Categories > Books > Wheel of Time > Altered Destiny: The Will of the Wheel

Tar Valon

by bigdonadiet 4 reviews

Rand arrives in Tar Valon, but his journey is just beginning.

Category: Wheel of Time - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Rand - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2008-01-26 - Updated: 2008-01-26 - 5945 words

Altered Destiny: The Will of the Wheel

by Big D

Disclaimer: Not Mine. No Profit. No Shit.

Chapter One: Tar Valon

AN: In honor of the great Robert Jordan (RIP), I present to you a traditional WoT opening scene. Never mind the fact that I always skip over them, ‘cause their pretty much all the same.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass leaving memories that become legend, then fade to myth, and are long forgot when that Age comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind was born high at the top of the world, among the endless fields of ice that covered the land in a sea of pure white, miles thick. 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.

South the wind blew, cold and fierce and strong as a hurricane, across the vast frozen desert, building upon itself until it left the eternal winter behind and crossed into the Blasted Lands, so poisoned by the Shadow that no natural life could survive there, in the center of which stood the grim, black spire of Shayol Ghul. The wind brushed the peak of that dark mountain, and like all things that entered those lands, it was changed. Slowed by the unnatural, damp heat of that place, it wavered and battled it’s way beneath a sky of wildly shifting, ominous colors, finally fighting its way free, but much diminished.

Into the Great Blight it traveled, across the damp, sticky jungle of poisonous plants and impossibly lethal creatures of which Trollocs were the least dangerous, building strength again as it funneled itself through the narrow passes of the Mountains of Dhoom. Down past the edge of the Blightborder it swept, into the rough green hills of Arafel, to snap taught the standards of Shol Arbela with its passing.

The wind began to slow as it crossed the broad valley that fed into the mighty River Erinin, its power leached away by the slowly warming air until by the time it reached the smoking, snow-ringed summit of Dragonmount, it had become little more than an unseasonably cool breeze. Tumbling down the mountain, itself every bit as imposing, and in someways just as feared, as Shayol Ghul was, the wind breathed its last as it crossed the Tar Valon road, just strong enough to send icy shivers through the tall, haggard young man who was staggering his way north towards the city, leaning heavily against a long quarterstaff as if it were the only thing holding him upright.

Rand used one hand to try to hitch his cloak tighter as a sudden, freezing gust buffeted him, but the wind easily wormed its way through the gaping holes that riddled the frayed garment. It was only an annoyance within the void, but the fact that he had noticed it at all was a testament to how weak his hold over himself was becoming.

He had hardly stopped to eat, and not at all to sleep, since he had first spotted the peak of Dragonmount on the horizon. Little had he realized just how truly massive the lone mountain was, as it had been nearly a week of nonstop travel now, with the dark spire slowly, almost torturously coming into view. Even deep within the void, his various hurts and exhaustion were like a heavy weight dragging him down. Still, he struggled on, afraid that if he stopped to rest, he might never summon the will to rise again.

Even so, there was little joy in him as he crested a small rise and caught his first sight of Tar Valon. The huge city, the greatest in the world many said, lay stretched out along a vast island in the middle of the river, glittering like a massive jewel in the morning sun. At the sight, saidin seemed to grow stronger within him, singing to him, taunting him with its brilliance. He longed to reach for it, to hold it one final time. Or better yet... to use it. To forget about turning himself in to the Aes Sedai and revel in the gift he had been given. There was so much that he could do with the Power, so many good uses that it could be put to. He could always return if he felt himself beginning to slide into madness...

Crushing that traitorous thought ruthlessly, Rand strode determinedly forward. Or attempted to stride, anyway. His feet did not seem to want to strike the ground properly, and he quickly found himself clinging to his staff to keep himself from toppling over. He glanced down and frowned deeply.

His own boots had been lost some time ago, and these hastily scavenged and ill-fitting replacements had been worn down to almost nothing by the long journey. He had been forced to patch them several times, and then pad them with loose wads of cloth, cramping his feet even more, but had left them unattended during this final leg of the march. Turning his right foot slightly, he winced as he spied a purpling toe through one of the gaps in the leather. Pain battered at the edges of the void more insistently now, and he could feel a wet, squishing sensation as he attempted to wiggle his toes inside the confines of the boots. He was bleeding, and the blisters had quite likely become infected.

He looked back up at the city, a rueful smile flitting across his face. It would only be fitting for him to die of sickness now, so close to the finish.

