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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Land Beneath the Sky (Lavinya & Corin)


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Edit: How can I keep my fragmented self together when all around me are the falling debris of dead dreams? Post what you've been up to for the month before our journey then we'll be off. :)

 

A strange period began for Saline: it was as though all the world's dreariness had fallen upon her and wrapped her in a fogged solitude from which there was no escape. Sometimes, finding herself in a remote part of the city, in some forgotten inn, sitting alone with only her thoughts for company, hardly knowing how she'd come there, she thought suddenly of Rory, formerly her best friend and lover. She realised suddenly, fully, and with dismay that she ought to at once come to an understanding with that woman and to make what terms she could. Walking outside the city gates one day, she fancied that fixed a meeting there, that she was waiting for Rory. Another time she woke up before daybreak lying on the port under some barrels and could not at first understand how she had come there.

 

Recalling that period long after, she believed her mind had been clouded at times, and that it had continued so, with intervals, until the Gray stepped in. When she tried later to piece her recollections into a cohesive body (whether or not such a centered "whole" body exist is a discussion for another day, I feel), she gathered a good deal about herself from what Lavinya Sedai told her. She had mixed up incidents and explained events as due to circumstances which existed only in her imagination. At times she was prey to agonies or panic which amounted to morbid suspicions. She remembered too, moments, hours, perhaps even days of complete terror. She was trying to run from a full, clear understanding of her position as Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah . . . How happy she would have been to be freed from some cares, the neglect of which would have threatened her with complete, inevitable ruin.

 

She was particularly worried about Rory, she might be said to be permanently thinking of Rory. From the time of receiving news of Rory's disappearance, the normal workings of her mind seemed to break down. Although it would have caused her more morbid uneasiness to find out, Saline was in a great hurry for an explanation of what happened to Rory.

 

But during the first week of preparation after Saline had hired the Red Guards she had two or three times met Lavinya Sedai at Captain Mitya's lodgings. They exchanged a few words and made no reference to the vital subject, as though they were agreed not to speak of it for a time.

 

Whenever she dropped by the headquarters, Mitya and his Red Guards were busy making arrangements for the journey. Lavinya Sedai too was super busy. At their last meeting, Lavinya Sedai informed Saline hat she had made an arrangement, and a very satisfactory one, for their escort; that she had, through certain connections, succeeded in getting hold of an Eban Bander lady's coach in very suitable condition. It had been of great assistance, as it was much easier to deal with the mercenaries than get permission to use Tower Guards, even as the Tower protected their political investments. Lavinya Sedai said something too about her charge Corin and had promised to come herself in a day or two to see, mentioning that "Corin would like to consult with the mercenaries, that there were things they must talk over . . ."

 

This conversation took place in the Accepted passage on the stairs. Saline stared intently at Lavinya Sedai, but didn't seem to understand. She was sorry Lavinya Sedai had so much to do of her own business and other people's that they've had no time to talk things over that Saline wanted. But it was the nature of things. She moved to one side to make way for the servant and a novice, who were coming up the stairs on separate chores. Lavinya Sedai went her way. Saline stood still for a moment, thought, and sat down on the stairs to think some more until the servant had returned with a tray and the Red Sister was oblidged to move again.

 

She felt very miserable, vowing to return home and take to her bed until a month's time was up. Some of her Sisters looked in on her to make sure she was eating and not ill, but most stayed away. There was a conviction in the air that Saline was very nearly mad, in the manner that a Warder might if his bondholder died. And judging by her recent behavior and those stupid, quite inexplicable actions, she might as well be. Only a loony treated her Sisters as she had. And only a monster would have let her beloved Rory go, as she had.

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Looking at the packed saddlebags on the foot of his bed Corin wondered if this was indeed the right thing for him to be doing. Since Lavinya revealed that little secret she had kept for who knows how long. Some of the tension and fighting had been set aside while the planning and work for this trip was undertaken. But what had been set aside seemed to be swallowed up in new issues and edges. Where at one time he was sure she was just trying to get back at him for hurting her. He now was somewhat of the belief that revenge was less a possibility to her actions. No, he was turning more to the idea that she instead had seen Sirayn’s unexplained absence and his return alone as an opportunity to make use of a tool she had previously only known about, but could not control. To what gain she planed to use him he was still not sure. Regardless, as much as he had tried to deny what he had become under Sirayn, he was beginning to come to peace with it.

 

Part of that acceptance came with the decision to reconnect with what he could find of his old chain and set them to a new task. Well add a new task really. He was almost certain now that Sirayn must be dead, but he still had that little circle listening and watching for anything that might give light to the contrary. His additional work for them was now focused on a certain redheaded Grey sister of the Tower and his leash holder still. Where they had in no certain terms come to a non-verbal agreement to work together in the need of necessity for this trip. There was still a great deal of underlying tension between them that both seemed willing to ignore for the moment. How much longer Lavinya would allow that to go on only the Wheel new. But at the very least they had managed to put on a tentative façade of peace in public. That was another item that had old habits and skills working in unison again. He had done as much with Sirayn for so long near the end of their … He forced the emotion away. He would not accept mourning anymore. He had work to do and blood and ashes he was going to keep his head clear for that duty.

 

There in lay the other part to this problem. Two sisters in the Blight with only one Tower Guard and a host of mercenaries. If Lavinya had wanted to ensure she could secure a nail in Corin’s coffin and see him executed by the Guard she had set forth a very good trap. If either or both of them were to come to harm under his care and the present situation that still shadowed his history. It was likely the Commander would find little credibility or leniency in regards to Corin Danveer. First the Amyrlin and then a sister or two all within a years time. Even he would have a hard time believing the man’s innocence, most certainly if Lavinya left behind proof of what she new Corin to be. The unanswered question remained, had he hurt her so badly she would want to see him further humiliated and exiled or executed? For that he had no answer he was confident in.

 

If a small measure of comfort could be gleaned from the situation then it would be in the strength of knowledge and skill that seemed to be present in this Red Guard. The hired mercenaries seemed well equipped and capable of providing the necessary protection the ladies might have need of. Their mister Mitya was a man of little idle chat but had a good head on his shoulders when it came to the business of his trade. Only in his dealings with mercenaries it was the one with the most gold that set the path of their service. This group did seem a little more trust worthy then some of the one’s he had hired into while traveling for …. Again he forced the pending images back down.

 

The rest of the list Lavinya had set him to like a common manservant had been easily filled and required little thought just his time. That was one thing that had not changed between them. Lavinya still insured that with or without her around, Corin had little if any idle time available to him. You would almost think him a Gaidin whose bondmate had died and needed his day filled and watched over to ensure he did not kill himself or laps into complete isolation in his own mind. A bitter pill that he unfortunately could not completely deny as a possibility. Killing himself was a great unlikelihood. More then enough time had been afforded him before he had returned to the Tower for that end. The inward drawing might have been an issue early on but it was less likely now. Besides they were never bonded and regardless of Lavinya Sedai’s opinion, he was not purposely picking fights in the sparing circle to get hurt. That brought his hand tentatively across his ribs on the right. They were not broken, but the bruise offered a mired of colors that skin should not be. Another of Lavinya’s “training lessons” as she would classify them. The Yellow would have healed it like they had the others, like they did for all the men in the yard. Only Lavinya had forbidden it. Forbidden!! You would think she was his mentor the way she had slipped in and sent him back to the yard to work his forms instead.

 

If anyone was not exactly right in the head it was the other Aes Sedai that would be traveling with them. Saline Sedia, as he had begun to hear, was not stable and quite possibly mad in the head. A fact that was reinforced upon meeting the strange Red Aes Sedai. When it came to Saline, Corin worried about her mental state more then anything. For her he wore kid gloves and offered the patience and grace needed to deal with a child. That could ignite a firestorm itself on the trip if Lavinya took it into her head that Saline was being favored and herself slighted by Corin. But that was a bridge to cross only when it appeared. Which he hoped the pattern did not include. Light let it not be in the Pattern.

 

Easing the sword belt on his hips, Corin straightening the dark green coat with embroidery on the cuffs. His reflection in the wavy surface of the mirror brought the appearance of a lower house lord or a wealthy merchant. It was the disguise the two Aes Sedai had decided on as their cover. A fleeting thought passed over his vision as he finished correcting the collar. What would his life have brought him if he had been born to the façade he now wore? It didn’t matter, that was not his lot and he had much yet to do. But there was always that little tug, what if? Slipping out the door Corin hastened to complete his last minute checks on the preparations before meeting the ladies and setting off on an adventure he would have dreamed of as a boy. Now, he wished he had more control of the pieces in play. But that was the nature of a Guards life the Gleeman never wove in their stories. That was the part of this life you learned only after you had sealed your life to the Tower or an Aes Sedai. It was one part he meant to make sure no one could say he had been delinquent in. Not even a redheaded Grey Aes Sedai.

 

Corin

 

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"Prior to the tower I had seen really nothing of the world save for my home. That and the brief sights from on the boat to here. I have only had the one trip so far, but in that one trip I have seen more of the world then I ever would have I'm sure. That after all was one of the reasons I first joined, the thought of adventure and travel." He swung his arm as if encompassing the horizon before them and then let it fall to his lap with a soft slap. "Now I wait on the next time my services might be needed to accompany a sister on her business outside the tower." Attempting to steal a glance from the corner of his eye he added, "who knows, perhaps one day that person my be you." He bowed slightly but could not keep the smile from his face.

 

That day had come, but without much of the joy Lavinya had once imagined. The wheel wove impassively, good and bad alike, but this seemed like a cruel joke, a parody of the life Lavinya had dreamed of. She had been doing a lot of reminiscing of late, under the tenuous truce she held with Corin. There had been less outright hostility, but their relationship was far from comfortable.

 

Lavinya's expression became thoughtful. "I find it amazing how we can change so much, yet at the same time change so little." She looked at Corin out of the corner of her eye. "Myself, for example. Inside, I am the same mischievious, fun loving girl I was as a fresh-faced novice, yet at the same time, I have grown so much, that I am almost a million miles away from that girl I once knew." Her cheek dimpled some, and she lifted a hand as though to brush at some dust on Corin's arm. She caught his gaze, her eyes rich with unspoken promise. "Though there are some things that will never change." She grinned slowly, her eyes drinking in Corin's gaze. "Have you changed much Corin, or are you much the same man you were when you joined the tower?" She lifted a brow and waited for his response, finding herself hanging off his every word.

 

Oh, they had changed. Everything had changed. But then, that was assuming she had known Corin at all. The more she remembered their time together in those early days, the more she wondered just how much had been an act. She liked to think that not everything had been fake, especially not that night in the grove when Elise had been conceived. She refused to let anything tarnish her memory of that encounter. The way Corin behaved around her now, it was hard to believe he had harboured tender feelings towards her. Especially coupled with the knowledge that he had raced off after her, while Lavinya had been held prisoner at the Black Tower. No one had come heroically seeking Lavinya. No one had shown any devotion to her. Bitterness was a knife that continually tried to consume her, but Lavinya banished it to a mere scowl and loud snap of her closing journal. Bitterness would solve nothing, would only serve to further estrange Corin.

 

Grieving for the fool man once had been enough. Losing what little she had of him now was not an option, despite his penchant for seeking a beating at every turn. She was sorely tempted to take a stick to him herself, especially after finding him in yet another fight. She hoped he hurt, he deserved it. After her intervention he would find it impossible to find a sister willing to heal him now; he would have to either beg Lavinya or endure the physical discomforts. No doubt humbling himself would hurt more.

 

The past month had not been spent in idleness. Preparations had been made for their journey, the vast majority undertaken by Corin at Lavinya's bidding. She was still extremely irritated with him, and setting him to task was mildly satisfying. It did seem to help him though, having a purpose, something to fill his days besides his training and continual search for a fight. He was almost agreeable, on occasion. Almost. He certainly was polite when dealing with Saline Sedai. Even pleasant. Lavinya had not decided what to make of that yet, but had decided to watch Corin closely while they travelled all the same. She trusted him, but she didn't know how far, not yet. Perhaps, depending on how the mission progressed, she would draw him further into her confidence. She and Estel had yet to locate the forkroot stockpile. Corin would be a great help she was sure...but that brought other concerns. Like, would he think she was just using him as Sirayn's former agent? Making use of his talents with no concern for the man inside? She loved him still - well at least, she loved the man she believed she had known - but she could not tell him, not unless she was feeling particularly masochistic, and fortunately she had a strong sense of self-preservation at present.

 

Corin was just a blacksmith's puzzle she could not unravel. If only she could find the key, the one link that led to the rest unravelling and falling into place. Lavinya sighed, and adjusted her appearance in the mirror. No amount of paints of powders could hide the evidence of her bone deep exhaustion. She would have to blame it on wedding jitters. A scowl twisted her pretty features. Another part to play. How long had it been since she was herself? Since she had smiled with genuine joy, had laughed, had felt anything that wasn't depressing? Elise. That was her joy, the one exception to her misery, and yet the cause of much of it. Leaving her was a necessary evil. Maybe Lavinya had changed too much, truly was no longer the girl she used to be, the woman Corin had drawn out from behind her defences. Not that he cared. A mess, everything was always a tangled mess. Lavinya tucked an errant curl back beneath the pearl studded net that held her flame red hair back from her face. She looked the part, a middling Domani noble or merchant's daughter in her fine sapphire gown, high necked yet close to transparent in her native style, the semblance of modesty while it moulded to her curves and hinted at all it hid. What would Corin think of it? Not that he saw her as a woman...grr, it didn't matter what he thought anyway. Idiotic woman.

 

Everything was in readiness when Lavinya arrived at the stables. The carriage she had managed to procure - well had bid Corin to procure - was a great addition to their disguise. No family of any means would send their eligible daughter off to be married without that kind of luxury. The tall, impressive chestnut stallion she had bought a long time ago stamped a foot impatiently. A warder needed that kind of mount, she had thought. It was why she had bought it for Corin, a surprise she had never been able gift to him. Well, it was his now, even though she hadn't told him as much. Let him think it tower stock, it would save what she envisioned as a painfully awkward conversation. Imagining him astride the animal, elegantly dressed as he was, did funny things to her insides, so she averted her gaze when he approached. A troubling journey, to be sure; yet freedom was beckoning like a breeze outside a shuttered window. Escape from the tower, escape from the black coats, escape from her demons.

 

Lavinya smiled to see Saline also approaching - her unsung hero. She was a strange young woman, but somehow Lavinya found her rather endearing. There had not been a lot of spare time for them to plan, but they could make up for that as they went. Lavinya wanted to know more of Saline's motivation for this journey. It had little bearing on the actual excursion - Lavinya would have happily left either way - but her curiosity was piqued, and she knew Corin's was too, despite his refusal to discuss anything other than immediate plans and details. Would he ever be at ease in her presence again, like once before? When he had unthinkingly patted her knee and called her by name?

 

"Good morrow little sister." Lavinya greeted Saline with warmth, her eyes flickering once to Corin's before settling back to the Red. "A fine day for a jaunt in the countryside, would you agree?"

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  • 3 weeks later...

The morning was so brilliantly fine; the populace popping to and fro in so active a manner that everybody appeared cheery, and a casual observer of Tar Valon might have said it was a happy day. Yet Saline as she ducked out of the sun-bathed streets into the three-floored building that was the mercenary’s headquarters felt a sense of foreboding. She would not have gone so far as to claim there was something wrong but, it was a vague form of discomfort that accompanied her as she made her way upstairs.

 

Thus musing she reached the reception area and it was there that Saline, coming to the conclusion that a chat with ever-cheerful Captain Mitya was in order, sat down and waited. After a brief moment, her gaze, straying over the room, encountered a handsomely framed picture, and she went across to take a look at it.

 

“Bear garden,” Saline read the inscription after a few minutes of inspection, “this certainly is eye-catching. Like it or hate it, you cannot ignore it. ” And upon hearing footsteps behind her, Saline asked the Captain of the Red Guard, “how say you, Mitya?”

 

“Great sky above! . . . I think my brain just bled out.”

 

“Tchah, what utter jackrat droppings! Don’t you have an opinion of your own?”

 

Captain Mitya waved her away with the large gesture of a blood and iron man concentrating. “I’m not here for social hour. I’m here to protect you.”

 

“Hah, I’ll see you at the city gate then.”

 

Saline stole softly from the table. She felt that her presence, though it had once been required, was required no longer. Looking back, she could see Captain Mitya smiling at something one of his Guards quipped.

 

Back at the Yard, Lavinya Sedai was all poise and grace in a breathtaking dress. She looked every part her role as a Domani creature readied to be sold at the highest bid.

 

Approaching the Grey Sister in several strides of her boots—worn for practicality—Saline found herself bracing her muscles and holding her breath as she had done in Kandor, at the end of war, when awaiting the first wave of refugees.

 

“Absolutely, a fine day indeed, I’ll go get your luggage ready Mistress. In the meantime if you will step inside your carriage? And would the young man whom I now observe is your brother assist you? I would, but I am merely a weak scullion.”

 

Saline smiled; standing behind them, observing Lavinya Sedai’s every gesture, was the Tower Guard.

In proper garb, the Tower Guard was an altered man. His face still looked as though hewn from the living rock, but into his eyes had crept an expression which in another might almost have been called sentimental. Incredible as it seemed to Saline, the Tower Guard’s eyes were dreamy. There was even in them a suggestion of joy.

 

“You’re looking dapper, Mr. Corin . . .?” She waited for the surname. Surely both Lavinya Sedai and the Tower Guard had come up with one.

 

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Everything was proceeding in perfect orchestration. Better then he had thought actually. The carriage that Lavinya had arranged for him to pick up was suitable to the purpose they would need. That was no real surprise, neither was his role as the fetch boy in it, but he was not going to let that bother him today. He was going to try to make this as pleasant a leaving as could be between them. Saline Sedai would now be a constant and he would need to use every ounce of modicum he could dig up within him if they were to survive this trip. The real surprise of the day had been the exquisite chestnut stallion that had been with the wagon and it’s team. It was one of the finest beasts he had seen in the Tower’s regular stock for the guards. He had argued at fist with the groomsman about that, sure the man had pulled the animal from a wrong stall or section. The indignation on the man’s face was enough for Corin to leave over on the subject and accept the situation as presented.

 

While the organized chaos around him continued; the loading of supplies, final hitching of the carriage team, a last brush through manes and tail to ensure an elegant appearance. Corin slowly circled the stallion, his hand running over its sleek muscular surface. He was a fine animal; Corin could not help but wonder how fast the horse could eat ground when given its head. “You and I my friend. We are not so different.” Rubbing the stallion’s nose with one hand the other fingered the halter and reins. “Both of us serve a purpose not of our own and both of us must follow the lead of the leash or rein. No, not so different at all.” He offered the horse a crooked smile and a tilt to his head. “Though I suppose you have the better of it. When duty is done you will find a nice field with green grass and cool waters in which to live out your lasts. Of course being such a fine specimen you will also see more then your fair share of the ladies for breeding. Me, I will fine death at the end of a sword or knife, or ….” Corin shook his head. “My path will end far different then yours friend.” He patted the horse’s neck as visions played out in his mind. So many ways a guard could die. Some with honor, some with out. But in all, death was there waiting for him.

 

Catching movement from the corner of his eye Corin turned his gaze to the arrival and found his breath caught in his chest. Lavinya Sedai glided into the stable area in perfect eye catching form. Work seemed to pause briefly along her path as respects were paid and glances lingered a little longer with her passing before once returning to whatever task they were at prior. The shimmer on the sapphire cloth that hugged her form seemed to have a life of it’s own as she moved. Almost offering up a view of the secrets it held within teasingly. Memories flooded into Corin’s mind and froze him in place while his eyes tracked her every move into the yard. Memories of the fountain and the path when they first met; of walks and shared talks that followed. The night on the roof with the stars above and the Ogier grove, its secrets staining his cheeks with a faint heat.

 

A sidelong glance from one of the groomsman snapped Corin back to reality; his head bending to inspect a hoof while he tried to compose himself again. Those were not images he needed to remember. That was a part of his past, no, another man’s past. A man that died the day he hurt her in the field outside the trappers cabin. This man, the man he was now, had no claim to her. No right to even pretend to be worth of what she had offered back then. Now he was a Guard, forever more would he be just a Guard. Feeling the heat subside from his cheeks Corin let the horses hoof back down and stepped out from the horse toward Lavinya who had taken a place near the carriage as her point to wait. He noted her brief glance as he moved toward her before she turned away. A reminder that you are nothing more then a tool. Stop the foolish remembrance. That life is dead. The thought was logical but it did not stop the heart from living in the past.

 

Wrapped in his own distractive thoughts Corin almost missed the arrival of Saline Sedai to complete the party. She was the reason behind this little adventure and one of the greatest liabilities as Corin weighed it. Saline Sedai was a puzzle he was not sure he wanted to solve any more; at this stage he was just hoping to survive her. She was pleasant enough most of the time. But she held such an air about her that one was left with the impression of holding a viper in your hand and attempting to give it a kiss without being killed. This journey could turn out to be a very long one if Saline decided that pleasant was not the side she wanted to show. His eyes followed their conversation, though they lingered on the woman who would now be his sister. He had tried to think of Lavinya as a sister back then. Had tried and failed miserably. Now they were to play the part and he would need to keep his thoughts and memories in check if this was to work.

 

Suppressing the start of being addressed, he had lost track of their conversation, Corin inclined his head slightly. “Mr. Elisar, Corin Elisar good lady, and you know my sister Lavinya Elisar I see.” His hand gestured to Lavinya in front of him while he berated himself internally. It was a measure of how much he was not the man he had been. “Your assistance with the luggage would be most welcome.” Corin Danveer of the past, the one that trained under and worked for Sirayn, would never had forgotten something as important as the names that would accompany the disguise. That man, that player of the game would have all the pieces dancing to the tune he decided, when he decided. Now he was a false puppet on the strings of an Aes Sedai and not worthy to be even on those strings. Regardless, he shook himself mentally; it was time to be about the business of the trip. Watching the two ladies converse briefly again, Corin poured over the plan for their departure once more to ensure there was nothing else he had over looked.

 

Watching as Saline took her leave to continue with the mistress’s luggage, Corin speculated on how long Saline would allow the part to be played before deciding to pop back into the authorative Aes Sedai role. It was going to be a constant dance for him. Sweeping a hand toward the carriage he addressed Lavinya, “This way sis, our armed escort awaits and we do not want to keep your future husband waiting longer then necessary now do we.” A light smile sat his face and his eyes were still softer then he would have liked, an effect of the dress surely, but his voice still hinted at an edge of sarcasm. The shock of her appearance that’s all. Rattled me a little but I can work through this. It’s just a dress after all. Even to his own mind the excuse sounded hollow like the chaff swept from the threshing room floor. Assisting her into the carriage Corin was relieved when he was finally able to close the door and step back. The scent, light, still teased his mind and tried to get his eyes to swing back to the window and the occupant inside. With a slight shake if his shoulders Corin returned to the stallion that stood impatiently awaiting their departure. Pressing his forehead to the horse’s briefly he whispered under his breath, “take my advise. Don’t get caugh up in the games of women. They will wring you dry and leave you empty and confused.” He glanced back at the carriage once and then swung up into the saddle. There was plenty of time to ride in the carriage later. Right now he needed air to clear his head and a hired guard to address when they met at the edge of town.

