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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
Lavinya

Just the Two of Us

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Weary didn't begin to describe Lavinya's state of exhaustion when she pushed through the door to her room. Lack of sleep was something she had dealt with for months now, but with the added physical exhaustion Corin had inflicted on her during his instructions that day she was weak-limbed and in serious need of sleep. It wasn't all bad though, she decided. Training with weapons had given back some measure of her severely bruised confidence, even if she was still rather hopeless. She wouldn't always be, not if Corin had his way. She had to admit he was a good teacher, if incredibly distracting. How was she supposed to focus on shooting an arrow at a target when her gaze kept wandering his direction? With extreme determination, she reaffirmed. It was past time to stop being haunted by the horrors of her past and take some control back. And Corin was assisting her. Willingly. Wonders would never cease.

 

Still extremely vain despite her tiredness, Lavinya had luxuriated in a wonderfully hot bath before finally allowing herself to think of a nap. There was still an hour or two of daylight left, so at least her demons that lurked in the dark would be held at bay. Never so grateful to sink onto such a lumpy mattress, Lavinya was soon in the blissful cocoon of deep sleep, too exhausted to even dream for once. It seemed only a moment, but some time must have passed as she reluctantly clawed her way back from the depths of slumber, noting the lengthening shadows and wondering just what had woken her. She sat up then heard the sound again, the not so gentle pounding on her door. Light, if that was Corin preparing himself to barge into her room and rescue her from some imagined threat again she would thump him. She was scowling when she opened the door, but it was not the face of Corin that met her but one of the Red Guards, hand raised to knock again.

 

"Yes?" She asked coolly. "I have a note for you milady. From your maid." That got her attention, and she snatched the note from him and broke the seal with one freshly chipped fingernail. Saline. Light, the absent minded woman had left yesterday in search of her informant and Lavinya had barely given her a second thought! Bloody Corin and his distractions, she thought, as she scanned the obviously hastily penned note. Well now, this certainly changed things.

 

 

Mistress Lavinya,

 

I have received news of your beloved, and I am afraid it is not that which we would have hoped to hear. No doubt you will wish to return home with your brother and nurse your broken heart in peace. I will journey on and convey your sincere regrets to your former betrothed on your behalf to spare you the pain of meeting with him after this unfortunate turn of events. I believe it best to do so alone.

 

Kindest regards,

S.

 

 

"And what of Captain Mitya?" She asked, refolding the note. "He has already given the order to accompany your maid, my lady." Lavinya nodded, satisfied. "Be sure you do. Convey your captain a message for me. Keep her safe or there will be severe repercussions. Understood?" The man nodded solemnly and she dismissed him to make ready to depart with the rest of the guard. Lavinya had no doubt they would serve Saline well in her quest. Poor soul. It was hard not to feel sympathy for the Red, knowing she must face an almost certain heartbreak. One she herself had been forced to face at one time, when she had given up Corin for dead. She understood the need to be alone, not matter how good Lavinya's intentions were - she would just be intruding. She would respect Saline's decision and allow her room for her grief, and pray to the light she would not befall any harm. It did mean, however, that Lavinya was now stranded in the middle of nowhere with her favourite surly tower guard. Would it bode well or ill? Impossible to guess.

 

It was not too much later that Lavinya presented herself to the small private dining room the inkeeper had graciously provided so that the lady Lavinya did not have to associate herself with the rabble in the common room. Corin - her dutiful brother - awaited her. How would he react to learn their mysterious mission was at an end? To learn that they were now on their own, with nobody to act as a buffer to their combustible tempers? That he was now her sole protection? Preparing herself for she did not quite know what, she swept into the room and took a seat across the table from Corin, after greeting him with sisterly affection for the sake of the young maid hovering by the door. They made quick work of ordering food and drink, before sending the girl off to convey their instructions to the cook. Once the door closed behind the slip of a girl, Lavinya wordlessly handed Corin the note, studying him openly as he read the brief missive.

 

 

Lavinya

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The days training was better this time, if for no other reasons than he did not have to physically correct Lavinya’s forms. She was making progress at an expectable slow but steady pace. But at least today all her errors could be corrected verbally or with a quick tap from the fletching end of the arrow he had taken on as his training staff. This was a good thing. She had distracted him far too much that first day. He did not want to fall back into that trap again; it was already hard enough to train her in those distracting outfits. They were far from practical for training with weapons. But it was part of her cover and she had been quite adamant that no matter what circumstance arrived the dress for her kin would never alter much from what she continued to appear in. She had even had the nerve to subtly mention that the women would wear far thinner and clingier, as if that was even possible, if the circumstance warranted it.  What would require such a step he did not know and was far too nervous of the answer to even approach the question. The mischief that floated in those dark pools from time to time still set the hair on the back of his neck on edge.

