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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
tismeb4u

Where you go I can not follow [Attn Lavy]

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The night had been long, or it had felt like it. But it had also given Corin a great deal of time to think and make some decisions. A few of which he did not like the answers even though he knew there was little in the way of options open to him. Some he was not sure he ever would accept again; no matter how much faith she had in him. He still did not understand or comprehend how a person could control another’s dream or what this dream world that Lavinya had spoken of was. But he did know the fear that was on her face and in her voice. A very real and petrifying fear that had gripped her like he had never seen before. How he was suppose to fight and protect her against something he couldn’t understand or even touch was a puzzle he would need a lot of time to work on. It had taken a goodly portion of his mind all night and his only solution to date was what he had laid out around him.

 

The small court yard in the rear of the Inn to which they were staying in was not the Tower training grounds and had little in the way of offering beyond that of a small patch of green in which Corin presently sat. He had left as soon as Lavinya had awoken and seemed comfortable enough with the light to let him go. He had made one stop in his room to collect a few items and one where the Red Guard was camped to collect a few others. That had made for an interesting conversation with the captain, but in the end the man had relented with his request. All that thinking and morning bustle had born the fruit of his present placement in the yard and the array of deaths edges that fanned out from a point centered directly opposite him.  At the moment they served no purpose, not until his new unaware student arrived.

 

While he waited Corin sought peaceful contemplation in the one place he found beneficial for such a quest. Sitting cross-legged on the grass and enveloped in the separation of the void, Corin took the time to go deep into the void as he had when he was learning from one of its masters. When it came to need for fighting and the Great Game, one only need immerse themselves shallowly in the void: enough to separate from the distractions of the body and mind to accomplish the required task. But the master of the void who had taught Corin had also introduced him to deeper levels. Places where contemplation became easy and the connection with the world around began to blend into one entity. He never reached the same depth as the master that taught him, but he had spent far less time in its study and embrace. This deep level of separation he had not visited in a long time, allowing the chaos of life to interfere with his daily journeys; journeys that would now require a great deal of clarity and thought.

 

He had passed quickly through the separation of emotion and thought, through the flame into itself. All came easy and natural to him now, rarely did he even think on the process. But this morning he had. He had taken the time to walk the passage into the void slowly and deliberately. His goal was a deeper depth, a place he had not visited in a long time. Breathing in deeply once more Corin let the blackened quick of the candle grow to surround him; blackness and isolation. Everything was nothing and nothing existed in the center of that darkness. He breathed again deep in his chest as if his very heart drew the breath on its own. Felt the flow of air fill his nose; a cool pooling behind his eyes. The pressure of it pushed at the walls of his lungs and diaphragm as if to remind him of his limits. For a lasting moment he held the breath within, savouring the growing warmth in his chest as his body heated the air; then released it in a long slow silent sigh. As the breath left his body it carried away the last vestiges of self and internal chaos. In the emptiness that remained he floated as if a stick on the surface of the ocean. Here there was nothing and everything. The wash of sunlight across his face held the gentleness of a butterfly kiss and the warmth of a lover’s lips. The smell of the grass and the dirt beneath it a solid earthy anchor to hold him steadfast and offer him a sure footing. This was the levels he sought. The place he had not visited in far too long a span. The jumbled puzzles that plagued his mind once more slithered across the glassy dome surrounding him. He watched each one with fascination; a child’s curiosity. The world outside held so many complex and meaningless requests of him. Why did it have to be so?

 

Misplaced trust flickered on the outside before fading back into the abyss. He had placed a great deal of trust in Sirayn. Too much in fact, allowing himself to be distracted from true purpose. If he had resisted the worlds follies of that relationship and listened more deeply to what was not said would she still be here with them? Even deep within the void, an answer to that question would never surface. That was the work of the Wheel as it was with all things. Once the wheel had spun out the fate there was nothing mortal man could do to reclaim it. It was an acceptance he knew he would have to accept even thought for now he could not. Soon he would have to close that chapter of his life and allow the Wheel to use him as it needed once more. As much as he continued to fight the thought he was slowly beginning to realize that the Wheel had not finished with his thread and it’s interweaving with Lavinya. His only hope now was that it was not his intense wool headed stubbornness to accept the new path the Wheel was trying to weave him to that had cause the remove of Sirayn’s thread. Even deep in the isolation of the void Corin could feel another part of his heart slowly die and harden. He made a poor offering for Lavinya but the Wheel did not seem to see it the same way.

 

In answer to his unvoiced questions, his skin brought note of movement in the flow of air. Small currents and eddies announced the movement and the slight floral scent tinged with vanilla named it Lavinya. Without opening his eyes he indicated to a place across from him centered on the fan of bright edges. There was a pause before he felt movement again; the brief cast of a shadow across his face. To what reaction she might have had to his silent indication he did not know. It was not necessary, only that she was here and kept an open mind. He took a few more moments in the peaceful separation to mentally prepare himself for their dance. They had found a measure of common footing and last night seemed to cement their present truce even more. He Hoped it would last, she would probably not believe him if he were to say it, but he hated fighting with her; especially with her. “I see you have found my note, are you ready to learn?” Corin opened his eyes, his face was soft but traces of emotion and exhaustion were beginning to edge his features as the tranquility of the void slipped from him.

 

 

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Lavinya didn't quite know what was awaiting her in the courtyard. Corin's brief missive had raised more questions than it answered, curt as it was. Morning had brought a whole sensation to Lavinya - self-consciousness. And she did not like it. Doubts assailed her anew, misgivings over having revealed so much, despite how good it had felt at the time. Just thinking about how Corin must see her now made her ill to the stomach. She had procrastinated over readying herself, agonising repeatedly as she replayed the night's dramas. He must think her a complete fool, half mad and terrified of the dark. Light, she probably was. Suddenly she was certain of nothing - how to wear her hair, what to wear, what to say, how to act. How did people live like this? Lavinya never suffered by second guessing herself normally - but what was normal for her any more?

 

Giving up on her appearance, with an agitated sigh, Lavinya tied her long curls back from her face with a simple green ribbon, the same emerald shade as her clinging gown. There was little to be done about it; her clothes had been chosen with their cover in mind, not for gallivanting about in courtyards with with certain handsome young tower guards. Well, not the fun kind of gallivanting, anyway. Cursing herself as a fool woman for worrying overmuch about her appearance, Lavinya strode through the inn with a measured confidence she did not entirely feel. Every inch the noblewoman on the outside; behind the practised façade she roiled like a storm cloud.

 

It was not difficult to find the designated meeting place, a pretty smile enough to have the serving lads almost leaping over one another to lead her there personally. She turned down the offer though, deciding it would not be a good start to the day for her to be escorted by a besotted youth after such an intimate night with the only man she wanted anyway. She paused when she saw him, heart twisting anew at the sight of him in silent contemplation. Even after all this time, after all they had been through, her heart skipped a beat to behold him, only now it was accompanied by a uncertain lurch. What would she find in his eyes? Pity? Scorn? Embarrassment? Only one way to find out. With a determined lifting of her chin and straightening of her spine, Lavinya forced herself to approach without hesitation, only to find her efforts were wasted, Corin not even opening his eyes to acknowledge her arrival, instead he silently pointed. Lavinya frowned, and considered for a moment reprimanding him, but dismissed the notion as soon as it formed. Silently she obeyed, moving with a gentle swish of skirts to stand where he had indicated, chewing her lower lip as she warily surveyed the glimmer of metal surrounding her.

 

Was she ready? Lavinya met Corin's gaze, searching it for any sign of regret or the myriad of other things she had worried about, but was satisfied to find none - that she could detect, anyway. She lifted her chin again slightly. She had made a total fool of herself last night, but she still had her pride. Enough, it seemed, to face whatever Corin had arranged for his lesson, as he had called it, despite her misgivings. She understood the reasoning for it; what you cannot fight with the one power you must fight with your own strength. Whether or not Corin was just humouring her she did not know, but she was willing and ready to learn. It was past time she took control of her life once more, and took some of the power away from her crippling fears. It was terrifying. Anyone else she would have refused, too shamed to admit her own weakness. But Corin already knew. He knew, and he was going to help her. For the first time all morning, Lavinya's lips curved into a half hidden smile. "Yes, I am ready," she nodded decisively, "but light help you if you breath word of this to anyone." Her tone may have turned stern, but warmth lit her eyes. Corin knew it all, and still he was going to help. Yes, she was ready.

 

 

Lavinya

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It took more work to hold the emotionless mask then he expected when his eyes met the deep chestnut of Lavinya’s.  Her gaze was filled with scrutiny as she searched him for something. What that would be was to remain behind her eyes it seemed as her expression softened. It would appear that he had past, the thought highlighted with her empty threat and half hidden smile. The night’s warmth was still too fresh to him even now after the clearing of the void. Too easy a twinkle found its way to the corner of his eyes, “of course Ae.. Sis. I shudder at the thought of your untarnished facade being blemished.”  His words carried a light hearted air to it as he tried to keep an open relaxed atmosphere between them. Something his heart seemed to forget as his mind took in her appearance across from him. Her dress and hair tie the twining shade of green to his own eyes as they glanced down her frame as if from an older comfortable accord. Too raw the emotions and closeness had cut last night. He fought off the tingle that threatened to paint his cheeks. Why did she have to look so beautiful; feel so soft and vulnerable last night. He let his eyes trail along the glinting fan of edges to hide the survey of her form that had taken place almost before he realized he was doing it. How was he to protect her if he couldn’t keep his mind about him in her presence? Her small breakdown had shaken his foundation more than he was willing to let her know. She had broken a sizable piece of that wall he had carefully erected between them and now he scampered to regain his footing.

 

His eyes came to rest momentarily on the tip of his own sword laid out to her right. That had become a physical part of him, and he felt almost naked without it. It was not the same blade he had come to the Tower with. That was tucked safely with his possessions back at the Tower. It was not even its replacement, it was simply another of the tools that a man of his station used and become one with. But it was the blade that he had taken with him on his quest to correct the wrong he had done. He had failed. Now he carried it as a reminder of how easily one can slip. “I am only a guard but while I am around my life will be your shield here in the present.” His hand reached down and collected the only edge not part of the fan. It was the rose marked dagger and his heart still tightened at its touch. “My flesh will part under the force of steel, wood, rock, or One Power; whatever is sent against you. But what you described to me last night.” His voice dropped slightly, a hint of confusion twinged it, “that place of this world and not. There I cannot be; I cannot be the shield you will need there.” The blade flipped end over end in his hand, “There you must rely on yourself and trust only your own skills. To that I can help,” the blade flashed in the sun light and sunk half its length in to the grass just beyond his folded legs. For the first time since his eyes had found the blade he met her gaze. “As you learn and gain control we will work our way through the fan and the other offering I could not procure here on our journey. For our present traveling needs I am simply ensuring my sister is capable of protecting herself once family has left after your wedding.” His hand lifted and indicated to her far right and the edge of the fan, it’s starting point a pole arm and a bow. “You will learn to kill at a distance first. As you improve we will work our way closer until you can kill at a breath,” His wrist rolled and produced a small blade. “But no matter how well you learn, this close is only a last resort. You will swear to that and to listen and follow without argument exactly to my teachings. This you will do or I will not teach you, this I give you as my oath.”

