Setting: "Winter's Heart", sometime after Nynaeve and Rand cleanse saidin.
Description: When Rand vents his frustration, Lan gives him a bit of advice about marriage and women.
Author's Note: I recently edited this story, adding a bit more humor (and more input from Lews Therin), and decided to upload the newer version. Hope you enjoy. ;-)
Bellowing an oath that would have made Mat proud, Rand threw his practice sword across the room. That the loud clang did not bring Alivia—much less one of the Maidens—into the room was a welcome wonder. The last thing he felt like doing was being forced to explain what had him in such a dither.
Three times he would have died today—against one opponent—if he had been in an actual battle. Usually he could easily take three or four sword masters. He had done just that, in fact. But, then again, none of them had the skill of the man he faced today.
"The sword is more effective in your hand than on the floor, sheepherder," Lan stated dryly as he took a seat, his sword already back at his hip. "Though today that claim could be debated."
Rand glared at the Warder, though it had no effect. At the very least, he had hoped it would make the man keep his thoughts to himself. Madmen shouldn't carry blades, Lews Therin offered, for once sounding quite sane. Barid tried once, and stabbed himself in the foot. Nemene had great fun telling the tale. After that, he decided leading better suit his tastes. Rand bit back a snort of laughter at that, attempting to picture the great Demandred being so…so…inept. Those who cannot do, lead. That way they don't get themselves killed. The slightly amused smirk on Rand's face disappeared; if people were too inept to manage on their own, they certainly did not need to lead. Says the madman who ended up locked in a box, Lews Therin responded pleasantly. "Oh shut up," Rand muttered.
It wasn't until Lan cleared his throat that Rand remembered he was not alone. "Your mind is clearly on something other than swordplay." Frowning, he reached for the pitcher of mulled wine. "You have not fought this poorly since I first began teaching you."
Rand sighed, wiping the sweat from his face with a towel. He glanced at the Warder and glowered when he saw the other man still had not broken a sweat.
"We can practice again tomorrow, if you wish. Perhaps then you will be better able to concentrate." There was no mocking in Lan's tone, but he looked…amused.
"Unless you can tell me how to deal with women, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to concentrate fully on what I need to." Rand dropped the towel and rubbed his arm where Lan had nicked him with the practice sword. "The whole lot of them exist for no other purpose than to drive men insane." Women make madmen appear reasonable. Another bit of sanity from Lews Therin, though it quickly dissolved into hysteria over the dead Ilyena. Another moment passed and Lews Therin was gone. For a time, at least.
A small smile formed on Lan's mouth, and amazingly, it reached his eyes; it was the first time Rand had seen that happen when Nynaeve was not within the Warder's reach. "They do have their redeeming qualities, though."
Rand sat down in the chair next to Lan. "Yes, they do have that. But some of them are just so…stubborn! Difficult. Bossy." He sighed. "How do you do it? Light, Nynaeve is worse than all the women I know together! I'd rather have a rabid…" He trailed off when he looked at Lan.
The amusement on the Warder's face disappeared, fading into coldness. "I hope you don't mean to insult my wife."
Rand stared at the man for a moment, startled by the anger he sensed. Lan was fiercely protective of the former Wisdom, and had no humor at all if he felt someone was threatening her; apparently, that extended to assaults on her character as well, even if intended in a joking manner. Nynaeve's presence in Lan's life had caused him to change, whether the man realized it or not.
Rand forced a small smile to his face. "No, I did not mean it as an insult." He did not have to force the smile when he spoke again. "But Nynaeve is stubborn."
Lan visibly relaxed, and his amusement returned. "Yes. She is the most stubborn woman I've ever met in my life." Oddly enough, he said the words fondly.
Perhaps he is mad as well. It takes a madman to love certain women. Whether that was Rand's thoughts, or Lews Therin's, he was not certain. Either way, it made sense.
"How do you do it, Lan? How can you stand having her constantly order you around and just meekly do what she tells you?" Min was nowhere near as stubborn or controlling as Nynaeve, but she was still more than he could handle sometimes. "All women are bossy. That, I understand, but Nynaeve is particularly so, and marriage has not changed that. If anything, she seems to be worse with you than anyone. If that's what marriage brings…Light! They all want to marry me, Lan!" Rand knew he did not have to clarify whom he meant. "I can't even begin to imagine it. Three women ordering me around, expecting me to jump when they say, not letting me look after them and keep them safe." He sighed. "I have a war to fight! How can I when all I can think of is three women who won't even allow me to protect them?"
Lan chuckled softly and muttered so softly Rand could hardly hear, "Perhaps you should have an Atha'an Miere wedding."
He was almost certain he was not meant to hear the comment, but he was too curious to let it go. "The Sea Folk? What's so different about their weddings?" Judging by Lan's discomfort at the question, Rand knew he was definitely not supposed to hear the comment.
After a long silence, the Warder leaned back and crossed his arms on his chest. "The Atha'an Miere are extremely conscious of rank. Considering how many times a man or woman changes rank in life, and how many times they trade positions of authority, marriage among them could be very difficult." One corner of his mouth twitched upward. "They seem to have found a way to adjust, though; their marriage vows—and ceremony—address the issue in a very…creative…way."
"Balance, sheepherder." Rand was not sure he had ever seen Lan as amused as he was at that moment. The man looked very close to laughing. "The Sea Folk's wedding customs do not leave balance to chance. Instead, your marriage vows ensure your relationship with your spouse stays well-balanced."
