Added March 08, 1999
Category: WoT Third Age
Author: Barid, Lanfir

Towers of Midnight:
Wounds of Madness

Elayne walked her room in the Lion Palace up and down repeatedly, kicking everything that happened to stand in her way, rage burning inside of her. She was too angry to realize that she was behaving like a girl the age of six. A girl that her favorite toy had just been taken away. "Why didn't you support me, Min, or you, Aviendha?" she snapped through the thick silence that hung in the room. "It was you Lanfear tried to kill!"

She just had an awful row with Rand. He was determined to push through what he was doing; she had been determined to stop it. She still was. It had been a sheer fight between his willpower and hers; and had taken very long before she finally accepted she had lost. Elayne thought that nothing would have stopped him. He seemed possessed by it. Light burn his soul, she thought, first taking Lanfear, - Lanfear! - As a warder, and if this is not enough, he means to go to Shayol Ghul, to the Pit of Doom, in an useless effort to save a dead woman. She didn't know what made her more angry. He was about to risk his life where it wasn't absolutely necessary, and going to a place where death expected him, and especially him, to save another woman he loved.

"Why would I have supported you, Elayne, if I knew it would not be of any use?" Min sat in a large chair, curled up with her arms around her knees. "It was useless to oppose him, the way he is now; he will refuse to admit you're right even if you say the skies are blue."

Aviendha looked worried. She sat cross-legged on the brightly colored tapestry as she was used to do. In all this time she spent in the wetlands she still was not used to sitting in chairs. She frowned a bit and leaned against the wall with her back. "And I do not really blame Lanfear for her attempt to kill me, she was just jealous. I have seen it happen before; women killed each other for a man. The only thing I blame her for is that she tried to kill Rand al'Thor."

"And Rand bonded her! A Forsaken!" Elayne agreed passionately. "He really must be out of his mind!"

"She seems to obey him. At least, she did not try to kill us when he introduced her to us." Aviendha smiled a bit at the memory, Elayne found nothing amusing in the memory. The woman... she could like her, and that bothered her more than everything else did.

Elayne kicked against a red pillow that lied on the floor, where it had fallen from Min's chair. "I bet she'd love to strangle you, or any of us, and that she would do it as soon as Rand would let her have let her half a chance. I just do not understand him!"

"Rand uses her as a tool," Min said quietly, studying the tapestry on the floor with an absent look in her eyes. "He uses her to achieve his goal."

"Using a Forsaken as a tool? And Light, using a Forsaken as a tool in Shayol Ghul?!" Elayne caught herself stamping her feet on the floor like a spoiled little girl. She hated the way she was bursting out, but she simply could not stop her raging. She felt so many feelings at the same moment that it dazzled her: anger, fear, jealousy, everything at once and all mix up so she couldn't truly tell which feeling was the strongest. When a woman acts foolish, look for the man Lini said, more than once. Burn you, Rand al'Thor, for making me feel like this! Burn you to the Pit of Doom! The curse had another meaning entirely now, Rand was about to go the Pit of Doom, and most chances are that he was going to die. And he knew it, he was hardly himself.

"Did you saw anything, Min?" Aviendha asked calmly, letting Elayne rage on. She did not seem angry at all, maybe a bit troubled. Elayne wished that she could take such a hold of her emotions, too. But when things involved Rand, she just could not hold her temper. She wondered how he did it. Maybe she should ask him about it, if he would stay alive, and if she would manage not to strangle Rand, Lanfear, and this Ilyena, all the three of them, and that is only for a start.

Min closed her eyes for a moment, opened them again and took a deep breath. "I see too little. A woman I think must be Ilyena Sunhair. And the darkness around Rand is thicker than ever. Somehow, she is connected to the darkness. But she is not evil, not fully at least. And the butterflies are also stronger, there are more of them, but not enough." Min's laugh was full of bitterness, very different from her usual laugh. "Somehow, Ilyena is the one to change the balance."

"Will he survive?" Elayne said breathlessly, nothing else matter, Rand had to live. For the world, for herself, and her two dearest friends.

Min stood up abruptly and walked over to the window. "I don't know," she said with her back turned to the others. "Light, I don't know. He plans to go to Shayol Ghul; bonded to a woman that turned to the Dark because she couldn't have him in her hands! And I do not see if he will survive. What bloody use has this gift of me then? What use I've of only half on the truth, and an obscure half if that!" Min turned back, and Elayne noticed the woman was crying. "What if he dies?" She looked at Aviendha and Elayne, tears streaming down her face. "What then?"

Neither Elayne nor Aviendha had the courage to answer her. Elayne felt her anger dissolve within a few heartbeats and felt only worries and fears. What if he dies? A painful silence fell in the room.

"This must be hard for you to do, Lews Therin," Mierin said. They were still in his rooms, thought inside the Dragonmount, not back in Illian, it had been six hours since he had bonded her, since he kissed her. The second event was by far more important then the first, in her own eyes. But now they were ready to leave. They were both exhausted, and Mierin had to appreciate Lews Therin's patience. Determined to go as he was, she expected him to demand that they would be on their way to Shayol Ghul already.

