|The Paths Of If
Ilyena, Lews Therin chanted softly. Ilyena, Ilyena.
The voice was persistent, but Davian did his best to ignore it. The dead Dragon seemed almost sane at times, as far as that could be said of a voice in another man’s head. This was not one of those times.
Deliberately, he turned his thoughts to something else. A new litany began to run through his mind. Aginor is dead, and Balthamel. Asmodean. Semirhage. Demandred.
Demandred, Lews Therin laughed. Ah yes, we killed him, did we not, my other self? Demandred and Sammael, once they were my friends but they betrayed me… They will never betray again.
Lews Therin was coherent again. Davian was not sure that that was not worse. There was such hatred in the man’s voice, rage at his former comrades mixed in with a deep self-loathing… He started the list of names again, and the voice in his head echoed his.
Mesaana. Be’lal. Moghedien. Graendal.
But there were two names missing.
Ishamael, Lews Therin hissed. He was the first to betray. To betray all our hopes! Where is he hiding?
And yet another, a name tied up in their shared minds with the deepest and most painful memories. Enchantment, and lust, and hatred, a woman with crescent moons in her hair...
Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered, retreating into madness.
The new voice cut through the memories. The present returned, and Davian turned to face the woman who stood in the doorway.
“Sharia.” He smiled. “I’ve not seen you for days.”
She was beautiful, dark and dusky, with black hair and eyes that might drink a man’s soul. A red gem hung, glinting, in the centre of her forehead, and a serpent curled around her finger to bite its tail in the oldest symbol of all. Sharia was a sister of the Red Ajah, whose mission was to hunt down and gentle all men who sought to channel – and in an ironic twist of fate, she was also the only person now that he dared call friend.
“Days?” She entered the room with her normal grace, pushing the door shut behind her. “Longer than that, Dragon Reborn. You have been alone in here for three weeks now.”
“Three weeks?” he said wonderingly. It had seemed no more than a day or two.
That is the madness, Lews Therin said, sounding surprisingly sane.
“Three weeks! And the world hanging on every breath you take. The Dark One will not wait three weeks for you, Dragon Reborn, when Tarmon Gai’don is come!” She sat down opposite him. “But I came to tell you something.”
What matter three weeks? the Dragon whispered. What matter, when the Shadow will swallow us all? What matter when the world is doomed?
“Tell that lunatic in your mind to be quiet,” Sharia snapped. “I can see by your face when he’s talking to you, and his comments aren’t doing you any good. I have to leave for the Tower, Davian.”
“Leave?” he repeated, startled. Ah, Lews Therin laughed, I like her. She has a tongue like my Ilyena. There was a pause. Ilyena? Now the voice too sounded startled, and a little wondering. “But why?”
“The Amyrlin has died.” She sighed. “She was a strong woman and well-loved – but she was old. Now the Hall has summoned me, and I suspect they mean me to be her successor.”
“Successor?” He sounded like an echo himself. Lews Therin chuckled. “Sorry. I’m confused today. But is that what you want to do?” Somehow he had never thought of her leaving.
“Not really,” she admitted candidly. “When I was a novice all my classmates wanted to be Amyrlin someday. I saw pretty soon that it was more work than power. It never really appealed to me.” Sharia shrugged. “But I am summoned. And to be truthful, I do not know who else I would leave governing the Tower to.”
“The curse of the competent,” he said dryly. “But you need make no long journey. I can take you there by gateway tomorrow, if you wish.”
“You can?” It was Sharia’s turn now to be startled.
“Certainly. Two can pass through a gateway as easily as one. If you trust me, that is.”
She smiled, almost shyly. “I trust you, Davian. Strange as it may seem, perhaps more than anyone else.” She rose and walked to the door, then paused. “You know, it feels as if we’ve known each other all our lives. Isn’t that odd?”
Then she left, the door closing behind her.
Two people walked, side by side, in a wood.
From a distance they seemed a couple, close but not touching, their heads bent toward each other in low-voiced conversation as they walked. Sunlight falling through the leaves dappled them and their surroundings in light and shadow.
Black specks floated across the scene. The watcher watched – and listened.
“Why come so far?” the dark-haired woman asked. “You could have made a gate from your rooms as you did before, couldn’t you?”
The man shrugged, looking faintly uncomfortable. “I could, but I wanted to talk to you away from the Stone. Somewhere where everything I see doesn’t shout at me that who I am is the Dragon Reborn.”
The watcher’s mouth curled in a sneer. You were always a fool, Lews Therin. Always great – and always wishing to be ordinary. The black specks turned momentarily to flames. How does such a fool do so well?