 

It took only a little longer to have the last of the supplies and luggage loaded with Saline playing the part completely. Once she was loaded into the carriage to tend to her mistress they were off. The journey to the edge of town and the awaiting escort was short and uneventful save for the few sidelong looks at the carriage. Commoners creating their own stories in their minds as to it’s purpose, journey, and occupant. So be it, the less noticeable they remained the safer the Sisters would be. The meeting with the assigned guard and Mr. Mitya went as well as could be expected. It was not that the relationship between the two was strained. In a way it was a bit of a shame. Corin could have probably set up a good repor with the man in his life before Sirayn’s disappearance. Now, they tolerated each other enough and kept things civil. There might not even be anything there, but Corin was too closed off to allow anything to grow beyond the need for business and civility.

 

With the guard in place both ahead and behind, Corin fell into a lazy ride next to the side of the carriage. He successfully kept his eyes from wandering to its windows and the occupants inside. Instead he setup the ever scanning view he had learned, watching both the surroundings and their guard while seeming relaxed. He was far from it internally, but it helped that he was still in the saddle outside the carriage and not inside with the two sisters and that dress. He felt a twinge of heat at his cheeks again and quickly steered his mind back to planning how he might survive the first night’s lodging and whether drinking to a stupor would be an option. Perhaps once they were away from the Tower he could get more time to have some general conversation with Saline and become a little more relaxed in her presence; maybe.

 

Corin

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Smooth as the dew rolling from leaves had been the carriage’s progression through the City and smooth were the brows on its occupants: the smiling lady with her cool cheeks veiled from exposure to the sun and her serving girl soaking in the rays with a gleeful tongue.

 

“Lady Elisar, your Lord Brother seems very taken with that chestnut. Our guard looks sharp and is currently six men strong.”

 

Letting the curtain fall freely shading the cushiony recesses within Saline altered the tone of her report, speaking quietly. They hadn’t the benefit of a ward against eavesdropping, which would invite more questions than needed if Lady Elisar was indeed a noble from the South back from a consultation with the Aes Sedai regarding her impending marriage matches.

 

Some noticeable snatches of Saline’s conversation in this more subdued note was as followed.

 

“Breaking camp in five or so hours, I’d expect. Rest and feed for the horses mostly. It would appear odd to anybody tracking us otherwise, and I shain’t count myself safe until I’m at least two days’ ride away from any Eyes and Ears in the City. Ah I tell you, it feels so good to be out of Tar Valon. It’s frustrating when I am unable to follow Rory’s tracks but, at least we’re moving somewhere now.”

 

“May I be frank? I never understood why you’re helping me, Lavinya Sedai. It’s pretty obvious from the fascination with which Corin Danveer looks at you why he volunteered . . . Domani dresses sure are something huh? Exotic, sheer, different—physically attractive, to say the least. I reckon it’s the strangeness we tend to associate with interest.”

 

“For some reason Corin reminds me of that chestnut. I suspect he’s unsure around people, just as a horse would run from a stranger but remain tethered to the periphery. Startle it and the horse would bound away to be sure  . . . leave it be, and you’ll find it’s intrigued by your scent, and will observe you closely if it thinks you are ignoring its existence. We love that which is familiar, but it is finding a deeper understanding of the stranger that we are piqued by. In any case, it would have to take a real lot of work to motivate him, although I’d fear for the world once he has found his true purpose. It will be his quest, and I hope he finds a friend to provide lasting sympathy along the way, even if it be from a horse.

 

“But you’re different from Corin. It’s not as though you’re being drafted to help me. And I think it is an extraordinary thing for you to help me when others refused, although you may not think yourself unique in any way. It must be wonderful not to be self-serving.”

 

“Rory is very important to me. She is my waking, living dream. I have done wrong by her, and I am very likely the detriment to her present ruin, but I will not be able to live with myself if harm befell her when I swore I’d be together with her. The amount of effort I’ve already expended to fulfill my dream means nothing. I will keep my word; it is only right for me to set the record straight.”

 

“You, me, Corin, that horse, we all are heroes of our stories and therefore have good reasons for doing these things, yes?“

 

Saline Wastrel ~In Awe We're Actually Moving!~

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Lavinya was a woman of the world, and as such had grown wise in the ways of men. Not all the ways - men were such terribly fickle and often obtuse creatures that rendered that knowledge impossible - but she knew desire in a man's eyes when she saw it. It had been unmistakeable in Corin's gaze as he handed her into the carriage, despite the bite he inserted into his words. No doubt he would deny it if questioned, but he could not hide it. It confused Lavinya. It was exceedingly gratifying to think that she hadn't totally lost all appeal to the denser sex. But it had been a surprise, Corin held himself distant to her constantly, save for a few rare glimpses of his pain he had been unable to conceal during the past month. It must be the dress.

 

She had managed to maintain her composure at Corin's choice in names for them. It was so very close to Elise, to the name of his unknown daughter. Could he know, on some unconscious level? Or perhaps somehow he had managed to discover the name and a linking to Lavinya and had been looking for some sort of reaction from her. Her eyes had widened, but she was confident that was the only outward sign she had shown that the name meant anything to her. Impossible to think he knew. It had to be impossible. No one knew. Unless he had somehow saw her journal...no, there was no way, and if he had he would know a lot more than the name. It had to be a rather unsettling coincidence.

 

Lavinya had maintained her silence as she pondered these things, save for the necessary appropriate responses to Saline's trivial chatter. All part of the ruse. The look had been for scarcely a second or two, but Lavinya had been drawn instantly back to a more carefree time, when there were no barriers between them and...it was past time to bring her mind back to matters at hand, punctuated by Saline closing the curtain and casting the interior of the carriage into shadow.

 

They spoke softly, Saline dominating the conversation in her naturally chatty manner and Lavinya answering and interjecting on occasion. The Red sister certainly had no compunction about giving her opinion and prying, Lavinya thought with some amusement. She was not what Lavinya would consider a typical red. A smile touched her lips as she considered the comparison between Corin and his horse. A deep thinker, Saline had proved to be. Observant, though at times she seemed to not even realise what she had noticed and commented on. Then again, she could be a greater player than Lavinya gave her credit for. "Do you think he liked the stallion, then?" She didn't really expect an answer, as it had appeared self-evident. Each glance out the window had revealed Corin astride the great animal, looking more magnificent than even her imagination had managed to conjure.

 

"I must admit to several reasons for helping you Saline, and I'm afraid the first is entirely selfish." Lavinya finally found an opening when Saline paused to breath to respond. "I don't know how much you know about the dealings with the Black Tower." Few knew the full extent of that fiasco save the loss of life and the forced bondings, and Lavinya was content to leave it that way...unless of course she was unable to control her continued night terrors; then she may be forced to offer an explanation she would rather avoid. "I was part of the first party; bonded and compulsed." There was no chance of preventing the shudder of horror and revulsion. Agitated, Lavinya tapped her nails against the window. "Frankly, I was looking for an excuse to leave the tower when the" her mouth twisted sourly, "delegates entered the shining walls. Your mission was the perfect opportunity."

 

"But more than that - I understood your plight, your heartache. I too, know what it is to lose your dream. I want to help you find Rory - I was the one to discover her ability, did you know that?" The memory of the unruly girl she had been caused Lavinya's eyes to twinkle with mirth. "And for Corin, he too needed this. Whether he knows it or not. It is my duty to see him rehabilitated," she felt no need to explain further, that was Corin's tale to tell, "and this search provided the opportunity for him to put his hands and mind to a constructive cause." And keep him by her side and away from the clutches of anyone else, she added mentally.

 

Lavinya shrugged delicately. "I like to think that our motives are good. But heroes? We have to find her first."

 

They both dropped into contemplative silence at that, each lost in their own private thoughts. The dress. Even Saline had commented on it. Perhaps that was all it had been, a moment of lust for an attractive morsel in a clinging gown, quickly crushed under the memory of who she was. Or rather, who she was not.

 

Lavinya slipped into a doze for part of the journey. The previous night had seen her awaken twice after horribly real dreams before abandoning the attempt altogether. It was growing increasingly frustrating, and Lavinya was at a loss to erase them save drinking heavily before bed or not sleeping in the dark hours at all. It was a ridiculous way to live. How long would the memories plague her? The jolt of the carriage as it was drawn to a halt roused her from her shallow slumber, followed by the voices of their entourage as arrangements were made to rest and water the horses. "We will keep a steady pace, but we will make fine progress. Never fear, soon we will have some saftey from the informants in the city." Lavinya flashed Saline a smile and proceeded her from the confines of the carriage, stretching after the long hours seated.

 

A light repast had been prepared, a simple sampling of bread and cheese, which Saline was beginning to see dispersed among the red guard. The sight of Corin attending to his mount drew her attention, and something akin to joy filled her to see him speaking to the animal as he set about rubbing it down. He liked the gift, of that she was certain. Well he would, if he knew it was his. Taking her own portion and some for the wayward tower guard, she stepped closer, setting the packages down and allowing the proud stallion to sniff tentatively at her hand before drawing his head down to stroke his nose. "A magnificent animal, don't you think? You should name it." Lavinya cast her eyes towards Corin and smiled, thinking again of Saline's comparison. He was like a wary animal in some regards, taking his time in trusting her. She didn't know if he really did watch her when she was unaware; perhaps she would pay more attention. Suddenly, inexplicably, she was feeling freer, happier than she had in some months, despite the troubles whirling in the recesses of her mind.

 

Lavinya

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  • 3 weeks later...

The ride’s solitude help to ease the tension in Corin’s shoulders; relaxed ease came home to him once more. It had seemed like almost a life time since such ease settled about him. His mind still flicked across the many facetted pieces of the puzzles spinning in his head. But it no longer dwelled on the puzzles of Lavinya and his lose of Sirayn. They were just parts of a larger puzzle and his mind paid them no more attention then any of the other small puzzles that would make up the larger. It was just nice to be out of the Towers shadow and into the world once more. Here was where he was designed to be, the world a game awaiting the talents of a player. Sirayn had trained him for a purpose. One never realized before he … a pain laced his chest like a cold knife twisting at the edge of his heart. Still so many question and thing he should have done different. But it no longer took his entire focus and dropped him into the despair that he once lived in.

 

He took a moment to draw the pain in and accept it as part of him, then let it fall into the shadows; protected in the edges of his mind and heart. The clunk of the carriage wheel as it bounced out of a rut in the road drew his eye momentarily. The carriage still held her inside, but the separation, the draped curtain seemed to do what the thick walls of the Tower had not been able to do. It held Lavinya at a distance that did not cause the conflicted and adversarial emotions normally suffusing him when she was around. Instead his eyes thoughtfully laid their gaze on the carriage as his mind flicked through the pieces that made up the unfinished puzzle of Lavinya. Her motives, like all Aes Sedai where her own and shadowed in mystery, but she had a very deep and secretive tie to Sirayn. That, she herself had admitted, something he was sure held no falseness. But to what target did Sirayn have her pointed? She was a diplomat, a debater and treaty maker. No doubt Sirayn found use for her obvious skills, Sirayn always found use for the people she collected around her. But to what would Sirayn have had her set about? A brief though of Lavinya being set upon himself by Sirayn passed through the workings of his mind and was quickly discarded. Sirayn would not waste valuable talent on the likes of him.

 

The relaxed sway of the horse’s movements beneath the saddle lulled the attempted edge of agitation that stabbed at him. There was so many new questions now, so many additional holes in the puzzle with the knowledge that there was a deep tie between them. Swinging his attention once more to the road and the guard with them, Corin set back into his scan for trouble. Another bright point to the day had been the fact that the Red Guard was indeed happy to play the part and leave the escorting brother to his peace and his thoughts. A great blessing that, less chance of building tension and bad blood where there need not be any.

 

It was after mid day when they set to the side of the road in a small clearing for a light meal and a stretch. Slipping from the saddle Corin arched his back briefly to ease the stiffness of their steady journey and glanced at the guard as they made a good show of setting the close sentry points. They would not be here long so picket lines and permanent sentry post would not be set, instead the horses where hobbled and watered before letting them crop the grass. Slipping a small apple form his coat pocket Corin offered to the horse while he patted its nose. “So my friend, what adventure do you suppose await us? As long as we can keep our minds and eyes to the task we should both live to see the shinning walls of Tar Valon again I think. Though it would be nice to just find an open meadow and run wouldn’t it?” He chuckled briefly as the horse nuzzled at his pocket. “No my friend, you have eaten the only one I brought. We will see what our dear sister’s maidservant has packed for us. May perhaps you will be in luck to be treated to another if I can find one.” He grinned at the horses deep chestnut eyes, knowing there was indeed more apples packed. He had been tasked, like everything else Lavinya had wanted, to gather the supplies and have them at the stables so Saline Sedai could look the part as they were loaded. Corin paused a moment, the horses eyes a larger version of Lavinya’s. They held a brightness of mind and spirit much like his taskmistress. But they lacked the fire and mischievousness of hers. The thought catching him off guard momentarily. But it was true. He had remembered seeing that light of trouble and fun that was unmistakable in the eyes of the girl that had slipped past the weight of the shawl when they were together.

 

Corin shook himself, that was not the line of thinking he need pursue. Especially if he was to complete this latest task she had assigned him to. Collecting the brushes, he slipped them over his hands and began to work his way down the far side of the animal. “You know, I really should have paid more attention instead of fighting with the groom this morning. I didn’t even get your name. So big fella, what are we going to address you as beside hey horse?” He chuckled again as he worked his way across the horses rear flank before pausing with a quizzical look on his face before glancing back to the horses face. The animal had suddenly tensed and he was puzzled as to the reason, wondering if perhaps the horse had an earlier injury but did not remember finding it when he had inspected the horse back at the stable.

 

A delicate hand slipped beneath the horse’s nose at the same time the light scent of Lavinya’s presence filtered around the horse to his own nose. The animal had been quicker to find the scent and react. He must have been too involved in his conversation to have noted it earlier. That was an unsettling though, and not just because he was merrily carrying on a conversation with a horse. His eyes met those of Lavinya’s as she stroked the horse’s nose. “Umm … yes. We … err … I was just pondering that. I never got the name from the groom at the stable so I was discussing …. deciding what I should call him for the trip, not that he is likely to respond to a new name for a while yet.” Corin quickly went back to brushing as an excuse to break the eye contact once more. She still was wrapped in that clinging material and he had to fight his eyes urge to drop their gaze from her face.

 

With the tension once more in his shoulders, though the movement of the brushes kept it from gain much of a hold, he tried to set his mind to the task of the game. A skilled opponent was before him and his own hide was the payment that sat the table. “Though I suppose it will not matter much, once he is returned to the Tower his rightful name will be restored to him as well. I still can’t believe such animal would be in the guard stock.” Sensing movement he slipped around to the other side of the horse in an attempt to keep the animal between Lavinya and himself only to find she had not moved from the horses head. A glance told him she had leaned around the other side to keep him insight; an intense itch between his shoulder blades threatened to unleash his tongue with the edge it normally held for her. As long as he could keep the image of her in that dress from his eyes or mind he was confident he could meet her step for stubborn step in the game. She had placed the collar around his neck, well it had been Sirayn actually of his own doing at that, but she was the one that had seized the leash. Well that might not be entirely true either; Sirayn had placed him in her hands as a way to continue his payment for that foolish mistake. But she seemed to delight in the opportunity to have him bound by the invisible cord of servitude. Still the Commander had not offered and out for him. A feeling that set his teeth to clenching for a moment as he bent to check the horses hoof. How was it that the ride here could have been so relaxing and seem so right, yet here with her only a horse length away she could throw his mind in such turmoil? Sirayn must be laughing right now at how well her choice of taskmistress was exacting the payment of a debit owed. “Perhaps I will call him Ayende,” he could not help the slight edge that wrapped around the Old Tongue word for freedom. He was no scholar but Sirayn had been determined that her tool would present himself as educated and understand some of the more obscure conversations that may be set around certain gatherings.

 

Biting his tongue to still any chance of further edge to any other foolish words that might dribble from his mouth, Corin slipped the brushes back into the saddle bag. There was a time and place for everything and out in the open in front of the hired guard and the other Aes Sedai was not the place or the time. There would be time later for discussions; he still had to sort out what they would do for lodging tonight. “If you will excuse me, my sister, I must follow up with Mitya and your maidservant. With luck he could find Saline Sedai alone and try to bury his tension and emotions in the conversation with the Aes Sedai. She was a puzzle he had not counted on, but was a good distraction for his mind. Slipping around the carriage Corin glanced once back toward Lavinya and found her with her head bent toward the horses, lips moving as if conversing with the animal. It was good that the horse was unable to talk back or he would surely find himself in a lot deeper and hotter water; perhaps even staked over an ants nest and covered in honey.

 

Although he was successful in looking occupied and was able to stay away from Lavinya he was unable to pin Saline Sedai down to a conversation outside that of her prattling cover as the maidservant. It would appear that he would have to await another opportunity once they made lodging for the night. He couldn’t imagine the Aes Sedai would carry the façade once they were behind closed doors. But then he was never really sure about anything when it came to Saline Sedai. If she were one of those Asha’man he would have thought her going mad from the taint. A very disturbing thought, but she was Aes Sedai. What could set the mind of an Aes Sedai to such a delicate state? Was it just part of he own secret game? So many questions surrounded that one, one that he would have to be very delicate with any approach he may decide to broach. Several times as they packed up and broke camp he spotted Lavinya. His gaze studying, like that of the master who taught him. Only his gaze was far softer, lingered almost too long at times, which he attributed to the dress. It was going to be a long journey so he had to come to terms with her appearance. She was bound to have more then one of those tantalizing dresses.

 

After successfully avoiding the loading of the women into the carriage, he had put one of the guards to the task while he appeared to be tending to a loose bridle, they were off. They would not make their lodging until near dark and take a late dinner once there in the hopes of covering as much ground as possible with out looking the part of rushing. Whatever held Saline to this mission seemed to drive her with a great haste, but why? Yet another question to add to those that had begun to rapidly pile up in his mind. Oh how Sirayn would have loved to work these puzzles over. She would have probably had them answered already. Corin would have to remain patient as he worked to find the answers. He was alone now, answering to Lavinya Sedai. An enigma at the head of a conundrum to which he now found himself firmly ensconced. How had a desire to live the adventures in a Gleeman’s story led him to this?

 

 

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At first she said nothing. It was the diplomatic way, to begin with a meaningful silence. Her late father used this tactic. She had used it as a seventeen year old visitor into the Tuatha'an campfire, come to escape his reach. She would use it again in memory of him at the funeral, whose surviving sons after her father's death would. Perhaps she used the time to think, to sort out what she knew, to pray. Perhaps she was merely waiting for the others to grow silent and wait upon her words. For Saline's silences were never self-effacing; they were always preliminary to a rush of speech.

 

So it had been in the past, and so it was now.

 

For days she proceeded on such a venture performing her duties as an attendant. When Saline stepped off the carriage into dismal-looking sandy dirt that the townspeople created by stripping the land, she could no longer pretend to herself that it was all a product of wishful thinking. She caught snatches of conversation as their guard gave way ceremoniously.

 

The Lady's arrival was not a quiet, unnoticed event. People gazed in wonder. They had wanted some sort of a royal presence, and even that of a minor noble was exciting. The casual spectator could pick out a bracelet flashing in the sun, displaying for all to see her house symbols.

 

A brilliant performance. What a shame Rory was not with her as they had been the first time she visited. They had laid around in hay sharing a sack of apples. Things were simpler then. She remembered the town's three streets, still laid out in a triangle, surrounding the open area where the market and the farmhouse was. The houses looked different now, and the inn was here.

 

Captain Mitya gave them a tour of the inn, escorted every minute of the way from the kitchen, which provided an excellent repast to Elisar's room. The mercenary then suggested that the women take a nap in the room, so he and his men can relax in the commons. But Saline did not sleep. She soon reappeared and told the Tower Guard his sister the Lady wanted to be gone.

 

But it was simply an excuse to keep him by Lavinya Sedai's side when Saline goes to smoke Beatrice out from the underbushes.

 

Ooc: Right, feel free to go over the last few days of travelling and anything in the tavern or together whilst Saline gathers our informant, a WT E&E.

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So he thought to avoid her, did he? Lavinya had plenty of time to ponder the development while ensconced within the carriage. She irritated him frequently, she knew, and had made him downright furious on several occasions, but he rarely went out of his way to avoid her, save to rile her by dodging a summons. Did he not trust himself when she was dressed so provocatively? An interest thought to be sure, but very likely incorrect. Lavinya did not appreciate being ignored, especially when she had gone to such extreme lengths to try and save the ungrateful man. An uneasy truce had sprung between them of late, but still Corin did his best to remain firmly shuttered behind his walls. She would not allow him to retreat further, not now, not when his last explosion had seemed to be such a big step forward. If she had to resort to her old tried and true methods to gain a man's attention, so be it. He had only brought it on himself. She was Domani after all, perhaps it was time to remind him of her heritage and their history together.

 

Lavinya smirked to herself as she recalled the rumours that had circulated when Corin had first returned to the tower. They were her own doing, even if she had initially thought she spoke the truth. The method most commonly employed to save a man who suffered a broken bond were a poorly kept secret, and Lavinya knew that speculation had been rife when Lavinya was appointed to rehabilitate Corin. After all, she had undertaken such a task a few times before. Nothing seemed to fix a broken man quite like a healthy dose of physical passion. Unfortunately no such treatment had taken place, but Lavinya had not bothered to dispel any of the circulating gossip. Maybe Corin would be more malleable if she helped him rid himself of his perpetual tension. Then again, the very notion could prove abhorrent to him...but only if she were so foolish as to suggest it. Seduction was far more subtle and infinitely more satisfying. Assuming one was successful.

 

The role they were playing in this farce was a very real barrier. It would not do for a sister to appear to be seducing her own brother. There were other ways though. After all, there was nothing unusual about a woman having sisterly affection for her beloved brother. She would just be careful.

 

Peering out the window, Lavinya admired the view of Corin astride Ayende. The subtle jibe had not gone unnoticed. Lavinya was tower trained, and while not a scholar was very well educated. Freedom. Did he truly chafe so badly in her care? Obviously, yes. The blasted man had no idea just how much freedom she allowed. It was true that she kept him very busy about her mundane tasks, but it was a good deal better than being under lock and key awaiting his trial. Not only that, but Lavinya severely doubted any other Aes Sedai in the whole of the tower would allow him to speak to her the way Corin did. He was rude and abrasive, when he wasn't being outright insulting. He was freer than she had ever been, at least since the ability to channel was discovered in her. From that moment on, her life's path had been chosen for her. Oh, she knew what it was to long for release from her guilded cage. At least he had managed to escape for a time, though she doubted Corin would view his futile search for Sirayn in that light. At least in that time he had made his own decisions, had gone where he chose. He had no responsibility save what he deemed himself. Lavinya did not see herself so fortunate. She was chained, despite appearances. Chained by duty and responsibility, the One Power being her greatest blessing and curse. There were many expectations heaped upon her. She would serve the Tower, stand against the shadow. She would be a faceless part of a machine that had no room for her own personal thoughts or desires or dreams. She was a mother now. Lavinya had to consider every action she took and how it may affect her child. Corin...Corin was free from those burdens, bound only by what he perceived as a leash she wielded to torture him.