 

It pained his heart to say the words, to even think that he might have to leave. But he could not survive another blow like that dealt him with Sirayn. It would be better to sign on with the boarderland armies and die on the blight front then to live through that all again. He would not. One way or another, the loss of Lavinya would be the end of Corin. He let her study his eyes, his expression had not hardened; in fact it had not changed. The after effects of his deep contemplation in the void were holding and allowing him a measure of control he did not feel. Now if he could just keep his childish eyes from wanting to rove over her. Once he had her consent he slipped the blade back into his sleeve, “so sis, how much do you know about fighting and the items arrayed before you?”

 

 

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Only a guard...was that all he would ever be? He should be a warder, her warder, bonded more intimately than man and wife, sharing her emotions and living a life filled with love and happiness and the beauty of their child. Was it possible? Were they forever doomed to be no more than oath sworn Tower Guard and aloof Aes Sedai, awkward and strained? Lavinya did not like to think so, all the more after the night's events. Somehow she had to show Corin that he was worthy - more than worthy - to be her gaidin. That she still wanted that, despite everything and anything. That any other man she even fleetingly considered came up glaring short when compared to him. Perhaps if he thought she was dependent on him? But that was not how she wanted it, him obliging her out of a sense of duty. So many unknowns! Lavinya could agonise over them for hours and still be none the wiser. Still, it was something to note that he was not preparing to abandon her any time soon.

 

As she listened to him speak, Lavinya followed with her eyes as he pointed, taking in the array of weaponry, silently registering the seriousness of his tone. That he would perform his role as teacher wholeheartedly she did not doubt; she was wise to agree to this training. No one else would understand as he did, even if he was confused by her dreams. She turned her gaze back as a small blade slipped into his hand, a sleight of hand worthy of any esteemed gleeman, but as he gave his oath she met his emerald gaze and felt a pang of anguish at the thought of his leaving. So horrifying was the thought, she quashed any rebellious thoughts of harsh rebuttal for overstepping his authority and nodded her ascent. If she had to tap dance naked on the common room table she would do it, if it meant he would stay by her side, where he belonged. The moment seemed to stretch on for hours, his eyes meeting hers openly, and she know he meant every word. The tension broke at last as the blade disappeared, and Lavinya found herself releasing a breath she did not even realise she held.

 

"I don't know if it will disgust you or please you to know that I am almost totally ignorant in the ways of fighting," she admitted ruefully, "beyond very basic concepts. I do know, for example, that the pointy end of the blade goes in the other person and not me, if at all possible. And how to shoot a bow, though I'm afraid it's been many years since I last tried." Lavinya shrugged and surveyed the tools of war once more, not even recognising several and wondering at their use. "The only time I have ever managed to wound someone with a blade I was lucky enough to embed it in his thigh, and light knows I suffered for it." Lavinya shuddered slightly at the memory as though to shake it off, not wishing to think on it any more than necessary. That had only been the first night with Linten, and she had never gotten so close to causing damage again. She turned back to Corin. "So other than that, I'm afraid you have a complete novice on your hands, dear brother." The grin she gave him was half rueful, half playful. After all, they still had an act to uphold, and she was the loving, teasing sister. That there was an extra sparkle in her eye whenever she looked upon him was irrelevant - hopefully most people took it as a sign of great fondness for her brother and not a wholly unsisterly love. Suddenly her grin turned impish. "I do hope you're finally going to teach me how to best you in a wrestle, regardless how unladylike it may be."

 

 

Lavinya

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The graceful flow of her shoulder as the sun’s rays kissed the small exposed expanse of her neck in the small movement of the shrug locked his eyes for a moment; enough to causing him to berate himself again while he forced his focus to her comments. His gaze watched her eyes and face more than the field of glittering death between them. He sought any indication of familiarity, of knowledge, or prolonged look of interest that might find way to her face. But the general blankness over the majority coupled with the weak knowledge of the bow left him with a very large and blank canvas in which to tease out a skill. On the bright side it would mean he would not have to break her of any previously learned bad habits.

 

The sudden shudder confused him slightly, not sure if it was brought on by the action replayed in her mind as she spoke it or something her eyes traveled over. He quickly framed it as a reaction to her thought as her eyes never remained on the same piece nor did they shed away from a particular offering.  The grin that suddenly set her face as her eyes met his own once more left him wondering briefly whether she would have rumpled his hair had she been within reach. Lavinya certainly seemed to have a better control on her facade then Corin. If it wasn’t for the twinkle that lit the corner of those deep chestnut windows he might have almost believed her a mischievous sister. The image soon shattered with the underlying tones of her final words and the expressed desire to wrestle. He could easily guess at what form of wrestling she was referring to and what the ultimate outcome of that would be.  He did not even need his mind to conjure up an image before he could feel the slight heat in his face.

 

Clearing his throat Corin looked back at the bow trying to regain his full isolated composure. “Yes well, we will start from a distance. A safe distance and work our way closer to a point that hand to hand combat is required.” He offered her what he hoped passed as a stern brotherly smile and not a sickly caught off guard smile. At this moment he wasn’t entirely sure what presented itself so he moved on quickly to keep from allowing the path to be diverted further.

 

“The bow can be an excellent weapon both offensively and defensively at a distance. A very skilled marksman can be deadly efficient at a long distance. But for you we will focus solely on the defensive portion of its use and at a moderate distance. We do not have the time to hone your skills to that needed for true marksmanship. Perhaps in time you can work to that achievement; In which I will put you in the care of a master for I am not one. But for now I can teach you enough to make you a fair skill at a needed distance.” Slowly he rose and pointed to the bow and the quiver. “Collect the bow only for now. The quiver and the arrows will come later.” As she rose he moved around the sun glinted fan, careful to keep his eyes averted less he find himself admiring the taunt fabric while she rose and collected the bow. His mind still remembered to well every curve and slope of her body that she now slipped into those man damming Domaini clothes.

 

“Explain to me the parts of the bow, indicating each one, and their care and maintenance. Once you feel you have covered it all then draw and hold it as if you were shooting at that fence post over at the stable.” As Corin spoke he circled her like a cat deciding the worth of its cornered prey, listening to her explanations and watching her indications. Occasionally his eyes would flick to her own, but their gaze never met. Did she truly understand how precarious his hold was on resistance and restraint? The great wall of isolation he had needed to hide behind had been slowly chipped away since his return and last night had weaken it far more then he could afford to let her know.

 

 

Corin

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The faint red tinge that crept over Corin's cheeks brought an answering grin, which she fought to subdue. If she was able to bring him to blushing once more over subtle innuendo, it was a mighty victory indeed, the walls he had erected between them at last crumbling enough for her to breach, if only minimally. It was rather wicked of her to tease him so, but she needed to know that there was still something there, some attraction or at least remembered fondness. When he cleared his throat and pointedly changed the subject, something inside her that had been coiled tightly eased. He steered them back to business, but there had been a change in him, she was certain of it now. Perhaps, if she probed carefully enough, she could pull down that barrier, brick by icy cold brick. And if the creator was actually smiling on her for once, she would find the old, warm Corin waiting for her on the other side. It was a heartening thought.

 

Doing as she was bid, Lavinya gracefully rose to collect the mentioned weapon, a well-used bow by the looks, though serviceable she supposed. Not that she really knew what she was looking for. Her only knowledge of the bow was what she could recall from several hunting trips she had joined before becoming a novice. Unfortunately her interest had lied more in chasing the young men who were leading the hunt rather than any desire to fell an animal. Hopefully she had picked up something of use, though light knew it had been a long, long time. Longer than Corin had even lived. Her lips twitched in a smile at her own thoughts as she pondered the humour of being somewhat older than her 'big brother', despite still looking as though she was in the bloom of youth. She doubted Corin could even guess at her true age, not that she would ever tell him, even if he asked. Aes Sedai did not speak of such things, unless they were old enough and trying to impress their superior wisdom on the younger generations. Even then they were still vague.

 

As Corin issued his expectations, her smile turned to a somewhat bemused scowl. "Let me get this straight - you are teaching me by asking me to explain that which you have yet to teach?" He merely nodded and smiled slightly, infuriatingly, she thought, and she sighed in resignation. "You just enjoy making me look the fool for my ignorance, I am on to your games." She smiled despite herself and lifted the bow that she held in one hand. Praying her memory would not allow her to appear too stupid - she still had her pride - Lavinya began to point out the structure of the bow. Admittedly with a fair amount of cheek. "This is where you hold yon bow, generally with your hand, arm outstretched like so." She suited action to her words, "and this is the string. Often called the string. Made from...string." Catching Corin's expression, she was unable to help the grin that split her features. "I know you need to keep the string dry to preserve it or something...this is where you put the arrow." She mimicked nocking an arrow, "and you would hold it and draw it like so." With two fingers hooked about the string she drew it back with some difficulty, until her hand met her cheek, the bow across her body. She thought maybe it had been designed for a man, or a woman with more strength than she. Or perhaps she was just soft. All were highly likely.

 

Looking where Corin had pointed, Lavinya lined up the fence in her view as though it were a target, turning so her body was side on to the fence. "There." Keeping her eyes trained on the fence, she sensed rather than saw Corin circle her, silently critiquing her. "That is about as much as I can remember from the last time I went hunting...actually I remember quite a bit about my last hunting expedition, but the game I chased was not your usual quarry and somehow I don't believe you would like me to explain to you all my methods out here in the courtyard."

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With a slight effort he let the comment wash over him and dissipate. He was the instructor now, the mentor. His mind remembered the task well and emotion stepped willingly aside as it had done so many times in the yard. Now it was only mentor and mentee. His eyes traveled over her form but registered only the slight tremble of tension in her arm as she worked to hold the draw; the nearness of her feet, the slight twist at her waist. Where earlier he might have felt a touch of desire at the accentuation the dress offered her hips. The mentor only saw the lack of a locked frame and a misplace of feet.  As Corin completed his review and circle, stopping behind her, he shook his head hidden from her view. Well she had admitted to not having much knowledge so he couldn’t fault her. But he had thought perhaps some of the influence of the Green they both had served would have placed a measure of knowledge or experience into her. Quickly he pushed aside the thought as a raw edge of emotion threatened to push to the surface on the brief remembrance of Sirayn. Would he ever truly recover from the woman?

