March 05, 2000
Category: WoT Third Age
Author: Barid Bel Medar, Lanfir, Lady Selinthia, Alanna

[Disclaimer]

Towers of Midnight
Mistrusted Guardians

The White Tower existed for three thousands years, and the Novices and Accepted in the White Tower are bound by almost as many rules. No Novice or Accepted has ever become Aes Sedai without at least once finding herself breaking one of those laws. Most often, the punishment fitting the crime is nothing more than a few extra chores, in some cases, it might be even switching, but the girl who broke the law would soon learn how either to avoid being caught or avoid breaking the laws again. Each law is a tiny string tied to those girls, and the laws are nearly unbreakable for those girls by the time they are ready to become Aes Sedai.

Taim tried to create a system of rules for the Asha'man to follow, but soon after he betrayed the Light, Logain discarded most of Taim's work. Unlike the White Tower, and without a doubt in purpose to become as different from the White Tower he loathed, Logain never tried to control the Asha'man by making them obey any kind of law. The Black Tower's Code is short and simple, with severe punishments to those who break it, death is the most common of them, thought not the worst.

Most of those who would read those books, narrating the history of those early days of the Black Tower know the Code by heart. For those of you who lack that knowledge, the Code forbid the misuse of the One Power, forbid the Asha'man and their warders of committing illegal activities using the One Power. The Code lists the forbidden actions, as well as the punishment for those who would break the Code.

Stolen kisses, as forced Bond sometimes named, are considered among the worst crimes any Asha'man can commit. But the punishment for that can never be death, in the Asha'man's eyes, it's much worse. There are several exceptions, of course, a woman's agreement is unnecessary when the Bond might be the only thing that can save her life, and there is no action forbidden for an Asha'man who tries to protect his warder from a danger.

In the Asha'man's eyes, the White Tower's rules are nothing but a spider net. In the Black Tower, a man in the blacks has far more freedom than any woman can have in the White Tower. The common opinion in the Black Tower regarding the White Tower is that living in the White Tower is like being trapped in a dungeon.

Yet, as the Asha'man are well aware of, in the White Tower the walls are made of thin silk, in the Black Tower, the walls are made of hard, cold steel.

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

"Mierin! Come over here, woman!" Lews Therin shouted, and she was wrapped in weaves of Air to drag her to him. Her mind dazzled, still screaming in vain of the horrors she had seen heartbeats ago. She tried to gather her thoughts back to coherently. She needed to think. "I need a link, I can't hold this for long all by myself," the tall man snapped at her. One glance at the parts she saw of the taint's prison sufficed her to understand. She embraced saidar instinctively, and gave him the control of the power that flowed through her. She felt him opening, letting her enter. And then he caught her, and she was no longer in control of saidar. It was something they had done countless times during their time as students together. It almost felt like the old days, and Mierin’s heart ached for only one moment. It was so much stronger than it used to be. Everything was changed, but some things would never change. Lews Therin was still the man who could dip deeper into saidin than any other. He channelled through her, the strongest ever among the females able to touch saidar, and the strongest sa'angreals ever to be created. They were linked together in a strike that could save or destroy the world. For a heartbeat she shivered in ecstasy, but the sweetness of saidar kept increasing, and crossed the edge of pain. And she began to fear.

He drew saidar through her and the sa'angreal shaped as a woman with a crystal globe held above her head. He kept drawing saidin as well, using the statue shaped as a bearded man to link him to the huge replica of that foot tall statue. The ecstasy she felt from him was overwhelming, so much of the One Power, but the ecstasy did not diminish the fear, and even though Mierin knew it was impossible to burn out while linked. But it was very possible to die...

Mierin woke up panting, and embracing saidar, very close to her limit. While dreaming! She thought angrily: I could have bloody killed myself! She sat right up in bed, trying not to awake Narishma and forced herself to let go of the True Source, action hated. What is happening to my dreams and me? She wondered. Now that the fear was controlled as much as possible, she thought she should regain control of her dreams again, but not when she slept the sleep of pure exhaustion, this days? She had not entered Tel'aran'rhiod ever since she joined Lews Therin's forces. And her dreams were... hard to control. Nightmares, not dreams; is her waking mind refused to face such difficulties, her mind would challenge them in the sleep. There had to be a way out of so much stress. It was either nightmares or madness. Still, she wasn't so sure going mad would be that bad. Those nightmares... they were linked with her deepest inner feelings, and always about the Cleansing or Narishma. Or both.

She feared losing Narishma, but the bond was a constant, endless, comfort. He was near her and he loved her. The bond was soothing, reassuring. It even lessened her jealousy a bit. She had seen the looks of that girl from the Borderlands, Beldeine, of course. But Narishma’s feelings showed her enough of his annoyance towards the girl. Mierin smiled faintly. Still, she wouldn't ignore the girl, of course. She should... talk to the girl some time soon.

Since she had dealt with Ilyena, the turmoil inside of her was vanishing slowly. The worst of the horror and fear were calming down, and gave room to other feelings. Love for Narishma was one thing; the memory of the actual Cleansing was the other. That feeling of ecstasy, of being one with the Power, and to the man that could draw more of the Power than anyone, man or woman,ever could, Lews Therin. She and Lews Therin linked, with the sa'angreals used. She heard her own words again, words from long ago, from another life.

We could challenge the Creator, she had once said. The words had been true, then. But she doubted if she truly understood the might of those two small figures. Mierin smiled, a soft expression on her face. I told him we could challenge the Creator, or replace the Great Lord, the Dark One, himself. And we did just so, we challenged Shai'tan, and we won. This time, that is. But we did. Smiling, she lied back in bed and cuddled against Narishma, listening to even, slow breathing. She thought everything over and over again, enjoying the one thing that she could savor in her memories of the Cleansing. The amount of Power they had wielded.

Who would you rather have at your side when you have the ter'angreals in your hands again, Mierin ? A voice in her mind suddenly asked her. Would it be Lews Therin or Jahar Narishma ? Lews Therin is the stronger one... but you love Narishma. So who would it be ?

Slowly, she got up and climbed out of bed, there would be no more sleep today, or tonight, whatever it was, it was hard, telling the time of the day in the Dragonmount. Narishma still slept deeply, the poor man, he over-exhausted himself in Caemlyn, while she had nearly gone mad out of sheer boredom in the Dragonmount. The man seemed surprised when she traveled to him finally, seeking something, anything, to do. Then it was both of them over-exhausting themselves, trying to mend what the Asha'man did to Caemlyn.

She dressed herself quickly with a black and silver dress, Narishma was right indeed; the color fit her new body more than the white dresses she used to wear. She smiled for a heartbeat, Semirhage would have to change her entire wardrobe, it was no secret for her, that Semirhage wanted to be as different from her as possible, or the depth of the woman's hate for her. The grin fade away quickly enough, now, Semirhage would have any encouragement from the Great... Dark One to hunt her down. Still, even Semirhage was better than dying, slightly better. She bent down to brush a kiss on Narishma's forehead and walked silently out of the room. She needed to think, and she knew where she wanted to do that. Balance, where they have cleansed saidin held the ter'angreal she wanted no longer, but she thought that she knew how to reach the place where Lews Therin kept them. And how to get through the wards he no doubt wove. She just wanted to watch the female statue, the ter'angreal that could link any woman that could channel to the great sa'angreal on Tremalking. Just watching. She needed to think.

Leanna was only half awake, when the door to her bedchamber banged open; Halima stumbled through it, her black breech and shirt were rumpled, as if she slept in her cloths; she was coatless and her barefoot. She also walked very strangely, as it the touch of her feet against the floor hurt her terribly. "Help me!" The woman whispered hoarsely, she certainly sounded as if she was in pain. "I'm about to die!" Halima swayed, about to collapse.

"What happened?" Leanna exclaimed, jumping off the bed and hurrying to the woman, the single blanket she used nearly tripped her feet. To the sound of her voice, Halima groaned and nearly fell. Leanna caught the smaller woman easily, Halima weight close to nothing. Her eyes searched for wounds. There weren't any.

"Tell me you've Healing, Leanna." Halima begged; big green eyes were hollow and glazed. "I'm about to lose my head."

Leanna began to understand, the smell that came from the smaller woman helped, she helped the other woman to sit on the bed, "You were drinking!" She accused, loudly.

Halima winced visibly and muttered something about cruelty and women. "A soulless tried to kill me," She whispered painfully after a long time, "It's a reason enough to get drunk. I'd Logain in my bed last night, and Lews Therin tried to strangle him today! My head is about to fall off my body! And Logain promised to make acid comments about me drinking." Halima took a deep breath and continued in even lower whisper: "I can have lectures later, Leanna. I probably know them all by heart, though. All I need now is Healing." She sank back to lie on the bed, her face beautiful even while the eyes were wide with pain and her eyes red from drinking,hermouth tighten as if to stop the groans of pain. Halima put a hand on her eyes and said something in the Old Tongue that Leanna never heard before, a curse, Halima cursed more than any three drunk Logardians.