Somewhat more slowly, he resumed his walk. As the sun rose towards midday, he finally made his way down to the large village that had grown up around the Alindaer Bridge. The town of Alindaer itself was a muddy mass of plain stone buildings and teeming, bustling humanity that almost seemed to revel in its lack of anything that could ever be described as a palace, in counterpoint to the pure white, immaculately maintained city just across the river. It was almost as if this was the place where the entire world respectfully cleaned its shoes off before entering Tar Valon.

Traffic on the bridge was steady, but not overwhelming, and Rand forced himself even deeper into the void as his bruised and battered feet left the soft mud and landed on the unforgiving paving stones. Several travelers glanced at his pale face and tattered clothing and shied away, fearing disease or perhaps even robbery, and several of the bridge guards gave him long looks as he approached. He ignored them all, focusing instead on keeping one foot in front of the other.

As he reached the Gate, a tall soldier in a bright breastplate with the flame of Tar Valon engraved upon it stepped up and seized his shoulder firmly with a gauntleted fist. He bore a wickedly-bladed halberd in his other hand and a short sword belted at his waist. Finely linked steel mesh protected his neck and shoulders beneath a shining helm with a single plume of rank sticking out of it.

“What is your business in Tar Valon,” the guard asked roughly, shaking him a bit for emphasis.

Rage welled up in Rand, sharp and fierce, and saidin rose in response. Without reaching for it, it filled him, flames licking across his bones as ice tried to freeze them solid. It happened that way, sometimes. Saidin was a beast that reveled in battle, but couldn’t stand to be ignored. It was always so close inside the void, and there were times when it would creep up on him unawares, pouncing upon him when he least expected.

The world around him, everything that he had been trying to ignore, snapped into terrible focus. He could feel the cold, gleaming steel nearby, and without looking knew that no fewer than twenty of the Tower Guard stood between him and the bridge gate, all of them armed and armored just as heavily as the one who had stopped him. Beneath his feet, he could sense how the stones of the huge bridge were linked together, the tiny joints held so firmly against each other that it could have only been done with the Power. On every side, eddies of Air swirled about the travelers on the bridge, and Rand felt many of them move carefully away from where the confrontation was taking place. And beyond it all, the huge river flowed, its waves like the steady heartbeat of some great, benevolent creature, content to allow so many humans to dwell within its domain.

All of those layers, all of those discordant rhythms came together at once to make up the song of saidin, and the mad rush of Power that burned inside of him howled with the pure ecstasy of it.

Rand wanted to howl as well, at himself, at the Power, at the fool guard who thought to deny him entrance to the city because his clothes weren’t fine enough. The man believed that he was in control here, but Rand could burn him to ash where he stood with little more than a stray thought.

It was an effort not to. If not madness, then sheer frustration would be enough reason.

Instead, Rand pushed the Power away. In the weeks and months since he had left the Two Rivers, he had gained a fumbling control over his channeling, purely out of necessity. It was either learn to master saidin, or be destroyed by it, there was no middle ground. There had been other times like this, when saidin had welled up in him in spite of himself, and he had lost control of it. Luckily, all but one of those times had been when he was well away from any other people, and no one had been harmed by the aftermath of his untamed power. As for the other time... Rand’s mind flinched away from the images of charred, shattered bodies and rearing, panicked horses.

On the outside, it had only taken a moment for him to reassert control over himself, but the Guardsman seemed to be growing impatient nonetheless.

“State your business, or turn back now,” he demanded again, removing his hand from Rand and taking the haft of his weapon in both hands, slanting it across his chest. Several of his men stepped forward, eying Rand with the assured confidence of professional soldiers.

Rand leaned against his staff and looked at the man from beneath the frayed hood of his cloak. “I’ve come to seek Healing,” he croaked, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounded, and even more so at the hacking cough that nearly sent him to his knees the moment he finished speaking. He had dwelled so long within the void that he had hardly noticed how deeply his sickness had set in. He held a hand before his face and watched it tremble violently with the effort of holding itself up.

Summoning his waning strength again, he pulled himself to his feet. The Guardsman was looking at him with something that approached pity now, and had grounded his halberd casually with one hand. He frowned at Rand, then waved the other soldiers away from the Gate.

“Go straight down that road,” the man said, pointing towards the broad avenue that led past the gate. “At the end you will find the White Tower. Go right through the gates and tell the first Accepted you find that you require Healing.” The man held up a cautioning finger. “Go straight to the Tower, mind you. I’ll not have you infecting anyone else before the Sisters can see to you.”