He replied curtly, biting his words off. "It has to be done. Both of them." His face was harder than ever, and Mierin felt through the bond that all his feelings were an unrecognizable knot of anger, fear, sadness, expectation and determination. He had to goal to wish for, the cleansing of saidin, due to the day after tomorrow, and saving his long dead wife from the claws of the shadows.

Duty was the strongest part in Lews Therin, always, and, maybe for the first time, he had to face two duties, both of them important to him equally, and conflicting each other entirely.

She let her mind feel the knot of emotion in the back of her head. It was strange to feel what he felt, to feel something that was happening outside for her, but she got used to it quickly. She liked it to be sure about his feelings. The bond was by far stronger than it should be, Lews Therin told her, and at the same time, by far weaker than the bond to. By what she figured out so far, she was bending to his will, much more easily she was used to be, and she adored him in a slightly other way than she used to do. More than that, she was willing to serve him. She felt he was weary, too. Elayne and Min and Aviendha had argued with him for three hours. Mierin had not been present while she was left to wait in another room, but the feelings that had come through the bond had been clear enough, and the shouts, a female voice. The same one, the woman had to learn that as reasonable your argument was; no one listened when you shouted it. Anger, love, and most of all determination. And all three of the feelings becoming stronger and stronger while time passed. The woman that shouted, Elayne, so she heard Lews Therin name her, the only time he rise his voice.

Rahvin had complained about the difficulty controlling Elayne's mother, and Rahvin was very good in Compulsion. The door open, young man; clad in black, with a silver sword on his high collar. "I need to talk with you, My Lord Dragon." He said. He had dark hair, arrange in two braids, and pale huge eyes. The sword on his hip looked right there, as if it belonged there. There was pride and confidence in the way he held himself. "In private," the man added.

"What do you want, Dedicated?" Lews Therin asked with a voice colder than ice. That was the last thing she heard, but as the Dedicated continued talking, Lews Therin's face became colder, his emotions stronger, anger, fury, and desperation.

By what she saw, Lews Therin cut the Dedicated off with a sharp motion, a horrified expression spread on the black clad man. But he sent his hand to meet Lews Therin and- .

Ecstasy! Strong enough to pass the barrier of pain, pain so strong it became nothing ecstasy. Her mind seemed to vanish, clouded in ecstasy. Becoming mist by pain.

What was her simply gone, changed and reshaped, distantly she was aware of a ripping inside her, and Lews Therin was no more in her mind. Instead, the small knot of emotions reflected the Dedicated's. That was the last coherent thought she had, before everything gone in mix of pleasure and pain.

Aviendha couldn't have it anymore it, she truly couldn't. Urging might be useless, but she needed to talk to the fool man she was in love with.

Her anger was overwhelming, carefully controlled, maybe, but overwhelming nevertheless. She will not have Lanfear as a sister wife. Yet Rand al'Thor's emotions made her own seem unimportant. Murderous fury, so strong it masked everything else in Rand. She could barely even feel the wounds in his side. Even stranger, there was a hint of desperation in Rand. The man was never desperate. Never!

The huge tunnels inside the Dragonmount were carved using saidin, they reminded her of her home. It was almost like she was back in the waste again. In the Bitter Water Sept again.

What under the Light she was doing? It was no time to think about home! She passed a corner in a dead run; the rooms she, Min, Elayne and Rand shared were straight ahead of her. Saidar opened the doors for her when she was couple of feet from them, and she rushed into the huge hall, her own fault, Rand had a tendency to understand her literally. She shouldn't have called those caves inside the Dragonmount "tiny rat-holes". Rand always had a way to dig the worst of her, how could he love her, when she was the worst when he was near, that was beyond her.

Her eyes focused on Rand, the car'a'carn, the man she loved with all her heart. The man who loved her, although she had no idea how he could. She knew herself; she wasn't a person one could easily love.

He stood near to an Asha'man, a young man all in black, with his head in two longs braids, Narishma, that was his name. But she gave him nothing more than a quick glance; it was Rand she cared about. He wore blue coat, made of silk and worked with gold and silver. And his dark breech fit him perfectly; it wasn't fair that the man could affect her so. Now, however, his face was twisted in what seemed almost like pain. Yet she felt none from him. A silent growl made his face a twisted mask. He stare directly at Narishma, their hands almost touching one another, both men sweat heavily, the very first time Aviendha saw one of the Asha'man sweat. From where she stood, she barely noticed Narishma's face; they had the same expression Rand has. There was no sign for Rand's anger, or no reason for. The reason for her own anger, however, was clearly visible; a short, silver hair woman stood about ten feet apart from the two men. Staring at them, trembling slightly. Her eyes... Aviendha gave her another look, suppressing the urge to leash out with saidar. The woman's eyes, Lanfear's eyes, were glazed, and she stared at the men with unseeing eyes. That alone was enough to set another bubble of fury inside her. The woman had no right to look at Rand al'Thor, the car'a'carn was hers.