 

The anatomy of the bow could wait until they were traveling. He had a slight need to see her gain a measure of physical knowledge and a modicum of skill as soon as he could press her into it. Stepping up behind her he grasped her hips firmly and twisted her frame slightly back into alignment. “You have to be square to your target. Once you gain skill you can learn to shoot without being square. But for now while you learn you will use the correct forms. You need to lock your frame,” his hands moved from her hips to her stomach pressing slightly to emphasise his words. “Power comes from the core. You need to lock it and hold your frame firm, not loose and sloppy. Head up, keep your eyes on the target.” Corin’s foot slipped between Lavinya’s and kicked lightly at them until her stance had opened to the point of balance he wanted. “All weapons rely on a good foundation of foot work or foot placement. You need to set your stance, ground your frame through the feet to the earth below; a solid anchor to learn from first. Then we will work on the light quickness of firing on the move.”  His hands slipped back and up to grasp her shoulders and pull them back slightly. “Open your chest up. Keep the frame solid, think of it as a deep breath.” One of Corin’s hands slide up her spin to the back of her head, “lift your chin. Pull your head back in line with your frame. Press it in to my hand slightly .... there. That is the line your want. Now move the bow up and over to meet your cheek so you can sight it correctly.” His hands moved again. One arm sliding out under her out stretched one to gently encircle the bow below her own. Stepping in close, his body pressing lightly against her own, other  slipped under her drawing arm, fingers tips lightly touching the string. “Steady,” his words where a concentrated whisper brushing the hair that curled around her ear. “You need to be strong but gentle if you want accuracy,” he could feel the growing quiver in her string arm as she worked to hold the bow drawn. With slight pressure under her arms with his own he corrected the angle of the bow, the position of the draw. His fingers brushed like a feather across her cheek as he guided her into the final correct form.

 

“Sense it .... Feel the form .... The bow an extension of your natural frame.” His fingers hooked the string and took up a measure of the resistance to ease the tension slightly in her draw arm. “Feel the solidness of the ground, the resistive tension in the bow stock. Imagine the light touch of the fletching at your cheek. Envision the motion that will complete with your release. The way the bow will try to snap back to it’s at rest form. The rush of the string as it is pulled back to the bow. The movement of the arrow; its sudden jump into accelerated movement. The gentle arc the shaft will take as it races the sharp tip to the target.” Corin held the form, held Lavinya in the form while he talked her through the motions, envisioning the movements as he had so many times while his father had trained him to hunt. Slowly he took more of the tension of the drawn bow from her as Lavinya’s continued to fade. “Slow steady breaths. Watch through the sightline as the bow bounces slightly with your breathing. You need to understand that, to be able to control your breathing when you are ready to draw and when you are ready to release. Speed comes with time and training. For now, go slow, feel the movements and note how each breath changes the line. Release half a breath and pause. This is where you would release the arrow. Once it’s away release the rest of the breath. Do not hold it for a long time or the sightline will begin to bounce again. Remember don’t fight it, relax and feel how all the parts work together to complete the whole objective.” For long moments he continued to hold the form and Lavinya in the form, matching his breathing to her own and first and then slowing it slightly to get her to match his as he worked through evolutions of breathing.

Slowly though the bow began to takes its toll on him as well and he began to feel the strain in his draw arm and knew the tremble would be not far off. That awakening back to the environment around him from the training trance he had slipped into brought back another sensation. His senses were assailed by the light scent of Lavinya’s hair with each breath. The light fragrance and feel of it pressed to his cheek quickly brought his senses awake. He could feel the radiant heat of her skin on the other side of that filmy material seeping through his clothes and into his own skin; could feel the curves of her body as it pressed against him.  Clearing his throat he almost released his grasp on the string. The sudden pull set his training into motion and he tensed again quickly to stop the bow from being dry fired and eased the string to its resting potion. Once he was sure the string tension was released from the firing position he quickly released his grip of the string and bow and stepped back trying to quell the feelings straining to rise once more. “Good ..... good.” He quickly moved over to collect an arrow from the quiver on the ground. “That was a good start. Now you need to be able to do that on your own.”  He examined the arrow as he allowed his skin to cool in the absence of her nearness. When he was confident he had control again, he nodded as if approving of the arrow in hands then turned back toward his mentee. “Take a moment to relax your arms and then we will begin again.”

 

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The first touch of Corin's hands on her hips made Lavinya gasp softly. The contact was entirely unexpected, coming from behind as he had. Instantly her skin prickled, all too aware of him as a virile man, instead of a mild mentor. Those hands weren't warriors hands in her mind's eye, but the skilled and tender hands of a lover. Almost how she remembered, though more certain, more practised. As those hands slid to the flat plane of her belly Lavinya had to bite her lip to maintain her composure as heat suffused her frame. Most everything he said fell on deaf ears as Lavinya tumbled into her own private imaginings. There, the touch became far more intimate, and the blush on her cheeks became far more pronounced.

 

It was the light tap at her foot that awoke her from her sensuous daze, and none too soon. Light! Corin was trying to train her to fight, and here she was daydreaming about his lovemaking. Did he have any idea just how he was tormenting her? He stood so close, Lavinya could feel the warmth from his frame, feel the fan of his breath at her nape. It took a great amount of effort not to lean back into his embrace. How could he not hear the thud of her heart? Still he continued his lesson, and Lavinya tried to stay focused on his words, letting him adjust her posture with teasing hands. Thanks to the creator he was behind her, Lavinya thought, or he would need only take one glimpse at her face to know just how wayward her thoughts were being. Would he be pleased? Like as not he would be irritated, she thought. Perhaps even disgusted. No, not that, not after the way he had eyed her dress. Still, it was best she pretend she barely even noticed his hands on her betraying flesh. If it was anyone but Corin, she thought, it would be an easy task.

 

Oh Light...And just like that, Corin was much closer, his hard frame pressed lightly against her back, his arms around her. Ahh, her betraying heart! It was thumping a rapid tattoo in delighted response to his nearness. If it weren't for his guiding hands, Lavinya would have released the trembling bow for certain. "need to be strong but gentle..." She breathed a highly unladylike curse and closed her eyes against his unwitting assault on her senses. Goosebumps prickled her skin as his breath stirred the fine hairs at her ear. If he had any idea what he was doing...oh she would make him regret playing with her. Play with fire and you will get burned! And oh, how she was burning now. Corin had fallen silent, but Lavinya was late to realise, so focused was she on the synchronisation of their breathing. Ebb and flow, in and out, closer press and release. Sudden weight on the string by her hear snapped her back to reality, eyes flying open. Corin's reflexes were razor sharp and he took up the strain in an instant, but for a moment there he had lost his control. Hmmm...

 

There would be no further pondering that moment for now, as Corin hastily stepped away and Lavinya was forced to school her expression, and with the way her pulse still fluttered it was no easy task. He didn't look her way though, fortunately she thought, but that in itself made her think he had been aware of the crackling chemistry between them, if only for those few moments when reality had seeped through his lesson. At least she had a moment to cool her cheeks and relax her arms, for which she was grateful. Alternating arms, she held the bow in one hand and shook the other, releasing the tension which had built not only in her straining muscles but elsewhere, too.

 

"On my own?" Lavinya was afraid the horror showed on her face before she could hide it. How under the light was she supposed to remember what he had told her, when she had been busy with her lewd imaginings? Not that she had deliberately let her mind wander, but with his hands on her, even in the most innocent manner...well thinking straight went out the window. "Right." She lifted the bow, and desperately scanned her useless brain for any hint of information that may have managed to sink in through the fog. Ahh, but it was only his hands that came to mind, hands firm and sure as they directed her hips...wait! Smiling to herself in triumph, Lavinya shifted until she was aligned as Corin had guided, core firm and chest open. She could almost feel his fingertips on her neck again as she moved her head, his arms beneath hers as she drew the string by her cheek. Her breathing slowed, mirroring the memory of his chest moving against hers in steady rhythm. Not moving her posture - she was scared to mess it up - she flicked her gaze to Corin's, where he stood watching with a critical (and she sincerely hoped pleased) eye. "Like this?" A little breathless, still.

 

 

Lavinya Morganen

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The influx in her voice drew his attention sharply along with his gaze. She had seemed almost

astonished or was it shock? There had been something there he was sure of it. Only now she

was once again the composed Aes Sedai that she almost always was. Was it all in his mind

again, the cooling of her nearness still softening the edges of his thoughts. No he was certain

there had been something there.

 

Corin’s gaze turned to a more keen and critical mentor as he watched her begin to set herself

into the stance and begin the motion of drawing for a shot. If she was missing anything or had

forgotten, he would catch her. At first her movements were a little jerky and unsure, exactly

what he would expect from a new mentee. But in short order a glint lit her eyes and she moved

fluently if not slowly into the corrections that he had guided her to earlier. He knew that glint by

now, mischievous and proud, it had become all to familiar with him. What is she up to behind

those long fluttering lashes? Trouble for him he was sure, the question was if the trouble

would come sooner or later? Beginning his circle again he watched her carefully, ignoring

her seeking approval. She was a student right now and as such would have to wait until he

was ready to offer confirmation or praise. Neither of which he could afford to offer too easily

less she forget her place in this present relationship. The simple thought of the word began to

unravel his thoughts and forced him to drive his concentration forward. Right now was definitely

not the time to be trying to figure out the mess of knots their relationship had turned into.

 

“Your feet are too close together,” there was no emotion in his voice; a simple statement. A

quick flick of his wrist sent the fletching end of the arrow against the inside of her knee with a

modicum of force. “You have to remain balanced or you are useless, remember that.” Corin

continued a second circle around his mentee seeking out further errors. Grudgingly he had

to give her credit. For a first start she had picked up the correction he had guided her through

earlier every well. He was not about to voice that credit but he could not deny it either. He

thought he might catch her daydreaming in her usual Aes Sedai head in the clouds state. But

she had grasped it better than he had thought she would.

 

“Okay, you are still a little loose and sloppy but it’s not the worst start I have had to deal with.

You can release the bow and gather an arrow. You will be shooting at that post in front of the

shed. For now I don’t expect anything fancy from you. Just a simple placement of an arrow

anywhere in the post will do. Mind you watch your positioning and breathing.” Stepping back

so he would be facing her when she drew her shot Corin waited for her to select an arrow

and return and set in her shooting stance. When she was finally ready, he watched her draw

the fletching back to her cheek and take aim. “Now hold it, don’t release. Just concentrate

on the shot and your breathing.” For long moments Corin watched Lavinya holding the shot

in place. He could see her finger tips whiten with the lack of blood flow, watched the tremor

build in her arm and the bounce of the tip begin to exaggerate as she worked to fight off the

strain. “Choose your moment and take the shot.” The release was rough, the string slapping

hard against her forearm as it sent the arrow speeding away in a silent deadly arc. With

a “thunk” the arrow embedded itself in to the side of the shed missing the post by over a foot.

 

Turning to keep Lavinya from seeing the small satisfying smirk that tickled at the edges of

Corin’s mouth, he surveyed the shot. “Not bad .... If there was three of them abreast.” His voice

held a small dollop of sarcasm but remained light. “At this range you should be able to hit a

single shucked pea consistently.” Turning to look over his shoulder at her he added with a slight

smile, “and when I am done with your training you will. Now again, and this time let’s try to hit

the large skinny post shall we?” With that he turned to face down range and waited for her to

gather another arrow.

 

 

Corin

 

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It was hardly glowing praise, but Lavinya took satisfaction in the fact that Corin found precious little with which to criticise her. Thank the light for small mercies, she thought. She still hardly believed she had managed to take in any information while his hands had been upon her. At least he was sparing her from that now, using the impersonal touch of the arrow to direct her. It certainly made it easier to concentrate. Obediently she fetched an arrow, knocking it and taking her stance with slow care. It was wearing, drawing the arrow and holding it as Corin issued instructions. The muscles in her arms began to quiver in protest, and when she at last released the arrow, not only was it wide of its mark, but it slapped against her arm painfully. Hissing at the sting, she rubbed at her forearm, scowling at Corin's back.