Rand nodded absently at the man as he shuffled forward, afraid to speak lest another coughing fit take him. There was a part of him that wanted to laugh out loud. He was truly committed now. With this illness, he doubted that he would last the day without Aes Sedai help, so even if he wanted to turn and run, he wouldn’t survive. The point of no return had been crossed before he had even realized it.

The walk to the White Tower seemed endless, every painful step making the journey appear longer, rather than shorter. The magnificent Ogier-wrought buildings, with their fanciful designs and soaring sky-bridges passed him by like a fever dream as he concentrated on nothing except keeping one foot in front of the other. The milling crowds parted around him and flowed back together as he passed, all of the inhabitants of the city eager to avoid someone so clearly sick.

If only they knew how sick he truly was. They wouldn’t merely step out of his path, they would flee as quickly as their feet could carry them. Or perhaps the brave ones would try and stone him to death. He had heard stories like that, of strange things happening and of men and boys being accused of channeling. Their own neighbors, sometimes even their own kin, would gather together, maddened by fear and frenzied by numbers, and descend on the unfortunate one with rocks and old spears, or anything else that came to hand. Beating and stabbing, they would kill the man any way they could, then quietly dispose of the corpse once the deed was done, swearing to never speak of it again. Rand had sometimes wondered if the people of the Two Rivers would have reacted the same way, if he had tried to stay.

His heart told him that Two Rivers folk were better than that, but he had seen things on his travels that made him question just how much kindness there truly was in the world.

Lost in his dark thoughts and the effort of moving forward, Rand hardly noticed the White Tower growing larger as he approached until he glanced up and gaped in shock at the sheer, overwhelming size of it. A hundred spans tall and more than half as wide, it reared up above the city like a great block of the purest ice, carved with flowing lines designed up draw the eye ever upwards, towards the flat, crowned peak, forested with standards bearing the White Flame of Tar Valon, that almost seemed high enough to hold the sky in place.

Rand had passed through Caemlyn on his way here, had seen and marveled at the soaring golden palaces of the Inner City, stood in wonder at the huge collection of towers and walls that made up the Royal Palace. He had crossed the White Bridge, fashioned by the Power in the Age of Legends as a great single span of what appeared to be carved glass, which had been built strong enough to endure the Breaking of the World and all the time since, upon which no hammer or chisel could make a mark, but none of that could compare to the awesome sight of the White Tower of the Aes Sedai.

He wasn’t sure how long he would have stood there, just staring at the Tower, but for the renewed fit of coughing that nearly took his legs from him. He glanced at his hand as he pulled it away from his mouth and saw flecks of blood there. The void was nothing more than a tiny, wavering place in his mind, a bare fraction of it usual size, pushed in from all sides by the pain and weariness that wracked his body, nearly broken by the mere sight of the White Tower.

Rand sank to a knee, griping his staff with all the strength that remained in him. He looked at the open plaza that surrounded the entrance to the Tower, and despaired at the seemingly infinite gap that spread between him and the huge, open doors. For nearly two thousand miles, he had walked, run, and ridden his way from the Two Rivers, and now he wasn’t sure that there was enough left in his body to crawl the final half mile.

The pig-headed, mulish, stubborn-as-a-stone part of his mind that had sent him on this journey so many months ago flailed at him to stand and walk, but it was a distant, tiny voice now. The hard paving stones beneath him felt as warm and welcoming as a fresh down bed, and he longed to lay down upon them and rest his aching bones.

He had just made up his mind when he felt a firm hand settle on his shoulder. Glancing up, his eyes tried to focus on a tall, slender young man with dark eyes and an odd, too-small coat slung over his shoulders like a cape. The boy, possibly a year younger than Rand himself, swayed as if touched by the breeze, and Rand shook his head, thinking that he was seeing things. His eyes cleared, Rand realized that the boy really was swaying, and from the smell of him, just returning from a long night/morning/afternoon of steady drink.

“Here now, friend,” the boy said, his words slightly slurred. “You look as if you could use a hand. Come along with me. The Sisters will see you straight.”

A surprisingly strong arm slipped under Rand’s shoulders and hoisted him to his feet. With one arm slung around the strange boy and his other griping his staff, the two of them hobbled their way towards the Tower.

“Don’t fret yourself too much,” the boy said cheerfully. “The Aes Sedai can Heal most anything short of death, and there’s usually one or more in the Entrance Hall helping with the petitioners.”

“Who are you,” Rand wheezed out. He couldn’t help but wonder at anyone who spoke of Aes Sedai with such familiarly. The boy was far too young to be a Warder, and those were the only men he could think of who might be that knowledgeable of the Tower and its Sisters.