"You should have known better," Leanna said, putting a hand on the woman's forehead. Touching saidar and channeling Air and Water combined with just that much of Spirit, as weak as she had became, the Healing Nynaeve discovered was far beyond her. She could just barely heal at all! Halima gasped for air as the flows were woven. "Rough," She murmured slowly, rising to seat on the bed, bare feet dangling beside it. "But it is still effective." She rubbed her forehead for a moment. "I could never thank you enough, Leanna."

Leanna rose an eyebrow, "It would have gone by itself, Halima. You should know that much."

Halima groaned, "Like I don't know," She muttered, "But the last time I felt this way was when I was twenty three, and just finished the academy." Leanna felt that the woman wasn't really in her room anymore, not entirely at least. "Such a pretty day, it was. And the Dark One's prison was still whole. I went into a tavern and I think I drunk everything they had. The morning after I was in the other side of the world, in a sewerage, at the time, the place seemed appropriated." Halima convulsed her head, sending night black hair in every direction. If it was in disorder before, now it was a mess. "There is no point in trying to live in the past." To Leanna, it seemed that it was directed more to Halima herself than at her own direction. Now Halima was fully awake, and grimacing at her hair. "I should cut this, I think," She told Leanna, "Takes too much trouble to take care of so much hair."

"Don't you dare!" Leanna threatened, "Do you have any idea how much time it would take it to grow back?"

Halima looked surprised, "I don't intend to let it grow back," She said.

"I am not letting you do such a thing!" Leanna insisted.

Halima threw back her head and laughed, "Let me, Leanna?" There was an amused glint in her eyes, "It's my hair, that I'm talking about, not yours."

Leanna murmured few carefully chosen words; Halima face became eager. The woman was more interested in curses than Elayne! Only Halima seemed to know every curse possible, which didn't stopped her from endlessly searching new ones. "Just remain seated for one more moment, Halima." She ordered and walked to a rocky table on the other side of the room. She didn't look at the mirror hanging there; she didn't want to know how she looked at the moment. Logain claimed she looked lovely at the morning, she would believe that sweet liar when the sun turn blue. She was not a morning person.

She took a wide ivory brush from the table and returned to Halima. The woman Leaned back on her elbows and grinned in a way that made Leanna want to throw the brush in her face. Leanna hide a yawn behind her hand and nearly stumbled on the blanket she had thrown carelessly on the floor before. Something caught her in mid fall, returning her to her balance, she shuddered; it was beyond weird, having a woman channeling saidin on her.Halima laughed; apparently she was amused by Leanna's muttered words. "What are you going to do? Beside making me save you from falling flat on your bottom?" Halima asked, curiosity was probably what held her on her seat, Logain couldn't make Halima obey him without forcing his will on her through the Bond, Halima was strong in the power, most often that came with strong willpower as well. Not that she had noticed any strong willpower in the woman before she knew who she was truly was, but the woman had to be some will to stop her from drawing too much of the power. Whatever it was that made Halima stay in her place, as long as she remained seated, Leanna didn't care.

She scrambled onto the bed behind Halima, she should really get a larger one, if Logain wouldn't have been so bloody modest she could have used his bed; but no, the man insisted that she would have a room and a bed of her own, if the thing deserved the title a bed, the novices' beds were softer. Not only that she had to had a bed and a room she neither wanted nor loved, she had to use them, Logain's bed was much more comfortable. Especially when he was in it!

Modesty! Sooner or later, she would have to do something about it, when she would see the man next; she wasn't about to let herself being swayed by sweet words and a farm boy's modesty!

"I'm about to take care of what you neglected." She told the other woman sharply. Grabbing a handful of raven black hair. "And you are about to explain me everything you just said." She began moving the brush through Halima's hair. The woman had beautiful hair shining like black cascade, thick and heavy, there seemed to be nothing unbeautiful in Halima, save her tongue, of course, Toviene threatened to wash the woman's mouth with some soap. Halima only grinned expectantly, hearing that, she didn't have saidin then, but she still looked as dangerous as a boar with a bad tooth, Toviene never brought that subject up again.

Be that as it may be, Leanna couldn't let the woman simply cut her hair, she didn't know what she was talking about. "What exactly did I said that you're interested to hear more about?" Halima asked, she sounded amused. But at least she hadn't protested. The woman was either amused or in fury, with nothing in between.

"Start from the gray man trying to kill you." Leanna told the woman, setting the brush aside and beginning to untie all the knots in Halima's hair with her hands, one night sleep, and she might have to use saidar to return Halima’s hair to the way it should be.

"A gray woman," Halima corrected her, "She was in my room, waiting," Halima shivered, it was nearly invisible, but Leanna could feel the shiver passing through the woman's body. "I've some... advantages, recognizing the soulless. They were often used as assassins in the War of Power, and often enough one of the Chosens sent a soulless to try to kill others of the Chosens." Halima sounded as if she was asking for a cup of tea. She acted like it was nothing of any importance, or unordinary. "I think that spotting them became close to an instinct, and still I was on the brink of death, again." This time the shudder didn't end quickly. Halima pulled her knees close to her chest and wrapped her hands around them. It was clear she was afraid, terrified, maybe. What was death like, she reacted so? So far, no one dared ask.

"What did you do with the body?" Leanna asked finally, not stopping the brush for a heartbeat. She could already see it would take a long time, getting Halima's hair back in order.

Halima laughed suddenly; Leanna stare at the woman’s back in amazement she couldn’t control nor hide. "I put it in Logain's bed. He really didn't like it." Halima giggled, "Ouch!" She exclaimed suddenly, "This is my hair you’re pulling, not a horse's rein! You were the one who insisted it would stay on my head, stop trying to rip it off!" Leanna lessened her grip on the wisp of hair she was brushing.

"You did what?" Just to make a point, she gave Halima another tug in her hair.

"I thought it would be funny," Halima said defensively, "And ..."

"Funny!" Leanna knew she was very close to losing her temper entirely, "Funny! What were you thinking?"

Halima made a move as if to rise, Leanna pulled her back by her hair, "I wasn't thinking by that time," Halima said, wincing and touching her scalp gingerly. Leanna was half surprised the woman didn't used the One Power against her. The Bond again, no doubt, she would have to ask Logain, although the man tend to avoid talking about the Bond's affects so hard that it made Leanna's fingers itch, there was a secret hidden there, and she would uncover it if it would kill her, or him. "After it tried to kill me, I Traveled to The Light's End and took few ..." She stopped with a small shout of pain, "If you want to leave me no hair, Leanna, use scissors! Don't try to tear it out of my head!"

Again Leanna had to lessen her grip in the woman's hair. "The Light's End?" She muttered finally, endless disbelief in her voice, "The Tavern, in Tear? That is what you're talking about?"

"I wasn't aware that there is another tavern with that name in the world," Halima told her, "Yes, that was I referring to. You know the place?" Leanna noted coldly that her hands began brushing that midnight dark hair again, it was an automate action; her mind had nothing to do with it.

"I know the place, yes. By reputation only, the Light helps me." Leanna answered, her voice full of shock. "What were you doing there? A woman enterring there can expect rape or death or both there, to begin with! It's probably the worst place in the entire world, after Shadar Logoth and the Pit of Doom!"

"Why does nobody believe that I can take care of myself on my own?" Halima murmured, "I own the bloody place, that is what I was doing there. And I went there to take as much drink as I could carry, then I came back here and finished them all. Only then I thought it might be amusing to put the body in Logain's bed. He teased me for too long about not having a woman in his bed."

"So you decided to make sure he would have one?" Leanna said dryly. It explained the fury she felt last night. She had went with Narishma to Andor, but instead of finding Elayne, as she ordered that young man with those disturbing sets of eyes, she went to one of her eyes-and-ears in Caemlyn. It was certainly... interesting, to hear exactly what the Asha'man did in Caemlyn. Yet even in Caemlyn she felt that surge of rage as strongly as if she was standing next to him. "Why didn't you told me about it? I'm more than willing enough to help!" Too late she understood what she was saying, Halima half turned her head to look at her coloring.

"Oh?" Was the only comment that came from the other woman, and an eyebrow cocked. Leanna didn't know how many meanings you could push into a single word and an eyebrow raising. A grin appeared and vanished instantly, the woman hide amusement poorly. "Should I? He didn't take anyone to his bed since he had bonded me. That muchI know for sure. I think I would have felt that. Do you know the reason for that? Considering that he is... the man he is, it seems unlikely he wouldn't have taken you to his bed, even if his... honor kept him from me and Toviene." Halima showed nervousness talking about such things only when Logain was presented. Other wise, she was as free as any Saldean girl Leanna had ever met.

"Modesty," Leanna replayed slowly, "He can be modest in the strangest areas, for the strangest reasons."

"How does ..." Halima began, then changed whatever it was she was about to say: "I think I see his problem." She giggled, "How sad for... the two of you."

"I could do very well without your mockery," Leanna told the woman, the brush being pulled just a bit to strong. "What did he do?"

