PDA

View Full Version : A Different Wheel - Ch.8


st122
08-27-2011, 05:01 AM
The following morning Mat woke with a splitting headache when someone pushed the cloth away from the window. The pain didn’t surprise him as he’d been gambling and drinking well into the early morning hours. If he remembered correctly then he’d made a decent winning, which even included a gold Andoran crown.

“Mat,” Egwene called out. “It looks like a carriage has just run you over.”

“Light, Egwene. Don’t shout,” Mat grumbled while trying to shield his eyes from the open window. The bright light almost blinded him. The image of Egwene with arms on hips still leapt out at him.

“I don’t believe it,” Egwene exclaimed. “We’re all ready to leave and you are still in bed with a hangover.”

“I don’t have a hangover,” Mat mumbled with a grin. “I’m still drunk.” He blinked then added. “Where are we going again?”

She huffed and stamped her foot in annoyance. “We are heading to Tar Valon today you wool headed idiot.”

He held up a hand defensively. It also managed to block some of the light. “I never asked to go,” Mat shrugged while trying to focus on Egwene. “The whole White Tower channelling thing was always your desire. Not mine.”

“Who rescued you?” She said angrily.

“I think it was Rand who pulled me out the river. Might have been Thom,” Mat rubbed his chin as if in deep thought. “Sorry, can’t remember, but I don’t recall seeing you on the boat to Whitebridge.”

“Moiraine saved your worthless backside in Emond’s Field.” Egwene went on.

Mat groaned, but his growing anger at Egwene was pushing away his headache. “And she nearly got me killed a few times over since then! I owe the woman nothing.”

“Moiraine Sedai to you Matrim Cauthon!”

“I’ll call her whatever I bloody well like!” Mat shouted. Egwene tried to bore him down with a withering gaze. It had no effect on Mat. “I’m going to stay in bed for another few minutes and then I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Egwene huffed and stamped her feet again. It had no effect. Eventually Mat’s plan worked and she left grumbling. “If only Moiraine was here and not at that noble’s house.”

Mat sighed in relief and fell asleep again. The further that One Power wielding woman was from him the better.

//**//

Outside Egwene hurried into her room. Rand was not here either. Neither he nor Moiraine had returned the previous evening. Egwene did not have the slightest idea as to where they might have gone. For the first time she actually entertained the idea that Rand was telling the truth about falling into the palace grounds. A few steps later she laughed the idea away. Rand really was beginning to change. She’d never seen him as a man who told untruths.

She grabbed the letter on her bed. Lan had returned with it an hour or so after Moiraine left them. It told Egwene nothing except that Moiraine would be here to get them this morning. The hour on the note was fast approaching and Mat was still sleeping. She threw the letter down in frustration.

She hurried out her room and found Perrin sitting in the private room. The ogier was there busy reading. Perrin had still not spoken a word to her since Moiraine rescued them from the Whitecloaks.

At least he had a reason to be solemn. He’d killed Children of the Light. A crime he would probably never be forgiven for. Then there had been the meeting with Elyas and the wolves, which had resulted in his eyes changing colour. She shivered at the mere thought of his yellow eyes. She, however, still saw the Perrin behind the eyes. He was the same. She would just need a way of making him believe it.

Fear gripped her for his part and she wanted to ask if he would rather stay in Caemlyn. What would the Aes Sedai do if they saw him and his eyes? She had not because of Moiraine. The woman would not think of taking him to the White Tower if she was worried that they would try name him a darkfriend.

Sitting down beside Perrin she asked. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” he replied softly.

“You know you are still the Perrin I grew up with.”

He did not move or say a word for a long time. “Am I, Egwene?” Then he chuckled mirthlessly. “I honestly don’t think we are the same.”

She could not disagree. It was the same as the night before. They had all seen it and said it. Every one of them had changed the moment they rode out of Emond’s Field.

“Do you think Nynaeve is coming?” Perrin finally asked. She smiled. It was good to change the subject.

“Moiraine mentioned that Nynaeve would be with her when she came for us.”

“That’s…” Perrin sighed slowly. “Good I think.” He glanced up at her and she had to force herself not to look away. “And Rand?”

Egwene shook her head. “She did not mention him. But I can’t imagine him not being with her.”

//**//

Rand woke early the next morning. His head still spun from the dream he had. A man with fire in his eyes had been sprouting stories of the Eye of The World. Rand could not fathom what the man was speaking about. It was important, however. Whatever the Eye was it had to be found before some darkfriend did.

With a groan he rolled out of the bed, which was almost as large as his room on the farm. When his eyes cleared, he noticed a pile of new clothes lying on a table on the far side of the room. He glanced to the side where he had left his things the night before. They were gone. Frantically he began to search room. None of his old clothes or things could be found.

In the end he gave up his futile search. Instead he stared disbelievingly at the pile of clothes neatly laid out for him. He reached out and touched the red coat with golden embroidery. Beside it lay a clean white shirt. The material was rugged, yet fine. The breeches were grey and of just as fine material. He stepped away only to notice a new set of boots underneath the table.

“They’ll never let me hear the end of this,” Rand muttered to himself. “Even the small clothes are new.”

The cloak, however, was plain and made of stout wool. He glanced out the window. With the current weather he’d boil in a cloak and the shirt was too fine to wear openly while traveling. He grimaced while looking back at the red coat.

A soft knock came from the door and he jumped away from the clothes. “Wait,” he called out hastily. He wore only a shirt and his small clothes. “I’m getting dressed.” Silence. Rand hurried across to the table, discarded the clothes he’d worn and dressed in the new ones. The fine shirt fit him as if tailored for him as did the jacket. He did not doubt for a second that it was no coincidence. These clothes had been made for him. The boots were so perfect it felt as if he’d worn them for months.

“Light!” he breathed out in a hoarse voice. Was his mother trying to draw any more attention to him?

The knock came from the door again. He tugged at the coats collar to ensure it was neat and straight just like his mother had taught him. “I’m ready!”

