The next morning they left the cavern behind them. They travelled the stretch of trail that crossed the timberland until it connected to the Road and then turned westward. They carried on for a good while skirting the ridge, eventually leaving it behind after they changed their course and started to head southwest. Further ahead in that direction lay Algin, the capital of the League and after the kingdom of Leda. It wasn long before they reached the green grasslands that Rand knew so well and the many plantations and farm fields alongside the Road which meant that they were nearing their destination.

On the way to Algin, the friendship between Ephraim and Rand was cemented and both rode beside each other every day. When a subject which struck a common chord came up they would spend hours talking. At night Ephraim went to stay with his sister. Rand on the other hand stayed with Granan and gradually became used to his two unusual friends.

After nine days riding on the East Road they finally sighted Algin on the horizon. Rand felt a mixture of joy and apprehension when he saw the borders of the city. He had wanted to see it for a long time and now he could finally go to the capital of the Gorman League.

When Rand passed through the east city gate he was struck with awe as he took in the sights. Gorland was an ancient and traditional city of the Gorman people but had ceased to be richer and more influential than the cities of ledian origin, such as Algin and Duacin, and this was evident while beholding Algin and comparing it to Gorland. The capital was surrounded by a wall forty-five feet high, with a number of towers to aid in defense which stood yet another thirty feet above it. Two iron gates would grant access to the city, the east gate and the west gate, and both connected Algin to the East Road. Its urbanization owed itself to the Road just as the origin of the city, since it crossed through the middle to the center and was the main reason for its prosperity.

Besides the market the city had in it a park in the northern zone, traditionally kept since the reconquest in which druidism became once again a spirituality practiced by the alginish people. In the middle of the park was a sanctuary to the goddess Nierva..

The northern zone of the city is full of two or three roomed houses where artisans, merchants, military and nobles lived. In contrast, the southern zone contained many beehive apartment buildings in which peasants, servants, laborers, soldiers of lesser rank and their families.

But what really impressed Rand was how that place came to life, the incessant noise and chaotic shuffling of hundreds of people coming and going incessantly. The pace of life was very different than it was on Gorland.

As they walked into the city, he regarded the collection of two storey houses that spread out at the sides, some with small gardens full of fruit trees and ornamental plants. Rand noticed that the road was packed with children running and playing, various merchants with their caravans, peasants pulling carts, some soldiers patrolling the lanes and suspicious looking men lurking in the corners.

When they reached the outskirts of the market the company stopped and Rand observed Irwen and Granan talking. Following that conversation Irwen left, taking most of the men and Aleens children with him. Rand had quickly bid them both goodbye and was left with Granan, along with a few of the men that had been wounded in the cavern.

”Lets go, ” Granan said and he indicated for the men to follow.

They left the main road and walked up a narrow alleyway. Unlike the road they were on, this one was paved with tiles and there was little room for carts. As they walked through there Rand could get to see the poor side of Algin, with its slums of many apartment buildings that blocked the sunlight and the torturous paths that went round the buildings. It was not long before he lost his sense of direction walking through there. Granan however did not seem the least lost and he pressed forward, leading them into the inner city.

A strong and sour odor coming from the houses and people assaulted the senses. It came from human and animal excrements and garbage which had been thrown out the windows and onto the filthy and muddy ground which was most of the time in the shade out of the suns reach.

They soon sighted a large building, which resembled a warehouse, taking up the space of five or six regular buildings of the city. They could not spot anything which would indicate what it was for on it, just one door and some closed windows around it. Seeing the whole property from the outside was impossible due to a brick wall that surrounded it, with only one accessible gate.

Granan walked up to the door and banged violently on it with his fist. Someone answered but in a language that Rand couldn understand. Granan made a reply and the door opened and the soldier turned to Rand and signaled for him to follow him in.

Rand entered and saw he had walked into a small unfurnished and undecorated room. He noticed two men were guarding the entrance, both staring at him with curiosity but in silence. As the wounded came pouring in each was warmly received by the guards and a trumpet sounded to let everyone know of the soldiers return.

Soon after some women showed up and led the wounded through another door on the left. After those had gone from sight, Granan gestured for Rand to follow him through the door on the opposite side of the room. The two walked through a long corridor of various smaller wooden doors until Granan opened one of them and told Rand to pass through it.

Rand looked into a small room and observed that there was a dresser and a bed with a chamber pot beside it. Rand went in first and then Granan, who shut the door behind him and then said, ”Irwen should be back late today, he is going to talk to the lord of the city and will probably only speak to me about the outcome tomorrow. That will give you time to think about what I am about to offer you. ”

”Offer? ”, inquired Rand, curious.

”Son, what do you think about joining the Brotherhood? If you would like to be one of us I can solicit your training, and I think that Irwen won refuse me if I do. I will only ask him though if it is what you really want. ”

Those words left Rand perplexed. The veteran looked at him intently and continued, ”This is what we will do, since I am sure you are feeling as tired as I am and we don have to decide right away, stay here and I will ask that a change of clothes be brought to you along with a basin of water. Then we will eat and I will share some of the Brotherhoods history with you. ”

”Very well, ” Rand said with a wide smile as Granan left the room.

Rand threw himself on the bed and started to mull it over and slip into a daydream.

