Arriving home, he was still adjusting to calling Stedding Tsofu home. Loial felt at ease. It is always good coming home to the Stedding, he thought. After The Great Stump and the last battle, Loial had moved in with Erith, his wife. He had been adjusting to a lot of things lately. It felt like only yesterday that he was leaving Stedding Shangtai to see the groves, and now he was married, had addressed The Great Stump, fought in the last battle, and made friends with humans. Elder Haman always said humans weren't to be trusted. They were incredibly hasty and would get an Ogier into all sorts of trouble. Well he did trust his friends, and missed them sorely. Especially Rand - his book would always be incomplete to him without Rand's story. It would have to do. Now that he had finally spoken to Mat and had his parts, the book would be complete. That's what he had been doing. He had traveled to Ebou Dar to talk with Mat and interview him. Mat had been reluctant at first but had eventually agreed, after Min had spoken to him. Loial knew that the Empress had given them new names but to him they would always be Mat and Min. It seemed very hasty to him to change your name because someone said you should, but humans always were hasty. He felt the sense of peace wash over his as he passed into Stedding Tsofu. It was good to be home. He had missed Erith very much.
Before he had come very far Juin met him and informed him that the elders wanted to see him. He couldn't be in trouble he thought. Erith had said he could go. She had. Elder Alar and the council of elders were waiting for him. He noticed that Erith wasn't there.
"Erith gave me permission to leave the Stedding" he burst out. "I had to leave to interview Matrim Cauthon for my book".
The elders all looked at him, just looked, but that was enough. He had spoken out of turn. Elder Haman would have said he was acting hasty as a human. Just the thought of that set his ears quivering. Eldest Alar raised her hand. "We didn't ask you here because you left the Stedding, Loial, son of Arent, son of Halan. We wanted to ask you of the Ogier Gardeners among the Seanchan. We have tried to make contact but they resist any attempts of friendship."
"They say they don't even need to rest in a Stedding - nonsense if you ask me" said Elder Mehar. "Sit Loial - we aren't humans who could discuss serious business in a matter of minutes. Sit."
There was nothing left to do but sit down and answer their questions. He was glad that he had finished writing the latest pages for his book on the long journey home from Ebou Dar. This could take days.
Leaving the elders he realized that over half the day was gone. Erith was waiting outside for him. When she saw him, she ran up to him, threw her arms around him and rubbed noses with him. Such an intimate display of affection in front of everyone had his ears quivering ferociously. "I've missed you, my husband," she said. "I've missed you too, my love" he replied. She took her arms from around him and clasped his hand leading him off in the direction of their house.
They spent the afternoon telling all that had happened during their time apart. His mother had apparently visited from Stedding Shangtai. Erith didn't say anything but he could tell the visit had not been pleasant. His mother had not adjusted well to the fact that Erith was now the woman in his life, that her word was the law in their house. She still saw him as a child. She would not have been pleased that Erith had let him leave the Stedding. He would have worried about their 'discussion' knowing that his mother, Covril daughter of Ella daughter of Soong was one of the greatest speakers known to the Ogier, but Erith had shown great talent in speaking as well. His mind was racing just like a human's must. He was finding it difficult to concentrate. Perhaps the book could wait till morning. He retired to the bedroom to join his wife.
He woke early the next morning and set to working on his book. He wouldn't have spared the time to breakfast if Erith hadn't insisted. After placing the newest sections about Mat, he looked over the book. It was nearly complete but it needed something more. Something to show the gale that that had been Rand. He needed the right words to end the book.
"Talking to yourself, my friend?" said someone.
Loial gave a start. Who was this man standing in his study suddenly? And he realized that he had indeed been muttering. "Excuse me, sir. I didn't hear you arrive, did my wife let you in?"
"Erith is out so I let myself in," he replied "may I sit friend?"
Loial paused, this man knew Erith by name. He must be a friend. Loial had met so many people over the last few years but he was sure he couldn't have forgotten this man. There was a familiarity about him. "Ah, of course, sit please." Loial indicated a chair against the wall. "Would you like some tea?" The man shook his head in response. Who was this man? He was tall (for a human), young, and he had bright blue eyes and black hair. Loial was sure he wouldn't have forgotten this man. He didn't think anyone could forget meeting this man.
"He came like the wind, like the wind touched everything, and like the wind was gone." The stranger said.
"Pardon sir, what was that?" Loial asked.
"The ending for your book my friend, I was told you were writing a book on the Dragon Reborn. You were muttering about how you could find the right words." He repeated what he had said. Loial paused as if considering then picked up his pen and wrote the lines onto the final page. "Thank you, that fit perfectly." Loial said excitedly, (his ears were probably quivering). He would have to learn to control that. "It is exactly the sentiment I wanted. Ah, forgive me, but have we met? I seem to have forgotten your name" Loial paused, waiting for the man to introduce himself.
"I'm just an old friend." The man replied. "The book, it is finished then."
