Author's Note: First… the disclaimer, I own nothing, this is the property of the late Mr. Robert Jordan, JK Rowling and the various publishers and production companies. No money made here, no matter how much I wish differently. This is a rewrite intended to better flesh out the story, enhance character development and embrace some of the helpful feedback I have received from the readers. It is also the remainder of the story, for book 1 at least. I hope you all continue to enjoy.
Special thanks to Stargatesg1fan1, whose story 'Inheriting a New Prophecy' inspired this story and made me want to explore Harry being cast in other roles in the Multiverse. The opening sequence is virtually identical to the one in his story, purposefully, and is used with his agreement. If I happen to use material from other fan fiction without giving due credit please let me know as it is unintentional and I will be happy to give credit where due. I have read so much fan fiction it is sometimes hard to remember what is canon, what is from a fan fic and what is my own twisted mind. Hope you enjoy. The Prophecies of the Dragon and some scenes are borrowed from the Wheel of Time series and are the property of Robert Jordan estate, and TOR. Enjoy!
Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time Book 1: The Eye of the World
Twenty four year old Harry Potter grunted in pain as his body bumped along over the hard and unforgiving ground. He was currently being dragged into what had once been Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the first place he had ever called home. It had been eight years since he was last on the grounds of the old castle. Ever since that fateful night when Albus Dumbledore was murdered right before his eyes, he had stayed away, it no longer felt like home.
He had been away that night on a mission with Albus to locate and hopefully destroy one of Voldemort's horcruxes, they had returned from their unsuccessful foray to find the school under heavy attack by Death Eaters. Petrified and covered with his invisibility cloak by Albus, Harry had watched helplessly as Draco Malfoy made his threats to the headmaster's life and ultimately as his mentor and friend was killed in cold blood by a man he had long professed to trust implicitly, Severus Snape. After Snape and Malfoy had left, Harry had pushed hard with his magic and was finally able to free himself. The only thing that kept him from immediately chasing after Snape and killing him right then, was the blood curdling scream that came from inside the castle. Harry knew the voice well and it belonged to someone who he would never have thought could scream like that. Harry raced toward where he had heard the scream and arrived to find Professor McGonagall crouched, sobbing over the dead forms of all his closest friends.
Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Ron, and even Neville had all fought valiantly, as evidenced by the numerous bodies of Death Eaters littering the area around them, but in the end they had been overwhelmed by greater numbers and the sheer ruthlessness of the enemy. It was the last body however, that of his beloved wife Daphne that had nearly broken him. They had met and fallen deeply in love during the whole Tri-Wizard fiasco and had been married in secret just after the end of his fourth year and between her and Hermione, he always had solid counsel. As he surveyed the bodies of his friends and his wife, Harry finally concluded that he would have to end this war personally. Hermione and Daphne had always been there before to guide him and help him through, now he was all alone. So, filled with determination to avenge his fallen wife and friends, Harry truly began training in earnest, pushing himself to his utter limits, and then beyond.
When he next went to Gringotts, he found that the headmaster had left him a large inheritance, over 20 million galleons. Apparently Dumbledore in his infinite wisdom and in his capacity as Harry's magical guardian, had removed the bulk of the Potter fortune to his own accounts, but willed it all to be returned upon his death. Apparently he didn't want Harry using the money to escape the Dursleys. So, armed with over 20 million galleons (over 200 million pounds sterling) Harry went out and covertly bought everything he would need for training his mind and body.
Meanwhile, the war continued to escalate in the wizarding world as Voldemort and his supporters grew ever bolder in the wake of Dumbledore's murder. Growing desperate in his search for 'the power he knows not' that the prophecy spoke of Harry even branched out heavily into muggle subjects, especially the sciences. It wasn't difficult, with the use of some memory transference charms, which while useless for attempting to transfer skills between magicals, worked perfectly to transfer memories and skills from muggles to magicals. Something about the magic imprinted the memories to a specific magic user. No such thing existed in muggle memories. This allowed Harry to greatly accelerate his learning, especially in martial skills as he sought experts in martial arts, weapons and tactics and acquired their skills. Once transferred, the skills needed only to be practiced.
Over the next three years, Harry had managed to cram in over a decade worth of training in all magical disciplines, acquired the knowledge of several muggle PhDs, and obtained advanced masteries of Special Forces close quarters combat (CQC) techniques, aikido, tae kwon do and the sword, all thanks to a time turner discovered in Dumbledore's office. Harry had also found a philosopher's stone with detailed notes on how to use it and if necessary make more. The old man had kept it in case he had to use it to keep fighting Riddle. He had known since Harry's first year at Hogwarts that Riddle had somehow made himself immortal but wasn't sure of the method until after the confrontation in the Chamber of Secrets in Harry's second year.
Using the stone to slow his aging kept others from noticing the temporal training. Luckily, Harry had been able to remove these artifacts, along with the Sword of Gryffindor from the Headmaster's office before Riddle took the castle shortly after Dumbledore's death. He'd also managed to locate and destroy all of Riddle's horcrux soul containers over the following years along with gathering the deathly hallows, and becoming the so-called Master of Death, not that he noticed much beyond an increase to his already considerable magical power. Even with the boost from the Hallows and his extensive training and preparation, Harry was not certain he could permanently kill Riddle.
Riddle had used the ancient castle to vastly increase his power after taking up residence there which was the wrinkle that had Harry doubting his ability to win. But, Harry had come up with a plan. Luckily, Hogwarts wasn't located near any Muggle populated areas and Hogsmeade had been permanently evacuated shortly after the castle fell.
As Harry was finally dragged in front of Riddle he allowed a smile to appear.
"Why are you smiling Potter? Is it because you are finally about to meet your wretched parents," Riddle asked with a sneer.
Harry's grin grew wider and he shook his head. "Not at all Tommy old bean, it's because I'm about to send you to hell," Harry replied.
Before Riddle could reply, Harry sent out a magical pulse that called his familiar. Fawkes had come to him shortly after the headmaster had died and they had bonded and helped each other heal from the deaths of those they loved. As the phoenix landed on his chest Harry was already chanting a spell in an ancient language that he had found during his studies in the Potter vault.
As he finished his body began to convert itself into pure energy which would result in a massive explosion while at the same time, he was pressing a button on a small cube in his pocket. The cube contained an expanded space in which rested a muggle tactical nuclear weapon he had 'acquired' and the button activated the bomb and started its detonation sequence. It was small, relatively speaking, but it was big enough to vaporize everything within a mile, and when combined with the explosive conversion of Harry himself into energy, would ensure that nothing magical or mundane within that radius would survive the blast.
Given sufficient time and preparation, it is entirely possible for wizards to survive a nuclear blast through the use of wards and specialized protective rituals, but no wizard could survive such an explosion at point blank range without any warning at all. Harry had just enough time for a smirk and Riddle's eyes had just enough time to go wide with understanding before he was vaporized. Every death eater in the castle met the same fate. The castle itself didn't survive, but the wards did hold out just long enough to contain the majority of the blast before they too gave out as their anchor disintegrated. As the blast cleared nothing was left of the once great school except a deep crater which was slowly filling from the underground source of the Black Lake.
Harry could feel his soul being hurtled through time and space as the spell he cast earlier was carried out. His very essence was combined with that of Fawkes due to some of the expected side effects of the ancient spell. It had in fact been specifically modified to accomplish this as it ensured Harry's continued survival.
The spell was designed to transport the soul/mind/magic of the caster to another reality where they would then merge with the body/soul of their alternate in that reality. It wasn't too hard to allow additional mergers during the course of the spell.
When Harry felt his consciousness swim into existence in this new reality, he felt a brief shock as he integrated with his new body and absorbed its memories. He could also feel his magical core, still intact and accessible, and a second core that felt like Fawkes, ancient and powerful, but not directly accessible to him within it. He could also feel something just at the edge of his mind, something extremely powerful, and he could sense an additional presence in his mind which he quickly overwhelmed and absorbed… and then he cried out, falling to his knees, hands clutching his skull as his mind was assaulted by over four hundred years worth of knowledge and skills. Footsteps rapidly approached him and gentle hands rested on his shoulders, "Rand, are you ok lad?"
Harry slowly looked up and recognized the man as his father, Tam al'Thor from his new body's memories; "I'm fine…" he managed, breathing hard, "I suddenly have a really bad headache, would it be ok if I go lie down for a while?"
Tam smiled and helped him up, "of course lad, get inside and rest up a bit, I'll check on you in a while."
Harry nodded and headed into the house, heading into his bedroom on instinct, where he stripped off his boots, jacket and shirt, and lay down on his bed. He took a deep breath, and started his occlumency, rapidly sorting and integrating all of the knowledge he had just inherited. Time passes differently in the mind and after what seemed like days, he opened his eyes and noticed that it was still light out, though the sun had shifted noticeably in the sky meaning several hours had passed. He closed his eyes again, going over what he had absorbed. The body he now inhabited was called Rand al'Thor and the second presence, the one that had nearly overwhelmed him was called Lews Therin Telamon, also referred to as the Dragon and numerous other titles, he was apparently a tragic hero that had lived nearly 3,000 years earlier and was a major figure in what was now called the Age of Legends, and the War of Power which ended it. From his review of Rand's memories and his own presence here given the nature of the spell that brought him there, Harry gathered that Rand was the modern reincarnation of this 'Dragon', and would be expected to save the world again at some point. 'Nothing new there,' he thought to himself.
Taking stock of his physical condition Harry found himself quite pleased with his new body, he was 16 years old, fit and stood around 6'4", tall by local standards, with reddish hair and gray-blue eyes. Harry grinned; he could definitely work with this. And if he was this 'Dragon Reborn', which he undoubtedly was (Harry's luck being what it was), someone would be along to find him eventually. Till then, he needed to prepare. With that in mind, he stood, and pulled on his shirt, jacket and boots and went to seek out his father. He remembered Rand finding a sword under Tam's bed a few years earlier, but he had been afraid to ask about it for fear of angering his father; it was time to ask for lessons, as this would help cover the rest of his training regimen. He would need to get this body used to martial arts, and he would need to practice his magic, and with the One Power to make sure that he was ready for when destiny came knocking. From his own experiences with the Blood War, and Lews Therin's experience and knowledge from the War of Power, Harry felt confident he could fight the war against the Shadow. He just needed some time to prepare.
END OF PROLOGUE
The Prophecies of the Dragon (from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan)
And the Shadow fell upon the Land, and the World was riven stone from stone. The oceans fled, and the mountains were swallowed up, and the nations were scattered to the eight corners of the World. The moon was as blood, and the sun was as ashes. The seas boiled, and the living envied the dead. All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.
And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died.
And men cried out to the Creator, praying, O Light of the Heavens, Light of the World, let the Promised One be born of the mountain, according to the Prophecies, as he was in Ages past and will be in Ages to come. Let the Prince of the Morning sing to the land that green things will grow and the valleys give forth lambs. Let the arm of the Lord of the Dawn shelter us from the Dark, and the great sword of justice defend us. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.
And it shall come to pass that what men made shall be shattered, and the Shadow shall lie across the Pattern of the Age, and the Dark One shall once more lay his hand upon the world of man. Women shall weep and men quail as the nations of the earth are rent like rotting cloth. Neither shall anything stand nor abide…
…Yet one shall be born to face the Shadow, born once more as he was born before and shall be born again, time without end. The Dragon shall be Reborn, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth at his rebirth. In sackcloth and ashes shall he clothe the people, and he shall break the world again by his coming, tearing apart all ties that bind. Like the unfettered dawn shall he blind us, and burn us, yet shall the Dragon Reborn confront the Shadow at the Last Battle, and his blood shall give us the Light. Let tears flow, O ye people of the world. Weep for your salvation.
Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath to spit in the Sightblinder's eye on the last day…
And his pats shall be many and who shall know his name, for he shall be bourn amongst us many times in many guises, as he has been and ever will be, time without end. His coming shall be like the sharp edge of the plow, turning our lives in furrows ripping us from out the places where we live in our silence. The breaker of bonds; The forger of chains. The maker of futures; the unshaper of destiny.
Twice and twice shall he be marked; Twice to live and Twice to die. Once a Heron to set his path, twice a Heron to name him true. Once a Dragon for memories lost, twice a Dragon for the price he must pay. Twice dawns the day when his blood is shed ; Once for Mourning, Twice for Birth. Red on Black, the Dragon's blood stains the rock at Shayol Ghul. In the Pit of Doom shall his blood free men from the Shadow.
And it was written that no hand but his should wield the Sword held in the Stone, but he did draw it out, like fire in his hand, and his glory did burn the world. Thus did it begin. Thus do we sing his Rebirth. Thus do we sing the beginning.
The Shadow shall rise across the world, and darken every land, even to the smallest corner, and there shall be neither Light nor safety. And he who shall be born of the Dawn, born of the Maiden, according to Prophecy, he shall stretch forth his hands to catch the Shadow, and the world shall scream in the pain of salvation. All Glory be to the Creator, and to the Light, and to he who shall be born again. May the Light save us from him.
Power of the Shadow made human flesh, wakened to turmoil strife and ruin. The Reborn One, marked and bleeding, dances the sword in dreams and mist, chains the Shadowsworn to his will, from the city lost and forsaken leads the spears to war once more, breaks the spears and makes them see, truth long hidden in the ancient dream.
The White Tower shall be broken by his name, and Aes Sedai shall kneel to wash his feet and dry them with their hair.
And when the blood was sprinkled on ground where nothing could grow, the Children of the Dragon did spring up, the People of the Dragon, armed to dance with death. And he did call them forth from the wasted lands, and they did shake the world with battle.
With his coming are the dreaded fires born again. The hills burn and the land turns sere. The tides of men run out and the hours dwindle. The wall is pierced and the veil of partings raised. Storms rumble beyond the horizon and the fires of heaven purge the earth. There is no salvation without destruction, no hope this side of death.
And the glory of the Light did shine upon him. And the peace of the Light did he give men. Binding nations to him. Making one of many. Yet the shards of heart did give wounds. And what was once did come again …. In fire and storm, splitting all in twain. For his peace… for his peace…. Was the peace… was the peace…. of the sword. And the glory of the Light did shine upon him.
The lions sing and the hills take flight. Moon by day and the Sun by night. Blind man, deaf man, jackdaw, fool; Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
The unstained tower brakes and bends knee to the forgotten sin. The seas rage and the storm clouds gather unseen. Beyond the horizon hidden fires swell and serpents nestle in the bosom. What was exalted is cast down; what was cast down is raised up. Order burns to clear his path.
There can be no health in us, nor can any good thing grow, for the land is one with the Dragon Reborn and he is one with the land. Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers forcing the proud to yield. He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very heavens to bow. Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love.
As the plow breaks the earth, shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords.
Master of the lightnings, rider on the storm, bearer of the crown of swords, spinner of our fate. Who thinks he turns the Weal of Time may learn the truth too late…
The seals that hold back night shall weaken, and in the heart of winter shall Winter's Heart be born amid the wailing of lamentations and the gnashing of teeth, for Winter's Heart shall ride a black horse, and the name of it is Death.
And it shall come to pass in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight and all that is, all that was, and all that will be shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow.
We rode on the winds of the rising storm, we ran to the sound of the thunder, we danced among the lightning bolts, and tore the world asunder…
At the end of time, when the Many become One, the Last Storm shall gather its angry winds to destroy a land already dying. And in its heart, a blind man shall stand upon his own grave. There he shall see again and weep for what has been wrought.
-Robert Jordan, 'The Eye of the World'
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Born below the ever cloud-capped peaks that gave the mountains their name, the wind blew east, out across the Sand Hills, once the shore of a great ocean, before the Breaking of the World. Down it flailed into the Two Rivers, into the tangled forest called the Westwood, and beat at two men walking with a cart and horse down the rock-strewn track called the Quarry Road.
For all that spring should have come a good month since; the wind carried an icy chill as if it would rather bear snow. Harry strode confidently along, the cold not bothering him as he had long since mastered the Aes Sedai method of ignoring heat and cold. It was a technique called the Flame and the Void by his father, which was a training tool for swordsmen and archers, and strangely enough, for male Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends that was called then called the Oneness. It had enhanced his own occlumency skills considerably making his mind a veritable fortress. He dwelt constantly in the void, having mastered it to the point that it no longer dulled his emotions. He carried a longbow, a quiver of arrows at his left hip, and the hilt of a sword bearing the herons of a blademaster peeked above his right shoulder, strapped to his back. He had recently defeated his father, a blademaster in his own right, in a duel and had earned the right to wear the sword, and Tam had given it to him as a congratulatory gift.
It had been four years since his arrival in this universe, and he had put them to good use, getting his body fit, and agile, mastering the sword, the bow and training himself back to mastery of his martial arts skills. He had also become quite proficient with saidin, the male half of the One Power, thanks to Lews Therin's vast knowledge, though he was sure that he had yet to reach his peak strength, as he was only 20 and his memories told him that men peaked later than women, usually in their mid to late 20s. Strangely, his strength now, not yet having reached its peak, was already greater, nearly fifty percent higher than his strength during the Age of Legends, and it would only continue to grow.
He had also retained his proficiency with magic though without a wand he did have some limits now, he could no longer apparate and without a wand he could not make portkeys any longer. He had found that his occlumency shields provided a buffer that protected his mind and body from the Dark One's taint on saidin, and as such had taken great pains to strengthen his shields as much as possible to protect himself. He could also perform some rituals, he had undergone a physical enhancement ritual… it was not as powerful as some of the dark rituals, but the cost was negligible, it required everyday things easy to find here in this world and granted a 20% across the board improvement in his physical abilities; strength, speed, agility, stamina, healing, etc. which was a great help and would be an unexpected surprise for his enemies.
In addition to his training, he taken the opportunity to read every book he could get his hands on trying to get a feel for the politics and history of the current era. He had also had the great fortune to come across a wonderful surprise on the trader's cart the previous year when he had found a male angreal; it was in the form of a ring that fit his left middle finger perfectly. It wasn't tremendously powerful, but with it he could hold three times as much saidin as he could unaided, a great tactical advantage for when the time came. And he was sure it was coming soon so he wore the ring at all times.
Suddenly, he felt the presence of Shadowspawn, and time seemed to slow as, acting on instinct, he seized saidin and in the same instant, spun drawing the arrow he had knocked smoothly to his cheek and preparing to loose it in one clean motion, sighting on what he easily recognized as a Fade, sitting on its mount down the Quarry Road. Also called the Eyeless, and numerous other nicknames, Fades were abominations created by the Forsaken, 13 of the most powerful wielders of the One Power, during the War of Power. Fades were stronger than normal men, faster, and despite having no eyes, could see like eagles, and they were deadly with a blade. It was easy to spot a Fade, as the wind never touches their clothing, and they can easily vanish in shadows.
The Fade suddenly rode off, vanishing soundlessly. Tam had also spun as he saw Harry react. Harry lowered his bow. He was sure the Fade was only an advance scout. He turned to Tam, seeing the question on his father's face, "Fade. The wind never touched it." Most folks in the Two Rivers thought Fades were fairy tales, but Tam knew better, as did Harry.
Tam's eyes widened and he turned to look down the road again. When he turned back to Harry, there was no doubt, or ridicule, simply acceptance, "We'd best keep moving then lad."
Harry smiled, "I know father."
Tam chuckled, "You're a good lad, Rand." His expression turned serious, "We're headed into sad and dangerous times now, lad. Fades in the Two Rivers, I hoped I'd never see this day, sad and dangerous times indeed." Tam shook his head sadly.
Harry nodded, and they turned and continued on their way towards Emond's Field. He knew what it was after, him of course. That was the only explanation. The Shadow had finally figured out he was here it seemed, though they had not yet made their move. He knew that his time in the peace and quiet of the Two Rivers was coming to an end, and it saddened him. The last four years on the farm with Tam, and spending time with his friends when possible, had been among the best of his life. Though luckily, they had also been quite productive, he had even managed to teach hand to hand and knife fighting to both Mat and Perrin, his best friends. Sad and dangerous times indeed, he thought. He had not yet had the heart tell Tam that he was the Dragon Reborn, he had no doubt that the man would believe him, and would still love and support him. He just had no desire to burden his adoptive father before it was necessary.
They continued on, both alert, but they finally made it to the village with no further incidents. As they walked through the village towards the Winespring Inn, Tam would stop occasionally to engage the men of the village in conversation. Harry paid it no mind as he knew his father would fill him in later. He silently watched the preparations for Bel Tine, and nodded or waved to people that greeted him, lost in his thoughts about the Fade, and planning his next move.
When they arrived at the Inn, his friend Mat wound up helping him unload the cart, and in the process of doing so, informed him about the arrival of two strangers the previous night, and together they found out that a Gleeman had arrived as well. Harry also discovered that Mat had also seen the Fade, though of course he had no idea what it really was. If Perrin had also seen it, then that meant the Shadow knew he was here, but not who he was and were obviously scouting all the boys in his age group. Sadly, there were only few within his age group, and only two who were within a month or so of him, Mat and Perrin.
After a brief discussion with a younger boy about the strangers, the Lady Moiraine and Lan her bodyguard, they had a strange encounter with a raven, which Harry was tempted to burn to a cinder, but settled for throwing a rock, which the bird calmly dodged, which confirmed to him that it was a spy for the Shadow, and he was glad he had not let slip his abilities. He watched the bird, considering his options.
