Added on September 01, 1999
Category: WoT Third Age
Author: Alanna Sedai, al'Thor, The Amyrlin Seat, Autumnflame, Barid Bel Medar, Ben-T Gaidin, Blademaster, Lanfear, Lanfir, Mordeth, Selinthia Avenchesca, Serafelle Sedai

Towers of Midnight
The Gaidar

Gaidar means, in the Old Tongue, Sisters of Battle. The term results from the Aes Sedai's name to warders - Gaidin, Brothers of Battle. The firsts who began to use that title were the Aes Sedai who were sent by Elaida's order to the Black Tower, to destroy it, and were bonded instead, the only option the Asha'man had, considering the Dragon Reborn's orders, forbidding the Asha'man to harm Aes Sedai.

A saying among the warders in the Black Tower says: "When a man names his warder Gaidar, it's time to walk around lightly." The Asha'man despise the very word with passion that is bested only by their loathing to the need to put their warders in a danger of any kind. From an Asha'man's lips, that title is a curse.

The biggest gap between the White Tower and the Black Tower is that in the White Tower the bond can be platonic. That the bond in the Black Tower was planned to be of any use only between husbands and wives had cause more troubles to the Asha'man than anything else could have ever made.

Especially after The Days of the Black Guardians, when the Gaidar decided that it mustn't be allowed to the Asha'man to escape bonding them without proper punishment. The actions taken those days mustn't disappear from the pages of history. To take, for example, Rhodri's and Memara's story...

The History of the Black Tower, volume I
By Elmindreda al'Thor
The Court of the Sun
The Forth Age

Dyelin, high seat of house Taravin, stood on the highest tower in the Lion Palace, her eyes were directed to the north. She wore a thick fur coat over thick woolen dress, silk or velvet were no help in this cold, the coat reached below her knees, yet she still shivered, in midnight the air was almost as cold as ice. The skies, for a change, were clear. Dyelin stared north, watching, waiting, fearing. Watch for the Black Tower, Dyelin, the Queen Elayne ordered, there might be... troubles heading toward us from this direction, and soon.

And so she watched, she came here every night, in the last four days, since the child, she had seen born, was gone with the Dragon Reborn not a day after she was crowned. She came to watch, there was nothing more she could do, but she watched still. Elayne didn't explain herself, but no explainations were needed. The new Queen of Andor feared the Asha'man going mad, and soon. The reason was unknown to Dyelin, but she believed, no one could know better than Elayne.

It was hard to decide if the woman truly loved the Dragon Reborn or simply sacrificed her own happiness for Andor. Whatever the reason for Elayne had for actions, Dyelin couldn't afford herself to ignore the warning.

Then, she noticed... something, a movement that caught her eye, but she saw nothing. She squinted hard, trying to figure out what caught her attention.

The skies burned! And night became day! Not daring blinking, although her eyes ached from the sudden burst of light, it was like watching a fireworks display, if someone could afford buying every last firework in the world.

Trails of fire in every color possible lighten the night, and lightning stroked down from clear, cold black sky.

Dyelin hugged herself, and suddenly the cold became harder, sharper. She tasted old fear and a new one; the Asha'man had gone mad, she couldn't let herself doubt it, couldn't let herself hope. Maybe all the Asha'man had gone mad at the same time.

And, for Caemlyn, for Andor, and maybe for the entire world, all hope was lost.

Mierin hadn't left his side since the moment he opened his eyes. Narishma found it soothing, he couldn't make himself forget those visions. They touched his worst fears, fears he had hidden even from himself, until the Dark One forced them to face the worst their mind could create.

The other had felt the same; he saw too many hollowed stares. Mierin insisted on holding his hand in hers whenever it was possible, and even when it wasn't. The only reason they were still here, in a hall about a mile away from the room where they all cleansed saidin was that they needed the others' presence, even without talking, it was comforting to know that the others were here, that there was some protection against those nightmares.

He couldn't touch saidin if his life depended on it, or even Mierin's. And the others looked just as he felt, cloths damped with sweat, some with blood. Narishma felt no open wounds in Mierin, only a mass of small bruises.

They would have to heal on their own. The same as his bruises and cuts, not a single man or a woman in the room seemed capable of even feeling the source. The only reason none of them collapsed until now was fear, turning their stomach slowly. Fear that in their sleep the nightmares would return. Despite his tiredness Narishma was ready to give up sleep entirely.

He took another deep sip from the cup he was holding, it looked, and tasted like mud mixed with water. An Aiel drink called ousqui, that was the reason why this room was where they gathered. A big barrel of ousqui stood in the corner, and half of it was empty already. Narishma looked at the room, it was one of the two or three dozens great halls the Lord Dragon created when they used the One Power, in one of the few times both side of the Power were used since the Breaking of the World, to bore those caves inside the Dragonmount. The rock pattern was the only way to define between the rooms; this hall was just like the rest of the countless rooms that were created, only far bigger, capable of containing hundreds or thousands of people easily. This hall, however, had no windows, like most of the rooms they have created, and unlike all the other halls. Narishma preferred it that way, those windows were nothing but holes in the rock, and the halls were cold enough to freeze a man's blood, now. This place was still undone, and it would require time and effort to smooth the rough edges of this place. Staring down, he traced with his eyes the black and white rocky stone floor.

The hall gave the feeling of being empty despite being populated by Aes Sedai, Asha'man, the Dragon Reborn and two of the Forsakens who betrayed the Dark One. All gathered inside a hollow mountain that could contain the entire population of Arafel. They all drunk silently, the strongest drink that they could find here, in the Dragonmount, few miles only from the White Tower. Drinking in order to forget. Saidin is clean! Yet the only thought that flashed in his mind was fear from sleep, fear from the memories.

What would I have felt without Mierin? He wondered for a moment, he doubted if there was anything that could send so much fear into him as much as losing Mierin.

He sat down tiredly near one of the walls. He could only barely feel saidin, touching the power was impossible. And his and Mierin's rooms were more than three miles from here, that is, if he could even find his way in this mass of corridors. Mierin, of course, seated herself next to him, still refusing to let go of him. He was more than grateful that she did it by her own. He needed to know that he was alive, needed to know that she was alive. And the bond simply wasn't enough. Not to mention the comfort he drew simply by touching her.

He blinked, that was all; he certainly had no intention of sleeping. Not any time soon, despite his tiredness. Yet cleaning saidin seemed an easier task than simply opening his eyes. He blinked, and hours passed between the moment he closed his eyes and opened them.

He had an arm wrapped around the sleeping Mierin, he didn't remember putting it there; she must have been the one who put his arm there. He stared at her for a moment, trying to push down emotions he never felt before and never wished to feel. I love her, he thought, wondering. The bond was responsible to this, responsible to tie his emotions to this woman that so far gave him nothing but trouble and bitterness and anger. She wore black and silver, she made no comment when she changed her clothings, but he knew it was him who was responsible for this. Silver hair hanging down, covering his shoulder, as easily as long as his own hair. And he loved her! He wanted to wake her up and tell her this. Whatever the reason for this emotion, it was as real as any he had ever felt.

And only then he remembered.

He felt the tearing inside him; it was a pain stronger than any he could imagine.

And, in the back of his head, Mierin... extinguished. There was no blood in their room when he reached it, panting, and only a short message explaining that she'd gained her freedom, and needed nothing more. A message thanking him for freeing her from her obsession to Lews Therin! It had taken three men to stop him, and had anyone been in the depths of the Dragonmount, thousands would have died in his wrath.

Mierin had returned to be Lanfear, and if she was free from her obsession, he was captive in one of his own. In the space of few days, so short, he gained and lost more than he deserved, more than he could ever have. And nothing save saidin was left for him.

He gained his strength rapidly, reaching his limit faster than he should have; he danced with death more times than he could remember, could care.

But somehow, he always escaped, unharmed. And then she appeared, hair molten silver and eyes deep blue, leading an army big enough to wipe humanity. Men died in an all but endless battle, and he found himself leading small bandits of men twice his age, skimming around the shadow army, led by the woman he loved.

He became dangerous, to himself, to others, he knew he was more than half mad, but couldn't make himself care. Mierin, Lanfear, hunted his dreams, despite the strongest shields he wove. Shielding didn't help when it was your own mind that guided the dreams. The battles continued, and they never seemed to win, the shadow army was half its original size when the last seal broke. And the time of the Last Battle arrived.

Rand had to be in the Pit of Doom, and he was appointed as the leader of the army, a bitter, angry, man that never slept enough. "She might hesitate for just long enough for you to strike, Narishma." He was told, "You can't allow yourself to fail."

And he met her on the battlefield; he was strong, very strong. Not much below Rand al'Thor himself. As the two armies clashed against each other all his eyes could see was a black and silver figure, in the middle of the army of his enemies, an army twice the size of his own. Led by the woman he loved. And they won; yet the price was Mierin's life, she did hesitate, for the shortest instance, upon killing him, and he killed her despite the dock of tears that hindered his sight.

They won that battle; the shadow army broke after their leader's death. And the Last Battle was also won, but he never slept more than a full hour again. Could never close his eyes without seeing her in the moment of dying. Until the end, both of them believed he couldn't, wouldn't, do it. Yet he did, and he could never forgive himself for this.

Narishma shied away, too afraid to touch her, too afraid of might happen. What he was so afraid of, loving her? He found no use in trying to hide his emotions from himself, a side affect of the bond, or maybe it was the other way around. He neither knew nor cared. His hands closed to fists. And he rose carefully from the floor, cautious not to wake Mierin.

He shivered, frightened, the nightmares chased him into the sleep, drinking helped not a bit. Strangely, his head didn't hurt; he heard that this was how it was supposed to feel after getting drunk.

"You'll," A woman's voice said, making him jump, Elayne's warder smiled at him for a moment before frowning at her Aes Sedai. Leaning on Rand al'Thor, together with Aviendha. There were signs of fear there too, and even in the Lord Dragon's face. What can frighten the Dragon Reborn? He wondered, and then he thought better, deciding that he had no wish to know.

They were all sleeping, he was the first to wake, and moans broke the silence all too often. "You all will, but why?" He heard steel in her voice, "What happened, you all began to scream, I hadn't seen such thing since..." She cut off sharply, as if she was about to say something she shouldn't.

"Fear," He answer, failing to clear his voice from emotions, "We were protected from the Dark One, or so we thought, but he... spoke to us, searched within our mind, our souls, to discover the worst fears and show them to us."

She muttered a word in the Old Tongue, not a word he knew, he reminded himself to ask Mierin what the meaning was, it sound very much like a curse, reserved for special occasion only.

He was glancing at Mierin again. He had to make sure she was still here. He shivered, visibly; the memory of the dream hadn't left him. "You've nothing to worry about," Min said, giving him a start, he hadn't seen her, standing motionlessly near one of the walls. "She is still there." He stared at her sharply.

"Have you seen something, Min?" He needed to know it for sure. The dream, the nightmare, would never let him sleep again if he wouldn't know, one way or another. And Min's talent was... a solution.

"Nothing you will find..." She paused for a heartbeat before continuing, and the smallest smile possible shown on her lips, "worthy of knowing, Narishma." Yes, she was certainly grinning at herself, whatever it was that amused her so much, Narishma didn't like it. "One warning, though, Jahar Narishma." Min added; he stared at her, keeping his eyes on her face, ever since the betrayer Dashiva almost lost a hand looking at her, Narishma kept his eyes to himself. No matter that the Dragon's lover - warder, wife - dressed in cloths that fit her like a second skin. It was only wise, after all, he had enough trouble with al'Thor already, the man was more jealous than a Saldean woman! Which took something!

"Yes?" He inquired.

"Never let yourself be alone with a woman, Narishma." Her smile widen, from the edge of his eye he could see Birgitte - what mother would give her daughter such a name? Yet, the woman certainly seemed to be trying to be worthy of the name - beginning to smile too. "You wouldn't like it, she is very jealous woman." He snorted as he bent to heave Mierin in his arms and walked to the door, he didn't know this room well enough to open a gateway for Traveling. "She shouldn't be sleeping on the floor." That was all the explanation he suggested. She said nothing he didn't know already.

