|The Paths Of If
This, the second part of The Paths Of If,
follows the same pattern as the first: three scenes in the storyline of
the World that Might Have Been, followed by one in the World That Was.
She realised she was tapping her fingers in irritation, and forced them still. It hardly befitted her position to show temper visibly, and yet there were times when it was almost impossible not to. It was certainly not acceptable to be fretting, but Danera Alaine, the Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat, was doing it just the same.
“No word at all?” she said for perhaps the tenth time. Asking pointless questions was another of the things the Amyrlin was not supposed to do, but her Keeper had the grace to refrain from pointing that out.
“No, Mother. I left instructions for any message to be brought up directly.” Sarise’s voice was as smooth and calm as ever, even soothing, but she absent-mindedly adjusted the brown stole lying over her shoulders. “Nothing has come.”
Danera went back to tapping her fingers. Six reports she had received regularly, on the road to Moreina, but not a word since their arrival there. Only a host of rumours spreading like wildfire among the populace. Davian was the Dragon Reborn, or Davian was not the Dragon Reborn, or the Forsaken were loose in Moreina; more stories, it sometimes seemed, than there were people to tell them. More, all her more reliable informants reported an Aes Sedai mixed up in whatever was happening. What was Sharia doing?
There was a light tap on the door, and Danera started up from her seat. Light, she was jumpy today! She settled back down as Sarise went to answer the door.
“Message for the Amyrlin, Aes Sedai,” a young novice stammered, holding out a message tube as she curtsied. Sarise took it and dismissed her; Danera reached out her hand for it almost before the door closed.
She opened it, shoulders tense, then sighed. “Rumours! Nothing but rumours.” She tossed the tube aside. “I think that -”
Another tap broke into her sentence, and another novice with a message tube curtsied at the door. “More rumours?” She opened the second tube and started to skim the message, when her eyes abruptly caught on the seal. A Great Serpent. “Finally!” She started to read.
Danera was tempted, while reading, to jump up and shout, or knock a chair over, or do anything to break the stunned silence as piece after piece of news hit her. She did not do any of those things, though, and continued to the end of the letter.
“Well,” she said eventually, “I can certainly see why Sharia never found time to write earlier!” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “The Dragon has been Reborn, Sarise. He holds Callandor and is comfortably ensconced in the Stone of Tear with nobles swearing fealty to him, and Sharia apparently in his inner circle and enjoying his confidences. Oh, and the other fourteen sisters are on their way back to Tar Valon with Lyrene in charge. Sharia assures me that she has things under control and will stay in Tear as the Tower’s liason with Davian.” She passed the letter over to a bemused Sarise. “Well, the Reds all claim Sharia can work miracles. I suppose she decided to prove it. Call the Hall to sit, Sarise: I want to see the look on their faces when they hear this.”
The looks on the Sitters’ faces, it may be noted in passing, were all that she could have desired.
The doors, massively carved, gilded and over-ornamented, swung shut, and Davian pushed himself to his feet with a sigh. Sharia, from her seat near his, looked up at him and laughed.
“You,” she said, “are truly an excellent liar!”
They had been sitting there most of the afternoon, listening to the fulsome speeches and carefully veiled hints of a crowd of bejewelled, bedizened and bright-silked nobles all anxious to secure the favour of the new lord of Tear. Almost as anxious were the delicately-put queries as to what he planned to do next.
“I have no real plans as yet,” Davian had told them all politely. “I see no reason why matters here should not continue as they always have. I am a plain soldier, with little knowledge of government.”
And the particularly persistent he had assured, “There is no cause for alarm. Since the Shadow has made no moves in over three hundred years, I think I have time to plan my strategy at leisure.”
His mouth curled into a wry grin. “It’s a gift.”
“That story won’t work on everyone,” she warned him. “This far south no one really knows much about the Shadow. Northerners will think you either lying or a fool. You have to move fast.”