“So talk.” She stopped, turning to face him. “For now, you are only Davian and I am only Sharia, and there is no one else to hear.” The watcher’s laugh, if audible, would have been filled with scorn. “Speak as you will.”
“You said yesterday,” he said quietly, “that you felt as if we had always known each other. I feel the same, and more. You give me my strength.”
“Strength? You are more than strong in your own right, Davian.” She touched his arm lightly, almost a caress. “What need has the man who slew eleven Forsaken for added strength?”
Eleven! The flames flared up again. Yes, eleven. Eleven of us lost to this fool! What luck does he have? Sammael, the great general. Moghedien, the unseen lurker. Graendal, that most cunning of all cunning schemers! Could not even one have fought successfully? In his rage, the watcher almost failed to hear the reply.
“Even the man who slew eleven Forsaken is human. Even I can laugh, and weep, and love. And mad as it may be – mad, absurd, laughable, all those things – I love you, Sharia.”
Her voice was equally soft. “Then I must be as mad, for I love you.”
The watcher’s good humour was abruptly restored, and though heard by no one else, his laughter echoed in his own ears. Ah yes, Lews Therin, this is something about you I had forgotten until now! Always you caught yourself in tangles with women. Mierin, and golden Ilyena, and now this girl who thinks herself an Aes Sedai.
Their lips touched lightly, and the laughter echoed louder. Now I have you, Lews Therin. And with one stroke, your support from the Tower – and your heart – shall be entirely broken.
The floor was carpeted in silk, the walls panelled in pale wood carved with fantastic birds and beasts. Candles flickered in silver sconces on the inlaid desk and on the fireplace, golden marble from Kandor. This room had housed a succession of Amyrlins dating back to not long after the Breaking.
The latest of those to hold the title sat leaning back in her new chair, the Flame of Tar Valon in moonstones gleaming whitely above her head. She laughed softly. They will have to call me the White Flame now, instead of the Red Flame.
But that was no more than a brief whimsy. The night following the selection of an Amyrlin was traditionally supposed to be spent in prayer and contemplation, yet Sharia’s thoughts kept drifting away from her new position. Back to the Stone of Tear, and a man with eyes like silver…
Sweet irony, that every man I fall in love with should be able to channel.
She shivered, remembering that vision through the ter’angreal. An arch of white light, and a man she loved crying out for help – if not for that vision, she would never have chosen the Red Ajah. If I had chosen Green as I thought I would, I wonder, would I be Amyrlin now?
She laughed again, and rose to face the gilded mirror hanging on one wall. That is the face of the Amyrlin Seat, Sharia! she told herself. That is what is. No time for wondering what might have been – and none for dreaming of kissing the Dragon, either.
But then, still looking into the mirror, she froze. There was another figure there – moon-pale, night-haired, beautiful beyond dreams…
Saidar flooded into her, and she spun to confront the intruder. But in the same instant, a shield slid between her and the Power, and a blow of Air knocked her back, staggering, against the wall.
The stranger’s lips curved into an icy smile. She glowed with a light far brighter than even the strongest sister in the Tower. “So,” she purred in a melodious voice rich with scorn, “you are the one who would steal Lews Therin from me?”
No prizes for guessing who this is, a detached part of her mind thought wryly. If appearance had been insufficient, the words were more than enough to identify the Daughter of the Night. The rest of her was seeking desperately for a way out of the situation.
Sharia managed to regain her feet. Playing for time, she retorted in the coolest tone she could summon. “I hardly think he plans to romance one of the Forsaken.”
“Chosen,” Lanfear snapped. Idly, she toyed with a silver-and-ivory bracelet on her wrist. “You were foolish, child. I might have let you live, if you had not set your sights on my love. Lews Therin is mine.”
That bracelet. The way she toyed with it – Could it be an angreal? They were often made in the form of jewellery. It has to be. It’s the only chance. Hopefully some of that ta’veren luck rubbed off on me…
She looked straight at the Forsaken, and smiled.
Then, as the woman’s eyes widened in shock, she spoke again, her voice even silkier than Lanfear’s had been earlier. “Yours? Then he seems very eager to slip the leash. It was not I who first admitted to loving. It was not I who suggested we walk alone in the woods. And it was not your lips he kissed yesterday, Forsaken.”
That beautiful face contorted into a snarl, and forgetting the Power in her fury, Lanfear lunged at her with hands clawed. Sharia fought back, struggling desperately to reach the bracelet. Lanfear was both taller and stronger than her, and if she remembered to channel…
Her hands closed on the bracelet. It was an angreal – and summoning a final burst of strength, she tore it away from the other woman. As the Power flooded back into her, she formed the strongest, tightest shield that she could, and slammed it between Lanfear and saidar.