"Enjoy yourself," Min muttered, his back was turned to her, but he could hear the grin in her voice.

"Both of you," Birgitte added, amusingly. And Min began to laugh.


Darian's first thought was that he must be mistaken; the second was that he had gone mad. Saidin poured into him, sweet as life, as corrupted as death. The silver pin shaped as a sword lying in his hand, the very first of those who came from the Two Rivers to be a Dedicated. But he couldn't ignore this feeling, saidin became... slippery, hard to hold, and the taint wasn't as vile as he had almost gotten used to.

"Shadow consume my soul!" The M'Hael whispered slowly, he felt it too! Slowly the M'Hael sat down on a comfortable chair. At the M'Hael's study, where he had been called to be raised to Dedicated. Everything gave the sense of heavy grace. Unlike almost everything in the Black Tower, the room wasn't full with mismatch of furnishing taken from the Light alone knows where. And the chairs and table were made of fine, dark carved wood.

"What is it, M'Hael?" Darian asked, too afraid to hope.

The question brought the M'Hael's attention to him, "Get out," The man hissed, eyes flaring with anger. "Get out!" That was the first time anyone saw the M'Hael losing control the slightest. Darian was more than happy to obey, by the man's face; he was ready to kill him! "The fool had done it," He heard the M'Hael growling behind him, and then the sound of the sound of glass breaking. "That goat faced horse kisser has done it! Burn him!" Closing the door behind him, Darian all but ran out of the small wooden building. Just as he heard something heavy, maybe the big dark table, being smashed against a wall, and the entire wooden building trembled.

Outside, not one man moved, all seemed frozen, even the newest soldiers, all felt the same, he was not mad. "Light," He heard someone saying, and caught Balir's face, the young man held a sword in his hand, but he didn't seem aware of it. "It's fading! The taint it fading!"

He saw hope on more than one face, and expectation and longings. But on some faces, mostly Asha'man and Dedicated, he saw the unmistakable expression he saw on the M'Hael's face. Disbelief mixed with horror.

And now I can finally die, Lews Therin said, his voice full of longing, as soon as Rand let go of saidin,a heartbeat only after he finished reweaving the shield over the sa'angreals and the last two seals. Now I can truly die. My deeds erased, my debt is paid, Rand al'Thor. It was the very first time Lews Therin had named him. You'll do well, I believe. And may the Light have its mercy upon you. Goodbye, Rand al'Thor, goodbye forever. Maybe we will meet again, in another lifetime, or in death. I will be there, at the end. He fell quiet for a moment, and the whisper came, Ilyena, always and forever my heart. May the Light forgive me, but I've not forgotten, nor forgiven myself. Your soul shall lay in the mercy of the Light, Ilyena Therin Dalisar, and peace guard your dreams in the eternal sleep of the dead. It had the sound of a formal greeting, and so much pain that it tore something inside his heart.

And then the man was gone, Rand could feel him disappearing, fading, and he stood, panting, trying to fight down the enormous weave of memories that was spawned into his head.

His mother fixing his collar when he went to study, to be an Aes Sedai, with him claiming that he had no need of such services anymore. He remembered how she laughed at him and did it anyway, saying that he would never be too old for her.

The face of the first girl he had kissed, and then Mierin, he had so many memories of her... so many that he loathed and loved. And Ilyena, always Ilyena, her smiles, and the way she moved, her laugh and how the light reflected in her eyes every time she kissed him.

And saidin, that was always there, pure and strong and deadly. Thousands of friends, enemies that he counted in millions, endless duties, and responsibility he never asked nor wanted. I'm the First of Servants, the Lord of Morning, the Prince of Dawn, the Dragon, and every title is like a huge mountain on my shoulder. I always try to swim to the surface, always being dragged back by those duties, and I'm only strong enough for quick breaths, only enough to survive. Never enough to truly live. He remembered the time he said as much to Ilyena, remembered her reply so clearly it brought tear into his eyes. He remembered all the books he had wrote, friends that became enemies. Enemies that became friends, schemes in dimensions no Aes Sedai who was born in this age or even Cairhienins skilled in Daes Daimar could even begin to understand.

The intrigues inside the Hall of Servant, and the nightmare of ruling the entire world with that constant fear he would fail, sooner or later. All the details, all the responsibility, that endless fear the first time Ilyena gave birth, a daughter, so like her mother that he fell in love in the little baby instantly.

He remembered killing her in his madness, killing every last one of the beautiful children he and Ilyena created together.

So many memories, half a millennia of memories, a man that had seen everything, done everything one could imagine, and much one couldn't. Too many memories to hold, they lied clustered in his mind, sometimes popping up for he reason he did not know. Hope and fear, love and hate. Old friends and new enemies, battles and passion, love and hate. The closest that he could ever reach to another human being, one that wasn't that much different from the way he himself was, or would be. He could see Lews Therin in himself, and himself in Lews Therin, and no line bordered them this time. And finally, three thousands years after he'd killed himself, Lews Therin could die, and rest.

Those were the memories Rand woke with, and the pain in his side, and a nightmare where he had lost everyone he had ever loved, again. And again, and again! Endless circle he could break only by swearing himself to the dark, so he kill them again and again, and the pain nearly killed him each time.

"Light!" He breathed, "Oh, Light!" He almost reached for saidin, almost, but even after the sleep, he was exhausted. And he didn't want the void holding off his emotions, not now. He pushed Elayne gently aside, she leaned against him, and there were signs of tears on her face. Crying in her sleep, no doubt, he felt like crying himself, but he doubted if he could cry. She didn't wake up when he rose; he leaned her against the wall and stepped back, nearly tripping on Aviendha.

He needed to clear his head, to rest, he grinned despite himself; he came to this place, to his grave, the place where he was born, because even he could acknowledge Min's claims that he was working himself too hard. Did Elayne thought he had no ears, when she walked around and mumbled about what the Great, all-knowing Lord Dragon, as Elayne put it, consider as vacation.

"Rand!" Min hurried to him, "I was beginning to fear that you'll sleep all day long." He closed his hands around her, hugging her hard. Birgitte smiled at him above Min's head, and turned her back to him. He glared at her; there was no need to be... discreet. Not when you were so obvious doing it.

He examined her face, she must have slept too, all signs of tiredness were gone from her face, he shouldn't have depended on her strength, but he had no choice. He shouldn't have done so many things. It was no time to regret abandoning his plan half way carrying it out. He had no choice there either. But the risk was horrifying, he didn't had time to consider them at the time, he and Lews Therin had became almost one for that time, no thought existing, only the power existed, and they struggled to push the taint back into it's source. Had he had time for consideration, not even he would have dared such a plan, but he hadn't. And so he ripped open yet another bore into the Dark One's prison, and sent the caged taint into the Dark One's prison. Pushing it through the hole he created. He tore apart the prison he created for the taint inside the Dark One's prison, with his flows sending back to him a sense of filth viler than the taint. He tore the prison the taint was caged in, and used the piece he shredded to seal the Dark One's prison up again. The Dark One's prison was whole again, he tried to strengthen the prison, make it harder. So it could endure the Dark One's pressure on it, he failed. He truly hoped that his actions didn't drastically weaken the Dark One's prison, but he had no such illusions. "How long I've slept?" He asked Min.

"About five or six hours, I think," She answered as he traced the line of a long, shallow cut on her cheek with one finger and looked at her in anguish. The seal that had exploded was broken to small pieces; the largest piece was the size of a human's pupil, if that; and the explosion launched those pieces like arrows from a strong bow. It was only a bit more than an inch from her left eye. "If you dare blaming yourself for this scratch too, Rand al'Thor," Min whispered to him, full of anger and frustration, "I think that I'll put a dagger in you." A knife appeared in her hand, the one who wasn't hugging him hard. "I'll not have you being so arrogant anymore."

He gaped at her, "Arrogant? I feel guilty because my actions have harmed you!"

"What else can it be," She told him seriously, "You'll never harm me, and I know it as well as you do! Do you think you can control the Wheel of Time? Do you think that you, all by yourself, weave the pattern?" She tapped on his chest with the dagger's hilt, none too gently.

"Of course not, Min. I don't see how - " He began to protest, but she was only pausing to take a breath.

"You don't? Really? Then why under the Light you blame yourself whenever something goes wrong! You're only human, Dragon Reborn or no Dragon Reborn. You can't do anything by yourself, and I thought you're smart enough to understand it by yourself! How much pride do you have, Rand al'Thor, to think that this is your fault." She tapped on his chest again, harder. And touched the cut on her face for a moment. She took a step back, shaking with anger, glaring at him. "I'd just about enough of this!" His mouth worked wordlessly, his eyes open wide. He had never seen her like this; he could accept it from Aviendha, that was something she would say, but not Min!

The sound of hands being clapped gave both of them a start, they forgot completely that any one was in the room save them. Scanning the room, he noticed that there was no one awake beside him, Min, and Birgitte, who clapped her hands. "It was about time someonewould put you in your place," She stop for a heartbeat, no doubt meaning to continue, he glared at her, as hard as he could, and she thought better, she still smiled, though.

He looked at both women for a moment and signed, "Maybe you're right, Min. Maybe! But I can't change who I am." He raked a hand through his hair in confusion.

"No, I don't think you can." Birgitte agreed, "You are different from Lews Therin, Rand al'Thor. And at the same time, you're very much the same." He shook his head in denial, he didn't want to think about it, not now, when memories of a life he didn't live rose by everything he saw or heard or felt or smelled.

"Rand," Min said suddenly, worried, and he realized that he was standing, staring at the air, fumbling for memories. They laid there in disorder, memories were... cut in half, connected in ways he didn't understood. Why remembering Mierin was connected to remembering a man's face, tall and dark with angry eyes, he never seemed to think about the woman without seeing that man in his mind, but he couldn't remember who he was.

He stared at the two women; the only two other people awake in the room save him. He could trust them, completely. He knew it as well as he knew his duty, he wasn't sure anymore in his name. "I've... holes in my memories, not my own, memories I've acquired from Lews Therin. Strange gaps, in memories that are not my own."

"Acquired from Lews Therin?" Birgitte asked sharply, "How under the Light could you acquire anything from Lews Therin. He is dead!"

"Didn't Elayne told you?" He asked, surprised, he doubted if Elayne hid anything from Birgitte. In a few sentences, trying to be as short as possible, he explained her about Lews Therin talking to him; he didn't like talking about it.

"How far can you remember, what is the earliest memory you've?" Asked paled face Birgitte. "How far your memories reach?"

It took him a long moment to answer, "The oldest memory I've is when Lews Therin was a child," Birgitte still looked pale, but she exhaled with relief.

"You'll remember everything, given time." She said, and before he could say anything, she added, "I won't, can not, answer any of your question, Lews Therin. Ask me none. I can't tell you how I know this, I've broken too many of the laws already."

He stared at her, she looked like a lioness protecting her cubs, he could get his answers, one way or the other, yet he owed her too much, "So be it," He said, inclining his head in acceptance. "I don't like it though," Birgitte looked at him in indignation.

"Where are Nynaeve and Lan?" He asked, "And Narishma and Mierin?" Those four were the only ones he didn't see.

"Lan thought that Nynaeve deserved a better place to rest than the floor. So he dragged her to bed when she began to fall asleep. Narishma woke about half an hour ago, and took Mierin to bed also." Min answered, a small smile on her lips, he didn't want her to smile so, not now; she was beautiful as it was. When Min smiled, she could make the sun look pale. "I don't think Mierin is going to sleep for long."

Rand snorted shortly, Min, unlike Aviendha or Elayne, accepted Mierin's bond to him, and that he passed it to Narishma, with so much ease he suspected a viewing, although she denied it. "You don't know Mierin," He said with a tiny smile, Min was just what he needed, to make him forget everything that troubled him. With her, even with others around, he could be Rand al'Thor, a sheepherder from the Two Rivers, not the Dragon Reborn, or the car'a'carn. Or the King of Illian, or any other bloody title he might be carrying. He glanced at Elayne and Aviendha, sleeping dreamlessly, if they would have dreamed, they would have relived one of the nightmares the Dark One sent, and he would have felt that. "Lan and Narishma were right," He murmured, "This floor in no place for sleeping." Min groaned in agreement.

