on the Lion Throne uncomfortably. It wasn't hers, not yet. Aviendha didn't pretend that she understood the wetlanders customs, they had the strangest customs one could think of. But apparently, seating on it violated customs and laws. Not until she was crowned as the queen of Andor. Elayne was angry on Rand, she didn't like to admit that she needed his help. Rand meant her to seat on the Lion Throne, and the Sun Throne too, and today he was about to make sure she will.

It wasn't something Aviendha could even begin to understand, Elayne wasn't the only one who wanted to be the queen. And the other women who also wished for the crown might still be able to win it. Today, Rand mean to make sure they wouldn't. He smiled saying it, the same smile he showed on his face, facing Lanfear. They will learn how... interesting the Game of the Houses can be, with the One Power involved. He refused to tell them what he meant by this, he said he didn't want to spoil the surprise.

"You will refuse for help only because you're too proud?" Aviendha said in a murmur, just loud enough so her near-sister could hear her. Elayne didn't answer, but she nodded, sourly. That was something she liked about Elayne. She would admit if she was wrong. And Rand was very... forward, explaining her exactly what he had to do in order to keep the throne empty for her. She wanted to shiver, remembering his eyes, enormous white hot fury, mastered by willpower as strong as she had ever met.

Many eyes stared at Elayne, and at her, and Birgitte and Nynaeve. Almost every noble of Andor was present, and many eyes held fury, sliding on Elayne, in a white and red dress, seating on the Lion Throne. All the nobles were gathered here since The Dragon Reborn wished to meet Queen Elayne of Andor. None missed the title given to Elayne, they blamed it on Elayne. Although it was Rand's men who made this statement. Those Asha'man made her wish she had a dagger in her hands. At least they weren't here now, they brought the nobles, and were gone. "Where is he?" Elayne said, quite loudly, "I do not mean to wait here forever." Aviendha could feel Rand, standing ten feet from the dais, hidden by flows of saidin. Elayne could feel him too, but the words were a sign, for Rand. Almost immediately fire flared in the center of the Hall. A ball of fire, ten feet in size, as hot the sun and twice as bright. Hanging in the air, it flared in every color possible. Aviendha closed her eyes, the light was blinding. She counted fifteen heartbeats before the light began to fade.

Rand stood in the Grand Hall, he was clad in blood red coat and night black breach. The sword she had given him was hanged on his hip, as if it was a part of him. No, it was a part of him, used as naturally as he had used his hand. The buckle that shone on his belt in red and gold was also a gift from her. She stared at him, surprised, he was calm. She felt only calmness in him. The soft, strong calmness that didn't even waver ever since he broke in their arms. The left side of his face was clad on shadow, but he was standing in no shadows. His right hand was also dark. Aviendha could hear ripples of murmurs all across the hall. The sense of fear filled it, men that could channel had gone mad, and then they rotten alive. She forced herself not to flinch at the thought. It was clear what everyone must think. Even Nynaeve was pale around the eyes. Although Elayne had warned her that Rand knew how to use illusion. Birgitte said that in Lews Therin almost had a talent in illusions. He was far better than anyone else in the Age of Legends. She glanced at Elayne's warder, the fair woman was looked the same as she always did, in yellow wide breach, and blue coat. They didn't hide a secret from Rand too. Elayne said that Birgitte agreed that Rand would know who she is. Rand already knew, apparently. She still had trouble to think about the woman as the heroine from legends she enjoyed so much reading about. On the other hand, she had troubles thinking about the man she loved as two people that were one. Rand, or maybe Lews Therin, tried to explain it. But even he gave up after some time, there was too much they didn't know. It was somehow connected to the huge ter'angreal men had passed in order to be chiefs. At the end, even Elayne had to admit she didn't understood what Rand said, something about the ter'angreal being triggered to him. Not only to mark both his arms, but also to make him be Lews Therin. He sounded, and felt, amused, saying this. It hadn't worked quite well.

"I've heard rumors that you've gone mad." Elayne said, the sudden voice startled her. She barely stopped a grimace, she hadn't been paying attention. Light, she could almost smell the fear in the air. That was what Rand insisted Elayne would say.

Rand title his head, as if thinking. "Am I not?" He said finally, "Does it really matter for you, Elayne of Andor?" A smile that didn't touch his eyes appeared on his face. For the first time, Aviendha noticed how much he had changed, how much harder he became. It was like he was another man entirely, with them alone with him. "The taint has a... strange affect on me." He moved forward, behind him, Aviendha thought she caught a glimpse of something red and gold.

A young noble, maybe five years older than Rand. Muttered something, the only word she had caught was "Kinslayer". It had the sound of a curse. Rand stopped on his track, staring at the man. The left side of his face was clad in darkness. But a small sun suddenly came to life where his eyes should have been. Fury babbled in him in waves that erased everything else. Fury strong enough to burn the world. It was controlled in a heartbeat. And pushed aside, the calmness taken its place in another heartbeat. Rand walked the five steps between him and the young noble slowly. The man was about to faint. Pale face and wide eyes. "I didn't mean to..." He began, hysterically. Something leashed at him. A tail, two hands wide, and ten feet long. Gold and red snakelike skin. Wrapping around the young noble, lifting it from the ground easily. No one made a move, a sound. Aviendha thought all stopped breathing.