 

He may have been turned from her, but Lavinya sensed the smugness in his voice, a further irritant to her already bruised pride. Resisting the urge to poke her tongue out in a very childish manner, Lavinya instead pulled on her shroud of Aes Sedai serenity. The trolloc-kissing mocker would not get to her in the slightest, she decided. Ignoring both her infuriating mentor and her smarting arm, Lavinya fetched another arrow, taking a moment to shake out her arms before knocking the arrow and drawing it by her cheek. When Corin had to again correct her on the spacing of her feet some of her Aes Sedai calm slipped under the influence of her irritation with herself, and the arrow again sailed too wide of her mark. "Don't say a word," she forestalled, lifting a hand and pretending she couldn't see the smile tugging at Corin's lips. If she didn't soon learn from her errors, Corin was going to think she was either a complete idiot, or not serious about her training. And then he would not help her.

 

Concentrate! Lavinya demanded of herself, snatching up a third arrow. Her wrist was tingling painfully after a second slap on her forearm, if a little less severe from the first. Corin's barely hidden smirk did nothing to help, but Lavinya forced her eyes away, focusing instead on the makeshift target before her. It was frustrating to think that she could cut down the wretched post in a heartbeat with a thread of finely honed air, but of course that defeated the purpose. And it highlighted her predicament - without saidar she was hopeless. In desperation she called on an old novice practice, using the image of a slowly opening rosebud to focus her mind as she adjusted her body in preparation to draw. Her eyes never left the post as she lifted the bow, fitting the arrow carefully and pulling it by her ear, frame locked and steady. Her heartbeat thumped in her ear but she heard only the sweet song of saidar as though behind a cloud as she loosed the arrow, blinking in disbelief for a moment or two as it quivered from it's resting place slightly off-centre in the wood.

 

"Aha!" Lavinya smiled in delight and lowered the bow, eyeing the arrow with triumph before turning her eyes to Corin. Thankfully he looked decidedly less smug than before. "I was aiming for the shucked pea," she said with a decidedly mischievous smirk. "Let me guess, a lucky shot?" Filled with new confidence, Lavinya sashayed down to the post and tugged the arrow free, before returning and taking aim again. Having found a good thing, Lavinya utilised the novice exercise again and loosed a tinkling laugh of joy when this arrow too found it's mark, and without even slapping her forearm. Several times more Corin made her repeat the action, pointing out her minor faults until her arms grew too tired and wobbled so wildly the arrow shot several feet wide, worse than her first attempt. Wearily she tossed aside the bow and dropped to the ground. "A break?" She asked, shaking out her tired arms.

 

 

Lavinya

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It was refreshing to see Lavinya flustered and off balance for once when Corin was not. For so long she had been the one to control the game and he the one always fighting to find a firm step. In a strange way it had similar feelings to a certain grey eyed storm he had tried to give his life to before. But now, as her hand shot up to stall any remarks he may have thought to provide, he found a pleasant charm about the less then collected Aes Sedai before him; a refreshing reminder that she was human after all. A fact he worked to remind himself more often of late it seemed. Sometime she could be so stubborn and immovable. Like a cantankerous goat in the pen, not willing to step out in the open field even though the grass was fresh and the space expansive to give the allure of freedom.

 

Like the triumphant morning sun burning away the lazy morning mist, the relaxed enjoyment of the moment faded as Corin took note of a change in Lavinya. It was nothing out right obvious unless you were looking for it. But something washed over her. Not the Void, he could recognise that distant look anywhere. It was not like the other discipline that was taught in the yard either. Something that involved embracing emotions and pressing them down or something to that effect. It was something Corin hadn’t grasped, he had found the whole thing too confusing and the void too natural to care what the other method was. No, it was nothing he knew about, but it had a very similar effect. He could see the focus flow over her, the bow and arrow becoming an extension of her body. It was still rough and crude by a guard’s standard, but it was a huge shift from the awkward trainee she had just been.

 

He did not need to look to know she struck the pole if not the exact mark. The solid thud of the arrow striking the post told him that much. It was interesting how quickly she had been able to change, to separate the annoyances and the outside from the task at hand. The questions flowed through his mind seeking answers and cohesion to the puzzle. Her face practically beamed as she turned her gaze to him and then nearly skipped off to collect the arrow. If she could gain that control in the midst of a battle then perhaps there was hope that she would survive with just a customary guard to protect her. Corin said nothing through it all, but just studied her. He had though perhaps he had tapped the hidden inner soul that was the true Lavinya Morganen but something told him now there was still more she had kept locked away from his eyes.

 

She seem to beam with pride for a short while, happily going about the small correction Corin issued to her while she replayed the shot time and again. But soon enough fatigue broke through the pride and before frustration could once more gain a hold she threw the bow aside and dropped to the ground. For long moments Corin just looked at her, still puzzling today’s new information in the back of his mind. “You know, if this were the yard, a stunt like that would have you running the track for the rest of the day with a sack of flour on your back.” When her gaze shot, he raised a hand to forestall her tongue and continued as he moved back to the glittering fan and collected the polearm. His eyes studied the way the light danced along the death offering edge. “Only the mentor calls an end to a training exercise, you would do good to remember that once we are home sister.” The threat was hollow, even if it was hard to pick up on. This whole training thing was different from the norm. Not because they were not in the yard but because of who they were. Surly her mind wandered as much as his, and if harm were to befall her; he was not sure what he would do. As a mentor he had to remain objective and forge a weapon from whatever offering the mentee presented. Could he do that with Lavy?

 

“While your arms rest we will go over another of the weapons, unless your mind needs to rest as well?” He spun quirking an eyebrow in question to her. The look she returned he accepted as an answer to continue though he should have had her running. “Perhaps we can wait a few minutes more before continuing. Tell me,” he lowered himself to sit cross-legged across from her with the polearm across his lap. “What was that back there? When you got the shot right, there was a difference about you. Is that something they teach you in ... lady school with all the other women?” The indication to the Tower was not great. But he had not been paying attention to the area around them to see if anyone was trying to listen in so it was a safe alternative.

 

Corin

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Instinctively Lavinya knew better than to believe leniency would be forth-coming from her new task master, but the rebellious woman of old compelled her to push the boundaries all the same, to crack the façade of the surly guard, to penetrate his firmly erected barriers. He met her thunderous scowl with barbed words and the unsubtle reminder that in this, he called the shots. Did his hostility still simmer unabated beneath the surface? Was he counting down the hours for them to return to the tower and a parting of ways? Or was his temper at last cooling?

 

She watched as he sat across from her in one fluid movement, granting a brief respite despite his sharp words, raising questions anew. How much of his demeanour was sheer bravado? She hadn’t considered the possibility before, thinking only of him as a wounded, stubborn animal that would rather snarl and snap than be properly tended – but what if it was more than that? What if there was self-doubt, or fear?

 

Lavinya was pondering the puzzle before her when he asked his questions, bringing her back from a close study of the glitter of emerald in his eyes – so very like his daughters’, she thought with a twinge of melancholy for the child she missed – that she almost missed the genuine curiosity in his words. A simple tool for the tower, wondering at a puzzle? Progress indeed. Wisely keeping the thought to herself, her lips quirked and her eyes slid to her fingers twined in her lap, presently absent of the ring of her station.

 

“ When one of we…students,” she chose the word carefully following his lead in hiding their true identity from listening ears, “is first learning to use her skill, there is an exercise we are taught. A visualisation tool, I suppose, to help the mind bridge the gap between reason and reality.” She folded her legs neatly beneath her diaphanous skirts and straightened her spine, exhaling a slow, steady breath. As she had instructed countless novices before, so to she explained to Corin, eyes closing as she continued to quietly explain.

 

“Imagine a rosebud, tightly furled, hiding its secrets within a delicate prison of petals.” The rose, scarlet as fresh-spilled blood was conjured in her mind’s eye, the stem long and sturdy, with deceptive thorns ready to prick the unwary finger that sought to grasp to hard at the prize. “At the centre of the rose is that which we seek, the essence of life, or the warmth of the sun, the ultimate desire of your heart,” she paid little heed to her own words as she practiced the exercise, the image of the rose tickling memories she replayed often but tried valiantly to halt now. “Forcing the rosebud to open will only bruise and break the rose,” she warned, “so we must gently coax it into acquiescence, imaging the velvety petals slowly uncurling, opening and releasing its contents at last-“

 

Vivid as the day it occurred the memory flashed into the forefront of her mind rebelliously; another tender rosebud, vivid scarlet and perfectly formed, feather soft as it caressed and teased her face, her eyelids, her lips…even now, the same bloom carefully preserved and held safe in her private chambers. A scant year or so; still it felt ages had passed. She had endured such heartbreak and anguish as she could bear, was still haunted by their shadows. A mother now, older, wiser, and scarred. How is it she thought to heal the man before her when she was carrying such burdens herself? How lofty was her arrogance, how selfish her aims – oh yes, it was so very noble to care for a man who would sooner she left him and looked back no more. He did not thank her for her interference, nor would he, knowing her girlish dreams of forcing his heart to align with hers. A violent pang in her heart forced a humourless laugh to crack from her lips and her eyes opened, dropping again to her lap. She would give him everything, fool she was, and he wanted none of it. But could she let go? He did not even know he was a father, no doubt the knowledge would add to his loathing, was that why she delayed so long? She didn’t want to look to closely at her motives, was afraid of what she saw when she delved into herself. She was nothing more than what Linten had labelled her – arrogant, foolish, undeserving of aught but humiliation and depravation.

 

Aware of her charge’s penetrating gaze she cleared her throat. “That was, ahem, that was what I thought on and it seemed to help.” Light blind them both, she thought absently. Why could things not be different? If only he resented her less, if only she had not pushed him so long ago, if only she had not fled like a coward, if only, if only. “Different to your void, I think, but similar in purpose.”

 

Lavinya

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He Studied her face as her eyes closed and denied him one key element he used to gauge a person. Her words washed over him; eyes searching for signs of deeper meaning or deflection in the way she held her face, the even tone of her voice. But nothing was offered to him save her instruction and almost trance like retelling of the discipline. A rose; thorny barbs meant to piece the skin of the unsuspecting and bring pain to the careless. Red delicate petals similar to that of her words began to form in his mind but were swept away before they could take complete shape. How ironic that which would be taught to them in the Tower, also represented his failure with Lavinya. But as her eyes opened and dropped quickly to her lap, a brief betrayed of some inner though slide over her lips and then disappeared. Too little words, too little reaction, too little emotion. Something was there but her revealed clues to few to grant it any light, only questions.