"Yes, I have just finished it. You gave me the final lines. Did you know Rand, ah, the Dragon I mean, or his friends? Perhaps I could ask you of your impressions on the last battle."
The man seemed amused. "Same as ever, my friend" he said. And he smiled. "Perhaps I have something I could add. Can I read your manuscript, to tell you if there is anything I know that isn't in there?"
Loial was taken aback, it was finished but he wasn't ready for anyone to read it. Not his good copy in the least. He frowned in thought. "I only have the one copy: perhaps once I write a second." The man smiled and Loial stopped what he was about to say. He didn't know if he could trust this man, but there was that familiarity. Picking up his book he handed it to the man - at least he hadn't taken any tea, no chance of a spill. "Please be careful. This is my only copy."
"I will my friend, I will." The strange man settled into the chair and started to read Loial's book on the Dragon Reborn.
Erith arrived home and was curious to see they had company. She asked the man if he would stay for dinner and offered him their spare room. She was a marvelous wife. Loial had tried asking what he thought of the book over dinner but Erith had insisted that he wait until he had finished the whole book to reply. After dinner the man returned to the chair and continued reading the book. Loial had to admit that the man was handling it with expert care. The stranger continued reading late into the night, long after Loial and Erith had retired to bed.
When Loial woke he found the man waiting in the chair.
"What did you think" he asked the man. Strange that he still didn't know this man's name.
"I think it is wonderful. You are a true master of the written word, my friend."
Loial beamed, he didn't know why this man's opinion meant so much to him.
"There is perhaps one thing it might be missing." The man said.
Loial frowned, his ears sagging. "What else can I add?" He asked. "I've interviewed everyone I could find."
"There is one interview you haven't done yet" the man replied. Loial seemed confused.
"You haven't interviewed the Dragon Reborn" the man said.
Loial's ears wilted. His eyebrows sagged down to his chin. Loial still felt the pain over the loss of his friend. Then his ears drew back as he became, well, not angry, but certainly not calm. "You know very well that Rand Al'Thor died in the last battle." His emotions bounced between hurt and anger so fast he could hardly believe it. This is what it must be like to be human he thought abashedly.
The man smirked. He seemed to be enjoying Loial's pain. Humans were always hasty but this was just cruel he thought. "Oh Loial," the man said. "You look just like you did the first time we met, in the library of an inn in Caemlyn. I believe I called you a trollic."
Loial froze. "Who are you?" He said. "There is only one person who would know that story. The man just smiled. The shock hit Loial like a wall. He fell to the floor at the man's feet. "It can't be" he said. "How?"
"The wheel weaves as the wheel wills."
He could see it now. This man looked nothing like Rand but it was him. The familiarity. It was Rand. "Rand, everyone thinks you are dead!"
"I know" was all he replied.
"I'll send for Mat and Perrin. They will want to know you're alive. And so will Elayne, Aviendah, Min, your father, Nynaeve and, well, everyone!"
"And you say humans are hasty," Rand chuckled. "I've been to see to those who I trust, but I can't let the world know that I live."
"But why Rand, everyone will be happy you're alive!" Loial seemed confused.
"There are many reasons why, but first and foremost is the Dragon's Peace. It was the price I exacted for dying at Shayol Ghul. If the world finds out I live, it won't be long until someone decides the contract is void. Also, I've played my role. Now I can live my life. Just live it, as anything I want it to be."
Loial frowned. What Rand had said made sense, but… No, Rand was right. Peace was worth the price, if Rand was willing to pay it. Again.
"Who else knows your alive, Rand?" Loial decided to ask.
"I saw my father first, then I went to Malkier, and Saldea and then to Ebou Dar."
"And what of Elayne, Aviendah and Min?"
"Before the last battle the three of them bonded me as their warder. They know I live. I will see them when it is safe to."
Loial looked stunned. He didn't know that Rand had been bonded by these three. He reached for pen and paper. Rand chuckled. And Loial looked aghast. His ears quivered with embarrassment (he would have to learn to control that). Here his friend was, back from the dead and he reaches for his pen.
"A long time ago I made you a promise Loial. I promised to tell you my story." He paused, allowing that to sink in.
Rand stayed with Loial for nearly two months. After he had told Loial his story he answered every question the Ogier could think of. Loial would have Rand's story for his book. Erith had been so shocked when she first learnt who he was that she had fainted. After she came around, she was overjoyed that Loial had his friend back. They reminisced over their times travelling together. Time seemed to pass so fast and before long Rand was telling Loial that he had stayed for far too long and had to move on. His departure was a somber event. Loial walked with Rand, wanting as much time with his friend as possible. He wasn't sure he would ever see Rand again.
"I have something to show you, Loial." Rand led them away from the Stedding - Loial hadn't been sure where they were going but now he thought he knew. The Waygate was just up ahead. Rand reached hand up as of to open the gate.
"No Rand," Loial said hearing the shock in his own voice. "We checked the ways after the Last Battle. We hoped that with The Dark One locked away, the ways would have been healed. I fear that they will never be right."