Rand grabbed the man's throat with his right hand, the blackness around it broke. It look much alike the tail. Sharp talons rose the man's head, he stared at Rand with wide eyes. There was no expression in Rand's face, eyes. He was cold, calm inside, with a hint of amusement. The fury still babbled in him, but it was controlled. Lews Therin's fury, Aviendha thought. "Rand al'Thor!" Elayne hissed, quivering with anger, not on Rand. It was Rand's anger she was quivering from. Aviendha felt it herself, as if it was her own. So strong, it could affect her, make her feel what he felt. "I will not allow murder! Not here! Not in my palace!"

Rand moved his gaze to her, the approval in him left no sign on his face. "I can always take him outside." He said, Elayne glared at him, or maybe it was the fool noble she was glaring at. Aviendha wasn't sure. The tail swung, the man floated in the air, crushing around one of the walls with a loud sound of bones snapping. "He will live." He said.

The tail was gone, the shadow wrapped around his hand again. He walked to the dais as if he had no bones in his body. Aviendha knew this walking, she heard warders talk about it. "A cat crossing the yard." It was called. She couldn't imagine a more arrogant way of walking. Rand stopped for a moment when he reached the dais. Then he climbed them, Elayne stood. Her face pale, eyes glaring. "Some of you trusted friends here," Rand began, no one could miss the emphasis in his voice, "are afraid that I will control you. That you will be a puppet under my control." This time, Elayne's anger was all hers. Rand had told her what he was about to say. But she still didn't like it one bit. "I swear this to you, and may the light be witness to this words, Queen Elayne of Andor. I promised to Dyelin that as soon as you will be crowned, I will leave Andor. I promise this to you, for as long as you rule Andor and wish it, I will never set a foot in Andor." The gasp that run through the Hall was half of surprise, half of relief. Some of the women, those who wished for the crown and the throne, were pale as snow. Aviendha smiled inside, it was brilliant, those noble hated Rand and feared him. They would do anything to keep him out of Andor. What Rand had just said promised that they would support Elayne. Aviendha wondered if anyone noticed the loophole Rand had left himself. Elayne would want him in Andor.

Rand turned and walked down the dais, as soon as he stood on the floor of the Grand Hall shadows envelop him. Fire blazed around him. He was a dead black figure, framed by white hot flame. The the fire burned the shadows away. And Rand was gone. Wrapped in saidin again, she could feel him coming closer to her. He lied a hand on her shoulder, quite pleased with himself. It was disturbing, in a way, not seeing it, in another, it was fascinating. Elayne must have said something, the nobles were leaving the room. Few looked at the young noble, unconsciousness on the floor. Nynaeve stared at him for a long moment, Nynaeve always wanted to heal everything. With a tug of her braid, she left the hall. Without once looking at the man again. He deserved what he got. As soon as the last man was outside the room, Rand unmasked himself. He had a pleased grin on his lips.

"What did he said," Elayne said, motioning at the man on the floor, "to deserve this?"

Rand smile faltered for a heartbeat. "He said enough. I will send one of the Asha'man to heal him. You will be able to trust him with your life, afterward."

"How far you trust the your Asha'man, Rand?" Aviendha said, they were dangerous. Rand told them what that man, Dashiva, had done.

"I left them to guard Min." Was all the answer she had got, this was all the answer she needed. He trusted them fully. She will have to learn to trust them too. At least, those Rand trusted. He rarely gave trust, and as far as she had seen, never put his trust on the wrong person. It wasn't a cheerful thought.

Rand wondered idly whatever he was mad, he thought he must be. In the back of his head, three knots of emotions pulsed. Three women he loved, so beautiful he could barely breath, staring at them. Three women that loved him enough that they agreed to share him. Rand couldn't even begin to understand how they agreed to this. As much as they could never even begin to understand how glad he was, no having to choose between them.

Of course that having all three in love with you had nothing to do with it. Lews Therin whispered wryly. He was sane, lately. Ever since he had bonded Min, ever since Min had forced him to bond her. Rand could lift her of the ground with one hand, never touching saidin once. But all Min had to do was to look at him through long eyelashes and he had given up. The bond had no affect on the mind, not as far as he knew. But Lews Therin had all but wrapped himself around the knot of emotions in the back of his head. And he hadn't flared out in rage ever since. One can grief only so much, Lews Therin said, responding to his thoughts. It's time to leave Ilyena behind. Rand hadn't believed him for a heartbeat. Had he been in Lews Therin place, merely thinking about it made him shiver, he wouldn't stop grieving as long as the wheel turned. Something had happened when he bonded Min, something that only became stronger as soon as he had Elayne and Aviendha too.

What are you hiding from me? He asked, what is it that you don't want to tell me? He received no answer, he expected none. Once again, Lews Therin concentrated on the knots of emotion. Directing all his attention to them. What are you doing? Rand asked, the man was doing something. Lews Therin had a knowledge far vaster than his own, in the One Power, and in other areas. He concentrated in the bonds.

Elayne, grimacing at him, still seating on the Lion Throne, worried and anger flashed in her. She had stumbled on her on feet before, and it left a bruise on her leg. The dress wasn't quite in her size, and she was angry about this too. But underneath it all, he could feel her love to him. Warming her, warming him. Elayne, so beautiful he wanted to kneel to her, a dangerous thought. You could never win a lost ground to a woman. And already she could twist him to her will all too easily.