 

His chuckle was devoid of humor, a colder offering against the brilliance of the sun. "Different ..." his eyes fell from her face to the haft across his lap. The worn and rubbed surface solid and strong, the void. "It's similarity ended at it's purpose for focused clarity. I think what you describe is another that is sometimes taught." The edge faded away like the slow dissipation of morning fog. "A discipline I am not overtly familiar with. Like all it draws on emotions, thoughts; memories. In a way like your teaching. To draw the emotion in pack it down and gain strength and focus from it." A cynical note in his voice licking at the edges near the end. "But mine is not that, no mine is different. It holds a depth I have not yet reached. The master who taught me held such control of focus and awareness as I have not seen in my years since." A twinge of awe floated among the words as his mind replayed some of the teachings; dwelt briefly on the wonders he had introduce Corin to. His eyes flicked up to his new mentee and then to the sword tip gleaming between them. A place of peace and refuge had become a place to hide away from the world and the wheels weaving's if just for a time. A friend, lonely, isolated, and dark. But a friend who had seen him through thus far; would see him through to the end, what ever end that is.

 

Drawing in a breath he let himself slide the cloak on, feel the regularity of the separation; eyes that stared at the glinting point become devoid of emotion. "Picture a candle; it's wax firm and wick proud." He released the breath slowly and felt the comfortable abyss settle around him. "A flame, it's soft light pushing back the darkness, offering warmth and comfort. Sense it, draw it to you." There was no thought to this part of the teaching, it had just become; rolled out on it's own; voice barren and distant. "Let your mind drift in the light, welcome the feelings and thoughts that follow you. Like pictures, frame them, hold them, become at piece with them. Now feed them to the flame," his hands became loose a light grip upon the haft; eyes still empty focus on the tip. "Watch them curl in the flame as it licks it's way across feeding on the memory leaving smoke and ash in it's wake." The image of family both old of blood and new of friendship birthed from work in the yard floated to him, wrapped around him and then obediently slipped into the flame as it had countless times before. He did not need the steps to find the void, but to teach it he would walk the path with his mentee. 

 

"Don't fight the thoughts and memories, accept all that comes to you and feed the flame. Friends," Rosheen and her wild mohawk filtered across; mocking laughter on her face before the flame consumed it. "Memories," lighting flashing in the high window of the armory as the spider moved across the floor; scene slowly twisting to smoke. "All that you are," the ceremony; his cloak given for the first time. "All that you may be," colors shifted in an eye jarring way as the cloak moved in the breeze. "Now," drawing in a deep breath, "blow the flame out." He blew the air out of his lungs thought it was not needed. The teachers way to help a new mentee to visualize and bind the action to their mind. "With the flame out feel the darkness, sense the smoke still snaking up from the blacked wick. The air around it, around you a glass window. The souls window to look out." He never taught a mentee from deep in the void, only at the surface as he lead them through the process. Helping them find the path to walk and encouraging their steps. But here and now was not the yard, she was not a wide eyed mentee seeking the glory of the Tower Guard or the cloak of a Warder. His heart twisted on the glass surface twitching to draw his attention back and he pushed it away. Now was not the time.

 

"See the wicks dark tip, focus on the tip. Feed your thoughts and emotions into it, press them to the darkness." His voice was soft, the whisper of death over a shoulder unseen, disdain beginning to touch it. "Your hopes", the rose emblazon dagger placed in his out stretched hand. "Your weaknesses," a vision of a fountain, the light twinkle of genuine laughter. "Your ...," the whisper cut off as his tongue refused to give the last word life; Love. The cabin; the grove. Two places, two purposes, two women, two losses. The images swelled in the tight confines of the glass dome around him; thin cracks snaking out over the surface like the tendrils of smoke that had floated over the wick. The pressure threatened to consume him as he held the raw unhealed edges of the images; the feelings. Refused them entrance to his heart and refused to dispatch them. The battle raged within for control, demanded he feel; to be human again. His frame remained solid, breathing even and meditative, hands lightly balanced on the haft, grip sure. His body knew the void, knew the comfortable feel of the weapons grasp from ingrained training. But even the emptiness that held his eyes could not deny the glassy coating of a threatened tear until he thrust the emotions into the darkness of the wick violently. Force it all into the dark; the dome settling firmly, comfortably, and numbly into place.

 

Peace, where are you my lost companion? He dwelled on the thought for a short span, distantly felt the sun on skin his own yet not of his presence. Sensed eyes that watch him, but did not touch him here in the center. Life, must it be this way for all of the weave? Reluctantly he let the numbness recede, filtering back to the fighting surface of the void; awareness of himself, the movement of the air on his skin, the soft scent of the woman opposite him. "All thought and emotion is consumed by the flame", his voice returning to emptiness. "Then the mentee is taught to transition to the darkness of the wick's center and deeper still into the emptiness of the void. From here, separated from the distraction of emotion they can focus, fight, and live." Or die and find it eternal. His eyes flicked to find hers and held them pinned; searched the confusion within. Then returned to the half in his lap as he slipped off the cloak once more and accepted the rush of emotion; grip tightening briefly before releasing the half an folding in his lap once more.

 

"So yes ... different I would say." He noded as if to confirm to himself before meeting her gaze; trying to keep the surge of denied feelings from lingering in his own. "But we are here to help you learn to defend yourself with out the ...." So many ears to hear where one would expect none to care, he reminded himself. "With out unseen luck. To do that you must gain a measure of skill with that which hands have made." His eyes trailed off down the alley to a water jar two buildings away. "I think to complete the next part we will need something else." A ghost of a smile played teasingly at the corners of his mouth when his eyes met her's next. "Sis, I think we will need that water Jar over there if we are to continue properly. If you would be so kind as to fetch that and return it to me here we can continue." He enjoyed the struggle that must be ensuing inside her. But when she opened her mouth he simple held up one finger to stall any comment she might have. "The student must do without argument or refusal if they are to learn. They must trust the one who teaches if they are to survive. Surely it is the same in the women's great circle when they teach?" He quirked an eyebrow before tipping the held finger to point toward the jar.
 

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Lavinya watched his face as he spoke, his own gaze no longer trained on her. She saw the cynical curl of his lip, the tenseness in his jaw – how could he still be so enjoyable to her sight while filled with unease in her presence? – and wondered not for the first time how to reach him. Not just the surface, not the same measure as anyone else might, but deeper, she longed to recapture the playfulness she remembered, the mischievous glint in his gaze, the smile which had once so easily warmed his face. She knew he walked his own private perdition, had been to the pit of doom and back but surely, surely he was still there on the inside, just waiting to be drawn out. And into her arms. Pah he did not think that way anymore, if he ever really had save that one evening…No, this was not the time to reminisce on such things, she should be paying attention to his words, not wondering if his hair would still feel as soft if she speared her fingers through it.

 

She would be a better student if he was less distracting she thought, but all the same she forced herself to focus, noting how his voice grew colder, more distant as he described his method of escaping his emotions; no more than that, the void was where those thoughts and feelings had been ruthlessly squashed, the good and the bad, discarded. A frown formed between her brows as the significance of what he did touched her coupled with how utterly unreachable he seemed in that moment, even his words halting as he fed everything into the flame. Is that what he did with his memories of her? Why he no longer seemed to see anything but a nuisance Aes Sedai set forth to torture him? Worse than the Whites with their cool logic, this was ice in comparison. What was the point to living, to striving, if not for those very thoughts and feelings and emotions? Briefly she considered the emptiness that gaped beyond should she feed her own tumultuous thoughts into the flame; without the overwhelming love and pride for her daughter, without the hope of a bright future, without the affection she felt for the man before her, unrequited as it was. Without dreams of what could be and memories of what had been, even without the temperance of her very real fears and weaknesses, what was left? Nothing.

 

Her frown deepened. How under the light was he going to find the will to live in a great, vast abyss where nothing touched him and nothing mattered? She understood the escape and freedom from the pain, in months past would have demanded he show her until she had it perfected too, and yes she supposed there was logic in removing these distractions when one was in the midst of battle and each breath could be the difference between life and death; but the tone of his voice was tickling something in her, some measure of familiarity. This was not the first time he had escaped to the void in her presence, she thought. Did he really view their association as such – warfare? Did he need to avoid all emotions just to endure being close to her. How empty he must feel, how very alone. But you are not alone, you mule-headed lump! She glared her thoughts at him. Live? This was not living, this was enduring in some light-forsaken stasis. He may think differently if he knew he had something worth living for. Someone. No not me, he’s made that very clear, but a sweet, innocent daughter? It made sense, surely he was not so far lost to the man he was that he would wallow in despair while his child needed him? Assuming of course the very knowledge didn’t break him…and he’d have to believe her first, what if he thought she made it up to try and snare him? It was the worst sort of tangle and she couldn’t see her way clear.

 

Her mind ceased its wayward wandering once more as his voice changed, a subtle inflection but the emptiness seemed to have disappeared now. Silently she made note to pay closer attention to his voice in future, to know when he escaped to the void but the thought was interrupted when his eyes returned to hers, a hint of their old mischief dancing in their emerald depths. Why did she have a sudden sense of foreboding, as though she was about to be the target of his impishness? Fetch? Fetch?! He was ordering her about like a novice or, worse still, a dutiful pup? Her jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed – he may be the teacher here but she was not some sort of common servant he could send to do his bidding. Infuriating man, she already gave him far too much leave to be insolent in her presence and opened her mouth to expound precisely on just what he could do with the water jar he wanted when he raised a finger, surprise silencing her more than the action itself. He was enjoying her turmoil, could read it clearly on his face and in his high-and-mighty tone.

 

Her mouth closed with a small click and she glared at his smug face, considering. He spoke true of course, she could hardly learn if she wouldn’t follow his instructions but did he have to make her run about like a fresh-faced trainee in the yards? She held his gaze, seeing the challenge and hint of satisfaction in his eyes, the shadow of amusement. In that moment she saw the boy she knew, the bold young guard who thought to challenge a White sister in a battle of wits despite the odds, and something inside her coiled painfully tight. If it brought him back, she could endure a little meekness and work, couldn’t she? Besides, he was doing this to help her. Resignedly she exhaled and without a word (though with a parting glare) she rose to her feet and went where he pointed, straightening her shoulders for all the world as though she wanted to go where she strode and not because she was told to, moving with natural grace in the clinging emerald gown and a decent measure of haughty irritation as she crossed the distance to pick up the jar. Blessedly empty, still the clay pot was heavier than expected. Hefting it from the ground she braced it against one hip and made her way back to the yard where Corin waited, ignoring the few odd looks from passers-by. “Your water-jar, master,” she uttered with cloying sweetness and no short amount of defiance in her gaze as she placed the vessel in front of her teacher, wondering just what he had in store for her.

Edited by Lavinya

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A hint of glee; the teasing twinkle of light off a perfectly cut facet of a stone the same color as her gown met the smoldering defiant fire in a mirror of Ayende’s coat. Her words like the sweet thick golden nectar of honey dripping from a freshly removed comb combined with an undertone of defiance adding a childlike rebellion to the flow of her words. It was a refreshing hint of normalcy after what felt an eternity of darkness and loss. How many times had he found the simple pleasure in the frustration and feint sarcasm of a trainee under his guidance? How long had it been since he last took someone under his wing and worked to teach them that which may keep their thread a little longer in the pattern? He had been the student for a life time; would continue to be if he was to survive. Somehow the education had turned, he had let himself get to close, too attached. A fatal flaw; yet the challenge was the same. The pieces had changed slightly; their roles warped. But the underlying commonality was the same. Did that mean the same fate awaited in the shadows? NO! It mustn’t … I can’t let it.