"Rand al'Thor." She was stunned by her voice, could that vile hiss belonged to her? The man didn't even seemed to hear her. Mouth tightening, Aviendha sat on the floor, she would tell him exactly what she was thinking about him as soon as he finished... whatever it was he was doing with this Narishma. Obviously he wouldn't notice anything for the time being.

She glanced at the silver hair woman and tried to hide a shiver, the woman tried to kill her once, and without Rand, she would have died. Yet Rand accepted the woman as his warder. You're only upset about it because he had to kiss her, aren't you? A small voice asked from the back of her head. Or do you fear the bond will make him fall in love with her? Her mouth tightened even more, if this was possible, she would not share Rand with a woman who tried to kill her.

Whatever Rand was doing, it had to have something with Lanfear; the woman hadn't moved a muscle since Aviendha entered the room. And her eyes... Aviendha couldn't decide what filled the woman's eyes, pain or pleasure or both. She doubted if the woman could see something at all.

"Done!" Narishma whisper harshly abruptly, giving her a start, "Done perfectly. As much as such thing can be perfect." He took one step backward, stepping away from Rand. He nearly fell over his own feet. Rand looked even worse. But he stood erect, not falling to his knees by mere willpower.

"Take her away, Narishma." Rand said, refusing to show weakness even when he was about to fall flat on his face. The fool man! She rose to support him, ignoring his glare. The man has too much pride! He seemed to realize he couldn't make her leave him, for as long as the two of them lived, and looked at Narishma again, "Take her away, and stay out of my sight. I'm not particularly fond of the two of you right now."

Narishma nodded tiredly, then turned to Lanfear, the woman still stared forward blindly. Groaning hard and muttering muted curses Narishma lifted Lanfear up, and stumbled toward the door, seemingly drained of any energy. Before the doors close behind him, he turned his head to look at Rand, "Remember duty, My Lord Dragon, you can not let yourself die." With this, the door bent and turned, closing with a hand touching them.

Aviendha opened herself to saidar; letting warm and life filled her as she wove Air. A chair carved from dark wood rose and floated in the air to her. Rand couldn't stand for much longer. And the chair was softer than the black stone floor. Rand sat limp in the chair, sweat covering his face, his eyes were close, and he breath hard. "Duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather." He murmured, and laughed bitterly, "I never believed this as much as I believe this today." Suppressing curiosity, she trotted to a table where two or three dozens of wine jars were placed. She searched quickly for the strongest drink that she could find. Rand certainly needed something to drink. The third jar she open was what she searched for, the smell alone brought tears to her eyes. She took the nearest cup and poured the drink, it was certainly not wine; it was probably stronger than osqui! By the look on Rand's face, he might have fall asleep where he sat, She brought the cup to his lips, forcing herself to be gentle; she wanted to hit him with something.

He coughed for a while upon swallowing the content of the cup. "What under the Light are you trying to do, woman? Poison me?" He demanded when he caught his breath.

Aviendha smiled, not bothering to hide her amusement, Rand was still full with all that anger, but he showed none of it. The Light alone know how stubborn the man could be, but he couldn't hide so much anger, not from her. "What happened, Rand al'Thor?" She asked him, "I feel... anger, but you show none of it. I don't know why, but... you're strange, it's as if you're not you."

Rand tilted his head, "How... fascinating. You feel the strongest emotions, no matter if I or Lews Therin feel them." He murmured, "Don't you think so, Lews Therin?" He listened to something for a moment, "I didn't think you would." He said, "Lews Therin is not... happy with my decision." A wry smile spread on his face, "Narishma had to remind me of duty, Aviendha." He shock his head in what look like desperation, his hands were close to fists, his knuckles white. She heard him grinding his teeth in sheer frustration. "I shouldn't have been reminded." He jumped to his feet, nearly tripping on his own feet. "I'm too important to the fate of the world, burn my soul. Too important to risk myself." He took a deep breath. His eyes were a blizzard storm, "When I've to choose between the world and what I care more than the world, the world come first. Now you understand why I don't want you near me? Now you understand why I made sure the bond will let me force my will on you?"

Aviendha shook her head, she had to be gentle here, the Dragon was wounded, an old wound, but, just as the wounds in his side, they never healed. And now they reopened. And they had to be taken care of carefully. A woman has to make sacrifices when she's in love. She thought amused; she stood two feet from Rand. All she had to do was to close the distance between them and embrace him. He went rigid instantly. "Don't be a fool, Rand al'Thor," She told him, lying her head on his chest, "You can't do everything by yourself. And you don't have to pretend with me." She heard him sighing, and his arms went around her. Squeezing the breath out of her.

"I'm afraid, Aviendha." He breathed, "I'm so afraid. I've chosen the world over Ilyena. Chosen to follow duty instead of my heart." He trembled, and it wasn't mere tiredness that shocked his body. He put a hand under her chin, pulling her eyes to him. "It might reach to the point when it will you on the balance, or Elayne or Min." He squeezed his eyes shut. His hands closed around her shoulders hard. "I wouldn't do it, do you understand me, Aviendha? Do you? Abandoning Ilyena is bad enough." His laugh carried the echoes of ever closing madness. I will not sacrifice you for the world, Aviendha of the Bitter Water Sept of the Taraad Aiel. I will not!"