 

There had been a time though, when she had found respite, if only for a short while. Those times when Corin had seen past the Aes Sedai to the woman inside. There had been no formality, no strictures or duty. She had never before or again felt free as she had in his arms. Would he ever see her that way again? The violent argument they had engaged in mere weeks before their departure had reinforced that to Corin, Lavinya was nought but an unfeeling Aes Sedai who held him captive. Well, she would try to change that view, she decided. And she would attempt it the best way she knew how.

 

After deciding on her course of action, Lavinya found delight in leaping into the role of alluring Domani and demanding lady of high birth. It was not much of a stretch from the norm, she was somewhat embarrassed to note. From the old Lavinya, anyway. She was different now, she reminded herself, and had been since that day in the gardens when a stolen kiss had stolen her heart. Never having had a brother, Lavinya was forced to make do and hope her attentions went no further than that of doting sister. If Corin believed that was her only goal - to be convincing in her role - she may have more success in preventing him from fleeing every time she sauntered into view in a clinging gown. Corin was a challenge Lavinya would not back down from. The harder he tried to escape, the harder she pursued. It all seemed innocent enough though - bright smiles, bringing him his meals and lingering for idle chat, the lightest of touches on his arm or shoulder. All calculated to subtly entice whilst visibly cementing the affection between two siblings. Corin was proving a tough nut to crack, after only a few days of unwavering attention. Lavinya refused to bite when he deliberately goaded, remaining decidedly pleasant.

 

Saline had had very little to say about it all, for which Lavinya was grateful. The woman was far too perceptive, and Lavinya was very much afraid she had already reasoned out just what the she was doing. Indeed, she had perfectly played the demure and attentive lady's maid to match Lavinya's demanding, arrogant manner. If anyone was able to tell they were not what they seemed, Lavinya would be very surprised.

 

The arrival at the town saw Lavinya's pleasantness begin to wilt. It would have been impossible to continue her task with Corin while suffering from alcohol induced headaches, so she had refrained from imbibing thus far. To that end, she was exhausted. Terrified to sleep and wake the party with her inevitable nightmares, she had caught mere snippets of rest while enroute in the carriage, but the lack of sleep three nights running was having it's toll on her. The ready smile she had been wearing had disappeared, and it was all she could do not to snap at Captain Mitya to hurry up the bloody tour. But the Lady needed to inspect the lodgings and give it her approval, despite the fact that Lavinya didn't care one whit and was prepared to sleep in the kitchens if need be. Thankfully, Captain Mitya made a timely suggestion for rest. It may have been an act of self-preservation on his part, since Lavinya was glaring heatedly and considering teaching him a lesson or two and the farce be damned.

 

Finally alone with Saline in their room, Lavinya sank gratefully onto the bed, closing her eyes and covering them with her forearm. There was no peace to be found yet however. Lavinya did not bother to conceal her groan when Saline spoke of the eye witness they were to meet. "You do not need my presence, do you? Good." Lavinya did not stir when Saline slipped from the room, and was in sweet oblivion when the first knocks sounded a short while later upon the door. Indeed, it wasn't until Corin's gruff voice uttered her name along with his heavy pounding on the wood that she was dragged back from the depths of much needed sleep. Anger rode over her exhaustion, causing her to stomp loudly to the door before swinging it open with violent force. "What the bloody hell do you want?" She growled. So much for being unfailingly pleasant.

 

 

Lavinya

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It had become a game it seemed. Lavinya had interpreted his side stepping as a reason to be an ever present challenge. Nothing that would break the appearance of brother and sister; but close at times. She had become the sister who was afraid she would never see her dear brother again and was planning on making the most of every moment they were together before she was wed off. Time was now Corin’s greatest enemy. Where he had freedom of distraction and the ability to hide in the yard, here those protective defenses were gone. He had no recourse but to work though the game Lavinya had set them to. A game he was beginning to think he might not survive. Some things were becoming a little too natural for him. He knew he should be on guard against that feeling. But the constant presence of it was chipping slowly away at his reasoning and his defenses.

 

She had succeeded it seemed in drawing him back to the game if only temporarily as a player. His mind now sought out puzzles once more and began to work them. But he had not been drawn in so deep as he once where. He did not seek out the rumors and tidbits of information that could be readily gleaned from the right placed word or question. He did not seek out to know the business of a passing town or village. The puzzles his mind work were those that directly affecting his world. The protection of both Sisters and the completion of their task at hand being two of them.  How many times now had she brought him his meals, ensured he had drink and nourishment at each stop. She practically mothered him at times. But nothing he could call her to task on as over stepping the guise of brother and sister; that was frustrating.

 

It was the constant contact that was making it the hardest for him. He had know the trip would be a challenge and was determined to prove he could do what was needed to the Commander and the Aes Sedai alike, prove he was still a Guard of worth and use. But he had not counted on Lavinya being as capable as she had become in regards to turning him in circles and leaving him disoriented. He should have realized he was doomed from the start when she had entered that stable in that shimmering second skin. He had forgotten so easily it seemed her heritage. Something that dress reminded everyone there. No doubt could be left to a man’s mind who laid eyes on her then as to what she was.

 

If it were only the dresses then he might have been able to find a reason to keep her figure out of his view. But she was far too smart and intelligent for that. Her constant touches; light and seemingly innocent. Those were starting to undo him, and he hated himself for the weakness. It was his weakness that had left her hurt the last time he had not been strongly steeped in duty. He had been working hard not to fall into that trap again. But the light brush of finger tips on his arms, the way she adjusted his hair with an innocent grin.  The sudden press of her as she hugged him from behind before slipping off to what ever it was she was doing. It was a sister intent on sharing every moment she could with a brother she may no longer see. Only his mind had begun to picture it in a skewed fashion. Her smiles in his mind didn’t always look so innocent; a mischievous glint to it like he had once know.

 

That realization had set him on edge for a brief spell only to have it slowly dissipate under the familiarity of routine. How did a man protect against routine? His escape came as his mind, in the focus Lavinya had awaken it to, began to draw out observations and piece them together; another puzzle with holes and incomplete sections. But it did begin to form a picture, a picture of a woman that was nearing exhaustion. He had no idea what Lavinya Sedai and Saline Sedai were doing at night but in Lavinya’s case it certainly was not sleeping. Saline looked no worse for wear so if she was involved in it. She at least was still getting her rest at some point. Lavinya on the other hand was obviously not. The dark circles and puffy eyes that she tried to hid amongst the color she applied told the true story. The question to which Corin had no answer, direction, or inclination of was why? Even the men were beginning to notice in their escort. More then one had mentioned it in passing. First as if it was Corin that was keeping her up, and not played Cat’s cradle. He had been quick to squelch those ideas. But they were right. Lavinya was running herself into the ground and he didn’t know why. He had even taken a few turns at staying up to see if she was sneaking out.

 

The final decision to question her on it came with their latest place of rest. She had practically stepped over Captain Mitya in the process of inspecting the place and near bit his head off in the process. Unlike every other day to date, there was no meal delivered. No doting or brush of skin. She had retired to her room as soon as they had finished and not come down since. He knew what their escort though his sister needed. They were not shy about it when the Sisters were not around. It was a small blessing that his cheeks no longer stained with heat as much. Once they had found out how easily that occurred they had wasted no time in ensuring their comments included enough graphics to heat his face. What they thought he did not know already they went into infinite detail. Some of which he was sure was impossible and made up to try and goad him.

 

When Saline slipped from the common room without taking a meal to Lavinya he decided it was time to confront her on her condition. He didn’t mind that she had not come with meal in hand to find him, though he was almost getting use to that routine. But he would not let her skip a meal herself. Not when she was obviously not getting the correct amount of rest. With a quick scan of the room he noted the placement of the mercenaries and was adequate pacified that Captain Mitya had arranged for the nights watch. Emptying the last of his tankard of dark ale, Corin tossed a couple of coppers on the table for the serving girl that would be by to collect the empty vessel, and then proceeded to the staircase. With the swordsman’s swagger he climbed the stairs, adjusting the length of steel at his hip. The movement gave him the opportunity to subtly check the daggers secreted on his person. The sword was a fine instrument in which to dance with death, but only when room allowed for it. In the confines of the stairwell and the halls, daggers in properly trained hands would make an overwhelming difference.

 

It took no time before he arrived at the door to Lavinya’s room. A flicker of light danced under its heavy door and through the cracks around the jamb. Not the finest of places, but suitable enough for their cover. Glancing further down the hall his eyes pulled the outline of the man leaning in the shadows. Like the moon reflecting off a distant lake, the small reflection of light against the man’s eyes was the only thing notable. The rest of the man was near invisible in the darkness, the shadow entrenched valley the lake was nestled into. A bride gift had to be protected from all manner of spoiling. Steeling his emotions away as best he could, Corin rapped at the door. His initial approach would have to be one of care and caution if he was going to succeed in anything other then a shouting match with her. That was the usual norm when he approached her; strange that it would be that way so often. Was that why he kept his distance and waited for her to come to him?

 

The man at the end of the hall shifted his position and drew Corin back to realize Lavinya had not answered. He knocked again, this time with more effort. Time ticked past and no sound or movement emanated from the room. Panic began to rise in Corin as his fist beat upon the door; the guard that had been leaning on the wall was now moving toward him; eyes scanning the hallway in both directions. A dagger slipped free from one of Corin’s sleeves, the cool handle mating to his hand like it had many times before. “Lavinya! Open up!” He was now thumping on the door as it shuddered in its frame. Lavinya! Lavinya!” Stepping back Corin prepared to drive his shoulder to it when the door swung open, a furious Lavinya Sedai looking back at him. He could feel her words vibrate in his ears, but his focus was else where. The void had settled on him the moment he stepped forward toward the door. With a fluent movement his free arm swept her to the side and back toward the waiting guard whose sword was glinting in the dim light pouring through the open doorway. Stepping into the room a second dagger appeared, both moving in a silent dance as Corin worked his way through the room looking for the cause of Lavinya’s delay and anger. Nothing moved beyond the shadows of his own body, the room was cloaked in silence; a spluttering of noise from the entrance where the guard held Lavinya firmly pinned next to the wall.

 

Satisfied that there was no danger in the room, the daggers flashed and disappeared back into the sheaths up his sleeves. Turning back to the guard, who was already putting his own naked steel away, Corin nodded to him. The guard saluted and slipped back up the hallway to his shadow. “What in the bloody name of light where you doing?” He had dropped the void with the sheathing of the blades so agitation and bewilderment where thick in his voice. “Do you have any idea the trouble this has caused?” He pulled her back into the room without paying attention to the darkening mood on her face and closed the door as the hallway filled with the sound of pounding boots; more of their escort racing up after hearing the noise. The guard in the hallway could explain the situation to them; right now Corin had more important fish to fry. Spinning to face her Corin once more dove in before Lavinya could offer any answer or resistance. “This has gone on long enough,” he grabbed her by the upper arm and drug her back to the bed. “I have no idea what in the name of Light you two have been up to; and frankly I don’t want to know. But you are bloody well going to get some sleep if I have to sit on you and force brandy down your throat to accomplish it.” His voice was not the hard sharp edges it had been in their altercation in the tower shortly before leaving. But it did hold a commanding tone and a measure of force. Too often he had found himself rung out and hung to dry when he tried to be the mediating civil person in their disagreements. He was determined not to be in that situation this time.

 

Corin

 

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  • 2 months later...

One moment she was glaring daggers at her 'brother', the next she was thrust rudely aside and held prisoner against the wall by a burly red guard. Lavinya was incensed, her already prickly temper flaring into burning life. "How dare you! Let go of me!" Lavinya struggled against the brute to no avail as he simply ignored her as though she were an insect under his boot. To think that Corin thought it was fine to manhandle her again as though she were an unruly sibling and not an Aes Sedai...Lavinya stamped her foot in irritation. What under the light did he expect to find in her room? A stowaway darkfriend? This was ridiculous, all she wanted was a few minutes sleep. Why did everything have to be so complicated with this man?

 

At long last Corin returned, giving Lavinya a glimpse of the deadly looking blades he carried before they were hidden away once more. Confusion fueled her anger as Lavinya found it impossible in her exhausted state to determine just what the deuce was going on. "Corin..." whatever she was about to say was interrupted, as barely freed from the wall she found herself dragged swiftly back into the room. Lavinya gaped at Corin. Trouble? What trouble? Was there something wrong with taking a nap in the middle of the day now? Lavinya's brows drew together as she tried understand. Surely she had missed something in the conversation, but what? What was it she was supposed to have done? It was only after she was pushed unceremoniously onto the bed that Corin's words started making any sense.

 

Lavinya stared at Corin. She blinked. Surely he wasn't serious...what...it was all such a ridiculous misunderstanding that Lavinya found her ire dissipating into humour instead. To think, she was trying desperately to find a few moments of rest, and Corin interrupted her slumber only to make her sleep...A smile curved her lips before she broke into a grin. A sound that was half frustrated groan, half laughter escaped her as she flopped backwards onto the bed and covered her eyes with one forearm. How utterly absurd, Corin storming into the room as though she were being tortured by shadowspawn when all she was doing was sleeping. Giggles errupted into full laughter, shaking her small frame upon the bed. "Oh Corin, you big hairy lummox!" She managed between gasps, "what on earth do you think I was doing before you so rudely woke me?"

 

 

A tidal wave dashing against the rocky shore line, it's curtain of

mist in a dazzling array of diamonds glittering in the mid day

brilliance could not have compared to the open shock married to

confusion that broke across Corin's face. He stared in bewildered

amazement at Lavinya as her smile turned into a fit of laughter on the

bed. His mind played back his earlier words but could not glean

anything to warrant the reaction before him. Corin stepped forward

cautiously and felt Lavinya's forehead wondering if she had become

delusional. He had expected outrage or fear, or maybe tears. But not

this insane laughter that shook her in it's grip. Her gasping words

finally placed a small flame of light to the situation; a brooding

mask slipping over the shock that had been abundantly apparent.

"Sleeping," he hrumphed then pulled a chair over by the door and sat

down, a dark hurt still touching the edges of his face, the reflexive

clenching of his jaw adding to it.

 

He had already stated he did not want to know what they had been doing

that would put her in such a run down state, but it began to itch at

his mind now. His eyes glanced once more around the room and then

settled with resignation on Lavinya, a huge grin still lighting her

face; adding to the beauty that had always been there. "Well then," he

nodded toward her, "go on. Back to sleep with you sis. Tomorrow will

no doubt be a long day, and your maidservant is going to have to be

reprimanded properly in front of others by me soon if you don't get

those circles from around your eyes gone. Something I'm sure both

Saline Sedai and myself would greatly not enjoy." Greatly nothing,

I would loath it. Boy will that make a pretty picture for the

Commander of how a guard is to behave in regards to a Sister of the

White Tower. Well you see sir, it was really only part of the

disguise. Surely you understand, under the circumstances, why I had to

set her to extra tasks and threaten her in public with a flogging.

The though brought his eyebrows down lower before noticing the mirth

still a glint in the deep brown of Lavinya's eyes.

 

"Stop looking like the cat that ate the canary and get some sleep.

Really, you don't have to enjoy this nearly as much as you do." He

stuck out his tongue at her briefly before catching himself. This was

suddenly too easy, too familiar between them and he needed distance.

But he couldn't leave her. Not after the show he had put on; the sound

of murmmered voices still in the hall spoke of the men still gathered

there. How would the guard react after that display and chaos if he

simple walked out and back to the common room. If he was to drowned

himself in Ale perhaps they would view it as an altercation between

brother and sister and leave him to it. Only that was not what they

believed. He was all to familiar now with what they thought Lavinya

needed. Her actions of late on the trip only fueled their beliefs.

Instead he crossed his arms over his chest trying to look stern and

unmoving.

 

 

The smile that continued to tug at the corners of Lavinya's mouth spread into a wide grin once more at Corin's childish action. "Oh do stop glaring, you have to admit it's a humorous situation." Lavinya admonished good naturedly, sitting up on the bed to face Corin as he stationed himself by the door. Sleep was still beckoning, the yawn she barely hid behind her hand testament to the need for rest, but for the moment Lavinya was actually enjoying herself, despite her black mood only moments before. No doubt she was overtired and in a very strange frame of mind right now.

 

Lavinya rested her chin on her upraised knees and considered her jailer. "Do you really think that sitting guard there looking all formidable is very conducive to sleep? You look rather intimidating. I'm almost too scared to close my eyes, just in case you decide to wake me again in such a rude and unnecessary manner." Lavinya pulled a face. At least the absurdity of the situation had allowed her to resume the mantle of loving, friendly sister again without exhaustion destroying her mood. She had been afraid that all her hard work at putting Corin at ease had been ruined with her haste to find her bed. Still, this second burst of energy surely wouldn't last long. "You really should remember your manners, brother dearest. I would hate for my dear companion to be chastised wrongfully because you leapt to conclusions again. I've been on the receiving end of one of your public spectacles and it is not as fun as you would think." Lavinya smiled lightly, her tone teasing and not one of reprimand. She hoped he would pick up on the fact that Saline was an innocent party when it came to Lavinya's sleeping habits, without asking too many prying questions. If he were to ask her outright why she had not been sleeping, Lavinya was afraid she would be forced into telling part of the truth and revealing herself as a crack-brained mad woman who was afraid of shadows. Even if it was close enough to the truth.

 

"You still haven't told me just what you thought I was doing in here, on my own, in the quiet." Lavinya raised her brows. "Perhaps I was engaged in a tryst with a trolloc? I would hardly answer your call in that circumstance, I suppose. And I promise you, if I was being held captive against my will I would make a lot of noise." A sudden grin that was pure wickedness stole across her features, and Lavinya idly twirled a red ringlet as she spoke, "Being held wilfully....well now that is not so unpleasant, though I dare say it would involve it's own measure of noise..."

 

 

A little of the air slipped from Corin’s posture, the authoritative

edge wilting slightly under her reminder. Her voice did not carry

malice or reprimand but the reminder hit him both, each of his own

accord. He had acted in haste and the heat of anger. Neither proper of

a Tower trained Guard or a Warder. Why do I always come back to

that? The opportunity is dead to me.  By my own hands and my own

actions I have cut off that right. Frustration simmered once more

in the depths but it mercifully remained there, quietly stewing away.

It had been a ridiculous sceptical in the Tower and he had deserved to

be handed back to the commander for discipline and perhaps even

dishonourable discharge from the Guard. But she had found a way past

it, she had even found a way to bring light back to his thoughts and

control to his mind; if only briefly. But her hold on anger had been

the saving grace against his action on it.

 

Her mocking of his worry only worked to set Corin’s jaw again and put

that dark cast to his brow. Why did she always have to make him out to

be the bad guy and beat him down about it? He had enjoyed her sense of

humour once. But things were different right now and it was her demand

that he come along on this trip anyway. His eyes instinctively locked

on to the movement as she captured a locket of red curls and began to

twirl it. How easily she had picked out his weaknesses. Had she

studied him the whole time they had been friends? Was his life to be

reduced to a constant torture at her hands; Sirayn’s vengeance truly

so deep. Corin’s thought trail was shattered like Sea folk china

dropped to the floor; everything save for shock scattering in sharp

edges. Had she just suggested what he thought she had? He could feel

the sudden heat fill his cheeks while he worked to keep his browse

from climbing his forehead. Why did he feel embarrassed? It was not

like he had thoughts like that. The sudden rush of images from their

coupling in the ogier grove did little to help his situation.

 

“You ... you shouldn’t talk that way sis.” He had to keep that thought

in his mind; his voice edged in nervous tension. Think of her as his

sister and then he wouldn’t think of the ogier grove. Would he?

Conflict raged anew inside him, an old battle finding new life. “You

really shouldn’t. What if someone was to hear?” Who was he trying to

kid. She wouldn’t care, and they were locked away in her room. The

awareness of that made the room suddenly seem much smaller; too small.

Her smug look seemed to grow bolder. He stood; beginning to pace

across the front of the door, trying to work of the nervous energy he

found coursing through his body. He suddenly felt trapped, a rabbit

snared and the hunter reaching into the trap. He had to think of a

reason to be gone from her room, but she had muddled his thoughts.

“You need your rest. Lay down and close your eyes. I am sure the maid

will be back soon, and morning is coming. We may need to start early

so who knows how long you will get to rest as it is. She may have

further information and a need to move again; and quickly. Yes, you

really need to close your eyes and sleep.” He was babbling like a

nervous trainee, what in the light was the matter with him. He quickly

slipped his hands behind his back and clamped them together; suddenly

aware that he had been clenching and unclenching them. This had been

so much easier when he was mad and constantly at war with her. This;

he was beginning to become too conflicted with old emotions now.

 

Surely he had not like what she had suggested. It was indecent; he

couldn’t have like the thought. Just messed up emotions, that’s all it

had been. No curiosity, just a confused mind at the late hour and the

ale.

 

 

Lavinya raised her eyes to the ceiling. Did he not have a sense of humour anymore? Patience, light grant her patience. She never thought it would be so difficult to heal Corin, not when she first embarked on her quest. A challenge, she expected, but for every wall she tore down he seemed to throw up two more in its place. Insisting on maintaining their charade in private was ridiculous, and he had to know it. It was just another way to keep her at arm's length. It would be much easier, she decided, if she didn't care about the man quite to much. If she didn't have her heart involved, she could slap him up the back of his head and tell him to snap out of it. But how could she do that when she loved him, when his pain was her pain? She wanted to revive the warm, compassionate and vivacious man she knew, not just turn him back into a functioning shield for the Tower - that was such a small part of her aim. A warder was what she wanted, an intimate bond with a man she loved and trusted.

 

Corin began pacing, clearly agitated. Had she perhaps struck a nerve after all? Was the continued charade no more than a tool to push her back? Interesting. She began treating the man as she used to, and suddenly he was all out of kilter. No raging, no withdrawing - just unbalanced. Lavinya tapped a fingernail on her front teeth and watched him stalk like a caged beast across the length of the small room, several steps than a quick turn and back the other way. Lavinya sat up straighter as two things stood out in her mind. Firstly, he was babbling. Corin Danveer, sharp of with and smooth of tongue, was babbling like a flustered stable boy caught gawking at a pretty girl. She would have smiled openly, if the other thing didn't bother her so much. It was night already. When Lavinya had entered the room on dusk, she'd had the intention of falling asleep before full dark, with a candle burning, Saline's return being the excuse. The creep of shadows haunted her, kept her from sleeping no matter how weary. The night was Linten's playground, and a sure trigger for her night terrors. Even knowing her dreams were warded against interference did nothing to stop them. The only thing that seemed to help was sleeping before evening fell, or getting thoroughly foxed. Well, neither were possible now, so sleep was out of the question. All the more so for Corin's presence, but how was she to explain that? I cannot sleep because you may hear me screaming? And I'm afraid of the dark and my dreams? No, a diversion was needed.