Birgitte stared at him, her eyes old, "I suggest you will not touch saidin, not for now, at least, you've drunk quite a bit of ousqui. Not to mention that you've no idea what touching saidin, cleaned, will do to you." She paused, looking at him worriedly. And he nodded, he already thought of it, which was why he wasn't full of saidin at the very moment.

"I know, I've no intention risking myself drowning in the source, not until I'll have enough time to... gather my will." Strong willpower was required to mute the need for saidin, but without the taint... He doubt if he had strong enough will to resist the urge to pull more of the power when he find saidin clean. And to be a little drunk would do no help. He had to let memories of the battle with the Dark One fade first, even with the horrors, the power flowed in him in amount he didn't dreamed about. So much power, so much sweetness he nearly drowned in it. It frightened him, saidin was addicting, even with the taint. How strongthe pulling would be now that it's clean. Despite the fight for survival and the Dark One's distant whispers, without the taint saidin was so pure, so... wonderful, beautiful, that he wanted to scream his joy into the skies, to let it echo from one side of the world to another. He muted those thoughts quickly, duty is heavier than a mountain. He reminded himself, if he would let himself think along those lines, he might be temped to take a hold on the male figure that lay in a room a mile above him. With the strongest shields he could weave guarding it, closing the ter'angreals that would allow him to use the strongest male sa'angreal every created, closing his way to sure destruction.

He looked at the two sleeping warders and considered his options, he couldn't let himself touch saidin, not any time soon, he feared. Not unless he knew he wouldn't lose control on the power, or draw too much of it. This mountain was a constant reminder to what might happen when the power escape his control.

But still, he reached out for saidin, wove and tied flows Air as quickly as he could. Elayne and Aviendha floated in the air four feet above the ground, and even that brief touch of saidin left him with burning desire for more. It took all his will to release the power, and he drew as little as he could. The power left him, slowly, and he exhaled in relief and regret. Min looked at him, with eyes so soft that he thought she might begin to cry. "There was... no sickness in you this time, Rand." She said, "I couldn't feel the taint." She smiled at him; her beaming at him had its full affect. He had hard time breathing.

"You'll not go mad, Rand. You'll not die." She laughed, and relief and freedom drowned every other emotion in her. "Do you hear me, Rand al'Thor? You are not going to go mad! And I will skin you myself if you'll let yourself die." Then, she rose on her tiptoes and gave his a short, joyful, kiss.

Selandhra of the Karande Daryne didn't look at the ten Seia Doon encased in nothing and seethed, barely aware of the group of Far Dareis Mai fanned out around her. If those men must go mad, then they could in the least have killed the Seia Doon instead of humiliating warriors so, catching them as easily as she would have catched a goat. And that the men were Seia Doon meant nothing; she had seen men of every society wrapped with invisible chain, and Far Dareis Mai, as well. Her eyes were directed up, into the skies, that burned in color impossible and that were full of fire and lightning and monsters made of clouds and lights; and, more than anything else, beauty. A cloud capture her eyes, shaped as a dragon attacking. "Those men have incurred much toh in doing this," she heard her first-sister growl softly, bringing her back to the ground.

"They do not follow ji'e'toh," Selandhra sharply reminded Talend, then paused thoughtfully. "But you are correct. There must be a way in which we can pay them for humiliating all the Aiels like this."

"Maiden's Kiss, of course," Talend said after a moment of thought, snapping her fingers joyfully, a wicked smile blooming on her face. "They are still men, able to channel or not. And wetlanders to boot, they do not know the game."

A smile spread on Selandhra's face, as well as those of the other Maidens. "First sister, sometimes you amaze me," she said, feeling the smile widening.

"We should not do it now, though. I want to have Miralen with us" Talend added, Miralen were her first-sister, and Selandhra's, of course, "There is time yet, and so far they have harmed no one."

"Save our pride," Selandhra murmured, but she nodded as the Maidens dispersed.

I must do sentry duty," Talend said. "May you always find shade and water, first-sister."

"And you, first sister," Selandhra replied. She turned and headed back to her room, not looking back at the still-frozen Aiel. There was nothing she could do about them. Her first-sister was right; the Asha'man had not harmed anybody that she had heard of. She doubted that they would let their prisoners starve.

The next morning she had barely come out of the palace, holding spears and buckler as always, when she saw another one of those men the wetlanders called Asha'man striding by, grinning widely and juggling two or three dozen colored lights. A young man goggling fire like any gleeman, by his looks, maybe a year younger than her and two or three younger than Talend. Miralen should like him; he seemed the type of man that always got her into troubles. He was tall and dark hair and eyes, and with a light in his eyes that clearly gave him away as a lecher.

A group of Maidens, including her first-sisters, was heading for him, unfazed by the strange display the wetlander man was putting on. Their intent was obvious to Selandhra. Grinning in anticipation, she headed over to join them.

The wetlander man stopped in his tracks as the Far Dareis Mai fanned out and blocked his way, looking at him challengingly. Irana stepped forward and said something. Selandhra was still too far away to hear what the Maiden said, but she knew what was being said.

As Selandhra neared them, she heard the wetlander say, "I'm always ready for a little game. Maiden's Kiss, it's called?" The wetlander's grin widened even further and he stopped juggling the colored balls of light. They hung in the air for a moment and then winked out. The moment they were gone, a ring of sharp steel pressed against his throat. Pleased anticipation changed into not so pleased surprise, and Selandhra laughed quietlyas she placed one of her own spears against the man's neck.

He arrogantly raised an eyebrow at Selandhra and grinned confidently. "You'll pay for this," he said with a slight nod. Slight, because he couldn't have made more of a motion without shaving his neck closer than he would have liked. And he dared to make threats!

"What are the rules of this... game?" He sounded... sober, as if he had been drunk until now, and was now shaken to full awareness.

"If you kiss well enough, we will ease the spears a little," Selandhra replied with an evil grin. The man's smile widened. "If you do not kiss well, we push the spears closer. For some reason, that seems to encourage men to kiss better." She saw a flash of emotion and indecision pass across his face, and then some decision was arrived at. Really, these wetlanders were so obvious!

The smile didn't fade. "That won't be a problem," the black clad man murmured, "as long as you are first." His dark eyes locked with hers, as he couldn't bring his hands up far enough to point.

"You are quite arrogant, are you not?" she said, amused and slightly irritated, but she moved to be the first.

He laughed. "I'm certainly not Maiden! It's you who have too much pride. But this can be taken care of." He tilted his head, as if considering something, then nodded."Yes, this can easily be taken care of."

Miralen giggled, "Selandhra is not that easily satisfied, wetlander. I think we'll have to shave you by the time we'll be through." She told the wetlander.

"I wouldn't have bet on that," The man muttered, "I'm about to cheat." Miralen laugher died; instead she glared at him. Did he lack honor; planning to cheat in a game the way he just say he would? And how could he cheat?

Selandhra sighed in exasperation. Wetlanders never seemed to talk sense. She leaned forward, and kissed the wetlander on the lips, it was quite hard, since he didn't stop smiling, Miralen was right, they would have to... She experienced pure bliss. It was indescribable. It felt like every joy she had ever felt in her entire life, tasted like the very first drop water after not drinking for days. The world dissolved around her and she lost herself in the feeling, unaware of the fact that her spears and buckler had clattered to the floor and that she had melted into the wetlander's arms.

After an eternity that last only a moment - she couldn't decide how long it had been - the kiss ended and she came back to reality. Opening her eyes, she gazed into the wetlander's dark eyes and said the first words that came to mind. "What... what was... that?"

Out of her range of vision, she heard Talend laugh. "Obviously he tried harder for you than for any other woman in his life!"

"You could say so," the man agreed cheerfully, and the spears that were held to his throat disappeared, leaving only dust in the maiden's hands. He didn't release his hold on Selandhra when he took a step back. "I believe that this was good enough," he told Talend, who was still staring at her empty hands in amazement. Only then did Selandhra become aware of... something in the back of her mind. Emotions, they seemed... strange, out of place.... They were not her own! The realization shocked her. Those emotions were coming from the wetlander! She could clearly see each emotion flitting across his face, exactly as she felt them in her mind.

Outraged, she pushed the wetlander away with all her strength, causing him to trip and fall. "What have you done?" she shouted at him, infuriated, snatching up one of her spears from the floor. It was hard, her knees wanted to give way.

Taking the two steps between him and her, she placed her spear against his throat, not at all playful this time, forcing him to stay down. A trickle of blood welled up from the point of the spear, and she became aware of a painful sensation in her throat. Involuntarily reaching up, she felt her throat... but there was nothing. The pain came from the wetlander. "What have you done?" she cried again, outraged.

The wetlander grinned insolently and pushed her spear away as he rose. "Do not attempt to attack me again," he said. Selandhra suddenly felt her will to do so melt away like water pouring over sand. She was still furious, yet she couldn't direct that anger at him violently. In her mind, she knew this was not natural... but she could not fight it. She would not attack him now, however much she wished to be able to in the deep, hidden parts of her mind. She simply couldn't gather the will to do so; her body had no wish to do so.

"What did you do?" she said again, not quite as fiercely as before.

"I bonded you," he replied simply. "I think you'd make a fine Warder."

Selandhra exchanged stunned looks with her first-sisters. Bonded? Bonded, the same way Aes Sedai and Warders are? I am... bonded to this wetlander? How dares he! "Wetlander, you have made a foolish mistake," Talend said warningly. "I did not wish to hurt you, but if it is necessary...." Miralen had veiled herself and tightened her hold on the spears. She always had vile temper.

"If you hurt me, you hurt her as well," the wetlander replied smugly. "Didn't you know that?" He raised an eyebrow in mock surprised; she could feel his bloody smugness! "Whatever the bondholder feels, the Warder feels, and the other way around as well. If I die, she will likely to die, as well, or worse." He looked hunted for a moment, and she felt fear in him, it was gone in a flash, expression and emotion both, as he continued: "Or so we believe. Of course, no one has been willing to test it." He laughed suddenly, as if he said something funny. Wetlander humor! Selandhra thought disgustedly.

Looking at her, he added, "I don't even know your name. I am Taval Griellin. And your name is?"

"I am Selandhra of the Karande sept of the Daryne Aiel." Why had she answered him? She should give him nothing!

"Well, Selandhra of the Karande sept of the Daryne Aiel, I hope we will get along, because if we don't, then it's unhappy business for all," he said, smiling cheerfully. She wanted to punch him. He had no right to be so self-satisfied with himself.

Selandhra was torn inside. She still wanted to kill him for doing this to her, but much of her shied away from even thinking of this. Another part of her wanted to only do as he ask, obey his every word. The worst thing was, she knew which part would dominate. The part that wanted to obey and follow him, like a milk-hearted wetlander woman. She could already feel it tugging at her, but she still hated him for doing this!

She looked at him with agony in her eyes, and then at her first-sister, then did what she had never done since joining the maidens. She broke down and wept.

Narishma didn't like carrying Mierin through those seemingly endless corridors. Or, to be rather exact, he liked it, far too much to be healthy. What a man can do when he falls in love with a woman, and he knows she loves him, but also know that those two feeling were forced on their hearts? She was half asleep when she put her arms around his neck and murmured his name softly; her tone made his heart miss a beat.

"I would never let you go, Narishma." She mumbled against his chest, "I warn you now, I can't let you walk away, and I won't. If you're mine, you are mine completely. Mind and body and soul and heart, all mine, completely, no way back. I want your heart, Narishma, fully, to be mines alone, forever. I'll not have anything else!" All this was delivered with her eyes close and fingernails trailing the back of his neck. She even sounded sleepy, as if she didn't woke fully yet. She yawned and returned to sleep, her head against his chest, so soft he feared she might break if he would let her go. And... and... and he didn't know whatever he wanted to hug her till she would beg mercy or throw her on the floor and leave her there.