Aviendha stared at the man she love, "Yes you would, Rand. You see, I think that I know you better than you know yourself, and you will choose right. I know you will." She put all the seriousness she could into her tone, and with this, she stood on tiptoes to kiss him.

Some time later, she lied her head on Rand's chest again, breathing hard. He was supporting her now.

"Mierin is Narishma's now, Aviendha." Rand said quietly, "I'm not going to Shayol Ghul, not any time soon, at least." Disappointedly, he moved away, and muttered something too low for her to hear. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do." He said, "The bond is not meant to be broken. And Ilyena..." He sat down on the chair tiredly, "I have to fight myself, to bring myself to the point were almost no coherence left to do so." His laugh held no mirth; "Narishma was a great help. Although I doubt if he gained what he hoped for." He closed his eyes for a moment, struggle visible on his face. The only emotion sensed in the back of her head was the endless fury, raging, boiling. It hadn't lessened for the slightest bit, not even when she kissed him.

It was insulting, in a way. Although it wasn't Rand's anger. "Rand..." She couldn't chase the worry note from her voice. His face... Suddenly Rand stood; throwing his head back, he laughed.

"Interesting," It was Rand's mouth that moved, but the accent was wrong. "You can stop fighting, boy." The man said quietly, "I have the body, for a little while yet. And I will not harm her either." She knew the man, although she saw him only once. She didn't forget the time when she had seen herself die.

"Aviendha," Lews Therin greeted her, what she sensed from him was still that murderous fury, but desperation were gone. "You don't have a reason to be afraid, your love is perfectly safe." A small smile touched the man's lips; it wasn't her Rand. "For the time being, at least. Maybe it would teach him how I feel." He rose Rand's hand, closing and opening Rand's fist. Not his.

"What have you done to Rand?" She demanded, saidar filled her, but she had no idea what to do. Anything she will do will harm Rand too. "What have you done, burn you?"

"I simply... pushed him away. He had to choose between losing control over the body or losing control over saidin. He's quite upset now. But nothing has happened to him." He paused to take a deep breath, " It had been long since I truly had a body."

Aviendha gritted her teeth, "What are you going to do? Go to Shayol Ghul and save the wife you've murdered, Kinslayer." He was so like Rand that she wanted to rush to him and hug him even as her words made him step back with pained expression.

"No!" The silent command muted her, "I'm no fool, no matter what you or the man who took my place may think." It was Rand's left hand that began to tremble. "But it hurts, Light of Heaven, it hurts so much. Even when I all but sure that she can't be my Ilyena. Whatever I do, I do fully, mad or not, when I've kill Ilyena, I've destroyed her completely. Ripped her soul from her body." There were cold tears in the voice now. "I very much doubt if even the Dark One could have the resources needed to restore Ilyena." Pain, there was so much pain in him that she wanted to flinch away, she wanted to pull him into her arms and soothe all his pains and worries.

He began to walk, a sense of wonder came from him, and the fury was muted, slightly. "Shayol Ghul is death for me, 'Red on black, the Dragon's blood on Shayol Ghul's rocks.' I doubt if you will ever understand the true meaning of duty for me, Aviendha of the Renegade Aiels." She took a step back, his words were like knifes, cutting into her. Tiredness only began to fade in him, but he suddenly was there, so close to her that she could touch him. Not that she wanted to. Not as long as it wasn't Rand who controlled his own body. "You mistake my meaning, woman." he said, "If your ancestors would have kept their vows, the oaths they had forgotten, they wouldn't have survived. And one way or another, surviving is what mattered."

"What do you want from me? From Rand?" She asked breathlessly, she tried to remember every thing she had ever been told about Lews Therin, by Rand and others, everything she had learned about saidar. Searching for a way to help Rand.

"What I want?" He looked at her curiosity; strangely, her question brought pain to him. "I want to die," The words were delivered in cold tone, she heard the truth in it. "I've died before, this was my grave," his motion included the entire Dragonmount, a mountain that stretched up to the skies, seemingly endlessly. "It seemed that simply dying is not enough. I want to die, forever, never to be awakened again. I've done my duty, did more than any could ask me." He grimaced, for a moment, it seemed that he was fighting something, Aviendha prayed it was Rand, prayed he would know what to do, and strengthen her hold on saidar, until life became almost too much, when ecstasy reached the point of pain. "But it wasn't enough, wasn't it?" Rage became strong, and the depuration appeared again. "It's never enough, how many times I've been Borneo to fight the Lord of Grave?" He eyes burned, his words came out as shouts. He frighten her, she was terrified, the only times when she felt so much fear were when she thought Rand might be dying.