Aviendha, he could feel the weight of his hand on her shoulder, she was comforted by his touch. Lews Therin laughed at the thought. Rand almost wished Lews Therin would be mad again, he had a tongue that could be even more acid than Aviendha's when she was angry about him. And he knew almost everything he thought about. Shaking the thoughts away, he felt his way to Aviendha, listening was the best word he could find to what he was doing. Letting Aviendha's feeling fill him. Until there was so little difference between what he felt and she did that it barely mattered. She loved him too, but she was also afraid, for him, he thought. Once, the thought might have amused him, not anymore. He couldn't make himself laugh for her worries. Nothing that he could find would interest Lews Therin. He tried to search deeper, listen harder, there was something in her that troubled him. Something that he couldn't understand. Why would she feel so pleased with herself, and at the same time, strange worried. Something she pushed away, trying to ignore it. This at least, wasn't because of him. He had no idea how he knew it. He simply knew. He was surprised to find that she felt something that had no connection to him. Everything in the world seemed to turn around him lately. Aviendha, with eyes that were green and blue at the same time, and red fire hair and a temper as fiery.

Min, the bond hadn't lessened as his bond to Allana had been. He could never thank Elayne enough for releasing him from Allana. But it was still far off, dim. She felt troubled, but at the same time, at her ease. Maybe she was reading, she often felt so, reading one of Herid Fel's books. She spend as much time with those books as she did with him. He knew it was foolish, to be angry on a book, but he couldn't help it for his life. The worst of it, Min knew it, and she took advantage on it. He could picture her to himself without even trying. Deep dark eyes, and a hair as dark, hanging in ringlets to her shoulders. Min, with a light of amusement shining in her eyes constantly and a that small smile that made her so beautiful in his eyes.

"Rand?" Elayne sounded worried, she felt so, too. "Are you... fine?" Sane. He realized that he was standing, eyes unfocused, for a long time. Aviendha had stepped away. Looking at him with unreadable expression.

"I'm fine, I was just thinking." Birgitte looked at him amused, as if she hadn't believed him, he had hard time thinking about her as Birgitte, part of him wanted to name her Teadra. Lews Therin was stunned at the sight of her, to say the least. And he himself no less. He would have to have a long talk with her, and the sooner he will do it, the better it will be. "How long before you can be crowned?" He asked Elayne, he wanted it to be done with. After Andor, she could have Cairhien too. And save him from all the troubles ruling lands he never wished for. Of course, he still had Illian, but he left strict orders for the Council of Nine. He trusted them, to some extent, with Illian, at least.

"In a week, I think." Elayne answered, "It's not something that can be done hastily. Nor something that you can change." Her eyes were full of fury, he ignored it. She would refuse to ask for his hand if she was hanging from a cliff by fingernails. And she didn't like him helping her with something she thought she alone should be able to handle. There was no use in pointing that she was wrong.

"Good." He said, "Then you can spare some time for visiting my... home." He wanted to say grave, but both Elayne and Aviendha had heard enough for today. No need to hurt them more. Light, I can't remember the last time I cried that was. Like a child, too much pain he had tried to hide came to the surface. He couldn't control it, but couldn't regret it either. They had to know him as who he truly was. Not as they wished him to be.

"The Two Rivers?" Aviendha asked, startled. "What do you have..." He put a finger on her lips, silencing her. She bite him, not hard, but strong enough so he would know what her current opinion of the car'a'carn was.

"Not the Two Rivers." He could protect the place he had grown on, at least that would be saved, if not anything else in the world. He would take the troubles of the world into the Two Rivers. Maybe it would be safe, maybe. "Come." Birgitte looked at him questioning. And he nodded curtly, she would go too, he trusted her as much as he trusted Elayne. Although for a very different reasons. Trust is death, but none can trust no one. Give your trust carefully, and never let anyone be on your guard unwatched. Lews Therin whispered, and then he was gone again, back into observing the bonds. Rand took this advice to heart, but he still wondered what Lews Therin was doing. What could be so fascinating about the bonds that Lews Therin would forget himself completely that way was something Rand wasn't able to understand.

He drew more of saidin, enough to make a gateway, and hesitated, their might be dangerous for them. The flows formed, as if by themselves. And a gateway began to turn, not too close, he had to be careful. Not of them, he could trust Birgitte with his life, and Elayne and Aviendha with far more. More than he could trust himself. He had to be careful for them. His... home might not be welcoming for them.

He passed through first, and each of the women followed him. Each with very different expression. Birgitte walked through the gateway without a sign to be anything but calm. Elayne, that came eagerly, curious almost replacing the anger in her mind. And Aviendha, that looked at the gateway for a moment and blushed faintly. She had done so before, blushing, that is. Not looking at him that way, that look she gave him now made him feel... troubled.

Aviendha passed through the gateway, slightly red faced. She wondered what Rand would have said had she told him what she was thinking about. Nothing, she thought, he had changed so much from the man I once knew. And not all the changes were on the good side. This changes will have to go, she decided. She will not have the man she was in love with walk around half the time with a mood fitting to death bed. She will also have to... She dismissed all the thought of the future, she had yet to meet Min. She wouldn't share Rand with a woman she couldn't love as much as she did Elayne. She doubt if Min was a woman she wouldn't be able to love. Elayne loved Min, and she trusted her. Rand loved Min too, as much as he did her and Elayne, apparently. She could feel love in him, underneath everything else. Always existing, for her, for Elayne, and for this woman Min. She knew Rand better than she knew anyone else. Better he knew himself, she thought sometimes. She had to admit that she knew him better than she knew herself. She trusted his judgement, he wouldn't fall in love with...