Rand reached for a cup of the mulled wine, wishing he had something stronger. "They include a pledge of…of balance? I don't see how that—"
Lan sighed loudly. "It is a balance of power." He did not look as if he wanted to clarify, until his conflict faded back into amusement. "To make it simple—since it seems you need it that way—the partner who commands in public, obeys in private."
Rand stared at him for a moment, then his jaw dropped in complete and utter shock. It was simply not possible! That shock quickly turned into riotous laughter. "You and Nynaeve—Nynaeve!—agreed to that?"
Lan gave a slight shrug. "When the Mistress of Ships is the one who performs your wedding ceremony, there is not much choice. You follow Atha'an Miere customs for the wedding vows and ceremony or you do not marry." He smiled again, though he looked more like a wolf musing a kill he had made long ago. There was no doubt in his mind that the 'kill' Lan had made was Nynaeve. For the first time in a long time—for the first time ever—he almost felt sorry for woman! She had clearly found a man who could handle her. "And the ceremony is quite…surprising."
Obey was not a word Nynaeve used unless it was directed at someone else, as an order. That she had agreed to do as she was told, even if just in private, was astounding, and if anyone other than Lan had told him, he would have said they were mad! That thought set off a whole new round of laughter. "Oh Light! What I wouldn't give to see…" He trailed off, howling with laughter.
Lan was not laughing, but he looked to be enjoying Rand's reaction. "Nynaeve would scream for a week if she knew I told you this."
Rand only laughed harder. "I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard." Truly, there had been naught to laugh about for a very long time. Or had he just not noticed if there was? He wiped away the tears that were rolling down his face. "Nynaeve has bossed me…bullied me…switched me. She gives orders, Lan. If anyone even suggests she do something, she gets even pricklier than she already is! That she agreed to…to…" He chuckled again and shook his head. "And here I've been pitying you for having to put up with her—"
"Nynaeve is my life, sheepherder," Lan interrupted seriously. "Atha'an Miere wedding vows or no."
Rand only hesitated a moment, long enough to cover his amusement. He wasn't certain he did it well. "I understand." He did. Min, Elayne, and Aviendha were his life, no matter how many prophecies laid claim to him. "I just hope I'm lucky enough to have balance from the start, regardless of who I wed."
The Warder stared at his drink. "Even if you choose an Atha'an Miere wedding, public and private are not always as cut and dry as one would think. Some are of the opinion that, if a command given in private affects things that happen in public, that command can be ignored."
Rand frowned. "And then there's naught you can do about it…"
"Well," Lan mused, "I've discovered that reddening her backsi…" He stopped suddenly, clearing his throat, but Rand had no need for him to finish it. Unfortunately, the image that came to mind caused him to choke on the wine he'd just swallowed and it came spewing forth from his nose. As he sat there gasping for air, with his nostrils burning as though they'd been set afire, Lan merely shrugged. "It's not always so easy, though."
Silence fell between them for a few moments. As silent as it could get with Rand coughing and hacking, anyway. By the time he finally found his voice again, most of his amusement had faded. Not all, though; he feared he'd never be able to lay eyes on Nynaeve again without chuckling. If you have any sense, you'll chuckle to yourself, Lews Therin offered quietly. He had a point. "Nothing ever is easy," he finally said in response to Lan's comment.
Lan shook his head. "No, but I think the Sea Folk have the right of it, and I imagine some need the security of a promise to help them find their balance." Rand was beginning to think Lan did not need Atha'an Miere wedding customs to help him find balance with Nynaeve, no matter how stubborn the woman may be. "One way or another, you must find your balance, whether it is in marriage or in battle…or even in life. Only a fool continues to fight a battle he knows he cannot win, and more than one man has a lost a war because he was too obsessed with a losing battle." He placed his cup on the table and leaned forward to look Rand in the eye. "Learn to pick your battles well. You are Warder to the three women you love." He raised an eyebrow at that statement then cleared his throat. Sometimes Rand felt like the man believed him to be a lecher. It would not have been far from the truth, in Rand's mind.
"But, unlike a Warder," Lan continued seriously, "a husband's first duty, above all else, is to stand by his woman and protect her, even if it means ignoring her wishes. When you are husband and Warder, you must learn when to persist and when to concede. Either way, you cannot protect her if you keep her at arm's length." He placed a hand on Rand's shoulder when he rose. "Find your balance, sheepherder, or make it if you must."
Rand watched him stride to the door and said to his back, "What if it's impossible?" Finding balance with one woman was one thing—finding it with three of them was pure insanity. You would certainly know…
"Then you are probably failing to see what's right in front of you." One corner of his mouth curled up into a rueful smile, letting Rand know the Warder had probably learned that lesson from experience. "It is an easy mistake to make."
It wasn't until Lan had the door open and was on the other side of it that Rand stopped him again. "Lan?" The Warder stuck his head through the doorway, a questioning eyebrow raised. "Do you think the Atha'an Miere would marry one man to three women?"
Letting out a booming laugh, Lan closed the door and left without answering. Rand could still hear the dying sounds of his laughter several moments later, but could not resist chuckling himself. For the first time in a long time, the Dragon Reborn was truly amused. And maybe, just a little hopeful. If Nynaeve al'Meara agreed to obey a man, then anything was possible.