"Trust me, my friend," Rand said. And he moved the Avendasora leaf, opening the gate. Loial could hear Machin shin howling beyond the border …Blood so sweet, so sweet to drink the blood, the blood that drips, drops, drops so red. Rand reached out his hand and touched it to the black wind. Machin Shin started to flow out of the Waygate and up Rand's arm, all the while continuing its sickening chant. Loial let out a yell and tried to pull Rand free. He wouldn't budge. He was held tight by the black wind. Rand's lips were moving in wordless patterns and Loial sank to his knees.
"Why, Rand?" he wailed. "Why? You survived the last battle and now you throw it all away. Why? Why bring me here to watch you die?" Loial let out a wordless howl of pain and started to weep.
Loial stayed with Rand, he didn't know why Rand had brought him here but he would not abandon his friend. Loial wasn't sure how much time had passed but he noticed a lessening in the howling from Machin shin. It still flowed from the Waygate up Rand's arm, but it was changing. It was becoming light. The most pure light Loial had ever seen. As it reached Rand's head it broke off in pieces and disappeared. Some pieces floated up and others just vanished. Loial didn't know how long it lasted but suddenly the black wind was gone. He looked at Rand stunned and Rand smiled in return.
"Almost done," Rand said
Loial breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing that his friend was unharmed. He looked at the dull Waygate. "What did you do Rand?" He asked
"I just released Machin Shin." He looked at Loial and continued his explanation. "You know they say these were made with the male half of the source. The taint The Dark One placed on Saidin tainted the ways. Machin Shin was the embodiment of that taint. It consumed the souls of all it caught. A soul taken by Machin Shin couldn't be spun out into the pattern again. Until now." Loial nodded in understanding. Rand looked at his friend and then at the dull Waygate. He stepped into the Waygate, his form melding with his reflection in the gate. Loial trusted Rand and followed him through. Rand was standing right next to the gate when Loial entered. The ways were still dark. The blackness felt as if it was pressing down on him, trying to consume him.
"Rand" Loial said uncertainly.
Rand started to sing. The song sounded familiar and yet unlike anything he had ever heard. The song Rand sung was the most beautiful Loial had ever heard. It was majestic in every sense of the word. Loial felt the urge to sing as well but he resisted, not wanting to interrupt Rand. Rand touched Loial's arm and he understood. Loial started singing. Their songs flowed together, sounding as though they were one. Loial was unsure what they were singing but he could feel the power in this wordless harmony. Their voices carried through the ways, he could feel the reverberations spreading, growing, and encompassing all that was the ways. He had some small skill in tree singing but this was beyond anything he had ever attempted. He was sure that is Rand had not been there then this would have been unworkable for him. He wasn't sure what the song would do but he knew that he had to keep singing, he could feel the power coming from Rand and it was feeding Loial's own ability.
As they sang Loial noticed a change in the ways. It stunned him to the point where he almost lost his place in the song. He barely managed to keep going from the shock. The ways were lightening, that was the only way to describe it. It was impossible, but this was Rand Al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, lord of the morning. Who knew what was possible. They ways were defiantly becoming lighter. After what seemed like a lifetime lost in the song the ways shone as brightly as they ever had, the pocked bridges started to fill out and become more solid, sections that had crumpled and broken away were growing back, and the stone itself was growing. Loial could see islands all around bursting with green grass; flowers started to burst from the ground as if they had been trying to do this for centuries. Fruit trees were shooting up everywhere, fruits of every kind - most of which Loial had never seen. Rand and Loial walked further into the ways, singing all the while. Loial could see bubbling brooks forming on the islands. The ways were alive, that was the only way he could describe it. They were alive. Loial could feel the joy and life in the place. It felt peaceful, almost like a Stedding. Their song reached its peak and everything started to shimmer, becoming more real than it had been a moment before, then the song started to ebb. Once the song was finished he stood there, looking at Rand.
"Until we meet again my old friend, treat the ways well." Rand said. Loial picked Rand up and hugged him. "I thank you, Rand Al'Thor. The world owes you a debt that it can never repay." They finished their goodbyes and Loial turned to head back to the Waygate. He looked back at Rand and saw his pipe come alight. Funny, he thought. I thought Rand said he couldn't channel anymore.
When Loial arrived back at Stedding Tsofu, everyone seemed abuzz with excitement. This was almost human-like, how everyone was running around. Astonished, Loial found Erith and asked what had happened. She told him that it was Trayal, the last Ogier to use the ways before Loial had. He has been mindless since then. His soul had been consumed by Machin Shin. He had woken up. "His mind and soul have returned," she finished. Loial didn't seem surprised and Erith pressed him to tell her what he knew. He told her what Rand had done in the ways. That they were safe, that they had been repaired. "Loial, we must tell the elders," she said. She turned to run to the elders to tell them. He knew that they would be pleased but he had to think of what to say first. This was not the time for haste. Rand's secret must be kept.