Just as Granan had told him, sometime later there was a knock at the door. It was a woman who was already in her twilight years. She was a bit slow and going deaf but very kind to him. The old woman had brought water and some clean clothes for Rand and talked a bit with him, curious to know where he had come from, to which Rand replied he was from Gorland. When she got that answer she suddenly changed, stopped talking and quickly left, leaving Rand confused and alone.

Some time past and there was once again a knock at the door, only this time whoever was doing the knocking did not wait for an answer to come in. It was Granan, who motioned for Rand to stand and follow him out. They walked back the way they came through the corridor but instead of going to the same door they went through another, and were walking down a corridor just as long as the previous one. There wasn a door at the end, but a passage which led to an inner courtyard.

It was a wide space, full of greenery and small trees. Many benches and tables were spread out on the sides, right underneath the roof which stretched out a bit overhead into the yard and then gave way to the open and dark summer sky. A number of lanterns lit the area, which was completely empty but for them. Granan went to a table next to the fountain, at the center of the courtyard. He sat and waved for Rand to sit as well.

Then he began the conversation.

”I really enjoy this place and especially at night when my brethren prefer fun and games in our hall, making this place perfect for us to talk. After, if you wish, I can take you to see the rest.

”Sure, and this place is really big! Looking from the outside it didn seem to be this large, ” commented Rand.

”One of our Brotherhood mottos is: whenever possible, keep it secret, ” and he winked at Rand, who saw that his friend was clearly in a good mood.

”Son, earlier today I made you an offer and asked that you think about it, ” Granan said without further ado. ”I know that the time I gave you does not do the scope of the decision justice, but its something that has to be decided quickly. ”

”I know, ” Rand said. ”Actually, I had thought a lot about this. Since I have been with you guys Ive admired the way you fight and would like to be a part of that. But at the same time I don know if that is what I would like to do with my life. That is why I need to know what other options I have. ”

Granan eyed him for a moment. He was calm and seemed to sympathize with Rands confusion so he said in his friendliest tone, ”You know, I have lived a long time and have seen many things. When I was younger I thought that if I was the most intelligent or the strongest or the most skilled I could keep myself alive till old age doing this kind of work. But after seeing so many people, younger and more capable than I die in so many situations while I continued living after committing so many mistakes and having put my life in dangers so many times the way I saw things has changed.

”Today I believe that things happen for a reason. I have survived more due to luck than my own competence on so many occasions that I really can see it any other way. To me, you being here after all that has happened is no coincidence. I think you have a role to play in the days to come and I want to help you with that. Many things are going on now and I find more reasons for worry than joy in most of them. Soon the League will be at war and it will be as in days past, total war with all cities involved. Besides that there is the mystery of the south and even here in Algin there are many enemies that are cause for vigilance. To face this we need all the help we can find and if you are able to play your part in this conflict, who knows you might end up finding your place in the world?

The old man fell silent again. Rand was impressed with his sudden eloquence but he did not say a word, he just waited.

”But before we discuss the future I should tell you a bit about my own past and the Brotherhood so that you can better understand why we are fighting. ”

”The founder of the Brotherhood was Alec Manche. After the War of the Road he wandered through the cities of the League and talked to our people. He realized that the conflicts that involved our people originated with disputes between the nobles and the city leaders. He understood that the Gorman people did not see the necessity for so many of those conflicts and there was a guarded desire to unite the cities, which would end the wars and the suffering caused by the wars. ”

”It was for this reason that the Kosh Brotherhood was founded, ” said Granan. ”Alec sought out other veterans spread across the League for help to establish the group and begin their mission for the unification of our people. His intent was to build an elite military force to aid one of the cities to take power and, during all his life until his death Alec labored to strengthen the Brotherhood. After he died, Irwen took over and strove for the same goal under the same ideals, continuing the effort so that our group could grow until the right moment, when unification can be achieved.

”Our intent is a secret. We have become a legend amongst the people because our work so far has been to fight as mercenaries for the cities of the League. However, that is just a smoke screen and you would have to be practically among us to see what is beyond it. ”

Granan stopped talking, he looked a little tired now and Rand decided to ask him something.

”Why are you a part of this? ”

”You haven guessed yet? ” retorted the soldier. ”I lost my entire family during the War of the Road. I had been sent to fight in Montha and when I returned to my village it had been razed by the forces of Duacin…I lost my wife and children… ”

Rand didn know how to reply to that and stood silent.

Granan recomposed himself and gazed at Rand with severity as he said, ”Before, I told you that you might have a role to play in all this, but do not deceive yourself. It would only happen if you are prepared to carry the burden that accompanies it. The Brotherhood can help you, we have a secret training ground on the mountain range and there you can become a real man. ”

”For that to happen, ” he continued, ”you will have to dedicate yourself as never before and you will have to accept our goals as your own and live for the unification. Are you prepared? ”

Before Rand could answer Granan reverted to a friendly tone and said, ”One moment! I don want you to answer now, you have until tomorrow evening to let me know and I will only speak to Irwen after I have your answer. Use the day to think about it and decide your future. If you do not wish to receive training we could release you and you can go wherever you wish. The choice is yours. ”

As he finished he stood up and walked towards a passage, turned to face Rand and said, ”Come, let us eat something. Its already late. ”

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