"A vile bird," said a woman's melodious voice from behind them, distaste evident in her tone, "to be mistrusted even in the best of times."
With a cry, the raven launched itself, and vanished into the sky. Harry turned and was met with a pleasant sight. The Lady Moiraine was stunningly beautiful, petite, and quite obviously an Aes Sedai. Judging by the ageless appearance, she was bound, which made sense as he remembered the so called 'Three Oaths' that the modern Aes Sedai swore upon ascension to the shawl. They must use one of the old binding rods he mused. He wondered if they knew that they were using the same process that had been used to bind criminals in Lews Therin's time.
He gave a small smile and a bow, taking her hand and gently kissing her knuckles. "Good morning to you Lady Moiraine," he said as he straightened. He noticed Mat gaping at him and gave him a head jerk and Mat quickly composed himself and greeted her as well, though fortunately he did not attempt to duplicate the bow and kiss.
She smiled in delight, "Such manners, and you know my name! And please, do call me Moiraine; there is no need for titles. And what are your names?"
Mat jerked slightly as she looked at them expectantly, "I'm, uh, Matrim Cauthon my…uh, Moiraine," he stammered.
Harry smirked inwardly at his friend's discomfort, smile still firmly in place on the outside, "Rand al'Thor."
She smiled again and nodded, "Wonderful, I may have some tasks that need doing while I am here in Emond's Field, perhaps both of you would be willing to assist me?"
Both boys readily agreed, Harry shrugged to himself inwardly as he realized she was undoubtedly plotting something, he might know what she was and have a great deal of knowledge and experience, but he was also a young hormonal man and vulnerable to the charms of a beautiful woman, though luckily not a vulnerable as his friend. Besides, better to let her think she was the one doing the manipulating, for now at least.
She nodded and smiled again, "here" she said as she pressed a coin into each of their hands. While Mat protested that it was unnecessary, Harry was curious and activated his mage sight (he had discovered quite by accident that it allowed him to see female channeling when he had witnessed one of the village Wisdom's particularly successful healings). This gave him another huge advantage as male and female channelers normally could not see each other's weaves. He noted she had put a weave on the coins that created a low level link that would allow her to find them, even over great distances. He had to give her credit for subtlety. They exchanged pleasantries for another minute or two and she spun her cover story of being a seeker of stories and knowledge when questioned about her presence in the Two Rivers, but Harry knew why she was really here. For the same reason as the Fade they had encountered earlier, Harry, and possibly his two friends, Mat and Perrin as well.
As she walked away, a tall man in a fancloth cloak stepped out of the shadows and followed her, with the easy grace of a predator about him, his cloak making him fade in and out of the background which tended to make people queasy if they watched for too long. His eyes when they passed over the boys were cold, hard and were weighing and measuring everything about his surroundings as he constantly searched for potential threats. Harry noted the faintest pause and the slightest widening of the Warders eyes as he noted the Heron mark blade on Harry's back. This must be her Warder then, Harry thought to himself. As they walked off, Mat kept up a running dialog, bringing Harry up to speed on the village happenings, Perrin joined them as they walked.
Harry listened to his friend with half an ear, nodding or answering at the appropriate points. Internally, he was considering recent events. There was at least one Fade and an Aes Sedai and her warder, all arriving around the same time in a village on the edge of nowhere, this could hardly be coincidence. As the boys walked, they noticed that the peddler, Padan Fain had finally arrived and was driving his wagon slowly into the village. It was certainly going to be an interesting holiday he thought. Hopefully they would all live through it.
After a great deal of excitement over the news brought by Fain of a False Dragon in Ghealdan and the war currently being waged in his name, the village council had taken Fain and disappeared into the Inn. Harry had not really been paying attention after the announcement of a False Dragon. This news had brought home a particularly sore point, Harry could not fight the Shadow alone and the Aes Sedai would be… reluctant, to put it mildly, to support him when he declared himself. He would need to gather male channelers and train them to use the One Power, but first he needed a way to protect them from the taint, or he would only unleash another breaking on the world. Harry had a rough plan to cleanse saidin of the Dark One's taint, though it would need to be refined and would greatly depend on finding the access keys to the Choedan Kal (AN: will be explained later if you don't know what they are), assuming that any had survived the Breaking. He would also need a powerful female Aes Sedai to help him. Given the unlikelihood of either, he needed a short term solution, a way to duplicate his occlumency shields to protect the male channelers he would have to train. Perhaps he could create a runic amulet of some sort for them?
He was dragged out of his thoughts by an argument between Mat and Perrin regarding the False Dragon, he grunted noncommittally when they asked what he thought. They pressed on, Perrin adamantly hoping the False Dragon and the Aes Sedai would stay far away, while Mat wanted the excitement that they would bring. 'If only you knew my friends,' Harry thought. Harry was startled briefly by the sudden appearance of Nynaeve al'Meara, the village Wisdom and her apprentice Egwene al'Vere, the Mayor's daughter, who in the village gossip, was Harry's apparent future wife, though he of course knew that she was not.
Apparently, Nynaeve had overheard Mat telling a story about one of the villagers naming the Dark One and his efforts to get the poor fool to repeat that mistake, never a good idea and the young Wisdom had decided to lay into Mat about it. Harry noticed Perrin straighten unconsciously, and fought the urge to do so himself, the woman barely came up to his shoulder and was a slender, pretty little thing, but by the Light she was scary when riled. She actually reminded him a lot of Hermione when she was in her lecture mode; the thought of his old friend briefly brought a sad smile to his face. Harry looked at Egwene and gave her a brief smile before turning back to watching Nynaeve make Mat squirm. Finally she turned to him, "And you Rand, mind telling me why you three were discussing something you should know to stay well clear of?"
Harry smiled at her, "It was natural enough to speak of it Wisdom, after listening to the news brought by Master Fain of war and a False Dragon in Ghealdan. The village council is speaking to him now."
Nynaeve had been busy caring for a sick villager, and had missed much of the morning's excitement. She frowned, "They are probably asking all the wrong questions, fool men that they are, and it will take the Women's Circle to get anything useful." She turned and stalked off towards the inn.
Egwene remained behind, and looked at Harry with disapproving eyes, "You should not let Mat get you mixed up in his foolishness Rand." Then she giggled which spoiled her attempt at sternness, "Though the look on Mat's face was priceless, I haven't seen him look like that since Cenn Buie caught you both up in his apple trees."
Harry smiled and nodded, Mat was surely a troublemaker and he reminded Harry so much of the Weasley twins… Harry quickly forced himself away from those morbid thoughts and looked at Egwene, he noticed that her hair was now braided, indicating that she was considered to be of marriageable age by the Women's Circle. "I hope you'll save me a dance tomorrow?" he asked her. Harry had none of Rand's fear and confusion with regard to the fairer sex; he'd personally been married for a little over two years after all, plus he now had Lews Therin's memories and the man dated a number of women before he'd married Ilyena, Mierin had been particularly memorable… in a clingy, crazy way… but the sex had been mind-blowing according to Lews Therin's memories. Sadly though, none of the women in the area would be open to casual sex, or they would take any such advance as a marriage proposal, and Harry knew that if he was to marry, the woman was not to be found here in the Two Rivers.
She smiled and nodded, "Of course, but do try not to let Mat get you into trouble in the mean time" and with that, she moved off.
After she left, talk turned back to events at hand and Harry found out Perrin had also received a coin from Moiraine and that he had also seen the Fade.
A few moments later, the Gleeman burst out of the inn like he was being chased by the Dark One himself and after some grousing and a brief Q&A with the villagers, they learned his name was Thom Merrilin and he gave them a sample performance. Sadly the performance was interrupted by a polite confrontation with Moiraine in which a lot was said in very few words. Harry smiled inwardly, he had always hated politics, but it could be fun to watch sometimes.
Their confrontation was then interrupted by the Village Council exiting the inn, which Thom took as an excuse to leave, heading back into the inn, muttering about strong ale. Harry watched in silent amusement as Nynaeve publicly abused the village council, as they differed in opinion with her about the Gleeman, Moiraine and her warder and virtually everything else. It still amazed Harry just how matriarchal the world had become since the Breaking, whereas in Lews Therin's time, the genders had been equal and his own world had been largely male dominated, though that had been changing. He supposed that the fact that men, male channelers specifically, had broken the world might be explanation enough for the change.
While Harry had been pondering the state of gender relations in the world, his father had come over and was answering questions from Mat and Perrin. They had perked up at the mention of a patrol the village council was going to recommend, both immediately planning to volunteer. Harry looked at his father and raised an eyebrow in question and got a nod. Ok then, he thought, it seemed they were heading back the farm.
It made sense to him, since Harry was the target the Shadowspawn were seeking, not that Tam knew that; the best course for now was to get themselves away from the village and hope that it would be left in peace, though he wished he could convince Tam to stay, he knew his father would not, his Two Rivers stubbornness and love for his son would not allow for it. He also wished they could warn the village, but no one would believe them anyway except for Moiraine, (and Harry was not yet ready to reveal himself) if they tried to warn them about the Fade. At the very least, with Moiraine and her Warder in the village, they would have some protection if Shadowspawn attacked, and Harry would be free to defend himself and his father at the farm. They made their goodbyes, gathered their shaggy mare Bella and their cart and then set out for home.
That night, Harry sat in the living room of their house, reading a book, his sword close at hand; a pack filled with necessities lay on the floor by his bow and quiver near his chair. Harry had long since stopped actually reading as he waited; sensing instinctually that an attack was imminent. His father had updated him on the village council meeting, leaving nothing out as he felt Harry had a right to know, on the walk home. And in return, Harry had told his father about his abilities, and his suspicion that he was the Dragon Reborn. Tam took it well, and seemed more sad than surprised, telling Harry he had suspected as much, hoping against hope that he was wrong, and he told Harry that nothing had changed between them. The discussion had carried them all the way back to the farm where they had busied themselves with the chores that needed doing before finally bathing, eating and settling in. Harry had already had his workout that morning before they set out for Emond's Field. Closing the book, he sat back, closed his eyes and ran through some occlumency exercises, floating in the void, ready to seize saidin if needed. Tam sat across from him, his sword also in easy reach. Not long now, Harry thought, he could sense the Shadowspawn approaching.
"Father, they're coming" Harry said.
Tam didn't question, they both stood, readying themselves. A moment later, there was a loud crash as a Trolloc smashed the front door in. It had a brief moment of surprise before its head was separated from its body by Tam, after which it rolled out into the night, followed by the body. Harry seized saidin through the angreal and felt his senses sharpen immensely. Tam calmly wiped the blade of his sword clean, and the two of them moved quickly, grabbing the packs they had prepared and their bows and quivers. Swords in hand, they raced through the house and Harry moved to the front, channeling briefly he used Air to smash the window ahead of them out and leapt into the night, his bow and pack falling to the ground as he dove, rolled to his feet and moved to engage two very surprised Trollocs, he killed them both before they had a chance to raise the alarm. Tam landed quietly nearby, and they both picked up their things and moved quickly for the edge of the forest.
A Fade stepped into view, cutting off their escape, along with two more Trollocs. Harry moved forward swiftly, still full of saidin and engaged the Fade, their blades clashing, both moving in a swift and deadly dance. Between saidin and the ritual Harry had undergone, he was more than a match for the Fade physically and after a few minutes of pitched battle, Harry swept in, locking the Fade's sword and twisting it out of its hands and viciously drove an elbow into its eyeless face. As the Fade fell, Harry spun smoothly, and separated its head from it neck and then as a precaution removed its legs and hands as well, the Fade, as was typical for its species, continued to twitch and try to move. He squatted and cleaned his blade on the Fade's cloak. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he stood and turned to check on Tam, to find two dead Trollocs and his father on his knees, clutching his side, an expression of great pain on his face. Oh shit, Harry thought and raced to his father.
Tam had been cut by one of the Trollocs cursed blades. His father was already showing the beginning signs of delirium and a high fever. Harry cast a silent featherlight charm on his father and moved him to a more secure spot and then cast a light sleeping spell on him. He cast a general healing charm which seemed to help a bit, and would certainly keep Tam alive longer, but was not a fix. Sadly, Lews Therin had not been much of a healer and Harry was not much good at it either and the few high end medical spells he did know, required a wand. Harry then cast notice me not and silencing charms on his father and proceeded to stalk the Trollocs that remained, using saidin to kill them quickly, there was no time for swords with his father likely dying. With the remaining Trollocs dispatched, he quickly built a litter, and found that Bella, remarkably, was still in her stall in the barn. He wiped his sword clean on an old cloth, sheathed it and belted the scabbard on his back, no longer sensing any Shadowspawn, though he still held on to saidin. He brought her out; soothing the agitated mare he quickly cast a cushioning charm and after gently placing Tam in the litter, secured it to her. He then strung his bow, secured his quiver to his left hip and knocked an arrow. Then he clucked to the mare, and she set out. He guided her onto the Quarry Road, casting a strong notice me not charm on all of them, and a silencing charm on Bella's hooves and the litter, hoping that Fades would not be able to see or hear them through his charms, and renewed the silencing charm on Tam who was muttering in his sleep. Harry cast another silent healing charm on Tam every half hour or so. He continued to hold saidin through the angreal, his Power enhanced senses on constant alert. He knew he would pay for these exertions later, but now the most important thing was to get Tam to the village and hope Moiraine was a better healer than Lews Therin. As they trudged along, moving off the road whenever Harry's enhanced senses picked up the distant sound of Trollocs, Harry wondered if the village had also been attacked, deciding that if Mat and Perrin were also targets, it was highly likely. This is what stopped him from Travelling there directly. He could only hope everyone was alright and that the Aes Sedai and her Warder were enough to keep Emond's Field safe. In any case, the village was now their only hope, as Harry was not sure how long he could keep Tam alive as his healing charms seemed to be barely holding the affliction at bay.
An exhausted Harry saw Emond's Field finally come into view as the sky was just brightening with dawn's first light. The trip had taken far longer than normal, as they had been forced to hide many times from patrols. As they approached the village he was dismayed to see that his fears were realized, they had not been spared the Trollocs attentions. Charred piles of rubble stood in place of half the houses of Emond's Field. Soot-coated brick chimneys thrust like dirty fingers from heaps of blackened timbers. Thin wisps of smoke still rose from the ruins. Grimy faced villagers, some still in their night clothes, poked through the ashes, here pulling free a cookpot, there simply prodding forlornly at the wreckage of their homes with a stick. What little had been rescued from the flames dotted the streets; tall mirrors and polished sideboards and highchests stood in the dust among chairs and tables buried under bedding, cooking utensils, and meager piles of clothing and personal belongings.
The destruction seemed to be scattered randomly through the village. Five houses marched untouched in one row, while in another place a lone survivor stood surrounded by desolation. On the far side of the Winespring Water, the three huge Bel Tine bonfires roared, tended by a cluster of men. Thick columns of black smoke bent northward with the wind, flecked by careless sparks. One of Master al'Vere's Dhurran stallions was dragging something Harry could not make out over the ground toward the Wagon Bridge, and the flames. Given the size he could only guess it was a Trolloc corpse.
The sight did little to raise his spirits, but he continued placing one foot in front of the other, gently urging the tired mare on as well. As they finally stepped into the village, he released the Source and stumbled and nearly collapsed as his exertions of the previous night caught up to him. Through sheer force of will, he steadied himself and continued on through the village, ignoring calls from the villagers, focused solely on reaching the Inn and the Aes Sedai.
When they reached the Winespring Inn, they encountered a bustle of activity as people rushed about, injured being led into the inn, as the men of the village worked to contain the fires still burning. They stopped out front and the mayor's wife bustled over, Rand asked for the Aes Sedai and was told she was inside, seeing to the wounded. Harry wearily lifted his father, with help from the Mayor and carried him inside.
The cries of wounded people and the antiseptic smells of medicines assaulted him as they entered the inn, which had become a field hospital. It was all too familiar to Harry, both from his own experiences and from Lews Therin's as well. They found Moiraine coming out of one of the rooms.
"Rand! Thank the light you're alive," she said coming towards them. She frowned as she noticed Tam's condition. She looked at Harry, an eyebrow raised in question.
"A Trolloc's blade, it's not a deep wound, but it's tainted. I did what I could for him," Harry said.
She nodded, and guided them through to an empty bed. They laid Tam down, and she stepped forward, and laid her hands on his head. As his skin pebbled with goose bumps, Harry activated his mage sight and watched carefully as she embraced saidar, the female half of the True Source, a bright aura surrounded her and her hands visibly glowed with a dim bluish light as she Delved his father, Harry was alert for any signs of betrayal on her part. After the Delving, she took a deep breath and wove the flows for Healing and sent them into to Tam. He gasped and shook as she poured the Power into him. Finally, she subsided and released her hold on Tam, who settled back and began easy deep breathing, indicating normal sleep.
Wearily, Moiraine released the Source and turned to Harry, "he will be fine now, though he will need a few weeks to fully recover from the wound."
Harry nodded, "You have my thanks Moiraine Sedai, I will need to speak to you alone later, but for now, I want to sit here with my father and try to sleep a bit."
Moiraine nodded and smiled tiredly, as she left, the Mayor clasped a hand on Harry's shoulder in support before he too turned and left. After quickly checking for himself that his father was now ok, Harry stepped over to the chair by the bed, removed his equipment, propping the sword next to him, he did a few quick Occlumency exercises, and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
Harry woke the next morning to see his father looking at him, a fond smile on his face. Harry stood, stretching quickly and moved to his father's bedside.
"I'm glad to see you're feeling better," Harry said, taking Tam's hand.
"Thanks to you lad, you saved us both, I am so proud of you," Tam leaned back into his pillows, and his brow furrowed for a moment indicating deep thought, then with a slight nod, he turned to face Harry again. "It's time to tell you what I know of your history son. I had hoped this day would never come, that you could live here and raise a family in peace. But it seems the Wheel has another destiny in mind for you. I need you to hear me out and save your questions till I finish, alright?" Tam paused and waited till Harry nodded, then he said, "Your mother, your birth mother, was an Aiel Maiden of the Spear called Shaiel, but… she was also once called Tigraine Mantear, and was at one time the Daughter Heir of Andor. As she was also the High Seat of her house, this means you are the heir apparent to House Mantear." Tam pulled a leather cord with two rings on it out of his shirt and removed it, handing it to Harry. "Those are the High Seat's ring and the Daughter Heir's Seal, they can't be faked and with your hair, and face, they will prove your claim. Dark times are ahead of us lad, and you stand at the heart of it, if you are the Dragon Reborn, you will need to unite the nations, and I daresay that you may find that task easier if you can unite Andor behind you first, allowing you to start from a position of strength. I would also recommend you make contact with the Borderlands nations quickly, they will be the most likely to accept who and what you are and support you as they battle the Shadow every day. The Warder with Moiraine Sedai would likely be of help to you with that."
Harry sat there, looking at his father, impressed and saddened, the advice was all sound, and Harry intended to take it to heart, "I wish I could have stayed here too, but once I turned 16, I knew I would be leaving someday." Harry examined the rings in his hand, and then took the cord and slid it over his head, and settled it allowing the rings to fall into his shirt, hidden from view. "Thank you for taking care of me, loving and raising me as your own, and for being the best father anyone could hope for." Harry leaned in and hugged his father. "I need to speak with Moiraine Sedai, she is here for me. I hope someday, when this is all over, I will be able to at least come and visit you, and we can reminisce a bit. In the mean time, once you are better, I would highly recommend you begin training the village lads in combat, hand to hand, bows and spears, and for those with the talent, the sword. These dark times won't pass the Two Rivers by, no matter how much we wish it." Harry stood, "I will try to stop by and see you again before we leave, but I can't promise anything."
Tam nodded, "I know lad, go on with you, go find Moiraine Sedai, you've a long journey ahead."
Harry looked at his father for a long moment and then embraced him again, and when they broke apart, stood, gathered his things and left the room. Tam sadly watched the door shut, knowing that it was likely he would never see his son again. "Take care of yourself lad," he whispered.
AN: For those wondering, Perrin won't really be a part of the story as frankly, his whole angsty thing with his wife just made me want to vomit. I got so fed up with his whining about his wife that I got in the habit of skimming the Perrin chapters. I can totally understand wanting to protect the ones you love, but from my own experience, my wife would want nothing to do with me if I was willing to let the world burn just to save her. Anyway, I plan to replace the Perrin character and a few others with some different characters who will stay in Rand/Harry's immediate party throughout our magic carpet ride, plus the Mat character will develop differently, but he will be around as so many readers were upset by his exclusion, plus I have to admit I truly do like the character myself. Also, I am going back and fleshing the story out more, Harry is not going to out his skills completely just yet, no sense in letting people know what you can do before you have to right? So, on with the story.
Harry walked through the morning bustle of the inn, finally making it outside, he saw Moiraine speaking with the gleeman, her Warder hovering nearby. Harry walked towards them but halted short, remaining at a respectful distance so as to avoid overhearing their conversation. When the gleeman nodded somewhat reluctantly and turned to walk away, Moiraine turned and moved towards Harry, her Warder following.
Harry nodded to the Warder, then faced the Aes Sedai, "Good day Moiraine Sedai, I think it's time we had that talk, wouldn't you say?"
She studied him for a moment, and then nodded. She turned, walking towards the stables, and when they arrived he felt goose bumps form as she embraced saidar. Activating his Magesight, he watched her weave a privacy ward around them, ensuring they would not be overheard, and an early warning ward that would notify them if anyone approached the stables.