 

Reaching into the cool clean water of the wash basin he splashed it across his face several times before collecting the towel to dry off. It felt good to be rid of the dust from the day’s training; a small smirk creased his face at the thought of the day’s events. Not only had he been able to keep her at a safe distance and allow him to concentrate on being the mentor he was supposed to be. He had given her a good dose of what true training life would be like once this facade was over. About now if she hadn’t fallen asleep on her bed she was probably asleep in a tub; his money was on the bed. It was the safest place for her and it meant he had time to clean up and relax before this evening’s meal and another game of cat and mouse. He was largely getting tired of being the mouse, but knew there was little chance of that changing unless he allowed himself to slip as he had before. That had turned out worse than devastating. It was because of him that Lavinya was a fractured woman inside and Sirayn; he still felt a tightening in his chest after all this time. Sirayn was lost to the world and it was a darker place because of it. The light had lost a great champion in losing her and he was not about to let it repeat with Lavinya.

 

Willing his apprehension and tension away, Corin slipped silently into the private dining room and released a breath he had notice he held when the room contained only the willowy serving girl that had been assigned by the Inn keeper to his sister, Lady Lavinya. If they only knew the true history of his sister they would not have worried about the common room and its assorted visitors. But they didn’t and that was part of the facade they played at. It was that facade that held him to a closer and tightly held position at Lavinya’s whim. But for the moment he had a continued solitude and welcomed its extension. A solitude that lasted less than the first drink the girl had fetched him before Lavinya in her elegance swept in to the room and set the game at motion once more. Her affection was simple and for once benign in its offering, the perfect sister welcoming her brother. It was the lingering scent of her passing that became the first of the edges he would have to face that night. As much as he hated himself for it, he could not help but seek that light reminder of how warm and vulnerable she could be.

 

With dinner ordered and the girl out the door with her orders it became time to get down to business once more. In that regard Lavinya was the first to make a move from the facade with a simple slip of paper. It was a decidedly odd move that quirked one eyebrow of Corin’s as he accepted the missive. Noting the broken seal on the back before he opened it, Corin sat back and began to scan through the letter. He got no more than the first two lines in before his eyes cut a glance over the top of the letter to Lavinya. She was openly studying him, like a Brown with a new bug under her looking glass. A place and feeling he really did not like. But he let it slide off him and continued with the letters contents. He had tried to give off from The Great Game after failing to find Sirayn. It was Lavinya’s determinace and constant testing and pestering that had broken his will in that aspect and the games cloak once more fell comfortably into place.

 

alone that word at the end carried more weight and turmoil then Saline would ever know. His eyes lingered on it for a moment before closing the missive and passing it back to his sister. This presented a completely new set of problems for him to overcome. Why was the Creator so determined to test him? Still conscious of Lavinya’s studying gaze upon him. Corin lifted the mug to which his eyes had been fixed on and tipped it to Lavinya before downing the remainder of the contents. Somewhere there was a surly old lady with storm grey eyes smiling in glee at the turmoil that turned within him. “So it seems there is no longer a wedding to be had my sister. I can only assume your maid knows what she is about and this is indeed a necessary turn of events.” Eyes that had been studying the bottom of his empty cup now flicked up to meet the steady chestnut gaze from across the table. “The Captain and his Red Guard?” Lavinya’s silent head shake answered the question with the answer he expected. There was to be no one to buffer the two, and no one else to ensure her safety until they returned or she gave off the facade and claimed her present right. “That would leave me with two questions. One, what is my sister’s bidding in light of this, and how long is it to be my sister?” Silence befell them for a short span, broken only with the return of the serving girl with their meal before Lavinya could offer any answers. The arrival of the food was a welcome distraction from the locked gaze they had been sharing. Each searching the other for answers neither would give outright. A game that would begin again once the girl left the room, for there were answers that Lavinya still owed.

 

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Saved from answering immediately by the arrival of their repast, Lavinya’s mind raced, considering options and discarding them, only to circle back and reconsider them. Pricklier than a startled hedgehog was her ‘brother’, though their tentative truce continued to hold that staved off outright battle. She knew well enough what she would like to do – beat him over the head until he remembered who he was and came willingly to her arms – but tempting as the prospect was she had grave doubts over its success. She had the knowledge of the complex weave that would allow instantaneous travel to Tar Valon, though a sudden disappearance could rouse suspicions that would follow after Saline and could bring greater danger than what she already willingly walked towards. Well and so, she was hardly the Red’s keeper, but not did she need to make things more difficult.

 

It seemed logical to maintain their pretence of a blood-bond, though it were likely only necessary for a little while longer and not for their own sakes – only Saline’s – and if they took a different route from thence they could resume their identities or even make use of a gateway…but what of the Asha’man, what if they were still in Tar Valon? Delay would be required, in that instance, she would NOT go where they remained…and what if Corin leapt to the unflattering conclusion that she was merely trying to enforce he remain by her side without cause? She had seen the wheels silently turning in his own head as he read the missive, that sharp intellect she admired so well seemed undiminished and he would no doubt see through her dissembling, should he put her instructions to question.