 

"Corin please. I appreciate your caution, but you do not need to take it so far. We are quite alone, and besides, and Domani man would have laughed at my comment and assume I was speaking of my future husband." Lavinya stifled a yawn behind one hand and hoped Corin wouldn't notice. She did need sleep, quite terribly, but a few more hours of agony was worth the price to hide her nightmares. "I will sleep soon enough, right now I'm thinking it is more important to tutor so you can better play a Domani man. You have the overly-concerned brother act down well enough." She added wryly, shifting on the narrow bed so that she reclined against the wall. Not too comfortable, lest she slip into the depths of slumber. "You may want to grow a moustache, they are very popular among the Domani males. Your skin is fair, though mine is also in comparison to the rest of my nation. If anyone should wonder, it could be assumed that we share a father but have different mothers. Please, will you stop that pacing and sit down?" Lavinya asked with some irritation. "I promise I will not bite." Corin halted and seemed to hesitate, before sitting stiffly back in his chair by the door. "Thankyou. Do you know how to use sursa? That could be a dead giveaway once we move closer to the north." Lavinya shuffled a little more until she was lying on her side, head propped in her hand, elbow on the bed. She tried to ignore the unease that always threatened her as the evening turned into night. She was actually thankful that she had Corin's company, even if things were still strained between them. He made her feel...safer.

 

 

Her comment drew a sharp glance, emerald ice eyes pinning her for a moment before continuing. He was not Domani and she knew it. Her people had a strange way about them. To openly discuss such a thing as should only be shared in the bedroom between man and wife proper. What was he thinking? What she had eluded too should never be shared. He had slipped. He could accept that. A moment of weakness before one who’s growing years were spent learning the art of directing men with seduction. It was inexcusable but still understandable. Her family comment and command to sit drew him up short. His eyes remained trained on the wall in front of him as a scathing comment about how loose the Domani idea of family really was danced on his tongue begging for life. He swallowed the comment and claimed his earlier mantel of chilled separation before turning to sit in the chair near the door once more.

 

Sursa? She was worried about him eating in her native fashion while she near killed herself with lack of rest. Oh that was a fine kettle of fish she was trying to pass off as mutton, but it wasn’t mutton. He was trained to the Game of Houses by one of it’s masters. Did she really think he had not been given some etiquette lessons as well? Sure it had been a long time since he had last used those little sticks. But he would not be that bad with them; he was sure he could pass it off well enough. Though where she planned on finding and using them was another story. The bigger concern if that was to happen would be his stomach. He had eaten the nearly inedible food of her culture before. Oh sure it tasted interesting at the time. But it burned a hole in your insides for days afterwards. Light be kind that she does not find many dishes of her home on this trip. As for the moustache, he remember the itch from the lack of shaving while he had sought out Sirayn. For a moment the ice thawed inside as the edge of her loss touched him in reminder a new. He had failed to keep her safe, he would not fail again; not with Lavinya. Chiselled granite set his face determined once more as his eyes locked to her soft yet haggard face. She was deathly tired, it was more than obvious. Even in the way she attempted to hide the continuing yawns that cracked her jaw. A single candle flame to an iceberg; that was the effect of her appearance. It worked to soften him and melt away the ice. But the task was too monumental for her condition and he was not about to forget the very real tender edge of the rent still healing in his heart from that last failure.

 

Where reason would not prevail then action and force must. “You know my tutor and her perchance for perfection. Yet you question my knowledge and skill of your land. Did you really think I would not have the basics requirements of ceremony and interaction ingrained in me as might be needed?” Edges sharpened his words once more now that he had safely retreated back behind the wall. “You want a moustache? Fine I will grow the insufferable thing to tie the charade together.” He rose slowly and moved toward the edge of the bed in the graceful sway of a swordsman. “But what about that other famous trait Lavinya,” his voice was quiet. Not a whisper but soft, a sensitive almost hesitant flutter to it. “Surely you remember,” he moved next to her bed, leaning over slightly; eyes locking with her own. “What are Domani men infamous for Lavinya? What trait is it that you have not mentioned? Have you forgotten? Shall I remind you?” He held her eyes fixed for a moment longer, the corners of his mouth curling into a smile that was not a smile, before his soft quiet voice became booming. “Their TEMPER!!!!!" His movement was quick, hand coming up between them; a finger pointing toward her as if to pin her in place. “What of it Lavinya?! Shall I hold complete to all of it? Shall I bring back the man you faced in that hallway only a short while ago? Is that what you want?! Is it?” Spinning on his heels he stormed back to the door kicking it closed. Grumbles erupted on the other side as it slammed shut. “You are not needed right now. Stay out!!” Corin kicked the chair back up against the door and sat down, glaring back toward the bed. “Now,” his finger once more pointed toward her, his voice no longer boomed, but determined authority still gave it strength. “You will lay back and close your eyes. You will go to sleep, not wake up, not worry about what must be done, and not worry about what might be, until I wake you. Do not think for one moment I won’t turn you over my knee here and know and spank you like the spoilt child you have been. If I need to, you know well my affiliation as I know much of your own; I will find a way to make you sleep. Even if I have to pour some concoction down your throat while our guards hold you pinned to that bed.”

 

 

Lavinya & Corin

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Anger and a very bitter jealousy stormed through Lavinya. He forgot his place as usual, issuing orders and expecting her instant obedience as though she were the one that had broken her sacred vow to serve the tower and managed to disgrace herself. That she didn't think he'd actually done anything to warrant that disgrace - trying to find the Amyrlin had to come under serving the Tower - was irrelevant. What under the light did he want from her? He spoke to her like a wilful child, then wondered why she didn't hasten to obey. Bloody Sirayn, just how had she managed to distort this man so much? The old Corin would have been respectful, and witty, cajoling or cleverly tricking her into acquiescence, instead turning into a fount of rage and yelling at her until she either put him in his place and hurt him further or obeyed.

 

"Your love for bloody Sirayn Simeone has obviously blinded you to her few failings." Lavinya's voice was flat and cold, her face pinched in barely restrained fury. "That she was brilliant is undeniable, I would have almost believed she invented the great game, she played it so instinctively.That you were an avid pupil, I do not doubt. But if you presume to tell me that the woman could teach you more about how to behave as a Domani man than one who actually IS a Domani, you're a fool." Lavinya glared her frustration at the lump of cold rock sitting on the chair, looming over the small chair. Stubborn man! Always, he had to bring up Sirayn, as though he needed to constantly remind Lavinya that she had lost that battle, that he had picked Sirayn over her, and would again, over and over. Tears burned behind her lids, but Lavinya refused to loose them and show him just how easily he managed to hurt her. Light, if he knew that he would do it all the more, effectively keeping her from pursuing her mission to chip away at his walls of ice. And yet, what was she doing? Entering into his argument before she even knew what she was doing.

 

Lavinya sighed, a sound heavily weighted with emotion.  "Corin...how did we come to be fighting again? Obviously I bring out the worst in you, and I'm sorry for it." She sincerely meant it too. Why couldn't she bring out the best of him, make him happy instead of filling him with anger and hurt? If only he was ordering her to do anything else but sleep in front of him, it would be bearable. Of course, it must look as though she was being absurd, denying her body the sleep it obviously craved. There was little else to be done - she had to either accept defeat and sleep, praying not to wake with a nightmare, or continue to fight him. She was too tired to fight, physically, emotionally and mentally. Every day with Corin had been some form of struggle, and she was at the end of her tether. As enticing as the idea was of being turned over Corin's knee, Lavinya gave in.

 

"To show how little I enjoy arguing with you, I'm going to give into your demands - yes, an Aes Sedai giving in to a man who is supposed to be sworn to serve - and I will go to sleep. Not that I can keep my eyes open much longer anyway," she mumbled, squirming down on the bed until she was fully reclining, red curls fanned out around her face on the pillow. For a few minutes she stared at the roof, still fighting the lingering threat of tears. Light, if she was this close to breaking down again she really was tired. Lavinya had made herself strong in the aftermath of her own living nightmare, had turned her very marrow into steel. She would not broken so easily again, but ever since she learned of Corin's return it had changed. Love, she thought bitterly, was cruel. How long had it been since Corin considered anyone's misery but his own? He had endured great suffering and heartbreak, true, but did he honestly think he was the only one walking wounded? A niggling voice told Lavinya she should confide in Corin, but she silenced it harshly. He had not asked what had become of her when she left the tower, and certainly showed no interest in her besides chafing at his bonds now. She was too proud to open herself to that sort of humiliation, no matter how much her soul cried out for a release of all pain she had bottled up inside.

 

Turning onto her side, Lavinya curled up her knees and stared at the wall as one lone tear trickled unseen into the pillow beneath her cheek. The flicker from the single burning candle was soft, and Lavinya could almost feel the darkness pressing in around her, sense the arrival of the dream that was not a dream, could hear Linten's maniacal laugh..."Corin?" She whispered from where she lay, skirts tumbled about her calves, an old fear already setting her heart to beating faster. "Promise me you'll stay and wake me..."

 

Lavinya

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  • 8 years later...

 

Her words washed over him, cold river water cast on the evening fire. It held equal results; a cooling, dampening down of a fury he still did not understand why it was there and the billowing build of steam hissing forth from the heats center. Only in Corin that billowing steam was the cascading pressure of failure. He had lost a charge that was never his to begin with. No matter how he had tried, and he had done almost anything, far beyond the reasonable extents of normal thought. Pushed until he had pushed her away and still he had pursued her with no regard for sanity. What was it that held him so entranced with Sirayn? Cold stormy eyes looked down at him from the dark reaches, why wont you just let me be? Have I not suffered enough? He could almost hear the click of her tongue, vexed with his stupidity and continued failure.

 

Lavinya was right … he clung still to that pain. The rent that had no trueness in life and existed only in his pride filled wishes. Yet he had hurt her equally, saw the pain playout of her face, picture perfected in the way she departed from him. He was a guard of the Tower, sworn to protect and defend. But to both he had been the cause not the needed protection. He had brought the bright blooms of pain, the subtle discourse. A saper at the wall with a chipping hammer.  Slowly, stone by stone the wall dismantled. The strength weakened until, in the end, the wall crashed and became a useless pile of rubble. How did he think he could ever protect them when he was one of the hidden internal threats they faced.

 

Her sigh, the haunting sound of resignation. A dam’s last sound before shuddering it’s failure. Was this what he had wanted, had strove to dig out. How could he? At one time she had thought him worthy to be her guardian, Warder of her life’s thread. It was true, he denied her that. Coldly, without thought, he had lead her to that option and then crushed the very offering in his own ridiculous self belief of another. A unspoken promise purely made up in his own twisted mind. How vulnerable she had been, bearing her heart open and held up for the offering. How far had he truly fallen, could he tell anymore. Did he know which way was up and which path lead to the Dark One’s own soul? The Commander had the wrong of it, many had the wrong of it. He did not deserve the opportunity to return. A wounded cat, too dangerous to leave alive. He had seen it in some of their eye after he returned, mistaken it for pity. Why did he not have the strength and honor left to sheath his sword? The form known, but rarely used. What would Reiken think of his pupil now, too weak to even complete the end form and free the world of another twisted thread blacked and brittle.

 

Vaguely the present pulled at him, demanded his attention. So inward was his focus he had missed the change. Where he had expected fury, the fiery tempest to match that of her locks. There had been none. No scathing remarks, one power restraint or outright fury. He deserved it all, a fool, deserved to be cast out and never brought back. Her right in position and earned title allowed her the privilege. But it had not come. Was that his intent, drive her to force the decision, remove the tainted piece from the board? How had life unraveled so fast? His name a mere whisper, an edge of uncertainty threading through brought his attention full to her form now curled on the bed and small, like that of a child wrapped in uncertainty. The vision wrong, at odds to the power the woman was, could be. Wake her? Why would he wake her, he had just made a fool of himself forcing her hand to sleep and now she whispered to stay and wake her? No, the voice was too small, a pulling emotion threatening to bloom in the request. Almost as if … in another it could have been considered plea. Would she have been facing him the shock would have been apparent. There would have been no hiding it, the game lost. Where had things changed, gone so ….. sideways, the hollow emptiness feeling fluttering at the edge of existence. Threatening to fill him once more.

 

He found himself moving without registering the start, approaching her form without thought. Nothing in that moment felt right, the hand of the Dark One twisting the pattern in a distorted view of normality where only the end result of malicious existed. The distorted shadow that played across the room stopped as he bent, hands tentatively slipping a light cover over her. The flames delicate movement keeping the shadows edge from being defined, giving it a life of its own. “I am here. Rest and on the morrow, the light willing, we will find …..” find what? His voice was soft, sounded strange to his own ears. How long had it been since it carried that lightness, that ….. was it a caring inkling? What right did he have to care, what right did he have at all. Since the cabin he had done nothing but bring her misery. Misery heaped with pain and abandonment. His hand patted her shoulder as he straightened and moved back toward the candle. No, not caring, shame. I have no right to care for her, but I carry a world of shame heaped upon her at mine own hand. How could I be so merciless, reckless with the life of an Aes Sedai, a woman, a friend, a … NO!! you have no right to even think it. Lifting the candle lightly he turned back to her small defenseless form on the bed. Perhaps a confession to the Red would finally end this. Their hatred of men should make the decision swift, her punishment final. He was not tainted like those men of the Black Tower, but the pain he brought to her sisters should makeup for that inefficiency.

 

Corin

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His hand on her shoulder was impersonal, almost awkward, a strange contrast to the thoughtful gesture that saw her lightly covered, tucked in securely like a child at bed time. Had she been less exhausted she might have wondered at the change from angry, shouting brute to considerate if distant companion, but sleep was beckoning, drawing her into its embrace like a lover bent on seduction. Tears burned behind her eyelid, scalded her cheek, hidden from view as they dampened the mostly-clean linen of her pillowcase. “I am here.” The words followed her into the dark oblivion, wrapping around her rapidly-growing-misty thoughts as she at last lost her grip on consciousness and slipped from the waking world. He is here…

 

Rose petals carpeted the grass outside the trapper’s hut; soft, crimson and fragrant. The sun was warm on her skin, the sky a vast, clear blue spotted only with soft, scudding clouds adrift on an unseen zephyr. The grass was sweet and fresh, cushioning her knees as she knelt before him, his cloak of red a magnificent banner against the disciplined rigidity of his spine, his form revealing his long training despite the easy with which he sat, surrounded as he was by the blossoms. Desire quickened in her veins as she gazed upon him, her heart full of emotion as she took in the hardened features – now softened with love – and the bright glitter of his emerald eyes. His smile was broad, laughter deep and warm as it spilled from his lips. Light, what happiness! It burned through her and shone from him, filled the air with its light. He was hers, she knew with no small measure of pride. Her heart soared as his lips met hers, only a teasing, tantalising touch but she was sure of him, sure of them, confident in this as in nothing else before or since. This was right. He was right. She was his and he was hers and together was as it was meant to be. He shook his head to her question, what was it she asked him then? It didn’t matter, the memory skated out of grasp and the momentary uncertainty was gone and she knew only happiness. She reached for him then, arms outstretched but the wind whipped up, stirring the rose petals, crimson motes filling her hands, clouding her vision, brushing against her face, her lips, her eyes…

 

Blink.

 

Corin gazed down at the small bundle in his arms, so tiny and precious against his hardened frame. Wonder and joy shone in his face, the unconcealed love for his daughter, her child, their babe. He spoke to her softly, cooing and pulling faces in an adorably goofy way, entirely comfortable and uninhibited in his reverent love. He turned his face to hers, sharing the moment, voicing a joke, including Lavinya in the circle of acceptance and happiness and perfect love. This is the way things were meant to be, she thought determinedly as she smiled at her lover with his tousled brown hair and eyes so clear and open, revealing his heart to her unfettered. Family, companionship. She was not alone, would never be alone, not anymore – a cherished daughter, a devoted husband. She touched her wedding band, frowning in confusion as in its place was a tiny silver serpent, rearing its head and preparing to strike…

 

Blink.

 

The air was cooler, dense with the scent of the earth and pine-needles that carpeted it. This was not the Ogier Grove, she mused in confusion, looking about to find her love. He stood at a distance, his face averted as he doted on the babe cradled in his arms. She smiled to see him, though her pulse leapt to a more rapid rhythm for reasons that were unrelated to desire. She loved to gaze at him, the breadth of his shoulder, the hair that fell over them, no wait, short, Corin’s hair was shorter, darker than that…He was such a good father, doting on Elise, she could see it, how he protected her, how he held her…why then did the babe become unsettled, her little face crumpling in uncertainty…blood, acrid crimson blood dripped slowly down Corin’s thigh where a dagger pierced the muscle, still embedded in the  flesh, the blood a rivulet down to his boots, transforming into rose petals around his feet…

 

Blink.

 

The silence pressed unnaturally against her, panic rising fiercely in her throat. Corin held Elise, how could he know about Elise? How had he found out?... “Corin?” she called his name tentatively, her voice foreign yet familiar with its weak, pathetic tones. ”My baby…Elise,” …rough bark scraped at her naked skin, scratching painfully, her hands were bound…no….no no….”No!” Sobs were escaping her now as she fought, pulled and tugged, revulsion and dread churning stomach, terror holding her fast in its grasp…she reached desperately for saidar, groped like a drowning man might seek a hold but found nothing, she couldn’t channel, she she was helpless again, powerless, a toy for his depravities…

 

Blink.

 

Laughter, half-maddened and cruel met her ears, and a desolate sob scoured her throat. Linten, it was his voice and yet it was Corin she could she - he had Elise, her innocent baby, screaming and flailing in his vile grasp, green eyes – no, Corin’s eyes were darker, clearer - lit with malicious glee as he nonchalantly circled her, squalling child tucked in one arm and willow switch whipping mercilessly in the other. “I told you I would find you again, my pet,” he crooned, “you and my baby,” he laughed again, cooing at the hysterical child, ignoring Lavinya’s screams and pleas, Corin’s face stretched like a death mask, speaking with Linten’s voice. “But I love you, Lavinya,” he mocked with a leer, stepping closer still, the hand reaching for her tipped with awful, vicious claws that oozed ichor and dripped with blood, red blood, blood red like rose petals…She was drowning with utter despair, knew clearly she breathed her last, a cry building in her chest as she struggled in vain to reach for the child, sweet precious Elise, her baby, give me my baby… “I just want to be your warder…”

 

Lavinya’s eyes snapped open in the semi-dark as the hand closed over her shoulder in both the dream and waking and that face which haunted her sleep swam into her vision. The scream that had been building in her chest was finally freed in a terrifying, blood-curdling torrent of pure horror as the echo of maniacal laughter rattled in her hearing. She opened her mouth to drag in a fiery breath and scream again; her throat rasped painfully, a sharp cough instead the sound offered and muffled by fabric at that. In slow increments, rapid heartbeat by rapid heartbeat, reality returned – the shoulder, solid and warm and very real against her cheek that had muffled her cough, her hands clenched in a death grip around the cloth of a masculine shirt. Corin’s voice, yes it was Corin, not that mad man, never again…she drew in a shuddering breath, the rapid tattoo of her heart still thundering in her ears as his voice cut through the fog of her terror, her name, urgent and anxious on his lips. Soft light, flickering from the still-lit candle, her bed, she was in her room, sitting up and held by…oh light…

 

By infinitesimal fractions her taut, locked muscles eased into a semblance of relaxation as she banished the remnants of the nightmare to the abyss and a very new sensation of dread and mortification replaced her previous terror as she awaited the inevitable reckoning from the man against whose chest her face still hid.  

 

 

Lavinya

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Ooc: please feel free to continue the night; moved us to the morning and the party preparing to leave this town whenever you're both ready. Super psyched you're back! :laugh:

 

Something, somewhere, trembled. 

 

The sound and vibration inside her eyes and ears' cabin was oddly disconcerting. The air was dry, and there was something which made her skin prickle besides the stifling heat. In Beatrice’s cabin, Saline was battling to retain her professional composure. Amazingly, there was evidence Rory came this way, to this dinky middle-of-nowhere town. She thought about this, and nodded. She really should say something to Lavinya. If something happened, and the gray sister found out she knew . . .  That intelligence needed to be communicated. More importantly, they were due to make contact and rendezvous with some borderland scouts, one of the considerable packs that maintained peace in this part of the world. First, she needed to be at the tavern, with her party, in case things got rough. From there, she now knew where they were going. Their destination.

 

Then, they would find their missing party of sisters; then -everything would be gone and done, and finished, Mitya and his half dozen red guards, Lavinya and Corin and their efforts, this whole vainglorious undertaking. They would have completed the mission they were charged to perform by her. Then, the guilt would stop. She thought about the dangers of the blight; maybe they shouldn’t have come after the others failed their mission. But it would have been crueler to be left behind.

 

“Well, if that’s all.” Beatrice said. She, too, clearly had somewhere else she wanted to be. Together they talked throughout the night: sharing, speculating, planning.

 

“Thank you, I’ll take it.” Saline said, holding out her hand. Beatrice tossed the resealed bag to her. Saline turned to go, feeling tired but excited.

 

"Are you alright?” Beatrice asked.

 

A tiny flash of surprise crossed Saline's face, as if it never occurred to anybody to ask her that.

 

“Yes! Thanks,” she replied, fiercely. “It’s morning so I must get along before my presence is missed.”

 

Toward the back of the tavern, Mitya was making preparations with his red guards, sweeping the carriage, checking the horses and supply packs. Two of his men ran past Saline the other way, carrying a barrel between them. The river of people around them had parted and found other routes to take. Nobody wanted to get in the way of the armed guards, particularly not one who was clearly serious about leaving town, taking his noble charges on their way. Two more of Mitya’s guards went by in the other direction, hurrying, buttoning up their regimental dress uniforms.

 

Saline hesitated. She weighed her options, and realized they all depended on her maintaining her role, her deception. In full view like this, in front of dozens of curious townspeople, her options were drastically limited. She walked back to Lady Lavinya, and stood behind her, hands clasped in front. Attentive. Respectful. 

 

Saline Wastrel

Edited by Lih-Lyh
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  • 3 weeks later...

A diamond glint slid down the surface in a mock of beauty. An attempt to hide the death purpose of the edge below it as the candle light reflected happily along the blade of the dagger in his hands. Their purpose had been distorted over the years of its existence, from tool to weapon, to ornament. Masking its skin like a chameleon to its surroundings. But inside, it always held deaths offering, it’s true purpose. The quiet chuckle that escaped him held no mirth, no light, as the form on the bed murmured once more. It almost seemed like a relaxed sigh. No doubt she dreamed of further methods to ensnare him. But his cold disjoined chuckle was not for her and her plans. It was the realization of how close his own life resembled the view of the simple tool he held. Only he was the tool now, and held tight in the Towers grip. Too tight it felt, the life slowly squeezing from him. Did she not understand the delicate balance between fluid of motion and controlling grip? The tool became barbaric, useless even if the grip was white knuckled, the arm unable to make it dance. But with gentleness, the correct pressure of the hold, the looseness of the arm. All parts allowed to work as one to make simple steel something more, almost as if alive in the hands of a master. A master …. Would he ever reach that state now? At one time it was a dream, now, could the mocking denial even be called a nightmare?
 