 

He held her gaze a moment longer; different options to break the defiance floating across thought. How different things could be if she were simply a trainee. But she was Aes Sedai; strong willed and defiant to the end. There could be no other option for her and still be who she was. This one he would have to be careful; was already exceedingly so. He could not break her; would not. But there was no reason some added humility could not be gained from the experience. The smile that pulled on one side of his mouth a faint reflection of the strange joy he seemed to feel at that. Pointedly he let his eyes slowly travel down her frame, “not the most practical attire for this sis. I will have to assume you have others,” until they swept from her feet to the bow once more. The outfit was befitting her cover if it could be considered a cover. The hug of the fabric easily drawing a picture for the mind of what it held beneath. Far more than that to which he had met her in the garden; matched a time that had been like the life of a candle flame. A flare of heat and illumination like nothing he had known and then snuffed from existence. A sensation, one of many he had refused life from the grove touched his mind; hand sliding across his leg unwittingly before he stilled it on his knee. A time lost; A weaving of the past, he reminded himself. “You may collect the bow again. But no arrow. Sight at the post, pull and hold”.

 

Slipping the polearm from his lap he collected the arrow once more while he waited for her to complete the commands he had given. A simple command from a mentor to a mentee; yet there was little doubt he expected it to be followed. Reaching out he set the jar on its side and began to spin the arrow head against the jars side as one would when attempting to light a fire. “Keep your focus, eyes on the target. No matter what distractions happen around you, you must maintain your focus.” Corin’s eyes never seemed to leave from his work on the jar. Time as a trainer had shown him many of the common mistakes and weaknesses that most suffered from. “Hold your arm in place, use it to keep the aim. Note the light bounce in time to the beat of your heart.” He blew the debris away lightly and then rotated the jar. “Do not grip the bow as if choking the life from it. Hold it firm yet light,” the arrow once more twirling on the jars surface. “The shot may not readily be available at first. Patience is the key,” the arrow tip paused momentarily as the fletching was used to tap her elbow. “No drooping, keep your frame firm.” He returned to his task and left her to hold the form. Blowing out the debris again he sat back checking his work. He would have to reimburse the owner. But it was a small price to pay and a convenient training aid considering. Looking back up at his new mentee he let the smile return to his face fully as he waited for her failing strength to end or her pride to break the form before her strength did. Is it just the familiar feeling of training another or is there something about her specific that warms you finally? Another piece of puzzle he would work over in time.

 

“Hmmm ..” his gaze measured her character once more when the bow finally dropped to her waist; held her gaze as he attempted to work out how far he could push her. Stretch, but do not break. Must not allow more damage to be done. Bruise the pride, but do not weaken the spirit. “Good … A good start, but much work still to be done.” The arrow tip bounced lightly on the jar, “you may return the bow to its place in the fan. We will not work it more today.” The smile on his face extending as he waited for her to complete the task. Something had to be done about those dresses. Unfortunately, until the need for the charade reached a completion there was little chance that would happen. Unseen a chill raced its light fingers down his spine. What if she deems the need to continue until they return to the Tower? A puzzle piece he did not want to dwell on. “Seems we have a small issue sis. Weapons are tools and as such we need to look after them regularly. A broken tool is of no use to anyone,” as I am. How can you not cast me aside? You keep the pity from your eyes, but you are Aes Sedai and trained deeply in that discipline. The smile fading in strength; voice broaching at the confusion internal. His eyes dropped to the jar studying it a moment in memory of where his thoughts had been going originally. Noting the small hole near the bottom and the other a quarter turn away and half way up drew remembrance and the smile reaffirmed in place. “Your water jar is empty dear sis. Empty does not clean. Fill it and return to me here.” The smile growing as his eyes met hers once more, “loose no more than a hand span of water from the jar or you will repeat it until you can.” Corin could sense the building pressure in Lavinya, anyone would be able to see that, note the way her frame straightened to full height again. “Off with you now, we still must travel yet today,” the arrow tip still bouncing lightly on the jar.

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I’m hardly wearing the dress for it’s classic battle-cut, you wool-brained lummox, Lavinya thought grouchily as Corin’s gaze wandered over her attire in a very deliberate but impersonal manner that stoked her temper further as surely as it poked uncomfortably at her confidence. Would it be so terrible to look at least mildly appreciative? She was painfully aware that the process of bearing his child had altered her physique drastically and that perhaps she had not managed to regain the exact same allure of her old frame, but still she hadn’t thought she had entirely lost her physical appeal. Not until Corin inspected her so impassively and critically that was, no doubt noting every flaw. Ridiculous, Lavinya had always enjoyed the admiring stares of men and had been exceedingly confident in her own exceptionally created skin, and this new self-consciousness was most unwelcome. First, she ridicules herself with her pathetic night-time display and now she adds to her failures with physical defects. I’d like to see how well you would like to be so assessed and dismissed, she half muttered under her breath as she snatched up the bow once more, glowering to see his half-smile. He had called her beautiful once; a lifetime ago and very likely a pretty lie, all part of the polite guard trying to detangle himself from unwanted attentions without being rude. Well, he had no qualms about that now.

 

Doing as she was bid, Lavinya went through the motions, moving into position as he had instructed, holding the bow aloft, string taut by her cheek as she glared daggers towards the fence post, thinking how nice it would be to put him in a dress that clung to every curve like a second skin and see how his confidence fared then. Naturally her thoughts conjured a picture that started amusing at the idea of a man in a dress but her memory began filling in the details of just how nicely built he actually was and it only irritated her further – why did she have to like the way he looked quite so much? Infuriating man, let him have a child and then see how his body fared…her teeth clenched together as he admonished her distraction without so much as looking at her. Tension radiated through her frame as she aimed her scowl as well as her imaginary arrow at the post, muscles holding the strain of the string slowly beginning to burn in protest. He droned on, correcting without looking and blood and ashes if it wasn’t so irritating that he was somehow still right, sensing her errors and short-comings as thoroughly as he had looking at her dress. Fiercely determined to prove herself capable in something she held the pose, slowing her breathing, forcing herself to steadiness and sureness of frame. She did well she thought, holding as long as she could before the inevitable wobble of tired muscles became too great for her to counter and she released the position to the great relief of her arms.

 

The considering tone of Corin’s voice drew her gaze, still very much the teacher assessing the student – was he actually smiling? Disconcerted she let him hold her gaze, his expression unreadable. Did he find her shortcomings amusing? Was it seeing the haughty Aes Sedai brought to the lowly status of student that he enjoyed? She wasn’t sure, was hardly sure of anything with this man anymore and it was most unpleasant. Still, whatever the cause, something inside her flipped giddily at seeing the curve on his lips, the amusement in his gaze. She didn’t know the cause of it but she welcomed it all the same. How long since he had genuinely had cause to smile, to laugh? Some of her ire dissipated as she returned the bow to the array of weapons under his less than glowing praise, a sidelong glance showing the smile still firmly in place on his face. How much younger he seemed for it, lighter; as though the weight of the past year had shifted and the young man beneath was at last able to come forward.

 

The change in is tone distracted her, the way his smile seemed to lose its warmth. Was that how he saw her? Broken? A damaged tool in need of fixing? A frown returned between her brows as she followed his eyes to the now punctured water jar, wondering if he was correct and she was horribly broken – was she even worth fixing? Could it be done? Was the jar now supposed to be a representation of herself, unable to even fulfil her original purpose she was so badly defected? She wasn’t that bad, not really, she told herself. Everyone has nightmares sometimes, she had endured far worse; besides no one else even knew about that little concern. She was still Aes Sedai, was still strong enough and capable enough…why was he smiling again? A sense of nervous apprehension trickled over her like a silken net laid upon her skin – was he deliberately goading and baiting her? Was this all a test on her patience, temper and obedience? And why in the light did he seem to be enjoying it so much? He was positively gleeful when he issued his next command, tapping the jar lazily with the tip of his arrow and a playful grin at her. Ahh, what things that smile did to her! That twinkle of mischief in emerald depths, the attractive curve at a mouth she thought of far too often – this was what she had sought since his return but why oh why did his impishness have to be directed at her? She was torn between wanting to revel in the smile and the strong desire to box the insolent oaf about the ears. She stiffened her spine and clenched her jaw, thinking of the task and how he had deliberately set her to failure and humiliation. She had knocked quite a few uppity novices down a few pegs in her time and no doubt trainees needed similar treatment at times, but burn him she was not some naïve child dreaming of glory in battle, willing to chase her tail in pointless endeavours out of sheer obedience.

 

Folding her arms stubbornly under her bosom Lavinya glowered at the gleeful guard who took far too many liberties; with any other Aes Sedai he likely would have been whipped soundly by now. Why did she let him get away with so much? A puzzle for another time she decided, tapping one foot with open impatience. “Why?” She asked simply, levelling her gaze at Corin. She hadn’t outright disobeyed – she did want him to teach her, after all – but she wasn’t going to let him make a fool of her for no purpose than his own personal amusement. Even if the evidence of that joy made cold places inside thaw and twist. He could bloody well explain himself.

 

 

Lavinya

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It was work to hold down the deep rumbling laughter that tried vainly to rise and claim him at her simple question. Why? How many mentee had thought that very same question a multitude of times in the past. Memories peculating to fulfill that same sense in his own past training. The short sighted need of the student to tie a neat and precise line between two dots that seemed randomly placed. More over how many had galled enough to voice it as she had; visions of more than a few extra exercise routines added to answer his own youthful questioning. Oh Lavinya, how fortunate you are of timings and positions. Had this been the yard; you other than that of a full and experienced sister of the tower .. his mind wandered to several tried and true methods he had silenced youthful questions with before. But they were of no use to him here and now. Though the thought of her barely able to draw breaths between dry heaves due to excessive running in the heat of a strong summer sun on hands and knees at the edge of the track did bring an additional measure of happiness. Why can I only feel this now? Why is this happiness and joy only here? What has happened to me? Confusion and questioning fluttered across his eyes; tightening them, and drawing his brows down slightly. They had been friends once, so much more than that. But it had unraveled like the pulled thread of good cotton; the pattern dissolving behind it.
 
The steady tapping of the arrow tip like water drops on a tin roof pulled his mind back from it's wandering. His eyes flicked to the jar, a reminder of the task he had set her to and her waiting question. When they returned to her once more the brief confusion was gone and humor lit them once more. "Why," it was as if he was tasting the word, "why." Good, defiant to the very end. Mark that feeling and keep it close to you when night next descends. "How shall I answer my student I wonder?" The arrow tip continued to tap out its steady beat, "how shall I explain the complexity of simple lessons now and how they fit the greater picture when one can not even visualize that picture yet?" His head cantered to the side slightly while his gaze continued to hold hers; hold the defiance without challenging it out right or conceding to its need. "How does a sister explain the delicate weave of threads to a blind man? Explain the intricacies of each of the individual threads themselves before they are woven to a purpose that he still can not see?" You could not live in the Tower over time and not hear about their methods and teachings; even if one could barely understand what it was. A vague comprehension to a puzzle he could never touch but only trust; could see it's outcome if not it's form and method.
 