Seizing the initiative, Harry spoke first, "I know why you're here, and it's because of me. You think I'm the Dragon Reborn, correct?"
The Aes Sedai and the Warder's jaws both dropped, and hung a moment as they gaped at him shock.
Harry smirked, "Don't be so surprised, you'll find I am not your average country bumpkin."
The others recovered quickly, and Moiraine looked at him, her eyes reflecting the rapid reevaluation going on in her mind. Harry could almost see the wheels turning as she raced to adjust her plans. She nodded, "I can see that, what is it exactly you would like to know, Rand?"
This earned her a surprised look from the Warder. Harry merely raised an eyebrow. "I already know who I am, and what my duty to the world is, what I want… need to know… is what your plans are, and whether I can trust the two of you. You'll understand I am more than a bit wary of you, especially given the prevailing Aes Sedai stance on men who can channel."
She nodded, "Have you channeled then, can you control it?"
Harry smirked, how typical he thought as she deftly avoided answering, trying to control their conversation. "Yes, and yes, but you have not answered my question Moiraine, what are your plans? I believe I have a right to know as I am the key to them I am sure."
The Warder bristled a bit, "Watch your tongue boy."
Harry glanced at him for a second and then he turned back to Moiraine. He could sense the other man tense even further, and seized saidin, his stance relaxed and ready as he prepared to fight if necessary.
Seeing the obvious tension in her Warder, and the deadly stillness exhibited by Harry, she held up her hands, palms out, she glanced at her Warder who had the grace to look a bit abashed, and his stance immediately relaxed as he nodded in deference to her, she turned to Harry, "We are not your enemies Rand, I want to help you, ensure you are ready and able to fulfill your destiny and save the world from the Shadow."
Harry studied her a moment, and then relaxed and released the Source. He nodded, "Very well. But I don't need a mother, or a puppeteer, what I need is an advisor, someone who is familiar with the politics of the various nations. I need to unite them; I can't fight them and the Shadow. I had thought to head for Caemlyn, and claim my heritage first, unite Andor behind me, and then approach the Borderlanders as they will be the most likely to accept who I am and what I must do. Then I will take the sword from the Stone of Tear, to bring that nation in as well. With those allies I would then be able to approach the remaining nations from a position of strength."
Moiraine and her Warder were again studying him, now there was definite respect in those looks. Moiraine nodded, "A sound plan, and I can be of assistance in navigating the politics involved. But, what did you mean about claiming your heritage in Caemlyn?"
Harry smiled and pulled the cord with the rings out of his shirt, holding them out for the Aes Sedai to get a good look.
"By the Light," she gasped. "You are the son of Tigraine Mantear, the former Daughter Heir!"
Harry nodded, "And as such, I am scion of the most powerful of the great houses in Andor. While I have no shot at the throne itself, an alliance with House Trakand, possibly even a marriage contract with the Daughter Heir, would cement my status, and bring Andor firmly behind me. It would also bring an end to the political division over the succession caused by my mother's disappearance."
Moiraine appeared thoughtful, "Indeed it would, it is a sound plan, and a good place to start. We will depart once it is dark this evening, it will take quite some time to reach Caemlyn, oh and Rand, it may interest you to know that you have a half brother in Caemlyn, my nephew Galadedrid Damodred."
Harry stared at her for a moment, "A brother?" The Aes Sedai nodded, and Harry smiled, "I have always wanted a brother." Harry smiled again, "Thank you, Moiraine Sedai."
"You are quite welcome Rand."
Harry nodded, "How many of us are going?"
Moiraine studied him for a moment, "My Warder and I, Matrim Cauthon… and yourself."
Harry nodded, curious why she wanted Mat to come along, but seeing no need to debate it, "Well, then I will see you both at sunset, in the meantime I am going to get something to eat, and make sure I have everything I need."
Moiraine nodded, and embraced the Source again to unravel her wards. She then turned and left, but the Warder remained behind. He studied Harry for a moment.
"You want to know about the blade, and whether I deserve a blademaster's sword, correct?" Harry asked.
The Warder nodded.
Harry shrugged, "The sword was my father's, he became a blademaster and served in the army of Illian before and during the Aiel War. He trained me, and I defeated him recently and he said the blade was mine."
The Warder nodded, "I'd be interested to see what he taught you."
Harry took his things and headed out, he stopped at the stable doors, "You coming?"
The Warder nodded and moved to follow. Outside, they both headed for the Village Green, which was relatively deserted at the moment. There, Harry sat his things down, removed and neatly folded his jacket and unbuckled his belt and scabbard and sat them on top. He walked out onto the Green, sword in hand, and assumed a ready stance. The Warder quickly divested himself of cloak, belt and scabbard and moved to stand across from Harry, sword in hand. Idly, Harry noted that except for the Herons on his sword, the two blades were identical, both power-wrought blades from Lews Therin's time.
Without warning, the warder was in motion, his sword a blur as he tested Harry's defenses. Harry easily avoided or parried each strike, moving with an effortless and economical grace; he made no attempt to take the offensive at this point, content for now to take the measure of his opponent. After a few minutes, once he was sure he had a good feel for how the Warder fought, he decided he was ready to take the offensive. Back and forth they moved, flowing from form to form, two predators battling for dominance, the swords a blur to the villagers that were gathering to watch this unprecedented spectacle. After another minute or so of fighting, Harry swept to the attack, surprising the older man as his speed increased and the Warder suddenly found it was all he could do to keep Harry's sword at bay. Finally, Harry locked the other man's sword and spun it up and out of his hands, then in a blink, he dropped and spun, sweeping the other man's feet from under him; then he was suddenly standing over the Warder, just out of arm's reach, his blade firmly against the warder's neck.
Suddenly, they both noticed the villagers who were cheering loudly, having seen one of their own defeat the mighty warrior from outside the Two Rivers. Harry smiled and shook his head, dropping the sword away from the other man's neck, he held out a hand. The Warder looked up at him for a moment, and then he took the offered hand, climbing back to his feet. One of the village boys stepped forward, and handed the Warder his sword. They both put their coats, belts, scabbards and cloaks back on, and the Warder stepped over to Harry and extended his hand. Harry reciprocated and the Warder clasped his forearm.
"Lan Mandragoran" he said.
Harry smiled, "Rand al'Thor."
The Warder nodded, "Your father taught you well, your skill with the blade is remarkable."
Harry nodded his thanks, and his stomach chose that moment to growl loudly. Lan laughed out loud, a genuine smile easing the hard planes of his face, "A blademaster to be sure, but a growing lad as well. Let's get some food my friend."
As they strode off together, to find some food, Harry felt a sense of accomplishment, hopefully he could handle the upcoming political maneuvering as well as he handled his blade.
Sunset found a small group gathering in the stables of the Winespring Inn. Harry entered to find Moiraine, Lan and Mat waiting. As they secured their gear on the horses and prepared to leave, they heard a noise and turned to find Thom Merrilin standing there just inside the doors. Harry dropped a hand onto the hilt of his sword and noted the Warder doing the same. Moiraine merely raised an eyebrow at the Gleeman.
"Not really healthy for non-locals around here at the moment, and I don't fancy travelling alone after the events of yesterday, I would like to travel with you if you don't mind." The old man simply stood and waited.
Moiraine glanced at her Warder, and Lan gave the slightest nod and went back to preparing his horse. She then glanced at Harry, who shrugged slightly and gave her a nod as well. Turning back to the gleeman she said, "Very well Master Merrilin. You may join us, but I would caution you that anything you may learn while a part of this group must be kept secret as the Shadow would happily torture and murder you for that information."
The old gleeman's eyes widened, but he nodded, "Agreed."
Moiraine nodded, "Now that's settled, we need to get moving, we are wasting time."
Above them came a noise and Harry and Lan both had their swords out and were in defensive stances, both searching for threats. Egwene al'Vere popped into view and gave a slight squeak at the sight of the two swords, but then her face settled into a determined look, and she said, "Not without me."
The hood of Egwene's dark brown cloak was pulled up, but not enough to hide the defiant way she faced Moiraine. "I have everything I need here… including food. And I will not be left behind. I'll probably never get another chance to see the world outside the Two Rivers."
"This isn't a picnic trip into the Waterwood, Egwene," Mat growled. He stepped back when she looked at him from under lowered brows.
"Thank you, Mat. I wouldn't have known. Do you honestly think you two are the only ones who want to see what's outside? I've dreamed about it as long as you have, and I don't intend to miss this chance."
Moiraine sighed, "Very well child, but we must hurry."
Egwene bristled slightly at the child remark, but brightened when she realized that she was being allowed to come along without a fight.
Harry frowned slightly and studied the girl for a moment, then shrugged and turned back to his own preparations after sheathing his blade. His horse, purchased that day was a gray stallion named Cloud. He quickly checked his saddle and tack, and secured his belongings. Once everyone was prepared, they rode out of the village, headed for the Taren, more specifically the crossing at Taren Ferry that led out of the Two Rivers.
The near black night seemed to reach to forever, and myriad stars gleamed like points of light scattered through crystal. The moon, only a thin slice less than full, appeared almost close enough to touch, if Harry stretched, and… A black shape flew slowly across the silvery ball of the moon. Harry's involuntary jerk on the reins halted the gray. Shit, he thought, it seemed luck was not with them. Bats were a common sight of an evening, darting after flies and bitemes in the twilight. While the wings that carried this creature might have the same general shape, they moved with the slow, powerful sweeps of a bird prey. And it was hunting. The way it cast back and forth in long arcs left no doubt of that. Worst of all was the size. For a bat to seem so large against the moon it would have had to be almost within arm's reach. He tried to judge in his mind how far away it must be, and how big. The body of it had to be as large as a man, and the wings . . . It crossed the face of the moon again, wheeling suddenly downward to be engulfed by the night and doubt was erased.
He did not realize that Lan had ridden back to him until the Warder caught his arm, "What is it Rand? We have to keep moving." The others waited behind Lan.
Harry said a word, sounding as if it left a bad taste in his, mouth, "Draghkar."
Lan's eyes rocketed to the heavens, as he searched. Moiraine directed a piercing gaze at Harry, no doubt wondering how he knew what was chasing them.
Egwene and Mat stared at the sky nervously, trying in vain to look in all directions at once, but the gleeman simply groaned softly.
"Yes," Moiraine said. "It is too much to hope otherwise. If the Myrddraal has a Draghkar at his command, then he will soon know where we are, if he does not already. We must move more quickly than we can cross-country. We may still reach Taren Ferry ahead of the Myrddraal, and he and his Trollocs will not cross as easily as we."
"A Draghkar?" Egwene asked. "What is it?"
It was Thom Merrilin who answered her hoarsely. "In the war that ended the Age of Legends, worse than Trollocs and Halfmen were created."
Moiraine's head jerked toward him as he spoke. Not even the dark could hide the sharpness of her look.
Before anyone could ask the gleeman for more, Lan began giving directions. "We take to the
North Road, now. For your lives, follow my lead, keep up and keep together."
He wheeled his horse about, and the others galloped wordlessly after him.
On and on they sped, northward into the night, time fading into an indistinct blur. Now and again the lights of farmhouses flashed into sight, then disappeared as quickly as imagination. Dogs' sharp challenges faded swiftly behind, or cut off abruptly as the dogs decided they had been chased away. They raced through darkness relieved only by watery pale moonlight, a darkness where trees along the road loomed up without warning, then were gone. For the rest, murk surrounded them, and only a solitary night-bird's cry, lonely and mournful, disturbed the steady pounding of hooves.
Abruptly Lan slowed, then brought the file of horses to a stop. Harry was not sure exactly how long they had been moving, but a soft ache filled his legs from gripping the saddle during their hard ride. Ahead of them in the night, lights sparkled, as if a tall swarm of fireflies held one place among the trees.
Harry nodded at the lights, the 'fireflies' were windows, the windows of houses covering the sides and top of a hill. It was Watch Hill. He could hardly believe they had made the trip so quickly. They had probably made the journey as fast as it had ever been traveled. Following Lan's example, Harry, Mat and Thom Merrilin dismounted. Cloud stood head down, sides heaving.
Lather, almost indistinguishable from the horse's smoky sides, flecked the gray's neck and shoulders. Harry seized saidin and quickly washed the stallions fatigue away along with a mild cheering charm to keep the horse in good spirits. Cloud's head sprung up and he looked ready to run again. Harry smiled and saw that Moiraine was moving among the rest of the horses, gently washing away their fatigue as well. Harry closed his eyes, stretched out with his magic and silently cast a wide area charm that worked much like a pepper-up potion, suddenly the group seemed less nervous, their weariness much reduced. Opening his eyes he locked gazes with Moiraine for a moment, the question obvious in her eyes as she had felt what he'd done, he gave the slightest shrug and turned to tend to his horse.
Suddenly a scream ripped through the darkness, a sound like a man dying under sharp knives, and heavy wings swooped low above the party. The night deepened in the shadow that swept over them. With panicked cries the horses reared wildly.
The wind of the Draghkar's wings beat at Harry with a feel like the touch of slime, like chittering in the dank dimness of a nightmare. Tightening his occlumency shields, he firmed his grip on the reins just in time, for Cloud exploded into the air with a scream of his own, twisting desperately as if attempting to shake off some clinging thing. Hanging onto the reins, Harry was jerked off his feet and dragged across the ground, Cloud screaming as though the big gray felt wolves tearing at his hocks. Harry managed to place a hand on the horse's nose for just a moment and released a calming charm into the horse… suddenly the gray was still, nostrils flaring and eyes rolling, stiff-legged and trembling. Harry was trembling as well, and all but hanging from the bridle. He took three or four deep, shaky breaths. Only then could he look around and see what had happened to the others.
Chaos reigned among the party. They clutched reins against jerking heads, trying with little success to calm the rearing horses that dragged them about in a milling mass. Only two seemingly had no trouble at all with their mounts. Moiraine sat straight in her saddle, the white mare stepping delicately away from the confusion as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened. On foot, Lan scanned the sky, sword in one hand and reins in the other; the sleek black stallion stood quietly beside him.
Sounds of merrymaking no longer came from Watch Hill. Those in the village must have heard the cry, too. Harry knew they would listen awhile, and perhaps watch for what had caused it, then return to their festivities. They would soon forget the incident, its memory submerged by song and food and dance and fun. Perhaps when they heard the news of what had happened in Emond's Field some would remember, and wonder. A fiddle began to play, and after a moment a flute joined in. The village was resuming its celebration.
"Mount!" Lan commanded curtly. Sheathing his sword, he leaped onto the stallion, "The Draghkar would not have shown itself unless it had already reported our whereabouts to the Myrddraal." Another strident shriek drifted down from far above, fainter but no less harsh. The music from Watch Hill silenced raggedly once more. "It tracks us now, marking us for the Halfman. He won't be far."
The horses, fresh now as well as fear-struck, pranced and backed away from those trying to mount. A cursing Thom Merrilin was the first into his saddle, but the others were up soon after.
They took off a moment later, galloping in a knot, horses all but jostling together as they ran. Lan ordered them to spread out again, but no one wanted to be even a little alone in the night. A scream came from high overhead. The Warder gave up and let them run clustered.
Mat was close behind Moiraine and Lan, his red gelding straining in an effort to force himself between the Warder's black and the Aes Sedai's trim mare. Egwene and the gleeman raced on either flank of him, while Harry brought up the rear. Cloud, spurred by the Draghkar's cries, ran beyond anything Harry could have hoped for, the gray easily maintaining pace with the rest.
The Draghkar's shriek challenged the night.
They galloped through a wisp of fog, thin and no higher than the horses' knees. Cloud sped through it in two strides, and Harry blinked, wondering if he had imagined it. Surely the night was too cold for fog. Another patch of ragged gray whisked by them to one side, larger than the first. It had been growing, as if the mist oozed from the ground. Above them, the Draghkar screamed in rage. Fog enveloped the riders for a brief moment and was gone, came again and vanished behind.
The icy mist left a chill dampness on Harry's face and hands. Then a wall of pale gray loomed before them, and they were suddenly enshrouded. The thickness of it muffled the sound of their hooves to dullness, and the cries from overhead seemed to come through a wall. Rand could only just make out the shapes of Egwene and Thorn Merrilin on either side of him. Feeling inspiration, Harry seized saidin and stretched out… then he quickly wove a series of flows into the fog causing it expand exponentially around them in seemingly random growth. The fog now stretched for miles in every direction and his senses told him it would cover them all the way to Taren Ferry. He noted that Moiraine had also channeled to increase the fog and hoped their combined efforts would be enough.
Lan did not slow their pace. "There is still only one place we can be going," he called, his voice sounding hollow and directionless.
Lan encouraged them to keep close now, to stay where each could see the outlines of others in that damp, frosty grayness. Yet the Warder still did not slacken his stallion's dead run. Side by side, Lan and Moiraine led the way through the fog as if they could see clearly what lay ahead.
The rest could only trust and follow. And hope.
The shrill cries that had hounded them faded as they galloped, and then were gone, but that gave small comfort. Forest and farmhouses, moon and road were shrouded and hidden. Dogs still barked, hollow and distant in the gray haze, when they passed farms, but there was no other sound save the dull drumming of their horses' hooves. Nothing in that featureless ashen fog changed. Nothing gave any hint of the passage of time except the growing ache in thigh and back.
After what seemed like hours, Lan spoke. "Slow," Lan called suddenly. "Draw rein."
Houses loomed in the fog on all sides, houses strangely tall to Harry's eye, having become used to the Two Rivers. He had never seen this place before, but he had often heard descriptions. That tallness came from high redstone foundations, necessary when the spring melt in the Mountains of Mist made the Taren overflow its banks. They had reached Taren Ferry.
They rode at a sedate pace into the village, and eventually Lan and Moiraine stopped before a tall, dark house that looked exactly like any other in the village. Fog swirled around the Warder like smoke as he leaped from his saddle and mounted the stairs that rose to the front door, as high above the street as their heads. At the top of the stairs Lan hammered with his fist on the door.
"I thought he wanted quiet," Mat muttered. As Lan's pounding went on, a light appeared in the window of the next house, and someone shouted angrily, but the Warder kept on with his drumming.
Abruptly the door was flung back by a man in a nightshirt that flapped about his bare ankles. An oil lamp in one hand illumined a narrow face with pointed features. He opened his mouth angrily, then let it stay open as his head swiveled to take in the fog, eyes bulging. "What's this?" he said. "What's this?" Chill gray tendrils curled into the doorway, and he hurriedly stepped back away from them.
"Master Hightower," Lan said. "Just the man I need. We want to cross over on your ferry."
"He never even saw a high tower," Mat snickered. Harry turned and silenced his friend with a glare.
The sharp-faced fellow raised his lamp higher and peered down at them suspiciously. After a minute Master Hightower said crossly, "The ferry goes over in daylight. Not in the night. Not ever. And not in this fog, neither. Come back when the sun's up and the fog's gone."
He started to turn away; but Lan caught his wrist. The ferryman opened his mouth angrily then paused as gold glinted in the lamplight as the Warder counted out coins one by one into the other's palm. Hightower licked his lips as the coins clinked, and by inches his head moved closer to his hand, as if he could not believe what he was seeing.
"And as much again," Lan said, "when we are safely on the other side. But we leave now."
"Now?" chewing his lower lip, the ferrety man shifted his feet and peered out at the mist laden night, then nodded abruptly. "Now it is. Well, let loose my wrist. I have to rouse my haulers. You don't think I pull the ferry across myself, do you?"
"I will wait at the ferry," Lan said flatly, "for a little while." He released his hold on the ferryman.
Master Hightower jerked the handful of coins to his chest and, nodding agreement, hastily shoved the door closed with his hip.
Lan descended and everyone quickly dismounted and followed him through the fog, trusting he knew where he was going. They quickly made their way down to the ferry landing where they took a few moments to relax and stretch while they waited. A quiet hiss from Lan and Harry extended his senses, there were people coming. He settled into a ready stance, carefully watchful, hand on the hilt of his sword.
Six stolid-faced men in rough clothes followed Master Hightower. The torches they carried burned away a patch of fog around them. When they stopped, all of the party from Emond's Field could be plainly seen, the lot of them surrounded by a gray wall that seemed thicker for the torchlight reflected from it. The ferryman examined them, his narrow head tilted, nose twitching like a weasel sniffing the breeze for a trap.
Lan leaned against his saddle with apparent casualness, but one hand rested ostentatiously on the long hilt of his sword. There was an air about him of a metal spring, compressed, waiting.
Mat put a hand to his quiver, bow in hand. Though his bow string would likely be in terrible condition given the weather.
Thom Merrilin stepped forward grandly and held up one empty hand, turning it slowly. Suddenly he gestured with a flourish, and a dagger twirled between his fingers. The hilt slapped into his palm, and, abruptly nonchalant, he began trimming his fingernails. Moiraine gave a small laugh of delight.
Hightower however, seemed far from amused. He stared at Thom, then cleared his throat loudly. "There was mention made of more gold for the crossing." He looked around at them again, a sullen, sly look. "What you gave me before is in a safe place now, hear? It's none of it where you can get at it."
"The rest of the gold," Lan told him, "goes into your hand when we are on the other side. No sooner."
The leather purse hanging at his waist clinked as he gave it a little shake.
For a moment the ferryman's eyes darted to that purse, but at last he nodded. "Let's be about it, then," he muttered, and stalked out onto the landing followed by his six helpers. The fog burned away around them as they moved; gray tendrils closed in behind, quickly filling where they had been.