“Oh, I intend to.” He sat down again, facing her. “Before everyone gets over the shock and starts plotting for their own advantage. And that brings me to another point.” He studied her for a moment. “I take it you hold a high rank in the Tower.”
“Yes,” she agreed with a slight smile, “I do.”
“Then you would know – or be able to find out – information perhaps kept under seal even within the Tower.”
“Anything sealed below the level of the Flame. Only the Amyrlin could access that.” Sharia had a suspicion as to where this was going. “What is it you want to find out?”
“The Horn of Valere.”
That was what she had guessed. Regretfully she said “The Tower knows nothing of the Horn’s location – or rather, nothing of use. There was a Foretelling spoken recently – in the spring of last year – but no one has been able to decipher it.”
“What was it?”
Sharia closed her eyes, reciting from memory. “ ‘The sword was made for one hand but not so the summoner. Seek it then within the garden where Someshta stands guard, and be wary of others who seek it too!’” She opened her eyes again. “The sword is Callandor, and the ‘summoner’ must be the Horn. But as for a garden, and ‘Someshta’…”
“I remember the seed singing.” Davian murmured, as if to himself. “Flowers bloomed where the Nym trod. But Someshta was the only one, they said, to survive the War of Power.”
She stared at him, then remembered what he had said when they first met. He had the memories of Lews Therin Telamon. It was an unsettling experience to have that abruptly proved. “The Nym?” she said, focusing on what he had said and not how he knew it. “That was an old name for the Green Man. So the garden must be -”
“The Eye of the World.” He stood up again, this time in one smooth, swift movement. “Then I shall seek the Horn within the Eye. Guard the Stone well for me while I am gone.”
“Wait,” she protested, also standing. “It will take you weeks to reach the Borderlands; you cannot afford to be gone so long, yet. And the Eye is deep in the Blight. Even the Dragon Reborn needs someone to watch his back there. Take some of your followers; better still, take me.” She hesitated a little over the offer; she had never been in the Blight, and had very little desire to. But if he was set on this course, at least he should not go unguarded.
His lips quirked. “It won’t take nearly so long. There is something I worked out, back before I proclaimed myself. Or better perhaps to say I remembered it.” He buckled on his sword belt, then reached beneath the ornate chair to draw out a long, slim bundle. Callandor, she knew. “And I think I shall be safe enough.” Then he, too, hesitated. “Besides – I need someone I trust to keep Tear in line. And for some odd reason -” the crooked grin again – “you are the only person I trust that much. Strange, isn’t it?”
Before she could answer – and she was not sure what she would have said anyway – he turned away and seemed to concentrate for a moment. Abruptly, a silver line of light appeared in the air and quickly widened into – a door, a hole in the air – through which could be seen a lush vista of greenery and flowers.
“Wish me luck, Sharia,” Davian said softly, and stepped through the hole.
The gateway closed behind Davian, and he stood, looking around. The air was sweet with the fragrance of hundreds of blossoms, and for a moment he thought himself back in Tear, in the gardens surrounding the Stone. But this, he knew, was many miles into the Blight: closer to Shayol Ghul than it was to Tear.
And as he thought that, a voice whispered inside his mind. I killed the world, at Shayol Ghul. I killed my love. The Light forgive me! The voice rose to a moan. Ilyena!
He tuned the voice out, until it was little more than a whisper. He had thought, when it had first started, that the taint was starting to drive him toward madness. But it had been more than the voice. He remembered things that had never happened – never to him. Things as small as stealing plums from an orchard, as strange as commanding huge circles of men and women linked.
And as momentous as placing the seven seals on the Dark One’s prison. That was what had finally convinced him that he was the Dragon Reborn.
Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered.
Grimly, Davian pushed the voice of the mad Dragon from his mind. And will I, someday, be no more than a voice whispering death…? He pushed that thought away too. He needed to stay alert here; that prophecy had held a warning of danger. It might have been as well to bring Sharia with him after all, but someone had to hold Tear and keep the nobles in line. And there was another reason, one he had not spoken of. If there was indeed danger, he could not afford to have anyone who he cared about nearby. Worry for her would distract him from what had to be done.