Reaching the doors to his quarters saved him from making that decision. He looked in awe at his rooms, black and white and silver, he doubted if he wanted to know how she decorated this place so fast, when he lived in those rooms for more than a week and hadn't done anything to personalize his own home save putting his cloths in the wardrobe. The entrance to their rooms were breathtaking by itself, a round table stood in one of the corners of the huge room, fit for dozen diners, made of black wood, it was polished to such perfection that it reflected the light. The chairs that were neatly arranged near the table were a priceless artwork in white and silver, the smooth, flowing lines, of the white wood - he couldn't recognize what kind of tree the chair was made from, the same as with the table's wood - with silver threads, shaped like braids in complex design on the back of each chair.

A picture, dozen feet high, twenty wide, was hanged few paces from the table, of a city that could have never exist, with towers too thin to support their own weight reaching out for the skies and strange shapes floatingbetween the towers. A huge ball hanged, unsupported, in the air. And black fire leashed out of it. He asked Mierin about it, she named the picture "Guilt", and said she was the one who made it. But refuse to give him any farther explaination, and he had no intention to push her too strongly when she clearly didn't want to talk about it.

It was very detailed picture; you could see people in the streets, staring at horror at the ball that burned in that black fire. Yet, despite the size of the picture, it covered only half the length of the wall it was on. He had no need for so much space, - and that was the entrance only - but now he was glad of it, Mierin was the one who needed the space, and he was glad of it. Glad of her, for her, because of her, he couldn't decide what was stronger. She brought so much beauty and joy into his life.

Another table lay on the other side of the room, this time white and gold, exactly the size for two people to share an intimate dinner after a long day. He shake his head, he would have to wait for a long time before such things would be possible, at least if he didn't want the dinner in his face. He moved away from what seemed like cascade of water colored in red and yellow and green and blue and purple, frozen at a single moment in time.

His boots made no sound over nearly black carpet with slashes of silver and white. It should have looked ridiculous. A room that held almost no colors. Only white and silver and black, yet the picture, and the statue of flowing water made the difference. They gave the impression that anything more would be too much.

He took the left door, the door to her bedroom, and he was thankful to her for this, he doubt if he could remain sane, sharing the same bedroom. Laying her gently on the bed, he stared at her; he couldn't leave her to sleep in her cloths. And at the same time, he couldn't make himself undress her. Not if he wanted to avoid tangling the situation even further, as hard to believe that was. Man found himself tangled in the strangest troubles, married.

When he brought her to their room the first time, a simple flow of Fire did the trick; she hated the red and black dress. But he liked the dress she was wearing. She chose it because he said she would look good in black.

Sighing tiredly, he turned her over, so she lay on her back, and began to open the buttons of the dress. "It feels nice, Narishma." Mierin mumbled, face pressed against a pillow. "Why did you wait so long?"

He stared at her for a long moment, his hands stopped moving. "Because," He answered, continue unbuttoning her black dress, his hands shock, hard. "Whatever you feel for me is being resulted by the bond. Everything you feel for me is a result of the bond. And I've some pride left in me." He finished unbuttoning her dress and took a step back; there were limits to the best self-control. "Can you go on from here?" He asked, prayed.

She turned her head to him, "I doubt it," She answered; she wasn't talking about her dress. "I doesn't have pride, not enough to stop me from seducing you." He gaped at her, women weren't suppose to talk like that, "whatever the source of my emotions, they are real enough for me." She didn't sound sleepy anymore. "Now, could you take the dress off the rest of the way off?" Her words were to be considered, certainly. The dress was folded neatly as soon as he could do it, with him trying to ignore what he saw, and felt. She didn't joke about seducing him.

"Here," He muttered, "Now you can sleep. We can talk later, when you're not half drunk." Or I am. He began to exit the room when Mierin's call stopped him.

"Don't leave, mia'da'covale'asha'man!" He didn't recognize the word, "I know I'm not beautiful anymore, nor even pretty," Didn't she had eyes? She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. She gave him no chance of speaking, protesting, "but I think you owe me that much, I can't have you leave me. I can't be left alone again!" She needed him, and nothing else mattered more than her need. It might have been the bond, or the result of the feeling the bond had awaken inside him, be the reason as it might be, he could leave her as easily as stop breathing.

The tableau was deathly still, the silence broken only by the faint sobs of Selandhra. The silence did not last long, though; Miralen of the Bloody Rocks Miagoma, Seladhra's first sister, drew her veil across her face in a swift motion and advanced upon Taval Griellin, completely undaunted by the fact that she had no spears in hand.

"No!" Teland said sharply, moving in front of Miralen and cutting her off from the wetlander. "Anything you do to him will also be felt by Selandhra."

"That is true," Teland heard her first-sister say. Glancing at Selandhra, Teland saw that her first-sister had wiped away her tears and looked perfectly well, if a trifle shaken. "I have already experienced it, with the spear. It would serve no purpose to kill him."

The wetlander laughed abruptly, more a bark than a laugh, and eyed the three of them in a way that made Teland want to slap him. "If you could kill me."

"I would not gamble on that, had I been in your place." Miralen growled ominously, but at last she unveiled herself.

Teland put a comforting arm on her first-sister's shoulder and glared fiercely at the wetlander who called himself Taval Griellin. "You may have a claim on my first-sister, but less than the claim the Far Dareis Mai, her sept, clan, the Aiel, and I and Miralen do. Do not presume that you can take her away and involve her in whatever plots you may be in."

Disgust crossed the man's face, "I'm no Aes Sedai!" He said, losing the grin for the first time. He face went grim, and he glared at her. "Sent the rest of the maidens away, Selandhra. We need to talk." Selandhra's hands flashed in hand talk, and all the maidens save Miralen and Teland left.

"I'm not about to leave you with that... Asha'man." Miralen said, and Teland nodded in agreement.

"I'm no Asha'man," Taval Griellin said, touching the side of his collar, it was empty, on the other side there was a silver pin shaped as a sword. "Only a Dedicated, for now."

Teland snorted, "That mattered nothing, as long as Selandhra has the bond to you, we'll remain with her. To protect her." Her words caused a sigh from Taval Griellin.

"The idea of spending the rest of my life with you near is enough to make any man sick," Taval Griellin said with a sharp voice. "Do you really need them?" He asked Selandhra, and for a moment, Teland feared that Selandhra would say that she has no need of them.

"Of course I do, you numbskull son of a toad!" She snapped at the dark man, "They are my first-sisters!"

"Fine," Taval Griellin rose his hands in the air and let them drop, "Gather every Far Dareis Mai you can find and bring her along with us, I don't care!"

"Why would I want to do any such thing, Taval Griellin?" Selandhra asked, "What make you think I would want to take the rest of the maidens with us? And for that matter, what make you that we are going anywhere. If I've to put up with you in my head, I would do so, as a reminder of my foolishness. But I've no intentions of going with you anywhere, nor with any other wetlander, but especially with you!"

"No sense of humor either," Taval Griellin murmured to himself, making both Talend and Miralen stare at him. Selandhra laughed almost at anything, sometimes she even laughed to wetlanders' jokes! She had more sense of humor than any three other women that Teland knew. The man tilted his head to one side and clapped his hands few times, "That was a nice speech, but there might be a problem here, you see, Selandhra, I've every intention to take you with me. If I've to take those... flea bags along if you insist it, but you will come with me." Teland veiled herself silently; Miralen was already veiled. After a moment of hesitation, Selandhra veiled herself too; ready to kill, they faced him.

"Tell me, would you try to kill me, unveiled?" Taval Griellin asked, seemingly unaffected by the danger they radiated.

"Of course not! Don't you know anything?" Selandhra snapped at him scornfully.

"Not quite," Taval Griellin said quietly to Selandhra, eying her in a way that made Teland's hand itch for her dagger, "But I've every intention to learn." Selandhra growled wordlessly.

The black veils were torn to shreds and pulled away from them by something they could neither see nor fight. "Now are you ready to come with me?" Taval Griellin said; sounding slightly amused. "Or would I have to carry you all the way to the Black Tower?" Teland began to understand why Selandhra cried.

"There is no crime unworthy to save a warder's life, nor an action may left untaken. Life and soul, heart and mind, we belong to each other, never calm without those who lies in the back of our heads. From now to the end of time, until last breath is taken, many are one. One is many. As high as the price will be, in gold or silver, a waterfall to make her laugh or our very soul, we shall pay it. For there is nothing more important for the Guardians than the Sisters of Battle they had taken. And anything shall be forgiven, as long as Gaidar's life was the cause. For there is nothing to equal the Gaidar, and may nothing ever be."

This quote, taken from "The Black Tower's Code", the set of rules and regulations that the Asha'man follow, sum everything one could say about the Asha'man and their warders.

Asha'man are capable of doing everything if there is the slightest danger to their warders. In one example, I witnessed the heights an Asha'man's flagitiousness can reach, once his warder is in threat.

Several questioners that once belonged to the Children of the Light had captured one of Jonan's warders, Delir, close to three months after the Last Battle. None of them survived the incident. Jonan Marley is well known, of course, due to his actions in Tarmon Gai'don, and he had the reputation of a man with icy blood. Never it had been recorded that he showed the slightest sign of temper. Nor that he had any sadistic nature. I can witness myself that Jonan never turned to violence unless he had to, but there is nothing more atrocious than an Asha'man with his warder in danger.

I've seen what left from those questioners, despite all my years as an Aes Sedai, and the recent horror we've all experienced in the Last Battle, I've never seen a sight more terrifying than that place. I have no wish to see such a thing in my life again.

The Two Towers
Runea Marley and Somara Miliard
The Black Tower
The Forth Age

Mierin awoke shivering all over her body, despite the feeling of Narishma's body, fully clothed, pressed to hers and the thick blankets on the bed. The bed? She distantly remembered him carrying her. It felt good, feeling him so close to her. It felt good to know he was still with her. The memories were still dancing in her mind, chilling her to the bone. Memories of the worst fears possible, the worst she had knew in her life.

She tried to push the memories back, but failed, and her mind listed them all to her, with her shivering and fighting back tears and screams.

Narishma had never become a true Asha'man; he went over to the shadow and handed her to Moridin, to die or worse. And the Naeb'lis trapped her again in a cour'souvra and handed the Mindtrap to Narishma, to be held by a bond and a Mindtrap both.

All She could hear was Narishma and Moridin laughing. Laughing when she tried to kill herself and was stopped without even one of them making a move. Stopped by the bond, the bond that had became a prison worse than any Mindtrap could ever be. They watched amused how she tried to die, and how all her attempts failed. She broke down and cried: "I love you," not knowing if she meant Lews Therin or the man who took the bond after him, the man who gave her to the shadow.

The man she had started to love. And the feeling of loving a man belonged to the shadow made her so sick inside she wanted to die, forever. Despite being of the shadow in the past herself, now, the idea horrified her, sicken her, and Narishma watched her all the time, constantly amused.

Narishma kept her, as a lover. And she was destined to live, to live forever, in love with a man that made her want to throw up. To live forever, never free, never with a chanceof being free. Narishma gave her orders, and she was obeyed, gladly. But some distant part of her never stopped screaming, screamed forever, never free, without a chance of happiness. Screaming to the end of time.

There were others, of course, as worse or more, and she did cried for those.

Narishma became an Asha'man, and was loyal to the Light as Lews Therin himself, and he was beautiful and sweet to her, giddy and intensely overjoyed because saidin was cleansed. He went off partying with his fellows Asha'man, and she watched him go with a smile. Let him have fun, she thought. Until she felt him close and she heard him in the bedroom late at night, all of a sudden, laughing and talking to someone. He had opened a gateway to the bedroom directly. Jealously aroused, she rushed to his room and saw him kissing a woman, a golden haired, beautiful woman... her worst nightmare coming true.

As she channeled to set full light in the room, readied herself to kill this woman, to kill the man who betrayed her, she recognized the woman in Narishma's arm, where only she may be! The woman was almost naked, her clothes lay carelessly on the ground, and Narishma pressed her tightly to his own body. Mierin," He said seriously, not bothered at all that she had caught him and Ilyena bare to their toes, "I would like you to meet my second warder, Ilyena." Saidar left her slowly.