"Logain?" Halima sounded very pleased with herself, like a cat set to guard a big bowl of fishes. "He was... very angry. I think he thought that I was the body, for a little while, at least. He drank quite a bit, too, before we returned here. When he found out what he was hugging, on the other hand, he stopped being so pleased with himself."

"I can't imagine Logain as just being angry about such a thing, Halima." Leanna insisted, "What did he do?"

Halima shrugged, in a voice too casual to be natural and in the Old Tongue, her native tongue language, she said: "He force me to share my bed with him."

What woke him, he couldn't tell, at least not in those few heartbeats when he was neither awake nor asleep; he was still half asleep when he sent his hand to the other side of the bed and found it empty. It took him full three heartbeats to realize what that meant, and then he was jerked to full awareness instantly.

It was hard, to tell by the bond where exactly she was, although he could follow her everywhere, using the bond as a guide. Which was exactly what he was about to do. It took him less than a moment to found a pair of breach... he did not bothered himself with shoes or shirt this time ... but he was out almost instantly, following that tie that bonded him to his troublesome wife.

After a while, he began to run, there were few things he rather not think about. Like his wife's age, for example, or the greediness he felt from her while she watched the ter'angreal that allowed them to cleanse saidin, or what his wife was before she was his wife.

Light burn my soul along with hers, Narishma thought in fury he couldn't control. Why does she need the bloody ter'angreal? Never once he doubted where she went.

He raced the silent corridors, but still there were sounds in the hallways of the Dragonmount, saidin filling him, doors flashing to his sides as he run as fast as he could. Shouts in male and female's voices, angry voices muttering in the dark, he heard sobs more than once, and a man cursing. Once, he almost stumbled, hearing the clash of steel against steel. But it slowed him for a heartbeat only. After few moments of running, he turned into a small corridor, the rocks in gray and brown and tanned yellow, wherever she was, she wasn't in any place of the Dragonmount that held a single human being save her.

The balls of fire, made of saidin, illuminate the Dragonmount endlessly, yet they were dimmed now, it must have been night; it was hard to tell, after so long not seeing the sun. He nearly run into a very surprised young woman who held all but useless candle and gaped fearfully at him, and his fury surged higher, the girl couldn't be more than seventeen, most probably not even that. What did she have to do here, in the deserted part of the Dragonmount? Fleeing her bondholder, no doubt. He will take care of that later, he vowed to himself silently, not stopping his run. He took another turn, into another one of those corridors that seemed identical; still, it would lead him to Mierin, eventually.

He came to a halt suddenly, breathing hard, feeling abash, why he had to run when he had saidin? The corridor was unfamiliar to him, although he was part of the circle creating this place. But there were other ways beyond Traveling; something called Skimming. Not something he practiced much with, but he knew the weave nevertheless.

The platform move half a step or less, before it came to a halt, and he stepped into a hall that wasn’t surrounded in dim twilight, with a ball of utter darkness, tenfeet across and floating a foot in the air. Wrongness radiated from it, not unlike the feeling that Shadowspawn caused him. Something inside him suggested that trying to break through wouldn't be a wise thing to do. Light, he nearly burned himself out, unweaving the traps around callandor, and he had the key then!

Halima insisted on giving names for each one of the halls, the same as she did with Balance, where he had touched cleansed saidin for the first time. This hall was named Horror, a good choice, in Narishma’s eyes.

The hall was brightly illuminated; lighten by several balls of Light that hadn't been dimmed in the night. The halls were always lightened. Mierin stood in the very middle of it, staring at a ball of darkness, nearly twice her height. "Narishma," She said, not looking at him, "I didn’t thought you might follow me."

"To the Pit of Doom and back, if necessary, you should already know by now." He told her coldly, "What are you doing here?"

She gave him a surprised glance, surprised! "Watching this, of course," She pointed at the ball of darkness, "What else can I do, here?"

"I can think of several other things that the two of us can do," He told her wryly, "In bed, not here. Most of them should be more pleasant than staring at a big ball of blackness that you'll never be able to break through."

"I'm not so sure about it," She told him absently, reaching out with a hand toward the darkness, he caught her hand before it came close enough to be dangerous. "It wasn't hard, breaking the wards that guarded this room."

"Are you insane, Mierin?" He asked her, "You have just alarmed whoever set this wards, Rand, most probably, and you can't even see saidin to begin breaking through this ward, I wouldn't try, and I can see the flows!" Well, part of them, most of the ward was inverted, but not all of it. What he saw made the traps lied on Callandor seems invitation to any common thieve by comprehension. "This is here to prevent people from taking the bloody ter'angreals, and it was Rand who wove it, the Lews Therin you admire so. I doubt if he would have left a hole for you to break through."

"There is always a hole, Narishma. And I've a... knack for it, you might say, almost a talent," Bitterness was evident in the back of his head for a moment, "Not that it helped me much, before, but I still have the talent for this." She told him, putting a hand on his chest; he truly hoped she couldn't feel his pulse racing. "There is always a way, all it would take is some time and I will break this ward, but it would be much faster if you would help me, of course." The way those blue eyes glinted...

"Forget it, Mierin." He told her, "I've no intention of even trying!"

"A very wise decision, Asha'man Jahar Narishma." An extremely cold voice said, "You seems to have some common sense, after all. You, on the other hand," The Lord Dragon continued in a frosty voice, "forget everything the moment you see a chance for power!"

Mierin spun around and looked at Lews Therin in utter shock. Her heart was pounding in her chest fearfully, and she said somewhat breathlessly: "So you felt me breaking through the wards." Not that it was a surprise, but still, she thought she would have more time here, alone. Or just with Narishma. She was very careful, but she must have missed one.

"Of course I did, you fool, the wards was weaved to alarm me had anyone tried to break them," he snapped, his eyes blazing with a gray fire. Just like Lews Therin, Rand al'Thor had a tendency to recite the obvious. "What in the name of the Light were you planning to do here?" Unlike Narishma, he was fully dressed, blue coat and paler breach, with gold and silver laurel leaves embroidered on the coat.

"I needed to think," she said coolly, seeking support with Narishma, but he did not help her the slightest bit. "I only wanted to ... " Blue fire burned in his eyes, she refused to flinch away.

" ...grab the ter'angreal, and embrace saidar, wouldn’t you?" The man sneered. "I can't believe it! We've had this argument too many times before, Lanfear! You said we could take over the world, challenge the Creator, The Dark One, the Light knows what more you wanted to conquer! What do you want now? One fight against the Dark One wasn't enough for you? Or have you forgot the lesson you were thought in Collam Daam?" Mierin jerked back, unready for the accusation she had seen in the man's eyes. Collam Daam was a mistake, but one she, and the world, paid high price for.

For a moment she did not know what to answer, the hate in his voice still hurt her sometimes, despite the fact that she did not love him so dearly anymore. Then she straightened her back and said softly: "I remembered the feeling of us linked, and the Power we wielded. It felt so wonderful, Lews Therin, I can't forget the feeling. I wanted to feel it again."

"And what would you want to do with it?" Narishma suddenly burst out furiously. "Burn you, Mierin, you could kill yourself, using that ter'angreal! Did you even have the slightest idea for what you wanted to use it? Killing the Dark One, perhaps?"

"The only ones," Lews Therin added, in an acid voice, "who can touch those statues, Mierin, are those I will allow them to. And the woman I would give the one made for females to touch would never be you."

"Are you going to use them for the Last Battle?" She asked, still breathless. She hated the fact that both Narishma and Lews Therin were angry with her, but she needed to know. Strange, the last time she felt like this... she couldn't recall such an occasion. If only she had her own body, tall and dark and beautiful, it would have been different. In her true body, this would have never happened to her. She never had to raise her eyes to stare at a man's face before, for example.

"That's none of your business, Lanfear." he sneered. She winced when she heard him use the name she took for herself once; every time he did it, it was filled with hate and disgust. "This place is none of your business. Asha'man Jahar Narishma, take her out of here, and be sure to pay a little more attention at her, it doesn't seem that she can be trusted, walking around freely. When you're done with her, report to Logain, it's two hours to dawn, and there is much to be done."

"As you command, my Lord Dragon." Narishmasaid coolly; Mierin winced away from Narishma's touch when he took her wrist in his hand and pulled her out of the Hall. And as he dragged her through the corridor, muttering curses under his breath, she looked over her shoulder and saw Lews Therin staring after her, there would be new wards guarding Horror, far stronger. All for nothing, she thought sadly. But I will get in there very soon. And then I will break through and get the ter'angreal.

Narishma abruptly stopped walking and she stumbled into him when he held still to make a Gateway into the utter blackness of the outside of the pattern. This short a distance, they should have been able to Traveled to their rooms directly, or maybe wasn't Narishma strong enough to do that?

"We need to talk," he said. His feelings through the bond were a mixture of shame and anger and jealously. "A very long talk indeed. I would never have thought you'd behave so childish."

They stepped through, and as the Gateway winked out, Mierin told him: "What I did, was not childish. I needed to think, and I was just dreaming."

"About what, Mierin, what in the name of the Light did you want to do? I felt pure greed when I walked in, greed!" He was yelling at her.