"Ta'veren." Rand said suddenly. And she gave a start, looking at him. He had this far off feeling in him. Maybe he was talking to Lews Therin. You accepted what the pattern wove for you, you didn't tried to fight it. It was a lesson Rand thought her, far better than any of the Wise One could. And she had to accept that the man she loved was actually two men. Both real, and one that was older than the mountains. Ta'veren, she thought, half amused, half desperate, it was a ta'veren twist of the pattern that made fall in love with you, Rand al'Thor. What had the pattern destine to you? Ta'veren were woven far more strictly into the pattern than others, and had the pattern required it, Rand could fall in love with any milkheart wetlander that the pattern wished. "Stop!" Rand ordered, and she barely stopped herself before bumping into him. "There are traps woven here, I need to adjust them to you." For the first time, Aviendha looked around, they were in a huge hall, huge indeed, maybe ten times the size of any sept. Clans could be comfortably here. She thought, stunned. The hall ended in the distance, maybe ten or fifteen miles away. And to her right it linger for at least three miles. To her left, she thought it must be ten miles until she saw a wall. The ceiling was about twenty feet above the floor. There was a door about every fifty feet. All around the perimeter. She couldn't believe humans could actually build such thing. But the floor, the wall, everywhere she looked at, were far too smooth to be made by nature. Far too smooth to be do by any human too.

"The One Power," she said, "this was build with the One Power, wasn't it?" But even so, the size of the task amazed her, who would build such a large place, and why.

"Of course," Rand said lightly, too lightly. There was sweat on his face, and she thought he might be throwing up any moment. Saidin, what it's like, to want to vomit every time you touch the true source? "How else could I do it? This was only a mountain not a week ago."

"A mountain?" Elayne asked, "Where are we?" Rand was silent for some time, ignoring everything. Then he tremble, and let out a deep sign.

"Done." He said, "Now the traps will know you." He turned his eyes to Elayne. "You said something? I wasn't listening." He was tired inside, exhausted. Whatever the traps he set here. They must be the deadliest he could think of. She didn't even want to imagine what they might do. Unpleasant and nasty to the beginning, that was how Rand always was, to his enemies alone. She couldn't even start thinking about what he might have done without shivering. He could think of the most dreadful things in the worlds sometimes, or so it seemed.

"I asked, where are we?" Only a hint in her voice to anger, she felt the tiredness in Rand too. She must have, and she had to understand what it meant. Aviendha never thought Rand weak in the Power. She had seen him doing things that were beyond even Nynaeve, far beyond. And it wasn't the lack of knowledge that would hinder Nynaeve if she will ever try to compete him. He was maybe twice Nynaeve strength, maybe more. And what he had just done had left him exhausted. It was something she never saw. In Cairhien, she saw him channeling for hours upon hours. She could estimate the amount of power he was drawing, even with the aid of the angreal he had. He was strong.

"The traps here are nasty things, dead is the only thing you don't have to fear they would do to you, Aviendha." Rand said, as if he had read her mind. Not the first time he had done so, but every time it startle her anew. It wasn't fair for him to be able to do so, guess what she was thinking about so accurately. "The strongest I and the Asha'man could create, the worst we could think of." He smiled at her, softly, gently. Light, but he was so beautiful. "We're on the place I've created dying. The place I've born on, Elayne." His grin reached his eyes, feeling them with warmth. Reminding her why she love that stubborn wool head so much. "The Dragonmount welcomes you."

Elayne opened her mouth, then closed it and swallowed hard. Her eyes were wide, and the light of saidar enveloped her. "My Lord Dragon," An angry voice said. Aviendha blinked, and blushed, she stared at Rand so hard she didn't even notice what was happening around her. In the Three-Folds Land, this could have cost her in her life. And near Rand it was usually more dangerous than it was in her home. The man who spoke was young, a year or two below Rand. With almost white skin, and huge eyes. It was the hair that attracted Aviendha's eyes. It was night dark, and was as long as Elayne's if not longer. Arranged in two braids, two silver bells were tied in the braids' end. As Rand was, the man was clad all in black. The coat was strange, with high collar and made of shining silk, dead black save two pins on his collar. One shaped as a small silver sword. And on the opposite side of his throat, a snakelike creature in red and gold. A dragon. Those two pins shined bright on the coat's darkness.

"Narishma," Rand said calmly, "is something wrong? You don't like being a full Asha'man?" He sounded amused, slightly. He certainly felt amused, not so slightly. He had to force a grin down.

"You know it's not this." The young man said, touching hastily the dragon pin on the left side of his collar, as if to remind himself it's there. "It's that... woman! I can't turn around without seeing her behind me! She make me nervous!" For some reason, this made Rand even more amused. "You said we mustn't harm them. But can't you tell her to stop this. She make me feel like a horse she is trying to decide if she want to buy." This time Rand actually barked a laugh, she couldn't remember when he laughed so freely.

Narishma blushed deeply. With his pale skin, it looked like he was on fire. Rand muted the laugh quickly, but the amused smile lingered on his lips. She didn't believe it was possible but the man blushed even more. "Why don't show her the more... " he hesitate for a heartbeat, looking at her and Elayne. He seemed to think again about what he was about to say. Choosing his words carefully. "Show her the more unpleasant side of what you are. Carefully. I don't want her to be too afraid of the Asha'man." Both she and Elayne noticed the slight empathize in Rand's words. Aviendha wanted to cry, what had happened to him? How could he have changed so much? Manipulating the fear and hate people had for him for his use. It wasn't the Rand she left behind. It was a much wiser Rand, and despite all the times she wished him to be like this. She regretted this wish, it was nothing like she hoped.