"But you are wiser than most my sister, so to you I will attempt a glimpse at the picture to come." His eyes slowly swept across the array of weaponry between them. "To survive a battlefield; to live at the end of a dance of death. One needs many skills and a measure of luck. Only the Wheel can weave you the luck I'm afraid. But through discipline, hard work, practice, and guidance I can lead you through the steps that may allow you to live at the end of the dance," Light willing. "It is not simply to memorize the forms, to ingrain the movements in to the very fiber of your muscles. But you must also be able to focus, to maintain an unwavering focus of purpose and place. To know your move, your opponents move, and your counter. Not just at the moment, but several step beyond. To feel the rhythm of the dance; know it's cadence; adapt to the change coming before it is there. Know when to move quick and when to slow; when to press and when to feint." His eyes returned to her face and the study of the windows to her soul. Penetrating gaze trying to pull her thoughts into the open. "So it is with the jar," the arrow tip finally stopping it's unwavering cadence. "Yes, with your frame you will not be able to cover both holes with your hands and still carry the weight of the jar and the water. Equally so, the water will bleed out more than a hand span if both are left to free flow, most likely even if one is left to free flow. Just as the very life blood of your body would bleed out if cut and left unattended." He lowered the arrow tip to the ground and leaned his chin upon his hands holding the fletchings. "Speed by itself is not enough; strength by itself is not enough. Only the mind and the training can create the solution that will allow you to live at the end of the dance. Only the mind and the training will allow you to complete the task. Your opponent will not give you a measure of ease or respite; equally I can not if I am to train you to survive." His shoulders lifted slightly as the grin re-bloomed on his face. "Perhaps my sister knows this dance far better than her brother who has studied it, lived it, breathed it, and survived it?" His voice growing softer until only a stretching silence lay between them before focus moved back to study the sword tip it had earlier. "Or perhaps she would like to learn another way to be strong and survive that which most can not understand; that I can not understand."

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He was enjoying this, she was almost certain of it as she watched his face, his body language, read the tone of his voice. Lavinya wasn’t entirely sure what sort of answer she had expected, an explanation perhaps on just which sword form the task would benefit? Frankly she had half believed he would refuse to indulge her and merely issue his command again. Small mercy he hadn’t, perhaps she still maintained some level of authority after all, or at least the illusion of it. Why did he have to be logical? Oh he danced around the why prettily enough, not quite giving a satisfactory answer but all the same there was sense in what he spoke. Quite irritating, really. Almost patronising, like a blind man…was he insinuating that she was the blind one to his teachings? Was it so terrible to question things rather than accept every little snippet that one was served without comment? When it was anyone questioning her – absolutely terrible – but this was vastly different. Well and so; she did not miss the subtle message in his speech, she had agreed to this training and to refuse to submit to it would be folly indeed. In this, she very much was the clueless novice and he the master.

 

She thought to remind him that she was not completely without battle experience – she had watched someone’s warder literally explode at the hands of saidin right in front of her, for goodness sake – but then she recalled all too well how they had lost that encounter, how they had been beaten and bound as chattel for their failure and that, that had been only the beginning. A shudder rippled down her spine like a winter chill despite his bright grin as he reinforced the point that she had already failed at Linten’s hands, too many times to count. That she was unfit to manage so much as sleeping without incident, of course she wasn’t going to come up with a better way to be strong and survive – well beyond the fact that so far she hadsurvived – but it forced her to ignore her bruised ego and focus on the point of the training. He was trying to help her, cruel as the reminder seemed, this was for her benefit, and she could not deny that he had made a living study of his craft; was more than equipped to instruct her, if she would just bite her tongue and trust him.

 

Trust…ironic that he expected something he himself refused to give. She trusted him; always had – with her secrets, with her heart, with her life. “So really you are asking me to just trust you, hmm?” The words were resigned as she spoke them, much of her earlier fire now diminished though her gaze which met his head on still held a fair measure of disgruntlement. I trust you, the look said, but why won’t you trust me? Bending, she hoisted the jar up, propping it against her hip as she had before and inspecting the small holes now marring the purpose of the vessel. They were small, true, but there was nothing to stop the water from flowing freely from them at what she estimated would be rapid enough to see far more than a handspan escape before she crossed the distance from the well back to where she now stood. She would have to be quick then, mayhap the task was to measure her agility and speed? Whatever else happened, she was going to have a difficult task keeping herself dry; no doubt the dilemma was part of the entertainment for ‘brother’. “I can show you how that is done at least.” Uttered largely to herself, she referred to the matter of trust but the twinkle in his gaze made her think he took it for bravado in the task instead. Let him think what he will – she was more tenacious than he gave her credit for and would not be so easily deterred, no matter how unpleasant the task.

 

Upon reaching the well she faced her first dilemma – managing to fill it in the first place. A stone lip edged the well and she balanced the jar atop it, frowning in thought. How was she to prevent it from emptying as fast as she could fill it? She glanced towards where Corin waited and while she couldn’t see his expression she had no doubt he was waiting for the inevitable entertainment to come. With a stifled curse she pulled the robe, drawing the bucket to the top, filled to the brim with cool water. Experimentally she tipped it into the jar, watching as it filled a small way before reaching the first hole. She kept pouring, watching with narrowed gaze as water trickled steadily from the hole – not quite as bad as she may have thought but it was certainly a rapid leak and before long the level was again below the hole. It would be twice as fast with both holes weeping. She scowled again – it was becoming a fixed expression – and turned the jar, considering the holes, measuring them with her hands. She could stopper one with her finger, like so…but the other was in such an awkward position, she could reach it with her other hand but it would be impossible to carry it like that empty, let alone heavy with liquid. Well, she had declared if only to herself that she was not one to quit easily; she had best get on with it.

 

Her sigh was more an irritated huff as she lowered the bucket again, filling it and heaving on the rope to bring it near. It took a bit of balancing but she managed, blocking the lower hole with her hand as tightly as she could while rapidly filling the jar. The bucket was large, the weight of it made easier thanks to the pulley system so that the jar filled night to the brim. Immediately water began to trickle from the uncovered hole; with a scarcely stifled oath Lavinya wrapped her arms around the jar, hefting the heavy, ungainly load and began her walk. Water sloshed over the top, splashing one slippered foot, so she slowed down to compensate but the water level within the jar continued to recede at an alarming rate. She looked up, dismayed to realise she had barely crossed half the distance. She was not returning so obviously defeated and so with a grunt she turned on her heel, back to the well to begin again.

 

Several false starts later – let it not be said she lacked determination – and Lavinya was bristling with vexation. Of all the pointless, idiotic, humiliating tasks to be given, this had to be the worst. The hem of her skirts were decidedly damp now and her arms were getting tired from hefting the stupid vessel. It was so perfectly torturous, even the shrew wife of Rion’s would have been in awe of its genius. With hands on hips Lavinya glared her irritation at the water vessel, freely leaking back into the well without anything to stem the flow. Again her gaze swept to where Corin waited, no doubt brimming with laughter to think she stubbornly kept attempting the impossible task like a fool who couldn’t see the woods for the trees. Her eyes tracked back to the light-blasted flaming jar that she now loathed, hot frustrated tears pricking unbidden at her eyes and her hands balling into fists. Would he really be so cruel as to make her toil at something that was indeed impossible? Would he go so far to further shatter her pride? As much as the evidence of the task seemed it was so, she couldn’t convince herself that it was truth. He wasn’t cruel at heart. Angry, bitter and hurt, yes; but not cruel. He may find amusement in her predicament but she didn’t truly believe he would set her up for certain failure…would he? Maybe she just needed to think it through again, to find what it was she missing, there had to be a solution, if only she could block both holes at once she could possibly slow the leak enough to make it back across the yard, but she couldn’t do it with the other hand, she had tried it briefly, but maybe, if she…

 

Suddenly it was obvious, so obvious she slapped her own forehead in reprimand. She could block both holes, yes. She just couldn’t stay dry doing it. She sighed heavily, wearily. Not an impossible task, but certainly one that was bound to leave her discomfited all the same. Corin was a right tyrant of a mentor she decided with bemusement and perhaps a hint of begrudging admiration. One attempt, she thought tiredly as she again pulled the rope, summoning the full bucket, one last attempt before I drop the blasted container and shatter it, confirming my failure. Carefully she blocked the lower hole, sealing it as firmly as she could with her hand. Awkwardly, she manoeuvred herself around the jar, exhaling sharply to brace herself. This is going to be cold, ugh. Quickly she tipped the bucket, filling the jar as full as she could, quickly quickly lest too much spill. Bending her knees she wrapped her other arm around the jar, pulling it against her chest so that the second opening was pressed tightly against her middle and lifted the heavy vessel in one jerky movement. Light, the cold seep of water was unmistakable as it dampened her gown and it was positively icy, drawn from the depths as it was. Gritting her teeth she ignored it, consigning the discomfort and slow moving trickle of water to the depths of her conscious and instead focused on holding the jar secure in weary, trembling arms. Her steps were short but hasty, eyes watching closely the level of the water; yes it was dropping but not nearly so fast as before. Hope blossomed with each step, the realisation that perhaps yes she could succeed, might prove herself not completely useless in Corin’s eyes. Just mostly.

 

Lavinya was breathing heavily from the exertion when she stepped across the grass, the burn in her arms at odds with the cold rivulet soaking her gown. Scarcely waiting for Corin to check the level – she knew she had managed, burn him if he denied it – she hastily set it down with a sound that was half relief and half triumph. She had done it, pointless and irritating and ridiculous but she had done it. Shaking out her poor arms, the grey looked over her gown with dismay. The dress that had once draped and clung so enticingly was now plastered to her skin from bust to knee, the hem speckled with mud. Entirely impractical for training, but what else was she to do? Remembering too well how he had assessed and dismissed her imperfect frame earlier she plucked once ineffectually at the emerald silk then dismissed it entirely, there was little for it but to let it dry. The wool-headed oaf would just have to add to his criticisms, the important thing was she had succeeded at his silly task, and she had done so on her own. She was not so incapable after all. She glanced at Corin, waiting to hear his praise or chastisement. Perhaps in some regards she was capable, though not, it seemed, in those things which were truly important.

 

Lavinya

 

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Trust … he had not missed her insinuation on his lack of trust. Perhaps that was not what she had meant, her parting words were simply a spoken answer to an unspoken question. Perhaps, but he couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore it seemed. Trust a small word that carried the weight of Dragonmount itself. How could he simply accept, he had tried once and look where that landed him. Isolated, alienated and alone; no matter how hard he had tried to change what was already woven. Sirayn was gone, a furrow creasing his brow as he watched her surveying the jar. A simple damaged vessel; it’s purpose altered but not completely useless. Myself ….. damaged, but I can still be of use can I not? So many questions, always so many questions spun in his mind; never ceasing, never stopping. Muted when he slipped comfortably into the void. But they were never gone, only waiting for him to return so they could pounce once more like a ravenous lion attempting to consume him.