The door opened and a girl or young woman came in. She was different from the one who showed him to his room the previous evening. He couldn’t quite place her age. She curtsied respectfully. He groaned internally at being a noble. The worst part of it all was that he could no longer deny it. To top it all he was also the husband of the Daughter Heir. He wasn’t quite sure what the people thought of the Daughter Heir’s husband. Did it make him a prince?

“My Lord,” the girl finally said. She had to be young based on the sound of her voice. “Would you be needing anything else before leaving, my Lord?” Her eyes travelled over his clothes and he noticed a gleam of satisfaction in them.

“Where are my other clothes?” he asked. “I will be needing something a bit rougher for the journey to Tar Valon.”

She shuffled quietly to a saddle bag, which sat in the one corner. “The Lady Moiraine and Lady Tigraine were very specific about the clothes you would be needing, my Lord. The seamstresses only finished your clothes an hour ago, my Lord.” She bent down and retrieved the bag and brought it to him. “There are a few jackets and changes of clothes. It should last a few days. That is until my Lord reaches Tar Valon.”

He cringed after each, ‘my Lord’, but kept his tongue. Instead he walked to her side and opened one buckle of the bag and peered inside. He groaned softly. Everything inside was similar to what he wore now. The one jacket was blue, House Mantear’s colour, and the other was black with what appeared to be silver threads. “Thank you,” Rand managed to say. There was no need to be rude to the girl.

She giggled softly and her eyes continued to roam over him. He coughed. “That will be all for now, thank you.”

She seemed a little disappointed, but she did curtsy again before silently leaving the room. Rand managed another glance at the bag. What were his friends going to say to him?

Not wanting to dwell on the subject, Rand left his quarters to find his mother. He found her after a few questions to the servants and numerous flights of stairs. The journey took him to the far side of the mansion. She sat eating a morning meal with Galad. He looked as resplendent as Rand with a dark blue jacket, which matched Moiraine’s usual dresses. They were Damodreds after all he reasoned.

“You look dashing, Rand,” his mother said when he entered the room. No doubt between Moiraine and his mother they would be trying very hard to turn him into a lord. Not only a lord, he supposed, but a ruler of people and nations.

“Morning, mother,” Rand replied. “I see that I am late.”

“Not late,” Galad answered. “We are merely early.” The way he said the words made Rand wonder what he meant. The sun had surely been in the sky for at least a few hours. That is if the few glances out the windows were anything to go by.

Tigraine gave a feint nod. “Remember, Rand. A man with your position in Andoran society is never late. You arrive precisely when you planned on arriving.” Rand rolled his eyes. “That is unless you are meeting the Queen or your wife. The two of them alone hold a higher position than you.”

“I will try to remember as much,” Rand mumbled as he sat down at the only remaining chair.

More food than he had ever seen at one sitting was piled before him. “Isn’t this a bit excessive?” Neither of them made any sign of the food being odd so Rand said no more and ate in silence. A good meal would probably be useful for the day’s journey.

“I thought I heard guards leaving the grounds early this morning.” Rand said conversationally.

She nodded. “A few men left this morning to escort your wife to Tar Valon.” His mother said.

Rand lost his appetite at the mere mention of Elayne. He had managed to go all morning so far without thinking of her. “Relax, they will be a few hours out the city already. Perhaps you won’t even see her before you reach Tar Valon. Once she’s there you might not see her for months. The Aes Sedai do tend to lock their Novices away.”

“I would like to tell her before she becomes a Novice,” Rand said firmly. “What you did was not right and I do not agree. I will, however, do my best to…” his mouth twisted a bit. “to like her.” He had wanted to say love, but that word was too strong.

Galad looked at him thoughtfully. “I thought you would try and hide from her.”

“I can’t do that, Galad,” Rand replied. “I mean it is just wrong to hide this from her.”

His brother nodded. “I think it wise to tell her as soon as we meet them.”

“In the long run, yes,” Rand laughed nervously. “Though not good for my person in the short term.”

“Better than telling her once she’s a full Aes Sedai,” Tigraine added with a broad grin.

“Don’t remind me,” Rand moaned loudly.

“At least by the time she’s finished you’ll be able to control saidin,” Galad joked.

Rand laughed. “I guess that’s one way to make a woman mad.”

His mother stood and walked towards the sunlit balcony. Rand gave his brother a concerned look and made to stand. Galad stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Let me, Rand.” His dark eyes had a look of determination. “Let me talk to her.”

Rand nodded and settled back down. Galad went to stand beside her. They talked until it came time for them to leave. When she left the balcony Rand could tell she’d been crying. Galad gave him a grateful and yet sad smile. Rand understood. His brother needed time to bond with his mother.

After retrieving the new saddle bag from his room Rand met Galad and Captain Bawyn in the stables. His mother was there and trying hard not to let her emotions overwhelm her.

“Be careful, Rand,” she said hugging him before he climbed onto his horse.

He tried his best to give a confident smile. “I’ll have a few people around to look after me.”

She agreed before pulling Galad into another embrace. “Look after each other,” she said to the two of them. “And remember that Moiraine will be riding slowly until you gain on them.”

“We will,” they said together before laughing. She smiled and he mounted his horse. It was the beginning of what would be a long day in the saddle.

“Captain,” Tigraine said as the soldier rode past her. “You are to see to the safety of my sons, but remember that Andor cannot afford to lose another Daughter Heir.” He nodded. “She is worth much for Andor’s stability in the coming years.”

“You told the men the same this morning, my Lady, and Lieutenant Henren knows his duties.” he said with an air of iteration. She merely kept her gaze on him until he fidgeted in his saddle. “As you command, my Lady. Henren and myself will keep her save.” he said firmly. “My contacts in the city have already informed me that news of the marriage has begun settling disputes between the various factions. The city should be back to its old self within a month or two.” He seemed unsure of what to say. “I guess your mingling has managed something.”

She smiled at his honesty. “Just like your father, Bawyn. I guess that is why my family has always held you in such high esteem.”

The man actually managed a smile and then he saluted. “My Lady.”

The group was small. Only Rand, Galad and Captain Bawyn rode away from the stables. Despite being only a few they managed to draw a lot of attention on their way out of the city. Three well-armed men on large stallions riding from House Mantear could never go unnoticed. Being midmorning meant the streets were already crowded.

Bawyn rode at the front with a straight back. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of his sword, the Heron mark clear to all who passed. Galad rode at the rear. His dark blue, almost black, jacket emphasised the sigil on his collar, a silver winged sword pointing down, which was well known in Caemlyn.

Rand rode in the middle. His red jacket with golden threads that gleamed in the sunlight made him stand out from the other two. The Heron mark on his sword, like Bawyn’s, made men and woman step aside hastily. It did not take long for the people to begin whispering.

“The Lord Mantear.” A voice said to another. Rand did not look about.

“It must be.” Another replied the first.

“Didn’t the Queen marry him to the Daughter Heir yesterday?”

“She did didn’t she.” A third person said. “That would make him our prince.”

“Ai, that it would.”

Rand tried to remain tall in his saddle. He hated having people talk about him. Thankfully they managed to get out of the city before too many gathered at the city gates to gawk at him. Even so he felt uneasy at being discussed.

Outside the gates and with the voices diminishing, they began to canter. They wanted to get away from the city as hastily as possible while needing to gain on Moiraine.

“Quite the crowd you drew back there,” Bawyn spoke when they slowed down before tiring the horses. The Captain had a hard look about him and Rand got the distinct impression he did not want to be here.

“Don’t remind me,” Rand replied, tugging uncomfortably at his shirt. He was not used to wearing clothes as fine as this.

“Not only you,” Galad said when he slowed down beside them. “Two men with Heron marked blades will be the talk of the city for weeks.”

“They know who you are as well,” Bawyn said. “There are few men and women in Caemlyn who do not know that you deserve the title.”

“I have not earned the rank,” Galad replied. “I am not proficient enough.”

“Flaming fool,” Bawyn grumbled. “You should’ve had the title years ago.” The glance he sent in Rand’s direction was by no means friendly. “What of you, boy? Do you deserve the Heron’s?”

Rand tried his best not to show his anger. “I suppose I will need to be judged by you before I can learn the answer to that particular question.” The man did not look pleased and Rand thought he uttered something about needing a babysitter to keep him from losing limbs.

“Relax,” Galad whispered to Rand. “The Captain is a proud man with Borderlander blood.”

Rand gave a stiff nod in reply. He knew that he would need to spar with the man before the days end. It would be unpleasant for one of them. Rand wished it would be Bawyn.

They rode with an uncomfortable silence hanging over them. Rand took the time to consider his dream again. It had felt so real, almost too much so. He shivered at those fiery eyes, which had studied him. Still the man was not quite sure who Rand had been. He never said so outright, but there had been a questioning look in his eyes for a while.

Wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, Rand tried to push the dream aside. Was this the first manifestation of the madness? The voice in his head was probably the first sign. After touching the source in the dungeon, Rand knew what had happened on the ship. He had touched saidin that day and yet it was not the first. He could remember a similar yet much fainter touch of saidin when they had been galloping away from Emond’s Field. He could not be sure, but he might have channelled something to help Bela, the horse Egwene had been riding.

“I don’t think my friends are going to like my new image,” Rand said to Galad. “They know me as I know myself.”

“A farmboy?” Galad asked.

“Well I am a farmer.” Rand said loudly. “It doesn’t matter what blood flows through my veins. I was a farmer.”

Galad smiled. “I would not be worrying about what your friends think.”

“Oh, and what would be occupying your mind?” Rand retorted.

“My sister has quite the temper.” Galad grinned before riding away to join Bawyn.

“Thanks,” Rand muttered.

//**//

It was very early, the sun had barely risen when Elayne rode out the city gates. She wore a divided dress for riding of Mantear blue, though her sigil of a Golden Lily remained. She was not riding alone. A contingent of soldiers from her new House rode in front and behind her. Her brother, Gawyn, rode beside her. He did not look pleased with the guards.

“Why so troubled, Gawyn?” Elayne asked a few minutes out of Caemlyn.

“I don’t trust these men,” he said softly so the others could not overhear.

She shook her head. “I am very important to them. That is if Tigraine wants Caemlyn to remain free of bloodshed and if she wants her son,” she spat out the word. “To have any control over the thrown.”

He did not look much relieved. “I would feel better once we meet this so called husband of yours.”

Elayne did not reply immediately. “Perhaps a quick…” his words trailed off as his felt for the sword on his hip.

She did not know what to make of the whole situation. A part of her wanted to be rid of him, while the other wanted to meet him. The optimistic side of her made her believe him a nice man. Mostly, however, she wished that she could just be with Rand.

Was it love? She had to admit that it was probably not. She was infatuated with him and with the marriage forced onto her, she mostly just needed a means to express her outrage. She grinned and bit her lip. He was quite good when it came to venting her frustrations.

“Why the sudden grin, Elayne?” Gawyn asked.

“Nothing really,” she sighed as she remembered those grey eyes mere inches from hers. “Just thinking.”

He did not push her. His mind was too caught up worrying about their escort and plots to kill her husband to think along romantic lines.

Elayne pushed her thoughts aside and studied the well trained men around them. With the sun slightly higher she was able inspect them. They rode in neat lines. Each man’s breastplate shone brilliantly in the morning light. Their lances, held upright, made for an impressive sight. A sword was attached to each man’s back, a Borderlander style, and they had the look of men who could use them. Each saddle also held a small bow and a quiver full of arrows within easy reach. Elayne was reminded of Saldean horsemen. A blue banner with the White Anvil blew in the breeze. Discipline lay at the core of these men. Their eyes were hard, a look which only come from experience. They were veterans.

She had only to think of her own House’s soldiers. They were nothing compared to these men and this was only a smallish contingent of nearly sixty men. How had Trakand slipped so far since the Succession War? However, unlike Gawyn, the men made her relax. Tigraine took Elayne seriously. She was now a very important member of House Mantear, if not the most important. The men guarding her were the best. Her husband would probably not even receive and escort this fine.

Thinking of him, invariably made her think of Rand. When would he be leaving Caemlyn? Was he somewhere ahead of her on the road or was he still asleep somewhere in the city? She hoped they would meet before reaching Tar Valon. She wanted to talk with him. He was so easy to be with.

Elayne spurred her horse forward needing a distraction. Gawyn followed closely. She frowned. She did not need him as a bodyguard from her guards, but he was Gawyn. She slowed down along the man leading her escort.

“My Lady,” the man said respectfully.

“Lieutenant Henren,” she replied and immediately decided to start with some flattery. “You lead a well-trained and disciplined group of men. House Trakand can offer none better.”

Gawyn grumbled something behind her, but she just continued to smile.

“I’m honoured, my Lady,” he replied with gratitude while studying the horizon. “Captain Bawyn has had these men trained in all forms of war.”

She nodded. Few men were proficient with one weapon. These guards were skilled with sword, lance, spear and bow. She would not put it past them to be almost as deadly with their bare hands. “My compliments then to the Captain.” They rode for a few more minutes until she spoke again. “Do you know if we are to meet with my husband before we reach Tar Valon?”

He smiled behind his veil of sternness. “I was not informed of any pre-destined meeting,” he replied and her heart sank slightly. “I was, however, informed that he would be travelling to Tar Valon and so there exists a chance of meeting him before reaching our destination.”

She felt something in her, trepidation. “Have you met him?” She asked.

The man nodded. “Only briefly, my Lady,” he answered. “He is a fine man.”

“How old is he?” she asked.

“I would venture a year or two older than yourself, my Lady.”

She was about to ask more when he held up a hand and the column came to an abrupt halt. His eyes narrowed at something far away. Elyane saw nothing and Gawyn’s mutterings indicated that he had not seen anything either.

Another soldier moved his horse to stand beside the Lieutenant. “Two scouts,” he pointed to the left. “Two more to the other side.” The guard nodded and shouted a few orders. Immediately four men handed their lances to other riders removed their short bows and sped off into the distance.

When they were gone the column began to move again. “What are you worried about?” Elayne asked the Lieutenant.

“There is a dust cloud ahead of us,” he did not seem too concerned. “I would like to ensure that it is not a threat.” He faced her for the first time. “Until I am sure there is no danger ahead, I would prefer it if my Lady were to ride in the middle again.”

She nodded. “As you command, Lieutenant Henren.”

The rest of the day passed without anything happening. The four scouts returned periodically one at a time only to be replaced by another fresh cavalryman. Each time a scout returned Henren looked less pleased than before. Occasionally he would stop while studying the surroundings hills.

During the hours that followed she only managed a few words with him. Her brother was too busy working himself up into a frenzy over her husband to be worth mentioning as company.

Eventually Henren did more than just stop to study the land. “We shall set up camp here tonight.” His voice carried and the men began to dismount with thankful smiles. She glanced up at the sun, which was still a few hours from setting. They could comfortably ride for another two hours before needing to settle down for the evening.

Elayne dismounted and walked awkwardly towards the Lieutenant. “Why the look of concern? And isn’t it too early to strike camp?”

His head jerked upwards at the sound of her voice. She realised that he must really be worried over something. “I am not sure, my Lady.” He gestured towards the forest, which lay before them. “My scouts tell me they sensed something ahead. Something which is trying very hard to not be noticed.” She did not question him nor his scouts. These were not fool men to be spooked by shadows. “The land is open around us.” He continued and Elayne glanced down a not so gentle slope that ended at the forest’s edge some five hundred paces away. “We are unlikely to be ambushed here.” She had to agree. It would take a large force of trained men to take this small hill by force.

“What of tomorrow?” she asked. “What if someone is hiding in the forest? We will still need to pass them.”

“Tomorrow will give us time, my Lady. My men are tired after a long days ride. Come morning we will be able to ride slowly along the narrow forest road and not fear being trapped within it come nightfall.”

What he said made sense and so she headed towards her brother. “What is wrong?” he asked. “This is too early for us to be stopping.”

“Apparently there is something suspicious in the forest.”

“More like a trap to get you killed,” he snarled looking at the men going about their duties around them.

She shook her head at him. “Honestly, Gawyn. Get it into that thick skull of yours that they mean us no harm. I am quite important to them.”

He did not look convinced and when she began to walk away he followed. “Gawyn!” She stopped and glared at him. “I do not need another bloody bodyguard! The men of House Mantear are enough.”

The men stopped working and their eyes glinted in amusement when they glanced at Gawyn.

“I am the First Prince of …” He was cut off by a withering stare from Elayne.

She dropped her voice. “Besides, if they are going to kill or kidnap me then there is little that you can do.” She raised her voice again and said. “I would like to be alone, Gawyn.” Then she strode off leaving him in the middle of a chuckling group of soldiers before he could say another word.

//**//

Mat rode on his own slightly away from the rest of the group. Moiraine led and Lan was away scouting ahead and behind them. Mat could not remember in which direction the Warder had disappeared to last.

Egwene road alongside Moiraine and was attempting to talk to the Aes Sedai. Moiraine was too preoccupied with whatever had happened to Rand last night to really talk with Egwene. Or maybe, he chuckled at the thought, she was trying very hard to get rid of Egwene.

Nynaeve, long braid swaying behind her, rode in silence as did Perrin. They were a rather muted group this morning. Mat’s own head still throbbed slightly and the bright sunlight did little to ease his condition. He probably should’ve stopped drinking instead of trying to keep up with the large man he’d been betting against. Mat still managed a smile, however. He’d done well and his pouch held a comforting weight to it.

Mat edged his horse across to Perrin. “Where do you suppose Rand is?” Mat asked once he came close to his friend.

Perrin’s golden eyes stared into the distance. “Don’t you think Moiraine would know better?” Perrin answered.

“Of course she knows,” Mat exhaled while tugging uncomfortably at his collar. “But I’m not going to go all the way to her and ask.” He disliked her and anything to do with the bloody One Power. “No thank you. I think I’ll be staying back here where the air is clean of all things Aes Sedai.”

“Suit yourself,” Perrin said. “But she is the only one who knows.”

Mat scratched his head in thought. He really wanted some answers. “Perhaps the Wisdom knows. She’s been acting very weird since being allowed to dress in those fine clothes. I wonder what happened?”

Things were just not making any sense. Wars and battles were so much easier to comprehend. Two or more groups who disliked one another showed up and then tried to kill one another. It was simple. He grinned the joys of walking into a foes trap only to spring one of your own. He grimaced and rubbed his forehead. The drink was really making his head spin.

Perrin gave a slow nod. “She told me that the Lady Tigraine felt sorry for her and what she did to Rand’s mother so she gave the Wisdom a bed for the night and some dresses.”

“I don’t know,” Mat complained loudly. “Nobles don’t just give things away. They hoard and take.”

“If the Wisdom says it was a gift then I believe her.”

“Who knows what to think any more,” Mat groaned. “I just wish Rand was here. He usually knows more of what’s happening than the rest of us.” All the talk just brought them back to Rand again.

Perrin glanced over his shoulder. “There’s a group coming from behind.”

Mat spun to check. “What? I don’t see anything.” Mat shielded his eyes from the sun, squinted and still he could make out nothing. “Perrin you really need to get a hold on your imagination.”

Perrin rode ahead to Moiraine without replying. He said something to her and pointed backwards at a faint dust of cloud which only now became visible. Mat alternated between glancing at Perrin and squinting into the distance. “Light,” he croaked. Mat shivered despite the heat at the thought that Perrin had gotten more than just yellow tinted eyes.

Perrin fell back to ride alongside Mat. “Moiraine says to keep riding. She doubts a small group like that could be a threat.”

Mat shrugged and continued to ride. He did, however, edge closer to the Aes Sedai. He might have hated the One Power, but she could protect him. He knew he was being a hypocrite, but they needed to survive all the same.

“Finally decided to join us, Mat,” Egwene said.

“I’m regretting it already,” Mat grinned before glaring at her.

“Aren’t you excited to be heading towards Tar Valon and the White Tower?”

“I could think of a few places more suited to my needs,” Mat replied with a fake smile.

She sniffed in annoyance. “Well go ride by yourself if you are going to be like that.”

“I might just do that.” Mat replied with a mock bow of his head as he slipped back from them. Light! She really was trying hard to be as annoying as Moiraine. The whole idea of Tar Valon frustrated him. Being in a city full of women like Moiraine.

After about an hour’s ride the group behind began to come into clear view. Perrin indicated that they were three men. Eventually the group of riders approached. Moiraine pulled on her reigns and slowly led her horse towards them.

Only then did Perrin say. “Rand!”

Mat rode forwards and true to Perrin’s words. The one fool with a bright red jacket was Rand bloody al’Thor. They all rode to catch up with Moiraine.

“Rand,” Egwene was first to say. “Where have you been?” She eyed his clothes up and down. “And why are you dressed like some nobleman.”

“Nice to see you as well, Egwene.” He smiled nervously. “I hope you have been riding well. Our journey has been rather peaceful, thank you for asking.”

She glared daggers at him until Moiraine sent a cold look in Egwene’s direction. The Aes Sedai faced the three riders. Mat studied the other two beside Rand. The one wore the White Anvil of House Mantear, but he looked more like a soldier than a house member. The other wore a dark blue coat, almost identical in colour to Moiraine’s riding dress, with a silver sword pointing down on his collar. Mat would bet more than his gold crown that he was some lord.

“Morning, aunt,” the man in the dark blue jacket said and Mat along with the rest of the group nearly choked. “We’ve been riding hard in the hopes of reaching you today.”

“We’ve been going rather slowly,” Moiraine nodded. “I had thought you’d be here earlier.”

“That would be my fault,” Rand replied. “I was rather late in waking this morning.” He shrugged. “The bed was rather comfortable.” Mat eyed his friend. So Rand had been somewhere comfortable for the night. No doubt with this so called nephew of Moiraine.

Moiraine made no gesture that she understood. “Captain Bawyn,” she said. “Lan will be pleased to have you for company.”

The man’s gave a half smile. Something his face did not seem used to. “It would be nice to have a real man for company.”

Galad shook his head slightly and Rand rolled his eyes. Apparently there was something going on between the three men. Bawyn then rode out in front. The whole group began to follow. The man did seem to be rather hasty.

“He seems like a man who wants to be anywhere but here.” Mat laughed as he kicked his horse into motion.

“Captain Bawyn doesn’t like me and my sword very much,” Rand said as he came alongside Mat. Perrin moved alongside Rand.

“Nice jacket you’re wearing,” Perrin said. “Not something a farmer should be able to afford.”

Rand’s eyes flicked towards Moiraine and then at Galad before answering. “All my clothes were disposed of last night while I slept. Come morning this was all I had.” He did not seem to want to talk.

Mat snorted angrily. “Come Perrin. Let’s ride with someone who wants are company. I think Rand here only wants to be around lords and ladies.”

//**//

Egwene watched as Mat and Perrin rode away from Rand in seeming disgust. Seeing an opportunity to learn something, she nudged her horse closer to him.

“So where did Moiraine take you last night? And why the sudden change in appearance?” She asked quickly.

He moved his hand through his hair while looking everywhere but at her. “It is rather complicated.”

“We have time,” she pushed. “I’m sure that wool headed brain of yours can explain it before nightfall.”

His jaw became set. “I can explain, Egwene.” Then his voice softened. “It’s complicated, and I need to figure things out for myself.”

“You can always make sense of it while you tell me.”

“Look, Egwene. I don’t want to talk about everything that happened yesterday.” He stared back at her. His grey eyes much harder and almost colder than they were before.

“So did you really fall into the Palace grounds yesterday?” she asked hoping to divert him slightly. Perhaps if he started there then she would get more of the story. She might also begin to narrow down which part of the day bothered him the most.

“Yes,” he replied. “Took a rather nasty knock to the head, thank you.”

“And did the queen really throw you into a dungeon?”

“Yes,” this time it was the man Moiraine had referred to as Galad who answered. She had not looked at him yet, as her attention had been so focused on Rand. Egwene sucked in a deep breath. Galad sat upright in his saddle, his face was boyish and yet very mature. His dark eyes gazed deeply into hers. “Queen Morgase had him thrown in to a dungeon with me.”

Her eyes widened unable to imagine such a handsome man in a dungeon. “You were locked…” She faced Rand. “Why?”

Rand shrugged and Galad spoke again. His voice was very gentle and melodic. “I think he got on the wrong side of an Aes Sedai.”

“Moiraine?” she blurted out.

Galad grinned. “No. Elaida Sedai, the advisor to the Queen.”

“Rand!” she rebuked. “Why can’t you be civil towards an Aes Sedai?”

He gave a weak grin in Galad’s direction before facing her again. “I’ll try not to upset any Red Sisters again.”

She only stared at him in confusion. “Honestly, Rand, when are you going to learn some respect for people?”

“When they no longer step on my toes.” He smiled indulgingly at her. Then he rode away to go talk with Moiraine.

“Why would he talk to Moiraine if he dislikes Aes Sedai?” she asked when she noticed Galad still beside her.

“I think he does trust her in his way.”

“How can he not trust her?” Egwene asked.

Galad shook his head as if he found her words funny. “My aunt is Aes Sedai.”

“She fights the Dark and stand for the Light.”

Galad had this infuriating look about him. The one where she was sure the other person was thinking her naïve or stupid. “I would never doubt who she fights for. It still doesn’t mean she is always right or that she has your best intentions in mind.”

Egwene was ready to retort, but she did not. Rand and Moiraine had stopped talking and he sat shaking his head as they rode. Could what Galad have said been the truth? Was Moiraine only thinking about herself and the cause and not the people with her?

“How would I know who to trust if I cannot trust Moiraine Sedai?” Egwene asked.

“Good, you’ve learnt something.” he replied. “Another lesson, Egwene.”

“And what is that?” she asked angrily.

“Who says you can trust me?” Then he rode off to join Rand.

“Light!” Egwene cursed.

“What?” Mat asked.

She dropped her voice. “These people are so full of riddles and games. Galad is worse than an Aes Sedai.”

Mat looked like he wanted to reply, but a hard riding Lan drew their attention. A cloud of dust trailed behind his dark horse. Egwene moved closer to Moiraine in order to overhear.

The Warder came to an abrupt halt a horse length before Moiraine and waited for her to pass him. “They’ve made camp about an hour’s ride from here.” He pointed at the one hill. “Just behind the crescent there.”

Egwene had not noticed that she was riding beside Rand until he began to fidget nervously at the news. She wondered what was making him anxious and more importantly how he actually knew what they were talking about.

“Thank you, Lan,” Moiraine said. “You can remain with us then.” He made no reply. “I assume it is safe between us and them.”

“It is, Moiraine,” he agreed and then he rode ahead to talk with Captain Bawyn.

“You seem troubled, Rand,” Egwene finally asked.

He laughed nervously. “Give me a few more hours then ask the question again.” He looked pleadingly at her and so she moved away towards Galad again.

“Any reason why Rand should so uptight about a camp before us?”

“Every reason,” Galad answered without hinting at anything.

“Honestly,” she huffed. “Am I never going to get more out of you people today?”

“Not at the moment, Egwene,” he answered. “I’m sure you will know most once we get to the camp.”

“Why?”

“Because that is the way it is,” he replied calmly.

“Who are you?” She finally asked. “You have the bearing of a noble and you call Moiraine aunt.”

“My name is Galad Damodred. I am the son of Tigraine Mantear and Taringail Damodred.”

“So you must know what happened to Elayne?”

“Which Elayne?” he asked.

“Rand’s mother. Who else?”

“You might have been talking about my half-sister, Elayne.”

“Oh,”

“Rand’s mother is fine.” he answered.

“And your half-sister?”

“I guess that depends.” He replied with no definite answer.

“On what?”

He shrugged. “There are a lot of maybes in the world. My sister’s mood just happens to be one of them.”

She breathed out loudly. “Galad Damodred, you are one confusing man.”

“I’m sorry, Egwene. But you keep asking things I cannot answer at the moment.”

“So what can I ask you?”

“Try something not referring to Rand or Elayne.”

“Ok,” she remained quiet for a moment. “So where did you grow up?”

“I have been living in the Palace in Caemlyn. My half-sister, Elayne, and her brother, Gawyn, are the children of my father and the Queen.”

Egwene’s breath caught. “Oh,” she tried to think of something to say. “I’m sorry for being rude, my Lord.” She stuttered. “I hope you do not take offense to my ignorance.”

He laughed richly. “Would you be so formal to Rand?”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Formal to Rand? He’s a sheepherder.”

“And you are?” he asked.

“I’m about to be a Novice,” she said trying to look down at him. It failed. Galad was not a man to be belittled. Her attempts only accentuated her own girlishness. “And I will be Aes Sedai.” Galad said no more. “What do you mean with the question?”

“I guess it forms part of what I was saying earlier. If you want to know who you can trust,” His beautiful dark eyes remained fixed on hers. “Then you have to know who they are and where they come from. Only then will you begin to be able to judge a person’s loyalty because only then will you know what motivates them.”

“I still don’t get what this has to do with, Rand.”

Galad sighed. “Time is a great story teller. Give it chance and all will be revealed.” He looked away. “I need to go talk to Rand.” Then he rode, leaving her alone.

The hour was almost over. Before them on small hill a camp could be made out. A blue banner, similar to Captain Bawyn’s uniform blew in the afternoon breeze. Men in bright polished breast plates could be seen manning the perimeter while others readied the camp. A few cook fires were already blazing.

Captain Bawyn, Galad and Rand led the way into the camp. Rand was looking around as if in search of something. Whatever it was he did not find it.

“My Lord,” a soldier gave a formal salute in Galad’s direction. Then he faced Bawyn and saluted in a more military fashion. “Captain.”

“What are you doing camped here, Lieutenant?” He still sat on his horse and scanned the surroundings. “You should have travelled a few more leagues before nightfall.”

“I thought it prudent to not venture into the forest today.” Strangely he glanced at Rand.

Egwene and the rest of the group reached them. “Afternoon, Moiraine Sedai,” the man bowed deeply this time. “An honour to have you an Aes Sedai in our camp.”

“Lieutenant Henren,” she greeted. “I also would have thought you further than this.”

“Yes, we were well on our way,” he then turned towards the forest. “A few leagues outside Caemlyn we noticed movement ahead of the column. I sent out a steady stream of scouts and they all returned with the same message.”

“Which was?” the Captain asked.

“That someone was trying very hard to not be seen,” the lieutenant faced the group again. He appeared confident in his decision. “I therefore ordered camp to be set. This position is defendable, my Lord.” Once again he was looking at Rand. “I considered it best to try pass through the forest tomorrow when my men are fresh and alert. I also thought it best to not risk her considering Lady Tigraine’s orders.” He shrugged. “So I thought rather a day late than a Daughter Heir less.”

“That was wise,” Captain Bawyn spoke with a nod. Only then did he dismount. His gaze lingered on the forest. “What do you think, Lan?”

The Warder, who had also dismounted, stood beside him. He faced Moiraine and she nodded. “There are shadowspawn in the trees. I can feel them.”

The Captain nodded. “It has the feel of them.” He clapped the Lieutenant on the shoulder. “Good work man.” Despite the soldier’s earlier confidence, Egwene noticed his relief.

Rand walked towards the man and asked something. The Lieutenant pointed to somewhere down another slope. Rand took a deep breath and strode down the hill. Egwene made to follow, but Moiraine held her back. “Let him do what he must.” Then she walked off with Lan.

“What is Rand doing?” Perrin asked.

Egwene shrugged. “I don’t know, but everyone here is acting very strange around him.” They watched him walk. “None of them are trying to stop him.”

“Must just be them being respectful to a man in a fancy coat.” Mat grumbled.

Rand did not get far when a woman in a blue dress came walking up the hill. She turned and walked away again.

“Now that is one fi…” Mat began.

“I would not complete that sentence in my presence,” Galad interjected and Mat’s lips froze. “That is my sister you were about to say something about.”

Mat paled slightly. Galad slapped him on the back and began to walk towards the camp. He was intercepted by a different man with hair very similar to Galad’s sister. He did not wear blue like the guards, nor did he have any signs of a White Anvil.

At first they laughed, but it did not last long. Within a few brief minutes there was a palpable tension between them.

//**//

“Gawyn,” Galad greeted. “How was the ride today?”

Gawyn stared at him briefly before replying. “It was horrible. Riding amongst all these men. I can only imagine them meaning Elayne harm.”

Galad frowned at his half-brother. “Why would they mean her any harm? She is the House’s greatest asset. More so than Rand.” The moment the word left his mouth he knew he’d said too much.

“Rand is the heir?” he asked softly. There was no use denying it. Gawyn knew the truth now.

There was brief moment of indecision on Gawyn’s face. Then it became set in determination. He only managed a single stride before Galad’s firm hand stopped him. “I think you should stay here, Gawyn. Let them talk to her. They need to discuss what’s happened.”

“Why should I? That man means nothing good for my sister. Just look what he forced her into.” Gawyn spat out angrily.

Galad straightened while tensing every muscle in his body. “Rand was just as unaware of events yesterday as Elayne.”

“Please like he wouldn’t know what his mother was planning.” He sneered. “Light, they must have been playing their whole act for months.”

He made to move again. Galad increased the pressure. “I would advise you not to take another step.”

“Let me pass so that I can slice that man in two.” Gawyn was breathing heavily. His pupils were almost diluted. Galad could only begin to imagine where the sudden hatred came from.

“I am going to let go of you, Gawyn.” Galad began softly. “But Light protect you if you take one more step towards my brother.”

Gawyn blinked and stared up at Galad. “And what if I do?”

Galad’s free hand touched the handle of his sword. Nothing more needed to be said. Gawyn nodded and Galad let his hand drop.

“Fool,” Gawyn spat into his face.

Galad had hoped his half-brother would not be like this, but he was prepared. The muscles he had held at bay were released and his fist drove into Gawyn’s face. Caught off guard, Gawyn stumbled backwards and fell to the floor. His face covered in blood.

Galad unsheathed his sword even as Gawyn was falling and before he could come to his senses Galad’s sword was pointed at his chest. With his free hand, Galad motioned for the guards to approach. “Make sure this man does not come near Rand.”

They nodded in understanding. The order did not seem to surprise them and Galad wondered what the fool man had been mumbling about all day while in their presence.

He crouched down beside Gawyn. His face was a mess and blood flowed freely from a nearly broken nose. Galad spoke in a low voice. “I don’t mind what you think or say. But if you ever try to harm my brother again I will seriously hurt or kill you. And trust me Gawyn, the Creator will not frown upon me for doing so.”

Gawyn just stared at Galad with wide eyes as he tried to stop the flow of blood with the sleeves of his coat. “Do you understand me?” Galad asked slowly.

Only after Gawyn nodded did Galad move away. He walked into the first available tent and collapsed onto a bed roll. He hated having to be in the middle. Father’s blood against mother’s blood. He stared in the direction he knew Rand to have gone. Their mother’s blood was strong.

//**//

Elayne walked slowly back towards the camp. She had heard a group arrive and wanted to see who it was. A small part of her wished Rand to be part of the new arrivals. Even if not it might be a group containing at least one woman she could speak with. Being among soldiers all day was not ideal.

When she looked up she saw him standing there. He stood motionless dressed in a jacket of bright red, while gold seemed to be glinting of it in the warm late afternoon sunlight. Even his red hair appeared more alive.

She casually signalled for him to follow and then moved downslope again. It was imperative that the guards not see anything other than friendship between them.

After a few minutes his soft footfalls approached. He really was light on his feet for such a tall man. She turned towards the camp to ensure no one was looking. Then she wrapped her arms around him. “Rand,” she sighed. Even as the words left her mouth she could feel the tension in his body. She let go of him remembering that she was being defended by her husband’s men. Being too friendly with Rand would do him no favours.

“Elayne,” he whispered her name almost reverently. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest. She tried to push all thoughts of him from the previous night aside, but his grey eyes staring down at her made the effort all but impossible. She gave up trying. “I have something to tell you.”

“What?” she said and cold dread began to build within her. For the briefest of moments she had seen another woman with the group. “Have you lost that part of me already?”

“Light, no! I couldn’t even if I tried,” he said hoarsely. “I… this is difficult to say, Elayne.”

“Just say it, Rand.” She tried to appear calm and confident. This was ridiculous. She didn’t love Rand. He’d only been something to help end a horrible day. Then why did she feel so frightened of what he might say.

“Please don’t be angry about this.” His eyes were pleading and his entire body was tense. “Blood and ashes, Elayne I swear I only found out last night.” His voice trembled slightly as he spoke her name. It was hard not to notice how he said it with such emotion. Still his words were about to hurt. She managed to keep her smile as she waited for him to say what he needed to.

“My mother is Tigraine M…”

“What!” she shouted not caring if every soldier in the camp heard her. The affection she felt towards him melted in the time it took to say one name.

“Elayne, please listen.” Rand begged. She closed her mouth and glared into his fragile eyes. “I never knew who I was. Everything I told you last night was the truth.”

Her heart beat loudly in her chest and her rage was beginning to reach a boiling point. How could anyone have used her so? Her anger proved too great for words. If she could have touched the One Power now then Rand would have been burnt to cinder. He grabbed her hand as she turned to leave.

“Light! Elayne, how was I supposed to know my mother had been lying to me my entire life?”

She stopped struggling against him. Could he really be telling the truth? She shook her head dispelling his words. They had to be lies just like everything else about the previous day.

“Please, Elayne. What we shared yesterday. It was something special.” He sighed audibly. “We might really have something. Light! I don’t know, Elayne.” She made to leave again. His grip tightened. “Please don’t let politics come between what might be.”

It took all her will power to not let the tears fall which threatened to be let lose. She felt confused and used. She glared back at him behind rapidly misting eyes.

“You can ask Moiraine and Galad. They will tell you the same. He didn’t know just as I didn’t know.”

She bit her lip until it bled in an effort to not shout or cry. “Why?” It came out softly. Then the fire in her ignited and she shouted, “why do this to me? Why ruin my life?”

Rand stumbled backwards and almost tripped over a rock behind him.

“Imagine my shock when I found out that not only was I a Lord but married to the Daughter Heir!” He shouted in return. “Light, my whole life was a lie and now when I turn my back for one minute I’m married!”

“Do you think that I would believe your soppy little tale,” she said heatedly. Her bright eyes not wavering from him. She noticed that his hand still held hers. It was warm and comforting, how could hands so gentle the day before be trying to keep her from running now. Her words faltered.

“Can you love me?” she asked eventually.

“Do I think I can love you?” he whispered. She nodded looking up hopefully. “I’m not sure, Elayne.”

She felt something pierce her spirit and she set her jaw. “If that’s how you feel about me!” She tried to free herself from his grip. He held on. “Let go of me!” she demanded loudly.

“Let me fin…” he tried to say. She could see the pain in his eyes, and oddly she took some satisfaction from it.

“No!” she shouted and his hand dropped away only to hang loosely by his side. “You think you can just take from me! Well you can’t, Rand! And neither can your mother!”

With that she turned around and tried to walk with as much of her dignity back to her tent. Not even Gawyn was fool enough to say anything. She walked straight passed him and into her tent. His bloodied nose and shirt barely crossed her mind. The inside was rather spacious as it was for the Lord and Lady Mantear. She fell down onto the bed.

Despite being close to tears earlier she could not find it in herself to cry now. The anger she felt towards Rand was too great. Her feelings brought with them a familiar thought. One which had come and gone all day. What did she feel for Rand? If he had just been a passing night of enjoyment then surely this should have meant nothing. Did she love him? Or were her feelings purely based on a shared first time experience with a man?

The sound of trumpets, alarmed sounds, made her stop thinking of Rand. Getting to her feet she strode out the tent to a scene of rushing soldiers.

//**//

Rand stood alone for a few moments. Did he love her? The truthful answer was maybe. She was a strong willed and beautiful woman. She was caring, funny and easy to like.

He began a slow walk back to the camp. Could he love her? The answer was much more simple. Yes, he knew he could love her.

He reached the tents and found a few people bustling about. His friends were all standing in a huddle on the far side of the camp. They were watching him, perhaps wanting answers that he could not give yet.

Glancing about he searched for Galad, but he was nowhere to be seen. Moiraine was sitting by herself staring out at the forest below and so he did the only thing he knew would help. He went to her. She might have some advice for him. Egwene would only lecture.

//**//

“Who is she?” Egwene asked after the woman in the blue dress disappeared into a tent leaving behind a very stunned man who Galad had punched spectacularly. His face was covered in blood and still she had not seen or cared enough to ask. Their hair colour was too alike not to be related.

“Galad’s sister,” Perrin said. “Remember, he said so.”

Rand walked into the camp slowly. His eyes were downcast until he stopped. He glanced about. His eyes only lingered on them for a short while before he strode away towards Moiraine.

“What just happened?” Mat asked.

Egwene shook her head, hoping to find someone who could help unravel the mystery that they just found themselves in.

“I don’t know,” Egwene said finally. “But Rand seems to have told the truth about talking with the Daughter Heir.”

Perrin nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe she really did talk about her problems with him.”

Egwene could only shake her head in confused awe. “I’m going to go talk with him.”

“I’m coming,” Mat said excitedly. Perrin mumbled something that sounded like agreement.

They barely took two strides before trumpets began to blow.

A few heartbeats later someone began to shout. “Trollocs! To arms men! Trollocs.”

She stared at the sound of the voice. It had been Rand who shouted. He was standing tall and proud. Nothing like the skulking boy who walked into the camp mere minutes ago.

All about men ran to gather their arms and armour. Horsemen mounted their horses and in less than a minute each soldier was ready and moving into position.

In the distance the soft rumble of hundreds of feet began to reach the top of the hill.

A/N

And so ends another chapter. This one just kept growing since it has quite a few POV’s. I tried stretching my legs a bit with Mat and Egwene scenes. I hope you liked them.

Next chapter has Trollocs and not just one :D

Thanks for reading and as always comments are greatly appreciated.