Narishma seemed to be thinking for a long moment, then he smiled at Rand. "I think I know what to do." He said, for the first time, he looked at her he gave her the impression that he was looking into the inside of her skull. He looked amused suddenly, his gaze slide to Elayne. He was amused, the smile on his face matched Rand's. Had matched, as soon as Rand noticed the look Narishma gave them the smile, and most of the amusement were gone. "My Lord Dragon." Narishma said, still smiling despite Rand's glare. He touched the left side of his breast with a fist. And walked away, the opposite direction they were heading for. She heard him muttering something about sharp knifes and terrorizing Aes Sedai before he was too far to hear anything.

Elayne took a deep breath, she was on the point of trembling. "It was one of your... men, wasn't he?" She said, disgust clear in her voice, Rand staggered back at her words, pained expression on his face. He looked like he had been kicked. "What he's doing here, I thought you said this is a safe place." Anger burned pain in Rand, fury that washed away any other emotion.

"What is the difference between me and Narishma, Elayne? If needed, Narishma would give his life for me, for you, I trust him! If it will be needed, I will trust him with your life! He's as loyal as I can ask him to be, and more!" The words were delivered by ice cold voice, frozen fire. Rand suddenly looked taller, his hands were clutches to fists. Knuckles white. Inside, he was empty, no emotion, no thought, only that twisting of his stomach, and the feeling she knew from herself, the ecstasy of holding the One Power. "What give you the right to be disgusted of him, Elayne Tarkand? What give you the right to see what he is and judge him for this alone?" Rand hasn't rised his voice, but Elayne flinched. Aviendha remembered seeing Rand so angry only once before. When he learned about Elayne's mother's death. She could feel the inside of him. The fury inside he forced aside. Not letting it touch him.
"Narishma is an Asha'man, a guardian, not one of my men. I price his life as much as I price mine! What gives you the right to look at him and see only a man that can channel? What gives you the right to look at me and not see the man that can channel?" The worst of all were his eyes, emotionless when they looked at Elayne. Empty of every emotion save the glint of fury that anyone that didn't know him enough would have missed. Without adding a word, he turned sharply from Elayne and trotted along one of the walls of the huge hall they were in.

"Lews Therin!" Birgitte's shout made him stop on his track. He turned slowly, glaring so hard at Birgitte that the woman paled. Elayne simply stared at Rand, as she herself did, unbelievingly. She had never expected him to be so... protective about those Asha'man of his.

"My name is Rand al'Thor." Rand said quietly, coldly, the coldness of the grave, the quietness of death.

Birgitte took a deep breath, but she hadn't backed away. Aviendha thought that had Rand stared at her that way she would run away. As far as she could, there was so much emotions in him suddenly. Disappointed and rage were obvious on his face, but there were others, emotions he controlled so tightly that were barely existing. Pain, sorrow and grief were the only one she recognized. And love, almost muted. Elayne closed her eyes, she leaned against the wall. Refusing to look at Rand, Aviendha understood her, she could face anything from Rand, even hate. She thought she could, but not disappointment. "Lews Therin," Brigitte started, then she had to take another breath. Rand's glare match Sorilea's best. "I need your help." The fair warder said.

"Later!" Rand growled, "Whatever you want, it can wait!"

He already began to turn, to walk away, Birgitte call chased him, "I've given you an oath, Lews Therin, and kept it. But you have given me your word! Would you break your oath?" Rand had stopped, as if he had walked into a stone wall. He turned to Birgitte, no longer glaring, or even staring hard. Simply looking at her, for thirty heartbeats he stood, while all the emotions that flood into him vanished.

He didn't run to Birgitte, but certainly walked fast. A step away from the warder, he made a small bow. Rand bowed to no one! "I gave my word." He said plainly, "Whatever your need is, if I can help it, I will." Elayne opened her eyes to look at the two of them with eyes as wide as they could go. For herself, Aviendha thought her eyes might fall to the floor, her mouth hanged open. She didn't seem able to close it. Rand gave them a single look, and took Birgitte's arm, there was a door fifteen feet away. Birgitte and he passed through, three breathes later, a very bemused black clad man walked, trotted, out. Even younger than Narishma. He also had those two pins on his collar. He gave them a hard glare, and opened a gateway. To another part of this place, so it seemed.

"Rand feels... like an arrow." Elayne said. Aviendha stared at her, not quite the words she would have chosen. He always seemed to be thinking about three dozens things at the same time. How he kept them all in order was beyond her, but he did. Now... he seemed to forget anyone else. Concentrating on Birgitte alone. She thought he might even forget them entirely. "It was foolish of me." Elayne said to her, "to talk to him like this, I mean."

"Elayne!" The gasp behind them made both her and Elayne jump. "I thought you're in Andor!" Laughing, the woman hugged Elayne. Elayne hugged her back, her smile almost as wide as the other woman's. Aviendha looked at the two of them in surprise. The other woman wore blue coat, soft cream blue. With a matching breaches. That made Aviendha open her eyes. She had never met a wetlander woman who wore breaches. Save those Cairhienins fools who claimed to adopt ji'e'toh. The woman had dark brown hair. And, as she stepped away from Elayne, Aviendha noted the big dark eyes, and the mouth that seemed natural laughing.

"Min," Elayne said finally, "it's so good to see you again." So this was Min, Aviendha stared at her with open interest now. She had to admit that the woman was beautiful, as beautiful as Elayne was. Far more than she herself was.

"And you must be Aviendha." Min said warmly, the woman looked at her, openly examining her. "I'm Min. You're... different than I've expected." That made her blink. What under the light the woman expected to? "What happened to Rand?" Min asked, "He feels... focused, more focused in something than I ever seen him before." Aviendha hadn't thought about it that way, it might be the best word to describe how Rand felt, in the back of her head.