A twitch, her form moved on the bed drawing his attention to her briefly. No doubt she found pleasure in her latest dream of torturing him. He had brought it upon himself. Stupid impetuous youth clouding his judgment. He thought he could sit at the table of games with Sirayn, how arrogant his pride. How did he think in his few short years under her tutelage he could ever compete with the width and breadth of her long-spanned life deeply steeped in its finest intricacies? No, it had been a failure that had cost him … no had cost the very world the greatness of her thread in the pattern. Now he seemed forever embroiled in a struggle of wills with another of her creatures, a distant one-time friend. A flash of her smile, twinkling eyes of simple mischief slide across his mind’s eye. He allowed it to linger a moment, study it briefly before letting it fade back into the darkness. An opportunity lost, his pride yet crushing another life. She could be so much more if he hadn’t been in that garden, had not ruined their friendship in the grove, cut much deeper than the steel in his hands at the field outside the cabin. Why had the pattern chosen his life to bring such misery to others? He didn’t feel like a dark friend; did they even feel? He visibly shook the thought away, repulsed at the very notion of it.

Murmuring, whimpering pulled at his ear. A change in the room demanded his attention, fought to capture a guard’s normal alertness. How could he protect if his mind was never in the here and now? His eyes cut sharply to the movement on the bed, restlessness. Something had changed in Lavinya, replaced the restful slumber with agitation. Perhaps a bad dream, the dagger slipping away as he reached out to comfort her, settle her. His brother had them when they were young, he had probably as well. But he did not recall them now … the memories lost to the cacophony in his head. When had simple thought become so allusive a prey?
 

Ice chocking the heavy flow of a river, his blood halting it’s motion in time to his heart briefly as the silence was shattered by the touch of his hand. Lavinya shot upright in front of him, unseeing eyes wide and petrified, whites overwhelming the deep comforting chestnut that normally dominated them. Her hands clawed at the front of his shirt, the horrid sound still emanating from her mouth; stretched wide and threatening to split. Panic, silent and swift, threatened to overwhelm his control. It crushed the stunned shock that held him allowing motion and control to return to his limbs. Pulling her in tight to try and still the movement, create a comfort, draw her back from the depths. Her head pressed into his shoulder as she tried to draw a ragged breath. “Lavinya …. Lavinya, you are safe” he tried to keep his voice soft, keep the shock and worry from filtering in. “Lavinya … Lavinya wake …. Please wake … I’m here, you are safe …wake.” The heavy fall of boots in the hall vibrated the floor, the guard was in motion, alarm raised. Silently he prayed that the chair would hold the door, keep her dignity intact to some small measure. “Lavinya …. Shhhh … Lavinya I’m here …. always”. Pain twinged his heart anew … always only he had not. He had abandoned her once, no, twice already. Why had he said always?
 

 He could feel her grip on his shirt relax, her breathing beginning to slow. “Shhhh …. You are safe Lavinya …. You are safe.” The inevitable boom on the door sounded as the Red Guard arrived attempting to knock it in” Corin flinched as Lavinya tensed briefly at the sound. “It's okay. We’re fine …. I … I stubbed my toe in the dark that's all. Really, we’re fine.” He had to shout to be heard over the banging and regretted it as she flinched again against him.  His toe, they will never believe it. How do I explain this later when they ask? Slowly foot falls began to sound their departure and he let slide a soft sigh of relief. From the guard at least, he would have a momentary reprieve.
 

Slowly, tenderly he pushed her back from him; allowing him to see her face, her eyes. “Lavinya?” Her name a question. A simple word with an inflection that carried a myriad of questions in its tone. Quizzical emeralds sought and held the gaze of her earthy dark eyes. Firm, yet gentle the gaze flicked from one eye to the next seeking an explanation, an answer to the unspoken question.
 

It was a mixture of wounded pride and self-indulgence that allowed Lavinya to revel in the simple yet firm embrace, the sweet lie that this was right and natural. How long had it been since anyone had offered her any sort of comfort? The irony that it was likely Corin what felt a lifetime ago to last do so did not bring a smile, but rather a sensation of keen loneliness. Aes Sedai had no need for such banal offerings, but she did, oh how she needed this, the warmth of another human being, connection, a life with whom to share. Hot tears of mortification mingled with those she had already shed in the midst of her terror, the sudden pounding at the door making her tense as though it was her own flesh that was struck but no, almost worse than that was the knowledge the red guard were about to witness her humiliation. It seemed fitting, somehow, that she should be so thoroughly undone in one swift motion.
 

Corin shouted at them, blessedly attempting to stave off complete ruination but the sudden noise so close to ear twanged her already jangling nerves, echoing in her mind like the laughter of a mad man, memories of the dream haunting her, toying with her. How pleasantly it had started, to force the knife all the deeper into her fractured heart. Foolish notions of happiness and bliss, memories twisted to have happy endings; how he had held their child with such loving, reverent care…Valiantly she tried to turn from the images in her mind’s eye, hiding from the fallout of her revealing display in the crushed and damp linen of Corin’s shirt but ahh, it was not to be, he would have his due.
 

Swallowing convulsively, she tried to brace herself to meet his inquiring gaze, those emerald eyes that saw too much, delved too deeply, tore her façade asunder. Elise’s eyes. Light, have mercy, she prayed silently as her too-wide eyes met his. She could see the questions in them – had expected them - but the concern almost looked genuine and it was more than she could bear. Shame set colour over her cheekbones and her eyes slid guiltily away, avoiding the gentle scrutiny. “A bad dream…I’m sorry.” She murmured, looking at her hands knotted in his shirt and willing them to obey and release; decidedly uncooperative, her hands flexed and stretched but did not let go, like one who had been drowning and rescued might be reluctant to release their life line.
 

 His centre twisted in an anguish of torment as her eyes cut down and away from him. For a brief moment he had seen hurt in their depths like he had never known. Still he haunted her with a hurt unwarranted. A monumental reminder of how much pain he had caused her. Even now, she could not sleep, could not even look into the eyes of one who had hurt her so completely. His shame threatened to rise and carry him away to just punishment, only her hands still held him; still gripped his shirt as if life itself was to be found there. It made no sense, a person did not cling to the edge that cut so deep, cleaved life and love from heart and soul. Something was wrong with the picture playing out before him; the game players mind noting the pieces of the puzzle before him and silently worrying out a solution.
 

 His eyes cast first to her hands, colour slowly returning to the soft delicate flesh that still maintained their hold. Noted the focused study she gave them. The quietness of her voice, the emotion belying a deeper thread of something that he could not fully make out. A different emotion perhaps. But it made no sense, none of her out cry, her clinging form, the words from her lips made sense. She was Aes Sedai, and agent of Sirayn, a force of reckoning on her own. Another piece slipped quietly into place. His fingers gentle against the bottom of her chin slowly lifting her face to meet his gaze once more. "Lavinya, please," softness still caressed his voice; gentle to match his touch. But concern had begun to weave along the edges, "this is not the reaction of a simple bad dream." His eyes sought hers, trying to find answers in the windows to her soul.
 

 Like so many before it, her prayer for mercy went unheeded. Of course he wouldn’t let the matter lie after that minimal explanation, she herself had been the driving force, pushing him back to the life of inquiry and puzzling and now found herself the very subject of it to her own dismay. Why, light blind him, did he have to be so, so….kind about it? She could steel herself against arrogant demands or angry commands, could find escape in aloofness or distance but no, instead he unravelled her defences before she could even begin to erect them with gentleness, with familiarity. The wheel was cruel in its turnings; she had longed to hear her name on his lips again without the honorific, to feel the tenderness in his touch, but now, why now? Sorrow was a hard lump in her throat, her betraying soft heart leaping and demanding she shed every one of her secrets at his feet like sacred offerings but how could she lay such poison fruit at his feet? He had his own spectres, his own heartaches, he did not need the additional burden of her ghosts and by stone and sea she would die before she saw pity in his eyes!
 

 Still, despite her wish to hide she was helpless beneath his soft coaxing and again her dark eyes clashed with his clarion gaze, the effect like a physical blow that stole her breath, seeing clearly there was no artifice – he was concerned, likely despite himself. No doubt he would remember his anger soon enough and turn from her, but she would cling to this timeless moment nonetheless, the evidence that he was not so far gone as she thought. “Corin,” she said softly, shaking her head as she sought the words, hating the tremble and rasp in her voice, her pathetic weakness – no wonder Linten had found her easy prey, she thought grimly. “It is true, what I said, true and not true.” Teeth caught her lower lip and bit down, the bright bloom of pain naught compared to the turmoil churning in her soul. Why did he have to see her so vulnerable, see how despicable and pitiful she truly was? This was what he had turned from, and rightly so; so why did she find herself preparing to confide in him again? Had she learnt nothing from the past? How easily she had opened herself for the killing blow before, revealing the ugly, unlovable interior that had set him running, why was she ever compelled to drive him from her even as she longed to hold him close?
 

Resignation made her voice small, but she managed to not look away this time, though it hurt her to think she would see the disgust and rejection plain on his face when it inevitably came. “There was a mission…it failed very badly….” She halted at the massive understatement, a fresh wave of pain crashing over her as Linten’s laugh echoed again in her mind and her fingers tightened convulsively in Corin’s shirt. “No one knows, not really, but I…I remember too well…” She did look away then, struggling with the words, the emotion, the phantom pain, all of it welling up and threatening to consume her anew. He would think her blight-touched, she was sure. “Do you know anything of tel’aran’rhiod – the dream world, Corin?” She held her breath, bracing herself for she didn’t know just what, not even certain what to hope for in his answer.
 

His name, again soft from her lips. Once he had revelled in it, a time and place different from now; a past so distant it seemed lost in the foreshadow of their present strife. She had been warm and filled with life then. A subtle force less she let her ire through. But voice and women that now greeted him were far distant to that memory, a pauper to a queen. What could have shaken her so? He would not deny he had hurt her grievously, but surely there was something else to the terror that had enveloped her. Something beyond the simple guard she was now tasked to make pay the bill for his youthful stupidity and childishness. Only, it was a whispered memory that pulled at him as her words reverberated in his mind, pieces spinning in the silent pause. 
 

The game player awakened in the back of thought; sought out the fine changes to her character. Grasped at meanings inside of meanings to her words. It was not a pulling of his will that brought the game player forward but her words. Aes Sedai twisting of simple meaning to distract or divert. The form familiar to him, to anyone with time spent in the Tower proper. He did not draw the player forward; did not seek to slip into the comfortable mantle but it hovered with glee itching to be worn. He tried to hold her gaze, eyes flicking to her held lip before he could pull them back up, an unseen tightening at their edges. Why Lavinya .... Why must the games continue ... Why can't you just end this strife .... free me ... free the Tower of me .... Why? Questions slipped through the cracks in the wall he used to hold the game at bay; to hold who he had become at bay. He need answers; completeness. How long had it been since he had felt whole? Inside the player sneered at her words, offered little warmth as he sifted for the clues to trip the trap. There were always failures somewhere, not all plans could succeed even for the great and powerful Aes Sedai.
 

The flex of her fingers drew Corin back to the forefront, forced the player to the shadows once more. How quickly her need could over power the ingrained training in him; almost. Tel'aran'rhiod, he sampled the word soundlessly his mind playing through the memories like fingers flipping through a filing box seeking a match. But the fingers came up empty, the puzzle piece alone and not paired. Her eyes had turned from him with more pain at their centre, a sheen glazing over them once more. This time his fingers did not seek to draw her gaze to his own. His arms enveloped her protectively, hand lightly pressing her head back to his shoulder. She needed the break, needed him to not see to deep. Why ... What will I find? The movement had said as much, her meekness shrieked unspoken of the need for protection. Protection even from him it seemed. Still his mind worked in the silence that stretched between them seeking out some reference to dreams; carefully avoiding the snares around his own that would bring ruin to this moment. There was something about the word, a passing conversation; words not meant for other ears in passing perhaps. It teased at his mind, slipped like smoke through his fingers; unable to add substance to his search. "A dream but not a dream?" the words slipping out before he could catch them a mix of question and statement. Why had he used her own way of twisting meaning, the player's cynical chuckled silent in the shadows seeking more pieces. His desire to find meaning in the word from his memories left him wanting; distracted his attention while the player slipped by.

 

 She couldn’t see his face, had deliberately avoided his gaze in fact, so Lavinya could only begin to guess at what he thought, whether even now he was mentally planning how to have her sent back to the tower and seen to by a yellow for paranoia and insanity, like a taint-touched asha’man. Just the brush of that thought within her mind’s eye brought another shudder but suddenly she was drawn back into Corin’s embrace, held safe from the shadows that pulled at her and threatened to drag her under. It was madness indeed to think such a simple show of affection could protect her from the real perils of the dream world but still she revelled in it, felt at once the keen, painful edge of the knowledge she had lost the right to this, had never had the right to it – and also she felt safe, beyond the reach of the world, from anything that could threaten or destroy her. It was disconcerting but she indulged in it all the same, let him hold her, soothe her. He was warm and solid and real – Corin, her Corin, and she was as powerless to pull away from him as fish dangling on a hook.

 

 Moments passed, the question gentle, coaxing, and before she even knew what she was doing words were spilling from her, halting at first as she tried to piece together an explanation that he may understand. “I had thought it was largely fiction too, before I was drawn into it.” She closed her eyes tightly, taking strength from the firm shoulder beneath her cheek, the implacable band of protection his arms provided around her. “At the bl…the black tower,” she faltered slightly but continued, “it was disastrous – we were accosted as soon as we arrived, there was fighting…we lost, there was too many of them, too well trained, they were cutting weaves...” The hands against his shirt tightened painfully against the cloth covering his chest – distantly she thought she must be ruining the shirt – her knuckles were white with the fierce grip but her voice remained flat, the story continuing to spill out with gathering momentum. “We were forced into bondage. Bonded, like a cruel parody of a warder, except they used compulsion, forbidden, disgusting compulsion…with tainted saidin to obey like pathetic slaves and forbidden to channel.” A long shudder went through her frame unbidden as she spoke, her voice filled with loathing and contempt - but she felt those comforting arms tighten slightly and took heart. He is here now.

 

 It took several deep breaths and she assumed great patience on Corin’s part, but she managed to continue. “I could not ward my dreams and there was….is…..this, this madman,” she spat venomously, thinking the word was far too weak for the likes of Linten. “With the skill to draw me into the dream world.” Remembered panic clawed at her anew, fresh tears of terror pricking her eyelids and burning her throat, muscles tensing in very real fear as the words continued to spill forth. “I was powerless, a mouse next to a lion and he was cunning, so cunning and cruel and he…he….” She stopped then, unable to continue as the humiliation stole her voice and replaced it with a sob.

 

 Mention of the Whites' tainted opposite set tension at the edges of his shoulder blades. They had done this? Those tainted men the Red's hunted had caused this mush loss of her? ... How? Questions, always there were questions. Had a time existed before Sirayn when he mindlessly accepted the world; not questioning its madness, it's beauty, it's pain. Simple minded farm boy mesmerized by the city sizes and squares. Lost to the ebb and flow of people who called them home; past through them in travels and filled the stories of Gleemen. A time no longer afforded to the simpleton now seated at the table of the great game. His new hand now forced to play, cynical outlook to measure each word and phrase seeking the hidden meaning. Rooting out that which others so desperately wish to bury. The leverage to change the path of another; cursed addiction surely brought to life by the Father of Lies. This was who he had become now, who they had made him; what they had made him. 

 

 Instinctively his arms tightened around her as she shuddered. Dreams ... how could someone be drawn into a dream? Vaguely he noted the unbidden hatred in her voice as she spoke with disdain of a man that could do something with dreams. The thought held on the edge of focus while he continued to sift for information on this dream world. Was it always a place of terror? Did it only affect those capable of touching one of the power? How was he to find out more here in the country, away from the hub of Tar Valon? Pieces masked in shadow, their edges blurred continued to spin in his mind. He let his focus shift back to her hatred of the man. He had done something to her, something she couldn't voice yet.  

 

Like a child, his hand lightly patted and rubbed her back trying to comfort her, calm her once more. This was not the woman he remembered nor the picture of Aes Sedai control and serenity. Sirayn would be crawling out of her own skin if she were to have witnessed this display; no doubt the Amyrlin would have Lavinya surrounded by yellows had they been at the tower. But they were not at the tower and had only a Red in disguise and himself to help her. The thought occurred to him that perhaps Saline Sedai could help her. But it was quashed just as it quickly as it arrived. She had plenty of time during their travels to approach her, so she must already feel the Red would not be able to help. Or was it Aes Sedai pride? A new concern began to bloom in the back of his mind. A tidbit his subconscious had picked out while he had been puzzling other paths. She had been bonded! She had been bonded by a man with taint laden power. 

 

 His hand stilled on her back, eyes cutting to the back of her head. Had the taint touched her; touched her mind? The bond allowed emotions and thoughts to pass between members and could almost be considered an intimate conversation, so he had heard. At least for some it was. An image tried to coalesce in to a familiar form and he pushed it away harshly. Sirayn would have to wait for now. Something niggled at his mind. An alarm silently raised but its origin not understood. There was something about the bond that worried at thought but refused to come clear as the silence began to stretch. In the darkness her soft sob seemed to reverberate off the walls. "You are safe now Lavinya," his head tipped as he prepared to draw her face back up to emphasize his resolve to protect her.  "He can not reach you now. No one knows where you ...." the rest of his words were snuffed out like a candles light as the earlier thought solidified. 

 

 Oh no ... location! As then a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach began to take root he remembered that bond-mates could point to the other’s location instinctively. His eyes swept the room, head turning slightly to look behind him before he could still it. Did he know where they were, where she was? A tremor threatened to rise through his back, the itch of unseen eyes watching him. Would he react correctly and keep his charge protected and safe this time? This time… the bitterness of the thought slipped past as his concern cleared his attention and set his focus sharply. "No one knows we are here, correct? I mean how could they, that was the whole point of the disguise."

 

 Lavinya was such a horrid jumble of complex emotions in that moment; one of the Forsaken could have waltzed in and started hurling balefire around and she still would have been incapable of rousing herself to move. The fear and the remembered suffering was a raw graze on her soul, inflamed and searing, while yearning and a keen urge to surrender to the pitiful hope blazing in her heart strove for attention. Add to the mess overwhelming exhaustion, humiliation and a healthy dose of unabated infatuation – how one body could contain such a frenzy of feeling she did not know, but somehow she felt all these things in a whirlwind that seemed to find catharsis in the outpouring of her very embarrassing tears. Aes Sedai did not cry – for all anyone should know, their tear ducts were removed at birth. No wonder he’d bolted from her, she was the very antithesis of what it should be to wear the shawl.

 

 It was these thoughts that eventually saw her tears abate, helped along with Corin’s words as they filtered through the fog of her distraught mind. She could hear his concern, oh yes and how it warmed her, but she also began detecting something other in his tone, almost patronising like she was indeed a lack-wit or touched with madness. Irritation quickly rose to squash some of her other less savoury emotions and she found the strength to sit upright and meet his gaze once more, even if she wasn’t completely strong enough to pull herself well and truly out of his reach like she should if she had any sense whatsoever. Her eyes narrowed, the stern look no doubt completely ruined by how horrid she must look – tear stained, splotchy and dishevelled – but still, she was not a complete idiot. “The bond was resolved when I was released from my captivity,” she said gruffly, “you do not need to look as though I am deliberately putting us all in undue danger.” She sniffed indignantly and also out of necessity, scowling at the dampness on Corin’s shirt in self reprimand as she at last untwined her fingers from the fabric and instead tangled them wearily in her riotous hair.

 

I know he can’t find me, even my dreams are warded now, but my subconscious refuses to listen to reason.” She glanced askance. “It’s why I do not sleep well in the evening hours,” she added in an almost mumble, one shoulder lifting in a helpless shrug. “I have been unable to stave off the nightmares since…since I returned.” She peeped back at him through the tumble of her hair, half glaring in annoyance, half pleading with him to understand. She sighed heavily. “I know how it sounds, there is a good reason I’ve told no one.” She shook her head ruefully and gave her hair an impatient yank. “I don’t fully understand it, but he had this power to pull me from sleep and into the dream world…it’s a dream but also it’s like waking. What happens there has repercussions in the real world, like injuries taken will show real bruises or,” her eyes lit with unholy satisfaction, “daggers in the thigh will leave very real, bleeding wounds. But there I could not channel, and he was like the master of the house in that place.” She shuddered again, pushing away the memory of his torments, his threats, his promise to find her and her babe. “It is not easy to forget.” 

 

  The attempt at a cool Aes Sedai look failed miserably in its effect; lost under the array of tear streams, red eyes, and the other obvious signs of distress and weeping. But he gave her credit silently for the attempt. At least it showed a sign of the woman he had known inside. Though her words of the bond's removal did ease him, it did not completely remove the tension that had lightly wrapped around his muscles preparing to move them into action should the environment around them warrant its necessity. The indignant sniff at the end wanted to pull at the corners of his mouth; the look and the sound at odds with one another like an upset spoiled child. There was a time that pull would have resulted in full on laughter erupting from deep within. Now was not the time or the situation to allow it life and instead only a slight twitched at the corners passed quickly. His hands folded together in his lap as he worked her comments about the bond over. It was information he had not heard before. That the bond shared between warder and sister should be the same, and that it was dissolved was something he had never pondered. Perhaps it was shared only with the potential bond-mate prior to bonding and held in secret or perhaps he had not sought out the information as he had never imagined a time and place where one would want to remove it once in place. Briefly the cynical player added the thought of a secret kept by the sisters to keep the warders enslaved to their purpose without the knowledge of an escape. He let it slide past without grabbing hold. There was already too much bitterness building to add to its heap.

 

   The malicious light that bloomed in her eyes as she spoke of daggers drew his attention more than her words. There was a fire behind that light. Something that resounded deep in her soul and openly dared you to challenge her. Light help a person that might fare that look. A small sense of pride in her eked out of the darkness inside as more of the Aes Sedai mantle seemed to touch her. A growing strength within that spoke of the woman he had once believed he had known and the woman he expected to wear the ring that flashed through her unruly locks. "This dream world you speak of .... this dream that is a waking world. A world where injury inflicted can carry across the boundary and where restriction in the world can carry to the dream. This seems too good to be true; almost an illusion perpetuated by the Father of Lies. How is it that one can find a single soul and force them into this world while not arousing suspicion of others they may have tripped over in the process? It seems that it should be widely known as the power and the options that could be gained from it is beyond that of the heights of Dragonmount itself." His wandering muse was given a light quizzical voice as his mind spun the puzzle pieces in place and sought a more vivid picture. A picture that refused its very form and as insult offered more pieces to the mess. Cut off words reminding him of a previous path not completed. His gaze sharpened slightly as he sought the deeper meaning to an earlier part of their conversation. "Lavinya, what did he do?" the question a hard turn from the direction they had been just on, but one that demanded he ask. "You were helpless and he .... what did he do Lavinya?"

 

After glimpsing the play of puzzlement and disbelief across Corin’s face, Lavinya’s eyes settled on the hands in his lap as a safer target, only to find herself scowling to think she had voluntarily removed herself from their embrace and comfort after longing for it for so very long. No doubt it was for the best – she presumed in the light of day he would still accuse her of using womanly wiles to try and tie him to her and torture him for her own amusement – but it had been nice. Very nice. At least this way it was easier to focus her attention on his words and the subtle clues between them, in his tone and expression. He did not believe her, and why should he? It was ludicrous and far-fetched, and she had questioned her own sanity in the midst of the maelstrom of abuse many, many times. Still, the lack of trust was an insult to her pride, he knew she could tell no lie, but believe in her own delusions? Totally plausible. Her scowl deepened as he continued to speak, angry at his words, angry at herself for revealing this debilitating vulnerability, angry at him for being so damned difficult all the time, angry at the pattern for toying so cruelly with her thread.  