"You!" she screamed after the shock subside, agonized, angry beyond control, embraced saidar again to kill this woman for once and for all... and then she felt suddenly the urge to do it slip away. She glared at Narishma, and he smiled and said: "The bond wouldn't let you do any harm another warder of mine, Mierin." There was no mockery in his voice, and somehow it made it worst.

The hate and the fury still bubbled inside of her, but she couldn't make herself kill the woman. And all this time Ilyena gazed her with laughing deep blue eyes, and silent message in them,"He'll love me more than you, Mierin. I won again.... For the second time, your man is now mine!" And she knew it was true... Ilyena had won again, but this time, she wouldn't be left behind, Narishma meant to keep her, and Ilyena. And she couldn't make up her mind with what was worse.

Mierin turned around in bed, clutching Narishma's shoulders. He awoke with a jerk, his eyes in deep shock. "Tell me you love me, Jahar Narishma!" She insisted, she had to hear the words or she would go insane. She had!

His eyes softened, so big to his face, full of emotion, "Of course I do, Mierin. And always will." He hugged her, hard. His voice cloud with emotions,"I'll never let you go. Didn't you know that? You're my wife, forever!"

That is what I hoped, but I had to be sure." she sighed, suppressing her memories, trying to enjoy the moment. Knowing that those nightmares were as near impossibility as they could be helped not a bit.

"What time is it?" Narishma asked after a while.

"I've no idea." She told him, "I think we've slept for at least a day."

Narishma nodded, "I must go now, " He said, and moved as if to rise, but all in all, it took a very long time before they got out of bed. And Mierin discovered that her newfound shyness was easily forgotten.

Balir walked through the streets, washing in pure joy, Asha'man trailing along all around him, saidin filling them to the point where pain and life were one and the same. Every last one of the Asha'man was shouting and laughing as hard as they could. He looked back at them, and laughed even more, men able to channel, once doomed to go mad from the taint but now... "Cleaned! Free!" He shouted in joy, free from the taint, free from the dark one's touch on saidin and experiencing, for the first time ever, saidin, pure and untainted. Saidin flowed in him, and skies above were lightening in green fire, and then red, and with every other color imaginable.

He looked about him, the Andorans stared at them in shock, even fear, he laughed and ran on, let them fear what they will, he was holding saidin and nothing else mattered. Nothing! Save that sweet flow of life. He lost all sense of time, only that he still held saidin, and that the dream didn't end.

He saw a child the age of five staring at him, and wove Fire and Air, a ball of blue cold fire appeared in front of the small boy, and he laughed as the boy touched it gingerly. Tying the weave, he laughed harder. Looking at the skies, he saw a dragon floating, the size of a big house, made of fire and air, much the same as the ball he made for the little child. He wove the flows to increase the size of the creature. Other dragons appeared in the air, and other creatures too. Men's face, and women's, pictures made of fire and air that danced in the air to the Asha'man's will. A Trolloc the size of a house gnarled in the skies, only to die by a storm of purple lightnings.

It was a game, pure and simple, and he joined it gladly, his creation was Taim's face, he didn't used fire and air, instead, he took a cloud from the sky, forming it the way he wanted. But he lengthened the nose, and widened the cheekbones; the hair became longer. Teeth sharper and longer, a monster made of cloud, walking on air alone, shouting soundlessly.

But the game bored him soon enough, and he let his weave dissolved. Other took his place, all this power cried out to be used, and the Asha'man were eager to do so.

He heard someone moaning nearby, and turned a corner to see a girl, less than fifteen, that apparently tried to get a better view of the display in the sky. She fell to the ground from one of the roofs. Bending knee over the girl, Balir Delved. Searching for the hurts. Three ribs broken, and the girl's left leg crushed, without Healing, there would be no other option but cut it off.

Yet Balir had Healing, and now he wove the complex weaves. The girl looked at him, gasping and panting, men's healing felt as if you were burning, "You can channel!' That was an accusation. "Why did you help me? My mother said all the Asha'man are mad and evil!"

Balir laughed as he help the boy to his feet, "Tell your mother she is wrong, girl." He said, and watched the girl fleeing away with a smile. Then he raised his hand and sent three fire balls, green and yellow and burning red after the girl; to follow her for few days, certainly something to attract the boys' attention. He thought, amused. And laughed, without the slightest bit of self-control again. Life was too good not to savor it.

Turning back, he ran straight into a group of women, those Aielwomen, maidens the spear. He laughed hysterically, saidin filled him, magnifying ever sense and experience, a few women could be just what he needed right now. The women stopped and stared at him, laughing hysterically in the streets of Andor, his fellow Asha'man could be heard everywhere, doing everything they could dream of in celebration of this wondrous event. For some reason, the street emptied as soon as he entered it, he couldn't understand why.

The women in front, the leader, so he guessed, signaled to the women behind her in maiden's hand talk and all but five ran off. The remaining five surrounded him, spears in hands, face veiled, "He's gone mad, they've all gone mad " he heard one of them say.

He turned to her and laughed "No..." he began but nearly collapsed laughing before he could get the rest out. Even being mad seemed funny. Suddenly the maidens attacked, each one a blur, striking at him, trying to take him down. He had been thought two dozens and more ways to stop such attack, with or without saidin. All deadly, spears nearly touch his skin when he finally channeled, a simple weave, harmless, yet effective in stopping their annoying attack. He looked at them all again, each one frozen in mid strike and smiled harder.

"Good evening, Ladies. If you excuse me, I'll be off, you'll be free in an hour or three." And raced away around a corner. With so much of saidin, he savored every heartbeat of life so strong that it became painful.

He ran for what seemed like minutes. Yet, judging by the sun, it must have been hours, before he came in contact with another group of maidens. He prepared the weave he had used on the other women and was about to launch it when one of the women shouted, "Wait! We will not harm you! We wish to invite you to join a game". The Asha'man raised his eyebrows, curious.

"A game," he said, "what kind of game." He wouldn't mind to play a new game.

The women who had spoken looked at the other women and nodded, "It is named Maidens Kiss," she said with a smile. He smile widen, it sounded fun.

"Then let us begin this game, Maiden's Kiss." Spear made a necklace around his neck, nearly breaking the skin. And amusement died. "The rules of the game are very simple, they had to be, for a man to understand them." A woman explained as he readied flows of Air to hold off the spears. "We kiss you, if the kiss is satisfactory we ease up the pressure on our spears". The Asha'man smirked, this game didn't sound very challenging, yet he didn't release his flows, he could easily have more than a few scars from the previous encounter with the maidens of the spear. The woman continued "However, if the kiss displeases us, we increase the pressure on our spears, a bit of incentive to try harder next time".

Before he had a chance to say anything one of the maidens kissed him full on the lips, he gasped, still holding saidin, the kiss seemed to go on for an age, each detail, each sense enhanced. He readied flows of saidin, unconsciously, too busy kissing the maiden to know what he was doing. Too busy feeling the kiss to think coherently. And the weave he had been preparing lashed out and attached itself to the women, she moaned into his mouth and soften against him, smiling uncontrollably. Another of the women smirked as she pushed the maiden that he just... kissed,away from him, another pair of far derais mai had to hold her up. "Selan has always been easily pleased, let us see how good you are with one more experienced" She lowered her spear and kissed him, and again the flows of saidin readied themselves and woven without his mind have any saying in the matter. He had never kissed a girl with saidin flowing in him, never felt a kiss so clear, so... pure and full of life. With saidin sharpening his senses, a kiss felt like a dream never ending.

Her reaction was almost identical to the other maiden, soft and yielding. And when the kiss ended she simply dropped her spear on the ground and sat next to it, apparently he had satisfied her enough to put her out of the game. She sat down on the ground and suddenly jumped up, rubbing her palms, there had been a sharp rock where she had sat down. The Asha'man winced as if he felt her pain in himself. Only when he started rubbing his own palm to soothe the pain did he began to realize what he had done.

The realization cleared his obscure mind. He had bonded two women, without their consent. He lost his hold on saidin, the shock too much for him to bear. It shook him off the joy saidin set inside him.

What would he do, he couldn't break the Bond, and even if he would find a way, doing so would probably kill the warder, and him as well. He sighed, the euphoria of the day lost on him now, there would have to explanations made back at the Black Tower. And none he looked forward, forming the coldness that were needed for saidin he sent himself to the True Source, half afraid what he might find. Afraid that the taint returned, that the vile feeling would turn his stomach and sank into his very soul. Saidin waited, as clean and pure as he picture in his dreams alone.

He doubt if the maidens would let him take two of their numbers, and had no wish to give any explanation whatsoever, he wove air, and set the flows to fade in an hour. And, ignoring the maidens' protests, lift the two maidens he had kissed - his bloody warders, the Light burn his soul, still dazed of his kiss - with flows of air, and opened a gateway for skimming back to the Black Tower.

The pair danced, the man wore nothing but dark gray breech that fit him like a second skin, and soft leather boots. The woman wore cadin'sor in gray and brown and green. The pair danced, and they danced to the music of the clash of metal against metal, as sword met short spear, or the sound of the sword hitting leather buckler.

Elayne watched them with amazement; joy reached her through the bond, overpowering, overwhelming, and strong enough even to mute the pain in Rand's side. She have seen the warders training, and heard Aviendha talking with longing about her days as a maiden, but she could hardly believe her own eyes when she watched them dance together. Elayne recalled that once Aviendha said that there was only one dance she was ready to dance with a man. And Rand had more skill in the dance of battle than any she had ever met. Save maybe Lan. "She is very good," She said quietly, she didn't want to disturb the pair; although she doubted that anything could do that. For some reason, Rand and Aviendha enjoyed taunting and shouting and fighting each other as much as they enjoyed kissing, she would slapped Rand until he got his head straight and have rings in his ears until the Wheel of Time would turn a spoke if he would ever behave her the same as he did with Aviendha.

But Aviendha accepted it without a blink and replayed ten times as much as she got. It was a mystery to Elayne, but that was how it was. "She is more than simply very good." Min said, "I think that only Sulin bests her, and not many are equal."

Birgitte nodded, "Indeed, she served at least five years as a maiden, and she carries not a single scar, that mark her as either a great warrior or a great coward." Elayne tensed at the insult to her near sister, Birgitte looked at her, lips curled in amusement, "Just look at her, Elayne. I doubt if she understand that fear is more than just a ward." Min laughed softly to that, a hand touching her stomach.

"Which one is better?" She asked; she had little knowledge about such matters. Yet it seemed as if it was Aviendha that attacked most of the time, with Rand deflecting the thrusts as easily as a child chasing away a cat. Their speed kept increasing as the circled each other, none showed any sign of tiredness, nor that they had any trouble continuing in the battle forever, never mind that their movement became a blur more often than not. Aviendha suggested this... amusement, when it became clear that Rand was ready to explode if he would have something to do to drive thought about saidin, cleaned, from his mind. He feared drawing too much, and rightfully. He said that even the thought of how saidin felt, clean, was dangerous; it was more than simply the pull of the One Power. Rand knew to be careful, but he seemed to have little control on himself now.

Birgitte's eyes were intent on the pair, at least some of Rand's joy had to do with the fight, "They hadn't touched their limits yet, Elayne. And it may take hours for such a battle to settle." She fell silent for a heartbeat, "Yet there are no levels of skill in battlefield, Elayne. There are only those who survived, and those who hadn't. And even the best can die in battle." Would Rand die too? And in what battle would he die?

No, there was no question whatever or not Rand would die or not. There was only the question of when, and how. Blinking away tears unshed, Elayne grimaced; tears are for after, woman. Maybe, if she would repeat it to herself enough times she would begin to believe it. Maybe.

Min laid a comporting hand on her shoulder, "Don't lose hope, Elayne. That is the one thing we can't allow ourselves." Min understood her; they were standing on the same spot, in love with a man that was doom to die. And despite everything, Min managed a twisted smile that held little mirth in it.