"My Lady Min?" A man said, Aviendha hadn't even noticed him. Another one of those Asha'man. A graying man, he had the look of a soldier. Tough and hard as any clan chief she had met. "Do you still need me? I doubt if there is anything here to attack you, and I've my own study to resume." Min's face became slightly green.

"Of course, Flinn." She said quickly. "I... wouldn't want to keep you away from your studies." She swallowed hard. The man touched his heart with a fist, just like the other Asha'man did. Turning his look to Elayne, he bowed, slightly. And murmured something that made Elayne stand strait. Staring at him wide eyes. Before Elayne could say something, he was already beyond a gateway.

"He's from Andor!" Elayne exclaimed, "I know him! He was in the Queen Guard!" She looked as if she didn't believe to what she herself was saying.

"An Andoran with very strange habits." Min murmured, her face still pale. Aviendha didn't think that they were suppose to hear it.

"What do you mean?" Elayne asked, her face amazed. "I don't remember much of him, but I remember enough. He used to guard me while I was a little child."

"He is as interested in Healing as Nynaeve is." Min said, "But he wants to know everything about it. He need to know how muscles works and how the body heal itself. He can't learn it from human, so he goes to the blight every couple of days, and get few Trollocs to examine. Apparently, they are enough for him to study." Her face became even greener. "I once entered to his... study. I feel pity over the Trollocs."

"How many people Rand have here?" Elayne asked, "Surely not enough to fill all this space," That was as far as she went.

Min began to laugh, the green disappeared from her face. "There is Rand and me, and the two of you, of course. And the Asha'man, six of them, as of now. Rand said he may go to the Black Tower to get more of them." Elayne shivered to this, and Aviendha barely stopped hers. Min said it so... naturally. As if it was something common, men channeling. "And the Aes Sedai, of course, twelve of them. With the two of you, twenty two."

"Aes Sedai?" Elayne asked sharply, "What twelve Aes Sedai? You went with only nine."

Min bit her lower lip. "Why don't the three of us go to Rand's... my rooms and drink something?" She suggested, "I think you will need something to drink, it's a long story. And..." Her voice dwindled, Aviendha felt Rand coming closer rather than heard him. He was... worried wasn't quite the word. Concerned was the word that came to her mind.

Rand opened a gateway, and passed through without a word, he at least had the manner to leave the gateway open so they could follow him. "Rand," Min said as soon as she walked through the gateway, "what is wrong?"

They were in a dark room, lighten by half a dozen glowing balls of light. The walls were maybe twenty feet apart in width, and twice that in length. There wasn't even one window in the room, and only one door. By what she saw through it, it led to Rand's bedchamber. The thought alone made her blush, Light, She thought, can't I think about anything else? There were about two dozen chairs, simple dark brown wood. Without any gilding or carving. Three tables caught her attention. One was loaded with books, on the point of cracking from the weight it carried. The other table was almost as loaded, but with maps instead of books. "Wrong?" Rand wondered, he was standing near the third table, his back hiding what he was doing. Turning around, three cups float in the air at them, it looked like a reflex. Min caught hers as naturally as she breath. Elayne grab it with a grimace so vile Aviendha thought she might sour the wine. For herself, she had to force herself to take the cup. It smell of plums, and something else she didn't recognize. "Nothing is wrong, save that bloody wool headed woman that Elayne had bonded as warder." His voice, the way he moved, even the way he stood, his eyes never resting on one spot, spoke of immense tense. "Women!" He muttered, throwing himself into a dark chair. It had the sound of a curse.

Aviendha look at him, then quickly searched something else to talk about, anything save Birgitte. The way he was, it would only darken his mood. This had to be avoided. "What did Narishma want?" Was the first thing that came to her mind, at least the first that wouldn't darken Rand's mood. The first that she can make herself say aloud without dying blushing.

"Narishma?" Rand sounded surprised, but some of the tense faded, the smile returned to his face. He was much more beautiful, smiling. "Narishma has a problem, Aviendha. I've... taken some of those who... taken me prisoner under... my custody. As I did with those Salidar sent me." The hesitation were painful, he had to force the words out. "Beldeine is one of those I've brought here." The smile changed, holding no mirth in it. "I needed saidar, to make such a huge task. And I can trust them, to some extent." He looked at Min saying it, and she nodded shortly. He seemed to relax a little, seeing it. How could the woman make him so... ? No, this could wait. "Maybe Beldeine is trying to prove herself that she isn't afraid of the Asha'man. Maybe she thinks she can have some use of an Asha'man as a warder." Min nodded to herself, without taking her eyes from Rand once. She sipped from her cup slowly, Aviendha doubted if Min even felt the taste of the wine. "Maybe it's me again," Aviendha blinked at him, Min open her eyes wide, only Elayne seemed to understand what he meant, "twisting the pattern again. Or maybe she is in love with Narishma." He sounded more than amused for the last. "Light, it's no stranger choice than falling in love with me." Aviendha glared at him, there was a difference between falling in love with him and falling in love in any other man. With others, I might have been able to maintain my wits. Rand smiled as if he read her mind, again! "Moghedien," He muttered, almost to himself, "if I ever lie my hands on that woman..." His voice fade, as if he didn't know the words to fit what he planned.