 

Opening her mouth to sharply clarify a few things such as the tower’s knowledge of the dream world but the lack of those with a talent for many years, and how only fools like taint-brained black coats thought to toy in the dangerous realm, and how was she bloody supposed to know how that madman knew what he did when the wretched man homed in on that little omission like a wolf might track its prey. That cursed intelligence and sharp wit of his was far less admirable when it was directed at her secrets. Her mouth clicked shut in a brief moment of panic – how does one simply spell out the methods of physical and psychological abuse she had been subject to? And what did they say about her? Would he think her stained by them? Broken and no longer fit for anything but pity? And if she began, would she be able to stop the spilling of her secrets? What if she thoughtlessly mentioned her pregnancy? She wanted to tell him everything, and the need frightened her.  

Agitated she rose from the bed where he still sat and walked to the wash-stand, pouring some water into the basin and splashing it on her face, not looking in Corin’s direction, instead gazing unseeingly into the dish as memories flashed painfully across her vision. The meetings in the dream world were only a part of Linten’s tyranny; he had dogged her waking and sleeping. The woods, the switch, the violations…all to be repeated in cruel parodies in her dreams. How he had learned Corin’s name and used it against her, wore his face, threatened her growing baby…Her hands clenched tightly on the edge of the wooden wash stand. She knew she had to tell him, that he would not let it rest and that - light burn her for a fool – she wanted to tell him, to unburden herself at last but ahh, why couldn’t it have been in different circumstances? Why couldn’t he have returned to the tower because he was looking for her, that he wanted to see her, and cared, genuinely cared like a true friend, confidant and lover.  

 

He took advantage of my peril in every way his devious imagination could conjure.” Her voice was low as she reached for a towel, patting her face, lingering as though she could hide in the rough linen. Flatly, she continued, “Systematic abuse of both the mental and physical, the waking and the dreaming.” She threw the towel aside and wrapped her arms around herself as she paused in front of the single taper, shivering despite her best efforts as she remembered everything she tried to forget. “He was cunning and cruel and very clever, and delighted in bringing an arrogant Aes Sedai to heel, all the more so as I fought him every step of the way, as best I could.” But her best had been pitiful, a stone tossed at a hurricane, and she had to protect Elise, her innocent unborn child; Sirayn, she had protected the Amyrlin too, and Corin, always Corin, she had to keep Linten from finding them. And what happened while she did? The Amyrlin Seat took herself off and her ever vigilant guard had followed her. While Lavinya endured countless horrors, they had been together, for all she knew, laughing and cavorting- idiot, you know it’s not true. With difficulty she put aside the bitter thoughts and straightened her spine. “I will spare you the details, but whatever you might think to imagine, I assure you I endured it and worse still.” She held herself stiffly, waiting for the further withdrawal, for the contempt and pity, for the appropriate condolence before a hasty exit from the room and her very life.

 

The spider sitting in the dark corner twitched at the sounding thread; watching over its moving prey. Patience and timing were key for its capture; light reflecting off the silky threads in perfect harmony until the unwitting fly touched their surface. In that instance panic ensued and the helpless fly's thrashing only ensnared it more as the spider rushed forth to secure its prey. Corin's eyes watched Lavinya as she played out her emotions, some well-hidden and some not. The image had once been a picture of his weakness in Sirayn's cold masterful hands. How different all their lives could have been had that chance encounter in the armory not taken place. Foolish thought, nothing by chance happened when Sirayn was involved. Even when Lavinya could control her emotions on the exterior, hid the thoughts and plans she held inside, secrets upon secrets, the barren absence shouted loudly of unspoken paths. Even a blind man robbed of sight could compensate and with time puzzle out his surroundings. But did he have enough time to leisurely puzzle out the mystery of the fiery redhead before him? As she began her tale he moved quietly to the peripheral of her vision as if slipping into the shadows that floated and twisted in parts of the room. Better to be silent in the background when one was waiting for a tongue to loosen. A reminder of lessons from the past burned into the tool the Tower had trained; the Green’s hand had seen to.

 

Even as she spun out her story, the parts she was willing to share until he pulled more from her. His mind slipped into what had almost become second nature to him at one point in the past. Carefully noting words and inflections, looking for the absence and the change in thought or flow of her telling. His heart, the battered and bruised mess it had become, rumbled in the dark, under the analytics, wanting to plead a case. To act on her behalf and remind him of the past that had existed. It was forced back down out of focus swiftly and the action sickened him. What had become of the man he had been? Nothing, you were a farm boy before the Tower made you a man; she made you a tool. Now that tool has purpose again. The internal strife not even quirking an eyebrow as the analytical continued to measure each word and form before filing it away for later review. So many horrors of war could be found in books, Gleeman tales, and that of the battlefield after the butcher’s bill had been paid. Was there truly someone so evil there could be more than his imagination could conjure up? Darkfriends, mere children of the Father of Lies. Could you doubt that his taint touching the mind and soul of a man could not produce worse?

 

He was suddenly aware of her form motionless before him, arms wrapped tight as if warding off the cold, or perhaps seeking protection from the dark. Her last words lost due to his internal distraction, a tool still flawed it seems. There was obviously more to the tale then she was willing to share at this point. Only snippets escaped her careful grasp of the whole. Fragments of a picture but still too many missing pieces to properly deduce the whole. Night had continued its slow creeping passage while they jousted over the information; over her brokenness. How long still remained? Moreover was the question of the Red and how she might look upon things if she was to check on her charge and find him in her room and a story of disaster writ on her face.  If she came would Lavinya portray the confident and defiant Aes Sedai, or hand him over to her as a broken antagonist attempting to thwart her position with slander and trickery? Surely they hadn't drifted so far apart she would tie him in such a light. He was part of the cause for the hurt she held deeply to, but he was not solely responsible for it all. The vision of mirth filled storm gray eyes floated in the depths of his mind. They had once more come to be of their own volition, but he was unable to muster the desire to cast them back to the depths. He deserved her pleasure at his torment and failure. He deserved it all. 

 

Stepping closer his fingers lightly encircled her arms as if to add comfort and support to her. The contact warmed the palms of his hands while he peeked through the entangled strands of her wild hair and sought to find a glimpse of her eyes. It was the eyes that told the true story, the window to a person’s very soul. No matter how well they controlled their face, breathing, timing of words, or a myriad of other tells that plagued the human species. The eyes could tell you the truth, if the owner was willing to let you see to their depths. "Surely the Tower had dealt with this man before the rest of their gatherings were allowed to set foot in the Tower proper." The light flowery scent of her hair edged with a musky hint from the nightmare-induced panic that had gripped her assailed his nose and further fogged over the pieces he worked. Their close proximity now seeming to turn on him, a path he had ventured before. But it was not the path the Wheel had afforded them in the past. That foolishness had cost too many people. He could not afford to let it happen again, he would not. "Perhaps we should have your maid attend you further." His hands dropped back to his side as he turned back to the chair firmly set beneath the handle. The Red can protect her better from somewhere I obviously cannot travel. He scowled at the door briefly, a new thought arising. If this dream world that is not a dream is as she stated, then what good is a Warder? What good is the purpose I have given my life to? How could a Warder hope to protect their charge if the attack was from somewhere they could not see or be a shield from? A dark shadow slipped over his eyes; brow furrowing at the missing answers to his questions. Now that his very purpose seemed to be in question to an odd degree by his own hand and that of the wheels weaving, the player fell silent and into the back ground. A tool that only held part of a solution was still of value surely. 

 

Lavinya heard rather than saw him move, felt it like knife to the heart as she imagined him withdrawing in repulsion, leaving her to her misery, perhaps casting her one last pitiful glance before he opened the door. Wallowing in the imagined scenario meant that his touch was unexpected when it came, so simple a gesture and yet it pulled at her heart, drawing deep from the well of emotions she battled to contain. Tears pricked at her eyes and burned a lump in her throat; he was here, he was here, touching her, consoling her, he was here, and it was so very bittersweet. She had yearned for this in the secret places of her bruised heart, for companionship and an understanding soul, for friendship and the knowledge that someone cared; and yet she hadn’t wanted it from just any source, always it had been Corin she longed for, his arms she dreamed of around her, his understanding and his trust and friendship…no, more than friendship, she wanted love and intimacy, his love, for her fractured self to be made whole once more with their mutual affection serving as the healing balm. And now it was so close, he was so close, but still he was distant, further now, drawing away, assuring her that her fears must be madness, slipping out of reach, turning from her like he had before, leaving her alone, alone, always so alone….

 

No!The word was wrenched from her unbidden, hand outstretched towards him before she could even consider the consequences of such an action. Stupid, foolish girl. “No,” she whispered again, dropping her hand, anguished dark eyes clashing with piercing emerald before slipping away. He thinks you pathetic enough, she chided, no need to prove to him how accurate that opinion actually is. Mentally she scrambled, fighting for control over her wayward emotions but light it was difficult as she watched him mentally detach himself, trying to flee from the mess she made of his life. If only he knew just how much she had done so, her mind guiltily conjuring an image of Elise before it was banished once more. She had endured countless horrors in the name of protecting this mule-headed man, had borne his child in secret, had grieved for him when she thought him lost, had scoured the lands for news of him, had done all she could to protect him from scandal and retribution, longed for him still with all the strength in her foolishly generous heart. She was not letting him just walk away; could not, would not. But how could she truly stop him if that was what he wanted?

 

I do not know how effectively a man with his ability could be kept from the dream world,” she murmured, thankful that as yet Corin remained; for how long she couldn’t say. “It’s different there…thoughts come into being like images…faces and names betrayed to him…” she frowned, her fingers knotting together in front of her, absently toying with the space on her finger where her serpent ring usually resided. “No one knows the full extent of what he did, it was the only way I could keep,you, she thought with a wry twist of her mouth, “people safe. I am sure he is still very much alive, though he was not one to join the delegation to the White Tower, light be praised.” A coward, no doubt he thought her a coward, weak and pathetic, too frightened to see a man brought to justice. A flash of anger lifted her chin, a hint of pride she clung to like a life-raft adding steel once more to her spine. “Saline knows nothing – along with the rest of the Tower - and so it will remain. My current…disagreement with sleep is no one’s concern but my own and I will deal with it as necessary.

 

Affecting a nonchalance she did not feel – her heart thundered in her chest, somehow it seemed everything between them past, present and future, balanced on her steps in this very moment. She shrugged one slender shoulder, a simple movement that expressed a complacency at odds with the way the pieces of her heart ground painfully against one another when she gazed at his face. “Eventually my subconscious will catch up with the reality I know; he cannot find me while my dreams are warded, and that is always, unless I am stilled or shielded, and I will die before that happens again.” Heat had crept back into her voice by the last, vehemence lacing the quietly delivered words. She did not need some false lady’s maid to dance attendance on her any more than she needed the pity of an ungrateful, surly tower guard who should bloody well treat her a lot better than he did. But then, she thought ruefully, I will take whatever I can get with Corin Danveer. Whatever it takes.

 

A sudden yawn caught her and she clenched her jaw, fighting it back, warily glancing towards the window only to note how the sky had lightened with the first hint of dawn – it was only a touch, but it was enough to ease something that was tightly coiled inside of her. “There is still time to sleep.” She glanced over to the second bed in the small room, untouched by the red sister and likely to stay that way, Lavinya presumed, as the younger Aes Sedai followed her own whims and fancies and had airily made some mention of not waiting up that Lavinya had barely had patience to hear, eager as she had been to crawl into her bed. She moved then, crossing the small space to sit on her own bed, glancing up towards where Corin still hovered by the door. She caught her lower lip between her teeth but hastily released it when she realised she committed the betraying action and did her best to conceal the inner turmoil her next words were causing her. She held her breath, hoping against hope – “Corin…please stay.”

 

 

Corin & Lavinya

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Heart and breath in unison stopped for a fraction of a second, like the bodies reaction when plunged through the ice of a frozen lake and enveloped in the frigid water. The word, a single solitary word; two simple letters, carried the weight and commandment of the Dragon himself. Even with the strained note it carried he knew it was Lavinya’s voice that had brought the word to life and stilled all movement in him. A strain that should never have come from an Aes Sedai of her stature and yet more than twice this very night it had been there. His head snapped around to meet her gaze with a speed that surprised him, gaze seeking assurance it was not a nightmare but reality that he still walked. A brief hope that he indeed was dreaming and this was not truly happening was crushed like a candle flame between finger and thumb. The vision that met his eyes, her out stretched hand; the look on her face. The wounds on his heart that he had once hoped repaired and buried rent anew and threatened to crumble the very foundation his walls had been erected on.

 

The simple word again, no more than a whisper this time. What right did he have to have a thread even exist still in the pattern of the wheels weaving if he had caused her this much shame? Her eyes mercifully slide away before the tremor broke free and grasped his form; his self-reproach commanding he correct the injustice he had caused in her past. She was an Aes Sedai and sister of the grey, she did not deserve the torment and failure he brought to her; laid like a vial and feted shroud upon her head and shoulders. He watched her fingers toy with the space where her badge of honor, the great ring, would normally sit. A subtle reminder of who she was and how far above him she was stationed. There had been a murmur of words from her, lost from his focus as he grappled with the stain inside. A battle quickly forgotten as her chin rose and the fortitude in her eyes pierced him.

 

He sought to play back her words he had lost focus on; pull from the depths some trace of information that might set to light the sudden change. Fool, she knows her place and demands you remember yours. Is it really that hard for you? At one time it had been easy … a time that had costed so very much. A touch of pleasure paid for in pain and torment. Metered out slowly as lives were ruined and threads were woven out of the pattern. His weakness had bearing on that lost. He was not foolish enough to believe that his actions solely had pivoted this part of the pattern to disaster and rags, but he had certainly been involved in it. Why would she just not finish the task the Tower should have done when he had run off, deserted them all for his own person belief. The wallowing pity cut short as the game player shook him back out of his internal focus. Her voice had changed, the threatening edge wrapped around the soft words like that of the lights reflection he had watched dance on the blade at the beginning of this night. She would have her revenge, her voice promised it with the softness of a kiss and the sharpness of blade slowly slipped between the ribs. Would those deep earthen eyes dance with delight if the ribs were his? A chill raced his spine as he realized we was not entirely convinced they were not.

 

The invitation to stay, it had been and invitation; a request, not a demand. An invitation to remain in the room, though her eyes had clearly marked the Red sisters bed on the other side of the room. He was not to get any foolish idea’s that their past and that of the Red Guard’s less than inconspicuous suggestions be given any life in his mind. There was another snare that awaited him on the other side of the simple wooden door that sealed the room from the hall. What ideas had floated around in the drunken stupor of the guards? He had been in her room all night, sometimes their conversation was heated and loud, sometimes soft. How much had they heard and how much had they let their mind fill in? Lavinya herself had not helped  any regarding the visions that played in their minds with the way she had been carrying on during their travels either.

 

Slowly and deliberate he made his way to Saline’s bed and sat down lightly on the edge, using the time to try and focus his thoughts once more. He could still be the sword and shield for her on this trip, protect her the way he was supposed to; as a Tower trained guard. His eyes looked up to meet hers, but for once there was no seeking focus. “Lavinya … Sedai”, he let his gaze wander to the window as if inspecting the surface or perhaps the darkness beyond. Morning would be soon upon them and he had done little to ensure her rest, “you still need more rest.” A neutral expression flicked back to meet her gaze, “if it so pleases you. I will remain until mornings sun paints the horizon.” Her authoritative words on sleep being her own concern played back in his mind briefly. Force and confrontation had done nothing to help that matter so perhaps a more congenial and respectful guard could. “But as your guard you will understand if I sit here and watch over you rather than sleep.” If she had thought to voice an objection she did well to keep it from showing while they looked across the room at each other, a tentative truce lingering in the room.

 

Cutting his focus back to the enveloping darkness outside with its slight graying at the horizons edge, Corin became keenly aware of the comfort the darkness afforded him when it was metered out in the void. The place where he could flow through chaos around him and still hold focus on the need of the moment without the attachment of the moment. He fought to keep from glancing across the room when he heard Lavinya settle into her bed. There was plenty of time to deal with that past. That was a trap best not sprung yet. After a time, her breathing settled into a steady relaxed rhythm and the softness drew him once more to glance over her form. An ache he did not deserve set heavily in his chest and he used it to remind himself of a pain he could not let happen again to her. A tool, I am a tool and a shield, but could he be her shield? Ruthlessly he crushed the thought, scowling back at the sky twinging with red and orange hues. Another place …. Another time perhaps.

 

Stifling the sight that wanted to escape he rose, stretching out the nights stiffness and fighting back the yawn that had been playing across Lavinya’s mouth most of the night. Sleep could wait, there was more work to do and little time to complete it. Setting the letter gently on the table next to her sleeping form he allowed his eyes to linger a moment longer before turning and quietly slipping from the room. A perfect escape destroyed by the grin that lite the shadow filled hallway. He was so deep in planning he had not noticed the man at first and that did little to improve his mood already worn thin from the nights jousting. “Looks like someone had fun,” the Red Guards voice was rough and lit with mischief. His eyes danced with conspiracy as he surveyed Corin before being quickly hushed. It was obvious what the man believed had happened in the room. It did not seem to matter to him that they had been shouting at times, or even that there had been screams of fright. Try as he might Corin seemed to only fall deeper into his own mumbling words until; cheeks staining with heat when some of the suggestions the man had voiced brought images reluctantly to life in his mind, caused him to quickly slip down the stairs to find air and reprieve outside.

 

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It took every ounce of willpower Lavinya possessed to keep her brows from climbing and her eyes from rolling heavenward in exasperation and instead keep them trained on the infuriating figure opposite her in the small room. To think, she was the one considered arrogant, while the unpredictable tower guard once more retreated behind a façade of polite acquiescence that did not ring with truth given his words. He offered magnanimously dictated that he would stay and guard her, as though she hadn’t practically begged him in most unflattering fashion to stay with her. Drawing on reserves of patience she did not know she possessed, Lavinya bit her tongue as she studied him, noting with no small amount of chagrin how he quite deliberately held her at an emotional distance, his voice proper and the honorific securely in place once more. Had he really been holding her, soothing her with words and actions such a short time ago? Where had that man gone, curse him?

 

Deciding discretion was the better course of valour for the time being - for both their sakes, perhaps – Lavinya complied without a word, though there were many things she longed to say. Like how it was foolish that they should both go sleepless, she only wanted his presence, not his guarding gaze. Or how infuriating he was by being at turns warm then ice-cool, calming and then condescending. Or, she wondered amusedly, what would he do if she told him she felt she could only sleep if he joined her on the narrow cot and helped her feel safe? Her face remained impassive but the wicked notion did satisfy her, thinking of how he might blush and stammer, all off-kilter. No, silence was the safer option, even if it went against her nature to quietly obey. She had learned, it seemed, that there were other avenues of battle than head-first into the fray.

 

Still, there was no denying she was so very tired and even another hour or two in slumber would be most welcome. Quietly she settled back into the bed, pulling the covers up to her chin and stealing covert glances over at his immovable presence. He could have walked out, she reminded herself. Could have made his apologies and fled, could have scorned the needy Aes Sedai, or even submitted with obvious reluctance and distaste. But no, he remained. Why? He so clearly chafed at being bound to her for this mission and would much prefer to berate her and fight with her when forced into her company. Duty, she thought with a weary sigh, that and no more. He would play the part of proper guard to the Tower, there was no more to it than that. To think he would perform the same service for any other sister brought a dark scowl to her face and had her abruptly roll to face the wall, willing herself to leave off her irritating thoughts and to actually get some precious sleep while Corin was still here. He is still here, she thought, and it followed her down into the depths of blissfully dreamless slumber.

 

-----

 

 

Rolling one shoulder, Lavinya repressed a wince as muscles not used to so much use twinged in protest. Corin had been gone when she had woken to the first rays of sunlight. Disappointment had flooded her before she could tamp it down, though on it came the heels of relief – she felt more refreshed than she had in the days since they began travelling, and it gave her time to compose herself in the light of day. The note was something of a burr under the saddle but at least he hadn’t run the moment she closed her eyes. No, he hadn’t run, he had helped her, and somehow managed to make even that an event peppered with frustration and torture and too many unanswered questions. Light, her body would ache tomorrow, thanks to the training he had introduced her too that morning. If she could not channel in the dream, then she should learn to protect herself with her own hands. It was entirely logical and frankly she was annoyed to not have considered it sooner; still, he was a hard task master and had done his best to pretend the caring, warm man she had rediscovered in the early hours did not reside within him.

 

There were some cracks in the defences, she decided with satisfaction as her gaze cut across to where he was preparing his mount. Rotating her wrist to stretch those muscles – it was ridiculous, she used her hands all the time, how could she even ache there? – she halted when he glanced in her direction. Burn him if she’d let him see any more of her human failings than she had to; she couldn’t shake the thought that he would be amused if he saw her plagued by the effects of the morning’s exercise. All she could do was pray that there would be a deep, hot bath at the end of the day’s travel. Glancing around the rear courtyard where the Red Guard continued to make ready to journey onward, Lavinya at last saw Saline Sedai make her return, hesitating before making her way to her side and halting a respectable distance behind her shoulder like a proper lady’s maid. It was not difficult to deduce that she had spent a sleepless night given the shadows smudged beneath her eyes and the less than pristine state of yesterday’s dress.

 

Lavinya considered what it might betoken and was preparing to ask Saline if it was good or ill news she now possessed when a rather ribald jest met her ears from the pair of guards loading trunks into the carriage. Not usually one to pay the coarse tongues of service men much heed, it was the way the word ‘sister’ was spoken that caught her attention, and how she was looking far more at ease today while her ‘brother’ looked quite worse for wear. Her eyes darted across to where Corin stood attending to Ayende, noting the faint tinge of colour on his cheekbones and the way his jaw clenched. The guard knew who the party truly were, of course, but this was rather an interesting development. She rather liked him looking less than composed, Lavinya decided, a hint of a smile dancing about her lips as she filed the comments to the back of her mind for later consideration and turned to the Red who waited demurely.

 

“Saline, the men seem to have all in readiness and I had your own belongings brought down. I pray your evening was fruitful.” There were too many strange figures out in the open for a proper conversation, too many who may wonder at it. “I would wait in the carriage with you, I think, that we may discuss the wedding plans.” The last was spoken stronger than the first, laced with the authority appropriate for a woman of her station. Their deception was important to protect the mission; there was no harm in her enjoying it, however. “Corin, dearest brother, would you help your sister into the carriage?” She called, all sweetness and affection as she awaited him by the step. “Unless your stamina is failing me at last, and I should ask one of the guard to assist instead?” Her smile was bright as she held her hand out to him, for all the world the picture of a loving sister, and if her eyes glinted with a wicked amusement, surely that was only due to being a sister who playfully teased her brother and not related at all to the barely stifled snort of the guards standing closest.