 

These thoughts occupied her as she looked across the table at Corin, distractedly noticing the sweep of hair across his brow that could use a trim, the challenge that glittered in emerald eyes, the shadow of stubble on a stubbornly set jaw. Torn between an inconvenient conscience and a wholly selfish yearning, Lavinya found herself uncertain on how to move forward and unconsciously caught her lower lip, worrying at it with her teeth as she considered. The silence stretched between them, a useful tool against most but Corin was to canny to show on his face if it bothered him, his gaze implacable as he awaited her words. It occurred to her that there was only one solution that may prove amenable to her wayward companion, though it may not be pleasant to her. Having made her decision, she straightened her spine and lifted her chin; whether the action was resolve or defence, she could not rightly say.

 

“Corin,” she said his name lightly, savouring it’s taste upon her tongue, “the quest undertaken by my maid does not require my hand, nor yours.” She paused, lifting her wine glass to her lips for a lingering sip, her fingers still toying with the narrow stem after she returned it to the table top. A brief glance ensured their privacy, and so she continued conversationally between morsels of food. “We could follow her perhaps, though I don’t believe she wants us to at this juncture, or make our own journey.” She paused again, wine glass half way to her lips as another thought flickered to life; a small village not so great a detour from their journey, tufts of vibrant red and eyes of sweet green nestled in swaddling blankets…She took the sip and continued, burying the idea for the moment as potentially disastrous. Her eyes lifted from the simple fare she pushed about her plate to meet Corin’s eyes. “What do you suggest we do?”

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There was no pretense between them, the very walls of the room could feel the held breath after the willowy girl slipped from the room; could see the open study the combatants shared. Each looking for indications of where the other’s thoughts were headed. Corin’s fingers idly thrummed on the handle of the tankard that had been refilled before him. His gaze remained on the Lavinya, drinking in every twitch and movement of her face and eyes. Sometimes the game was subtle; a hint of morning mist still clinging to the cool canopy of the nearby trees after the sun’s rays had erased it’s view from the streams surface. This was not one of those times, the players fully aware that each in their own way were seeking the strategy of the other and not willing to give over their own thoughts readily. No board lay between them yet both pondered the movement of their pieces with great care; not wanting to find themselves cornered and trapped. The study re-enforced a theme that had been building shortly after they had left on this journey. Looking back, some of the signs were there in the Tower. Only his eyes had not been open, his mind not attentive to the nuances. Lavinya had changed. They seemed subtle at first, yet the more they had been together on this journey the more he noticed it. Drawn out pauses and silence could be useful tools to a player of The Great Game. But these where different; subtle flicks of the eyes, inward focus or perhaps avoidance; the almost inconspicuous draw of brow at times. These were not traits he would have assigned to Lavinya when he had known here before the pattern warped their treads; sending them on different paths. The biggest of the new tells was the way she worried at her lower lip; also the hardest to witness. His mind even now wanting to wander to warmer softer thoughts lead by the light scent that permeated the room.

 

Finally a decision seemed to solidify in her; an  Aes Sedai like mantle settling over her as she drew herself up and played her piece. Hmmm …. What do I suggest we do, an interesting play indeed. The obvious choice would be to return to the Tower and hand him back over to the Commander of the guard. With her report they would either keep him or … the thought caught him off guard; fingers stopping their idle thrumming. What would she report? He was trying to train her, had watched over her even to the degree of standing watch in her room. It could not be reasoned he was derelict in ensuring her protection as he was duty bound. But what of their arguments; his changing moods and cool exterior? Perhaps not the most congenial of the guards. But certainly not a draw back. He was sure he had seen worse in some of those chosen as Warder to a sister. No, not a large black mark against him; a small smudge perhaps. But what of her affiliation; perhaps stronger than a simple affiliation to the charge he lost. Was never yours in the first place, do you so quickly forget that poignant point of view as stated by those thunderous detached eyes? Revenge was a bitter dish best served cold. Would she seize that opportunity to finally complete Sirayn’s final smite of the pupil that thought too high of himself?

 

Realization of his wandering thoughts pulled back his mental focus to eyes that had remained on Lavinya. Foolish!! You are no better then her; She taught you better than this. The tankard was pulled from the table; would she be happy to be rid of him finally; the dark bitter substance a reminder of a colder version of the treachery he had proven capable of. Could he blame her; either of them for wanting his hide stripped from his body and tanned on the rack. Yet the choice had been given to him as to their next move. Choice … or trap? He pulled deep on the tankard contents allowing the bitter fluid to burn it’s way to his stomach; the distraction easing the unconscious clench of his jaw. She had not answered the second part of his question.  Sister or not sister, an interesting piece to keep in the wing for later flight. Her home of history was in relative travel distance from here. He did not know if she still owned any holding there, but it would be an interesting respite to see how she conducted herself among what at once had been familiar. To see her relaxed and restored to the strong and mischievous image he held from the past. How different it was back then, mischievous and taunting in the garden when they first met; playing off each other at the expense of the White sister that joined them. Or was she Blue .... no, too cool and logical in her conversation and actions ... definitely a white. So many memories of a better time; the armory ... a mixed blessing and curse was that. Many emotions tied to such a simple purposed building, yet none related to the true purpose of the building. 