Elayne walked to him, and, holding her cup carefully, trying to look natural, sat on his lap. He smiled at her for a moment, then return to stare darkly at his cup. "What happened to Birgitte, Rand? This is the reason you are angry about Moghedien, isn't it?" She asked softly. For the first time, Aviendha notice that she had been holding a wine cup without drinking. She needed it, the wine was made of plums, soft and sweet and warm. She had the feeling that this was the way it should be, both the wine and Elayne. Min took a chair near Rand, folding her legs and wearing an unreadable expression. Aviendha hesitated for a long moment, she didn't like seating on chairs. But she didn't seem to have a choice. If she would seat on the floor, Rand would too. Elayne tried to make him forget his anger for her. She wouldn't get in the way of her near sister like that. And standing would have the same affect. She sat on the very edge of a chair. Uncomfortable.

Rand wrapped a hand around Elayne's shoulder, "Birgitte," He said, he titled his head, and his eyes had that far off stare in them. As if he was listening to something only he could hear. Lews Therin, it still made her want to shiver. After a long moment, Rand signed to himself. "She wanted to know if I can take her back to Tel'aran'rhiod. To unmake what Moghedien did."

Elayne sat very straight suddenly. Staring at Rand with all the dignity she could master. Aviendha wonder if she had to take notes. It must be hard, looking that way at a man while seating in his lap. "Can you do this?" Her voice was empty.

"What, taking her back? I think I can, at least. Lews Therin think it's too much a risk." He smile at this, as if he had just said something funny. Whatever it was, none save him smiled. "But I believe it can be done. I even think I know how Moghedien learned how it can be done. I even found a way to avoid the problems in your bond to her." His smile gone, blue gray eyes intent on Elayne's blue. Min stared at them, one eyebrow rise. Of course, she didn't know about Birgitte.

Elayne tried to rise, "When are you taking her? I want to say her goodbye before she..." Rand didn't let her go.

"I don't take her." He said simply.

"What!" Elayne exclaimed, "Why? What give you the right to make such decision for her..." She fell silent as Rand threw his head back, laughing.

Rand had tears in his eyes by the time he controlled himself, and Elayne cheeks were red spots in pale face. "A moment ago you were grieving her for leaving, and now you're angry of me for not taking her away from you." Rand said, amusement heavy in his voice. "It's not my choice, Elayne. It's her. All she wanted to know is whatever I can do it."

"She don't want to leave? Why? Rand, she is pain inside, missing Gaidal all the time." Elayne said, her voice held enough strength to make any Wise One pride. Min's eyes went wide the soon Gaidal's name was mention. She stared at Elayne as if she had never seen her before. Aviendha thought she might have guessed. Min remained silent, and so she herself did. This was between Rand and Elayne, and Birgitte, of course.

"She is your friend, not only your warder." The man answered, he took a sip from his cup. And didn't look at Elayne. Quite obviously hadn't looked at Elayne. "As for Gaidal..." He sighed heavily. "I rise her, did you know it? In the Age of Legends. My little band of heroes." His voice, his eyes, were unfocused, staring at something long pass. "I needed something more than simple soldiers. Twenty five years before the War of Shadow began, I already knew about the existence of the Dark One, about what he was. It wasn't hard to find orphans. The Light know there were too much orphans those days. I gather little more than one hundred," He smiled faintly. "Even Ilyena was shocked by what I planned, some of them weren't even five years old. But she helped, for pity of the children if for nothing else." He returned to the present suddenly. "I thought them how to use every weapon possible. Trained them to be my hounds." There was disgust in his voice, "I did what I thought necessary, never because I liked it. And every last of them swore an oath to me. And I swore the same to them." He stopped to swallow, he wasn't lost anymore in the past, he was explaining something, Aviendha wished she knew what it was. " 'As long as one drop of blood still flows in veins, as long as the wheel turn and the Dark One exist. To death and beyond.' " He quoted. "The Wheel sometimes has a strange humor. My band of heroes, so I called them. And every last one of was a hero. None of them survive to the last year of the War of Shadow. And I will make sure that their murderers will die, their death avenged." He looked at Elayne, at Min, at her.
There was something in his eyes, something she didn't understood. Inside, he was frozen metal. Nothing touched him. "I called them from the grave, on the day I... sealed the Dark One away from the world." The day he killed Ilyena. "I promised them that everything I can do for them I will. None ever asked me for a thing." The wine in his cup trembled. There was grief in him, about a time long past. "Go away!" he whispered suddenly, seemingly to the air. "I'm sorry," he said a moment later, "it happens sometimes, I get carried away by the memories. It doesn't matter anymore, save that Birgitte has the right to ask whatever she wish from me." He looked at Elayne, morning skies eyes with no expression. "Birgitte is your friend, Elayne. She wouldn't leave you. Not even for Gaidal, she always had too much pride. Without Gaidal, she always got herself into troubles." Fury burned inside him, lasting heartbeat only. "Moghedien promise to hurt her as badly as she could, when I will find her, I will make her beg to suffer as much pain as she had given." He said the words in a quiet voice, Aviendha believed him. He had the sound of utter truth in his voice. "Birgitte wouldn't let me return her to where she belongs. But I did... something to... help her a little." Rand was never so hesitant, never!

"What have you done?" Elayne asked in a small voice. "What could you do?" Her eyes widen in shock suddenly. "Loving Gaidal was the reason she was the reason she was always sad, so you..." She choked on her words.

"I erased the memory of loving Gaidal from her. Compulsation." Rand said, he sounded as disgusted from what he was saying as Elayne looked. "Before you will throw up a tantrum," he said quickly, "tell me what else could I do. I set it to unravel when she will meet Gaidal again. And she will meet Gaidal again. In a new body, a new mind. But it will be her Gaidal. As ugly as always. The pattern would allow nothing else. I would allow nothing else. And let me burn for it!" He glared back at Elayne, as hard as she glared at him. "What else I could do? I had no intention to leave her to bleed inside, Elayne. I owe her too much."

