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Kneeling on the ground, Aran knew he was early by a good while and that Sirayn would only arrive at the very moment she was required.  But, it did give him time to prepare himself, that much was important because today he had been faced with a number of choices, this was one of them.  The training of Sirayn had persisted even after she had become Amyrlin, she might have gained status but a spill to the Hall would have been just as decisively disastrous if not more so.  The example of Karana was still in the memories of those in the Tower and the Hall would not look kindly on the Amyrlin having ever dealt in Forkroot and having brought it into the Tower, whether she'd gotten rid of it or not.


Still, Aran was glad that they had achieved some progress.  As reluctant a student as Sirayn had been, ever since he had released her from grappling instruction, she'd been a tad more pliable because working with daggers was better than the alternative.  That and given time, she had to pick up some things and that she did.  Of course, losing an hour from her day as an Amyrlin didn't help her temper much, but Aran was determined that after everything he'd gone through, and put her through for that matter, some good had to come of it to justify it.  Not exactly the best motive, but it suited as much as a couple of the others that had persisted the entire time.  There was always the chance that she could change after all, given the right pressure.


But, today there would be no training, it was a way to help engender a bit of unwitting good will from her and besides which he had other things to focus on.  Tomorrow, he would leave for Cairhien and meet with his brother.  When his brother called, he would go and would do so regardless of consequences, especially when things were so dire with the Aiel occupation of his homeland.  Brand had already given permission for his leave, under the impression that Aran was going to visit a dying relative and then bury them.  He'd been as vague as possible and Brand knew better than to pry, it had been hard enough for Brand to convince Aran to really test himself in a duel and reveal his ability, he certainly wasn't going to try prying into something that personal.


So, Aran waited, hands on his lap as he stayed there, straight backed and focused inward while outwardly aware.  Eventually Sirayn would arrive, then they could have their discussion.


It struck her as a kind of black irony that even in the hour of her so-called triumph, when she should have been satisfied with her own achievements and ready for a new challenge, some crazed psychopath popped up to poison everything. She had an entire stupid, stupid world to save from the consequences of its own idiocy -- of course the Dragon Reborn would solve everything, a frothing-at-the-mouth rabid teenager who seemed to have hired a whole new breed of Dreadlord and went around invading countries at random, that was clearly a recipe for success -- a near-broken Tower to push forward, even the Black Ajah to hunt and kill … but instead of doing any of the above, she had to waste her priceless time being ordered around by a complete stranger who seemed to veer between his Murderous Darkfriend and Patronising Darkfriend personalities at random.


Having no interest in whatever worthless exercises he was supposedly trying to teach her, and indeed taking pleasure in expressing this, she had spent her entire time failing everything as badly as possible. She stumbled, she misunderstood and mishandled and misapplied, she took care to forget everything from last time as soon as she arrived; it didn’t take much effort to be clumsy, considering she was always wrong-handed, but she aspired to reach new heights of failure. She had even contrived to drop her dagger once or twice, although the ghostly tones of her long-past instructor dripped sarcasm in her memory. She firmly hoped that she was the worst student in the history of creation. And she had every intention that when she finally got shot of the Darkfriend she would get rid of every dagger and knife she owned -- even the special ones, given to her by friends or family, the ones she remembered and treasured. This shameful little episode had demonstrated, as she did not doubt it had been meant to, that she was crippled and useless and might as well give up what she couldn’t put to good use.


Given their long lives, Aes Sedai did not normally retire until they were even older than her, and on cold mornings she felt very old indeed. Certainly she had no intention of retiring any time soon. But she knew that a part of her life was over, probably for good, and her son had ended it deliberately when he took her good left hand. A cripple and a coward couldn’t be a soldier. She had lost too much of her competence and her confidence. She still had other tools -- her intelligence, her cunning and her determination -- but she expected she would never take the field again. If anything she would be a danger to herself and others and a liability to her beloved former Ajah. Perhaps it was as well that the Darkfriend had shown her how weak she was.


Never let it be said that the Amyrlin Seat had anything better to do than serve the whims of a psychotic Darkfriend; ashamed, infuriated and apprehensive in equal measure, as normal, she went to see the madman.


Hearing Sirayn enter, Aran opened his eyes and looked up at her.  While the stole was something he was never going to become used to, the look on her face was certainly familiar.  Dripping with resentment, hate, fear because of how he knew her yet because she couldn't understand him.  Brand him and justify her hatred perhaps, but her inability to perceive his motive, or rather accept it, left her unbalanced all the more unhappy with his presense anywhere in her life.  Well, she was going to be ecstatic, never let it be said that he never gave her a moment of happiness, even if she would quash it just so she could return to her favoured state of miserable.