 

Setting the empty tankard on the table before him he studied his food briefly, pushing it around experimentally with the fork. There was nothing particularly wrong with the food; probably better then they would eat once on the trail again if they were to avoid centers. The idea drawing a puzzling thought as he began to consume the plates offering; silence stretching out between them. If they were not going to follow Saline then presumably they would also not want to return to the same villages and towns they had passed in their voyage thus far. Another puzzle to an unsolved riddle; a riddle that would need clarity before they were to venture off. The light scent of her hair lingered in the air and worked to draw additional memories from the past. Playful meetings that left him wondering if she had placed a weave on his mind to addle his thoughts; the boldness of their meetings when he was sure the spider watched from above and recorded his every fault and weakness. 

 

Perhaps that was all part of it. Perhaps she was more than an associate; a pet at her masters bidding. A task to see a foolish guard ensnared and brought firmly and decisively under foot and into line. Could that have been her actual motive back then; their budding relationship merely a ruse to ensure his loyalty and bind a millstone to his neck; Sirayn's collar? No .. he had seen the hurt in her eyes when he had turned her down. No there had to have been more than just the trap. It had to have been more than just Sirayn's bidding ... the cold chill that ran his back as a new thought emerged stilled his fork; eyes flicking back to her own. Was she still operating under past orders. To keep the boy under foot and bleed the will to live from him slowly. A trap dressed in finery and smelling lightly of flowers; who would suspect a broken Aes Sedai? Who would question the motives of a sister offering to save a lost tool of the Tower? No one, no one would believe it, and why should they? Oh she had played her part better than the finest of Gleeman tales if it were indeed true. But how to know, how to trip the trap without getting caught. "I would assume we would be returning to Tar Valon if we are no longer needed. I am sure you have other pressing issues to attend to; once you make your report to the Commander that is." He hoisted the tankard as if toasting to Lavinya before tipping it back briefly and realizing it was empty. His eyes focused on the empty bottom did not, for the first time since the game began in the room, take in her reaction to his choice. With a resided sigh he placed the tankard back on the table eyes flicking once more to his 'sister', "unless there is another reason we should not return?"
 

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Lavinya’s fingers tightened around her fork at the mention of returning to Tar Valon. Asha’man walked the halls there now, the taint-touched men in black coats that had attacked her sisters, had murdered and captured and destroyed. She had stilled one, she remembered absently as her vision swam, remembered the wail at his loss in a distant way. The scent of burning flesh filled her nostrils, the screams and shouts of battle assailing her senses. She had followed a warder through the gateway, bound to a Green, she thought. She didn’t even know his name, but he had exploded before her eyes. One moment there, the next torn apart. How quickly they had been overwhelmed, completely unprepared for the ambush, but they had fought; fought and failed. A shudder ran down her spine as the old fear and horror clawed with cold fingers around her throat, tightening and stealing her breath. Her eyes flicked upward, found twin emerald orbs that served to anchor her against the darkness that struggled to take hold. She blinked a few times, clearing her vision and the moment was gone, all that remained was the taut silence; Corin. Her eyes dipped to the fork she held in a death grip and she forced herself to relax her fingers, to maintain her serene composure, assuming she hadn’t just let it crash and burn entirely. She had given him the choice, Lavinya knew how he chafed at the enforced close association they currently shared; of course he would leap at the chance to be free of her at last. She had half expected it, but to hear it voiced brought an unexpectedly sharp pain to her chest.

 

He gave her an out. Not deliberately, she presumed it was under the pretence of being a humble guard, a token display of deference at best as he assumed there would be no reason to delay his escape. “No.” She said, her voice clearly sharper than she intended as he rose his brows in response. “No,” she repeated softly, “I am not yet prepared to return to Tar Valon.” She could see the question arise instantly in his mind, followed no doubt by suspicion, anger and seething frustration. She didn’t owe him any explanations, she was Aes Sedai and he was sworn to protect, not question her every action; but she wanted to be able to share with him, to be on equal footing, both giving and taking. To have his advice and opinions; to similarly give hers. A proper friendship, a relationship. Carefully she set down the eating implement and pushed away her plate, no longer interested in pretending to eat. He didn’t deserve an explanation and the Light knew she was loathe to give it, to remind him yet again of her weakness but she would give it anyway. She looked at him again and sighed, wondering if she would ever find a way to put him at ease, like he used to be, like they used to be. Carefree. Playful and relaxed, uncomplicated and warm. Romantic fool, she berated herself, looking away.