Birgitte nodded, feeling her emotions, guessing her thoughts, "Noting is lost until the battle is done and the crows feed, Elayne." Min grunted sourly.

"Thank you," Elayne laughed, "That was cheerful," but it was, in a way. Birgitte knew her well.

"I meant it," Birgitte said, serious now, "Min's... condition is not the end of the world." the last was deliver in a whisper, there had to keep some secrets from Rand now, to save his life. "It's often the other way around."

"I don't know what I would do if I'd to choose between Rand and the world," Min whispered slowly, "I dare not reach a decision, it would be a betrayal either way." Elayne growled in frustration; it was too close to her own thought. It wasn't fair!

Her eyes returned to Rand, he was perfect, absolutely perfect. And he was hers, never mind that she had to share him. The only defects in him were that old, horrible, half healed wound in his side, and that scar that crossed it, both of them full of evil and painful. She couldn't understand how he could live so normally, when his side throbbed as if stabbed anew with every breath he took.

If he could ignore pain so strong that it made her want to cry for him every time she let herself feel it, she certainly could push back the pain she felt, even for a little while. Love is two-thirds joy and one-third sorrow, she recalled Lini saying once, where did the old woman gained such a stock of saying? Lini never seemed to be wrong, and she always had a saying or two handy.

Yet Elayne knew that no pain of the body, not even Rand's half healed wounds, could be as strong as the pain she would feel, losing Rand.

Dorindha, of the Smoke Water Miagoma, smiled as she fondled her belt knife. There was word from the spear-sisters of some fine amusement. One of those black-coated wetlanders had fallen for a Maiden and offered to play Maiden's Kiss. Dorindha was glad she had sharpened all her steel today. In the last two days the city was in chaos, and the skies were a marvel. It would be good to put one of those Asha'man down a peg of three.

The Far Dareis Mai had gathered around a fountain in the middle of a dusty square just outside the Old City. Only a few of Narys's close kin and near-sisters stood around the black-coated man. As Narys's second sister, she was to be one of those who played the game. Slipping through the crowd of watchers, she stood beside her second sister. "This should be entertaining." She told Narys, rumors began to spread in the city, strange rumors, disturbing. Maidens disappeared, in numbers too big to be ignored.

And the numbers of the Asha'man in the street seemed to be reduced too, yet no bodies were found. Maidens playing maiden's kiss with Asha'man vanished, to be more exact. But the danger made it all more amusing. And if something strange happened when you kissed a man that could channel, Dorindha was certainly willing to try it. Narys seemed eager too.

Narys was the older of the two. She had the rugged features of their father, the sept chief, and the deep-set gray eyes of her mother, the Wise One. Dorindha resembled her roof-mistress mother, with her more delicate features, fine blonde hair and eyes that resembled the blue Waste sky. The two had been close growing up, despite the ten years between them. Dorindha had wanted to be Far Dareis Mai ever since seeing Narys wedded to the spear. Being spear-sisters was even better than being second-sisters and they had often spoken of saying the words that would make them first-sisters as well.

Dorindha studied the man furthered. He was tall, compared to other wetlanders and powerfully built. With dark hair and dark, almost black eyes. Both the Sword and Dragon gleamed from his coat collar. It had something to do with rank, as far as she understood. Not much was known about the Black Tower. He was barely a man, Dorindha estimated that the Asha'man was not much above her own age, seventeen. "What is his name?" She asked her second sister.

Narys snorted, "He is Jarn Merril. He keeps asking to be called Jarn though."

Dorindha nodded. Wetlanders did like to be called by only half their name. It was an intimacy she wondered at occasionally. She nearly started at the sound of her sister banging on her leather buckler; then blushed with shame. No one had noticed her jump like a rabbit, but it was just one more reminder she was newly wedded to her spear.

At the sound of the spear on buckler, Narys's kin moved around Jarn Merril in a circle. He showed no fear, just calm arrogance. It would be a joy to bring this wetlander down a peg or three, or more.

As one, the Maidens placed their spears at his throat. The man still did not flinch away; in fact, he seemed amused. "What come next?" He asked, curiously, not at all bothered that the spears might shave him if he would take a breath too deep.

"This," Narys was the first to put down her spear and step over to the man clad in black. He smiled in anticipation, then leaned down and gave her a chaste peck on the lips. The watching Maidens hollered and pounded their spears on their bucklers. With a grim amusement, Dorindha moved her spear a fraction closer to his neck.

Then a leathery Maiden called Shaen took her turn. Jarn Merril tried a bit harder this time, but was still rewarded only with a tighter ring of steel around his neck.

Around the circle it went, with no Maiden being pleased with the results. The wetlander seemed eased even when the blades nicked his flesh, in fact, he only grinned wider to himself, was this how madmen were?

Finally it was Dorindha's turn. She stepped up to the man and grinned at her spear-sisters. "Surely you can do better," She told him, "I'd better kisses from my brothers."

Jarn Merril looked very intently into her eyes, where a spark of grim amusement danced. "You wouldn't like it if I would try harder," He told her, "believe me, you wouldn't like it at all."

"Do you kiss that bad?" She mocked him; he looked insulted. "Or does the spears bother you?" He glanced down at the speared and then at her, taking her face gently in both hands, he delicately brushed his lips against hers.

She nearly smiled when her teasing succeeded. But then she shuddered as something raked through her entire body. She was melting in his arms. No, she was flying above the clouds. Stronger than the first time she had drunk too much ousqui. It felt like the first taste of food after days of hunger. She felt like falling and flying together, a sweeter sensation than she had ever known before. It became stronger, almost too much to bear, and stronger still, and then... it died. And she collapsed against the wetlander, nearly sobbing. The spears were taken away from him, she was distantly aware of amazed whispered between her spear-sisters.

Dorindha knew her spear-sisters must be wondering what was going on, but she was aware only of Jarn Merril, excruciately aware of him. She knew he had a slight cut on his thumb. She could feel amusement and something very close to shock in the back of her head."What...what have you done to me?" she panted. "Take it away! Take yourself away!"

"I'm sorry, my dear. I don't know how." he paused, looking confused. "I think I shouldn't have done that."

She punched him hard, below the ribs. And nearly doubled over gasping in pain that wasn't hers. "What have you done?" she demanded. Her spear-sisters hadn't moved, but the mood had changed from festive to dangerous. More than one hand twitched to a black vile.

"I have taken you as a warder, very much like an Aes Sedai and her Warder. You are my Warder now." The man stared at her; arrogance disappeared from him for few moments. "I did gave you a fair warning, though." he grinned at her; arrogant again, then reeled as she gave him a full armed slap across the face. Dorindha clutched her jaw hard, it felt almost identical, his pain, her own. How could she fight him, when it hurt her as well?

"Undo whatever you did!" She commanded in a quiet tone. Her spear sisters spread behind her silently, veiled, ready to kill.

"I'm sorry, girl. I don't think there is a way." Something flashed on his face; he was trying to be sneaky! When his face was a clear mirror of his emotions and thoughts. "There is much honor in being a Warder. Even Aes Sedai have become Warders to Asha'man"

"Wetlanders' honor!" she spat. "I want none of it! You will take me to your leader now! Someone must know how to break this bloody thing."

"As you wish, girl." He shrugged; he didn't seem to care much. He was again unworried. "But I do not think the M'Hael can help you. Or that he would want to." The last was supposed to be to his ears alone, apparently.

"And don't call me girl!" She commanded him, "I've a name!"

"Yet I don't know him." Jarn Merril said calmly. Did nothing break through that shield of tranquilness?

"Dorindha," She told him, what would happen if she put a knife in his belly? "Dorindha, of the Smoke Water Miagoma Aiels." Turning her eyes to Narys, she said, "Spread the word, don't let any maidens get near this... filth, or any of his kind," Jarn Merrill threw his head back and laughed. Glaring at him, she added, "I'll be back as soon as I'll be freed."

A gateway opened above the fountain, with a stone platform within its inky darkness. Jarn Merril stepped onto the edge of it; then held out a hand to Dorindha. "This is the best I can do at the moment, my dear. Come along." Glaring at him, she scorned his hand and climbed into the gateway herself. This fool wetlander would pay for what he had done to her!

As the gateway closed Jarn Merril turn his eyes to Narys: "Don't expect her any timesoon."

"The Dragon Reborn trusted few and little. Yet there were those who gained his full trust. His wives, Elayne, Aviendha and myself, Min. Birgitte, Elayne's warder, his general, Davram Bashere, the few friends he had left, Nynaeve and al'Lan Mandragoran, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara. Yet Dragon Reborn trusts others too, for a single reason. The dozen Aes Sedai that had sworn to him and came with him into the Dragonmount, to cleanse saidin. Verin Mathwin, Brown ajah, Alanna Mosvani, Green ajah, Merana Ambrey, Gray ajah, Rafela Cindal, Blue ajah, Faeldrin Harella, Green ajah, Bera Harkin, Green ajah, Kiruna Nachiman, Green ajah. Elza Penfell, Green ajah, Nesume Bihara, Brown ajah, Sarene Nemdahl, White ajah, Beldeine Nyram, Green ajah, Erian Boroleos, Green ajah.

Logain, Leane, Toviene and Halima Albar, Eben Hopwil, Narishma and Mierin Jahar, Flinn Damer, Valir Nensen and Arlen Nalaam.

All those who were with him inside the Dragonmount when saidin was cleansed. That event created a loyal group, none that have lived what we've lived could be disloyal to the Light.

Cleansing saidin gained the Dragon the complete loyalty of large number of the Asha'man, although it's important not to underestimate the actions of Logain Albar in this direction. However, this move also cost dearly to the Dragon Reborn. About one third of the Asha'man vanished that day, and for a long time, none knew their fate. Another result of the day was Nemesis. The woman, at the time named Ilyena, appeared about two day after the cleansing, when we were all celebrating; and caused a commotion that nearly destroyed everything the Dragon Reborn ever built. Her actions were certainly to be suspected, from the very beginning, when she...

The History of the Black Tower, volume III
By Elmindreda al'Thor
The Court of the Sun
The Forth Age

How many women can truly say that they don't know whatever they had been with a man before or not? Mierin wondered when they arrived in the hall where they had been drinking ousqui in order to forget, she found Nynaeve, Flinn, Eben, Lan, Elayne and Birgitte already there. Birgitte made her remember something, tugged her memories, but shecouldn't really remember what it was. They had been invited, Eben appearing for a moment in their room, looking highly amused at their expressions, to tell them the Lord Dragon means to celebrate the cleansing if he had to use the power to make us all smile, as the Asha'man put it.

They were drinking warm herb wine, and offered her and Narishma to join with a smile. Cleansing saidin had created a kinship between them and a sort of trust nobody and nothing would ever break. Mierin noticed how bad Elayne, Flinn and Nynaeve looked. Elayne's face was still dark, her eyes red, she must have cried, for a long time.

"Have you already tried to touch saidin, Narishma?" Flinn asked quietly. They all have seen the most terrible things, too. She shivered, and Narishma's hand found hers, comforting her.

Narishma shook his head, letting those little bells in his hair tingle. "Not yet. At first I did not have the strength, and now I do not have the courage. I remember how it felt when you putted all of the taint in the prison, Flinn, and it felt so... vivid, so ecstatic, vigorous, snappy, that I am afraid I will loose myself in it once I reach for it. That I will not be able to stop myself from drawing too much."

Flinn nodded in agreement. "I feared the same. I wonder if the Lord Dragon - " His words trailed off when Logain entered the room, as silent as death despite his size. And Leane, Toviene and Halima on his just after him.

Lews Therin and Min and Aviendha entered the room together only few heartbeats later. Min's face lost their constant grin.

Few minutes later, the rest arrived, fourteen women that had sworn fealty to the Dragon Reborn. Of free will, apparently, not something hard to believe, with Lews Therin. And two more Asha'man, that seemed to be incapable of releasing their grins. They seemed to split their face from one end to another.