"Well, seeing as you're an Amyrlin it would probably be unseemly for you to laugh in elated joy, clap your hands and do a little jig, so don't worry my imagination will fill in the blanks while you just do cartwheels on the inside.  I depart tomorrow and I'll be gone for a time, during which you're to continue to working on your dagger." Noting the effect his news had, Aran added.  "And try not to impale yourself while I'm gone, while Amyrlins have been coming and going the past few years I'd rather you didn't go and put much teaching to that much shame."


Her eyes narrowed; she did not smile, much though he seemed to anticipate it, because naturally enough she didn’t believe it. He’d made all sorts of grand promises in the past and followed through with none of them so why he thought she’d buy this one she didn’t know. How many times did she have to demonstrate that she didn’t believe a word he said before he stopped making these stupid jibes? “Funny. I suppose this is like the last time -- you offer to leave me alone for a while if I do something … on the strict understanding that even if I fall for your little joke, a source of hilarity all round I’m sure, you certainly won’t hold up your end.”


"Its a good thing you're an Amyrlin or I swear the Yellows would confine you and there are some days I think they should.  This isn't an offer, I'm telling you, I will be gone for a time.  I am thinking perhaps a couple of weeks, maybe a month.  You're to continue practice without me"  Aran stood.  "And considering your persistent attempts to weasal out of our bargain, you're lucky I haven't branded you black and just reported you."  Normally she didn't get under his skin, and she hadn't, but her childish persistence in her stupidity was beginning to wear, even if she couldn't help it.


She had endured enough genuine shame and terror that the threat of being labelled Black Ajah raised not a flicker of apprehension; it would take her thirty seconds with the Oath Rod to disprove any such accusation. The only part of interest was that it finally confirmed her assumption … that he was an agent of the Black Ajah. Not that it mattered much; one lying, murderous piece of Darkfriend scum was much like another. She did find it mildly amusing that a blackmailing psychopath who liked killing people’s children pretended to be all offended by her resistance, but mild was as far as it went, since it was in fact her daughter whose life was on the line.


“Sure you’re leaving. Just like those were genuine offers. You might blackmail people and threaten their families but you’d never, ever lie.” As soon as he left she intended to get rid of the damn daggers and never touch another one in her life. Then she would learn the Flame and the Void. She would never have to fear again, never be a coward, never wait shaking on the inside while some Darkfriend put his filthy hands on her. “But do continue, you haven’t even threatened to kill my family yet so you can’t be finished.”


Rolling his eyes, Aran waved aside the comment with a contemptuous flick of his hand.  "Your inability to trust your own judgement to the point where you can't discern simple truth from your delusional grasp of reality will have to wait for another time.  Simple fact is that I will be gone, make sure you practice, and try not to get yourself into trouble."  Nothing left to add, Aran began walking for the door when he realised there was one final thing to mention, which he proceeded to do so over his shoulder as he made his way out.  "And do something about that look, if you were anymore severe you'd be a heart attack."  Maybe the pettiness of it would help distract her.


She trusted her own judgement plenty. She had concluded that this person was a Darkfriend some time ago, based on the facts she had to hand, and her decision had been borne out at some length; she had, regretfully, realised that Seiaman Kera was a serial traitor and she couldn’t have ended up with any more proof for that if it had been stuffed through her letterbox. Maybe only Aramina had been harshly judged … and even then she didn’t feel much guilt for jumping to conclusions about the lover of a psychopathic Darkfriend.


It appeared quite clear to her that yet again the Darkfriend was concocting some amusing little lie for his own entertainment, but she supposed she would find out tomorrow morning. The thought of finally, finally escaping him -- never ever having to show anyone her fear and shame again -- tempted her like nothing else but she crushed down that hope; no doubt he got a good laugh out of stupid gullible Aes Sedai. Ugly ones as well, she deduced from his parting comment. No matter; having the face that broke a thousand mirrors had probably protected her from her daughter’s fate. It was still early and she felt tired already, and old and inadequate, how she had ever ended up Amyrlin she didn’t know.


The next morning, when he didn’t turn up, she followed her plan to the letter: she got rid of every dagger, even the rose-stamped ones from her mentee, even the one she had bought that last golden evening with Seiaman before Amiarin Lucif invaded their lives, and then she went to learn the Flame and the Void.


Sirayn & Aran

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