And admit it, Davian, you care about her a lot…
There was no need, anyway. Callandor, still in its wrappings, pulsed beneath his hand; with it he ought to be able to deal with anyone else who came looking for the Horn. Or him. He raised his voice.
“I seek the Green Man. I seek the Eye of the World.”
Only a faint sound of movement among the young trees warned him, and he turned to meet the gaze of a pair of hazelnut eyes that looked down from twice his height. The Nym’s body seemed to merge in with the vines and leaves. Only that black fissure stood out, as if a swathe of a forest had been charred by fire.
Memories rushed in on Davian. The seed singing, the planting of the trees, the women tossing garlands of flowers. “Someshta,” he greeted the Nym. “It’s been a long time.”
The strange eyes studied him. “It has been long, indeed,” the deep voice murmured. “Very long since I have heard that name. I should know you, I think, but…” Someshta’s massive head shook slowly. “After so long – memories blend. You seek the Eye?”
Davian was unsure whether he was glad or not at Someshta’s failure to remember him. He was not sure that he wanted to be recognised as Lews Therin Telamon – and yet he felt some sadness that the last of the great Nym should be now so confused and wandering. “I do.”
“Then follow me.” Someshta turned to lead the way down a narrow path, one Davian had not noticed until then. No, he realised after a moment, it was not that he had not noticed it but that it had not been there. The Nym’s power had not faded. Following, he paused for a moment, breathing in the fragrance of a rose. It was a deep, almost glowing red, and the sweet scent made him smile despite himself. I should pick a few, he thought idly. Sharia would like these…
Ilyena liked roses, Lews Therin said in a strangely wistful tone.
The near-echo of his thoughts startled Davian out of his reverie. Fool, thinking of roses when the Eye of the World is near! He followed the Nym on down the path, which seemed to vanish behind him, the vines and branches knitting themselves together again to close the gap.
It led to a hill, in the side of which was a stone arch opening onto a shadowy corridor. The arch itself was simply carved, but in the keystone was worked the same symbol as was emblazoned on his banner. A circle divided into black and white teardrops, the ancient symbol of the Hall of Servants and the Aes Sedai.
“It is here,” Someshta said. His great eyes regarded the arch with some unreadable emotion. “I will go no further. The time has come, then, when the Eye must be used?”
“I think it has,” Davian said softly. So very quickly, the world is changing.
“Then I do know who you are.” The Nym inclined his huge head in farewell. “The Light be with you – Dragon.”
“The Light be with you, Someshta.”
There was no more sound than a rustling of leaves, yet the Nym was gone when he turned again to look. Goodbye, old friend, Davian thought, and turned back to the arch. He walked through it.
The corridor wound down and down, lit softly by a glow from within the walls themselves. It opened out, finally, onto a great domed space, crystals glittering in the ceiling far above and surrounding the pool, perfectly clear and still, that took up most of the chamber.
The Eye of the World, Davian thought, and Lews Therin’s voice echoed it.
Somewhere here is the Horn. And the Eye itself is a treasure at least as great. But how…?
It was only a small noise, the faint scraping of a boot against a stone floor, but Davian was immediately alert, all his reflexes screaming danger at him. Slowly, careful to make no sudden movements, he closed his hand over the wrapped sword he still carried. Still slowly, with seeming casualness, he removed the outer covering.
“We have found you at last.”
He turned, ancient memories supplying names to match the voice and the faces of the two men who confronted him. Ishar Morrad Chuain. Eval Ramman.
“Oh no, old friends,” Davian said softly, and smiled as the remaining wrappings fell away from the crystal sword. Callandor’s power streamed through him, the glow of saidin so strong that he barely noticed the taint. “I have found you.”