Narishma smiled suddenly, a grin as wide as on the face of the two Asha'man that just entered; Mierin didn't remember their names. "Beldeine wouldn't like it." He murmured to her ears alone, "No, she wouldn't like it one bit of it!" He stared at one of the Aes Sedai, and held her more tightly. A beautiful Aes Sedai, but Narishma only grinned at her, ignoring the glare the Aes Sedai sent to her, and felt amused and relief at the same time, she would have to talk with that... Aes Sedai ... later.

They sat down together in a common silence, until Lews Therin broke it with few words, "saidin is cleansed." Somehow nobody had the energy to laugh or to cheer.

"Have you reached for it already, my Lord Dragon?" Flinn asked.

Lews Therin shocked his head miserably, "Once, for the barest heartbeat, and it's pulling nearly killed me. I wanted to be together with others when I try again. To be stopped if I loose all control."

"I fear that too," Narishma said from his spot next to her, still holding her hand. His hand was warm; it felt comfortably, natural. It belonged there.

"And me too," Logain added. And the other Asha'man echoed him.

"We used to have lessons in keeping ourselves from drawing too much," Nynaeve said quietly. "But this was parallel in our learning of the True Source on itself. I don't know what would happen if you, who are already experienced in reaching saidin, would experience it without the taint."

"It's too bloody sweet, Nynaeve," Lews Therin said, "I thought about everything, but not this. I never considered the power itself as the greatest risk."

"Maybe we could not stop ourselves," Flinn said somberly. "Maybe we would burn ourselves out. Sweet irony, I assume. To survive the Cleansing only to die from not being able to stop drawing too much of saidin."

"Tell that to the Dark One," Mierin heard Halima saying quietly, "He would enjoy the joke, I died once, I've no intention of dying again."

Mierin felt Narishma's emotions in the back of her head, uneasiness, slight fear, and patted his hand. "We could make a link," she offered. "We could back you off when you are drawing too much. And you can't draw too much in a link. Of course, you men will be the ones in charge, but I think the link would be able to protect you."

She saw the glow of saidar around Elayne and Aviendha appear at the same moment and then it surrounded every other woman in the room save Min and Birgitte. Elayne sighed, "I thought I was so tired that I could never embrace it again. So tired for the rest of my life. Forever unable."

Nynaeve smiled warmly, despite looking like she had slept in her cloths, "I think we've all experienced this. We have all been very, very afraid."

"Fear is what you feel when someone try to stick a dagger through your heart, girl." Halima said acidly, "Fear is what you feel in the storm of battle or on the point of losing control of saidin. What that was, all those things you felt, was pure horror being poured into you, your mind created the visions to fit to that." Mierin could live without the explanation.

She noticed how the woman clutched her skirts tightly. Bravery is not shown by not feeling fear; bravery is when you fight fear down. It was a common saying among the soldiers in the army of the Light, back in the War of Shadow. After today, she knew, none of them would ever say a thing about those nightmares created by the creature she set free and served. She opened herself for the One Power and linked herself with Narishma, with the rest, allowed the flood fill them until the joy of life reached the border of pain.

"What shall we do?" Elayne asked breathlessly, her eyes blurred with a dock of tears. They were tears of joy. She felt the male half inside her, and the men were frozen. And the devastating feeling of joy weren't her feelings. They resulted from the men, and from the link. So much power cried out to be used, had to be used.

Mierin looked at her bondholder. Narishma's face was beaming with joy, with such an expression of ecstasy that she would never forget it. This must be the happiest moment of your life, my bondholder; she thought and couldn't help a smile.

Later, she could never recall who was it that led the circle, maybe it was passed around, and it wasn't truly important; they all led it, in truth. The weaving was complex, and beautiful in it's own way, filling the air around them, Earth and Fire and Spirit.

The floor under their feet began to change, until it had become what they wanted... they stood on a huge form. A circle of black and white, divided by a sinuous line, the walls, the ceiling, were the shining gray, almost silver, three shades from the hair her new body had, the only beautiful thing in her new body.

"Under this sign he will conquer," she heard someone whisper, she did not know who spoke, the Aiel girl, Aviendha, most probably, not a hint left of her hate to the woman.

"The first combining of the male and female part of the One Power in three thousands years that had no created by need and duty." she recognized Elayne's voice. "And we make the ancient symbol for the Aes Sedai. It had to mean something!"

"It does." Min said, "It does." She sounded certain.

"No weapon shall be raise in this room," Lews Therin's voice echoed in the big room. "Nor any violence allowed to enter. And no evil may enter. For as long as this mountain abide." As he spoke, the words appeared, golden against silver gray, on the wall opposing the doors. Then the link faded. The power leaving them, yet the sense of together wasn't gone.

Mierin felt Narishma flooding with emotions he could not control and gave in to the terrible desire to hug him.

Halima clapped her hands, emerald green eyes shining with victory. "Today," She pointed at the symbol marked on the floor, "they name it the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai. Few remember the name it bore when the Hall of Servants still stood." She turned her eyes to Lews Therin, "Name this room Balance, Lews Therin. For the Balance of the Light you took as your banner."

Lews Therin inclined his head in acceptance, "It will be so, then." He said quietly, "The name fit."

"Now that it's done," Halima said cheerfully, "Let's celebrate!" A bottle of ousqui floated in the air toward her and she laughed. "We made it, people. We cleansed saidin!" Her smile widened, "Let's just hope this new age will be even slightly more interesting than the Age of Legends." And this time, they all cheered. They made it. Female or male, in this age and the one he was born in, Eval Ramman remained the same.

For a little while, while she was drinking and celebrating with the people she cooperated with, she could forget the painful memories and the fears. For a little while, she was truly happy. The happiness lasted far less than she hoped.

Lews Therin suddenly gave a start, as if someone pinched him bottom, Min, who leaned on him, drinking a bottle filled with wine, not ousqui stumbled and nearly fell, she held herself barely erect when she scrambled up, "What happened?" She asked, anger and worry in her voice. Somehow, she didn't spill a drop from her bottle. She wouldn't have pinched his bottom, wouldn't she? Not with the rest of them here, surely.

"I felt... something." Lews Therin said, "It felt like a fade's stare." They all stared at him unbelievingly. "Well, I did!" He said, and then his eyes locked on the doors, that opened silently. To reveal a very familiar woman, they all looked at the newcomer.

"I found you," the woman whispered. "At last, I've found you." Lews Therin's cup made a strange sound as it smashed in his hands, sending blood, ousqui and shattered glasses to the floor, Lews Therin didn't seemed to notice.

Mierin recognized her before any other save Lews Therin. That golden hair and those blue eyes, that accursed face... Ilyena! It can't be! Light, let it be anyone but her! She screamed in the depths of her mind, while Lews Therin whispered that hated name. "Ilyena!" With shock thickening his voice.

The woman collapsed to the sound of her name, like a chopped down tree, and fell to the floor. And no one made a move, nor dare breathing. Yet Mierin felt tears in her eyes. She could push the memories away. But this wasn't a dream, she pinched herself twice already, it didn't help, the worst she could think off had became true. And she had no idea what she was about to do.

Asha'man's kisses, Unbreakable promises. - A common saying between the warders in the Black Tower.

It takes a fool or a woman in love to kiss an Asha'man. And the two are one and the same. - A saying in the White Tower.

The worst an Asha'man can do is to steal a kiss. - The Dragon Reborn, private conversations with the M'Hael.

The most important law in the Black Tower states that, "In order for a man to truly be an Asha'man, he needs the Sword, the Dragon, and a wife." Bonding changes the Asha'man, matures them. Calming them down, an Asha'man with a warder cannot ignore his wife, nor can disregard duty.

"An Asha'man must never forget that he's a part of the world. And mustn't be allowed to forget the meaning of the title he's carrying." - The Dragon Reborn, a speech before the Council of the Black Tower.

So far, no Aes Sedai had been fully ready to accept the Black Tower's view of warders, unless bonded. And no single Asha'man had been able to accept the idea of warders not taking part in every area of the Aes Sedai's life. That is, despite some of them that had been taken warders to Aes Sedai.

Despite using the same words, and few common attributes, there is little that resemblance between the Asha'man's bond and Aes Sedai's one. The weave used in the Black Tower to bond was originally developed to do just what his name implies, to prevent the Asha'man's wives from running away, and the bond, of course, stand in the very heart of every Asha'man existence, and hence, in the very heart of the Black Tower itself.

The History of the Black Tower, volume IV
By Elmindreda al'Thor
The Court of the Sun
The Forth Age

"Have you heard what happened, Amelin?" Lyandra Anshar blasted into Amelin's rooms, her hair was hanging lose and her green silk dress more than a bit wrinkled. She always looked like this, even moments after wearing a new dress.

Amelin looked up from the book she was reading, smiling at her friend, "Nice to see you, Lyan. What should I have heard?"

Her friend fell down on Amelin's bed and laughed. "Oh, you and your reading! When are you going to take a look at the real world?" She grabbed the book from Amelin's hand and read the title. "Reason and unreason, by Herid Fel. Philosophy, Amelin, you?"

Amelin stood up from her bed, smoothed her blue dress and asked impatiently: "Why don't you just tell me what happened?" If Lyandra was the very symbol of chaos, Amelin was always neat. Lyandra said once that she can stumble head over heals the entire length of the dirtiest heal one can find, and she would stand up with not a wrinkle in her dress. Amelin took it as the compliment it was.

"Oh, yes." Lyandra chuckled charmingly. Her blond, nearly white, curls danced on her shoulders when she shook her head. "I almost forgot... Well, the Asha'man have gone mad. They are raiding the city."

"What?" Amelin exclaimed. "But I thought they were in Cairhien." So rumors placed them, together with the Dragon Reborn, Lyandra was the best source for rumors and gossip in Caemlyn Amelin had ever met. A week ago Lyandra claimed that the Dragon Reborn had gone mad or died, ruining Cairhien entirely, the city, not the country. People couldn't keep their mouth shut near Lyandra, or so it seemed.

"Well, they aren't, and they are all over the city. Didn't you hear the noises from outside?" Lyandra rolled on her back, and looked at Amelin from a tilted position. She took a long breath and continued: "Anyways, my sister said it wasn't that bad, because when they are kissed, the madness will vanish. And they aren't killing everyone, just laughing and shouting and... haven't you even looked outside your window last night? The skies burned!"

Amelin raised an eyebrow. "I was at my library, Lyandra. Are you sure you're not telling a fairy tale or something? Insane men that can channel... that have to mean another Breaking of the World." The idea frightened her so much that she shivered. Lyandra just shrugged, she couldn't accept the idea of worrying about the tomorrow; she lived the moment with endless energy and passion.

"No! No, it's true!" Within a heartbeat Lyandra stood next to her and took her at her wrist. "Come and take a look outside, in the city. They are everywhere! And I heard that some of them are really handsome and cute."

"And it should be our duty as nobility of Caemlyn that we take their madness away, isn't it?" Amelin felt how a grin appeared on her face. The idea was certainly interesting, most of Lyandra's were.

Lyandra's blue eyes were sparkling. "Oh yes. Our duty and pleasure." She giggled shortly and then all but pulled Amelin with her, out of her rooms, out of the house, to the streets. It did not take Amelin long to run along with her friend, trying to find one of those cute Asha'man. It was two hours to sunset, and Amelin wondered how she could have missed last night's events, the library had no windows, but still, the noise was shocking, creature made of fire fought in the skies, and the skies themselves seemed uncertain if to remain blue, so many colors were there that her eyes began to ache when she tried to see them all in once, instead she concentrated on each one at its turn, a red Trolloc gnash his teeth in the skies, and then it held a flower in those huge hands, the last place she would have expected to see such tender thing. The Trolloc turned pink, and the flower grew rapidly, then there were a dozen of them, and a hundred, and then a thousand or more, red and blue and white and purple and yellow, and a huge one, twice the size of the Lion Palace, dominated the skies in its black.