 

“There are Asha’man in Tar Valon. In the White Tower,” impossible to keep the venom from her voice, her bile rising at the very thought of those lunatics befouling her safe haven with their very presence. Her lips twisted in a bitter parody of a smile. “A peaceful delegation, forging friendship and harmony and sweeping their atrocities under the rug.” Her hands had clenched again, anger a raging torrent in her blood. She exhaled slowly, forcing herself to let it go, to relax, to breathe. “I cannot, will not reside beneath the same roof as any man linked to the Black Tower.” Her glass found its way into her hand, the crisp red liquid passing her lips in gulps until it was empty. Mayhap a whole lot more of the rather rough stuff would be a good way to pass the evening; a drunken stupor sounded quite appealing in that moment. “When they leave I will return; not before.” She wanted to look at him, to find some understanding or reassurance but her cowardly eyes didn’t dare reach his face; she imagined his expression well enough, the disgust, pity and urgent desire to be far, far away from wherever she was, certainly not those things which she sought, needed. It was selfish of her to want to hold him against his will, and yet there were secrets she needed to still tell him, that it was wrong of her to continue to conceal. Would he flee if he knew? Would his anger turn to pure loathing? She thought she had lost him once; no, he’d never truly been hers, but she had believed him lost and it had been a bigger blow than even her incarceration and torture. Good sense and morality warned her to free him, but how could she ever bear to watch him walk away?

 

At last her eyes clashed with his, hers filled with an inner turmoil. He had not shouted at her in a few days, progress indeed, but the peace was tenuous at best, what could she possibly do to preserve it, to strengthen it and find a way back to the natural ease that had always shared since the very beginning? She could let him return without her, even though the idea made her insides twist painfully. It was the right thing to do…and yet she couldn’t let him go without the knowledge he was the father to the most beautiful little girl in the world. She should tell him; needed to, had to. But what would that knowledge do to him, to them both? Guilt threaded its way around her thoughts, festering and cruel. He deserved the knowledge, did she hold onto it selfishly, that she might first ensnare him, prevent him from hating her? How he felt about her did not change the fact of his daughter, but what if the news broke him further? She knew him well enough that it would hurt him; he had such a strong sense of duty, so strong he faced the penalties of returning to the tower despite losing the one he loved, when any lesser man would have remained in exile. He would feel a strong sense of duty to his child – would it also extend to the mother? If he chose to remain out of guilt and duty – despite his loathing and anger that were guaranteed to accompany them – what would be the point? A continued existence steeped in loneliness but tempered with constant resentment would be disastrous for everyone. Light help me, I don’t know how to proceed.

 

His gaze held hers, face not betraying his mind; very much the player now, holding his cards to his chest, waiting out his opponent – must it be a battle, always? – and it drew forth her frustration. She was tired, physically and emotionally, weary of this endless wariness and watchfulness. “Ahh Corin!” A smile that held no mirth twisted her lips and she pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes for a moment before her fingers speared into her mass of curls restlessly. “There is so much I would tell you, so much you should know,” she paused, dropping her hands and lifting her shoulders in a helpless shrug. “I don’t know that you’re ready to hear it, not yet.” She looked away once more before she could detect his answering anger, instead focusing on the empty wine glass and wishing it were full. As if on cue, the willowy young maid returned, anxious to ensure everything was well for the Lady and her esteemed brother, cutting through the thick atmosphere in the room and forcing both to bide their time beneath a veneer of normalcy. “Wine, and plenty of it,” Lavinya ordered coolly, not liking the way the girl – she was scarcely beyond her teenage years, surely – kept casting doe-eyed looks at Corin, blushing prettily when he thanked her for filling his tankard, hovering by his elbow as the very picture of youthful grace and sweet innocence when she returned hastily with the wine, asking Master Elisar if there was anything, anything at all he might need than she would be most happy to oblige. With a saccharine smile and clenched jaw Lavinya dismissed her in no uncertain terms, firmly instructing that they no longer be disturbed unless she was summoned.

 

Swallowing a few hearty gulps of wine – it really wasn’t particularly good, though it was warming her quite nicely – Lavinya looked back at Corin as the door clicked shut on the reluctant serving girl, casting him one last longing glance on the way out. For what must be the millionth time, she wondered why; why must they be so at odds, why must he resent her so, why couldn’t he have shared her feelings, why had he refused her, why, why, why. Still no answers came to her, only bittersweet memories of a rose fluttering over her eyelids, of callous hands laced with hers, of emerald eyes alight with mischief and merriment. Resignedly she broke the silence again, eyes dropping to the hands that laced in her lap. “If you desire it, you may return to the Tower with my blessing.” The words were more difficult to say than she could have realised, it may be the right thing to do but Light how it hurt. Another memory came to her, a conversation, filled with dreams and musings of the future. Did he still harbour some of his boyhood dreams of travel and adventure somewhere within the surly shell?