The boy laughed, a high, clear sound. “You likely wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said jovially. “But, suffice to say, it’s a fine thing that I stumbled upon you. Perhaps Hammar Gaidin will skip my punishment this time, seeing as I’ve saved your life while I was out.”

Rand was having difficulty following that, and so just allowed himself to be half carried towards the door. As they entered, the boy looked up questioningly, then grinned.

“Alanna Sedai,” he called. “Please, come quickly!”

Gently, he helped Rand to lay down on the tiled floor, then stepped aside as a beautiful woman in a green silk dress knelt near his head. Rand’s vision had begun to blur, but it was impossible to miss the look of concern that crossed the woman’s features as she laid her hands on either side of his head. He felt the void shatter as a wave of bitter cold swept through his body, forcing a ragged scream from his throat as the full pain of his injuries crashed down around him.

The woman’s eyes widened in shock, and she turned to someone behind her. “Find Romanda Sedai and Chesmal Sedai and tell them that they’re needed here immediately,” she snapped. “Go!”

The sound of soft, slippered feet running down the hall reached Rand’s ears as the dark-haired woman turned back to him. She placed her hands upon his head again, then muttered something under her breath that sounded dangerously like a prayer.

The cold that filled his body this time made the last feel like a warm spring morning. Uncontrollably, his body begin to thrash against it, and suddenly the boy was back, holding him down by the shoulders and whispering encouragingly, his words not quite making it to Rand’s ears. For a moment, he was sure that his body would freeze solid and break in half underneath that torrent of ice. Lost in the blizzard, Rand fell into darkness and knew no more.

The Entrance Hall of the White Tower was a vast, circular chamber, surrounded by dozens of gracefully carved arches that appeared to leap from the ground like rushing water from a fountain. A fair number of people milled about beneath the high, flat-domed marbled roof, lit as it was by a hundred intricately-wrought, gilded lanterns. Such was the scope of that room that extra lighting was needed even during the brightest part of the day.

As many people as there were, they still didn’t come close to filling the hall, in part because they all seemed to instinctively huddle together like nervous deer who could smell the wolf nearby, but couldn’t tell from which direction he would strike. Dealing with Aes Sedai was always a tricky notion, and often a last resort for those who believed that there was no help to be found elsewhere.

Every nation seemed to be represented, and from practically every walk of life. Kandori merchants rubbed elbows with Tarien fishmongers, who whispered quietly to Taraboner nobles, who shifted their wispy veils and eyed Domani farmers with muted distaste.

Alanna swept through the room, hardly paying attention to the babbling woman at her side. Mara Desvados was a supplicant from a small village near the edge of the Caralain Grass, come to the Tower to request that a detachment of the Guard be sent to put down a large band of brigands harassing the towns along the banks of the River Luan. Why the woman had been sent to her, she couldn’t imagine. Bandits, dangerous though they might be, were hardly the province of the Green Ajah. It was the High Captain of the Tower Guard she needed, not an Aes Sedai.

Still, such things could not be allowed this close to Tar Valon, and she had passed the request through to the Amyrlin’s office, and been informed that the matter was being looked into. Unfortunately, Mistress Desvados seemed to be under the impression that large numbers of armed men could be marshaled and despatched within hours, and had returned to plead her case again this morning. As the woman trailed after her, peppering her with a flood of questions about just how many troops the Tower planned to send and when they would arrive, Alanna made a note to herself to find the Accepted who had passed this petition on to her a second time and send her straight to the Mistress of Novices for wasting a Sister’s time.

As they approached the doors that led out of the Tower, Alanna suddenly rounded on the woman, eyes hard and face set into a judge’s mask. Mistress Desvados gasped and took an instinctive step back. It seemed that the woman had some measure of sense after all.

“Daughter...” Alanna began in a clipped tone. “Perhaps you misunderstood me when we spoke previously, so I will explain myself once more... only once more, mind you. Your petition has–”

“Alanna Sedai,” a high-toned voice called behind her. “Please, come quickly!”

Swallowing a frustrated growl, Alanna turned towards the doors. A tall boy with dark eyes and olive skin was supporting another, even taller young man with an arm across his shoulder, half-dragging him into the Tower. Now she did growl, and in anger rather than frustration. Mistress Desvados glanced between her and the boy at the gate, dropped a hasty curtsy, and scurried away, holding her skirts back from the two boys as she passed them. No doubt she would be back on her horse and galloping towards her village within the hour.