Without pausing, she pulled herself away from the stunned Forsaken and to her feet. Snatching hold of the bellpull behind the desk, she pulled it with all her might, again and again. It would take no more than a few minutes for half a dozen sisters to get there, even this late at night. Of course, that detached part of her mind observed, I’ll never be able to get away from the legend now…
“You little -” Lanfear hissed. Her face was twisted with rage and hatred beyond any trace of its former loveliness. “Lews Therin is mine! You’ll not get your thieving hands on him!”
Sharia looked down at her with mingled contempt and pity. “Lews Therin is long dead, Forsaken,” she said calmly, as running footsteps sounded outside the door. “Davian is the Dragon Reborn. And Davian was never yours.”
He walked in the gardens. There was little else to do.
Those he passed darted glances at him, then looked away quickly, unwilling to meet his eyes. Pity, there was in some of those looks; in others, fear. It had galled him, once, but now he no longer cared.
Ilyena, Lews Therin mourned, sweet Ilyena.
It was a crisp autumn morning, and leaves rustled under his feet as he walked. Without conscious thought, he found himself heading west, for a part of the Tower’s grounds he had not seen before.
The oak trees, golden-leaved, arched high overhead. Smaller trees shaded a wide, grassy valley where, row on row, carved gravestones lay.
And she was there.
Her back was to him; she knelt on the ground in a shadowed corner of the valley, where no stone stood. As he moved closer, some sixth sense woke her to his presence; her head turned, dark eyes wide with surprise and shock and some emotion he could not fathom.
They looked at each other for a long moment.
Ilyena, Lews Therin whispered, breaking the spell.
“I’ve been avoiding you.” Sharia stood, brushing down her skirt. “I suppose you knew.”
“Shouldn’t I?” He heard the anger in his voice. “When the head of the Red Ajah brings a False Dragon back to the Tower and then disappears, shall we assume it to be coincidence? Oh yes, I knew that. Why be surprised? No one cares what they say around a gentled man!”
He had brought it up. There was another long silence, broken only by the murmuring of the wind in the grass.
“I’m sorry,” Sharia said finally, her voice very soft. “But what else could I have done?”
The anger faded, to be replaced by weariness. “Nothing. Only the Pattern was to blame.” It was like the phantom pain people who had lost an arm or leg spoke of. Still there, until you tried to use it. “Sometimes I dream…that it had happened otherwise.”
“I, too. I dreamed that you drew Callandor and slew the Forsaken.” Her laugh was tinged with bitterness. “Dreams are treacherous things.”
I dream, too. Lews Therin no longer sounded mad – or perhaps it was that he, too, was now mad. I dream of a world of peace, and Ilyena by my side.
“I dream of you,” Davian said.
She seemed unsurprised. “Here where I stand,” she said, still softly, “a man is buried… He, too, could channel. And I thought that I loved him.”
He felt a sudden pang. “ ‘Thought’?”
“Now I no longer know.” Leaves rustled as she moved away from the grave. “It was like a dream – something that might have happened. And perhaps I have forgotten until now that it did not happen as I dreamed it.”
But when I dream of her, the Dragon whispered in his mind, her hair is not golden but dark and her face is not the face of my Ilyena. But I know her.
What? Davian thought, stunned. The wind blew dark hair across Sharia’s face.
“I dream of you, too,” she said, “and not only as the Dragon Reborn. But dreams are dangerous when they lead us to confuse them with reality. I will not see you again, Davian, and you should not see me.”
He watched her go, disappearing into the trees. Lews Therin mourned. Ilyena, sweet Ilyena, forgive me once again.
And is this the end? Bitterness filled Davian’s thoughts. Will I someday be no more than a voice, over and over whispering the name of Sharia…
Well, then. It's been a while since I posted Part Two, so what do you think of this one? And in particular, of the possibility brought up in the last section? Email me and let me know what you think.
Some of you will probably be very disappointed that I skipped over the deaths of most of the Forsaken. My excuse is that if I tried to describe all the events that have to happen before the Last Battle, this would be book-length at least, and that's more writing than I'm prepared to do on someone else's copyright. I actually wanted to use Graendal in here, as she's undoubtedly my favourite of the Forsaken, but she simply didn't fit into the story I had planned. So I contented myself with one mention of her as 'that most cunning of all cunning schemers,' a description which fits her to perfection. I don't quite know how she died, but you can be sure it was a dramatic exit.
But Lanfear's death (well, capture) is described,
and you have my guarantee that in Part Four Ishamael's will be as well.
While on the subject of Part Four, I'm not sure when it'll be done, but
I know what's going to happen in it. So stick around, it will be