"How many times the Lord of the Morning met the Great Lord of Darkness in the Pit of Doom? How many? And when it will end." His voice became a murmur, "I can't remember, isn't it funny? That I can't remember the lives I've lived? If only I could remember... if only. Oh, Light, my Ilyena." Tears streamed down pained face. Aviendha had to remind herself that it wasn't Rand. The urge to comfort him somehow was compelling. "I've killed my Ilyena. The Light burn my soul, I've killed my Ilyena." He shock his head violently, she could hear the echoes of madness in his voice. "No, there can be no peace, there can be no mercy. Only death! Death! I want to die, I have died. I deserve to die, but I can't, can I?" He stared at her, tears staining his face, as if he expected an answer. For some reason, she had no idea why; Aviendha began to pity him. She began to walk to him when he turned away. "DIADRED!" There was so much hate in the screamed word the Aviendha flinched back. "Demandred must die, and the rest too. Ishmael is not dead, he can't die, I've killed him, but death is no bar. No bar, the grave, death, so he calls himself now, we always come back, Ishmael and I. I faced him too, in the gates of Paran Desen, else where, I killed him more times I can count. Why can't he die? Why can't I die? I deserve death; I want to die, to forget. Forget Ilyena, my Ilyena. Ilyena Sunhair, my sweet Ilyena. I should have sent you away, why didn't you left? You would have lived. You would have survived. You loved me; do you love me still? No! Love is death, love is pain!" The words came out in a rush; blue gray eyes were staring beyond her, at something else, something horrible. Lews Therin was barely coherent; he sank to the floor hugging himself, crying. Inside, Aviendha wanted to flee, to put enough distance between her and the man so she wouldn't have to feel Lews Theirn's emotions. "They died, all of them. Everyone I've loved. They name me Kinslayer, they hate me. I'M THE LORD OF THE MORNING! You can't hate me! You mustn't! They are not dead, Ilyena is not dead. She can't be. She mustn't be, I love her. She is only asleep, she will wake in a moment."

The pain was so strong it cut into her like knives, "Who killed her? WHO KILLED MY ILYENA? I will destroy you, Ishmael, you were there. But he didn't kill her. No, it was some one else. I would kill him, destroy him as utterly as I can. Ilyena, my heart, you can't die, you can't... not my Ilyena. NOOOOOOO! ILYENAAAAA! I will avenge Ilyena, I will..."

Aviendha felt moisture on her cheeks, she was crying, crying for the man's madness. Crying for his lost. Had Rand gone mad too? Will he be like Lews Therin? The last resistance she had for Rand's plan for saidin vanished. She will burn the world before letting this happen to him!

"Ilyena," Lews Therin whispered hopelessly, rising to his feet unsteadily. He was still crying, "Who are you? Who are you? No! Go away! Go away! I must go to her, Ilyena. Oh, Light, I've murdered my Ilyena." His eyes went wide, he didn't directed the words to her. But she danced back from him anyway, just in time to avoid being buried beneath him as he collapsed to the ground.

Aviendha had no idea how much time passed, moments, hours, days, it could have been days as well. The three of them sat in circle, nothing can be harder than what she had to do, putting Rand in his bed, calling Elayne and Min from Andor, and the worst of all, all those hours waiting, full with saidar, her and Elayne. Linked, they were still no match to Rand, that was why each of them held an angreal. With the two of them, aiding the two angreals, no one could break the shield. Not even a man as strong as Rand al'Thor.

Min run out of curses long ago, for some reason, she blamed herself for not viewing it. Or maybe she blamed herself because she had viewed it. Aviendha didn't understood, and Min seemed incapable of more than two or three coherent sentences. And even this rarely. Aviendha had to admit that Min faced it better than hers did or Elayne's could ever do. Elayne held the shield with every scrap of the One Power she could draw through the angreals and the link. As if the shield could stop the madness.

"I never truly believed him," Elayne said suddenly, "despite showing him to us, I never believed Lews Therin Telamon really spoke to Rand. Aviendha, are you sure that -?"

"I'm sure, near-sister, I wish I wasn't, but I'm." Aviendha said tiredly, her hands were clutched to fists so hard that they hurt. Elayne had asked this question only two dozens times in an hour.

"I think he's beginning to wake." Min said, her voice tight, a knife appeared in her hand and gone in a heartbeat. She seemed unaware of it.

Every eye in the bedchamber focused on Rand. They were only the three of them, it went beyond saying that none save them may hear about... what happened, what ever it was, until they would know enough. Rand tossed in the bed from the moment she had put him there. He struggled inside, but what he was struggling? The madness? Or the shade of a long dead madman, the man he once was.

Rand sat in the bed, throwing the blankets away, and the shield they created was... pressed, Aviendha knew how strong Rand was, but she was still amazed by his strength, despite all the power the held, despite the link, and the angreals. The shield still bent, very slightly, but it did bend. Elayne draw more of saidar, fear and agony feeling her. Aviendha didn't know what was stronger inside her, fear or anger. If Rand would.... No, he will not. She would not allow it!

Through the bond, the only emotion that reached her was... disgust, mixed with bitter fear. Rand didn't even gave them a signal look when he stumble out of the bed, he didn't look mad, at least they had this. He fell to his knees near the washstand. None of them made a move to help him, it was all Aviendha could do to stand still. She wanted to... she didn't knew what she wanted to do, to seat down and cry or to scream at someone, preferably Rand, fighting with Rand was second only to kissing him, in her eyes. And it wasn't fair! She had Rand fully for herself for less than a week; she couldn't lose him now! The pattern couldn't be so cruel. Rand emptied his stomach, for what seemed like hours, into the washstand.