Mierin sat down on their bed and fingered a shirt Narishma had left on the bed absently. "Just to have that feeling again. And to use it for revenge, to kill Moridin, for what he did to me. To assure myself, and you, of power and safety." She looked up, but not at him. She did not dare to look him in the eyes. He was furious. "Imagine what we could do together with such an amount of Power. I felt Lews Therin sending the taint to the Dark One's prison; it was all the strength of the Creator, stronger, perhaps. Imagine, Narishma, what we together could do with it. We could hunt down the Forsakens and smash them, and finally, at last, we could win the Last Battle for Lews Therin. It should be easy enough to kill the Dark One." Now she had the courage to look at her bondholder, her lover, her husband, again.

She watched him intently, trying to figure out what he felt inside. His feelings were turmoil of greater anger, tiredness and coldness. When he spoke, his voice was as acid as Lews Therin's had been. "We don't have the right of meddling in the Dragon's business. Don't you think Rand did not already thought about those things? He clearly does not choose to do so. And we follow him, so we obey. Do you want to be forced to swear you fealty to him like those Aes Sedai, follow his orders anywhere? Kissing his feet, scrubbing his floor? You are behaving like a child, Mierin, like a stubborn little brat."

"Such oath mean nothing to me, Narishma." She told him coldly, love or no love, there was only that much she was ready to take. She might be willing to take this from Lews Therin, but only because she had to. None other would be allowed to talk to her the way Narishma just had, even if she loved him. She almost broke, seeing the stunned look on his face. Such an oath only a Darkfriend would dare breaking. She jumped off the bed and hugged him intently. "I don’t want you to be angry with me Narishma. But if there is no other choice, than you can be angry as much as you would like. That’s me, and you can either accept me or leave me." She would have never dare say such a thing to Lews Therin, but Narishma couldn't leave her, ever.

He moved away from her arms and put his hand under her chin, raising her eyes to meet his. "You'll not do it again, Mierin. Not ever," He commanded quietly, "I'll not let you ..." She gave him no chance to finish, her hand moved before she was aware of it,slapping him, opening herself to saidar and using Air to strengthen her slap. She winced, feeling his pain; he stumbled and fell, tripping on his own feet. She slid a shield between him and the One Power. Already regretting that she had let her temper provoke her so, but she wasn't ready to back up now.

She felt him reaching for saidin, blocked by her shield. Dark eyes burned in tamed fury. "I've might agreed to be your wife, Jahar Narishma, and lover and friend as well, but I am not, and never will be your obedient slave." She couldn't back away now, and it was better to make it clear to him what he had gotten himself into. Men had difficulties sometimes, understanding exactly how much you were ready to give them. They always wanted to have more, as much as they could take, not as much as a woman was ready to give. "Let me? Let me?" For a moment, flames danced in her hand, ready to be hurled at the man, "Let me explain it for you, in terms you would understand," She shouted, calmly shouted. Weaving Air to yank him from the floor, "I'm not a man's toy, any man's toy, to be ordered around, nor a dog or a cat or a sheep or whatever it is that pass around it this pitiful excuse for civilization as a pet." She stopped so she could inhale some air, and glare at him while stomping the carpet with her right foot. The nerve the man had, "That is important, Narishma, so listen very carefully. I'm not a toy or a pet or anything similar, understood?" She let go of the weaving of Air that held him, he collapse to the floor on hands and knees, his entire body shivering, he made soft sounds that might have been sobs, only she could feel that he wasn't crying.

She was ready to an argument, shouts, something! She stilled herself to face hate or scorn. She was not ready at all for Narishma's reaction when he finally rose from the floor. He touched his cheek gingerly; Mierin could feel the pain of the bruise. That incredible... man laughed! At her! What right did he have to laugh at her?

The pressure against the shield was gone when he fell on the floor. Narishma flowed toward her, his motions smooth and even, a dancer's walk, or a fighter. Mierin suspected that Narishma might be good both as a fighter and as a dancer, not that she had a chance to find out. The first she wasn't willing to test, the second she might be eager to try, just as soon as she would overcome that urge to strangle that sullen heap of fusty Darghakar's vomit! She poured in his face every cursed she knew, in half a dozen languages, from the Old Tongue to the Trollocs’ Tongue to this barbaric new language people talked with, a twisted version of the language she was raised with. None of that wipe the smile off Narishma's face. He came closer, his grin widening. "I assume I deserved that, Mierin." He told her, he was so close to her that he had to lower his head to meet her eyes. "You're very strong."

"There was never a woman stronger than I am," She told him slowly, he shouldn't have been that amuse, he shouldn't have been amused at all! "And very few that were equal."

"Be that as it may be, Mierin, I still have to report to Logain. I'll be seeing you later this day, evening, night, whatever it is." He kissed her shortly, not a passionate kiss, a light kiss that showed no anger, she could not feel any anger in him either.

"Narishma...?" Her voice made him turn his head to her, he was near the door already, but somehow, he crossed the space between them almost instantly, her husband, her lover, her hero.

He cupped her chin in his hand, "You obviously knows nothing about Arafel, Mierin." He whispered to her, smiling, "Have no fear, though, I'll take great pleasure teach you about my home land." And then he kissed her again, certainly a passionate kiss, her knees trembled, and she clutched to him, sucking air into starved lungs as the kiss finally ended. "I'm sorry, Mierin, but I really do need to leave now." He whispered into her ear, and left.

She fell back on the bed and glared at the ceiling. "I really hate that man!" She told the empty room. "Hate him!" How dares he act this way? Men weren't supposed to laugh when she used saidar against them! Most often they creamed; that... Jahar Narishma was simply intolerable.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and fled to the place where she always went, when she wanted to think, to the tiny crack between Tal'aran'rhiod and the Waking World. Where only dreams existed, and dream walkers. And at this age, at least, there would be no men among those who could dream walk! She had enough of men for three life times! A decision that would survive only until Narishma would near enough to be kissed. It was shameful, in a way, the way she lost all control over herself upon being in his presence. She thought that she should’ve gotten used to making a fool of herself over men. But she never seemed to cease amazing herself in that field of her life.

Why, by the grace of the Light, did she have to fall in love with him? Certainly she should have just a little more self-control. Why, oh Light, did he had to be so wonderfully charming? And those lovely eyes of his, the way he stared at her sometimes was enough to set ...It would lead her to nowhere, she know. Love! Bah! The only thing that love had ever brought her was troubles! The problem was, one couldn't quite decide whatever to love or not, and self-control wasn't one of the quality she ever had, at least not when it was her heart who decided to fall for a man.

A question formed in her head, the answer lied right before her, as she stated the countless candle lights, another would have needed years to find out what she wanted to know, for her, it couldn't take more than few hours. And for that little while, she could put Narishma out of her head. It was just so unfair! Men weren't supposed to be hard to understand! At least, they weren’t in her age, how much the women had been reduced, to let the men act so? In her time, it would have never allowed to happen!

***

The room seemed endless; Runea couldn't see the three other walls, only the one with the huge opening the girl, Elayne, had led them too. An endless room, and still, it seemed congested. Food lied in piles everywhere she looked, as far as her eyes went. And each pile was at least fifteen feet high!

"The Light burns my soul!" Lemai muttered slowly, "There is enough food here to feed a nation forten years!"

"Not quite," Elayne said, but there was a glint of amazement in her eyes, too. "According to Min, there are seven more rooms like this, scattered all over the Dragonmount, each hold as much as this one, Rand had nearly emptied Tear of its food reserves, taking so much food. It should suffice for every need you might encounter." She stopped to breath and continued, her tone holding the tiniest bit of pride, "There should be enough food here for five hundreds thousands people for a month."

"He doesn't think small, doesn't it?" Toviene murmured loudly, "He doesn't seem to think big either!"

Elayne nodded in agreement, Runea couldn't understand why the two woman were so fond of one another, like a childhood friends, Toviene should have hate the woman, the same as Runea despised her. "He does have a tendency to thing in huge dimensions every now and then." The golden hair woman said, and smiled.

Turning her eyes from the two women, Runea took a second look in the room, to her left, she saw sacks of grains stretching as far as the eyes could see, each of them ten times her weight, if she wasn't mistaken. To the right, fruits and vegetables lied in labeled barrels, she saw every kind of fruit possible, and the same went for the vegetables too.

They all stood near the single gate that led to the room, also huge, easily fifty feet wide if not more, and at least twenty feet tall. The food was clearly arranged so it would be easily accessed to those who would come through the room's entrance. Directly in front of her, in a line that seemed to goes forever, she suspect there would be any kind of meat possible. She grimaced slightly; she didn't like very much the taste of salt meat, or smoked meat, for that matter.

And considering that the food came from Tear, no doubt there would be more fishes than meat in those storerooms. She liked fishes less than salted meat. "It's not logical," Giliar said slowly, her face still not bearing the agelessness mask all Aes Sedai had. Runea had heard that Giliar had troubles deciding what ajah to choose, the White or the Green.