 

Her eyes flicked back up to meet his, at once achingly familiar and yet now different. Harder now, where once they had danced at her with amusement and mischief; with scalding heat. “But I would like it if you stayed with me.” Could he hear her voice shake? Sense the uncertainty in her gaze, the desperate hope that maybe, just maybe he wasn’t so eager to depart from her? “There are always contacts to check in on and rumours to be heard; a little travel would not go amiss, seeing a bit of the world.” She raised her brow in question, once more putting the option back into his hands. She could order him and she thought he would most likely obey – though it was far from certain – but she didn’t want to compel him, didn’t want to be heavy handed least she drive him further away. She wanted, foolishly, for him to simply choose her, if only this once. Foolish indeed, she chastised herself, finishing off the contents of her glass and refilling it a third time. He already made his choice, why keep setting yourself up for further rejection? Tell him about Elise; lance the boil and then learn to go on as you always have - alone. “Is there anywhere you would like to visit?” If he stays with me, I will take him to Elise, she promised herself, the image of the sweet child causing another pang – she missed her dearly. And I will endure the consequences whatever they may be.

 

 

Lavinya

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A distant momentary look; knuckles paler then deaths own embrace from the strangling hold on the utensil it gripped. That was not a subtle tell that she had let slip during their banter, it screamed with a raw depth of buried emotion he had only witnessed twice from her. The room at the in where she had awakened in sheer terror and the night in the stable’s where she has slipped silently into his arms; bide him silence to avoided the question. She had tried to explain it to him. It had been the reason for their training in weapons and would eventually be in hand to hand combat. But still parts of her story were beyond his comprehension. He did not doubt the truth of her words; emotion too raw to be forged from story and game. His hand slipped from the table to touch his pocket; reassurance that the strange missive was still there. He could press her on the contents; his perception of the contents. But was it too soon, her fragility so obvious in the odd reaction.

 

Again, the men in black seemed to be the unhinging of her; the way she held herself, the refusal to defiantly meet his gaze, to measure him in equal review. Broken, the thought floated between them, hurt dripped from it; worry flaring protectively battled with the game players desire to pounce on the open weakness. To tear at the soft scared edges and rent open the raw emotion below. Emotion that would force out the truth held him torn between two purposes. The desire to complete the puzzle and know her hand in all of it; Sirayn, his life, their meeting, every little piece that had been. There was more, so much more to the relationship between Sirayn and Lavinya. What was it? How much had been real, how much rehearsed and planned? A puppet on the strings of its master following the dance of another. The opportunity was here, all he needed was step forth and use that which was known to press out the answers to the unknown while she was weak and vulnerable.

 

But his heart refuted the player; battled for her honor, her dignity, for a love remembered. It hurt him to see her this way, this foreign weakness. It was not her; not the woman he knew and had loved. Loved …. Infatuation? Where had the step started and where had it failed? The vision of the field outside the cabin swam into a hazy presence between them as her eyes at last met his own; silent accusations answered the question of where the step failed. He had done that; he was the cause of that lost and failure. The start of the hurt that must have consumed her; sent her straight to the clutches of the madman that had practically destroyed her. His hands just as red as the onlooker who turns a blind eye to the cut throat’s dirty work. The pattern had been woven and no one could change that. But how to move on, how to put the pieces of the strong defiant women he had admired and, for a time, loved, back together again was a task he was not sure he could complete on his own. Do I even have the right?

 

The cool smile and almost frustrated sigh of his name pulled back his attention from the inner war. More pieces to more holes in a picture far from revealing its true shape slide across the table; the thoughts pushed by her voiced acknowledgement of the secrets. Aes Sedai to the core, for always there were secrets and plans; a pawn or a pauper to move and use. That was the life one accepted when they joined the tower and actively sought the eye or service of a sister. He had known that once, accepted it as his proper place eagerly. Such a youthful fool he had been back then, eager to rush into the clutches of the spider. A country boy naive to the true power the members of the White Tower held and how deep the Great Game went. A fool no more, now an injured player and reluctant chess piece biting at the hand that would see him put where he was needed. How easy it had been to accept at one time, why could he not now? She was Aes Sedai, her plans outweighed that of his own. He was simply there to serve. But they had changed that notion, many of them; not just the 2 suns that he orbited in confusion and blind acceptance …. had orbitedhad been twothe balance is broken, a comet streaming across the night sky in a beautiful display of death and erosions. That is my lot now …. That is my existence, all else I have forfeit the right to.

 

The slender girl with her sweet smile and large hazel eyes swept into the room and pushed the tension to the side where it waited to pounce once more. The break was needed, almost enjoyable as it gave them both a chance to breath; to ease the tension between his shoulders he had not notice building. He returned her smile warmly, her eyes glancing over to him in subtle flicks. In his youth, he had dreamed that someone like her would exist and would find interest in him; marveled over how some of the other fellows gained this kind of attention and could not place how they had drawn it. Now the attention was cute, flattering, and a welcome distraction. But she was but a child, however alluring, a dangerous emotional rollercoaster wrapped in a sweet frame of distraction. A hand to play for a time and then fold without winning the final pot. It was tempting, considering the obvious coolness and chilled demeanor his sister displayed to the girl, to play out the game longer. To use her presence and thinly veiled offer to continue to keep Lavinya off balance. Might even be fun, when was the last time I truly flirted for the fun of it and not to gain an advantage in the game?