The ferry itself was a wooden barge with high sides, boarded by a ramp that could be raised to block off the end. Ropes as thick as a man's wrist ran along each side of it, ropes fastened to massive posts at the end of the landing and disappearing into the night over the river. The ferryman's helpers stuck their torches in iron brackets on the ferry's sides, waited while everyone led their horses aboard, then pulled up the ramp. The deck creaked beneath hooves and shuffling feet, and the ferry shifted with the weight.
Hightower muttered half under his breath, growling for them to keep the horses still and stay to the center, out of the haulers' way. He shouted at his helpers, chivvying them as they readied the ferry to cross, but the men moved at the same reluctant speed whatever he said, and he was half-hearted about it, often cutting off in mid-shout to hold his torch high and peer into the fog.
The ferry lurched as its moorings were loosed and the strong current caught it, then lurched again as the guide-ropes held it. The haulers, three to a side, grabbed hold of the ropes at the front of the ferry and laboriously began walking toward the back, muttering uneasily as they edged out onto the gray- cloaked river.
The landing disappeared as mist surrounded them, tenuous streamers drifting across the ferry between the flickering torches. The barge rocked slowly in the current. Nothing except the steady tread of the haulers, forward to take hold of the ropes and back down again pulling, gave a hint of any other movement. No one spoke. The villagers kept as close to the center of the ferry as they could. They had heard the Taren was far wider than the streams they were used to; the fog made it infinitely vaster in their minds.
Finally the landing on the opposite shore came into view and shortly the ferry had docked.
"Here, now! Here! Where's my gold?"
"It shall be paid," Moiraine's voice came from somewhere in the mist. "And a silver mark for each of your men," the Aes Sedai added, "for the quick crossing."
The ferryman hesitated, face pushed forward as if he smelled danger, but at the mention of silver the haulers roused themselves. Some paused to seize a torch, but they all thumped down the ramp before Hightower could open his mouth. With a sullen grimace, the ferryman followed his crew.
"There," Lan said, handing a last coin to Hightower, "As agreed." He did not put up his purse, and the ferrety-faced man eyed it greedily.
With a loud creak, the landing shivered. Hightower jerked upright, head swiveling back toward the mist-cloaked ferry. The torches remaining on board were a pair of dim, fuzzy points of light. The landing groaned, and with a thunderous crack of snapping wood, the twin glows lurched, then began to revolve. Egwene cried out wordlessly, and Thom cursed.
"It's loose!" Hightower screamed. Grabbing his haulers, he pushed them toward the end of the landing. "The ferry's loose, you fools! Get it! Get it"
The haulers stumbled a few steps under Hightower's shoves, then stopped. The faint lights on the ferry spun faster, then, faster still. The fog above them swirled, sucked into a spiral. The landing trembled. The cracking and splintering of wood filled the air as the ferry began breaking apart.
"Whirlpool," one of the haulers said, his voice filled with awe.
"No whirlpools on the Taren." Hightower sounded empty. "Never been a whirlpool. ..."
"An unfortunate occurrence," Moiraine's voice was hollow in the fog that made her a shadow as she turned from the river.
"Unfortunate indeed," Lan agreed in a flat tone. "It seems you'll be carrying no one else across the river for a time. An ill thing, that you lost your craft in our service." He delved again into his purse, ready in his hand. "This should repay you."
For a moment Hightower stared at the gold, glinting in Lan's hand in the torchlight, then his shoulders hunched and his eyes darted to the others he had carried across. Made indistinct by the fog, the Emond's Fielders stood silently. With a frightened, inarticulate cry, the ferryman snatched the coins from Lan, whirled, and ran into the mist. His haulers were only half a step behind him, their torches quickly swallowed as they vanished upriver.
"There is nothing further to hold us here," the Aes Sedai said as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Leading her white mare, she started away from the landing, up the bank.
Harry frowned, but could find no fault with her actions, they had to escape… he knew he could take them away now, but… it was too early in the game to let the Shadow know all the cards in his hand… better if they thought him an ignorant farm boy… for now.
They mounted and set off again. It took nearly another hour of riding before they finally cleared the fog. Finally they stopped and Moiraine and Lan conferred while Harry and the others listened.
"It extends much further than I expected," said Moiraine, with a slight frown. "Still, there are perhaps ten women in the tower who could have done the same unaided, not to mention from the back of a galloping horse."
Lan nodded, "It seems that luck is with us."
Moiraine turned to look briefly at Harry, eyebrow raised in question. He gave her a slight smirk and a small nod, "Yes… it would seem so."
They rode on and a short time later arrived at prepared camp site. Finding it dry and intact, they took the opportunity to rest.
The shrill scream of the Draghkar suddenly echoed behind them, from above the fog-covered river. Even the horses froze. Again it came, closer now. Then the cries were fading, until they had faded away entirely.
"Luck," Lan breathed. "It searches the river for us." He gave a quick shrug and abruptly sounded matter-of-fact. "Let's get inside. I could do with some hot tea and something to fill my belly."
After a brief rest, they were on the road again, travelling hard, but at a much more reasonable pace to conserve the horses. They travelled in this manner for the next few days, stopping only as needed for the horses, and brief periods of sleep. Meals were taken in the saddle.
Finally, they had topped a low hill, and below them, a scant mile away through the stark trees and the stretching shadows of late afternoon, lay Baerlon. A log wall, nearly twenty feet tall, surrounded the town, with wooden watchtowers scattered along its length. Within, roof- tops of slate and tile glinted with the sinking sun, and feathers of smoke drifted upward from chimneys. Hundreds of chimneys. There was not a thatched roof to be seen. A broad road ran east from the town, and another west, each with at least a dozen wagons and twice as many ox-carts trudging toward the palisade. Farms lay scattered about the town, thickest to the north while only a few broke the forest to the south.
"So that's a city," Mat breathed, leaning forward across his horse's neck to stare.
Egwene simply stared. Thom Merrilin glanced at Mat, then rolled his eyes and blew out his moustaches. "City!" he snorted.
"And you, Rand?" Moiraine said. "What do you think of your first sight of Baerlon?"
Internally, Harry knew nothing in this time could compare to his memories of the grandeur of Paaren Disen, or the crowded sprawl that was London, but all he said was. "I think we still have a long road ahead," he said slowly, bringing a sharp laugh from Mat.
Moiraine nodded. "Sadly true… but there is no other choice, except to run and hide for the rest of your lives. And short lives they would be. You must remember that, when the journey becomes hard. You have no choice."
Rand exchanged glances with Mat, whose face showed his thoughts clearly, The Aes Sedai's made our choices.
Moiraine went on, "The danger begins again here. Watch what you say within those walls. Above all, do not mention Trollocs, or Halfmen, or any such. You must not even think of the Dark One. Some in Baerlon have even less love for Aes Sedai than do the people of Emond's Field, and there may even be Darkfriends," Egwene gasped, and Mat's face paled, but Moiraine went on calmly. "We must attract as little attention as possible." Lan was exchanging his fancloth cloak of shifting grays and greens for one of dark brown, more ordinary, though of fine cut and weave. His cloak made a large bulge in one of his saddlebags. "We do not go by our own names here," Moiraine continued. "Here I am known as Alys, and Lan is Andra. Remember that," her eyes swept the group getting a nod of acknowledgment from each of them. "Good. Let us be within the walls before night catches us. The gates of Baerlon are closed from sundown to sunrise."
A half hour later, they entered Baerlon, and rode to an Inn called the Stag and Lion where they were greeted like old friends. Lan left almost as soon as they arrived, off to meet with local informants to catch up on events that had occurred while they were in the Two Rivers. The two women moved off together, speaking quietly, though Harry had a good idea what they were speaking about; odds were Egwene could channel and Moiraine had sensed her ability. Thom took up his instruments and he too left to gather information in his own way. Mat became enraptured watching a game of dice. Harry sighed and decided he could use a bath and a nap, while they were to be had.
After a long hot bath, Harry lay down in his room and after running through his occlumency, fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Suddenly, he found himself in a strange place… and knew he had been drawn into the World of Dreams. The hallway stretched on, without any crossing corridor and without the slightest change in appearance. The only features at all were the rough doors set at regular intervals in pairs, one on either side of the hall, the wood splintered and dry despite the damp in the air. The shadows receded ahead of him, staying the same, and the dripping never came any closer. After a long time he decided to try one of those doors. It opened easily, and he stepped through into a grim, stone-walled chamber.
One wall opened in a series of arches onto a gray stone balcony, and beyond that was a sky such as he had never seen. Striated clouds in blacks and grays, reds and oranges, streamed by as if storm winds drove them, weaving and interweaving endlessly. No one could ever have seen a sky like that; it could not exist.
He pulled his eyes away from the balcony, but the rest of the room was no better. Odd curves and peculiar angles, as if the chamber had been melted almost haphazardly out of the stone, and columns that seemed to grow out of the gray floor. Flames roared on the hearth like a forge-fire with the bellows pumping, but gave no heat. Strange oval stones made the fireplace; they just looked like stones, wet-slick despite the fire, when he looked straight at them, but when he glimpsed them from the corner of his eye they seemed to be faces instead, the faces of men and women writhing in anguish, screaming silently. The high-backed chairs and the polished table in the middle of the room were perfectly ordinary, but that in itself only served to emphasize the strangeness of the rest. A single mirror hung on the wall, but that was not ordinary at all. When he looked at it he saw only a blur where his reflection should have been. Everything else in the room was shown true, but not him.
A man stood in front of the fireplace. A man he had hoped to never meet again. Once a powerful Aes Sedai, Elan Morin Tedronai, or Ishamael as he was known after he turned to the Shadow, had become the most feared of the Forsaken along with Lanfear. Nearly as powerful as Lews Therin, he had also been the most powerful of the Forsaken, and by far the most dangerous. Harry knew he would have to be careful.
"Hello Elan, it's been a while."
The other man smiled and his eyes became openings into endless caverns of flame for a moment, "So, you remember Lews Therin! Wonderful, that will make the game all the more interesting."
Harry simply nodded, "I do indeed. I remember everything. And I know that it doesn't matter a bit in the here and now. Have you escaped then? It would seem not as your presence is still… diffuse. I would have to say you were trapped near the surface and as the seals weaken… you are slowly breaking free."
The other man clapped, "Wonderful, simply wonderful, you were always a worthy opponent Lews Therin."
Harry merely inclined his head a bit, "As were you. Now… is there a reason you brought me here?"
The other man laughed, "Curiosity I must confess, I wanted to take the measure of your latest incarnation. But, with you remembering, well… the game itself will have to suffice I suppose. Sleep well Lews Therin, the Shadow rises, and your world is doomed. Rest while you may, for the end is at hand."
Harry's face settled into grim lines, "We shall see." With that, he focused and vanished, returning to his body and after carefully warding his dreams, he fell back into a fitful sleep.
Harry awoke the next morning and after the group had gathered to share news and breakfast, they gathered their things and were soon on the road again.
The Caemlyn Road was not very different from the North Road through the Two Rivers. It was considerably wider, of course, and showed the wear of much more use, but it was still hard-packed dirt, lined on either side by trees that would not have been at all out of place in the Two Rivers, especially since only the evergreens carried leaves.
The land itself was different, though, for by midday the road entered low hills. For two days the road ran through the hills - cut right through them, sometimes, if they were wide enough to have made the road go much out of its way and not so big as to have made digging through too difficult. As the angle of the sun shifted each day it became apparent that the road, for all it appeared straight to the eye, curved slowly southward as it ran east.
From time to time Lan had them dismount atop one of the hills, where he could get a good view of the road both ahead and behind, and the surrounding countryside as well. The Warder would study the view while the others stretched their legs, or sat under the trees and ate.
After a day of travel, the peace abruptly ended. From the west came the keening wail of a horn. Lan's head whipped around to stare back down the road behind them.
Harry felt a chill, he knew that sound, it was a Trolloc horn. And they were close, perhaps ten miles away, no more.
Suddenly the Warder said, "Now we know for certain there are Trollocs behind us."
Moiraine dusted her hands. "It is time for us to move on." The Aes Sedai mounted her white mare.
That set off a scramble for the horses, speeded by a second winding of the horn. This time others answered, the thin sounds floating out of the west like a dirge. Harry seized saidin through the angreal ring and made ready to put Cloud to a gallop right away, and everyone else settled their reins with the same urgency.
Everyone except Lan and Moiraine. The Warder and the Aes Sedai exchanged a long look.
"Keep them moving, Moiraine Sedai," Lan said finally. "I will return as soon as I am able. You will know if I fail."
Quickly, he vaulted to the back of the black stallion and galloped down the hill, heading west. The horns sounded again.
"The Light go with you, last Lord of the Seven Towers…" Moiraine said too softly for Harry to hear if he had not been holding saidin. Drawing a deep breath, she turned Aldieb to the east. "We must go on," she said, and started off at a slow, steady trot. The others followed her in a tight file.
Harry twisted once in his saddle to look for Lan, but the Warder was already lost to sight among the low hills and leafless trees. Last Lord of the Seven Towers, she had called him. He knew what that meant… the Seven Towers referred to Malkier, one of the Border nations that had been lost to the Shadow a few decades earlier. He had not thought anyone besides himself had heard, but Thom was chewing the ends of his mustaches, and he had a speculative frown on his face. The gleeman seemed to know a great many things, that and his mannerisms said that this man was much more than a simple gleeman, though the puzzle of Thom Merrilin would have to be solved at a later time.
The horns called and answered once more behind them. Harry shifted in his saddle. They were closer this time, eight miles, maybe seven. Mat and Egwene looked over their shoulders and hunched as if expected something to hit them in the back.
They kept on at the same steady pace. At intervals the horns gave cry behind them, and each time the sound was closer. Five miles, he thought and felt a calm wash over him as it always did just before battle.
Lan suddenly burst around the hill behind them at a gallop. He came abreast of Moiraine, reining in the stallion, "At least three fists of Trollocs, each led by a Halfman, perhaps as many as five."
"If you were close enough to see them," Egwene said worriedly, "they could have seen you.
They could be right on your heels."
"Hush," Moiraine commanded. "Lan is telling us there are between three and five hundred Trollocs behind us." A stunned silence followed, then Lan spoke again.
"And they are closing the gap. They will be on us in an hour or less."
Half to herself, the Aes Sedai said, "If they had that many before, why were they not used at Emond's Field? If they did not, how did they come here, since?"
"They are spread out to drive us before them," Lan said, "with scouts quartering ahead of the main parties."
"Driving us toward what?" Moiraine mused. As if to answer her a horn sounded in the distance to the west, a long moan that was answered this time by others, all ahead of them. Moiraine stopped Aldieb; the others followed her lead, Thom, Mat and Egwene looking around fearfully. Horns cried out before them, and behind.
"We go north," Moiraine announced.
The horns keened shrilly as they left the road and trotted into the surrounding hills. The hills were low, but the way was all up and down, with never a flat stretch, beneath bare branched trees and through dead undergrowth. The horses climbed laboriously up one slope only to canter down the other. Lan set a hard pace, faster than they had used on the road.
Branches lashed Harry across the face and chest. Old creepers and vines caught his arms, and sometimes snagged his foot right out of the stirrup. He ignored it all, his every sense directed outward. The keening horns came ever closer, and ever more frequently. He could feel them nearing.
As hard as Lan pushed them, they were not getting farther on very quickly. They traveled two feet up or down for every one forward, and every foot was a scrambling effort. And the horns were coming nearer. Two miles, he thought, maybe less. After a time Lan began peering first one way then another, the hard planes of his face as close to worry as Harry had seen them.
Once the Warder stood in his stirrups to stare back the way they had come. All they could see were trees. Lan settled back into his saddle and unconsciously pushed back his cloak to clear his sword as he resumed searching the forest.
They topped another hill. Below them, just starting up the slope, marched Trollocs carrying poles tipped with great loops of rope or long hooks. There were many Trollocs. The line stretched far out to either side, the ends out of sight, but at its center, directly in front of Lan, a Fade rode.
The Myrddraal seemed to hesitate as the humans appeared atop the hill, but in the next instant it produced a sword with the black blade and signaled, the line of Trollocs scrambled forward.
In that moment, Harry knew the time had come, he could hide no longer, not at the risk of his companions being killed. Still, he could fight without giving away everything. Before anyone could react, Harry stood in his stirrups and deftly wove the power, suddenly the ground beneath the Trollocs exploded. Fire and wind attacked them and the earth itself seemed determined to swallow them whole. Harry unconsciously guided his horse forward, his own will overriding the animal's own instinctive fear, his eyes glowing, blazing like blue suns as he destroyed the army before them.
A few moments later, it was over… Harry had destroyed three full fists of Trollocs in just a few moments. He turned, settling back onto his saddle and moved to rejoin the group. They were all gaping at him in open-mouthed shock, even the Warder and Aes Sedai. He grinned for a moment, "You'll all catch flies like that."
Abruptly, their mouths clicked shut and he could see the changes, from Lan and Moiraine, both reassessing him and his potential as a threat, to Thom eyeing him in a mix of curiosity and fear, to Mat and Egwene, huddled together eyeing him with naked fear. Harry sighed and slowly approached them, hands open, palms out. He stopped a short distance away and gave them a warm smile, "I am still me… Mat, Egwene… please understand, I have no control over the fact that I have these powers, but I would never hurt you."
He turned and studied Egwene in particular for a moment, there were traces of awe mixed with the fear on her pretty face and it saddened him. "I am still me Egwene, I would never hurt you."
She looked at him, and after a few moments nodded, the fear vanishing from her face, "Yes, you are still you, woolhead." She smiled and Harry knew they were ok. He turned to look at Mat.
The other boy studied him, his face clearing and finally after a long intense study of Harry, he spoke, "It will take some getting used to…"
Harry gave a small smile and nodded, "It's ok, take your time Mat. It is a lot for anyone to absorb."
He next looked at Thom who was studying him carefully.
"You're him aren't you? That why all of this is happening, you're the true Dragon Reborn… aren't you?"
Harry allowed his gaze to sweep the group and to lock with each of his companions for a moment before he came back to the Gleeman, "Yes. But, there will be time to discuss this all later, for now we need to get moving, the Shadow won't cease its efforts and we need to hold tight to the small advantage we have."
Moiraine nodded and then spoke, "Gather in around me, all of you. As close as you can. Closer."
Harry urged Cloud nearer the Aes Sedai's mare as did all the others. At Moiraine's insistence they kept on crowding closer in a circle around her until every horse had its head stretched over the croup or withers of another. Only then was the Aes Sedai satisfied. Then, without speaking, she stood in the stirrups and swung her staff over their heads, stretching to make certain it covered everyone. Harry watched in fascination, his magesight active, what she was doing. A tingle ran through him with every pass. He could have followed the staff without seeing it, just by following the shivers as it moved over people. It was no surprise to him that Lan was the only one not affected.
Abruptly Moiraine thrust the staff out to the west. Dead leaves whirled into the air and branches whipped as if a dust-devil ran along the line she pointed to. As the invisible whirlwind vanished from sight she settled back into her saddle with a sigh.
"To the Trollocs," she said, "our scents and our tracks will seem to follow that. The Myrddraal will see through it in time, but by then . . . "
"By then," Lan said, "we will have lost ourselves. Follow me," the Warder said, "and for the love of the Light, keep quiet. It will ruin everything if the Trollocs hear us."
He led the way north again, not at the crashing pace they had been making, but rather in the quick walk with which they had traveled the Caemlyn Road. The land continued to flatten, though the forest remained as thick. Their path was no longer straight, as it had been before, for Lan chose out a route that meandered over hard ground and rocky outcrops, and he no longer let them force their way through tangles of bush, instead taking the time to make their way around. Now and again he dropped to the rear, intently studying the trail they made. If anyone so much as coughed, it drew a sharp grunt from him.
They moved along in this manner for several hours before they finally reached the bank of the Arinelle. Then Harry saw a light ahead, just a single point. As they drew closer he could see that the light was well above the river, as if it were in a tree. Lan quickened the pace, all the while eyeing the forest and checking their back trail.
Finally they could make out the source of the light, a lantern hoisted on one of the masts of a large trader's boat, tied up for the night beside a clearing in the trees. The boat, a good eighty feet long, shifted slightly with the current, tugging against the mooring ropes tied to trees. The rigging hummed and creaked in the wind. The lantern doubled the moonlight on the deck, but no one was in sight.
A short time later they found the sentry, who was asleep at his post and after rousing and calming him, they met the Captain of the boat, which they now knew was called the Spray. After whispered negotiations, and many gold coins trading hands, they quickly loaded their horses and boarded the ship which cast off and moved away from shore. Just in time as it turned out, as a number of Trollocs burst from the woods and raced to the shore, hurling spears and other weapons after the boat which was now moving rapidly down the river. For the moment, they had slipped away from their pursuers.
A few days later, a magnificent sight appeared. The gigantic White Bridge arched high over the wide waters, twice as high as the Spray's mast and more, and from end to end it gleamed milky white in the sunlight, gathering the light until it seemed to glow. Spidery piers of the same stuff plunged into the strong currents, appearing too frail to support the weight and width of the bridge. It looked all of one piece, as if it had been carved from a single stone or molded by a giant's hand, broad and tall, leaping the river with an airy grace that almost made the eye forget its size. All in all it dwarfed the town that sprawled about its foot on the east bank, though Whitebridge was larger by far than Emond's Field, with houses of stone and brick as tall as those in Taren Ferry and wooden docks like thin fingers sticking out into the river. Small boats dotted the Arinelle thickly, fishermen hauling their nets. And over it all the White Bridge towered and shone.