"What isn't?" Runea said, walking forward until she faced a barrel of pears taller than she was, and twice as wide. She couldn't touch saidar, an order from Jonan's lips left the power as far from her as the moon, she saw no way to move the barrel without the One Power. "How are we supposed to take the little we need from here?" She asked the others angrily. Few moments alone ago, the amount of food needed for a thousand women ... none of them had any intentions to make food for the Asha'man as well; as far as Runea care, they could all starve! And let Jonan be the first of them! ... Could have never been called small amount. But this place forced her mind into dimensions she never thought possible before.

"So much food would be rotten long before it can be of any use!" Giliar explained to Lemai, "By the time we would useany noticeable amount of the food stored here it would all rot!" As Giliar talked, Runea reached out with a hand, rising on her tiptoes, and still the cover of the barrel was beyond her. She stretched more... and Jonan was suddenly there, catching her wrist and pulling her back. She didn't felt him coming closer, but then, she did her best to ignore the other set of emotion in her hand. The set of emotion not created by saidar, the Bond that had been forced on her.

"It seemed I reached just in time," Jonan said lightly, as she stepped away from him with a glare. "This barrel is warded, Runea. It wouldn't have been pleasant for you, had you touched that."

"Of course!" Lemai sounded satisfied, "That is how the food would be preserved." Runea would have liked to see how Lemai would react had her Asha'man would have been present. As if the thought called them, Tolir Ganjad and Nofar Lemid appeared in the entrance, stepping forward with that arrogant sureness that seemed to be such a common character among the Asha'man she had met, whatever he was a Soldier, Dedicated, or gained both Sword and Dragon.

"Exactly what we needed." Toviene murmured in satisfaction, attracting everyone's eyes, not the tiniest bit of sarcasm could be heard in the Red Aes Sedai's voice.

Jonan raise an eyebrow, "Oh?" By what Runea heard, Toviene threw a bowl of soup at his face. Exactly what he deserved. The two could hardly stand each other. "You surprise me, Toviene." Her Asha'man continued, "Can it be that you begin to like me?"

Toviene sniffed at him arrogantly, "Not quite, not in your life time." She might have wanted to say more, but Elayne stepped between the two smoothly.

"What is your name?" The golden hair girl asked.

"His name is Jonan Marley," Runea said coldly, "My... bondholder." It hurt, saying that. Women were those who were suppose to hold the bond.

Elayne face became blank at that, "And the two others?"

Lemai and Giliar gave their Asha'man's names, just before the men could say a word. "Very well," Elayne smiled, "Now, Jonan, Tolir and Nofar, how much do you know about cooking?"

***

Sobs wracked her body in the aftermath of Lews Therin's damning pronouncements. She always knew, and approved, him placing duty high, but she also always thought that he placed her higher. He had always been ruthless, when ruthlessness was needed, but with the years passing, he had become harder, stronger.

When the War of the Shadow had set itself upon the world, he had been the general to save them all, the leader in a time of madness, which, as it turned out, would be perfect sanity compared to what lay ahead. And now, an Age later, he still retained that ruthlessness, even colder, harder, that he had before. His eyes polished stone and snake slits, in essence. Her knees had buckled beneath her when the man who had been her husband, her killer, Traveled away, and the background mutter and wash of color and sound from those observing swept over her senses.

They were nothing, though. All she could think of was what Lews Therin had said. He would do it again! Kill her again! Kill their children! Light damn the man! How could he say such things? How could he hurt her so?

It had been long, so very long, since she had lost control in this manner, sobbing like a child, in front on an audience, no less, and her mouth twisted in bitterness. Yet she could not stop the flow of tears.

Steps approached her, and a hand gently grasped her arm, two voices speaking, one ordering in low tone, and she was being taken somewhere. Where, she did not know, and could not make herself to care. The darkness of the stasis box, the nothing of oblivion, was preferable to the hollow grief, the emptiness, within her.

A hand pushed gently at her, then, into something soft, comforting, warm and smooth. A pillow, a comfort she deserved for sure. Ilyena Sunhair could not bring herself to open her eyes again, maybe not ever again, but she was in the perfect place to keep them close now. Sinking into troubled sleep, she heard measured breathing and a muttered comment that she could not quite make out as blackness enveloped her mind.

The darkness was comfortable, the place where everything was abandoned. It floated there, without even the smallest spark of awareness, no memories, no troubles, no grief, no pain. Nothing was, nothing will, nothing is. Time didn't exist here. Not even here truly exist. But now, something... happened, sounds were no sound could be, light, where only darkness existed. Voices, where none can be. And, where pain never was, where pain mustn't be, there was that sheering pain, stronger than belief. The darkness was being torn to shreds with careless easiness. And it was pulled through. It tried not to resist, resisting may not exist, but it resisted still. Nothing may exist, not even it. Not in the darkness that was it's home.

Nothing may exist, but something did exist, and it was the darkness that did not exist anymore, not anymore, not for it. And everything else did exist. And It too, existed where It never existed. And that was worse than the pain.

Ilyena woke with a piercing scream, the dream she had suffered the most disturbing she had even known or imagined. Not existing, not knowing what it meant to exist, only knowing as you came to exist, and yet not knowing what that was, either. The dream was loathsome, terrifying.

Pushing back sweaty tresses from her forehead, Ilyena felt the touch of eyes upon her, and swiftly turned over to her other side, only to meet the eyes of a young man dressed in black, a sword pin on his collar. Silver sword on black background, she had noticed those despite her concentration on Lews Therin, at that gathering. Most of the men had worn black, with sword and dragon pins at their throats. Some sort of symbolism, perhaps, or did Lews Therin's sense of humor had changed considerably during the long time that had passed?

"Um, are you fine?" The man said, tentatively, in vain search for something to say that would clear the tense that hung in the air of the room.

"Fine enough," Ilyena said frostily, remembering again her shameful behavior of the previous night. That would not happen again. It was understandable; in it's own way, however. The emotional implications of the meeting the man who had been her husband, her love, her friend, and murderer after so much time. Ages had passed, literally ages.

"Your name is Ilyena, aren't you?" He said hesitantly, "Mine's Valir."

"I am Ilyena Aes Sedai, and you will address me as such," her voice was icy cold and dignified. "I'm not a friend, nor even an acquaintance to you, and thus you've no right to the familiarity you've taken. Why are you in this room in which I sleep?"

"I was told to put you to bed, it's my room, let me tell you that." The man snapped, annoyed. "I was watching over you. In case you don't remember, you attacked the Lord Dragon three days ago. A lot of people here do not at all appreciate that. I stayed to prevent you from being murdered in your sleep!"

"Be that as it may," Ilyena said calmly, anger still existing. She remembered something, though, from the time before she fell asleep. Did she truly sleep for three full days? "You will leave as soon as you answer me this. The men here can channel, even with the taint, in this age of madness?"

His face lit up for a moment, and he seemed unable to resist spreading good news, no matter how she acted, no matter who she was. But still he put tight rein on his voice, forcing it to sound cool and composed. "The madness is no longer intact, Aes Sedai. The time when saidin was tainted has ended. Saidin has been cleansed. It's pure."

"Pure?" she asked, becoming caught in the conversation despite herself, swinging her legs over the side of the bed to sit straight and speak to him, meet his eyes. She had her the cloths she wore before sleeping on her still, this age was overly modest; by the little she had seen.

After just getting used to the idea of the taint, she had just been told it was cleansed. "We cleansed it. Aes Sedai and Asha'man both, together. Males and females liking for the first time in an age, we cleansed it!" He made it sound rare, men and women linking.

"You were there when it happened?" She inquired softly.

"Of course," he looked hunted for a moment, "But even if I wasn't, no man who can channel could not know it. The taint was ever present, the first thing we feel in the morning, at every meal, with every kiss, every emotion, every move, every breath, every waking moment, as we go to sleep, and in our dreams as well. And now it's gone, and saidin is pure!" his eyes glowed fervently, his voice became a whisper, "So perfectly pure,"Ilyena bestowed an indulgent smile upon him, as though to a happy child, before hardening her voice once more.

"Be that as it may, you are still not in the right place," swiftly, she guided him out, and locked the door, almost before he knew what was happening. "Go away!" She didn't thought it mattered much to him, he held a fireball in his hands and toyed with it like it was the first time he felt the One Power's touch.

Glancing about the room, the Aes Sedai sighed, seeing the starkness, the simple bed in large, wool covers and goose feather pillows, the stone floor with the woven rugs over it, the stone walls, the stone... everything. Not completely true, but close enough. She wondered where she was, then, wondering what place would be constructed on this smooth stone. What sort of environment was in? Who could live in a place that dark? Where was Lews Therin? Mentally, she flinched away from the question, but a moment later, she steeled herself, and confronted the issue.

He was no longer hers. He had not been hers for three thousands and four hundreds years. It this Moridin was to be believed, and she had no reason to doubt him, in that matter, at least.

