Thom watched each of the attendees carefully. Each crowd was different. They all wanted different things, whether they knew it or not, expected different things from a story or a party trick. Even after decades of storytelling, he would be willing to bet that he'd never told the same story exactly the same way twice, from Hawkwing's conquests to the tales of the Breaking.
Of course, this crowd was different from any other he'd ever been in front of. For one thing, he wasn't really in front of it. He was just as much a part of it as young Mat or Perrin were. How would that affect how the story was told? More camaraderie, of course; these were his brothers in mourning the boy. More reverence? They were here as much to honour Rand as the Dragon as they were to honour him as a man. The Arafellin had probably never used Rand's name with him in the entirety of their time together. Mat and Perrin were different, of course, not to mention Tam... but reverence might do it, too.
He shook his head. This was no ballroom full of nobility with air in their heads. These were men, real and true, and veterans, too; every one of them. He had no place turning such a solemn memorial of Rand's life into a show.
That meant telling it in Common Chant.
He took a deep breath. "He was a good man," he said. "Probably a better man than he was a ruler, but he wasn't bad at that, either." He laughed. "Not too bad, at least. The Tairens might disagree with me on the quality of his rule."
Narishma cocked an eyebrow. He was grinning. Thom knew that Rand had been smart to pick that one.
"And that's the crux of it. He was a good man. Solid, dependable, like a steel bar. And just as inflexible." He smiled wistfully. "And Light, he was only, what, twenty-one?"
Tam nodded. "Only twenty-one."
"The poor fool," Thom said. "He didn't deserve what he got. When I met him, he was just another damn farm boy, out in the world for the first time. I remember the look on his face when he saw Baerlon, for Light's sake. I could barely stretch my arms out in a city that small, and he was looking at it like it was Tar Valon.
"The earliest real memory I have of him was after we all got separated at Shadar Logoth," Thom said.
"Shadar Logoth?" Narishma said, deep brown eyes wide as saucers. "You took him to Shadar Logoth?"
Lan snorted. "The gleeman didn't take us into Aridhol," he said. "His Light-forsaken wife did."
Thom laughed. "Careful," he said. "She's got better ears than a bat. Even I don't know how far away she could hear us talking, but I have no doubt she's listening in."
"If I was afraid of what Moiraine would do to me," Lan said. "I would have stopped talking altogether years ago."
Mat looked at the Warder carefully. "You gave me my medallion back, right?"
"You know it only counts as daring when you stand up to an Aes Sedai if they can wrap you up in weaves of Air, right?" Perrin said.
Mat frowned. "That's a lie. Their words are scarier than their weaves."
Thom laughed. "Mat, that was very nearly witty. Keep at it and some day you might charm a woman instead of having to wrap one up in a carpet and smuggle her out of a palace."
"That's not how it happened!"
"All right, boy. Now as I was saying, my first memory with Rand wasn't long after we'd caught up after Shadar Logoth, just before Whitebridge. I'd spent half the day trying to teach the two of you how to play anything more than the simplest notes, Mat, and you'd progressed to the point that you no longer sounded like a duck falling off a galloping horse. You weren't quite at the point of actual music yet, though, so I'm not sure I can really give you any credit." Mat frowned, and Perrin slapped him on the shoulder. "I'd finally given up on the two of you and went off to the room to get some sleep while the two of you tried your best to charm those two girls."
Mat boggled. "That never happened!"
"All right," Thom said, shrugging. "You're right, it didn't. That girl, Lirnin, definitely didn't reject you like an unripe melon and she most certainly didn't throw her drink in your face when you tried to pinch her bottom."
"None of that happened!" Mat said, apparently choosing to focus his protests solely on Perrin. "That never happened!" He was blushing, then, red as an Aielman's head.
"I lay in bed for a while, listening to the bustle of the inn below me. I heard it quiet down steadily, and at some point, you stumbled in, clothes half-off and smelling of ale..."
"I was not!"
"Pick your battles, Matrim," Tam said with a small smile on his face.