The Spray curved smoothly in beside the first dock, which was composed of thick timbers sitting on heavy, tar-coated pilings, and stopped with a backing of oars that swirled the water to froth around the blades. As the oars were drawn in, sailors tossed cables to men on the dock, who fastened them off with a flourish, while other crewmen slung the bags of wool over the side to protect the hull from the dock pilings.
Before the boat was even pulled snug against the dock, carriages appeared at the end of the dock, tall and lacquered shiny black, each one with a name painted on the door in large letters, gold or scarlet. The carriages' passengers hurried up the gangplank as soon as it dropped into place, smooth-faced men in long velvet coats and silk-lined cloaks and cloth slippers, each followed by a plainly dressed servant carrying his iron-bound moneybox. The captain wished their group well and then immediately moved to meet these new arrivals.
They quickly gathered their things and saw to the unloading of their horses. A short time later, they were moving again. They made a few brief stops to gather information and replenish their supplies. Perhaps the most important piece of news they had received was that Logain, the false Dragon, had been captured after a massive battle near Lugard while he was trying to move his army from Ghealdan to Tear. He had been taken by Aes Sedai who were now parading him through every village on the way to Caemlyn to show him to Queen Morgase, and then they would head on to Tar Valon for his trial.
They also learned that a convocation was being called in Illian, the Great Hunt was once again being launched to find the fabled Horn of Valere, intended to call the heroes of legend from beyond the grave to fight at the Last Battle.
They quickly were underway again, leaving the village of Whitebridge behind, following the Caemlyn Road again, they were moving at a brisk pace, calculated to cover as much distance per day as feasible without drawing unwanted attention.
They covered a great deal of ground, only stopping to overnight at Inns along the way, and leaving immediately after breakfast. It was hard travelling and it was beginning to wear on them all. But, Thom managed to keep their spirits up with his stories and Harry spent a great deal of time speaking with Moiraine, and he and Mat trained with Lan. Mat focusing on knife fighting and his bow. Both of them trained in hand to hand with the warder as well. Mat had great aptitude, and his previous training with Harry served him well. It had taken just over two weeks of hard travelling, but they finally were nearing their destination.
They stopped and rested for an hour on their sixteenth day, and everyone ate in silence knowing they had little time to enjoy some relative peace. Harry turned to look at Moiraine. She noticed his look and nodded, she turned to Lan.
At Moiraine's questioning glance he said, "We are about two hours ride from Caemlyn."
She nodded and they all packed up, mounted and rode on, headed for the city, where Harry would claim his birthright and begin his plan to unite the nations for the Last Battle.
Two hours later, they entered the city and Moiraine took the lead as she actually knew the location of the Mantear estate. Eventually, they entered a gated courtyard before a magnificent house.
Eyeing the place Harry couldn't help but be a little impressed, "I assume this is the townhouse and there is a larger estate in the countryside somewhere?"
Moiraine nodded, "Yes, this is the best place to start however as the servants and retainers who knew your mother, as well as the family regent should be here."
Harry nodded again and stepped up to the ornate door and knocked. After a wait, the door was opened by a man in his sixties wearing the livery of a servant of House Mantear.
Moiraine spoke, "Hello Avin."
The old man looked at her and did a double take, "Lady Moiraine? Is it truly you?"
She smiled and nodded, "Indeed, and I have brought someone of great importance to your house. I have brought you the heir, Avin."
The old man started in shock, "The heir…" he examined them and his eyes quickly settled on Harry and widened almost comically as he recognized Harry's features, "Can it be…"
Without a word, Harry reached up and fished the cord out of his shirt and showed the rings to Avin.
The old man studied them closely, then looked up, tears in his eyes, "Oh my… you do favor her so, my lord, the Lady Tigraine. We were all so lost when she disappeared, and then the loss of Lord Luc… the House Mantear has been in mourning these many years. Oh this is a great day!" Quickly he rang a bell and several liveried men appeared, "Take care of our guest's horses," he ordered. Then he turned back them,
"It truly is you," he whispered in a voice that seemed to hardly believe what it was saying. "Please, come in, my Lord."
"These are some very close friends of mine," Harry announced. "I trust you will take care of all their needs?"
"It will be as you wish, my Lord," the man bowed deeply.
"Who is in residence?" Moiraine asked.
"No one, my Lady. They are all out at the country estate."
Moiraine turned to look at him. "That is strange. With all the political unrest in the city shouldn't they be here, to further the House's position?"
The man bowed apologetically, "House Mantear is strong, my Lady. But, the fact remains that we have no lady eligible for the throne. It was deemed unwise for the House to be caught in a power struggle in which there was no gain to be had," His eyes sparkled suddenly.
Harry grinned at the man, "Send out riders Avin. Tell them the heir has been found."
The man gave an even deeper bow. "Thank you, my Lord." He straightened and left.
A number of servants entered the room. "My Lord, Lady Moiraine," an older woman said loudly. Tears of joy were running down her face. "Avin said, but I…" she could hardly speak as she bowed before Harry and Moiraine.
"Please, Maigen, rise," Moiraine said. "You've known me since I was a girl. There is no need for such things."
The woman looked up and seeing the nod from her lord stood and the younger girls shuffled about, dropping curtsies.
Cautiously, the old woman moved forward studying Harry's face, her hand reached out and stopped just shy of contact, before she hurriedly pulled it back, "Forgive me my Lord… but we are so excited, we loved your mother so much. When she disappeared…"
Harry smiled at her, "There is no need to apologize. I would ask that you please see to my friends' comfort, we will be staying for a while."
The old woman beamed at him for a moment, and then set about directing the servants. After a two hour meeting with the house regent, Harry found himself standing in a large, well appointed apartment. He stood in his bedroom, eyeing a wardrobe full of clothing. He was not sure when or how they had taken his measurements, but the clothes and boots were all his size… oh well, he thought. It would be nice to have comfortable, high quality clothing. People would take him more seriously in the circles he now needed to move in. Stepping briskly towards the bathroom, he found a hot bath waiting for him and treated himself to a long soak after he washed up.
The next morning Harry looked down on the crowds from the windows of his apartment. There was a virtual sea of men, wearing red or white, though the white seemed to vastly outnumber the red. He shook his head sadly; this might be more difficult than he had initially thought. It seemed that Queen Morgase did not hold her throne as tightly as he had hoped. But, still… if he could unite their families, it should ease tensions considerably and would make the Daughter Heir acceptable to a much broader cross-section of the population of Andor and the children of that union would be powerful… and not just politically.
He turned as there was a knock at the door followed by Avin entering. "My apologies Lord Rand, but I wanted to see if you needed anything and to let you know that the Lady Moiraine wishes to speak with you."
Harry smiled, "My thanks Avin, please send Moiraine Sedai in. Have refreshments brought for us, then we are not to be disturbed.
Bowing Avin spoke, "Of course Lord Rand. It will be done." He rose and turned and left the room.
A few moments later, Lan and Moiraine entered the room and walked over to where he waited. Harry inclined his head to the Aes Sedai, "Good morning Moiraine Sedai, I trust you slept well?"
She nodded and smiled, "Yes, it is good to be back here, I have many fond memories of this place."
Harry smiled back, then he turned and greeted Lan, "And good morning to you Lan." The Warder inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I am glad you could both come. We have much to discuss."
They all seated themselves and after refreshments had been delivered, Moiraine spun a privacy ward around them. Harry studied them both for a long moment, "Moiraine, your brother… my mother's first husband was married to the current Queen correct?" She nodded and he continued, "Then you have a direct connection to her, I will need your help in setting up a meeting with her and proposing an alliance between our houses. The Daughter Heir is now old enough to marry and unless I am mistaken she is due to head for the White Tower soon to train as is tradition for the Andoran Royal family."
Moiraine nodded again, "You have a good overall grasp of the situation Rand."
He smiled, "Thank you, my father took great pains to ensure I had access to as many books as possible, he wanted to give me every opportunity. So, Moiraine, I would like you to assist me with negotiating a possible marriage to the Daughter Heir and hopefully with meeting my half-brother. Lan… I have a much different favor to ask of you."
The warder eyed him then nodded, "You want me to approach the Borderlanders for you."
Harry grinned, "Yes, I need someone they respect to approach them as my representative. You are from the Borderlands, a well-known and respected warrior. With Moiraine's blessing, I would indeed ask that you approach the Borderlands rulers at a point in the not too distant future and ask for a meeting. I will convince them myself, but I need someone to get them all in a room first."
The Warder studied him for a moment and then glanced at Moiraine, she smiled and inclined her head, "I will do it."
Harry grinned, "Great, where would you start then?"
The warder nodded, "Sheinar… I have the best relationship with their King, Easar. He is also the oldest and most respected of the Borderlands rulers. That is the best place to start."
Harry nodded, "I will write a letter for you to give to him. I truly appreciate this Lan, I need to unite everyone to have a chance of truly defeating the Shadow and the Borderlands are all that stand between us and the Shadow's Armies at present. They will be the most likely to support me, especially once I publicly declare myself when I take Callandor from Tear."
They continued talking and planning a few hours more, trying to figure the best way to ensure that as many as possible survived the war that was brewing.
Later that day, Harry stood in the courtyard, waiting for his horse to be brought as he prepared to accompany Moiraine to the Palace for his introduction to the Queen. Ultimately, they had decided to wait to send Lan to speak to the borderlands rulers for now, it would be best to send him once Harry had claimed Callandor from Tear. This would mark him as the true Dragon Reborn and would hopefully make the Borderlanders more willing to support him. For now, he had a Queen to meet and a possible marriage to arrange. Once Andor was united, he planned to move for Tear. He had taken Thom Merrilin on as an advisor to his House and Egwene was to begin training with Moiraine as soon as possible. It was decided that sending her to the White Tower would be dangerous at this stage as she could be used as a hostage and source of information on Harry once he announced himself.
They arrived at the Palace gates and were escorted in by a troop led by a Lieutenant named Tallanvor. As they were invited guests, no one made any comment on Harry's sword, though he did note they were watching him very carefully as they had all seen the herons.
The guards silently guided them through the Palace till they reached a set of double doors. Tallanvor spoke to the doorkeepers posted outside, "announce the Lord Rand Mantear and the Lady Moiraine Damodred to see her Majesty." Nodding, one of the doorkeepers stepped inside and announced them while the other opened the doors. Harry and Moiraine stepped forward, both moving easily and stopped at a respectful distance, Moiraine dropping into a polite curtsey and Harry dropping into a formal bow as he had been shown, on his right knee with his right fist planted and his left hand on his sword hilt.
The square chamber they were in was about the size of the common room of a large Inn, its walls presenting hunting scenes carved in relief in stone of the purest white. The tapestries between the carvings were gentle images of bright flowers and brilliantly plumaged hummingbirds, except for the two at the far end of the room, where the White Lion of Andor stood taller than a man on scarlet fields. Those two hangings flanked a dais and on the dais a carved and gilded throne where sat the Queen.
A bluff, blocky man stood bareheaded by the Queen's right hand in the red of the Queen's Guards, with four golden knots on the shoulder of his cloak and wide golden bands breaking the white of his cuffs. His temples were heavy with gray, but he looked as strong and immovable as a rock. This had to be the Captain-General, Gareth Bryne. Behind the throne and to the other side a woman in deep green silk sat on a low stool, knitting something out of dark, almost black, wool. At first the knitting made Rand think she was old, but at second glance he could easily spot the same ageless quality that Moiraine possessed, another Aes Sedai, this must be the Elaida that Moiraine had warned him about, one of the Red Ajah. Her attention seemed to be entirely on her needles and yarn, just as if there were not a Queen within arm's reach of her. She was a handsome woman, outwardly placid, yet there was something terrible in her concentration. There was no sound in the room except for the click of her needles.
The room was easily dominated by the woman with the gleaming wreath of finely wrought roses on her brow, the Rose Crown of Andor. A long red stole, the Lion of Andor marching along its length, hung over her silken dress of red and white pleats and when she touched the Captain-General's arm with her left hand, a ring in the shape of the Great Serpent, eating its own tail, glittered. Yet it was not the grandeur of clothes or jewelry or even crown that drew Harry's eyes again and again: it was the woman who wore them. Her face and figure, her very presence, filled the room like a light that dimmed the other two with her. If this was the Queen, Harry was relieved as it was now highly unlikely the Daughter would be anything other than very attractive… not that he was shallow enough to care only about a woman's looks, but it didn't hurt if the girl was easy on the eyes.
"You may rise," Morgase said in a rich, warm voice that held total assurance of obedience. She studied them both for a moment and then spoke to Moiraine in a warm voice, "It is good to see you again Moiraine Sedai. It has been too long."
The Aes Sedai smiled in return, "Indeed it has your Majesty," she turned slightly and indicated Harry, "May I present to you, Lord Rand Mantear, son of Tigraine and the High Seat of House Mantear?"
Morgase's eyes locked onto Harry and he felt as if he was being weighed and measured, "Indeed, House Mantear has been without a High Seat for many years now. I am sure they are relieved to have located the heir."
Harry smiled, "Actually your Majesty, I found them. I was raised out west in the Two Rivers by a man named Tam al'Thor who adopted me shortly after the end of the Aiel War. I only found out about my heritage recently."
She nodded thoughtfully and then turned to face her people, "Leave us, I wish to speak with them alone."
They all bowed or curtseyed and stood to leave, though Elaida and Gareth Bryne seemed extremely reluctant to leave, though likely for very different reasons. Once they were all gone, Moiraine spun a privacy ward around them and Harry quickly added his own as well, though no one but Harry knew that.
Morgase eyed them both for a moment, then moved forward and in an instant it was like a switch had been thrown and the commanding presence of the Queen… dimmed. "We may speak freely I assume," she looked at Moiraine who nodded, "I would guess you are here for a purpose young man. I would ask that you state it… clearly."
Harry grinned, "Your majesty is direct… let me be equally so… I propose alliance between our Houses. I would like to meet the Daughter Heir, if we are compatible and she is agreeable, I would suggest marriage between us to formally unite our Houses… if not, the offer of alliance will still stand, though it won't be as close obviously."
The Queen eyed him for a long moment, "Marriage… you said if she is agreeable… you surely know the state of the city, which reflects the state of Andor, my hold is… tenuous. An alliance with Mantear would cement my position and do much to rally the people back to me. The question is, what do you gain?"
Harry looked at Moiraine for a moment, she nodded slightly, "I would gain a united Andor and hopefully its ruler and future ruler as my family and allies. I have been handed a terrible destiny, one that you would not wish on anyone, but I am trying to find a way to fulfill it without destroying everything…"
Morgase stared at him, "What do you mean?"
Harry sighed then softly began reciting, "On the slopes of Dragonmount shall he be born, born of a maiden wedded to no man. He will be of the ancient blood and raised by the old blood…" he paused, "I assume you are familiar with the Prophecies of the Dragon?" She nodded and he continued, "I was born on the slopes of Dragonmount, to a Maiden of the Spear, who was unwed at the time. My birth father was an Aiel, an ancient blood and my adopted father is from the Two Rivers and descended from the old blood of Manetheren. I want to save the world from the Shadow and protect as many as I can. The key is to unite the nations. Andor is the logical place to start given my heritage." He studied her for a moment, "As I said, I will only ask for your daughter's hand if she and I are compatible and she agrees… and she will be informed of all of this. She will know what she is getting herself into before we discuss even the possibility of marriage."
Morgase stared at him for a few moments, he could see hints of fear in her eyes, "By the Light… you're him… the Dragon… the true Dragon Reborn… aren't you?"
Harry nodded, "I am. Will you help me defeat the Shadow and save the world?"
She turned and looked at Moiraine and then back at Harry, "Why tell me all this? I should order the guards to arrest you."
He smiled, "But you won't… and not just because arresting me would start a civil war. You are an educated woman, a ruler of a great nation… have you not seen the recent rise in violence, the unrest? The Shadow rises and the only way for the Shadow to truly win is if good men and women sit back and do nothing. Help me! Help them, we can beat the Shadow… but I can't do it alone! Please… help me?"
The room seemed to swirl for a moment and suddenly Morgase stood, "By the Light and my hope of salvation and rebirth, I pledge to support and defend Rand Mantear, the Dragon Reborn until the Last Battle is won."
The usually unflappable Moiraine's jaw dropped open in shock and Morgase couldn't seem to believe that she had just given that oath. Moiraine quickly looked at Harry and whispered, "Ta'veren."
Once the shock had worn off a bit, the three sat discussing how to unify Andor for a few hours. Finally, satisfied that they had a workable plan, Morgase stood, "Well Rand, you are certainly not what I was expecting… but, I would imagine you would like to meet your half-brother? And it is also time for you to meet Elayne… I…"
Harry stood, "I understand your Majesty, but as I said, I won't ask unless there is a genuine connection and she is willing. I refuse to make anyone marry for political expediency… it does not generally end well."
She nodded with a sad smile, "This I know from experience. Come, let us go and meet them."
The three stood and after quickly unraveling the wards, left the room and went to meet Harry's brother and his possible future wife.
A short time later, they stood in a workout area, watching as an extremely handsome young man gracefully worked his way through form after form, the sword in his hand like an extension of his arm. Harry smiled as he watched his brother. Then he stepped forward, heading out into the practice area. He removed his coat and sword and picked up one of the practice blades from a rack nearby. He turned to face his brother, "Care to spar?"
Galad Damodred studied the newcomer, he looked… familiar somehow, "Indeed, I could use some practice."
The two faced each other, saluted and in a heartbeat were in motion. Back and forth, flowing seamlessly through the forms easily matching each other step for step. It seemed the two were truly evenly matched. Harry was curious though, so he seized saidin… and there it was, he felt an echo… his brother could channel! And quite strongly he would guess based on the strength of the echo. Finally, after what seemed like hours of fighting, Harry disarmed his brother and the two stood panting. Harry walked over and replaced the sword on the rack and grabbed a towel offered by a servant and wiped his face.
Galad spoke, "That was… amazing, you are a remarkably skilled fighter."
Harry grinned, "Don't sell yourself short, you held me off for quite a while, you have a lot of talent."
A cough nearby caused them both to turn, where they found Moiraine standing nearby, "If I may interrupt?" Both nodded, "hello Galad, it is good to see you again."
He nodded to her, "And you as well Aunt. I trust you are well?"
She inclined her head slightly, "I am, busy as always. Galad, I would like you to formally meet my young friend here… Lord Rand Mantear."
Galad's eyes widened and he turned again studying Harry closely, "Of course, it's so obvious now… no wonder you looked so familiar…"
Harry grinned, "I'm your half-brother."
Galad smiled back, a warm, genuine smile. Then he frowned, "Our mother? She left… I haven't…"
Harry's expression turned sad, "She died birthing me. Sadly, I never knew her." The two stood in awkward silence for a moment before Harry reached out and put a hand on his brother's shoulder, "but now I have a brother. I want to sit and catch up, but I have another appointment right now. Come to the estate later for dinner… we have much to discuss."
Galad nodded and with a smile left the room to bathe and change. Harry finished redressing, a subtle cleaning and freshening charm and he was clean and ready to meet Elayne. He turned to his companions, "Well Majesty, I must say I am happy you have taken such good care of my brother. Shall we go and meet Elayne?"
Morgase smiled, "It was my pleasure, he is such a remarkable young man and was a very sweet little boy, though the loss of his mother devastated him." She shook her head, "Yes… yes, let us go and see Elayne, she will be in the gardens by now."
A short time later, they stepped through an elaborate archway into a private garden. Harry smiled when he saw it, as it was quite lovely. As he walked through, he didn't notice that the plants seemed to become healthier and greener as he passed them.
Just ahead, he saw a figure, a deep blue velvet cloak lined with pale fur rested on her shoulders, its hood hanging down behind to her waist with a cluster of silver bells at the peak. They jingled when she moved. A silver filigree circlet held her long, red-gold curls and delicate silver rings hung at her ears, while a necklace of heavy silver links and dark green stones he thought were emeralds lay around her throat. Her pale blue dress was silk and embroidered with painstakingly intricate designs, the skirt slashed with inserts the color of rich cream. A wide belt of woven silver encircled her waist and velvet slippers peeked from under the hem of her dress. She was perhaps two or three years younger than he, tall for a girl and breathtakingly beautiful, her face a perfect oval framed by that mass of sunburst curls, her lips full and red, her eyes bluer than he could believe. He felt his breath catch and his stomach flutter… he had not reacted like this since… since he met Daphne. He locked eyes with Elayne and in that moment he knew, just as he had with Daphne in his previous life, that he would marry this girl and that he would love her above any other for the rest of his days. He could see in her eyes that she felt it too… the unspoken connection between them. Without even realizing it, he had continued forward and now stood directly before her, his hand outstretched…
Hers reached out as well and when they joined, both felt an electric tingle run through them.
He heard a gasp behind Elayne, but paid it no mind as his entire universe was now centered around the sun-haired beauty standing before him.
She gave him smile, "I'm Elayne."
He grinned, "I'm Rand… I'm going to marry you."
Her smile grew and she nodded, "I know."
A throat clearing behind them allowed them to break eye contact and the two turned, hands still firmly clasped to face Queen Morgase and Moiraine.