He'd died, dwelt beyond, been reborn, and lived a life of his own. Somehow, despite being reborn, he remembered his old life, remembered being Lews Therin, her husband, lover, killer. He had done so many things that she had no part of, and they had distanced him from her, in more ways than she could count. Bitterness welled up within her at the thought of it, but she knew that it was true. She knew she could win him back, though. He had been greatly affected by her appearance, by her. What would you do if the positions were reversed? The cynical thought invaded her mind. Say: "Hi, honey. I'm glad you're home at last." I doubt that.

Scowling, she thought for some time of the words that he had hurled at her, as wounding and hurtful as arrows, piercing her heart for all time. She was bitter and angry and jealous and possessive, and so many other things, wanting to destroy him, wanting to love him, wanting him fully for herself once more, even as she wondered if she would ever forgive him for what he had done, even more so considering that he had vowed that he would do it again, should the gain be worth the price.

Damn him. Damn the man for being so cold, as cold to me as he was to his enemies, as cold as to the Shadow. As cold as the Shadow!

She did not know what she was going to do, but first things first. She would find out where she was, and knowing that she had rocked the boat, as it were, she would go to the one person that was likely not cursing her appearance. Der Cal might have found out where they were. The man had been questioned by Lews Therin, no doubt, and was likely still shaking in his boots in remembrance, as beings subjected to such questioning usually were for some time, but she could make him talk to her.

Ilyena undid her hair, smoothed the tresses and rearranged them, brushing down her clothing with efficient hands, until her appearance was relatively presentable, though nothing was to be done about the sleep smeared makeup save to wipe it away with flow of Air.... Or to her cloths straighten the best she could, all the rest of her cloths she had were left behind at the Heal of the Golden Dawn. She founded no mirrors in the room. But she looked the best she could, considering the conditions she had.

Standing straight, Ilyena exited the bedroom and walked in the hall, made of the same polished stone as the room. By all the light, she felt like being inside a cave!

***

One result of so much of the Asha'man taking themselves warders in Caemlyn and Andor had been all but ignored. While the warders did their best to deny the affect the Bond had on them, the Asha'man had tried the same, twice as much as any warder. Yet, despite the common opinion, the Bond affect the Asha'man much farther than it does on his warder. I’m a living proof for that. And as much as the Asha'man tried to avoid the trap they've set for themselves, they all fell to it eventually, one by one.

To those who were capable to watch without their emotions getting in the way, there was nothing funnier than seeing those men, thought to be the very resemblance of death in the flesh, trying to escape the chains they have woven for themselves. Especially since the warders, to the last woman, knew that, and used that against their Asha'man.

"An Asha'man with two warders has three too many," is quite a common saying in the Black Tower, sum it up accurately. The Bond prevents two warders, being held by the same man, despite, hate or even being jealous at one another. Most often, all those feeling are being directed to the Bondholder, and there was nothing the Asha'man could do but to bear the weight of their errors.

I was there to watch, to take part in what happened, and the Asha'man surely paid for their hasty actions in the space of few days only. Even now, there are few things I consider more amusing than making a man in the blacks beg for mercy.

The Sisters of Battle and the Guardians of Justice
By Halima Albar
The Forth Age
The Black Tower.

Bodiless, she floated in eternal darkness, a sea of stars was the only light she had, but the countless lights help nothing in seeing in that darkness, there was nothing to see, only burning lights over darkness. Mierin felt comfortable in that darkness, the rules were familiar here, and she knew them all by heart. Here in the between of the Waking World and Tel'aran'rhiod, she knew more, had a stronger talent than any but one. Still, not even the Spider would dare facing her here, or elsewhere, truth to be told.

But she didn't come here to admire the beauty of this place, she fled here, choosing to hide in this place rather then have another argument with Narishma whenever he would return. Out of curiosity alone, she sent herself toward Lews Therin's dreams. Shielded, of course, he strengthened his defenses since she last checked on him. But she had no interest of him now, not when she had Narishma. Still, it might be amusing to find out what he dreamed about.

At least, she hoped she still had Narishma; she couldn't be sure, despite the Bond and the way he laughed. Men were strange creatures to begin with, men of this age were stranger still, and Narishma seemed beyond human comprehension. Who would laugh at the one who just try to break his jaw? Mierin liked order, there were no confusion when you'd everything arranged, no chance for nasty traps. But she couldn't figure out Narishma, she hated not understanding, not understanding Lews Therin fully had lost him for her. She had no reason to fear Narishma leaving her, he couldn't, but still, she wouldn't find true.

The next she tried to find was Halima's, she knew the woman's dreams well, there were some slight differences, but she couldn’t have mistaken the pattern of the dream she had found, it was Balthamel's dream, Halima, as the woman called herself now. Now, enterring that woman's dreams might be something special. But unfortunately, the woman did not left her dreams unguarded. And by the way the light blinked, the woman was merely dozing off. And Mierin would’ve think twice before enterring that woman’s dreams, even if she could. Halima’s knew all the tricks she knew. And Mierin had no wish to find herself at the woman’s mercy. Still... if only she could’ve a single glance on the dreams the woman dreamed... Giggling was something girls did, not grown women, but she still giggled as she tried to find Elayne Trakand's dreams.

They, too, were shielded, but not by any female's doing, Elayne's dreams were... dim somehow, a woman's warding made a dream brighter to those who were in this place. Saidin made one's dreams dim, separated them from this place by a wall of hard steel, unbreakable to any force, while woman's warding shielded the woman's dreams with a screen that harden at touch. She search for others' dreams, all shielded as well, Demandred guarded his dreams with the deadliest traps possible, and Semirhage's dreams seemed inviting, until one foolishly dare too close, to be trapped until Semirhage released him. Being held in the worst pain Semirhage could think of. Graendel’s dreams couldn't be found; maybe the woman was awake, or worse, in Tel’aran’rhiod or this very place. Moghedien's dreams were the first she founded, she wouldn't have stayed had she didn't know that the woman wouldn't sneak behind her back.

She considered for a moment finding Beldeine’s dreams and make sure that the young woman would understand where she must not step. But the woman was an Aes Sedai, as little as that meant in this age, and there was no doubt she had shielded her dreams.

She will do that another time, maybe. Now, she had a task, coming here. It was quite easy, to find a dream of a man that could channel, to those who didn't know enough, all dreams were the same, to her, there were thousands differences between one dream to another. Strangely, there far more dreams of men that could channel than she expected, but most... she doubted not that they were fully mad of the taint, they were worse than any nightmare she had ever encountered, and she fled them as fast as she could. Even with saidin cleansed, those who went mad remained mad. Somewhere in the world there was a large group of men that could channel,thousands at least, and most of them mad. She filed that up, maybe Lews Therin would know what she was talking about, or could do some use of that. The first dream she invaded to, of a sane man that could channel,was of a Dedicated the age of seventeen, his name was Darian, and, as she hoped, he needed just little encouragement to revive the moments when he took himself two warders. The second dream was of a Soldier that goes with the name Larez that long past forty, who had only one warder. An Asha'man named Alir was the third, and he had three warders, all Maidens. On the tenth, she began suspecting, by the time she had checked twenty-five dreams, she was sure. But she continued for another twenty-five dreams, to be certain above all doubt. And then she entered a dream, a dream of a man who could channel, and was much different than the other dreams she had found before. There wasn’t a doubt that the man was an Asha’man, as well as there could’ve been no doubt that the man was a darkfriend.

***

"I can't imagine Logain as just being angry about such a thing, Halima." Leanna said in a cold voice, she wouldn't let her evade the subject. "What did he do?"

Halima made her voice as casual as she could, and shrugged her shoulders; "He forced me to share my bed with him." She said quietly, this time, Leanna came very close to ripping her scalp from the rest of her head.

"He did what?" Leanna shouted, "He wouldn't! He would have never done any such thing!"

She couldn't rise without losing her hair, and saidin would be of no use against Leanna, the Bond took very good care of that, at least. She could use saidin against that unbearable man, however. Not that it served her well so far. "It was nearly dark, I unweave all lights but one, I don't like the dark anymore. Not since I've this body, it's too much like death. Logain appeared in the door," She remembered not that she was speaking, her mouth moved on its own, her mind deep in the memory her mind recorded so perfectly. "For some reason, he always looked bigger when he's angry, and his fury burned inside me. I made my voice as innocence as I can, and chased him away, claiming that I've no idea what he was talking about. He refused to hear me. I was too... fuzzy to touch saidin, this body is hardly capable of handling drinking." She stopped to take a breath, but her mind remembered still. He ignored her protests and suddenly he was half a foot from her bed, clutching her by her shoulders and pulling her to her feet. Standing on the bed, clutching the blanket as hard as she could, she was nearly a hand taller than him, but she felt it was the other way around. "I have no intention to leave, Halima!" He growled, reminding her more and more of the bear she had once encountered in the Mountains of J'deral, three decades before the bore was drilled into the Dark One's prison. "For some reason, you were in my bed, saying sweet words and full of passion and desire. But when I got myself fully awake, I find a corpse in my bed, in my arms!"