Well, that was one annoyance handled, Alanna thought grimly. Now for the second.

Beslan of House Mitsobar was the lone surviving child of Queen Tylin of Altara. He had once had three brothers and a sister, but all had been killed while fighting duels in the space of less than two years. What very few people knew was that only one of Tylin’s offspring had died from their wounds. The others had all succumbed to the slow poison that had tipped their opponent’s daggers. Unprovable, of course, and just the accusation likely would have led to riots and civil war, but also the truth.

An ever-shifting quilt of constantly feuding nobles, Altara was a nation in name only, bound together mainly by the fact that its more powerful neighbors, in particular Amadicia to the west, where the Children of the Light ruled in all but name, would gladly descend upon and divide it amongst themselves if the Altarans did not present some type of united front.

Beslan’s grandfather had ascended to the Throne of the Winds some fifty years ago, and through a string of daring political and military victories, most notably during the Whitecloak War, throughout which he was able to keep Ebou Dar out of the hands of the Children of the Light and successfully threaten their southern flanks, had managed to expand his power, which at the beginning of his reign had hardly extended beyond the walls of the Tarasin Palace, across the city itself and several miles up the River Eldar, allowing him to consolidate his strength and wealth through the sea and river trade.

He had passed his crown and lands on whole to his only child, Beslan’s mother, a rather impressive feat in recent Altaran history. Queen Tylin had proven herself a more than capable ruler, building on her father’s foundation to push the boundaries of Mitsobar’s writ out along the coast and as much as a hundred miles into the Ebou Dari peninsula in some places. It was the hope of the White Tower that, through stable leadership and an unbroken succession to Beslan and his heirs in turn, Altara itself might one day become a truly united land under a single King or Queen, as well as a strong balance in the region to the growing influence of the Whitecloaks.

The possibilities were tantalizing. Altara was a vast land, stretching from the Sea of Storms in the south, all the way to the northern edge of Garen’s Wall, tapering like one of the ubiquitous curved knives that all of its citizens carried, until the tip nearly brushed the Mountains of Mist in the west. Four important commerce roads crossed its territory, as well as two major rivers.

Yes, Altara held an essential place in the designs of the White Tower. Unfortunately, its future was in the hands of a boy who seemed more concerned with drinking and fighting than preparing himself to be a king.

The boy’s mother had sent him to Tar Valon, ostensibly for the chance to train with the sword under the expert gaze of the Warders, but really for safekeeping while she quietly searched for the cabal of nobles responsible for the murder of his brothers and sister. Beslan knew nothing of this; he likely never could have been convinced to leave Ebou Dar if he had. A foolish notion, given that he was assuredly the plotters’ next target.

Alanna could almost feel pity for those individuals. Tylin was a hard woman, even among Ebou Dari, who were noted for the fierceness of their wives and daughters. Losing her children in fair duels she could forgive, and even take a measure of pride in, but having them stolen from her by deceit had been enough to send her into a rage. It had taken a great deal of persuading by her Aes Sedai advisor, a Grey named Merilille Ceandevin, to convince her to proceed with caution against her enemies, and later to send Beslan away.

Unfortunately, that had made him the Tower’s problem. Alanna knew that many of the Sisters hoped that his time in Tar Valon would allow him to not only learn the ways of the sword and battle, but also history, mathematics, culture, and government... all of the things a good ruler should know. But while Beslan had proven himself to be a quick study and natural leader, his focus tended to wane after any length of time, after which he was sure to be found in the nearest inn or tavern, soon to be dragged back to the Tower, half-unconscious, by the Civil Patrol. His instructors, Alanna among them, had tried to intervene, but the boy appeared to take sneaking away as a challenge, and nearly as much fun as carousing.

Alanna eyed him in irritation as she approached, hardly noticing the boy hanging onto him. A drinking companion, no doubt. Beslan was a darkly handsome, almost pretty boy with piercing eyes and a whipcord slender frame that held more strength and speed than apparent at first glance. Unfailingly polite, particularly to women, he only grew loud when drunk, which was far more often than anyone but he preferred. He was dressed in the Ebou Dari style, with dark trousers and a long-sleeved white silk shirt beneath a bright yellow vest that fell all the way to his knees, heavily embroidered with black and gold thread along the cuffs and seams. Over his shoulders and linked across his neck by a fine gold chain was slung a matching short coat, too small to wear normally, and so fashioned like a cape.