Morgase raised an eyebrow, "So, you've met…"
Harry grinned, "We have indeed, I see no problem with a marriage arrangement between our families your Majesty. In fact," he turned and locked eyes with Elayne, "I insist."
Elayne smiled, "As do I." Leaning in, she closed her eyes and puckered her lips. Harry leaned in and their lips met. Everyone gasped as they suddenly were surrounded by a golden aura and the sound of otherworldly singing could be heard throughout the room (AN: phoenix song). Suddenly the two lifted from the ground and floated gently up into the air, circling slowly, still kissing each other deeply, completely lost to the world.
Morgase and Moiraine stood watching as the two youngsters hovered, slowly rotating in the air.
Morgase turned and whispered urgently, "Have you ever heard of something like this? Even in the legends?"
Moiraine shook her head, eyes still locked on the young couple, "No… never. This… is something completely new."
Meanwhile, Harry and Elayne found themselves standing in a beautiful meadow near a large dark lake… turning, they saw Hogwarts above them. Harry suddenly felt a presence he had not felt in far too long. Turning, he saw his beloved wife standing there smiling at him.
"Daphne…" he gasped, his voice full of anguish.
She smiled at him, "Hello my love. I am so very proud of you. You accomplished what no one else could have. But now it seems you are faced yet again with the impossible."
Harry could only nod and Daphne smiled, "She will be good for you… but you will need all the help you can get, the powers that be have offered me a chance to be one of those to help." She turned to face Elayne, "You can see that he is much more than what you believed him to be and yet, you have only scratched the surface. I offer to join with you. You would gain my abilities and insight, we would be able to train with Rand/Harry to master those abilities. You would also gain a significant boost to your own ability to channel the One Power. You would be on par with the most powerful of the female Forsaken, Lanfear." She smiled and offered Elayne her hand, "And… we would work together as one to keep him safe and help him to save the world. What do you say?"
Elayne studied Daphne for a few moments then turned to look at Rand… or was he Harry?
Hearing her thoughts he spoke, "Both actually… and more. I am Rand Mantear… I am Harry Potter… I am also Lews Therin Telamon. I am the Dragon Reborn. We are joined now by magic and the One Power, Daphne was my wife in my previous life… she was powerful, brilliant and beautiful… I loved her with all my heart… just as I do you. I want you to be safe, the addition of Daphne's abilities and the increase in power would make that possible. But the choice… is yours."
Elayne smiled, "There is no choice." She reached out and took Daphne's hand and there was brilliant flash of light as the two merged and became something… more.
Watching, Harry could feel a powerful magical core form within Elayne and he could sense the two distinct personalities merge into one. When it was done, Elayne turned to face her new husband.
Tears were running down his face, "I can feel you both, I have both of my loves here. The only way it could be better is if somehow Ilyena could be here too." He reached out and took her hand and the world faded out as the two began to see and experience each other's lives.
Finally, after a few minutes, the two slowly lowered and settled gently on the ground and the golden glow faded just as they broke their kiss. Both stared breathlessly into each other's eyes and then leaned in to touch their foreheads together.
Finally they straightened and turned to face their audience. Harry spoke, "Moiraine, I must ask a boon. My wife will need to be trained. But we have no time for the Tower and I will not stand for their meddling or posturing. Will you train her alongside Egwene?"
Moiraine studied them for a few moments, she could feel the power in the girl… it had increased considerably during the strange events that had just occurred. She had never encountered anyone this powerful, not even the Wisdom in Emond's Field and that girl had been beyond anyone she had ever encountered. She inclined her head, "Yes I will, she would only become a hostage in the Tower to guarantee your obedience, especially once they knew she is your wife."
Harry nodded, "Good, I would also ask you to serve as our advisor," and then he turned to Morgase, "We will need to arrange a ceremony, though we are already married… that was what you just witnessed by the way. Once that is completed, we will need to make further plans, but I intend to head for Tear very soon. And when I have taken Callandor, we will contact the Borderlands and bring them in. That will give me enough support to approach the remaining nations and attempt to unite them. I am not sure how much time we have… but I can say for certain that the Dark One stirs."
The Queen nodded her head, though she was obviously still a bit in shock over all that she had seen and heard.
A few days later, Harry and Daphne were formally united in a massive celebration that brought together the two most powerful Houses in Andor. The effect of this union spread rapidly as there was a sudden resurgence of the red in the streets and much of the unrest and problems that had plagued Caemlyn of late began to settle down. Harry and Daphne were oblivious as the two spent their time at the Mantear country estate lost in each other. They made love frequently and he began training her to use her magic beyond her limited Hogwarts education. It turned out she was now more powerful than she had been and had access to his special abilities, most importantly his mage sight which they were able to confirm allowed her to see a man's channeling. Harry also began training his brother Galad to channel saidin. He would need to be prepared in order to come with them. He also gave his brother two gifts, the mind shield amulet he always wore to protect his mind from the taint and the angreal ring. With the ring Galad was nearly equal to Harry in raw power.
Daphne began her training with Moiraine in channeling saidar alongside Egwene as well. They also found that if they linked, while one had control of the one power, the other still had full use of their magic meaning they could still fight or defend themselves from attack. They divided their days between private time and training Daphne to prepare her to stand at Harry's side. A week after their wedding, Morgase reported that several clashes had taken place between the Queen's Guard and the Children of the Light. Harry committed half of his House armsmen to assist the Guard in driving the White cloaks out of Andor. While Morgase consolidated her rule and began preparing the country for what was to come, Harry and Daphne began preparing to travel to Tear. It was decided they would go by horse and maybe Skim part of the distance though this part of the plan was known only to them as Harry had not yet revealed just how much he knew about the Power. But, the young lovers were eager to have a bit more time together before Harry took Callandor and Daphne needed some time to learn to channel. Harry also hoped to find her an angreal as it would give her even more of an advantage as well as another for himself. It was rumored that there was a massive collection of artifacts of the Power in the Stone of Tear, so he should be able to find her one there he hoped.
Then, their plans were interrupted when the estate was attacked by a Myrddraal and several Trollocs. Harry easily destroyed them, but this set events in motion as they had found intelligence on the Myrddraal, a message that had gone out from Sheinar which indicated a massive attack by the Shadow in the works. He also received another peek into the World of Dreams where his one time friend, Ishamael chided and teased him that events were moving forward and the Shadow would swallow the world. A battle would be fought, a battle for the fate of the world, at least in the short term. This battle would be fought soon in the borderlands.
Moiraine was quick to convince Harry and Daphne to alter their plans, it was decided that they would have to travel to Fal Dara straight away. Tear would have to wait. They quickly packed and prepared themselves and then a small group rode out. The group consisted of Harry, Galad, Daphne, Egwene, Mat, Thom, Moiraine and Lan. The group rode out together from the country estate, though everyone was still a bit puzzled how they would be travelling, especially since Harry had implied that it would be a quick journey.
About a half hour out of the village, Harry called a halt and climbed down from his horse. Puzzled, the others followed suit, Moiraine and Lan both watching curiously, while Galad, Mat, Thom and Egwene wore open confusion on their faces.
Harry stepped over to Moiraine, "Directly to Fal Dara? Or do you need to make a way stop?"
Frowning, she studied him for a moment, "Directly to Fal Dara." She was clearly skeptical.
Harry smiled, and turned away, seizing saidin he wove a specific set of flows and a vertical slash of light appeared in front of him and then rotated open to reveal a four meter by four meter square opening that showed woods on the other side. He heard several gasps behind him and turned to see open shock on his companions faces.
Moiraine spoke first, in an awed whisper "You've rediscovered Travelling?"
Harry shrugged and nodded, "Apparently, this will deposit us about a half hour outside of Fal Dara, an easy ride allowing us to make the city well before dark."
Once everyone had ridden through, he closed the gateway and released saidin.
He turned to find Moiraine eyeing him speculatively. He sighed, "My secrets are mine Moiraine, and what you do not know, the Shadow cannot force from you."
She studied him for a moment, then nodded, "You show wisdom Rand. I will trust in your judgement."
He smiled and quickly mounted. The country around them was rolling, forested hills, but most of the trees were gray skeletons clawing at the sky. Fewer evergreens than Harry was used to dotted the forest, and of them, dead, brown needles and leaves covered many.
"Shienar," Lan told them. "We're in the Borderlands." In his hard voice was a note that said he was home, almost.
Harry gathered his cloak against the cold. The Borderlands. The Blight was close by. The Blight. The Eye of the World. And what they had come to do. The plan though hastily conceived was their only option, they would seek the Eye and use it to thwart the Shadow and prevent the Borderlands from being overwhelmed and the start of another Trolloc War.
"We are close to Fal Dara," Moiraine said. "Only a few more miles ride." Across the treetops, towers rose to the north and east of them, dark against the morning sky. Between the hills and the woods, the towers often vanished as they rode, only to reappear again when they topped a particularly tall rise.
Mat noticed several trees that were split open as if they had been struck by lightning.
"The cold," Lan answered when he asked. "Sometimes the winter is so cold here the sap freezes, and the trees burst. There are nights when you can hear them cracking like fireworks, and the air is so sharp you think that it might shatter, too. There are more than usual, this winter past."
Mat shook his head in disbelief. Trees bursting? And that was during an ordinary winter. What must this winter have been like? Surely like nothing he could imagine. They quickly set out, heading for Fal Dara.
As they rode, they began to pass farms, but though it was the hour for midday meals to be cooking, no smoke rose from the high stone chimneys. The fields were empty of men and livestock both, though sometimes a plow or a wagon stood abandoned as if the owner meant to be back any minute.
At one farm close by the road a lone chicken scratched in the yard. One barn door swung freely with the wind; the other had broken off the bottom hinge and hung at an angle. The tall house, odd to Harry and Mat's Two Rivers eyes, with its sharp-peaked roof of big wooden shingles running almost to the ground, was still and silent. No dog came out to bark at them. A scythe lay in the middle of the barnyard; buckets were overturned in a heap beside the well.
Moiraine frowned at the farmhouse as they rode by. She lifted her horse, Aldieb's reins, and the white mare quickened her pace.
The citadel of Fal Dara was built on hills higher than the surrounding country. It was nowhere near as big as Caemlyn, but the wall around it was as high as Caemlyn's. For a full mile outside that wall in every direction the ground was clear of anything taller than grass and even that was cut low.
Nothing could come close without being seen from one of the many tall towers topped by wooden hoardings. Where the walls of Caemlyn had a beauty and elegance about them, the builders of Fal Dara seemed not to have cared if anyone found their wall beautiful. The gray stone was grimly implacable, proclaiming that it existed for one purpose alone: to hold. Pennants atop the hoardings whipped in the wind, making the stooping Black Hawk of Shienar seem to fly all along the walls.
Lan tossed back the hood of his cloak and despite the cold, motioned for the others to do the same. Moiraine had already lowered hers. "It's the law in Shienar," the Warder said. "In all the Borderlands. No one may hide his face inside a town's walls."
The others nodded and complied without complaint. The law made perfect sense in Harry's opinion as creatures of the Shadow would not be able to hide with their hoods down.
The gates stood open, tall and covered with dark iron, but a dozen armored men stood guard in golden yellow surcoats bearing the Black Hawk. The hilts of long swords on their backs peeked over their shoulders and broadsword or mace or axe hung at every waist. Their horses were tethered nearby, made grotesque by the steel bardings covering chests and necks and heads, with lances to stirrup, all ready to ride at an instant. The guards made no move to stop Lan and Moiraine and the others. Indeed, they waved and called out happily.
"Dai Shan!" one cried, shaking steel-gauntleted fists over his head as they rode past, "Dai Shan!"
One man ran alongside Lan's horse a little way, unhampered by the armor he wore. "Will the Golden Crane fly again, Dai Shan?"
"Peace, Ragan," was all that the Warder said and the man fell away. He returned the guards' waves, but his face was suddenly even more grim if that was possible.
As they rode through stone-paved streets crowded with people and wagons, Harry frowned worriedly. Fal Dara was bulging at the seams, but the people were neither the eager crowds of Caemlyn, enjoying the grandeur of the city even as they squabbled, nor the milling throngs of Baerlon. Packed cheek by jowl, these folk watched their party ride by with leaden eyes and faces blanked of emotion. Carts and wagons jammed every alleyway and half the streets, piled high with jumbled household furnishings, and carved chests packed so tight that clothes spilled out. On top sat the children. Adults kept the younglings up where they could be seen and did not let them stray even to play. The children were even more silent than their elders, their eyes bigger, more haunting in their stares. The nooks and crannies between the wagons were filled with shaggy cattle and black-spotted pigs in makeshift pens. Crates of chickens and ducks and geese fitfully made up for the silence of the people. He knew now where all the farmers had gone.
Lan led the way to the fortress in the middle of the town, a massive stone pile atop the highest hill. A dry moat, deep and wide, its bottom a forest of sharp steel spikes, razor-edged and as tall as a man, surrounded the towered walls of the keep. A place for a last defense, if the rest of the town fell. From one of the gate towers an armored man called down, "Welcome, Dai Shan."
Another shouted to the inside of the fortress, "The Golden Crane! The Golden Crane!"
Their hooves drummed on the heavy timbers of the lowered drawbridge as they crossed the moat and rode under the sharp points of the stout portcullis. Once through the gates, Lan swung down out of his saddle to lead his warhorse Mandarb, signaling the others to dismount as well.
The first courtyard was a huge square paved with big stone blocks and surrounded by towers and battlements as fierce as those on the outside of the walls. As big as it was, the courtyard appeared just as crowded as the streets and as much in turmoil, though there was an order to the crowding here. Everywhere were armored men and armored horses. At half a dozen smithies around the court, hammers clanged and big bellows, tugged by two leather-aproned men apiece, made the forge-fires roar. A steady stream of boys ran with new-made horseshoes for the farriers. Fletchers sat making arrows and every time a basket was filled it was whisked away and replaced with an empty one.
Liveried grooms appeared on the run, eager and smiling in black-and-gold. Harry calmly untied his belongings from behind the saddle and gave the gray he rode to one of the grooms as a man in plate mail and leather bowed to them formally. He wore a bright yellow cloak edged in red over his armor, with the Black Hawk on the breast, and a yellow surcoat bearing a gray owl. He wore no helmet and was bareheaded, truly, for his hair had all been shaved except for a topknot tied with a leather cord. "It has been long, Moiraine Aes Sedai. It is good to see you, Dai Shan, very good." He nodded at the rest then he turned back to Lan. "Word was sent to Lord Agelmar, Dai Shan, as soon as you were seen coming. He is waiting for you. This way, please."
As they followed him into the fortress, along drafty stone corridors hung with colorful tapestries and long silk screens of hunting scenes and battles, he continued. "I am glad the call reached you, Dai Shan. Will you raise the Golden Crane banner once more?" The halls were stark except for the wall hangings, and even they used the fewest figures made with the fewest lines necessary to convey meaning, though in bright colors.
"Are things really as bad as they appear, Ingtar?" Lan asked quietly.
The man's topknot swayed as he shook his head, but he hesitated before putting on a grin. "Things are never as bad as they appear, Dai Shan. A little worse than usual this year, that is all. The raids continued through the winter, even in the hardest of it. But the raiding was no worse than anywhere else along the Border. They still come in the night, but what else can be expected in the spring, if this can be called spring. Scouts return from the Blight-those who do come back with news of Trolloc camps. Always fresh news of more camps. But we will meet them at Tarwin's Gap, Dai Shan, and turn them back as we always have."
"Of course," Lan said, but he did not sound certain.
Ingtar's grin slipped, but came back immediately. Silently he showed them into Lord Agelmar's study, then claimed the press of his duties and left.
It was a room as purpose-made as all the rest of the fortress, with arrow slits in the outer wall and a heavy bar for the thick door, which had its own arrow piercings and was bound by iron straps. Only one tapestry hung here. It covered an entire wall and showed men, armored like the men of Fal Dara, fighting Myrddraal and Trollocs in a mountain pass.
A table, one chest and a few chairs were the only furnishings except for two racks on the wall and they caught Harry's eye as much as the tapestry. One held a two-handed sword, taller than a man, a more ordinary broadsword and below them a studded mace and a long, kite-shaped shield bearing three foxes. From the other hung a suit of armor, complete and arranged as one would wear it. Crested helmet with its barred face-guard over a double-mail camail, mail hauberk, split for riding, and leather undercoat, polished from wear, breastplate, steel gauntlets, knee and elbow cops and half-plate for shoulders, arms and legs. Even here in the heart of the Keep, weapons and armor seemed ready to be donned at any moment. Like the furniture, they were simply and severely decorated with gold.
Agelmar himself rose at their entrance and came around the table, littered with maps and sheaves of paper and pens standing in inkpots. He seemed at first glance too peaceful for the room in his blue velvet coat with its tall, wide collar, and soft leather boots, but a second look showed Harry differently. Like all the fighting men he had seen, Agelmar's head was shaved except for a topknot and that was pure white. His face was as hard as Lan's, the only lines were creases at the corners of his eyes, and those eyes like brown stone, though they bore a smile now.
"Peace, but it is good to see you, Dai Shan," the Lord of Fal Dara said, "And you, Moiraine Aes Sedai, perhaps even more. Your presence warms me, Aes Sedai."
"Ninte calichniye no domashita, Agelmar Dai Shan," Moiraine replied formally, but with a note in her voice that said they were old friends. "Your welcome warms me, Lord Agelmar."
"Kodome calichniye ga ni Aes Sedai hei. Here is always a welcome for Aes Sedai." The older man then quietly studied the remaining members of the party before again addressing Moiraine. "A long journey from Tar Valon," he said. "You must be tired."
"A short journey by the path we came," Lan told him.
Agelmar looked puzzled when the Warder said no more, but he merely said, "A few days' rest will put you all in fine fettle."
"I ask one night's shelter, Lord Agelmar," Moiraine said, "for ourselves and our horses. And fresh supplies in the morning, if you can spare them. We must leave you early, I am afraid."
Agelmar frowned. "But I thought . . . Moiraine Sedai, I have no right to ask it of you, but you would be worth a thousand lances in Tarwin's Gap. And you, Dai Shan. A thousand men will come when they hear the Golden Crane flies once more."
"The Seven Towers are broken," Lan said harshly, "and Malkier is dead; the few of her people left, scattered across the face of the earth. I am a Warder, Agelmar, sworn to the Flame of Tar Valon and I am bound into the Blight."
"Of course, Dai Sh… Lan. Of course. But surely a few days' delay, a few weeks at most, will make no difference. You are needed, you and Moiraine Sedai."
Moiraine took a silver goblet from one of the servants. "Ingtar seems to believe you will defeat this threat as you have defeated many others across the years."
"Aes Sedai," Agelmar said wryly, "if Ingtar had to ride alone to Tarwin's Gap, he would ride the whole way proclaiming that the Trollocs would be turned back once more. He has almost pride enough to believe he could do it alone."
"He is not as confident as you think, this time, Agelmar." The Warder held a cup, but he did not drink. "How bad is it?"
Agelmar hesitated, pulling a map from the tangle on the table. He stared unseeing at the map for a moment, then tossed it back. "When we ride to the Gap," he said quietly, "the people will be sent south to Fal Moran. Perhaps the capital can hold. Peace, it must. Something must hold."
"That bad?" Lan said, and Agelmar nodded wearily.
Agelmar went on grimly, "Kandor, Arafel, Saldaea… the Trollocs raided them all straight through the winter. Nothing like that has happened since the Trolloc Wars; the raids have never been so fierce, or so large, or pressed home so hard. Every king and council is sure a great thrust is coming out of the Blight and every one of the Borderlands believes it is coming at them. None of their scouts and none of the Warders, report Trollocs massing above their borders, as we have here, but they believe and each is afraid to send fighting men elsewhere. People whisper that the world is ending, that the Dark one is loose again. Shienar will ride to Tarwin's Gap alone and we will be outnumbered at least ten to one… at least… It may be the last Ingathering of the Lances," he paused. "Lan-no!-Dai Shan, for you are a Diademed Battle Lord of Malkier whatever you say. Dai Shan, the Golden Crane banner in the van would put heart into men who know they are riding north to die. The word will spread like wildfire and though their kings have told them to hold where they are, lances will come from Arafel and Kandor and even from Saldaea. Though they cannot come in time to stand with us in the Gap, they may save Shienar."
Lan peered into his wine. His face did not change, but wine slopped over his hand; the silver goblet had crumpled in his grip. A servant took the ruined cup and wiped the Warder's hand with a cloth; a second put a fresh goblet in his hand while the other was whisked away. Lan did not seem to notice. "I cannot!" he whispered hoarsely. When he raised his head his blue eyes burned with a fierce light, but his voice was calm again, and flat. "I am a Warder, Agelmar." His sharp gaze slid across Rand and Mat and Perrin to Moiraine. "At first light I ride to the Blight."
Agelmar sighed heavily. "Moiraine Sedai, will you not come, at least? An Aes Sedai could make the difference."
"I cannot, Lord Agelmar." Moiraine seemed troubled. "There is indeed a battle to be fought and it is not chance that the Trollocs gather above Shienar, but our battle, the true battle with the Dark One, will take place in the Blight, at the Eye of the World. You must fight your battle, and we ours."
"You cannot be saying he is loose!" Rocklike Agelmar sounded shaken, and Moiraine quickly shook her head.