"I couldn't stop giggling, I remember, it wasn't funny, but I laughed still." She continued, Leanna stopped brushing her hair, she only now noticed. "I was... lightheaded, a little. I told him that he deserved no better. And then I kissed him," She still didn't understood why she did it. "He told me I was drunk! I wasn't! And if I was, he had no right to say this to me, but he laughed when I told him this," Half the reason was that she whispered it to his ear; her kegs held her no more after that kiss.

Leanna rose from the bed and was facing her, she didn't notice that before, "And he did what?"

Halima glared at the woman; "He told me that I can judge nothing about it!"

"He wasn't right?" Leanna inquired, Halima hardly heard the other woman.

"I tried to stop him, but it was hard, making myself let go of him," She glared at Leanna, who nodded with agreement! "I ordered him to find himself a bed and let go of me. When he did, I simply fell down," There was no strength left in her limbs, "At least I got a decent bed, yours are harder than the common rock!" Leanna didn't answer, her mouth worked, but she understood none of what she was saying, wrapped entirely in the horrifying memories.

"Oh, I'm going to bed, Halima." Logain replied, his hands moved, he didn't bother to wear a shirt in his rage, he was nearly naked, she noticed, "But not mine, certainly not mine, I think that since you were so thoughtful about me, making sure I wouldn't sleep alone, all I could do is to return the favor! Let this be a lesson for you, Halima. I can be teased only that much!" Saidin had a tendency to disappear after one drunk too much, and she was no match to his strength in the body. She never felt so much anger from him. All she could do was to try fleeing when his weight landed on the bed, and his hands were sent to her. She had tears in her eyes, but she didn't allow herself to sob.

Shame shocked her of the memories, "I wish I could strangle him," Logain found a clever way to hurt her, indeed. "She remained awake for hours after he fell asleep finally, fighting down tears.

She closed her mouth before a sob would break through it, "I'll be with my cats." At least with them she was safe, protected. From Logain, from the Dark One’s minions, from the Lord Dragon, and if she was lucky, she would be safe from herself as well. "If Logain comes for me, tell him..." She fell silent for a moment and swallowed hard, "Tell him nothing, Leanna. I'll have to take care of him myself."

She left the other woman seating on the bed, the brush still in her head, staring at her back, her eyes as wide as they would go. Halima wiped wetness from her cheeks, where have all her self-control gone? After all, all Logain did that hurt her was snoring too strongly to let her sleep. Halima knew very well how beautiful she was. Was the reason she felt so hurt that Logain didn’t do anything to her? It seemed ridiculous, but she knew her own mind no longer. She stopped short with her hand on the handle to the hall were she kept her cats. She felt like a sledgehammer just hit her between the eyes. Now that she didn’t need to hide, she had a tendency to slip into the Old Tongue, as people called her language these days. And that language was open to many mistranslations. Running the conversation through her mind again, she realized what she has done. That was why Leanna was so upset. She began to turn, to explain what went wrong, when she decided not to. She had much more reasons to be angry with Logain than the little argument last night. She had a fair idea what Leanna might do, and the man deserved ten time that much, just for bonding her to him.

***

He had saidin in him, yet he felt not a drop of the joy he should have, humiliation was far stronger in him than the exultation of the power. Air to hold, Fire to heat. Jonan simply couldn't ignore the amusement that spread over Runea's face, over every last of those bloody Aes Sedai's faces!

"Why are we doing this?" Tolir whispered to him. "I can make the earth tremble and the skies burn but instead I'm... making stew!"

Jonan sighed; he still had hard time understanding why he let himself being ordered by Toviene and Runea. "It's meant for the warders, Tolir." Nofar said, "We can't allow the warders to starve."

"Don't overheat it!" The sharp voice made him want to grind his teeth. "You burn it and I'll make you eat it, all of it!" Jonan had enough of that!

"Pardon me, Nofar." He apologized, just before a flow of Air lifted Lemai into the air. He moved her just above the stew, a ball of water, some meat, and a variety of fruits and vegetables he couldn't begin to remember, there might be some grain in there, as far as he know. It was supported by nothing but a flow of Air. A pot made of saidin big enough to bath in. There were five more like that, with different... things in them, and still he wondered whatever it would suffice. "Now, Aes Sedai. Here is how it goes, I'm not about to let the warders starve, nor I'm about to let you use that tone of voice with me! Is it understood? Or would you like to have a bath in hot stew?" He increased the flow of Fire he was weaving into the pot just beneath her. The liquid began to bubble. But, for some reason, she looked not a bit slackened, she simply glared at him, mouth tight.

"Put her down, Jonan." Toviene ordered, "And stop making threats you would never be able to accomplish!"

He rose an eyebrow at her, "You doubt that I'm ready to give her the hottest bath she had ever had?"

"No," Toviene told him, at least Elayne disappeared after forcing them to make that stew! Smiling sweetly all the while! He would have to figure out how exactly she did that, later. "I'm sure you are more than willing to do this, but you would never do so. Nofar wouldn't let you."

"How did you found out about that?" Nofar asked softly, as he reached out for his warder with flows of Air. Lemai landed on the rocky floor with the sweet softness of a falling feather. As soon as her feet touched the floor she began to advance at his direction. Face like storm.

"No." Nofar voice stopped her as surely as any steel chain.

Lemai turned her head to her Asha'man, eyes resembling a snake's stare, cold and vile. "Why?"

With saidin, he could hear the blood rushing in his veins. Runea's heart beating, and the jokes those goats' mothers made about Asha'man and cooking. He didn’t come to the Black Tower because he wanted to be a bloody kitchen tool! And if they were needed food, what was wrong with some bread and meat and cheese, the Light alone know that they had enough of that!

"If you children finished playing..." Toviene stepped in, "I think they are all ready, Jonan. They smell just fine." Runea snorted hard to that. "Runea, you take Jonan and make sure that every woman in this mountain eat something, as little as it may be, the rest of us would come when everything would be done. Jonan can you carry all of this, or do you need help?" Rest, Jonan wondered, what rest it can be?

"I don’t think I can carry all of it," He lied, Nofar relaxed slightly, the way the man glared at him, if he would’ve said he could carry all of this, he would have been attacked. Tolir looked pathetically grateful. He had no intention of finding out what more Toviene had in mind, nor any intention of getting anywhere near either Toviene or Elayne again. "I would need Nofar and Tolir to help me. But I’ll send some men to help you." He already had the names in mind. If Toviene wanted to make his life hard, he would make hers twice as bitter. Lorid was the worst prankster Jonan had met, and Dhaiyar was almost as worst, both wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to pull up a frank versus an Aes Sedai.

He told Runea, and had the pleasure of seeing her face becoming slightly red with anger. He wasn't about to let his warder be that arrogant. May your soul burn to the Pit of Doom, Canler! He thought grimly ... the Dedicated who discovered the Bond was dead, killed by saidin, but if he wouldn't have, Jonan would have gladly strangled the bloody man! Yet, not even Canler fully understood the Bond. Now he had an Aes Sedai tied to him, with that warder of her that hated him as much as she he hated him. He also had a Sea Folk girl that was as eager to put a knife in him as Moran, Runea's warder, was.

Nofar and Tolir decided to leave their warders behind, a wise thing to do, since as soon as they were out of Toviene’s sight they let him take control on their weaves, and disappeared. Ignoring Runea’s frozen stare. But not before he made sure that they would send the right men to Toviene. He almost felt pity for her.

It was easy to lost your way in all those caves, Jonan suspected it would takes years to investigate this place. But he had his Bond to Delir to guide him to her, he could get lost. Not in the body at least. There were other ways to lose oneself. The stew that Toviene claimed that was ready drugged in front of him, nearly three paces deep and six wide.

Runea walked beside him, face sour. He needed to talk with her, but he was... worried of her reaction. He had to tell her about Delir, the Sea Folk girl who was his second warder. But he had seen how other warders reacted when they were told about their Asha'man taking another warder. That is, even while they declare their eternal hate to their Asha'man. Jealously was an emotion created by the Bond; unfortunately, it worked both sided. He began to wonder whatever he should leave her a note telling her about Delir; it would certainly be safer.

Runea saved him from deciding, "I understand that many of the Asha'man in Caemlyn had taken themselves warders." Her voice was cold, her face composed, unreadable.

"Indeed," He agreed softly, warily.

She looked at him with disgust, "Including those who had already have warders, isn't it?" This time he sufficed with a nod, touching saidin was like dancing, bare feet, over a sharp razor above a bottomless pit. Having a warder made it seem easily, with a warder you had to dance that razor edge with your eyes tied. And you never knew where you might trip and fall. Women!

"Are you asking if I have taken a second warder?" He asked her, if he was about to fall; he might as well jump rather than be pushed.

Runea felt a little shaken, she thought him a real fool, apparently. "Did you?" She asked finally.

