It began like any other dream - like most of his dreams lately, muddled up things where Moiraine was trying to tell him something about the Sun Throne, except she was using Maiden handtalk and he couldn’t understand a word.
He turned away from her in frustration and he was standing on the bank of the Winespring in summer, Min and Aviendha and Elayne yelling things to make him blush from where they were already swimming. It took Rand a moment to realize that he was naked as a babe and turned around hastily, face hot, but if anything that only made them shout louder.
He ought to just go to them. It was probably the only way to get them to stop. He turned around and took a step toward the water.
Flicker. The Winespring was gone. For a moment Elayne still stood there, but her face was hard, and then she turned into Egwene, who raised her chin and shook her head slowly. “Egwene,” he said, trying to step toward her. “Wait-”
His step landed somewhere else. On stone, and if he had never been here Rand only needed one glance around to tell him where he was. The White Tower.
What seemed like a long time ago now he had thought to come here for safety. If he entered these walls now...half the Aes Sedai would see him gentled and the other half would put a leash and chains on him. He shouldn’t be here. Certainly not in his shirtsleeves, dragons flashing for anyone to see. Rand turned on his heel, but there was no exit; walking down the hallways led in circles, and even when he took a flight of stairs it led back to the same place. Fear started to creep in at the corners of his thoughts and he reached unconsciously for a sword that wasn’t there.
“You!” cried a faintly familiar voice. Rand spun and saw Elaida striding toward him, her face hard and angry. She carried one of the Seanchan leashes at her side, only this one he knew was meant for him. Rand took a step back and reached for saidin only to slam in a wall that might as well have been made of stone. Impossible, he thought, she can’t be strong enough to-
But he could feel them at his back, now, too, goosebumps prickling on his arms. Aviendha was there, and Egwene and Elayne, and Moiraine and Siuan with them both, all standing side by side. “It has to be done,” Moiraine said sadly. “He won’t be led, so he has to be broken.” Elayne looked unhappy; Egwene just disappointed.
“No,” Rand said angrily. “I will not be leashed! Not by any of you!”
He lunged for saidin again, searching for any crack in the shield that held him at bay, the slightest fissure. All he needed was one point of weakness and he would be able to break through.
There was nothing. He lashed out at Elaida, wildly, but she froze him in weaves he couldn’t see and fastened the silver collar around his throat.
“Elayne,” he said desperately. “Please.”
She wasn’t going to help him now. No one was going to.
It was not long before Elaida made him howl.
He knelt by the Amyrlin’s desk, head and back bent so he didn’t look at the Aes Sedai going on about the war in Cairhien. The words blurred in and out of his mind, none quite intelligible. Rand stared at his bare forearms, the red sleeves of his coat rolled up. The Amyrlin let him keep that. Or perhaps made him. A mockery of what he’d had.
He remembered anger, at first. Rage. But it had burned down to embers. Still there, deep down, but faded almost to nothing.
The Aes Sedai left and the Amyrlin looked down at him. He could feel her eyes even without looking at her. “Very good,” she said, with much the tone of someone praising a well behaved dog. “Any beast can be tamed, with the right training.” She reached for the leash and he cringed involuntarily. The things she could do without laying a finger on him, with that thing-
“Like this,” the Amyrlin said coldly, “I will take you to Tarmon Gai’don, and see you slaughtered like a bull.”
He could not answer. Not with the muzzle clamped over his mouth. They did not need him to speak.
The Amyrlin reached down and petted his hair. “And until then, Rand al’Thor” she said, “I will keep you right here. Safe.”
He reached for saidin, but the shield was there as always. Even if he could have reached it, he couldn’t touch it, couldn’t channel without permission. The Tower owned him. The Amyrlin-
Rand turned his head just enough to see her, the woman who held his leash, who had made him scream until he learned better, had seen him broken to the Aes Sedai saddle. Not Elaida. Not even Siuan Sanche.
Her dark eyes had watched as he’d been flogged after killing a Warder. They’d beaten him until his back ran red with blood and then Healed him, leaving him weak as a kitten for days. It had been done on her word, under her eyes.
The same eyes that had watched him across the Village Green.
Egwene reached for the bracelet at the other end of the leash. “Elayne sends her love,” she said. “Now, get up. It’s time for Aviendha to have you for a while.”
Rand jerked awake in a cold sweat, his hand going to his throat and half expecting to feel a collar there. He looked over toward where Aviendha slept, but she hadn’t woken. A good thing he hadn’t shouted or the tent would be flooded with Maidens. What would they think if he told them it was a dream?
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. It was just exhaustion, he told himself. No more than that. Not every dream was significant, and his were warded now. It didn’t mean anything.
Light, let it not mean anything.
Dragging his hand down from where he’d been rubbing his throat without realizing it, Rand sat up but didn’t stand. Staring at nothing, heart still thumping until he sought the Void and seized saidin. It raged through him, sweet and rancid, and he forced himself to let go a moment later. He’d only needed to prove it was still there.
Idiot. Letting a nightmare trouble you like this. There was enough trouble all around him without chasing it in his sleep. Tear and Cairhien and the Aiel, the Shaido and Sammael and maybe his own mind.
Rand reached for the Seanchan spear and laid it across his knees, staring at the dark and waiting for dawn.