"No, not yet. If we win at the Eye of the World, perhaps not for some time to come."
"Can you even find the Eye, Aes Sedai? If holding the Dark One back depends on that, we might as well be dead. Many have tried and failed."
"I can find it, Lord Agelmar. Hope is not lost yet," she paused, "Lord Agelmar… allow me to introduce our companions." She gestured to Harry and Daphne, "Lord Rand Mantear and his wife the Lady Elayne Mantear." Harry inclined his head and Daphne gave the slightest of curtsies. Next Moiraine gestured to Galad, Thom and Egwene, "Lord Galadedrid Damodred, half brother of Lord Rand…" Galad bowed, "Thomdril Merrilin, advisor to House Mantear, Matrim Cauthon a close friend of House Mantear and Egwene al'Vere of the Two Rivers, my student and a close friend of House Mantear."
Agelmar's eyes had widened with each introduction, "Strange companions indeed Moiraine Sedai." He paused and studied the members of the party, his eyes locking onto Harry's sword, "You have earned the heron so young Lord Mantear?"
Harry grinned, "I have sir and please call me Rand. My adoptive father was a blade master and he trained me for years, I defeated him a few months ago and earned the right to wear the blade."
Agelmar nodded, "A most worthy accomplishment Rand." He turned to Moiraine again, "may I have a troop accompany you on your quest Moiraine Sedai?"
She shook her head, "No my Lord, stealth is our best bet for reaching our goal. Though an escort to the Blight border would be welcome if you can spare the men."
Agelmar nodded, "Of course, it will be our honor. And now, you must all join me for dinner."
The group spent the remainder of the evening in conversation, trading stories with their host and listening raptly as he described great battles that had been fought in recent years.
The wind whipped Lan's cloak, sometimes making him hard to see even in the sunlight and Ingtar and the hundred lances Lord Agelmar had sent to escort them to the Blight Border, in case they met a Trolloc raid, made a brave display in double column with their armor and their red pennants and their steel-clad horses led by Ingtar's Gray Owl banner. They were easily as grand as a hundred of the Queen's Guards, but it was the towers just in sight ahead of them that Harry studied. He had had all morning to watch the Shienaran lances.
Each tower stood tall and solid atop a hill, half a mile from its neighbor. East and west others rose, and more beyond those. A broad, walled ramp spiraled around each stone shaft, winding all the way around by the time it reached the heavy gates halfway to the crenellated top. A sortie from the garrison would be protected by the wall until it reached the ground, but enemies striving to reach the gate would climb under a hail of arrows and stones and hot oil from the big kettles poised on the outward flaring ramparts above. A large steel mirror, carefully turned down, away from the sun now, glittered atop each tower below the high iron cup where signal fires could be lit when the sun did not shine. The signal would be flashed, to towers further from the Border, and by those to still others, and so relayed to the heartland fortresses, from where the lances would ride to turn back the raid. Were times normal, they would.
From the two nearest tower tops men watched them approach. Just a few men on each, peering curiously through the crenels. In the best of times the towers were only manned enough for self-defense, depending more on stone walls than strong arms to survive, but every man who could be spared, and more, was riding to Tarwin's Gap. The fall of the towers would not matter if the lances failed to hold the Gap. This was the Border. The land beyond looked no different from Shienar, but out there, somewhere beyond the leafless trees, was the Blight.
Ingtar lifted a steel fist to halt the lances short of a plain stone post in sight of the towers. A borderpost, marking the boundary between Shienar and what once was Malkier. "Your pardon, Moiraine Aes Sedai. Lord Agelmar commanded me to go no further." He sounded unhappy about it, disgruntled at life in general.
"That is as we planned, Lord Ingtar," Moiraine said.
Ingtar grunted sourly. "Pardon, Aes Sedai," he apologized, not sounding as if he meant it. "To escort you here means we may not reach the Gap before the fighting is done. I am robbed of the chance to stand with the rest, and at the same time I am commanded not to ride one step beyond the borderpost, as if I had never before been in the Blight. And My Lord Agelmar will not tell me why." Behind the bars of his face-guard, his eyes turned the last word into a question to the Aes Sedai.
"Each of us has his part in the Pattern, Ingtar," Moiraine said firmly. "From here we must thread ours alone."
Ingtar's bow was stiffer than his armor made it, "As you wish it, Aes Sedai. I must leave you, now, and ride hard in order to reach Tarwin's Gap. At least I will be… allowed… to face Trollocs there."
He raised a gauntleted hand to Lan, open palm toward the warder. "Suravye ninto manshima taishite, Dai Shan. Peace favor your sword."
Pulling his horse around, Ingtar rode east with his bannerman and his hundred lances. They went at a walk, but a steady pace, as fast as armored horses could manage with a far distance yet to go.
"What a strange thing to say," Egwene said. "Why do they use it like that? Peace."
"When you have never known a thing except to dream," Lan replied, heeling Mandarb forward, "it becomes more than a talisman."
As Harry and the others followed the Warder past the stone borderpost, he turned in his saddle to look back, watching Ingtar and the lances disappear behind barren trees, and the borderpost vanish, and last of all the towers on their hilltops, looking over the trees. All too soon they were alone, riding north under the leafless canopy of the forest. Harry merely gave his wife a warm smile and sank into watchful silence, and for once even Mat had nothing to say.
For at least an hour after they passed the borderpost there was no change in land or forest. The Warder kept them at a hard pace, as fast a walk as the horses could maintain. The hills became a little higher, but the trees, and the creepers, and the underbrush were no different than what they had seen in Shienar, gray and all but leafless. He began to feel warmer, warm enough to sling his cloak across the pommel of his saddle.
"This is the best weather we've seen all year," Egwene said, shrugging out of her own cloak.
Daphne shook her head, frowning as if listening to the wind. "It feels wrong."
Harry nodded. He could feel it, too, though he could not say what it was exactly he was feeling, he would describe as… wrongness. The wrongness went beyond the first warmth he could remember out of doors this year; it was more than the simple fact that it should not be so warm this far north. It must be the Blight, but the land was the same. It was somewhat similar to his memories of the War of Power, but… worse. Granted, it had been three thousand years.
The sun climbed high, a reddish ball that could not give so much warmth despite the cloudless sky. A
little while later he unbuttoned his coat. Other than that, he gave no outward sign that the heat bothered him. Moiraine, Lan and Daphne were similarly unaffected. Harry glanced at Daphne and she nodded and they each cast a cooling charm on Mat, Thom and Egwene.
Mile by mile the corruption of the Blight became more apparent. Leaves covered the trees in ever greater profusion, but stained and spotted with yellow and black, with livid red streaks like blood poisoning. Every leaf and creeper seemed bloated, ready to burst at a touch. Flowers hung on trees and weeds in a parody of spring, sickly pale and pulpy, waxen things that appeared to be rotting while as they watched. The air tasted like a mouthful of spoiled meat. The horses' hooves made a soft squishing as rotten-ripe things broke open under them.
The heat did not abate as the bloody sun fell toward the horizon. In the distance to the north, mountains rose, higher than the Mountains of Mist, black against the sky. Sometimes an icy wind from the sharp peaks gusted far enough to reach them. The torrid humidity leached away most of the mountain chill, but what remained was winter-cold compared to the swelter it replaced, if just for a moment, and the thick heat returned harder than before by comparison. For the instant the wind surrounded them, it swept away the fetor, yet they would have done without that, too, if they could have. The cold was the chill of the grave, and it carried the dusty must of an old tomb newly opened.
"We cannot reach the mountains by nightfall," Lan said, "and it is dangerous to move at night, even for a Warder alone."
"There is a place not far off," Moiraine said. "It will be a good omen for us to camp there."
The Warder gave her a flat look, then nodded reluctantly. "Yes. We must camp somewhere. It might as well be there."
"The Eye of the World was beyond the high passes when I found it," Moiraine said. "Better to cross the Mountains of Dhoom in full daylight, at noon, when the Dark One's powers in this world are weakest."
"You talk as if the Eye isn't always in the same place," Egwene spoke to the Aes Sedai.
"No two have ever found it in exactly the same place. The Green Man seems to be found where he is needed. But it has always been beyond the high passes. They are treacherous, the high passes, and haunted by creatures of the Dark One."
"We must reach the passes before we need worry about them," Lan said. "Tomorrow we will be truly into the Blight."
Lan turned them westward, at an angle to the sinking sun. The Warder maintained the pace he had set before, but there was reluctance in the set of his shoulders.
The sun was a sullen red ball just touching the treetops when they crested a hill and the Warder drew rein. Beyond them to the west lay a network of lakes, the waters glittering darkly in the slanting sunlight, like beads of random size on a necklace of many strings. In the distance, circled by the lakes, stood jagged-topped hills, thick in the creeping shadows of evening. For one brief instant the sun's rays caught the shattered tops, and Rand's breath stilled. Not hills. The broken remnants of seven towers. He was not sure if anyone else had seen it; the sight was gone as quickly as it came. The Warder was dismounting, his face as lacking in emotion as a stone.
"Couldn't we camp down by the lakes?" Egwene asked, patting her face with her kerchief. "It must be cooler down by the water."
"Light," Mat said, "I'd just like to stick my head in one of them. I might never take it out."
Just then something roiled the waters of the nearest lake, the dark water phosphorescing as a huge body rolled beneath the surface. Length on man-thick length sent ripples spreading, rolling on and on until at last a tail rose, waving a point like a wasp's stinger for an instant in the twilight, at least five spans into the air. All along that length fat tentacles writhed like monstrous worms, as many as a centipede's legs. It slid slowly beneath the surface and was gone, only the fading ripples to say it had ever been.
"On second thought," Mat said faintly, "I like it right here just fine."
"I will set guarding wards around this hill," Moiraine said. She had already dismounted from Aldieb. "A true barrier would draw the attention we do not want like flies to honey, but if any creation of the Dark One or anything that serves the Shadow comes within a mile of us, I will know."
"I'd be happier with the barrier," Mat said as his boots touched the ground, "just as long as it kept that, that… thing on the other side."
"Oh, do be quiet, Mat," Egwene said curtly, at the same time as Daphne spoke. "And have them waiting for us when we leave in the morning? You are a fool, Matrim Cauthon." Mat glowered at the two women as they climbed down, but he kept his mouth shut.
Harry, Galad and Mat helped Lan to unsaddle, hobble and feed the horses. Then Harry studied the wards that Moiraine had laid and carefully laid a few magical wards that increased the likelihood they would remain unnoticed, a notice-me-not ward and a harmful intent ward along with a wide area silence dome to keep sounds in but allow sounds from outside to enter, he'd come up with that ward during his long campaign against Voldemort. He looked over and locked eyes with Daphne and she gave him an approving smile. He grinned back and then joined the group for some food. Eventually, they all settled in for an uneasy night's rest.
The sun woke them the next morning. Harry and Daphne quickly cleaned up with the subtle application of some cleansing spells for body and teeth and the group ate in silence. The seven towers stood plain in the morning light, distant broken stumps, like huge, rough hills that merely hinted at grandeur gone. The hundred lakes were a smooth, unruffled blue. Nothing broke the surface this morning. When he looked at the lakes and the ruined towers, he could almost ignore the sickly things growing around the hill.
After the wicker panniers were fastened on the packhorse, after every scrap and smudge and track were gone and everyone else was mounted, the Aes Sedai stood in the middle of the hilltop with her eyes closed, not even seeming to breathe. Daphne and Egwene shivered despite the heat and rubbed their arms briskly and both watched intently. Egwene's hands suddenly froze on her arms, and she opened her mouth, staring at Daphne. Before she could speak, Daphne also ceased her rubbing and gave her a sharp look. The two women looked at one another, then Egwene nodded and grinned, and after a moment Daphne did, too. They could now sense when other women channeled the power. Harry exchanged a glance with Galad, both of them nodded just a fraction indicating that they too could feel that a woman was channeling nearby.
"What are we waiting for?" Mat demanded the low band of a scarf across his forehead. He had his bow across the pommel of his saddle with an arrow nocked, and his quiver pulled around on his belt for an easy reach.
Moiraine opened her eyes and started down the hill, "For me to remove the last vestige of what I did here last night. The residues would have dissipated on their own within a day, but I will not take any risk I can avoid now. We are too close, and the Shadow is too strong here. Lan?"
The Warder only waited for her to settle in Aldieb's saddle before he led them north, toward the Mountains of Dhoom, looming in the near distance. Even under the sunrise the peaks rose black and lifeless, like jagged teeth. In a wall they stretched, east and west as far as the eye could see.
"Will we reach the Eye today, Moiraine Sedai?" Egwene asked.
As the mountains drew closer, so did the true Blight. Where a leaf had been spotted black and mottled yellow before, now foliage fell wetly while they watched, breaking apart from the weight of its own corruption. The trees themselves were tortured, crippled things, twisted branches clawing at the sky as if begging mercy from some power that refused to hear. Ooze slid like pus from bark cracked and split. As if nothing truly solid was left to them, the trees seemed to tremble from the passage of the horses over the ground.
"Look as if they want to grab us," Mat said nervously.
"And some of them do want it," the Aes Sedai said. Her eyes over her shoulder were harder than Lan's for an instant. "But they want no part of what I am, and my presence protects you."
Mat laughed uneasily, as if he thought it a joke on her part.
"Keep moving," Lan commanded, drawing his sword. The Warder wore steel-backed gauntlets now, and his gray-green scale tunic. "Stay with Moiraine Sedai." He pulled Mandarb around, not toward the tree and its prey, but in the other direction. With his color-shifting cloak, he was swallowed by the Blight before the black stallion was out of sight.
"Close," Moiraine urged. She did not slow her white mare, but she motioned the others to huddle nearer to her, "Stay as close as you can."
A roar sprang up from the direction the Warder had gone. It beat at the air, and the trees quivered from it, and when it faded away, it seemed to echo still. Again the roar came, filled with rage and death.
From out of the trees the Warder appeared, holding his sword well clear of himself and his mount. Black blood stained the blade, and steam rose from it. Carefully, Lan wiped the blade clean with a cloth he took from his saddlebags, examining the steel to make sure he had gotten every spot. When he dropped the cloth, it fell apart before it reached the ground, even the fragments dissolving.
Silently a massive body leaped out of the trees at them. The Warder spun Mandarb, but even as the warhorse reared, ready to strike with steelshod hooves, Mat's arrow flashed, piercing the one eye in a head that seemed mostly mouth and teeth. Kicking and screaming, the thing fell, one bound short of them.
"Good shooting, sheepherder." Lan's eyes had already forgotten what was dying behind them, and were searching the forest.
Moiraine shook her head. "It should not have been willing to come so close to one who touches the True Source."
"Agelmar said the Blight stirs," Lan said. "Perhaps the Blight also knows a Web is forming in the Pattern."
"Hurry," Moiraine dug her heels into Aldieb's flanks. "We must get over the high passes quickly."
But even as she spoke the Blight rose against them. Trees whipped in, reaching for them, not caring if Moiraine touched the True Source or not. Reacting on instinct, Harry stood in his stirrups and again his eyes glowed with power as a clear barrier enclosed the group and storm of lightning bolts crashed around them, destroying everything within 500 yards and clearing a path 40 yards wide ahead. The group watched in shock as the blight hurled itself against the barrier and died by lightning, fire and earthquake. When the battle died down a few moments later, the land around them was churned and ruptured and everything was covered in the putrid remains of the many creatures and plants that had tried to assault them. With a flick of his hands, Harry burned a path ahead, vaporizing the remains and smoothing the ground. Then, he lowered his hands and sat again, his eyes dimming to their normal gray/blue. He surveyed the group, "Ride, now!" Needing no further urging, the group raced on.
The Blight flowed past, weeds and grasses splashing rotten under galloping hooves. Trees of the kinds that had earlier attacked did not so much as twitch even when they rode directly under the twisted branches. The Mountains of Dhoom filled the sky ahead, black and bleak, and almost near enough to touch, it seemed. There were squishing sounds behind them, louder than the things crushed under hooves. Too loud, as if half-decayed trees were being crushed by huge bodies slithering over them. Then suddenly, between one slope of a hill and the next, between crest and peak, the Blight was gone.
Green leaves covered peacefully spreading branches. Wildflowers made a carpet of bright patches in grasses stirred by a sweet spring breeze. Butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, with buzzing bees, and birds trilled their songs. In shock, the group halted abruptly.
"We have reached safety," Moiraine said. "This is the Green Man's place, and the Eye of the World is here. Nothing of the Blight can enter here."
"I thought it was on the other side of the mountains," Mat mumbled. He could still see the peaks filling the northern horizon, and the high passes. "You said it was always beyond the passes."
"This place," said a deep voice from the trees, "is always where it is. All that changes is where those who need it are."
A figure stepped out of the foliage, a man-shape of woven vines and leaves, green and growing. His hair was grass, flowing to his shoulders; his eyes, huge hazelnuts; his fingernails, acorns. Green leaves made his tunic and trousers; seamless bark, his boots. Butterflies swirled around him, lighting on his fingers, his shoulders, his face. Only one thing spoiled the verdant perfection. A deep fissure ran up his cheek and temple across the top of his head, and in that the vines were brown and withered. Harry instantly recognized him, he was a Nym… a race of sentient plant beings that had lived peacefully alongside humans and Ogier during Lews Therin's time.
"The Green Man," Egwene whispered, and the scarred face smiled. For a moment it seemed as if the birds sang louder.
"Of course I am. Who else would be here?" The hazelnut eyes regarded them. "It is good to see you. In the past, many came to visit me, but few of recent days."
Suddenly the Green Man spoke to Harry. "Strange clothes you wear, Child of the Dragon. Has the Wheel turned so far? Do the People of the Dragon return to the First Covenant? But you wear a sword. That is neither now nor then."
"The Wheel weaves as it wills my friend. I am glad that something of your people survived the War of Power. Perhaps we knew each other, I was once known as Lews Therin Telamon…"
The Nym frowned, "The Dragon… then, if you are reborn, then the current cycle is nearing its end. As you say young Dragon, the Wheel weaves as it wills. You are all welcome here, though I must say that it is a surprise to see you again Moiraine Sedai. This place was designed so that no one could find it twice." He studied her, "What brings you here again?"
"Need," Moiraine replied. "My need, the world's need. Most of all is the world's need. We have come to see the Eye of the World."
The Green Man sighed, the wind sighing through thick-leafed branches. "Then it truly has come again. That memory remains whole. The Dark One stirs, the Dragon Reborn stands here before me. I have feared it. Every turning of years, the Blight strives harder to come inside, and this turn the struggle to keep it out has been greater than ever since the beginning. Come, I will take you."
Into the heart of the spring forest the Green Man took them, to an arched opening in the side of a hill. It was a simple stone arch, tall and white, and on the keystone was a circle halved by a sinuous line, one half rough, the other smooth. The ancient symbol of Aes Sedai. The opening itself was shadowed.
"It's in there?" Daphne asked. "What we've come for?"
"I'd really like to see the Tree of Life," Mat said, not taking his eyes off the halved circle above them. "We can wait that long, can't we?"
The Green Man gave Harry an odd look, then shook his head. "Avendesora is not here. I have not rested beneath its ungentle branches in two thousand years."
"The Tree of Life is not why we came," Moiraine said firmly. She gestured to the arch. "What is in there, is."
"I will not go in with you," the Green Man said. The butterflies around him swirled as if they shared some agitation. "I was set to guard it long, long ago, but it makes me uneasy to come too close. I feel myself being unmade; my end is linked with it, somehow. I remember the making of it. Some of the making… Some." His hazelnut eyes stared, lost in memory, and he fingered his scar. "It was the first days of the Breaking of the World, when the joy of victory over the Dark One turned bitter with the knowledge that all might yet be shattered by the weight of the Shadow. A hundred of them made it, men and women together. The greatest Aes Sedai works were always done so, joining saidin and saidar, as the True Source is joined. They died, all, to make it pure, while the world was torn around them. Knowing they would die, they charged me to guard it against the need to come. It was not what I was made for, but all was breaking apart, and they were alone, and I was all they had. It was not what I was made for, but I have kept the faith." He looked down at Moiraine, nodding to himself. "I have kept faith, until it was needed. And now it ends."
"You have kept the faith better than most of us who gave you the charge," the Aes Sedai said. "Perhaps it will not come as badly as you fear."
The scarred, leafy head shook slowly from side to side. "I know an ending when it comes, Aes Sedai. I will find another place to make things grow." Nut brown eyes swept sadly over the green forest, "Another place, perhaps. When you come out, I will see you again, if there is time." With that he strode away, trailing butterflies, becoming one with the forest more completely than Lan's cloak ever could.
"What did he mean?" Mat demanded, "If there's time?"
"Come," Moiraine said. And she stepped through the arch. Lan went at her heels.
Inside the archway was a corridor, its polished walls rounded overhead like the arch, winding gently downward. There was headroom enough for the Green Man. The smooth floor, slick to the eye like oiled slate, yet somehow it gave a sure footing. Seamless, white walls glittered with uncounted flecks in untold colors, giving a low, soft light even after the sunlit archway vanished around a curve behind. It was all clearly the work of his brother and sister Aes Sedai… he felt a moment of guilt, it was his own plan that had led to this… then again, it was the women and their unwillingness to help that had doomed him and the Hundred Companions and eventually all male channelers to madness and death. There was blame enough to go around. His senses told him that there was a source of immense power nearby, like a super massive Well of a sort he had never encountered. Down they went, and down.