 

Tempting, but it was not what was required. He needed a way to put Lavinya back together again. In a very real and personal way he was worried about her; a growing need to see her restored and whole once more began to outweigh the need to see his own place in the Tower determined. Purpose …. The new path that had been forming in his mind was washed away like that of a sand castle to the embrace of a wave. Release? Confusion and alarm spiking a heady warning and set the tension back to his shoulders. This was wrong; she was wrong; everything about their present relationship was wrong. Was there something in her look, the way she spoke; the pauses, gaps that threatened to reveal more then what was spoken? Perhaps, or perhaps it was simply his desire, the players need to see something that was not there; hear something that did not exist; find the leverage to command the dance. Truth … Perception … Trap …. Sirayn would have known the way of it, she could have deciphered it. But she was gone and he now had to stand or fall by his own hand.

 

Long moments stretched out, the silence broken by the movement of her glass from time to time as it visited her normally soft and relaxed lips now drawn and pressed more than he remembered. Did she fidget? Was that what she was about with the glass and its contents, or was it to hide the hurt and the pain in the numbing embrace of over indulgence; to hide her disappointment in him? Did they still dance the same dance or was a lesson being prepared for the unwitting student? Questions battered at his mind while eyes continued to study his opponent. Why could he not read her? Why did he not trust what he had been taught? What was it about Lavinya Morganen that unhinged him so. The answer bloomed and he refuted it immediately, unwilling to give it life. “Hmmmm”, a plethora of options presented themselves as he began to accept the thought of traveling further on. Perhaps with additional time and training he could find a way to restore the strong and defiant woman he had known …. will the soft remain?

 

His boots found their way to the table as he leaned back and settled in for the discussion. “I suppose there is always places a person wonders about. Tales and peoples described in song and story that draw wonder and curiosity.” His home? No, too personal, too sensitive with their present tension. Returning was obviously out of the question. She had made that abundantly clear. “Fabled lands steeped in history and fortune.” Camlyn? No, to close to the men in black, too close to the nightmare made real in her. The Sea? Possible, it would give options and time, but where, there was so much of it. If he were to offer up that as a location she would think him simple minded for sure. “Somewhere relatively nearby, in case you are called for.” Her homeland perhaps? It had crossed his mind earlier. How would she react to a visit to somewhere familiar, or did she already return more than she enjoyed? It would give a distraction surely. Offer her the opportunity to guide him and explain the area, people, and customs in greater detail. If he could still his tongue long enough it might help bolster her confidence. Build strength back into that which seemed scattered and broken at times. He pulled down another gulp of the dark bitter liquid from the tankard in hand; felt the warming affect linger a little longer. If he proposed this path, could he walk it to its end regardless of the outcome? What if it means I must hurt her to see her whole? Can I do that … again? The tankard stopped midway to his lips, his eyes flicking from the dark liquid to the woman that sat opposite him. He should be at her side supportive and building up, not across as her opponent trying to pull her down and tear open the wounds. Perhaps it was time to slow down on the ale, at least one of them should have a clear head in the morning and Lavinya seemed destine not to be that one.

 

“How about a tour of your homeland? I have never actually been there you know. Read about parts of it, given some instruction in certain ways and customs, but for the most. I really know little of your history, home, and people.” The Tankard returned to the table next to his knee, hands folding lightly in his lap. It would be perfect, she would be happy, distracted, and confident in her surrounds. How could she not? No Asha’man to fret over, no pressing Tower business, no sister to save. Just her beloved homeland and a stranger to help see it in new eyes. All he needed to do was keep the player contained and the edge of his tongue sheathed. “It is not a long distance from here, and once on the road for a spell we could simply cease to be brother and sister. Traveling friends. A woman, or Aes Sedai eagerly on her way to show a friend the wonders of her homeland. Who could possibly question it.” An easy smile pulled the corners of his mouth, almost genuine in appearance; the player smiling internally. Green eyes glanced up through brown browses to regard her reaction to his choice with a hint of liveliness that had been distant for most of their travel.

 

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Silence stretched for only a few moments, but in that time it thundered in Lavinya’s ears; her fingers curled about the stem of her glass tightened, tension mounting as she waited for him to snatch at the opportunity and walk out of her world once and for all. She could scarcely dare to breathe as she waited, eyes locked to his, impossible to tear them away now as returned the inspection, his jade eyes always seeing too much, piercing through her armour into the soft underbelly of her soul. And in an instant, the atmosphere changed, the welling anxiety dispelled as the cocky guard nonchalantly propped his dusty boots onto the table and spoke so casually. So great was her relief she didn’t even care to lecture him on the impropriety of where he set his feet, the breath she held escaping and drawing with it much of her tension. He is not going to leave me; not yet.