"I don't know." Elayne muttered finally. Her glare faded slowly. "I don't know, but I can't like it."

Min cleared her throat, loudly. "Would any of you mind explaining me what you're talking about?" She said, "It's a very interesting argument, but I would like to know the rest of it."

Rand laughed softly. "Of course," for the first time, he seemed to notice that she was seating in a chair. Hadn't Elayne been in his lap, she would have threw her cup on the fool. The way he stared at her... Rand stood easily, and set Elayne on the floor carefully. "Elayne, why wouldn't you start telling Min what you've told me, I need to make some... arrangement, I will be back soon." With this, he took a long step back, and flames enveloped him, he was gone in a heartbeat. He hadn't gone far, maybe to another room in this huge hold of him.

"Show off!" Min noted calmly, "the first time he did it, he frighten me half way to death." Aviendha had to agree, for a moment, she thought he was burning. Min rose from the chair, and sat on the floor, Elayne did the same. Aviendha appreciate it, she couldn't feel comfortable, seating on a chair.

"Min," she had to ask this, "how can you be so calm about this." Her gesture include the entire strange hold, build inside the Dragonmount, the Asha'man in it. "Those Asha'man, they can go mad any moment, killing anyone in their sight."

Min was silent for a long moment, her eyes, when she lifted them from her wine cup were dark storms. "So can Rand, and there is nothing any of us can do about it." Her tone changed, sadden, "Morr had gone mad, he was barely a boy. Rand gave him something to make him sleep, too much of it." She shivered, Aviendha caught a glimpse of unshed tears in her eyes. "I liked him, I grieve his death, Aviendha." Her eyes changed, for a heartbeat, they reminded her Rand's, frozen calm and burning fury. "Two Asha'man had given their life already for Rand. I know about two times he would have died without them. There are probably more I don't know about. They aren't the monsters from the stories." Min stopped to take a breath. "I like them, the one Rand's has with him, at least. They are men, they can channel, that is true, but they are still men nevertheless."

Elayne had red spots on her cheeks. What Min said was so much like Rand's words, so much unlike what she herself said that it seemed deliberate. For herself, Aviendha had her cheeks on fire too. Her thoughts weren't that much different than Elayne's, at least when it came to those Asha'man. Elayne emptied her cup, and Aviendha took a long drink from hers.

"Who was Morr, Min? What are you talking about?" Aviendha asked. Min took a deep breath and began talking. Aviendha drunk more of the cup as Min continued, that Rand hadn't told. He hadn't have a chance, after telling them about his kidnapping. Neither she nor Elayne was ready to listen to any further word of him. She thought he mentioned something about Aes Sedai swearing fealty to him. She was too furious to listen to anything. Min completed what they hadn't let Rand tell them. In some ways, it was as disturbing as the what Rand had said. He had another wound on his side, and that Darkfriend, Padan Fain, wanted him dead. For the first time, she heard what happened in the Sun Palace. She didn't know what to think. There was too much she didn't understood. Renegade Asha'man who wished Rand's death. The mad Asha'man Min had to take care for while Rand hunted for the attackers.

"Light," Elayne murmured at the end, "it there anybody who doesn't want to kill Rand?" She sounded desperate, no wonder about it, Aviendha understood long ago how frustrating Rand could be. He took no care for his life, and he had enough enemies to make Sorilea afraid.

"The three of us." Min said quietly, she didn't sound as if she was joking. Min looked at the cup in her hand and seemed to give herself a shake. "I think this is as far as I'm going to drink for today." She said loudly. Her cup was full of wine, as if she hadn't taken more than one sip. "I suggest that you would do the same."

Aviendha stared at her cup, it was almost as full as Min. She knew she drunk more of it. "I thought I've drunk more than one sip." She said, wondering.

Min smiled at her, a very amused smile. "You drunk at least three cups, if not more, Aviendha. You too, Elayne, so you can stop being so pleased with yourself. It's a trick that have to do with gateways, as far as I understand it. An old party trick, so Rand call it. This can get fool around with it even when you know about it." She blushed, "It happened to me, twice." Elayne took one more sip and put her cup on the floor. Aviendha settled her cup on the floor hastily.

"Three times, actually." Rand said from behind them, Aviendha hadn't felt him coming. She would have, he must have just come in. "You... were too drunk to remember the first time." His smile were so like Mat's for a moment, that Aviendha froze. There was a glint in his eyes. Something in his movement, amusement of sort. Not of them, or so she thought, something else. "Did I miss anything," Rand asked, he carried a tray. Her stomached rumbled, reminding her she hadn't eaten since yesterday, she couldn't eat, not when she thought Rand had gone mad. And later, there seemed to be no time for this. Rand's smile widened, as both she and Elayne snatched bowls from the tray before he even sat it on the ground. "I thought you will be hungry," Rand said, even more amused than before. She was too hungry at first to feel what she was eating. Some kind of a soup, with some kind of a meat in it. Rand took one bowl for himself and gave Min another. Two other bowls remained on the tray. Light, if I wasn't too hungry, Aviendha thought, I would kiss him. She glanced at him over her bowl, too hungry to do anything save eating. For some reason, being with him almost made her forget her body entirely, Rand and Min ate far more slowly. Min looked at them, amazed. Rand only smiled. It felt good, relaxed, to see him smiling. Light, there wouldn't a thing she wouldn't do just to see him smiling. He was so beautiful when he didn't. When he did, she had troubles thinking.


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