"You fell into bed and started snoring so loud it kept me up. After a few minutes, I got up out of my bed and went to get my flute. I quickly found it wasn't there, and I began to worry. Had someone stolen it? It was worth a fair bit. Light, it had been a gift from Morgase. No doubt worth a hefty price in any market I've ever been to, all fine silver.
"I stepped downstairs to look for a thief, and instead found a giant of a boy fumbling with it alone in the corner. The inn had cleared out by that point entirely, and he was sitting in almost total darkness, save for the light of the full moon." In truth, it had been a crescent moon, and he'd had a lantern, but that didn't quite paint the same picture, and what was the harm?
"'Rand?' I said quietly. He looked up so fast and locked his eyes on me like a spooked stag.
"'I'm sorry,' he muttered. 'I was just trying to see if I could play something I heard Egwene's father sing once, and I-' I had to stop him there. He had gone completely red, clearly terrified I'd caught him. Light, he was still just a boy, new to the world."
"So much can change in only a few years," Tam said with a strange look in his eye.
Thom winced. He had heard about the reception Rand had given him when they'd met again in the Stone. That left a mark in a man's heart, even if Rand had more than made up for it later.
He coughed. "Yes," he said simply. "Yes, it can. The poor boy was so frightened I thought he might have spoiled his pants." Mat laughed, but quieted as soon as he realized he was the only one who had. Thom cocked an eyebrow in his direction and continued. "I asked him why he wanted to play it, and he reddened even more. He explained that Egwene had said it was one of her favorite songs, and he was hoping he might be able to play it for her when they met up again.
"I don't know if he ever did. From what I've been told, they only met up again in Caemlynn, and from there it was nothing but a sea of troubles.
"It was a simple song, though, even if he couldn't play it, beginner that he was. To his credit, he wasn't bad with his fingers, though. No pickpocket, for sure, but good nonetheless. We must have spent hours trying to work that piece out of him, and I managed to get it down on paper for him and teach him some basic music theory to help him. I knew the song, though not by the name he knew it. That made it easier for the both of us.
"Even after I got too tired to go on and went up to bed, he kept to it. I heard the finished version a few days later. He made sure to tell me he'd gotten through it after Mat had gotten to bed, of course, and it was a little rough around the edges, but it was good nonetheless. He looked so happy when I said it was good.
"I made a vulgar little crack about trying to impress Egwene with it, but what he said to me after showed me why this little song, nothing more than a little lullaby, was so important to him.
"He said to me, 'It's not that, Thom. I've just seen the way she's been since we left. With Mat and Perrin and me, leaving home is one big adventure. No boy born in the Two Rivers wants to stay there his whole life. We want to go out, see everything, even if we eventually come home again. But Egwene... she doesn't want to be some soldier's wife, or a camp follower, or anything like that. She likes who she is. She's Nynaeve's apprentice, and she'll be the Wisdom after she dies. She only came to make sure we stayed safe. I just want to make her feel a little more at home, that's all.'" Thom smiled and noted that Tam had swelled a little, with pride most likely. "I didn't have anything to say about that. I've played my fair share of songs for my fair share of women, but it was certainly never to make them feel more at home. Maybe to catch their eye, or to please them, but that... that was completely for Egwene's benefit, not him."
Lan laughed. "And then she married Morgase's boy."
Thom grinned. "Light, he's bonded to four different women. He hasn't done too bad for himself. But back when they were still thinking they'd end up together, they were so much more... innocent. More like Emond's Fielders than an Aes Sedai and the Dragon. After that, they seemed a bit more detached from their past. She became the Amyrlin Seat, and he did his damned job, the poor fool. But I'll always remember the blushing fool in the corner of a dark inn trying to work out the notes to a song he knew his girl liked. I'll remember the way he stayed up nights to make her happy.
"He could be a pain in the arse, but I'll be damned if it wasn't all for our sakes."
Lan nodded, raising his bottle.
"I agree," Thom said. "Let's drink."
"He died well," they said together.