 

A smile twitched his face again as he watched her make the final trip back to him. He had to give her credit, her determination was sound; strong even. She had persevered through the task, tried, failed, and worked through to find the answer. He shouldn’t have doubted; never truly did, though he did underestimate her shear will power. Something he should have expected from a full-fledged Aes Sedai. They earned their ring, it was not simply a gift from years of study. The fire that lite her eyes at times; hinted at mischief other times. All glimpses of the woman he had known once. What have they done to you? He mentally shook the question away as she set the jar down in front of him, the upper hole freely leaking the jars contents onto the ground under the lush grass; puddling around her feet. His eyes followed hers over her now sodden dress. A small sacrifice in the grander scheme of training and understanding; eyes flicking back to hers when he realized her hands had stopped picking at the fabric. Why could he not trust? Why fight it, why not give in as he had once before? The ogre grove slid across his mind, her dark eyes glittering in the moonlight alive with a smoldering heat. Feeling a warming at his neck he forced the thought away roughly. No, trust was a harsh task mistress that broke you, burned you, used you up and tossed you aside. She had trusted him once; look at the ruin he had brought on her for that trust.

 

“Well done”, he offered her a small smile before his eyes dropped to the sword tip again. He had managed to keep most of the waver from his voice, light let her not catch it and read too far into its origin. “You ignored the distraction, found a solution, and maintained enough strength to complete the task. There are many parts that test and play in the task. But for this instance, my main concern was with your strength. Where your weaving cannot be your strength, where I am not able to be the shield, you must find a strength of will and body to overcome the fear and the foe.” How quickly will she dismiss you once she has the safety of the full guard again at her hands? The sigh that threatened to slip from his lips was swallowed as he fought to focus his mind back to a mentor. “You understand I do this to train you. To help ensure that”, his brow furrowed again briefly as he sought to understand this dream world. “That where a guard cannot be; where your talents can not help. There you will have your mind and the strength of training to compete in the dance.” A world not a world yet still dangerous enough to harm. How did one fight what one did not understand? Don’t try to solve the whole riddle and get lost in the weeds of unknown. Focus on what you know and let your training guide you past that which you do not. The words floated back to him from trainings past. At the time they had seemed insurmountable, but he had found the path and worked through as Lavinya had just done with his task for her. Surely, he could do it again with this new puzzle?

 

Rising fluidly, he pushed the jar over on its side, sending the remaining water across some of the weapons on one side of the fan. “Time is not stopping, the wheel weaves unending and we still have more travel ahead of us. No doubt your maid will be bouncing from foot to foot if we are too much longer.” His gaze studied her; would thing have been different? If steps in the past had been one simple decision changed, would this all be different? Would the Creator and the wheel have woven a different pattern? What is done cannot be undone. The pattern woven cannot be changed. A resolution settled over him, his shoulders squaring up; voice slipping back to the cool detached tones of a teacher. I will return the weapons to those I have collected them from. Correction, I will return the dry weapons to those that I borrowed them from. You my dear sister will ensure all the weapons are properly dry.” Where will your maid send us today? Moreover, when will this façade end? He had a punishment to face back at the Tower sooner or later. Perhaps sooner was better, remove the rancid flesh before it killed the patient. They would take him back and he would be of use once more, or they would dispose of him by their hand or his own. But the Tower would put an end to this mess he had caused. “Once you are sure they are ready for me to return,” his eyes flicked to the large heavy double mooned battle axe; a smirk lighting his face. “You will see to it personally that the axe is taken back to Captain Mitya. Personally, mind you.” His gaze swung back to meet hers, an old delight twinkling at the edges. “Not your maid, not a farm boy, but you will deliver it to him, where every he can be found.” The man would be over seeing the preparations to depart and thus constantly moving about the small town and stable. A task that would no doubt keep her busy for a short while before she could settle into the comfort of her carriage. “I have preparations to make as well. Ensure these are ready when I return”, turning on his heel he began a quick walk back toward the Inn.

 

OOC: Okay, you can decide on if you do take the axe back yourself or enlist assistance from someone. You can also decide if you are going to let him walk away or if you want to challenge anything he has stated or his dismissal. Ball is fully in your court. We should have enough here for your WS req.

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Well done. Well done?? Far from lavish praise but it was recognition all the same, and despite how lacklustre it was, Lavinya warmed inwardly at the two short, simple words. For her entire life she had hungered for power and position, and nothing had managed to satisfy her – Sirayn had offered her everything and delivered on naught. Sometimes she even believed it were true that the woman had deliberately baited her into a trap where she was torn asunder for stepping into the Green’s territory; for discovering Corin. Too often her striving had amounted to little; it seemed however that two small words of notice from her wayward tower guard made up for it, especially when coupled with the acknowledgment of just how she had achieved the goal.

 

How long will you be my shield? Of course the moment was short lived, but hope, cruel and fierce tried to burst into flame at the thought that perhaps he meant to be by her side permanently. Ruthlessly she crushed it to a mere ember – he was here under duress and she must not forget that. Given the choice he would flee from her presence and never look back. A sombre realisation that this journey was her one real chance to reach him, to find a way back to the people they once were; once playful and light, passionate and tender if only for a brief time. Was it possible to find that again? Had they moved too far to ever return? Hope, that was all she had, and it was far from a firm foundation to build upon, but what else could she do? As once more the aloof mentor role settled into his voice she bit back a sigh. Just hold onto the knowledge that he chose willingly to teach you and don’t look to closely at the why of it.

 

It seemed he was not yet done with his lesson, now directing her to more menial labour. How was she supposed to dry the weapons he had purposefully splashed, with her soaked through dress? Her jaw clenched as she thought back, on how the wife of her captor had enjoyed deliberately creating work for her, for no other purpose than because she could, and now doubt having an Aes Sedai slave had been immensely amusing. There had been little sympathy from that quarter, even as her pregnancy progressed there had been precious little respite from the pointless and humiliating chores. She glanced once at the enormous axe – that task she understood in light of the strength training, little though she might like it – but the other she could not see what benefit it might bring, and it chafed at her hidden and only partially healed wounds.

 

“Corin,” she said his name, not harsh but not weak, either. Hollow, even to her own ears, but she heard him halt, lifted her gaze to see him turn, brows raised in question. “There was a woman,” she looked away from his enquiring eyes, her voice flat, “who rejoiced in giving me menial busywork as though I was her slave, and in essence I was just that.” A muscle worked in her jaw and one hand clenched unconsciously into a fist, her unseeing gaze directed at the fan of weapons on the grass. “I will do what you have asked because I agreed to obey your directions, and I trust there is a purpose. If it is merely a desire to see me humbled, I advise you in future to reconsider.  I will not be a willing tool for anyone’s spite.” She knew that Jocelyn has resented her, resented the bond and her forced association with her husband but blood and ashes her jealousy had been entirely unfounded and served to only increase Lavinya’s misery and put her too often in the path of Linten. She swallowed against the rising tide of memories, of the degradation and cruelty, of the helplessness, sorrow and fear, forcing it all back into a mental abyss. Corin was not like them, she knew it in her heart and would even stake her life on it. Even so, she didn’t quite meet his eyes when she looked back up, instead stopping the path of her gaze at his chest long enough to see him nod once, afraid of what his expression may be, of discovering pity or disgust in his eyes. Having said her piece she turned away, hiding her fragility beneath a straight spine and determined movements. She hated that she had reminded him yet again of her weakness, of the pathetic failure she had proven to be on an important mission. Aes Sedai with years of training but embarrassingly useless and now fractured as she had revealed so graphically last night. Whatever he may have thought of her once must now surely be completely shattered in the light of the terrible truth. Despite all that, she would be no man’s whipping toy ever again.

 

She didn’t look to see if he left but eventually the silence told her he must have as she set about separating the dry weapons from the wet, annoyed at how many had managed to receive a good splashing. Glancing around she discovered not only that he had indeed left her to it, but that there was a large scrap of linen slung over a fence rail not far away. A rag, she decided on closer inspection, and one that no one would miss. Sitting cross-legged in the grass away from the puddle, she took each weapon one by one and dried it with the cloth, the methodical action surprisingly soothing. The sun was pleasant and so too was the moment of solitude, even if some of the weapons were surprisingly heavy and others decidedly sharp. A nick on one thumb had her rub down the blades with greater care as she pondered just why she may have been set the task. That Corin might snatch the opportunity to get a measure of revenge upon her for what he saw as his own servitude since his return to the tower she didn’t doubt nor did she begrudge it, not entirely. It was far less confrontational than his shouting matches but she was still in mind of a caged beast snapping at her fingers, if perhaps with less force than before. A little humility for the haughty Aes Sedai for once dancing to the tune of the guard may bring a brief amusement, though he would have to know it would not last. Both of those things perhaps, but more than that too; it was logical that weapons wrought of metal and wood would require care and maintenance, moisture unchecked could lead to rust and warp. Hmm. Perhaps another teaching moment after all, wrapped in an irritating cloak of banality. She really ought to speak to one of his trainees, it would be interesting to discover if they resented his methods or admired them; she was leaning towards both sentiments thus far.

 

Once done with the chore Lavinya eyed the massive battle axe warily, standing before it with hands on hips. It was a wicked-looking weapon and she knew instinctively that it was going to be heavy and awkward – the jar all over again except blessedly dry. Reaching for the haft with two hands she lifted it experimentally, eyes widening to discover just how heavy it was. Light, she was not that weak was she? She’d spent the better part of a year lifting and carrying and toiling – admittedly the burdens were less due to her delicate ‘condition’ – had she really become so soft since her restoration to the Tower? Surely not. Adjusting her grip she hefted the axe, holding it two handed and wondering at the strength it must take to wield the terrible thing in battle, given simply carrying it was far from easy. Mindful of the curved blades and not willing to test them, she made off with her cargo to find Mister Mitya, muttering prayers under her breath that he might not be far.

 

Had her prayers ever been answered? Surely they had before, else she would surely have abandoned the practice years ago, but in that moment it was hard to recall as once more she was denied her request. Blasted trolloc-loving Mitya was nowhere to be found. The courtyard, someone said, though her arrival found him long gone, in the stables they said. No, not the stables, he had gone to the blacksmith about horse shoes. No not the blacksmith, the little store on the main street. Oh yes he had been here but she had missed him, he was headed for the inn, presumably. Blood and bloody ashes, the axe was a deadweight in her hands and her arms had long grown weary with its weight. It was pure determination that kept her going, ignoring the burn in her biceps and the ache in her back. She had promised to obey and there was no way she was going to give Corin any cause whatsoever to call her out for being less than exacting to his orders. He no doubt expected her to cheat or to rebel, and every fibre of her being urged her to follow those natural instincts but stubbornly she refused. She was not so useless and pathetic that she couldn’t manage what an adolescent trainee did in the natural course of their training. She would fix her broken parts, one stupid moronic task at a time. When she at last found the captain of the red guard it was a relief to note that all would soon be in readiness. She glanced longingly towards the carriage; the haven where she would find respite and rest for at least a while – assuming she made haste and finished her own packing. She saw Corin as she made her way back inside, his eyes from across the courtyard measuring. Rolling her eyes skyward, she pointed silently to the captain and his newly returned axe, before striding inside to her room with all the haughtiness she could muster. Insufferable man!

 

Lavinya

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