"There," Moiraine said at last, pointing. "Ahead."
And the corridor opened into a vast, domed space, the rough, living rock of its ceiling dotted with clumps of glowing crystals. Below it, a pool took up the entire cavern, except for the walkway around it, perhaps five paces wide. In the oval shape of an eye, the pool was lined about its rim with a low, flat edging of crystals that glowed with a duller, yet fiercer, light than those above. Its surface was as smooth as glass and as clear as the Winespring Water. Harry knew that this was the power source he had sensed previously, a massive Well filled with pure saidin. After studying it for a while, they all went back outside to plan.
Then a voice sounded, "I have found you at last."
But the two men who walked out of the trees, faces hidden by their cowls, did not wear cloaks the color of dried blood. One cloak was a dark gray, the other almost as dark a green, and they seemed musty even in the open air. And they were men not Fades; the breeze stirred their cloaks.
Hands pushed back hoods, the old man was older than old; the skin of his face was like crazed parchment drawn tight over a skull, then pulled tighter still. Wispy tufts of brittle hair stood at odd places on his scabrous scalp. His ears were withered bits like scraps of ancient leather; his eyes sunken, peering out of his head as if from the ends of tunnels. Yet the other was worse. A tight, black leather carapace covered that one's head and face completely, but the front of it was worked into a perfect face, a young man's face, laughing wildly, laughing insanely, frozen forever.
Harry jerked as if a rope had tightened around his neck. The words, the voice… He turned, "Aginor," he growled.
"Yes, I am called Aginor," the old one said. "And he is Balthamel, though he no longer speaks with his tongue. The Wheel grinds exceedingly fine over three thousand years imprisoned." His sunken eyes slid to the arch; Balthamel leaned forward, his mask's eyes on the white stone opening, as if he wanted to go straight in. "So long without," Aginor said softly. "So long."
"The Forsaken," Mat said hoarsely, "are bound in Shayol Ghul-"
"Were bound," Aginor smiled; his yellowed teeth had the look of fangs. "Some of us are bound no longer. The seals weaken, Aes Sedai. Like Ishamael, we walk the world again, and soon the rest of us will come. I was too close to this world in my captivity, I and Balthamel, too close to the grinding of the Wheel, but soon the Great Lord of the Dark will be free, and give us new flesh, and the world will be ours once more. You will have no Lews Therin Kinslayer, this time. No Lord of the Morning to save you. We know the one we seek now, and there is no more need for the rest of you."
Harry's face settled into grim determination and he seized saidin and rapidly channeled a series of flows cutting the two monsters before them off from the source and his hands came up, instinctively and bars of liquid white fire shot forward connecting with the two causing their images to shift and reverse before they vanished completely.
Everyone turned to gape at him in shock. He answered grimly, "no mercy for the Forsaken."
Then, his eyes blazing with blue fire, he stretched out and connected with the Eye, he could feel the massive store of power and it sang through him. Then, instinctively he knew he was needed elsewhere and with a thought he was gone.
Harry was no longer on the hilltop. He felt the rocks under his boots, the icy breeze on his face. Battle surrounded him, or rather… the tail end of battle. Armored men on armored horses, shining steel dusty and blood stained now, slashed and stabbed at snarling Trollocs wielding spiked axes and scythe-like swords.
Some men fought afoot, their horses down, and barded horses galloped through the fight with empty saddles. Fades moved among them all, night-black cloaks hanging still however their dark mounts galloped, and wherever their light-eating swords swung, men died. Sound beat at Harry, beat at him and bounced from the aura of power emanating from him. The clash of steel against steel, the panting and grunting of men and Trollocs striving, the screams of men and Trollocs dying. Over the din, banners waved in dust-filled air. The Black Hawk of Fal Dara, the White Hart of Shienar, others. And Trolloc banners. In just the little space around him he saw the horned skull of the Dha'vol, the blood-red trident of the Ko'bal, the iron fist of the Dhai'mon.
Yet it was indeed the tail end of battle, a pausing, as humans and Trollocs alike fell back to regroup. None seemed to notice Harry as they dealt a few last strokes and broke away, galloping, or running in a stagger, to the ends of the pass.
Harry found himself facing the end of the pass where the humans were re-forming, pennants stirring beneath gleaming lancepoints. Wounded men wavered in their saddles. Riderless horses reared and galloped. Plainly they could not stand another meeting, yet just as plainly they were readying themselves for one last, desperate charge. Some of them saw him now; men stood in their stirrups to point at him. Their shouts came to him as tiny piping.
He turned, the forces of the Dark One filled the other end of the pass, bristling black pikes and spearpoints swelling up onto mountain slopes made blacker still by the great mass of Trollocs that dwarfed the army of Shienar. Fades in hundreds rode across the front of the horde, the fierce, muzzled faces of Trollocs turning away in fear as they passed, huge bodies pulling back to make way. Overhead, Draghkar wheeled on leathery pinions, shrieks challenging the wind. Halfmen saw him now, too, pointed, and Draghkar spun and dove. Two. Three. Six of them, crying shrilly as they plummeted toward him. He could see the Draghkar clearly, soulless eyes in pale men's faces on winged bodies that had nothing of humanity about them. He gestured, almost nonchalantly. From the clear sky lightning came, each bolt crisp and sharp, each bolt striking a winged black shape. Hunting cries became shrieks of death, and charred forms fell to leave the sky clean again. Seeing the Dark One's horde preparing to charge, to slaughter the survivors on the human side, he felt anger.
"No!" he shouted. Suddenly flames sprang from the ground between the two armies. The wind rose with his voice, howled with his voice, roared with his voice down the pass, whipping the flames to a wall of fire that sped away from him and toward the Trolloc host faster than a horse could run. Fire burned into the Trollocs, and the mountains trembled with their screams, screams almost as loud as the wind and his voice.
"This battle ends now!"
He pointed at the ground with his fist, and the earth tolled like a gong. Ripples ran through the ground ahead of him in ever-rising waves, waves of dirt and rock towering over Trollocs and Fades, breaking over them as the mountains shattered under their hooved feet. A boiling mass of flesh and rubble churned across the Trolloc army. What was left standing was still a mighty host, but now numbered no more than twice the human army, and they were milling about in fright and confusion, the Fades having to work very hard to restore some semblance of order to their surviving army.
The wind and flames died. The screams died. The earth was again still. Dust and smoke swirled back down the pass to surround him.
Through the fog of battle, as from the far end of the earth, came a cry. "The Light wills it!" The ground rumbled with the thunder of hooves as the forces of humankind launched their last charge.
The haze surrounding him parted, leaving a dome of clear, clean air ten spans high, walled by billowing smoke and dust. Steps rose before him, each standing alone and unsupported, stretching up into the murk that obscured the sun. He ignored the shaking ground as a petty thing beneath concern and mounted the first step. Willing it forward, the step began to move, rapidly propelling toward his destination, and the battle that awaited him there, the battle that would decide the fate of humanity in the short term.
Darkness surrounded him, the utter blackness of total nothing. The steps were still there, hanging in the black, under his feet and ahead. He ignored it, calm and focused in the void he continued to draw on the massive Well known as the Eye of the World, its power filling him, it was so… pure, it felt like how he remembered it from before the strike at Shayol Ghul that tainted saidin. Suddenly a door stood before him, its surface rough and splintered and old. He touched it, and it burst to fragments. While they still fell, he stepped through. The chamber he stepped into was the one from his encounter with Ishamael in the World of Dreams, the mad, striated sky beyond the balcony, the melted walls, the polished table, the terrible fireplace with its roaring, heatless flames. Some of those faces that made the fireplace, writhing in torment, shrieking in silence, tugged at his memory as if he knew them, but he ignored it firming his Occlumency barriers and firming himself in the Oneness, he floated within himself in emptiness. He was ready.
Then, as he expected, his old friend turned nemesis was behind him. Not turning Harry smiled, "hello again Elan."
"Hello Lews Therin," Ishamael said from in front of the fireplace, "I had thought Aginor's greed would overcome him. But then, he was always a fool. "
Harry turned, his eyes still blazing like blue suns. He could clearly see his old enemy's connection to the Dark One, a massively thick cable of blackness that seemed to draw in all the light around it with each pulse. Studying the man he had once called friend for moment, he smiled, "I am sorry Elan… I forgive you."
Suddenly a blazing blue sword of power appeared in Harry's hand, a dark blue heron glowing on the hilt and descended on the black cable, severing it cleanly. Ishamael screamed as the sword fell, screamed till the stone walls trembled, and the endless howl redoubled as the blade of Light severed the cord. The cut ends rebounded apart as if they had been under tension. The end stretching into the nothingness outside began to shrivel as it sprang away; the other whipped back into Ishamael, hurling him against the fireplace. There was silent laughter in the soundless shrieks of the tortured faces. The walls shivered and cracked; the floor heaved, and chunks of stone crashed to the floor from the ceiling. Harry raised his hands and a wall of fame sprang into existence and shot forward even as the wounded Forsaken desperately tried to shield himself. The flames crashed through the weak shield and Harry saw it connect with his old enemy. Wasting no time he brought his hand up, a bar of balefire lanced out, but he was a heartbeat too late as his nemesis vanished just before the bar of liquid white fire struck. Harry sighed, and ceased the balefire and let the flames die. At the very least, Ishamael was now badly wounded and would need time to recover. Turning, he wove a gateway and stepped back into the real world not far from the Eye. As he released it, he felt the last of the power in the Well flow through him and knew the Eye was no more. But, it had served its purpose. He set off, instinctively knowing where his companions were. He soon entered the Green Man's refuge and shortly stood before the archway again. There, his friends stood, Galad carefully holding a gold and silver cube that Harry easily recognized.
The flattened cube of gold and silver appeared to be solid, but Moiraine's fingers felt across the intricate work, pressing, and with a sudden click a top flung back as if on springs. A curled, gold horn nestled within. Despite its gleam, it seemed plain beside the chest that held it. The only markings were a line of silver script inlaid around the mouth of the bell. Moiraine lifted the horn out as if lifting a babe. "Tia mi aven Moridin isainde vadin," she whispered. "The grave is no bar to my call." She paused, then almost reverently, she laid it back in the chest. "This must be carried to Illian," she said softly.
"The Horn of Valere," Lan said and for once the Warder appeared truly shaken; there was a touch of awe in his voice.
At the same time Galad said in a shaky voice, "To call the heroes of the Ages back from the dead to fight the Dark One."
"Burn me!" Mat breathed.
Harry decided to make his presence known, "Not just yet my friend. I am relieved to see you are all well."
They reacted in varying ways; Lan had spun sword half-drawn, face displaying a hint of surprise that he had not sensed Harry's approach, the equivalent of blatant slack-jawed shock on anyone else. Moiraine merely arched an eyebrow. Thom gave him a smile and nod and Egwene and Daphne rushed over to him, Egwene gave him a hug and then he was pulled into a soul-searing kiss that required several moments for his brain to come back online from Daphne.
Moiraine finally spoke, "And we are pleased to see you as well Rand. What happened?"
Harry smiled at his friends, "I was able to help Sheinar win the Battle at Tarwin's Gap… then I faced Ishamael. The battle was short and he lost, but he managed to escape. He will need time to heal, time we will need to use wisely."
Moiraine nodded and held up the pieces of a small disc made of cuendillar.
Harry nodded, his face grim, "The seals are breaking, The Last battle will be upon us soon. We have a few years at most. Was there anything else?"
Mat and Thom took a bundle of white cloth and unfolded it between them. A long, white banner spread out, lifting on the air. Harry smiled, 'hello old friend' he thought.
The whole thing seemed of a piece, neither woven, nor dyed, nor painted. A figure like a serpent, scaled in scarlet and gold, ran the entire length, but it had scaled legs, and feet with five long, golden claws on each, and a great head with a golden mane and eyes like the sun. The stirring of the banner made it seem to move, scales glittering like precious metals and gems, alive, and he could almost hear it roar its defiance.
"What is it?" Galad asked.
Harry smiled again and answered, "The banner of the Lord of the Morning when he led the forces of Light against the Shadow. The banner of Lews Therin Telamon… the banner of the Dragon," Thom almost dropped his end.
"Burn me!" Mat said faintly.
Moiraine stepped forward, the Aes Sedai studied each of them in turn for a moment. "We have done what we came here to do. We will eat, then you should all get some sleep, my friends. Sleep, you have all earned it."
The next morning, the group had gathered their belongings and were preparing to depart to return to Fal Dara to rest before beginning their trek to Illian. The Green Man stood with them.
Harry smiled at the ancient Nym, "I am glad you survived this my friend. You have fulfilled your purpose here, take this place and find where you were meant to be… I have a feeling we will see each other again."
The Nym bowed, "Thank you my friend. I look forward to our next meeting."
They rode out in a single file, Lan leading with Mat behind the Warder where he could use his bow to effect if needed, and Galad bringing up the rear with his sword across the pommel of his saddle. They crested a hill, and in an eye blink the Blight was all around them, twisted and rotted in virulent rainbow hues. Harry looked over his shoulder, but the Green Man's garden was nowhere to be seen, only the Blight stretching behind them as before. Yet he could still sense it, though it was growing more distant as the Green Man and his refuge headed on to where they were needed next.
Then there was only the Blight.
Harry half expected they would have to fight their way out as they had fought their way in, but the Blight was as quiet and still as death. Not a single branch trembled as if to lash at them, nothing screamed or howled, neither nearby nor in the distance. The Blight seemed to crouch, not to pounce, but as if it had been struck a great blow and waited for the next to fall. Even the sun was less red.
When they passed the necklace of lakes, the sun hung not far past its zenith. Lan kept them well away from the lakes and did not even look at them, but Harry thought the seven towers seemed taller than when he first saw them. He was sure the jagged tops were further from the ground, and above them something almost seen, seamless towers gleaming in the sun, and banners with Golden Cranes flying on the wind. He blinked and stared, but the towers refused to vanish completely. They were there at the edge of vision until the Blight hid the lakes once more.
Before sunset the Warder chose a campsite, and Moiraine had Daphne and Egwene help her to set the wards. The Aes Sedai whispered in the other women's ears before she began. When Moiraine closed her eyes, all three women did so together. They were linked he thought and was pleased to see that Moiraine seemed to be making a genuine effort to train his friend and his wife.
But the next morning, while nothing changed visibly, again Harry could feel the changes, the Blight was definitely weaker. The Blight faded as they rode south, of course. Twisted trees were replaced by straight. The stifling heat diminished. Rotting foliage gave way to the merely diseased. And then not diseased, he could feel the resurgence of life all around them. The forest around them became red with new growth, thick on the branches. Buds sprouted on the undergrowth, creepers covered the rocks with green, and new wildflowers dotted the grass as thick and bright as where the Green Man walked. It was as if spring, so long held back by winter, now raced to catch up to where it should be.
He was not the only one who stared. "A mighty blow," Moiraine murmured, and would say no more. The group rode on, eventually reaching the border.
Climbing wildrose entwined the stone column marking the Border. Men came out of the watchtowers to greet them. There was a stunned quality to their laughter, and their eyes shone with amazement, as if they could not believe the new grass under their steel-clad feet. Voices shouted out in jubilation.
"The Light has conquered the Shadow!"
"A great victory in Tarwin's Gap! We have had the message! Victory!"
"The Light blesses us again!"
"King Easar is strong in the Light," Lan replied to all their shouts.
They rode on, the soldiers laughter following them. In the late afternoon they reached Fal Dara, to find the grim-walled city ringing with celebration. Ringing in truth, Harry doubted if there could be a bell in the city not clanging, from the tiniest silver harness chime to great bronze gongs in their tower tops. The gates stood wide open, and men ran laughing and singing in the streets, flowers stuck in their topknots and the crevices of their armor. The common people of the town had not yet returned from Fal Moran, but the soldiers were newly come from Tarwin's Gap, and their joy was enough to fill the streets.
"Victory in the Gap! We won!"
"A miracle in the Gap! The Age of Legends has come back!"
"Spring!" a grizzled old soldier laughed as he hung a garland of morningstars around Harry's neck. His own topknot was a white cluster of them. "The Light blesses us with spring once more!"
Learning they wanted to go to the keep, a circle of men clad in steel and flowers surrounded them, running to clear a way through the celebration.
Ingtar's was the first face Harry saw that was not smiling. "I was too late," Ingtar told Lan with a sour grimness, "Too late by an hour to see. Peace!" His teeth ground audibly, but then his expression became contrite. "Forgive me. Grief makes me forget my duties. Welcome to you all. It is good to see you safely out of the Blight. I will inform Lord Agelmar-"
"Take me to Lord Agelmar," Moiraine commanded. "Take us all." Ingtar opened his mouth to protest, and then bowed under the force of her eyes.
Agelmar was in his study, with his swords and armor back on their racks, and his was the second face that did not smile. "Peace!" the Lord of Fal Dara muttered when he the group being led in. "Are you injured, Moiraine Sedai? Ingtar, why have you not seen the Aes Sedai and her companions to their chambers and brought the healer to see to them?"
"Be still, Lord Agelmar," Moiraine said. "We are uninjured and Ingtar has done as I commanded him." She paused and looked around the room before her eyes again settled on Agelmar. "I would speak with you, Lord Agelmar."
Agelmar nodded, and Ingtar waved the servants from the room. The Lord of Fal Dara eyed those who remained expectantly; especially, Harry thought, Galad and the golden chest.
"We hear," Moiraine said as soon as the door shut behind Ingtar, "that you won a great victory in Tarwin's Gap."
"Yes," Agelmar said slowly, his troubled frown returning. "Yes, Aes Sedai, and no. The Halfmen and their Trollocs were destroyed to the last, but we barely fought. A miracle, my men call it. The earth swallowed them; the mountains buried them. Only a few Draghkar were left, too frightened to do else but fly north as fast as they could."
"A miracle indeed," Moiraine said. "And spring has come again."
"A miracle," Agelmar said, shaking his head, "but . . . Moiraine Sedai, the men say many things about what happened in the Gap. That the Light took on flesh and fought for us. That the Creator walked in the Gap to strike at the Shadow… but I saw a man, Moiraine Sedai. I saw a man, and what he did, cannot be… must not be."
"The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, Lord of Fal Dara."
"As you say, Moiraine Sedai," he replied. "Peace, Moiraine Sedai, what of you, in the Blight? You found the Green Man? I see his hand in the new things growing."
"We found him," she said flatly. "The Green Man is well, but he is no longer to be found in the Blight, Lord Agelmar, for the Eye of the World is gone. There will be no more quests by young men seeking glory."
The Lord of Fal Dara frowned, shaking his head in confusion. "Gone? The Green Man? He cannot
be . . . Then you were defeated? But the flowers, and the growing things?"
"We won, Lord Agelmar. We won, and the land freed from winter is the proof. And the Green Man still lives, he has merely moved on to where he is needed next. But I fear the last battle has not yet been fought," Harry nodded, but neither noticed. "The Blight still stands, and the forges of Thakan'dar still work below Shayol Ghul. There are many Halfmen yet, and countless Trollocs. Never think the need for watchfulness in the Borderlands is gone."
"I did not think it so, Aes Sedai," he said stiffly.
Moiraine motioned for Galad to set the gold chest at her feet, and when he did, she opened it, revealing the horn. "The Horn of Valere," she said, and Agelmar gasped. Harry almost thought the man would kneel.
"With that, Moiraine Sedai, it matters not how many Halfmen or Trollocs remain. With the heroes of old come back from the tomb, we will march to the Blasted Lands and level Shayol Ghul."
"NO!" Agelmar's mouth fell open in surprise, but Moiraine continued calmly. "I did not show it to you to taunt you, but so that you will know that in whatever battles yet come, our might will be as great as that of the Shadow. Its place is not here. The Horn must be carried to Illian. It is there, if fresh battles threaten, that it must rally the forces of the Light. I must ask for an escort of your best men to see that it reaches Illian safely. There are Darkfriends still, as well as Halfmen and Trollocs, and those who come to the horn will follow whoever winds it. It must reach Illian safely."
"It shall be as you say, Aes Sedai." But when the lid of the chest closed, the Lord of Fal Dara looked like a man being denied his last glimpse of the Light.
At that point, Harry stepped forward he looked at Lan briefly who nodded and then shifted to Moiraine who also nodded. It was time to begin. "Lord Agelmar, there is something you should know." As Harry began speaking, telling of who he was, the battle in the gap and against Ishamael and the other Forsaken, he carefully watched the man before him, noted the occasionally glances at the Warder and Aes Sedai for confirmation. As he finished his tale, Lord Agelmar stood silent, studying Harry, his gaze weighing him. "So, as you now know Lord Agelmar… what you saw in the gap was indeed a man… it was me. I am the true Dragon Reborn. The Shadow has fallen across the land and the Last Battle is nearly upon us. I need your help sir."
Agelmar turned toward the Aes Sedai, "Is this true, Moiraine Sedai?"
"It is Lord Agelmar, the Prophecies will be fulfilled," the Aes Sedai whispered. "The Dragon is Reborn."
Agelmar nodded and dropped to one knee, "Then by the Light and my hope of salvation and rebirth, I swear to aid the Dragon Reborn in any way possible to ensure the victory of the Light at the Last Battle…" the room shifted slightly as they all felt a change, this event had altered the flow of the weave. But would it be for the better?
The End of the First Book of the Wheel of Time:
Harry Potter and the Eye of the World