(This is part three of The Dragon Banner, but as it appears on my page, with an alternative ending. A knowledge of both endings is necessary to understand the sequel The Paths Of If.)
An uncanny silence surrounded them as they made their way through the streets of Tear. Hardly anyone was out, but even the guards of the Stone did not so much as glance at them as they walked past.
“Impressive,” Davian murmured when they were out of earshot.
“A useful trick,” she agreed just as softly. “Only by dark, though, or if you stay still; a shimmering tends to give it away when you move. Be careful here. Some of the corridors are lighted, and under the circumstances, it might be rather inconvenient to draw attention.”
He laughed quietly at the understatement, as they negotiated the maze of twisting passages. Sharia found herself liking this self-proclaimed Dragon. And Dragon he certainly seems. But then, according to the histories, so did Darksbane and Stonebow. Is he, or is he not?
To her surprise, she was beginning to hope that he was.
They drew no attention in their traverse of the Stone, and eventually they reached the Heart. With all the seeming confidence she could muster, Sharia walked through the forest of columns. At its edge, she dispelled the weaves of Illusion and turned to him.
“There hangs Callandor, Davian. Take it if you can.”
The sa’angreal sword hung in the air before them, in the very centre of the Heart. It turned slowly with no hand touching it, crystal glittering in the light from the gilded lamps. Flashing as it turned, it seemed a live thing. Sharia swallowed as the full significance of the situation suddenly weighed on her. Is the Dragon reborn? Is the Last Battle nigh?
“Why do you wait?” she said harshly. “Take it!” P>Davian stepped forward slowly, reaching out his hand. The light reflected in his eyes, making them glow. Watching him, Sharia held her breath. He truly believes he is the Dragon, she knew. Is he? Without knowing why, she moved closer, turning to face him with Callandor between them. Draw it, Davian, Dragon Reborn…?
His hand stretched out, reached for Callandor…
The Sword That Is No Sword continued to turn, glinting in the light. No matter how Davian strove, his hand would not touch the hilt. Callandor would not budge.
Relief and disappointment both washed over Sharia. The Dragon remained unborn. Tarmon Gai’don was far off. She was not to see the Prophecies fulfilled. But as she looked into Davian’s eyes, she knew that a life had been crushed today.
“You are not the Dragon Reborn, Davian,” she said sadly.
Slowly, his hand lowered. His gray eyes had turned from silver to stone. “I believed it.” His voice came low and lifeless. “I thought without doubt I was the one. I remember as if I lived it the day saidin was tainted and men driven mad. Even now I hear Lews Therin mourning for dead Ilyena.” His eyes darkened still further. “How is that possible, Sharia, if I am not the Dragon Reborn?”
“I do not know,” she told him. Surely it was part of the madness. And yet, he did not seem mad.
“Did you know I would fail?” His voice was suddenly fierce, and his eyes flashed.
Truthfully she said, “I did not. I hoped you would succeed.”
The light dimmed, yet there was still something strange in his eyes as he looked at her. “In any other circumstances…” he murmured, then shook his head. Grimly he said, “Then since I have not, I give myself up to the White Tower. Although I would almost rather die.”
“If that is your choice, I will not try to stop you.”
His laugh was bitter. “Death is the coward’s way out. No, if I have nothing else, I still have my honour.” His face was set now. “Let us get this over with. Take me to your sisters, Sharia.”
She hesitated for a moment, relief and regret tangling in her heart. Then, with a sigh, she turned and led the way out of the Stone.
Originally I intended to have Davian captured in the conventional way, and even toyed with the idea of an all-out duel between him and Sharia. But that was so predictable! Sharia was my heroine, so of course she had to do something daring and dramatic. But then I thought, while she’d surely get a lot of kudos for defeating Davian one-on-one, wouldn’t she get even more for convincing him to surrender without blood shed on either side? The one thing I really disliked while writing this story, is that there was no real way of creating suspense. Everyone reading it already knows that Davian will be unable to draw Callandor and that the real Dragon Reborn will not come along for more than a thousand years. That’s the problem with writing historical stories. But then again, why should I stick to what everyone ‘knows’ to have happened? I certainly wouldn’t be the first to write Wheel of Time stories set in an alternative reality, although I might be the first to go this far back. So let’s try again. If Davian had really been the Dragon Reborn…
His hand stretched out, reached for Callandor…
…and, amidst utter silence, passed through the ward and closed around the crystal hilt. The sword blazed now with its own light as Davian drew it from the air.
Suddenly, exultantly, Sharia laughed. The Prophecy is fulfilled! The Sword That Cannot Be Touched has been drawn! His eyes shone like silver, and hers, she knew, were as brilliant.
“Callandor is yours, Davian, Dragon Reborn!”
As stories will, the story spread, changing with each new telling. Davian had taken the Stone; no, Davian had been taken, by Aes Sedai who set him up to rule as a puppet; no, the lords of Moreina had surrendered Tear to him and acknowledged him as their king. He had simply appeared, mysteriously, in the Heart of the Stone. He had been guided there by a renegade who had betrayed the White Tower. Some said the Tower had been guiding Davian’s steps for years; others that Aes Sedai fought each other and the Tower had been broken by his name.
There were as many versions of the tale as there were people to tell it, but all agreed on two things. In the dark of the night, the Dragon Reborn had drawn Callandor from the Heart of the Stone; and an Aes Sedai stood by his side.
So, which ending did you prefer?
(Now that you've read both endings, have a look at the sequel, The Paths Of If.)