 

With that knowledge in hand, finally she was able to relax, a massive weight lifted from her shoulders. She didn’t give two figs where they went, so long as it was far from the filthy black-coats and their insanity. Freedom; just the two of them, no pressures, no strictures, no responsibilities. The open road and Corin by her side – ahh, life had not tasted so sweet in an age, not since the moment the warm weight of a squalling babe was placed into her arms, all pink skin and balled fists and the sweet fragrance of new life. Her eyes cut to his guiltily for a brief moment before shying away, her attention returning to the rapidly emptying cup of red wine. It would not be without its snares and pratfalls, this journey. The weight of her secret returned, grounding her in the reality of her situation that was far from the rosy ideal she wanted to imagine. She promised herself she would take him to meet her; well and so, she would keep it, in her own time. There was no way to know just how he would behave when there was no buffer between them; not so much as a pretty waif to interrupt and smile coyly at him.

 

A perverse desire to laugh rose up within her chest but she tightly held onto control. Her homeland? A hint of amusement quirked her lips as she looked at him; he looked at ease but she couldn’t shake the thought that his real desire was that of the player seeking information on his quarry. He wanted to dig into her past, did he? Honestly, the exasperating man could simply ask and she would only need to look into his eyes and every last sordid detail would come spilling forth. He clearly had no notion the power he commanded and it was best it stay that way lest he use it to discover that which he was certainly not ready to find out just yet. How would he react? Cold anger, she thought. Disbelief. Horror? Disgust? A small furrow marred her brow as a distant pain squeezed in her chest. How many times had she played out the scenario in her minds eye? Countless, she thought, and still she could not settle on a sure reaction save that she would feel the brunt of his disdain and any lingering hopes she had of an idyllic family reunion would be cast into the flames of oblivion.

 

She swirled her glass, the liquid sloshing in a less than perfect swirl suggesting the heady liquid was having some affect and forced her thoughts to move away from the unknown and focus instead on the very real, living problem in front of her that was looking at her with an almost wolfish amusement. She narrowed her gaze, noting how he seemed younger and lighter for it and was made instantly suspicious. By all accounts he should still be chafing at the bit, longing to be free of the leash he perceived she held, not looking positively smug at the notion of the association being extended. She immediately discarded the idea that he simply wanted to spend time with her – even though in her secret heart of hearts she wished it to be so – and instead considered that he was looking rather confident. Did he think that perhaps he could run roughshod over her without the need to pretend deference in front of another Sister? She took a sip, letting the warmth rush over her palate. No, he might try it, but she doubted it was his motivation. More likely was the fact that he believed he could rattle her or slide beneath her façade more readily in such an environment. So why was he also willing to alter their outward association? No longer brother and sister…now that was an idea with merit.

 

She quirked a brow, a mysterious smile dancing about her lips as she downed the dregs in her glass. How many had she consumed? Three? Four? She didn’t remember, but she was certainly starting to care a lot less. “You wish to discover Arad Doman, Corin? I believe that could be quite enjoyable.” And if she was not bound as his sister, she would be freer to warn off the too-forward women they encountered, which was bound to be many. The image of him blushing and stammering, all off balance made her smile bloom into full life as another flare of cruel, bright hope flickered within her breast. To see him smile, even at her expense…ahh, maybe they would be alright after all? Reaching once more for the bottle, Lavinya unsteadily sloshed more wine into her cup, spilling a few drops that she paid no heed, instead welcoming the numbing embrace of intoxication.

 

“I sent the carriage on after Saline; your mount will still be in the stables though.” One hand idly twirled a scarlet curl about her fingers as she began planning out loud, reclining more comfortably in her chair now the imminent trouble seemed to have passed. “We should have some supplies between us still, I have coin…” Dark, heated eyes lifted to his and a familiar mischievous smile tugged at her mouth. “We could always ride Ayende together, like you said it’s not far.” A dimple creased her cheek as her smile deepened, conjuring an image of riding astride the magnificent mount, securely wrapped in a pair of strong, masculine arms. Did he still find her attractive? Would he hold her so aloofly distant if he did? “And if we dispel the ru-“ she paused to hiccup, “the ruse of being siblings we can save money on lodgings.” She took another gulp of wine. There would be nowhere to hide. No shield from her night terrors, only the shame of revealing her weakness to him continually, the pity and disgust in his eyes as she again disgraced herself in front of him….or maybe, just maybe….her smile slipped, gaze flicking somewhat dazedly from her cup to his face as it now swam a little in front of her. Maybe she would feel safe enough to sleep, and he would give her comfort like he had twice before. He still hadn’t mentioned the night in the barn. He was honourable and discreet, but she half expected him to bring it up when she least expected it, like a surprise attack. Like when they were alone and it was easier to speak freely…nowhere to hide, she thought, but maybe I don’t want to hide from him. He is here. He will always be here, won’t he?

 

“What have I overlooked? What needs to be done?” She asked, once more subconsciously deferring to him for direction as the glass again approached her now rosy lips.

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