It was Min who first recovered from the shock, and helped Rand to his feet. "Rand," she said, with him towering above her, "Are you..." She stopped to swallow, "I mean... Oh Light!"

"I'm sane," Rand said, his voice sounded nothing like his own. He sounded hollow. "For the time being, I'm sane." Wry amusement filled him for the shortest moment, replaced by fury in less than a heartbeat. "I don't care whatever you're sorry or not, or even how much!" He growled in half shout, giving Min a start. "I want you out of my head, and the sooner the better!"

He took a chair, not caring that the only cloth he had was his small cloth, Min lingered to his side. Worried expression her face, she certainly look relieved that Rand's shout wasn't directed to her. "I said I'm fine," He roared, this time, all the three of them had a start. Rand was never like this. "I don't need -" He clasped his mouth suddenly, and rake a hand through his hair, "I'm sorry," He said, sounding more like himself, for the first time since he woke. "It wasn't a pleasant experience. " Shudder run through him.

"What happened?" Elayne asked, her voice as cold as crystal.

"Lews Therin tried to seized control," Rand said, Min put a comporting hand on his shoulder, Rand caught Min's hand and pressed it to his cheek. He looked, and felt, like he was about to die of tiredness alone; and of fear too. "Narishma came, to tell me that I've duty, toh, here to the people that live now, not to those who died so long ago. Isn't it right?" Aviendha doubt whatever the question was directed to any of them, "You did what you'd to do, Lews Therin." Rand said, he felt like ice, something she saw only since they've used the bowl. "And you paid the price. Would you've it any other way? Would you?" Rand, it was Rand, shake his head, muttering something she didn't quite heard under his breath. She thought he said, "Would Ilyena have it any other way?"

"Rand," It took more courage than she thought she have, simply walking to him, "I know that you decided not to go, you told me that much before... before.... Before it happened, but what happened to Lanfear. And…"

She was thankful for the bond, it was the bond, that kept her from flinching when he put a finger against her mouth. Not for fear for herself. Rand would never harm her. Ilyena thought so, a small voice taunt her. Letting go of Min's hands, Rand rose to his feet, and began pacing. He moved like a cat, muscles flowing, without making the slightest sound. Tiredness forgotten. When he began talking, it took her a moment to tear her gaze from his legs - he had such a pretty legs. "...Passed her bond to Narishma." Rand fell quite for a moment, he looked like he was fighting down bad memories, "I doubt if there are many deeds harder to be done. I'd to fight both saidin and myself. And then Lews Therin too, he refused to accept my decision. I fear I let myself be affect by him far too much." His laugh was mirthless, "Mierin was always good in sinking me throat-deep in trouble." He stop pacing for a moment, looking at Elayne, "Did they teach you in the White Tower anything about the Dark One, save who, and what, he is? Anything about his nature? His abilities?"

"No," Elayne answered immediately, "not even the browns would study such things." She shivered, "I think it might even be forbidden, by Tower Law. But I can't be sure. Studying the Dark One might cause some to wish to turn to him, that is all is can remember."

Aviendha held herself up with willpower alone, fear that she only began to mute freed itself from her weak grasp. "Rand, what do you mean? I thought you know all this! You seem to know all about it! You plan to cleanse saidin tomorrow, and you don't even know what the Dark One might do?"

Rand close his eyes for a moment; "I did it once before, Aviendha. The result was the taint, I hadn't had any choice then, and I'll make sure there will be a choice for me now. As grim as it may be. And as for my knowledge about the Dark One, very few know more than I do about the Dark One and it's prison." Strange light burn in his eyes for a moment, "Moridin, whoever he may be, seemed to be the only living soul that know more than I do about the Dark One. During the war I..." He stopped for a moment, a wondering look in his eyes, "Lews Therin dedicated time and effort in order to learn as much as I... he could about his enemy. I remember all this knowledge, and I learned few things Lews Therin never had." Forced patience became anger, "but this fool Aes Sedai, three thousands years and they didn't even bothered to study their worst enemy. Children playing games! Did they thought that if they would ignore the Dark One he would ignore them?"

"It wasn't so, and you know it well enough, Rand al'Thor." Elayne's eyes were burning like blue sun, ruse to defend the tower. "Three thousands years the Tower preserved..."

"Rubbish!" Rand cut her off with a sharp motion, "What good there is in preserving? When you've to retreat step by step! When you will stand and fight? When the Shadow will be on the edge of victory? Or will they still refuse to acknowledge the danger?"

Elayne began to say something, when Rand rise his hands; anger was muted and pushed aside. Cold fury and old pain replaced it. "I've seen it before, Elayne. I've seen people that rather die refusing to face the truth. The taint, the Breaking, it all could be lied on this, and I'll not have it again. One way or the other, I will unite the world. Whatever the world want it or not!" The light in Rand's eyes faded, "I've seen the horror that happen when the world break, whatever need to be done, will be done. For there is no price higher that the one already paid."