Lightning stroked from clear skies where clouds shaped into human forms fought each other with hate marked on their face, most of them females, large number of them unclothed. A storm of green lightning hit the Lion Palace, and she watched fearfully, expecting the ancient building to fall apart, each lightning was the as wide as the oak that had been planted in her house's garden by the Ogiers, before the Trollocs war. But the palace only shined greenly for a few moments, not one stone falling. A firewall a mile wide appeared in the skies, formed itself into a hawk and flew above the city, its call surged in their ears. "It would have worth it, to live in the Breaking, just to see that!" Lyandra exclaimed. "I don't think I will ever get tired of that. It's... beauty."

"Indeed," Was all Amelin could say, and that was to say the least, taking her eyes from the skies was hard, but she turned her eyes to the street they were standing in, even Lyandra, who saw all that last night and as she came to her house, stood with her mouth gaping like some country girl that never saw a place that had never seen any place bigger than her village. But watching people's reactions always fascinated her, the streets weren't empty, as she half expected to find. But full of people, she saw many that stared at the skies in awe and fear, but they watched it still. And every store was open, a girl no more than seven run by them, holding a globe of green light the size of her head. Joy spread on her face. Silently she touched Lyandra's shoulder and pointed at half a dozen Aiels, in the cloths they all wore, no sense of fashion, they had. None of the Aiels moved a muscle, and their soft boots float at least a foot from the ground.

Lyandra nodded and then pointed at far more interesting sight, a short man, a Cairhienin, by his face, clad in black, the first she have seen wearing black today. Couple of maidens walked behind him, each at least a hand taller than he was, veiled. No wonder, Aiels and Cairhienins despite and scorned each other. The man turned his head to say something to them, maybe he was trying to calm them, but, if anything, it made them walk more rigidly. The three passed through the crowd like it wasn't there; it split before them, the three walked in a bubble of empty space.

"The only time I've seen people do that is with White Cloaks!" Lyandra said, and giggled, "I wonder what they would think about it?"

"The Asha'man or the Children of Light?" Amelin asked, "Their reaction would be the same, I assume, rage. And they will be even angrier knowing that the other side is just as angry for this. Neither would like the comparison." White Cloaks despite the very idea of the One Power. Claiming that Aes Sedai would ruin the world again, Amelin had no need to guess much about what they would have to say about the Asha'man.

"I think he's taken already, Amelin." Lyandra said, "We should find one that is not taken already."

"He was too short to be cute," Amelin noted, "And I don't think that channeling make a person cute, you do remember Elaida, don't you? She is as uncute person as I've seen."

"Elayne can channel," Lyandra said absently, "And I've heard she had got the Dragon Reborn to herself. Do you think she kissed him?"

"Oh, Light!" Amelin groaned, sometime Lyandra's ears caught too many rumors, and she enjoyed pretending she believed them all. "Let us just find an Asha'man and kiss him! I don't believe that particular rumor, even if the rest is true. Elayne has too much sense to get involve with the Dragon Reborn; mother met him and she said that he was the coldest and hardest man she had ever man she had ever met. Do you really believe that man is capable of love? Elayne isn't fool enough to believe him if he would tell him he loves her, he only wants to control Andor."

"There is other possibilities, Amelin." Lyandra said, her eyes searching the crowd for black clad man, "Elayne might have decided that it's her duty to do anything to save Andor. And if that means that she has to bed al'Thor, do you believe she wouldn't do that?" Despite her behavior, Lyandra was no fool. The thought was unpleasant; Amelin knew Elayne well, before she was sent to the White Tower, there was little the woman wouldn't do for Andor. The same went for her and Lyandra as well, as Amelin well knew. If, to save Andor, she had to bed with a Trolloc she would do so, and Lyandra too.

"I don't like this," She muttered loudly. Andor must come before everything else, dear. She remembered her mother's favorite saying. And, There is no need to like what you do when duty is the reason for your actions, Amelin; there is only the need to do what is required of you to do. Her father always said when she complained that her duties are extremely unpleasant. At the time, it was going to a dinner at the Lion Palace, not a week after she and Elayne had the most terrible fight possible. The lesson was well remembered, and Amelin knew that Lyandra had had almost the exact experiences. They didn't talk about it, an unpleasant subject to say the least, but no talking was needed, one day they would lead their houses, she would be High Seat of House Taravin, and Lyandra would be the High Seat of House Anshar. They didn't talking about it, no talks were needed.

"Neither do I, Elayne is our friend." Lyandra said somberly. "But there is nothing we can do about it now. You're taller than I am; can you see anything black? I want to find a cute one, Amelin. And think, we are going to kiss someone to sanity!"

"I don't think I've ever done that," Amelin told her dryly, "Most often, the result should be reversed." Kissing takes their madness away? Oh Light, I will never have such a good opportunity to kiss a man that can channel, Amelin thought, half amused, half serious. It would be the most exciting adventure in their life, although something in the logic that directed them was a bit obscure, to say the least. They could think of reasons why not kissing an Asha'man later, after they would kiss one, a cute one.

For one moment she thought about Mefil, the baker's boy, and the kisses in the darkness until her father, Lord Sheraen of House Taravin, found out, and chased the boy away. She had never seen Mefil after that but once, when his black eye and the bruises on his face were about to start healing. I am sure that father will understand this time... she told him then. Laughing, she followed her friend, who was just as enthralled as she was. It was Lyandra who taught her never to be worried about things she could do nothing about. And Mefil and her kissed when she was fifteen only. For some reason, stolen kisses were much more pleasant than other kisses.

It did take quite a long while before they found a cute one on a little square in one of the garden the Ogier created close to the palace wall. They have seen others too, five of them, but one was far too older for them, old enough to be their father and more, and other was simply... unattractive, not that he was ugly, just short of it, with mouth too wide to his face and nose far too small. The third was obviously drunk, and he hadn't washed lately, twenty feet away, they could clearly smell him. The forth was taken, a tall maiden stepping next to him, or being dragged by him, it was hard to decide. The fifth could have been cute, if he hadn't two black eyes and a woman dressed in Ebou Dari dress behind him.

They almost became frustrated from the attempts to find a cute, untaken, Asha'man when they found him. He was all alone, sitting at the edge of a marble fountain and played with the water. When he ran his hands through it, it bubbled up in shiny colored lights, floating in the air like soap balls - but these ones really shined like little lights. He laughed as he watched them, a happy laugh full of joy and love for life.

Lyandra and Amelin were hiding themselves behind a house. Once in a while one of them popped her head around the corner to take a look at him. "He doesn't seem insane to me," Lyandra whispered. "More... joyfully."

Amelin nodded as she watched the man in black. He was really cute; the stories were not exaggerated at all. His hair was dark brown, and the lines of his face were almost delicate, so friendly and nice in the light of the bubbles. He did not seem much older than she and Lyandra were. And he reminded her of Mefil. Mefil could enjoy the little things in life intensely; this Asha'man did the same. And the man looked like a country folk, even thought the breech and coat were made of black silk. The only decoration he had was a silver pin on his high collar.

Amelin liked him immediately. "Come on, Lyandra. Let's go talk to him."

Her friend hesitated for a moment. "Well... I don't know if-"

"Now come on! You were the one who told me about this in the first place!" Lyandra looked guilty.

"But what if he is really insane?" She protested.

"Does he look like it?" Amelin asked, staring at her friend with frustration, she could never do it without her Lyandra, it wouldn't be... right.

"Not really." Lyandra said hesitantly.

"Well, then!" Amelin grabbed Lyandra's wrist and pulled her with her just like Lyandra did with her not long ago. She approached the Asha'man firmly, but with every step she took the certainty vanished more. When she finally stood before him, she felt her hands trembling. What if he would kill her? Her mother would skin her alive if she would let herself die.

The Asha'man looked up from the light bubbles and looked at them. "Hello girls," he grinned. "How nice to see you. Are you going to keep me company tonight?"

Amelin felt her cheeks burn, but Lyandra laughed charmingly and let him pull her on the edge of the fountain. "Maybe we are. Tell me, how do you make those bubbles?"

He smiled and a yellow-golden bubble floated between their faces. And two emerald bubbles the size of her fist rose in the air to dance near Lyandra. Soft silvery bubble floated in Amelin's direction. "Weaves of Air and Water, a tiny bit of Fire. It is not that hard to do it. "He was a man that could channel, but Amelin couldn't be afraid of him, she touched the bubble lightly with one finger, slightly afraid it might bite her. It felt just like water, but it shined in silver light.

"You can truly channel saidin? And you aren't mad or anything worse?" Lyandra asked, unaffected by saidin being channeled so closely to her.

He laughed joyfully. Such a warm sound, Amelin thought. "No, I am not mad, and I will not be." Jumping to his feet, another bubble of water rose to join the dozen or so that already floated in the air, this was ten times the size of his head, nearly drying the entire pool; it shifted colors with every heartbeat. "Saidin is cleansed, girls, the taint will not corrupt us anymore."

The news had no affect on Lyandra, she just used the subject to flirt with him, and Amelin was observing him with big eyes. He was so cute. Somewhere, the information registered, her mother should know about it, later. After she would kiss him.

"And what are your names, if I may ask, girls?" He asked after a while. The huge bubble sank back into the pool, colors gone from it, Amelin took the silvery bubble in her hands; she wanted to keep it.

"I'm Lyandra, from House Anshar," Lyandra told him, looking at him in a way that set every man on fire. Lyandra was not that beautiful, she was just charming. And she knew how to use it.

"And I am Amelin from House Taravin."

The Asha'man grinned. "Nobles, the future plotters and rulers of Caemlyn?"

"I guess you could say that, although I think you mistake us for Cairhienin." Lyandra smiled in her sweetest way. Asha'man or not Asha'man, he was still a man.

Amelin decided she would take the next step. They always flirted that way. Lyandra was the flirter, but Amelin was always the one to be kissed first. And she was not any prettier than her friend. Maybe it was because she remained more mysterious than her friend. She laid her hand on his arm and said in a low, warm voice: "And what is your name?"

"Darian al'Falder. I am from the Two Rivers." His eyes were almost black, Amelin noticed. A woman could drown in them.

"Would you like to kiss me, Darian?" Amelin asked, and smiled faintly at him.

"How could I refuse such an attractive offer," Darian laughed, and before she could even take a breath, he pushed his lips firmly on hers and kissed her. The feeling was wonderful, she couldn't remember it being so terrific - her body trembled a bit, it felt like ecstasy, it was like exploding, like merging together with him, she was one with him, and it was so sweet, so sweet, so wonderful and beautiful... the ecstasy reached the edge of pain, crossed the edge, and exploded.

When he let her go, she felt tears in her eyes, and her whole mind and body seemed to be hassled. Panting, she sat on the edge of the fountain. For a moment simply gathering her strength.

As she splashed some water on her face, she could hear Lyandra say: "That must have been a good kiss. Can I have one, too?"

Amelin wanted to say no, you can't! But she did not have the energy. She had lost every last bit of control on her feelings and reality. Light, girl, stop this foolishness! He only kissed you! You can't count the number of times a boy kiss both of you. She spun around when she felt faintly the same feeling of ecstasy returning. Darian was kissing Lyandra passionately, and she felt something... doubling. She felt as if it was her that was kissing Lyandra.

These are his feelings, not mine! She realized. I feel what he feels! How is this possible?

When he let go of Lyandra, her friend suffered even worse than she did. She gazed at the man with glazed eyes, softly moaning. She nearly fell as she tried to seat next to her on the pool's edge. "What have you done?" she hissed at Darian, no longer thinking he was cute. "What have you done us?"

Darian stared at her in amazement, "I kissed you, just as you asked!" He said, "That was... not all." He gaped at nothing. And slowly he sat himself on the fountain near them, his face a mask of stunned shock.

Lyandra's eyes were dazed as she spook, "What more have you done save kissing us?" He used the Power! Amelin thought angrily, it wasn't fair; it was the best kiss she had ever had, and now she had no chance to get more. She didn't want to be kissed with the power.

A long silent came from him, broken only by heavy breathing; she was glad of that, he did tried. "I... I... took you as..." he stopped to swallow hard, his face a mask of disbelief. "As warders, the Light burns my soul! I took you as my warders!"

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