She opened her mouth to ask him sharply just what kind of trouble he had gotten himself into this time, but broke off as Beslan gently eased the boy with him onto the polished redstone floor, taking care not to jostle him too much. Her step quickened as she got a closer look at him. Dressed in clothing that was little more than rags and gripping a long staff so hard that she could almost hear the wood cracking, the boy’s face was ashen pale, the color of gone off fish. He had reddish hair that might have been curly if it had been cut or combed anytime in the last six months, and his eyes stared upwards as if they refused to focus properly.

Kneeling beside the sick boy, she took his head in her hands and sent a Delving into him. He bucked and screamed as if she had stabbed him, but Alanna held on firmly, trying to make sense of everything that was wrong with him. His lungs were riddled with infection, first off, and she could feel gangrene just beginning to set into a partially closed wound in the joint his shoulder–an arrow shot–perhaps a little more than a month old. She shouldn’t be at all surprised to find an unchanged dressing underneath his coat. He had enough scrapes and bruises to make her wonder if he hadn’t rolled his way to Tar Valon, rather than walked or ridden, and a slash from a blade beneath his ribs that he had picked up sometime before the arrow wound, which thankfully was closed well enough that it hadn’t taken infection as well.

And his feet...

She turned towards one of the Accepted who had drifted close, rather than attend to her duties. “Find Romanda Sedai and Chesmal Sedai and tell them that they’re needed here immediately,” she barked. “Go!” The girl actually tried to curtsy and run at the same time, nearly falling over, but quickly got herself sorted out and scampered away.

Alanna bent back over the young man. He was going to lose a foot, perhaps both, if he didn’t receive proper attention soon. They were a mass of raw, bloody blisters, shoved awkwardly into boots that were falling apart and clearly too small for him. The smallest toe on his left foot was already dying. She wasn’t a Yellow, but Healing was among her stronger Talents. She murmured a appeal towards the Light to guide her hand, then eased the weave into him carefully. She was wary of him going into shock, but the boy was so weak and his injuries so numerous that he flailed and thrashed beneath her fingers anyway.

Beslan quickly seized the boy’s shoulders and in a low voice began telling a rather impressive series of off-color jokes. If she had the attention to spare, Alanna would have rolled her eyes. No doubt this was something he had picked up on the streets in Ebou Dar. After a duel, it was almost a competition amongst the spectators to try and make the wounded men laugh, to distract them from the pain until a Wise Woman arrived to treat them. The boy suddenly stopped fighting, going limp, and Beslan looked up at her in concern.

“Is he dead, Aes Sedai?” Most of the slur was gone from his voice and his eyes were clear and intent.

“No,” she replied softly, pulling back her weave. “But I’ve done all I can for him at the moment. Trying to push him any more might use up the last of his strength. Hopefully, the Yellows will be able to handle the rest.” She brushed her fingers across the boy’s forehead. His color was a touch better now, but his breathing was still too shallow.

She turned to Beslan. “Where did you find him?”

“In the street leading to the great square,” he replied. “He looked as if he couldn’t walk any further, and I assumed that he was coming to the Tower for Healing.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He asked my name, nothing else.” Beslan looked at the boy with a touch of pity. “I think he was surprised that anyone would stop and help him.”

She touched his shoulder. “You’ve done well, Beslan,” she said. “Why don’t you return to your rooms. We will take care of him.”

“Of course, Aes Sedai,” he agreed, giving her a respectful half bow. “You will tell me if he recovers?”

She nodded. As he left, she directed one of the Accepted nearby to fetch a litter and men to bear it. Chesmal and Romanda would be along soon. It would take a circle of Yellows to finish the delicate work of saving the boy’s feet and curing the sickness in his body, and he was weak enough that the process still might kill him.

Alanna found herself wondering exactly who he was. His injuries and the state of his clothing painted a picture of a very long and dangerous journey, most of it by foot, and in the kind of haste that suggested something of immense importance at the destination... but what? What could be so important that a young man–a boy, really–would march himself nearly to death? Could he be one of the Tower’s eyes-and-ears, come with a vitally important message? And if so, then why wouldn’t he send a pigeon, rather than risk the message dying with him?

Absently, she traced the line of his jaw with a long finger. One way or another, she would find out the truth of this.

AN: Chapter One wasn’t intended to end here, but once the word count passed the five-digit mark, I decided to break it down a bit. This story isn’t coming out quite the way I planned, and it’s looking like it may end up having much less to do with Shezza’s original than I thought. Hopefully, I’ll have more for you soon. The next part will feature a look back to Rand’s journey to Tar Valon, including his first meeting with Min.

Big D
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