"I did," It was hard, saying this. Why couldn't he overcome the temptation? Why so few of the Asha'man could resist the urge to Bond a woman, or women? Jonan smirked, he knew very well why, with saidin flowing in him, so pure and sweet and full of light, he could hardly think. As far as he could remember, he wanted everyone to feel the same way, and there was that little thing with kissing Delir, of course, or have you forgotten that already. He ignored that small voice in the depth of his mind, he didn't forget how it was, kissing Delir with saidin flowing in him. A feeling of almost being whole, the touch of skin against skin and softness and sweetness that only became stronger with saidin flowing in him. Delir herself had a part of it, of course. None of the stories he had heard about the Sea Folk were exaggerated, as far as he could judge.

He might have continued remembering that kiss, if not Runea's face, he thanked the Light he was wise enough to order her away from saidar, by her face, she felt nothing, according to the Bond, she wanted to kill him. "So, it seems that I've a sister." Runea said slowly, emotionlessly, "Who is she?"

Jonan hesitate for six heartbeats before he answered, Runea couldn't harm Delir, not by action or word or an order to her bloody warder, "Her name is Delir, you might have noticed her, she is the only Sea Folk woman I've seen in the..." He had no idea what name he should give the gathering of all those women, not any Runea would have accepted.

"Gaidar," Runea supplied the name, "If we are to be your warders, whatever we like it or not, we will have a fitting name."

She thought about names? When not much less than thousand women were all but raped. It would take long before there would be any trust between the Asha'man and their warders. Jonan knew that it would take a very long time before he could forgive himself for Bonding Delir. Runea he had reasons to Bond, she was sent by Elaida to destroy the Black Tower, all the reason he had to Bond Delir was the taste of her kiss! "Does it have a meaning, Gaidar?" Jonan asked, she was more than angry, but as long as she remained calm from the outside, she could be as angry as she like. Revenge, love and wine taste better, if you let them the time to grow old and strong, the saying removed every last shred of satisfaction from his mind. He had no right to feel satisfaction. Not after what he's done.

"It means, Sisters of Battle. Literally, it's a bit more complex and can be translated as 'To the battle, we are sisters to.'" She looked at him, raising her eyes to meet his, "It can be also mean 'Those women who are one with the battle.'" Something that might have been a smile appeared on her face, it was full of grim, dark, amusement, he wasn't sure who she was laughing at, whatever it was him or herself. "Long ago, the word was suggested to the Hall as a title for all Aes Sedai to carry, instead of Aes Sedai. It nearly passed in the Hall, the reds voted against it." The smile was gone; her eyes became stone, "Why?"

He blinked, "Why what?"

"Why you have taken this... Delir as a warder, you doesn't seem to like having me as a warder, why did you took a second one?" He thought it was jealously he sensed from her; he couldn't really be sure, it was distant and mute. She sounded as if the explanation was unneeded, was the Creator asleep, making women? As far as Jonan saw, they rarely talk sense. "For that matter, why all the Asha'man had taken warders?"

How could she control her face so? None of her anger was visible. "Have you ever kissed a man, holding saidar?" He asked, and then he continued without waiting for her answer, he really didn't want to hear her answer. He found himself daydreaming about Moran's death quite often lately. The only thing that kept the man alive was knowing that Runea would suffer his death, she suffered enough already, losing one warder, he couldn't cause her more pain. "I don't think I can sum it with words alone, Runea. I believe it's very close to what you felt when I bonded you." Why she shivered so? It was pleasant experience, or should have been. "With saidin tainted, I could suffice with that. But cleansed, what I felt simply wasn't enough. I wanted more, much more." He wouldn't lie to her, not unless he had to, and he wasn't sure how much he truly wanted to make Delir as happy as he was. He would not make such excuses for his actions. Logain was right in every word he said about them.

"Here comes trouble," Runea said suddenly, and he groaned at the sight of the Dedicated that strode in the corridor, in their direction, Leon Harimene, a big trouble.

"What under the light is this?" Leon inquired, his eyes wide as he looked at the stew being held in a cage of Air. Several minutes ago, Jonan joined all the separated bowls of stew together; they were easier to hold that way. The result was a floating ball that was over ten feet in diameter. The largest amount of stew Jonan had ever seen.

Jonan ignored the man's question, "How many?" He asked, putting a hand on Runea's shoulder, stopping her from doing anything dangerous. There was deep dislike between Leon and the Aes Sedai. The man wanted to slit every Aes Sedai's throat, and never mind that the Dragon ordered not to harm the Aes Sedai.

"How many what?" Leon said absently, he stare at the stew like he never seen such sight in his life. Neither did Jonan, for that matter. He only had to hope it would be enough. "How many have you bonded in Caemlyn?" As far as he knew there wasn't a single Asha'man who was capable of weaving the warder Bond that hadn’t took a warder if he hadn't one already. He could have understood it if few would have Bond a woman or two, but not when all of the Asha'man did it. Something was wrong here.

Leon's face became blank, "What make you think that I've joined the rest of you in this act of immature show of disgrace, which only proved that none of you has the self control of a dying goat, was that how Logain put it? No, we should say how the new M'Hael said it, from now on, isn't it?"

"I stand behind every last of his words," Runea said, "It seems that Toviene had taught the man few things." Both Jonan and Leon dismissed her comment without a thought; the men's eyes were focused on each other.

"How much?" Jonan asked again.

Leon snorted, "None, Dedicated Jonan." He answered coldly, "I control myself better than any of the guardians in rats hole!" He brushed rudely against him as he continued his pace, walking as arrogantly as the Lord Dragon himself, despite the corridor being wide enough for fifteen men to walk through it side by side comfortably.

"I don't like him," Runea muttered, "I didn't expected to see him here, he seems to worship Taim too much for not being with him."

"It might be for the best to tell Toviene about that," Jonan said, "She likes him no more than you do, or I. And she can talk with Logain safely."

Runea stared at him for a long time, and then she was walking forward again, this corridor looked a bit familiar, the corridor he and Devon ran through, to save Samira's life, not that Samira was eager to thank them about it. They were only couple of hundred feet from where Delir was, and the rest of the warders, of course. "Why are you afraid of Logain? You seemed to be so... close to each other."

He should have known he could hide little from her, he hoped that the little he had to hide from her would remain a secret. "It's not that I'm afraid of him. Not exactly," The last was added because of Runea's scornful snort. "But he was... quite displeased with us, because of... what we did in Caemlyn."

"Quite displeased? And what about the Aes Sedai taken warders, he wasn't quite upset about that, wasn't he?" Her voice could be used to cut through the solid rock that made the walls around them.

He began replying before he caught himself and closed him mouth, he wasn't that much of a fool. He had hard time, saying as close to nothing as he could as they walked through the seemingly endless corridors of the Dragonmount. And he exhaled in relief as they reached the hall were the Asha'man had gathered their Asha'man. Luckily, many of the warders remained in the hall. There were men in black scattered all through the room. Most of them were arguing with their warders. He saw Jemiril Selian, a Cairhienin boy of barely seventeen, looking up at a maiden that was ten years and a full head above him. Jonan glanced nervously at Runea, how old was she? He wondered, with that ageless face, he couldn't judge. And Samira already proven to him that Aes Sedai maintained that agelessness even while they old. Samira had to be sixty or seventy years old, but by her face she could be in any age between twenty and forty.

"It would take some time to arrange that every one would be fed." Runea muttered.

"A very long time," Jonan had to agree. "I think we'd better move them to another room, I think I saw a room with some tables and chairs in it not far from him."

Runea gave him an odd look, "Enough for thousand women?" Jonan nodded, he heard that the Lord Dragon was the one who created the Dragonmount; he thought it must be true. It took arrogance in huge amounts to create such a place. The smallest room he had seen so far was bigger than the inn's main room in his village. "If you say so," Runea said, doubt clear in her voice.

"The problem we're facing now is how to convince those women to come with us, half of them would starve themselves just because they are too stubborn." Jonan told his warder, she stare at him oddly and sniffed.

"You obviously know nothing about women, or pride, Jonan Amley." She said sharply, "Just continue carry that bowl and let me handle this." Jonan was more than glad to obey. Meddling with warders could be dangerous, extremely dangerous. The Bond put the warder's safety in far higher than the forcing of both Asha'man and warder to stay near each other. That was the reason the Bond was created, to make the warders stay near their Asha'man, although it was meant to be use on the Asha'man's wife only, so she couldn't run away from her husband. Be that as it may be, the Bond sometimes overdid it, or maybe it was the men that overprotected their warders, wives, although he preferred not think about it.

"So this is the Delir you were talking about," Runea said, she stopped talking only in order to take a breath, so it seemed, although it could be an age, as far as he was concerned, he felt nothing of the passing of time, trapped in his own mind. By his own actions, two warders he had, one that stood next to him, the other, tall and dark and nearly two years below him, was advancing in his direction. Delir's face had a determined look, the woman that talked with her turned to look after her, and he winced inwardly at the sight of that ageless face. The Aes Sedai's face gleamed with joy.

Jonan had no idea what Samira had to tell to Delir, but he knew it couldn't be good, not one bit. And suddenly he had to mute a sudden urge to run.

***

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~ Barid Bel Medar, Lanfir, Lady Selinthia, Alanna

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© 2000 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann