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Old 04-17-2014, 06:22 PM
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Through the thin blue fabric of the tent wall, Rand saw the silhouettes of men in cadin'sor moving in the firelight. Their mutters and grunts were incomprehensible without the One Power – not that he would touch that simply to eavesdrop – but every now and then he caught the odd whoop of laughter.

He sat in the light of an oil lamp with the top button of his shirt left undone, sweat coating his face and matting hair to his forehead. “Journey to the Three Fold Land,” he said, wincing and shaking his head. “Earn the devotion of the Aiel. Nobody mentioned the part where I lose ten pounds in sweat.”

His ears caught sound of movement just outside, and he almost reached for the True Source. Almost. The weaves that would scorch an intruder were there in his mind, though where they had come from was beyond him. It vexed him that he leaped to aggression so easily. Too many months on the road.

“Rand?” Elayne called. “Are you decent?”

The tent flaps parted before he could answer.

She stepped inside, dressed in the tan pants and tunic that he had seen on so many Maidens, her long red-gold hair left to hang free. “I was on my way back to my tent,” she explained. “I thought we could talk.”

Pursing his lips, Rand looked up at her. He narrowed his eyes to slits. “Feeling a bit impatient, are we?” he inquired. “What precisely would you have done if you'd found me here naked?”

“In that case, I'd ask you to remain still while I fetched a sketch artist.” She stared off into the distance with a curious expression. “I wonder if Bael could do it. He has such dainty hands.”

Grinning like a fool, Rand felt his cheeks burn. He lowered his eyes to stare into his lap. “Well, I suppose I'd be willing to pose,” he said. “So, are you planning to tell me why you're dressed in cadin'sor?”

Elayne went red but refused to break eye-contact. Somehow, Rand had the distinct impression that his question had touched on something she would rather not talk about. “Amys,” she said at last. “She decided that I needed a little discipline and told me to run around the camp twenty times. You can't run in a dress.”

“Ah.”

“I'm just thankful she allowed me this much modesty,” Elayne went on. “Her first instinct was to have me do it naked. The last thing I want is Mat Cauthon getting a peek at my backside.”

Rand looked up, arching an eyebrow. “I thought you agreed to obey the Wise Ones in all things.” There were times when he suspected that every last one of them would try to extract such a promise from him. Not that he would give it. His goal was to defeat the Dark One. Aiel politics – however they may work – were of no concern to him. If he had to break the Aiel to save the world, he would. Light help him, but he would.

“I have my ways,” Elayne replied, choosing a cushion across from him and sitting with hands in her lap. “I asked Amys to recall the last time she had seen a man running naked around the camp and pointed out that if we allow them to see us naked outside of the sweat tent and they do not do the same, it was only a matter of time before they began to think themselves above us.”

“Clever.”

Elayne wore a bright smile as she leaned in close, her blue eyes sparkling in the dim light. “My next lesson for you,” she said with a nod. “Men and women are often at odds, and nothing makes one more willing to do something than thinking the other has a leg up on them.”

Rand felt his lips curl, then bowed his head to her. He tried to fight down the blush that flared in his cheeks. “You've thought about this quite a bit,” he said. “Have you ever used these tricks on me?”

“Would I do something like that?”

She managed to look aghast, but the very instant he made eye-contact, all traces of serenity vanished in a fit of giggles. “Yes, Rand, I've used a few,” she admitted. “Many of them are what you'd call flirting.”

That made him flinch. She flirted with him? Ta'veren or no ta'veren, it stretched credulity to think that a Two Rivers hay-hair could catch the eye of the Daughter Heir. Not for the first time, he wished that Mat were here to give him advice. Perhaps with a weave to make him invisible, but he'd settle for the other man's presence regardless.

Just like that, the weave to bend light appeared in his mind's eye. That was twice in less than an hour. These little flashes had been growing more and more frequent since the day he had left Tear. Rand would have dismissed them as desperate guesses or maybe the early signs of madness, but practice with saidin had proved to him that the weaves were genuine. He didn't know if that should reassure him or terrify him.

“Are you all right?”

Tilting her head to the side, Elayne frowned at him, a lock of red-gold hair falling over one eye. “You look frightened,” she went on. “Light, Rand, I didn't mean to upset you. If my advances-”

He winced and shook his head. “It's not that.”

“Then what?”

“I can't...”

The look of concern she gave him was nearly enough to bring tears to his eyes, and then her mouth dropped open as understanding came. “Oh...” she mumbled. “It's started then. The madness.”

Rand squeezed his eyes shut, tears running over his inflamed cheeks to drop from his chin. “I shouldn't have said anything,” he rasped. “Elayne, please. You have to keep this to yourself. If the others knew-”

She was on her knees before him before he could even blink, holding his hands in hers. “I promise to tell no one,” she said quickly. “Rand, you mustn't give up on yourself. We will find a way to save you.”

He gaped at her. “You're not afraid?”

Elayne bit her lip, nodding as she thought the matter over. She let out a heavy sigh of frustration. “You are a man who can channel,” she said at last. “Cursed with madness and the weight of incredible power. Afraid? Rand, I'm terrified.”

“Then why...”

Elayne lifted her chin, her cheeks flushed, her eyes glistening as though his words had brought pain. “What kind of person would I be,” she began, “if I left a good man to suffer for circumstances beyond his control?”

“You might change your mind before too long,” he said, looking away from her. Tension in his face made his muscles ache. “The last Dragon went mad and killed those he loved dearest.”

Images flashed in Rand's mind: the face of a woman with features very much like Elayne's and hair of exactly the same shade. Light, what was happening to him? He had read the stories. If that was who he thought it was...

“And saved the world too,” Elayne insisted. “People always seem to skip that part when they tell the story. Lews Therin Telamon brought the taint and killed his family in the grip of madness. But if he hadn't acted to seal the Dark One, what would the world look like today? Would there still be a world?

“The Aes Sedai love to speak of the pride of men, the hubris that brought the taint and the Breaking, but I once asked Katerine exactly what Lews Therin should have done differently. It's easy for us to cast judgment in hindsight.”

“And how did that discussion end?”

Elayne chuckled. “She sent me to Sheriam's study, and I spent the next few days wincing whenever I sat down.”

Clamping a hand over his mouth, Rand felt his cheeks heat up. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I find myself uneasy with the way this conversation keeps returning to the subject of your backside.”

Elayne flashed a wicked little grin. “I know!” she teased. “It's almost like I'm doing it on purpose.”

Touching the underside of his chin with her finger, she turned his face up to her, then leaned in to press a kiss to his forehead. “You're going to be all right,” Elayne said, pulling away. “We'll find a way to save you.”

She stood without another word and turned, making her way back to the tent flaps. “Elayne?” Rand called out.

She paused.

Blushing like the sun, Rand smiled into his lap. He shook his head, trying not to sound like a backward mud-foot. “Join me for dinner tomorrow?” he offered. “I've come to enjoy your company.”

She turned, glancing over her shoulder with a fond smile. “I would love to,” she said with a nod. “Try to get some rest.”
__________________
He bought two fifths of lead-free gasoline.
Said the bottle is dusty, but my engine is clean.
He bought a nice blue suit with the money he could find.
If his bride didn't like it, St. Peter wouldn't mind.

Well, now I lie here so out of breath and... over opiated.
Maybe I couldn't catch up no, but maybe she could have waited.
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