 

Once safely in the carriage, Lavinya allowed herself a moment to smile at the play before turning her shrewd gaze to the Red. “Tell me, sister,” she said not unkindly, reminding herself that for the other woman this was not just an escape from the tower but a sojourn to find her missing beloved. A mission she understood. He is here. “What news, and where do we go from here?”

 

 

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At her position inside the carriage, Saline tensed.

 

She was weary from the night’s intelligence-gathering work. 

 

Every time she closed her eyes she saw the face, the face of Rory Baker when they fought. Rory was pale, and there was a dark look of anger in her eyes. She was not glad to see her lover.

 

Saline could read Lavinya Sedai’s soothing tone — and she despised it. She was well aware of the older aes sedai’s increased influence and favors; her helping Saline where Maegan had turned her down. A master politico, Lavinya understood, better than anybody Saline had ever met, the uses of persuasion - was clearly skilled in matters other than texts and treatises. She seemed to have made some headway with Corin Gaidin . . .

 

She cut off the thought. She could barely hide her bitterness at Rory's memory. Why begrudge others happiness ?

 

“Of course. I understand there is a report sent from Katar from our missing sisters’ party,” Saline said matter-of-factly. She held up the waxed pouch, reporting its contents “Lillian Sedai was kidnapped by persons unknown. Abigail Sedai and Rory Sedai journeyed beyond the Manetherendrelle, to Fal Dara and supported the local Lord. But one day three fists of trollocs attacked Fal Moran, and both white and green sisters pursued the trollocs from the capital. They never returned." 

 

"We can support Thera Gaidar’s company stationed at Fal Dara. But before this I need to meet with an old friend, Corwin.” She hoped they were still friends. He once protected her as a freshly minted red decades ago. Cor trained her how to fight with her scimitar.

 

Cor, who she now found out was alive, faked his death. Saline realized she had underestimated the extent of Corwin’s madness after his bond with Eqwina Sedai broke. Just what was that man after? Saline was not impressed. Still she listened to Beatrice, fascinated. This was the first she had heard Corwin wasn’t dead. Clearly the funeral had been staged— just what plan had Cor made efforts to suppress? And what was that about an Aiel woman, a student, with Cor? It could not be coincidence that Beatrice was voicing it in Saline’s presence. There were strong rumors of Eqwina being black . . . even with her current mission Saline had her duty to perform. Her sisters understood duty all too well.

 

“I trust I can count on your support in this when we meet with Corwin Gaidin. I want you with me, Lavinya. We can’t be pushing from different angles. He can be . . . sensitive.” 

 

Ooc: Thanks for letting me RP with you two a little longer. I figure we'll make camp soon, maybe it starts raining or something. Saline will leave you two alone with her note and be on her merry way to join Corwin's camp near Katar :)

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Slowly the tension that sat in tightly coiled knots began to ease in his shoulders while his hands worked the brushes over Ayende’s chestnut hair. Ayende’s flank twitched with the pass of the brush, but the stallion seemed content to receive the added attention. Normally he would give Ayende a brush down at the end of the day, but this morning he needed the distraction. A task he could mindlessly go about to help settle the calm he had been floating in and out of all morning. The training had gone better than he had expected; their interactions at least had. He had expected Sirayn would have imparted something of her battle-hardened preparation into the other agent of her influence and now holder of his leash. Innuendos floated to his ears from behind the carriage and threatened to set his face aflame once more. As he had feared, the nights activities had been fully imagined; if only invented in their minds and they had quite happily taken to expounding on it anytime they felt he might be within ear shot. His inability to control certain images that floated up from their wild beliefs and touched his face only seemed to egg them on even more.  It was ridiculous and intensely frustrating, Corin knew control better than this; should have, had in the past. What in the light is wrong with you man?

 

Biting down on the inside of his cheek he quelled the image and the flush that was headed to his cheeks before it could form more than a faint hint briefly passing. He had tried to talk to Captain Mitya about the inappropriateness of the conversations in presence of the “ladies” and had only received a knowing wink and deep chuckle before he turn and headed back to look over the preparations. One way or another he had to either quell the men or burn him, gain control of his emotions. If that meant the rest of the trip in the void so be it. He owed his leash keeper nothing more than protection and strategic guidance where their lives were concerned; the thought ripping at an old wound. Yet the brushes paused briefly as he sensed eyes that matched Ayende’s coat prick his back. She was near the carriage, he had seen that earlier, awaiting Saline Sedai to appear. But he was sure she watched him; even if it was only in his own mind. Great, first an Aes Sedai that seemes to have a tentative hold on reality and now my own mind has gone jumping at shadows … the thought broken off as both Corin and Ayende tensed slightly at the distant clap of thunder. Grey disembodied eyes passing over his vision briefly threatening to bring his mood in line with the coming weather. He had thought to lose himself in the care of Ayende but it appeared the pattern and Sirayn were not done with his punishment yet. As if on queue Lavinya’s lilting voice carried in the reverberations wake. Light and playful she filled the men’s minds with reassurance to their thoughts at her command of assistance, adding to his shame before returning to the what he had hope to be a respite.

 

Ayende nuzzled his closed hand insistently seeking the carrot he held. “Yes yes, patience Ayende. A treat to eagerly sought only works to bind you later”, his voice a soft whisper for the animal before him. He patted the stallions nose affectionately before bending his head to rest against the horse’s broad forehead. “You and I are not so different my friend. We both follow the lead of another out of duty and bite at the bit when the direction is wrong; longing for a simpler time, a life away from the games.” The player internal chuckled at his words, he knew deep down he could not walk away from the drug that Sirayn had introduced him to. Glancing to the horizon and the impeding storm Corin released the new pent-up tension in a sigh of resignation before meeting with Mitya for an update on their destination and any news the two Aes Sedai had decided to share with the mere men that worked to keep them safe.

 

In hindsight it was his own fault for missing the conversation with the Aes Sedai when the information on Katar was released. There was little chance he would have been able to change the mind of the little Red, regardless of how bad he might have wanted to shake some very needed sense into her. What a picture that would have been, dark unruly hair whipping around as it chased her head. Would Lavinya come to his aid when the diminutive Red metered out a firm reminder of his place and her station, or would she just sit back with a twinkle in her eye and watch; thought the education overdue. Truly it didn’t matter, he was not capable of such mutiny of rank and structure; was he? He offered a brief prayer to the Creator that the light send he was not so far gone. They still traveled toward the blight; toward a possible release from the torment and confusion that clouded his mind and edged his mood.  Was it he who continued to bring out the worse in Lavinya? His eyes cut a quick glance to the carriage as it swayed its way down the road; the contents more precious than the façade at play over it.

 

Between the drizzling rain that had eventually soaked through his clothes and the heavy gray clouds above reflecting his mood, Corin could take the itch between his shoulder blades no longer. The curtain had remained closed since the rain had come. At least each time he had looked over it was. But he could not shake the feeling she still watched him. Why? Was it the way training had gone? He moved to the front of their column across from Mitya and sent a guard back to sit the space next to the carriage. Let her look at someone else for a span, worry over a different man. The thought struck foreign and pulled at the edges of reason. Why would he care if she worried on another man? He had no claim to her, no right to care for who her eyes followed or who she tied herself to. So why did she seem tied to him? He had brought her nothing but ruin since they had met. Ruined her, denied her, even ran from her. Was it all simply to see him tortured and her own personal gratification at his misery? At times their arguments seem to re-enforce that idea. Yet other times, like in the training that morning, there was something different; something that hinted at the past.

 

“Do be the end of a warrior when the mind do be not on the task”, the deep ruble from beside him drew him back from internal conflict. He had spoken little of things not related to the journey and that of the men’s readiness with Captain Mitya, certainly not anything related to Lavinya and himself personally. So, the comment must have been a warriors’ observation of another. “Aye, that it is,” and welcomed the end would be, “sometimes it is those that know better that fall the easiest to distraction.” He turned and offered the man a humorless smile that never touched his cheeks. “But then I have you and your men to protect my sister and her maid should I not see the inevitable coming.” The knowing nod from the man; his eyes still on the trail before them dropped the fake smile from Corin’s face and brought memories of Reikan back. “Youth do be eager to meet a glorious end in battle. I do think it be a great waste to see their blood be soaked into soil for the sake be of some glorious thought. It do be the wise man I thinks that can see the difference of what be needed and when in regards be it of duty and sacrifice.” The words true meaning was not lost on Corin. Deep down he knew the soundness of them and how wrong his path was. What had happened to that eager boy who had joined the Tower with a purpose? He had done well in his trainings and earned the eyes of Aes Sedai. His mentor had been proud of him, a promising career ahead of him; a good tool for the Tower and the side of Light. Where had he gone wrong? When had he let the darkness in and now paid for it in eternal torment? Was it the meet in the armory, his ceremony, the chance encounter at the well? Perhaps it was the devastation he caused so readily. The weakness at the grove, the bitterness of the cabin, the betrayal of trust.

 

Captain Mitya’s eyes scanned the dark gray clouds over head, “do only be a fool who do step into the snare of a woman. Be it especially with Aes Sedai.” With his thoughts spoken Captain Mitya heeled his horse into a light gallop to catch the front scout. They would be stopping soon for a quick bite and a chance for the women to stretch their legs; a chance for Lavinya and Corin to find civility or barely controlled anger. Which, he was not sure and that concerned him more than the weather or the possibility of strangers on the trail with dark intents. What happened to us …. to me …. to SIrayn? Absent-mindedly his hand brushed one of the saddle bags on Ayende his mind pondering the brief cryptic message inside. What do I do about you my dear Lavinya … about us? What game are you about? How easier the question might have been had he said yes back then. Bonded he would have been able to feel where she skirted the truth and held back her secrets. The double edge of a sharp battle sword was the bond, she would also know when he withheld and redirected to hide his secrets. Better to work the game as it was and hold tight the cards dealt.

 

OOC: and we are away on the trail ... have fun you two!! But not too much.

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The change in the weather seemed to match the flux in Lavinya’s temperament. Corin had almost relaxed at times during the training, but so quickly he returned to his sour countenance and aloofness. Sardonic humour was her fall back, subtle jibes and teasing - usually without malice - but it seemed the more she acted completely within her natural character, the more he closed up and pulled away. Infuriating puzzle of a man. There had been a time, where he had responded with his own sharp wit, meeting the playful battle with his own sword drawn to return the parry, not disdained entirely of her mischievous word-play. Disdained of her. She thought they had been making progress but apparently not, given he did not take it upon himself to discover the plans for the next leg of the journey but rather waited to be briefed by Mister Mitya, like he was no more than a brainless sell-sword. Her molars ground together as she clenched her jaw and directed a glare towards the window, beyond which she knew he rode. Why was he so determined to push her away? Was she truly so abhorrent to him? Or mayhap…mayhap their past was the lie, memories distorted by longing. He had tried to warn her off, after all. No doubt he had been playing at a game, perhaps even a test sent by Sirayn, and any affection she perceived had merely been artifice. What he presented now – surly, gruff and distant was a truer representation of his feelings towards herself.

 

Briefly she closed her eyes against the wave of self-inflicted pain the musing caused and ordered herself to cease her own private pity-party. None of that mattered anymore, not really; all that mattered was restoring Corin and healing his wounds. Elise needed him. She needed him. She could not just give in to his childish tantrums and walk away, not with so much still unresolved between them. He deserved to know about the repercussions of the night in the Ogier grove, deserved to resume a life as an esteemed guard. Frankly he also deserved a beating at her own hands followed by her bonding him, in her personal opinion, but the pattern rarely gave her the satisfaction she craved. He already knew her better than anyone else ever had or ever would, knew of the woman she had once been and now also saw glimmers of the fractured soul she kept as tightly hidden as she could. She would never be so revealing to anyone else, the very thought of it brought repulsion and dismay, but it had always been different with Corin. She’d wanted to leave off the façade with him, to fall away from the game and just be, free with her thoughts and opinions and feelings. One true confidant, bound closer than any friend, sharing her life and purpose as surely as he would have felt and known her emotions through the intimate bond. Remember the spectacular failure it had been last time when you were open with him and asked him to be your gaidin? She needed to refrain from the instinctual urge she seemed to have around Corin to open up her veins and bleed pathetically all over him and protect herself from such idiocy. She had learned that much, at least.

 

Her eyes glanced away from the curtain to the sister sitting beside her, dozing it seemed for the moment, and her expression softened. So caught up in her own private undertaking and the trouble it brought, she kept forgetting the stakes of the actual mission at hand. Lavinya had been there, had desperately clung to hope and looked for word. She hadn’t actually taken herself off in person, but there had been little to follow and a very real and precious daughter anchoring her to home. This was not just missing acquaintances but love that drew Saline, Lavinya was almost certain of it, and she understood, very well. Corin would too, she thought, glaring once more towards the window, if he would actually speak with her, have a conversation like normal friends, share thoughts and feelings. She would very much like to confide in him – not just the big things she guiltily kept hidden – but also the small, every day things. She only kept her own council and it was no longer enough; if she was honest it hadn’t been enough since the day she met him. It was his own fault, honestly, why couldn’t he see how very well they were suited? Did he even notice how in private she often conceded and deferred to him, despite her rights as Aes Sedai? That she respected him and didn’t care to carry on the same showing the public eye demanded of them? She twitched the curtain aside a fraction, glimpsing out into the drizzle at one of Mitya’s guards that rode beside the carriage with a frown. When did Corin leave off? Was he going to return to studiously avoiding her? She was prepared to continue to be the doting, amiable sister if she must, but why must he always goad and challenge? Would it kill him to show a little warmth?

 

He was warm last night… Lavinya clamped down on her wayward, circuitous thoughts. Reliving the embarrassment of the night-terror was not something she wanted to do, though she did reluctantly concede that he had shown her a much more compassionate side during the humiliating spectacle. Was it that, which thawed him? Seeing her so wretchedly undone? Or was the knowledge that she sheltered a fractured psyche enough for him to feel safe and not at risk of more of her unwanted attentions poking at him? A large clap of thunder interrupted her reverie, jolting her out of the pointless musings and back to reality. One couldn’t always untangle a knot by yanking fiercely at the ends, that would only pull it tighter. What she needed to do was find a way to gently unravel the snags and loops, testing one and then another until she found just the right spot to tug. She would just have to keep dancing the steps Corin led her through until she found her opening, because she was painfully conscious that the longer she took to tell him of his paternity, the worse it would be.

 

Saline stirred beside her, once more drawing Lavinya’s gaze. The Red was holding up quite well, all things considered, but then she had leads to pursue that Lavinya had been denied in Corin’s absence. Well and so, she could only pray that a similar happy – she used the term loosely, given her current situation – ending awaited the Aes Sedai at the end of the journey. Holding onto hope and ignoring the odds of the venture took great courage indeed, she thought, her mind touching on how similar that must be to Corin’s pursuit of Sirayn. Had he known where she was instinctively, due to their bonding? Had its breaking sent him after her? Had she released him out of mercy first? Had it even existed? Her lips pursed in thought – she had decided the bond never took place, thinking it the most logical explanation for the state of things, but doubt still lingered.

 

“The weather continues to cling to its desolate pall,” Lavinya murmured, “though the rain has paused for the nonce, light be praised.” The carriage slowed, its bumping growing more pronounced as it rolled to a stop through mud and rut alike. “I do hope we will still manage to find lodgings and will not be forced to strike camp in this weather.” Her distaste was evident in her tone as she alighted from the confines of the vehicle, noting how the air had grown cooler as they neared the blight. Unconsciously her breathing eased out of long practice into a steady rhythm, ensuring the cold did not touch her despite the diaphanous gown as she sidestepped a puddle and took in their now rather bedraggled party. Each of the men were wet and hunched morosely it seemed, the weight of the cold and rain chipping away at them as they went about their chores. Saline had chosen well with the red guard, they had served them admirably thus far. So too had Corin, for the most part, Lavinya thought as her eyes flicked to where he set about hobbling his horse.

 

Lavinya surveyed the country where they rested, the incessant rumble of grey clouds overhead only seeming to intensify their isolation. They carried on their charade to help their search, but there was no reason they couldn’t make things more tolerable on the way, she decided as she approached one of the guard, his sodden cloak hanging limply about his shoulders. The cold would seep into their very bones and no one wanted to deal with the whining that came from men with the sniffles. She stretched languorously, easing muscles stiff from travel and sore from her training, ignoring the appreciative smile the guard gave when he noticed her. “Be still,” she admonished as she embraced Saidar, drawing on the power in narrow, careful threads to draw all the moisture from his clothing, a hint of fire leaving warmth in its place. Slowly she made her way around each of the grateful guards, drying their clothing and restoring a measure of good spirit with her amiable manner, quick smile and occasional humorous quip while Saline helped fortify them with the distribution of food – simple fare but filling – and hot tea.

 

The guards now warm and merry, Lavinya turned her attention to Corin, friendly disposition still firmly in place. “May I?” She asked quietly for only him to hear, a nicety she hadn’t offered any of the guard; them she had merely ordered to hold still while she worked. Can’t you see that you are different to them in my eyes? At his mute nod Lavinya channelled, hands hovering as she worked, restoring his clothing once more to noble perfection, from the dull sheen of his leather boots to the embroidered cuffs of his coat while he held himself perfectly still. Is it my presence that has him so on edge? Or does our destination bring back the pain of his lost love? Every shred of intelligence she had unearthed said Sirayn had disappeared within the blight, mayhap she was forcing Corin to relive his reckless pursuit even now…ahh blood and ashes, she wanted to help him, not hurt him further. Tamping down a familiar surge of jealousy that rose with every thought of the missing Amyrlin, she gave him a soft smile when he uttered a gruff thank you, eyes lingering briefly on his face before she turned away. Did he know how much she enjoyed his features? How she could happily admire the lines and angles of his face, the clarity of his deep emerald gaze for hours? How she delighted in his very presence, in simply knowing he was alive and near? Maybe he did after all, and it was why he kept her at arms’ length, saving himself the need for another dramatic outburst at his inevitable rejection she thought dourly.

 

“I do no think we’ll make it to the next town before dark,” Captain Mitya was saying apologetically to Saline as Lavinya approached, his eyes warily scanning the ominous black clouds that long blotted out the sun but now gathered thicker and darker than before. “It will be dangerous to risk the storm, hard to see and find the way. The horses may founder,” he added grimly. Lavinya glanced at the Red, at how her gaze seemed ever distant as though she only saw what lay ahead. This too, she could understand somewhat – that’s where her heart was, just as surely as Lavinya’s journeyed in the pocket of a surly tower guard who was entirely unaware of its presence within his keeping.

 

“We cannot camp here,” frowned Lavinya, her eyes moving to Corin, as though willing him to come near and give input to the situation. He studiously avoided her gaze and she sighed, looking once more to Mitya. “Send scouts ahead, we will seek lodging with local farmers, perhaps we will be fortunate to at the very least find a barn to shelter in until the morrow.” Quick to obey, soon they were again on the road once more in a race to beat the storm. Lightning crackled and clawed across the sky in great cracks, as though the clouds that lie ahead were gathering energy for a violent expulsion. The rain held off for a time, as though the clouds above held their breath for the brewing torrent. Large, fat raindrops had begun a sporadic descent when the scout returned at last having sighted a farm not too far afield with a barn that didn’t look too ramshackle. Some luck after all, perhaps.

 

The rain grew heavier as they at last drew up before a small house, darkness closing in as surely as the winds whipping their hair and clothing. “No room, not in the house,” shouted the wiry little man who stood in the doorway of his cosy little farm house, his expression somewhere between apologetic and slimy as he glanced between the hefty woman at his shoulder and the two sodden women on his doorstep, particularly the noblewoman with her dress sticking almost obscenely to her form thanks to the pelting rain the little awning couldn't deflect. One of the guards had offered to treat with the farmer and his family while the Aes Sedai sheltered in the carriage but Lavinya had insisted. That was before the rain became so heavy, she thought grouchily, hoping against hope that her filmy dress was still giving her some measure of decency and had not grown as transparent as she feared though nothing in her proud stance gave any discomfort away. She was a Grey, and negotiations were her bread and butter. The sour glare from the rotund woman who was his wife made Lavinya think perhaps she was just reluctant to aid pretty women in need of help. She was no stranger to the jealous animosity of women who viewed her as competition or perhaps a hunter of their prey; her eyes were guileless as she looked past the man wringing his hat in his hands to the woman instead. “We seek only to shelter from the storm within your barn, and will recompense you with our thanks for your generosity.” I am not your enemy.

 

Most saw only an attractive female when they looked at Lavinya, when dressed as befitting her heritage that often became an alluring female, but few naturally attributed her with any skill or merit beyond her womanly wiles. And still, she was trained by the best in the White Tower and was far from incompetent when it came to using the skills and abilities that had marked her for the Gray Ajah. Thus, with minimal back and forth they soon found themselves ushered out of the rain and into the relative shelter of the barn, sturdy enough against the now howling wind and blessedly dry. In addition  to shelter for the evening, the farmer, his wife and a bevy of children that ranged from just peeping around mother’s skirts to the cusp of adulthood all turned out to assist the sodden party, all deference and bumbling politeness now as they saw about feeding the horses and procuring bundles of towels and blankets in addition to providing lanterns and a delicious piping hot beef stew, all for barely a song, in the end. The space was bigger than her first calculation, with numerous stalls to house the horses and also to act now as sleeping spaces for all of them, assuming they didn’t mind sharing. A cursory inspection had thankfully revealed most were unused much of the time and largely devoid of excrement, even if the air held its share of the stench. No decadent bath or luxurious soft bed, but it would do.

 

At long last their hosts left them to idle away the hours until dawn, and the barn now seemed to share a closer resemblance to a laundry with bits of wet clothing hung all over the place to dry. Lighting a fire in this tinderbox would be madness, and while it was tempting to dry them again as she had earlier in the day it seemed prudent to uphold the disguise – it would not do if it was discovered who they really were – and so her stockings, ribbons and slippers joined the array of shirts, coats, cloaks, boots and other sundry bits and pieces hanging in all manner of places to dry. The  clinging emerald gown she left on, now half-damp beneath the blanket she wrapped about herself. Fetching one of her trunks for a dry change of clothes was more trouble than it was worth, and she was not about to go naked under the blanket. Despite the rumours and opinions surrounding her she was not a shameless light-skirt. Well, not for quite some time now, anyway.

 

Commandeering a lantern, Lavinya settled herself in a corner of the cleanest stall she could find, opening the slim journal she always carried with her these days – thankfully dry still thanks to its oiled pouch which had been inside the carriage. Now she wrote, thoughts and notes of the journey to one day be passed on to her daughter, and hopefully a suitable distraction to get her through the night without any more embarrassing nightmares. The moment of solitude was welcome even if she was hardly alone, the conversation and laughter of the others rising and falling from where they lounged and drank no small portion of what smelled like ale. Idly she wondered if it was another gift of their hosts or a hidden stash of Mitya's. 

 

 

OOC: Sorry it got so verbose. There is an idea I've been pondering for ages that I'd like to play out during the night while everyone is sleeping but I think at least Corin will notice (if not both of you), so if it's not too much to ask maybe only write up to going to sleep? Would that be ok? It's only a little thing really but deserves the right to respond I think. ^_^

Edited by Lavinya
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Ooc: all my dreams come to life! Love that the men are drinking and relaxing.