The White Tower was empty; the rooms, the halls, the gardens, the great library. All its inhabitants, from the Amyrlin herself to the lowliest servant, were gathered by Tower law and ceremony in the great open space of the Traitor’s Court.
The Traitor’s Court, which was used for only three purposes. Executions; the stilling of an Aes Sedai; and the gentling of a man who could channel.
“This man, abandoned of the Light, has touched saidin…”
Danera, the Amyrlin Seat, stood on a raised platform on one side of the Court, with her Keeper at her side and the Hall (less the three Sitters for the Red Ajah) gathered behind them. A space was cleared in the middle of the court, and in the very centre of that space stood a man with eyes gray and hard as granite.
Even in chains, even shielded, even about to be gentled… Danera could see how this man had gained so many followers. He carried himself like a king. But a king overthrown.
Twelve sisters, the red fringe of their shawls vivid against the stones of the court, surrounded him, glowing with saidar. And facing him, directly below the platform the Amyrlin and the Hall watched from, stood Sharia.
“Thus do we hold him. This man has most abominably channeled the One Power, knowing that saidin is tainted by the Dark One…” Sharia spoke the ritual words of sentencing, her voice clear and completely steady. But there was a strange note in it that Danera did not understand.
And I saw her eyes when she returned to the Tower. There had been a look in those dark eyes, of mingled pain and sorrow, that she could barely begin to guess the reasons for. She had been told that Sharia had gone into the False Dragon’s camp and herself convinced him to surrender, and for that she surely deserved – and would be given – great honour. But what else had passed between them in that conversation?
“Thus do we chain him.”
The audience was utterly silent. It was not tradition, Danera thought, or even fear of Aes Sedai that kept them so. It was knowledge of the finality of what was being done. Gentling was effectively a death sentence – and it was irreversible. But what else can we do? At least this way they have a chance at life.
“Thus do we bind him, by the power of saidar and the name of the Light.” The ceremony was coming to its climax. Now Sharia spoke directly to the gray-eyed man. “Davian, who has falsely claimed the title of Dragon, since the Breaking there has been only one fate for men who seek to wield the One Power. Gentling is that fate.”
His face remained stone. But in his eyes Danera could see – not hatred, as she had expected. Understanding? Surely not.
The combined glow of the thirteen was focused on Sharia, and she drew the power, wove the flows. It was a shield, but a shield with a razor edge.
Danera was watching Davian as it struck. Only a brief flash of pain in those gray eyes betrayed what had happened – only that, and Sharia’s voice, harsh with grief, cutting through the silence.
“It is done.”
So did you enjoy Part Two? You may have noticed that I took a few liberties to keep the story going: in particular the Foretelling which told Davian where the Horn could be found. Of course, in THIS world, that Foretelling was never spoken, or if it was, forgotten. Furthermore, Aginor and Balthamel were released a good deal earlier (and as a corollary had not aged so drastically, so their faces were recognisable). The main difference between this Dragon and the World-That-Was one, of course, is that Davian has at this point much, much more experience than Rand. He's been channeling a couple of years and has Lews Therin's voice and memories, while Rand at the beginning of the series was a complete innocent. It may be that this is in fact not possible, as (as happened with Rand) the Shadow would find the Dragon as soon as the spark began to manifest. But a Dragon who is a beginner at channeling a) would make the story a great deal longer, and b) has already been done.
The details of the ceremony of gentling, including most of the words, come from Egwene's third ter'angreal vision in The Dragon Reborn.
You may also have noticed that I didn't bother to describe the battle between Davian and Aginor/Balthamel. There wasn't really much point. The Dragon with Callandor versus two Forsaken - and we all know who's going to win. But my brother suggested this scenario.
"I have found you."
Aginor blinked, then paged frantically through his copy of the script. "Hey, this isn't right! You're supposed to be an untutored farmboy!"
"Oops, my mistake," Davian said, and balefired the pair of them.
That might be what happened...