Aviendha realized that her mouth was hanging open, it was sometimes hard to remember that the young man she love, a man in his early twenties, remember an age that died three thousands years ago, or more. Elayne sniffed, she didn't look impress by the speech, she certainly had more to say.

"Rand," Min began worriedly, then hesitated, obviously changing what she meant to say, "What are the chances for succeeding? In cleaning saidin, I mean."

Rand was stopped completely by the question, "I don't know, Min. I wish I could answer you, but I don't. All I can tell you is that it can be done, and that it has to be done."

"And that is more than highly dangerous," Aviendha murmured to herself, but Elayne heard her.

"That isn't the problem, can we allow ourselves not to try? If, as you say Rand, there is a chance, as small as it may be, to cleanse saidin? What are the chances if you would do nothing?" Elayne's question had one answer only.

Rand smile was full of sadness, "None, Elayne. It's a gamble, but we've nothing to lose."

"Save everything," Min said mournfully, it was so unlike her that everyone's eyes was turned to her, making an effort to smile, and failing miserably, Min said, "You'd better put some cloths on, Sheepherder. Before the three of us will begin to have some ideas you'll have trouble to accept…"

Rand only grinned at Min like a boy about to do franks. But inside, beneath the small cover of amusement, Aviendha could feel expectation, fear, anger, the never ceasing love that was constantly there, but hidden, maybe ever from Rand itself, Aviendha could feel something else. Something she almost became desperate in finding in Rand al'Thor. Hope. "What make think I'll have troubles accepting anything you can think of, Love." Rand said, then he laughed, a free, happy laugh, when he saw Min's cheek becoming deep red.

When she thought about it, and it had a disturbing tendency to pop into her mind every now and then, Mierin found it oddly fitting that the very first words she could remember hearing from the Narishma, who held her bond, and her soul, were curses.

The memory was dim, cloud in the fading feeling that had all of her while the bond exchanged holders. Ecstasy so strong that it reached the void of pain, and passed it. She was half dragged, half carried, by the young man in black striding through corridors light by angry balls of flame. The rock all around them was brown and black and gray, and to their footsteps joined the chiming of bells. For some reason, the man wore bells on his hair, extremely long hair for a man, it reached below his waist, and gather in two braids, with silver bell in the ends of the braids.

Glancing at him, she catch the sight of dark huge eyes, mouth twist in an angry snarl, and face that was quite pretty, just short of beautiful. She very much doubted that he was born more than twenty years ago, if that. She noted sweat he didn't bother to mope of his face. His shirt clanged to his chest like a second skin, It felt good, just being, she didn't have a past she could remember, the future was nothing to be concern about. Only the present was, and it was good to be with this man. Even though he dragged her through seemingly endless corridors in a half ran. Even while he seemed to be searching for more curses to mutter. She wonder whatever she should suggest him some of them, he certainly knew how to curse, but he wasn't the best she had heard, not the best by far. That title belonged to... strange, she could remember, a face appeared in her mind, red hair, weathered face and hard stone green eyes, a man that seemed able to curse for years without repeating himself once. She couldn't put a name to the face. The man stopped abruptly, and she nearly stumbled on him. Slumping into him seemed to clear her mind.

Her name was Mierin, and then Lanfear, and then Cyndane, but now she was Mierin again. She had betrayed the Great Lord, no; he wasn't her master anymore. She betrayed the Dark One and fled to Lews Therin. And Lews Therin kissed her. She knew it had to be important, but somehow, it wasn't. And somehow, that man was responsible to this. It had to do with the bond; she could feel the other man, feel him in a way very close to Linking, but very different also. She couldn't find the words for it. Maybe there weren't any. Lews Therin did said something about the bond changing everything. The man - Shadow consume her soul, she didn't even know his name! - Open a door and enter, the door remained open, as if he didn't care whatever she would follow him or not. All she could feel from him was rage, and exhaustion. She wondered how he could still stand, there seemed to be no energy left in his body. "So you returned to yourself." He said, with the tiniest note of satisfaction in his voice, when she followed him. "Good, I was beginning to fear that you might stay stun forever."

The room was big, clearly made with the One Power; it was strangely empty, with only three chairs and a table; nothing decorated or oriented. As if the man had no interest in his own room. "It might not be a bad idea," She replayed, outwardly calm. Looking at him, she decided that it could have been worse, of course, it could have also better. It was better! "Who are you?"

He blinked to the question, "What do you mean by that?" Worry flashed in him, and was suppressed quickly. "Did something happened to-"

"I mean," She cut him off with a sharp tone, "that I don't know your name."

The man stared at her for a long moment, and then he began to laugh softly. "That is the strangest thing I've ever heard." He said, amused. Mierin consider for a moment touching saidar and teaching him a lesson. For some reason, she had no wish to do so, no matter how angry she was. "My name is Jahar Narishma, Mierin." He introduced himself, formally. So now he had a name, and a pretty one at that. She caught herself just in time. What was she thinking? She loved Lews Therin! Lews Therin! She had nothing to do with this Narishma!