 

Saline could smell the rain on the air, the wet odors of a woodland floor. For a moment, the smell became unbearably evocative. Her heart struggled to accommodate her feelings.

 

She was weary from the long carriage journey and, as she moved north, the weather had become increasingly poor and wet. Saline tried to distract herself by reviewing the documents once again, but it was too dark in the back of the carriage and she dared not channel. Instead, she sat back, hands clasped across her belly, and watched the scenery as it passed. 

 

When she woke, the rain was coming down. It made dark, blurry sheets under the clouds that frothed above them. Grey barked trees towered around her like a badly-ordered dream. She could hear Mitya's team and their animals as she leaned forward, swept aside the partition curtain and let in the cool rain-scents of the road. The warder was no longer sat in their sight, beside their carriage. Saline wondered idly where Corin was . . . she wondered how he was doing. It couldn't be easy to travel with two sisters and a handful of guards. To protect them.

 

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, trying to slow her breathing, calm her rising pulse the way Lyssa Gaidar taught her. But Katar was only a few days' ride away. The lightning. The spraying mud. They pulled north, the riders describing wide arcs as they roared forward into the storm.

 

“This is maddening. But perhaps the rain will let up if we ride through the night . . ." 

 

She bit her tongue and breathed deeply the way she was taught when Mitya let her know, rather firmly, that they must make camp. Preferably inside a sturdy structure.

 

“Ready?” Mitya asked.

 

“Yes,” she said, and got out as Mitya's guard held the curtain for her and her lady.

 

They pulled up to a farmhouse under the awning; it would be some time and delicate negotiation from the Gray sister before they were finally unpacked, changed and were waiting for their clothes to dry inside the barn. Still it humbled her how other aes sedai handled people and got their way in the end. She was happy to have Lavinya Sedai to arrange all.

 

Saline rose. She had been sitting near the fire, shielded from its direct heat with a screen. Through the stall door on the far side of the room, she could see a gathering of figures and the chink of glasses. Smiling to see the men relaxing she turned back and stared into the fire for a while.

Edited by Lih-Lyh
Mitya's name autocorrected :)
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The flash brilliant and instant across the sky hazed his vision with a fog like disembodied shape as the lights reported peel swept behind it over the small clearing that the Captain of the Red Guard had chosen as the rest point. The rain had conceded and offered the bedraggled traveling group a small respite; thought the heavy dark gray clouds warned of its impending return. Still, it was a reprieve and welcomed at that. Corin did not remeber when the tension between his shoulder blades had departed in silence, but rolling them in a light stretch felt almost normal after so long living in its presence. His mind had continued to mull the pieces in play to the puzzle and the missive in the saddle bag beneath his hand. In normal light he would have berated himself for loosing awareness of the party’s surroundings while they traveled. The interlude had felt too comforting; too normal to resist its pull and the games need to work the pieces. The first part should have bothered him more, shouldn’t it? No new information or trail had been found regarding Sirayn Damodred. Hope had still been there on the edges, a faint shadow of its former self. But the rawness of the hurt was missing; the driving need a buzz that flowed around him but did not command his focus this time. Perhaps he was beginning to come to terms with the loss. Or perhaps it was the puzzle of the other that took the greater focus away from the pain.

 

In response to his wayward thought the Wheels weaving once more drew Lavinya into his vision as she emerged from the carriage depths at the rough assisting hand of a member of the Red Guard; the place he rightfully should have been. Mothers milk in a cup what is wrong with you. Are you a Tower Guard or a cowering sheep! Followed the movement of her slender arm as it stretched high overhead working lose muscles that were no doubt cramping after the long inactivity following her training this morning. She had both surprised and disappointed him at that. Not her directly. The the skills, or lack there of, that he had unwittingly precieved she would have had under the ring of following she had kept. A poor lapse in judgement for a mentor; a regular occurance for the now cursed Corin Danveer it seemed. The wheel ceaselessly wove out the pattern, moving the threads of life where it wanted for its own greater purpose. For now it seemed that purpose was to bring ruin and torment to him.

 

His eyes cut quickly away from her as she began to turn and instead locked on to the equal color in the mane of the stallion. How long had they watched her before he realized it? He resisted the urge to glance around to see if others were aware of his gaze; the act would only affirm the misguided weakness. Slipping an apple from his pocket he offered it to Ayende as he moved around the horse slightly to pat at its nose. How had he allowed himself to get caught up in this mess of a trip? His eyes slipped back toward the carrage and found the short façade of a maid. Saline and her drive to get to the blight. An Aes Sedai striving to a front of sorts was not a big surprise in and of itself. The need for secrecy to the point of even avoiding a proper guard attendance struck as odd; though no more than the woman herself. What had been the original mission of the missing sisters that this much mystery would be quantified? Pieces … always there was more pieces to the puzzle. Subconciously he noted that his eyes once more had been following Lavinya’s progress through the ranks of the Red Guard drying their clothes with the unseen One Power. A risky move considering their cover story; less so considering their present location and the watchful alertness of the Red Guard members. A state that seemed to aluded him since this mornings gathering. Why did that simple banter this morning mire him with such weight?

 

Noting her glance and direction of travel he leaned in to inspect the front hooves of Ayende, the façade an opportunity to gather his thoughts. She had worked through the ranks of all and had left him for last; the thorn to finally be acknowledged. “May I?” the question was soft; a whisper for his ears alone. How many times had he relished in that soft whisper in the past. His nod curt as he forced the impending memories back into the dark, he would not hurt her again. As she worked her flows his eyes hovered about her chin, unable to meet her own and show her the conflict that boiled under the surface. Briefly the familiar feeling of being measured under another’s gaze and found lacking passed over him as she seemed to pause after her work before turning without another word and departing. Remembering the earlier hurt he had caused her no doubt and wondering how she had come to be force into his presence again. But the boots; his eyes studying them instead of her departing back, reflecting the ominous sky above in their shine confused him. The polish would be ruined before they were on the road again with the condition the field was. Why put the effort?

 

The remainder of the journey to the farm house past in silence broken only by the rumble of a furious sky and its promise of revenge. He had watched as the carriage pulled back out onto the road with a pair of Red Guards flanking it and quietly slipped in behind the rear escort. They had watched him quizzically as they past and he moved Ayende in to follow a comfortable distance back, but had said nothing and quickly returned to the task of protecting the precious cargo ahead. He did not even register when the storm had renewed its dark curtain; clothing quickly darkening. His mind lost to the surroundings while it worked the puzzle pieces. Their relationship had gone from tentative to volatile and back so many times since the cabin; since she had returned after fleeing from the cabin. He had hurt her and driven her to the clutches of a mad man drunk with the power of channeling the forbidden Saidin; taint touched mind toying with her sanity while he failed at his task of joining Sirayn. He brought ruin to those he cared for. It was obvious to even a blind fool that being close to light cursed Corin Danveer was a death sentence, or worse. So why at times did she seem to still want to be near him?

 

It had taken some convincing and time to get settled into the barn. Merriment floated subtlety in the air as those not tasked to watch found release and warmth in drink among the mirade of musty wet clothes hung from anywhere that would offer a hold. Saline for a brief moment seemed to find sanity and warmth in the quiet cajoling of the men; her normally drawn and puckered lips hovering on a smile that touched her eyes briefly with genuine happiness before dropping back to the pursed look they carried on this trip. But studying her eyes, brown like another Sedai he knew very well. They were not the deep chestnut pools that he had fallen into so long ago. The reminder almost pulled his attention away from the sparkle that danced in there depths under the unruly mop that sat her head. There was a deeper thought at play in Saline's mind, he was sure of it. If that determination would hold her stability together he was not willing to wager. But an interesting piece to add to the puzzle pile. What were you before this mad rush to the Blight Saline Sedai? His mental records drew no information on her prior to this trip; his teacher had never set him in search of whispers that carried the Reds name. Where had the Red sisters been when Lavinya had been tortured, and why would a Gray be sent to the clutches of madmen without the proper accounts of protection? I drove her there. Like Sirayn's blood on my hands, so to is the state of Lavinya. His eyes tracked to the corner stall which she had claimed as her own and settled in to write in a journal. Corin's hand slipped into a pocket and closed around the missive without thought. An answer he still wanted to refuse and a puzzle no closer to completion than when it began. She seemed so frail and alone hunched over her journal wrapped in a blanket; damp red hair like blood trails drooped and clinging to the sides of her face. She was never fragile in his eyes until now after last night. 

 

Forcing his gaze away he reviewed the barns interior once more. There was no privacy afforded to anyone in its design. Not that he should have expected their to be. He had stayed in several during his travels to find ..her .. the tender feeling wanted to pull him internally, but the demanding rent across one section of his heart held the other at equal odds. Lavinya would not sleep tonight. Not were she could not hide away the person that she became when her eyes closed and he arrived. Private room or not, no guard, tower trained or otherwise, could protect her in a place they could not travel. Holding Saline in his focus once more he remember the vehement tone in Lavinya's voice when he had suggested the Red. No this night there would be no sleep for Lavinya and thus it meant there would be no sleep for Corin as well. He may doze between cycles of the nights rotating watch. But he was not going to leave her lost and alone. Then why have you not moved to her corner? The bitter snicker of one he once sought played in his mind. The question was true, but he refuted it's presence to save himself the honesty of the answer. Instead, like he had so often of late, he settled into the edge of shadow with the firmness of a solid wall at his back and a vantage sight line of all the openings to the shared room. From here he could rest to a degree and still see trouble in time to save her. His thumb absently traced the rose engraving on the dagger; yet again his body had moved without his focus. Can you save her? Where were you? Pffhhaaa your just a foolish child I should have left in the yard. Her voice washed over his shame in waves and he let it come, soaked in the rightness of the pain and failure. She was right, how could he possible protect Lavinya? He had already lost another and their path only closed the distance to another impending disaster.

 

Shadows played over him is slanting stripes helping to keep the sheen in his eyes from note. His emotions would betray him soon, or drive him mad if he didn't find control. He grasped at it, clawed at it. But like so much sand slipping through his fingers he could not hold tight. What have you done to me Lavy? My purpose lost is now confused and disjointed. Last night, the training, this morning. You draw the best and worst of me in a simple breath. His eyes once more slipped to her form wrapped in the delicate shield of a lanterns light as he let his head rest against the post and prepared for the nights vigilance.

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I believe I understand why he closed himself off, pretended to be nothing but a mindless tool. If he was not forced to make the decisions or ponder on mysteries, there could be no onus on him, no more guilt when things go awry. He carries a heavy enough burden already though he won’t speak of it, but I know it’s there and while I wish to know I am not fool enough to ask, not yet. He clings to regrets over past failures, the pain of a broken heart for the woman he loved lost to him…how complicated our lives are, how tangled the threads! That together we should have created you unwittingly and yet be so at odds with one another is some sort of twisted joke. It’s not how I would have wished for things to be, not ever, but in time I hope to help him heal, to show him how I love him still, to introduce him to you but patience is needed, and hope, I have to hold onto hope…

 

Eyes cut from her page illuminated by the guttering lantern instinctively towards where Corin sat, an unmoving shadow stationed about as far as humanly possible from her while still technically being indoors. Did he loathe her presence so much? Once they had known a friendship, an easy, relaxed manner in which they could converse and joke; before she had seduced him and confirmed the accusations of his beloved Green that indeed she was nothing but a painted lightskirt and how it had spurred him to set her as far from him as possible, unwanted and undesired. Pain and regret, her ever vigilant companions fogged her gaze and she looked away, doing her best to harden her wayward heart. Any rational person would have long since stopped their pining and mooning over someone so obviously disinterested in their affections but Lavinya struggled to let go, telling herself she had a duty to see him whole, owed it to their daughter to try. In that secret part of her though, that painful little corner of her heart which she tried not to inspect too closely or too often, there she acknowledged that her motivations were far more selfish, that she wanted him for herself, to recapture the simple joys of the past, to bind him to her for always; she wanted him to love her. No amount of recognising the lunacy of the wish could dispel it and so she was trapped still in a cage of her own making, treading on eggshells around him, hoping, waiting, wishing.

 

…without hope, precious little remains. But I have not given up yet, and I will not. He may not think so, but he is worth it. You will see one day, I can only hope that you will understand and not despise us for being what we are. I know I must tell him soon, it weighs like a millstone about my neck but he can barely stand to be in the same room as me, I cannot bear to think how he would take the knowledge of you while he continues in this state. Even now, we shelter from a storm in a barn and he hides himself away, never relaxing for a moment, even in sleep. She glanced up once more. Did he sleep? It was hard to be sure but it seemed foolish for him to stay awake, they were safe enough here and besides, they had already appointed a sentry to stand guard. She tried to squint through the darkness, making out his shape in the shadows where he leaned against the wall, head resting on a beam. Mayhap he was asleep after all she thought, trying to make out the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. It had grown quieter in the barn, Saline having wrapped herself in a blanket and making a bed in the hay not far from where Lavinya reclined against the stall wall, and the Red Guard had eventually left off their drinking and turned to similar beds themselves, the deep snores of the intoxicated blending into the howling wind that buffeted the walls that housed them assuring her that they at least were at rest.

 

Lavinya yawned and stretched, silencing a sound of protest as her muscles pulled and complained at their earlier abuse. She was so very tired, but what would happen if she surrendered to her body’s need for sleep, only to wake the whole damned farm with her ridiculous screams over nothing more than shadows and dreams? There would be no way to explain that sort of display and there would certainly be no saving face. No, she thought as she rubbed her tired eyes and closed the slender journal, she would just endure until the dawn; there was always the carriage to catch a nap at the least. It would be fine, the wind was too much of a racket for sleep anyway; she tugged the blanket closer around her, staving off the chill that was pervading the air. Rain was an irregular tattoo against the iron of the roof and the straw beneath her was surprisingly comfortable, a thought she’d never imagined would cross her mind, lover of luxury that she was. She’d changed in many ways over the past year, been through so much. What was a little discomfort in comparison to any number of the situations she’d faced? She’d take this over returning to the farm any day; no matter how strained or awkward things were now with Corin, no matter the unspoken secrets, no matter that she was fractured and embarrassingly volatile and vulnerable. He is here. He may be as emotionally distant as he was physically, but he was still here, and had barely shouted at her since the journey began. Mostly. There was the little matter of his temper last night before she had fallen into slumber, of course, but even that was nothing compared to the outbursts that had become all too common in the Tower. He was like a wounded bear with no obvious routes of escape. He turned on her as his jailer no matter that she was there to not snare him but to heal him but maybe, ever so slowly, he was beginning to trust her? Wary and looking for the trap still, but it was something. Another yawn cracked her jaw as her mind lingered on how his eyes had sparkled when he was angry with her, how even as he was filled with tension and tightly controlled rage his movements were a delight to behold, precise and fluid. Strong. He had strong hands, she liked his hands…

 

…………..“What would you do to save the life of a man who does not even love you. Would you truly do anything to ensure his lifes’ thread continued in the pattern?” Linten stepped back and placed the whip and poker on a table that materialized just below them….. “Would you be the sacrifice to save the Tower, your Amyrlin, your Corin. Or are you just as fallible as them. Could it be that you want so desperately to be loved and accepted as a person that you believe your life less worth then them.”…………. “There are many things I could do for you, teach you.” Lavinya’s voice was soft and sultry, a calculated tone…………….“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” She purred, eyes locked on his as the unseen knife was lifted and plunged cruelly into the muscle of his thigh…………Instead of recoiling and releasing her, Linten’s hands clenched on hers in a bone crushing grip, causing Lavinya to gasp in pain. Warm blood spilled over her hand, a small satisfaction before his cruel hand yanked her head back at an awful angle. Light, let it be a fatal wound! A terrifying rage was distorting Linten’s face, and Lavinya again new true fear, followed by blinding pain. Lights danced in her vision and fire bloomed in her cheek and scalp. She was lifted and tossed as though no more than a rag doll, making her realise just how foolish she was to play such a dangerous game with one much stronger than she…………..

 

Lavinya burst from sleep with a start, her breath caught on a sharp gasp as her heart thundered in her chest. Oh light… panic clawed at her throat as the dream receded, an all too real recounting of her past, that first encounter in tel’aran’rhiod. She found she was sitting bolt upright, light had she screamed or shouted? At some point her lantern had guttered out and all was darkness around her and it felt so oppressive, pushing on her, drawing her into a gaping abyss…calm yourself, lunatic woman, be still. She fought to control her breathing, slow and steady, listening to the sounds around her. No voices, no cries of alarm or concern. Rain still pattered on the roof if now with less gusto than before; a horse whickered quietly and she could discern a soft rumbling snore from one of the stalls. Slow, steady breathing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness it became easier to discern shapes and figures, like the still form of Saline Sedai cocooned in a blanket not far to her side. If she hadn’t noticed Lavinya woke, mayhap no one had and crisis had been averted.

 

A shudder ran down her spine and she tugged her own blanket tighter around her shoulders, her heart still thumping a rapid, frightened rhythm despite her attempts to calm herself. That had not been just a dream but a memory conjured from the depths. Linten had been relentless in his cruelty, Corin and her wounded heart his favourite weapons to wield against her and he had done so ruthlessly and effectively. She lifted her hand, noting how it trembled, recalled how the blade had felt, how she had struck out but paid so very dearly for it. You survived it. You kept him safe; all of them. He is here. Her eyes lifted to where he still sat propped against the wall, still and silent. A wave of emotion crashed over her, drowning her in its storm. So much yearning filled her, for that emptiness inside her to be filled, to know comfort and acceptance and warmth. She was so cold, so alone and the knowledge tore at her heart, sharp and raw. But he is HERE. She rose, clutching the blanket to her, instinctively moving quietly and slowly, sensing her way across the barn in the dark, urgency  driving her towards him. Did he notice her trek? He didn’t move that she could see and it was impossible to make out his eyes in the shadow he claimed but in that moment nothing mattered but that she reach him, touch him and know his real, steady presence; the knowledge that he was safe and so was she.

 

He didn’t speak but she sensed his alertness, felt his questioning gaze. “Please just go back to sleep,” she whispered, begged, as she slipped down beside him and curled into his warm, unyielding side. Her cheek rested on his shoulder, one arm snaking under his to find his hand, half hugging half spooning him. “Just sleep.” She breathed deeply, her eyes closing as his familiar scent pervaded her senses, his warmth seeping through their clothing, slowly banishing the memories from her vision and stilling the tremble in her slender frame.  Blessedly he did not speak or move away and while she didn’t dare guess at his thoughts she took heart from the fact that he had not pushed away. She closed her eyes, revelling in the moment, letting her thoughts drift as her heart gradually resumed its normal rhythm and her breathing instinctively matched his like in their training earlier – steady, deep, restorative. Peace fell over her like a net, cradling her in its embrace and lulling her back into sleep, even as the gentle pressure of Corin’s hand squeezing hers gave reassurance. He is here and all will be well.

 

The first rays of dawn were lighting the sky when she knew herself awake again, disoriented for a few moments before realisation dawned; the very warm, very real body she snuggled against. Stillness pervaded the still-dark barn but it would not last with the coming morn bearing on them swiftly. Tentatively she lifted her head, peering up through the riot that was her fiery hair to glance at Corin’s face, relaxed for once in sleep where it rested against the post. Tenderness blossomed inside, bright and fierce as she looked at him. How many times had she dreamed of his face? Thought on the shape of his jaw or his perfect emerald gaze, or the solid breadth of his shoulders, the seductive curve of his lips? Silently she thanked the creator and all things good that he had been brought back into her path, even if that path was still fraught with traps and snares, before ever so carefully extracting herself reluctantly from where she rested, careful to not wake him nor any of the others sprawled in various positions about the barn. She may enjoy jokes at Corin’s expense in the hope of seeing him blush but she had no interest in any close scrutiny as to why she may have found rest where she did, and she was not quite sure how to face him in the light of day. It had felt the only right thing to do in the depths of the night, with fear shrouding her like a cloak. Lavinya had instinctively looked for comfort in the only place she’d ever found it before – Corin. But what did he think about another display of her weakness? How she must continue to fall in his esteem with every passing moment that she revealed her pathetic vulnerability. No, let the night hold the secret and the day begin anew. A sense of loss pervaded her as she withdrew, causing her to linger a moment and impulsively brush the faintest of kisses across his temple before she slipped from his side, careful not to look back in case he had indeed woken – she feared what may be in his gaze.

 

Either her midnight sojourn had gone unnoticed or the party were wise enough to keep silent on it as they were soon preparing for the day, fetching stiff but thankfully dry clothing, breaking their fast, seeing to the horses. A blessedly thoughtful guard – Willem, he was named – fetched trunks from the carriage so the Aes Sedai could change at last and refresh themselves properly in clean attire. A silvery gown hugged Lavinya’s form now, the hem and sleeves embroidered intricately with climbing roses of scarlet thread. Less diaphanous than custom made the dress warmer though the cunning cut made the demure-appearing dress cling and drape enticingly. Hardly practical despite how she enjoyed the foray back into her heritage, still it fit their cover and the deep sapphire velvet cloak she wore gave some additional modesty. Why was she suddenly caring about modesty? She had certainly rarely given it much thought in the past, either due to her own private rebelling or deliberately being provocative. Mayhap the extra sleep, unusual and pleasant as it was, was causing her mind to work in bizarre ways. Never mind her clothing, what under the light would she do with her hair? The unceremonious drenching and poor drying had left it in untameable, rebellious mass of corkscrew curls that had decided to go wherever they damn well pleased, which was every direction it seemed. Irritated at the less-than-pristine image it presented, she eventually caught it into knot at her nape with the help of many pins; even still tendrils escaped that she did her best to ignore.

 

Soon enough all was in readiness and the party made their way from the farm with farewells and good wishes from their hosts; Lavinya thought the farmer and his wife wouldn’t be particularly upset that they would never return though they had welcomed their coin well enough. The day was bright and clear if cool; the breeze noticeably chillier in the wake of the storm though the sun shone merrily. It was indeed a good morning, Lavinya thought, glancing out the carriage window. She had continued to be unfailingly sweet and pleasant to Corin even if she had remained distant, still unsure what he may be thinking and too cowardly of what she may see in his eyes though it seemed unnoticed by the others. Her gaze had kept straying his direction, however, despite her best intentions. He was exceedingly nice to watch at the best of times; now she kept remembering how he had looked in the tranquillity of sleep and how natural it had felt to sleep curled against him. He wasn’t in her line of vision outside the window at the moment but she was unconcerned, finding herself in quite good spirits despite the uncertainty she may feel.

 

“We should reach the village by early afternoon, so Mister Mitya thinks,” Saline reported from beside her, an underlying energy in her voice, though whether it was eager anticipation or grim determination Lavinya couldn’t say. “I have a contact to meet; I will confirm the direction of the Corwin’s camp. Mitya said we will be able to replenish our stores here and find lodging for the night; on the morrow we continue on.” The Grey sister glances at the hands knotted tightly in Saline’s lap and felt chagrin at her own good mood. She was letting herself lose focus on the purpose of the mission while she mooned about after Corin blacksmith-puzzle Danveer. “I will go with you if you wish it, sister,” Lavinya said softly, “know that you need only ask. I am here to assist you.”

 

 

ooc: Thanks for indulging me guys! Feel free to move us along. :)

Edited by Lavinya
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