"You have everything to do with me, Mierin!" Narishma growled, making her jump, she didn't realize she spoke her thoughts, "All I meant when I went to the Lord Dragon was to make sure he wouldn't make any foolish step in his haste. What I got, however, was not what I expected. I could live with al'Thor's fury." Mierin hide a smile, the boy had too much confidence in himself. Narishma took a chair; his motions slow, he held himself in an iron grip, but he controlled whatever it cost himself. Inside, he failed to push away anger and bitterness. "The last thing I expected is to get a wife." He said troughs clench teeth.

His fist land on the table, she could feel his pain, he might have continued talking, but she wasn't aware of anything, all her being focused on his words. "Wife?" She whispered suddenly, why was she so stun? It didn't make sense, nothing make sense anymore!

She heard him mutter few curses, by what she have heard; he kept them for something truly special. "I didn't count the Tuning, Light burn me." Narishma put a hand under her chin, rising her gaze to meet his. "Sleep, Mierin." There was something in his voice, something that alerted a part of her mind, a distant part. He had such a lovely eyes. "Sleep, wife. I can shout of you after you wake, dear. Let the worse of it pass when you're sleeping. Sleep!" His voice was too gentle, and he wasn't angry at all suddenly.

"What are you-?" That was all she had time to say before sleep had her too deep for thought to exist.

Narishma sat on a chair near his bed, watching his wife. He met her barely three hours ago, and most of the time he and the Lord Dragon both had moved her bond. Bonding wasn't meant to be moved, and it was for the limits of the bond alone that they had a chance at the first place. Silvery hair was spread on the pillow, face that was far more than simply beautiful. He gave up fighting his own emotions with a heavy sign. He should despite the woman, she had betrayed the Light, and he had no wish to know how many people she had murdered in cold blood. She was a Forsaken, the Daughter of the Night; he had grown hearing stories about him. Stories to frighten children and grown men as well. Instead of hating her, he found himself making excuses for her! It didn't make what she did less wrong, but it made it easier for him to understand her, to accept her. Not that he had had any choice.

She was his warder, his wife, in the Black Tower, there was no difference between the two terms, and that was all there was to say about it. Whatever he like it or not, they were tied together. The limitations created by the nature of the bond itself allow the bond to exchange holders. Those limitation applied to the bond between al'Thor and Mierin, not to the bond between himself and Mierin. And then will never will. She was his forever, and he was her. Completely.

He brushed his finger over Mierin's cheek, and then left the room hastily. She was very beautiful, Light burn his soul, and just for good order, the Light can take Rand bloody al'Thor as well. It was the sound of metal against leather that made him realize that he unsheathed his sword. He took seven more steps, moving to the entrance to his rooms - they were the bigger he had ever had, bigger than he thought decent, but more than one of his ideas about the world had changed. His rooms were bare; he didn't have the time, or the wish to change it. He had nothing but the absolute necessary, although this probably would be his home for the rest of his life. He was Asha'man; and that went beyond everything. For now, the emptiness of the room was for good, he had the space he needed for training. He stood on his feet by willpower only. Transferring Mierin's bond, for some reason he could think about her as a Forsaken, not unless he put his mind to it, from the Lord Dragon was the hardest task he had ever had to do. Even when the man helped him. And he knew that the Lord Dragon was in much worse shape than he himself was. The man had to fight the restriction Mierin's bond created inside his mind. Even a forth bond had a strength, although not half as much as the first three. al'Thor claimed it was resulted by the complexity of the flows. No one, as strong in saidin as he might be, could weave the weave needed for bonding in the forth time. The weave had to be changed, according to the number of warders one had. One had to make sure that the bond would... mixed up with the other bonds, that was the only appropriate term for this. And the difficulty only grew with the third warder one's bonded, the forth was impossible. In order to bond Mierin, so al'Thor said, he had to give up most of the weave. Exhausted as he was, he still forced himself to dance the forms of battle, a deadly, beautiful dance. His thought became focused, cold, as the emptiness of emotions had him when he reached out for the sweet taste of saidin; and for all the corruption he could imagine. Tomorrow, he thought with grim pleasure, tomorrow you will be cleansed saidin. Tomorrow there will be only sweetness in your touch. But his mind returned to Mierin, to he wife, his warder, her bond to him had no such limits; it has the full affect on him, and her.

The sword flew from his hands, and he stare at the place were it landed for a full minute before he came back to himself, he was too tired to think, or to act, and there was the Tuning to consider. It affected him too, not Mierin alone. He glanced back, at the bedroom, the Light alone knew how tempting it was, but he resist it, letting go of saidin, letting his mind focus on the struggle not to let the One Power destroy him in the moment of retreat, help a little.

With a sigh, he sat down on a chair, he hadn't realize how hard those chairs were before, and close his eyes. Exhausted as he was, Mierin's face lingered on his mind as if burned for a long time, and when he finally surrender to sleep, she invaded his dreams too.

Barid Bel & Lanfir

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