In the next morning, after his arrival in Algin, Rand spent his time wandering around the Brotherhood barracks and exploring the place, making the most of his newly granted freedom. He did not pay much attention to his surroundings however, as he walked through the corridors and rooms because his mind was elsewhere, thinking about what he had been told the previous day.

For the first time in years he woke up feeling free, trusting that Granan had meant what he said that if he chose to decline the offer, he could do as he wished with his life. Deep inside Rand was battling a bit of frustration because he had always wanted to prove to everyone who had doubted him that he could achieve his goals on his own but now they were not there to see that. But that thought seemed so futile now.

Rand thought about taking a stroll around the city in the afternoon in hopes that it would help him decide. He had already had enough of the barracks, where he did not feel totally at ease. He asked for Granans leave, who granted it without a fuss, just reminding him to return before nightfall so that they could talk. Granan then suggested that Rand visit the city park and marked it on a map of Algin for him.

The park was near the central marketplace, except in the northern zone of the city. There was a small druid sanctuary and an amphitheater where artistic and political events were hosted regularly. To get there Rand had to walk through a labyrinth of slum alleyways.

When he got to the market he was once again impressed with the vivacity of Algin. The noise there was overwhelming, with the shouts of each vendor vying with the market noise, trying to lure customers to their tent or stall. Rand could see that he could buy practically everything he could need after just a brief walk there. Most, of course, sold vegetables, fruits, legumes and cereals but he also saw animals such as chicken, rabbits, quails, goats, and larger ones such as cows and horses. There were also stalls selling cloths, domestic utensils, leather, weapons, metals, tools, jewels and even flowers and exotic items that had been brought there from faraway lands.

Rand did not stay there for long. It was noisy and overcrowded with the excess of people shoving each other for space and he wasn interested in any of those items. So he carried on towards the park.

He was walking to the northern part of the city and the kind of households began to change, as well as the state of the streets and the amount of people on them. He knew that he was going to where the people who ran the city lived, and the difference in quality of life was visually obvious.

Above all, that peaceful environment favored inner reflection and so as soon as he had set foot there he felt more at ease to contemplate his situation and so before he knew it he was already nearing the park.

At first sight Rand could not fathom what was so special about that place. All he could see was a just tract of land in the middle of the city but as he entered it walking on one of the trails he gradually changed his mind. He no longer saw it as such because everything was well tended to and there was not a dense undergrowth below the trees. The causeways were lit by oil lamps at night and he saw that stone benches and chairs had been placed all over. There was also a small lake in the center, where many swans were floating on the waters surface. Besides that, Rand noted that there was a guard constantly patrolling the area. A number of men outfitted in chainmail bearing the city symbol, a silver scale over a black background.

When he got to the lake Rand saw a placard indicating the place where the sanctuary to Nierva was located, who was the mother goddess for the druids. He decided to go there in hopes of reaching some enlightenment. When he got there he saw that the sanctuary was built in the same style as the all the others he had visited, with four basalt pillars supporting a roof of stone boulders. As was customary, ivy grew around them and in the middle there stood a pedestal with water mixed with sacred oil in a silver bowl. In times of celebration the oil was a means to illuminate the spirits and right under the pedestal there was a petrified tree with the protective runes of the city carved on its bark, which had been polished.

Rand approached it to seek guidance from the forces of nature and ask that Nierva grant him enlightenment and wisdom, and that she would light his path. After that he made a reverence and left for the lake in the middle of the park.

When he got there he sat on a bench and there he stayed, lost in thought while watching the swans and oblivious to what was going on around him. That was probably the main reason why he was startled when someone covered his eyes and spoke to him from behind.

”Guess who? ”

Rand was stunned for a brief moment, but as soon as he recognized the voice an immeasurable joy swept over him.

”Valerie? ” he asked.

He didn hear a reply, just someone walk around the bench and sit next to him. Only then she said, ”By the look of things, you don know that many girls from around here, ” while smiling at him.

That made Rand feel nervously awkward, and he preferred to change the subject.

”What are you doing here? ” he asked her.

”What are you doing here? ” she replied, laughing. ”I live nearby and come all the time. ”

”Alone? Does your father let you walk around by yourself? ”

”No, never, thats why I try to keep him from finding out, ” she answered, smiling again. ”But what about you? Aren you supposed to be with the Brotherhood, or have you managed to escape? ”

”Actually, no I asked for permission to walk around and get to know the city and they granted it. Im no longer their prisoner now. ”

”Wow, good for you, ” she said with apparent sincerity. ”Well, and? Did you like the city? ”

”Well…Algin is larger and noisier than Gorland, its very different. I like this park though, its peaceful and I like those kinds of places. ” He stopped taking for a moment before continuing, ”So do you come here often? ”

”Sometimes, but I already told you that, ” she answered smiling again.

They stopped talking for a moment before she turned to look at him with her captivating blue eyes. Rand felt a heat rush in his face and struggled to not glance away.

Then Valerie said, ”Come with me, Ill show you the rest of the park since you
e liking it so much, ” as she stood, taking his hand.

Rand allowed himself to be led by her.

To him that afternoon had transformed into an incredible dream from which he did not want to wake up. The manner in which she talked, walked and laughed; everything that Valerie did would bewitch him, and the fact that he was able to spend more time with her seemed surreal to him. She showed him the park, told him stories from her upbringing and important things which happened that she witnessed..

They circumvented the lake and saw a few men lighting some lanterns. Curious, Rand asked, ”What are they doing? ”

”Those are paper lanterns, at night they are lit and placed on the lake to thank the goddess. Usually they are requests made by someone wishing to make an offering of gratitude, some of those are probably because of me and my brother. ”

”Humm…I see. It must be quite a sight. ”

”Yes, it is, ” she replied, smiling.

Rand saw her crouch towards some flowers. She stayed like this for some time and when she rose he noticed that she was emotional about something. He thought it best not to ask but to his surprise he did not need to.

”Eph told me that you lost your parents. He must have told you that we lost our mother some years back. ”

Rand replied with a nod.

”Can you remember your mothers face? ” she asked, her voice carrying a sad tone. ”As much as I try, I can . I remember what she was like, but I can recall her face. ”

”Yes… With me it is the same, ” said Rand after a moment of reflection.

”My mother loved flowers, she would personally take care of our castle and house gardens herself. Every time I came near her she would smell of a different aroma, of some kind of flower. Now whenever there is a flowery scent I am reminded of her. ”

Both carried on walking together back to the bench where they had met. Sitting there they resumed the conversation.

”You told me that now you
e free. What are you planning to do now? ” asked Valerie.

”Good question, ” replied Rand, who took a moment to think and decided to open up himself even more with her. ”Actually I came here especially to mull over it. Yesterday evening I was invited to join the Brotherhood. If I accept they will take me to train in a secret location. I am not too sure whether to accept the offer or follow my way far from here. ”

She was silent for few moments, which Rand thought odd because she had always had a ready answer for everything.

So Valerie looked at him again, this time with an irresistible sweetness in her eyes.

She said, ”If you decide to join well be spending a lot more time together then, because Eph and I are being sent there too. ”

Rand was stupefied. The sheer happiness he felt then blocked all attempts to mouth any words, so he did the only thing he could, nodded his head.

Since it was growing late and Rand had promised Granan that he would return before nightfall he said goodbye to Valerie and made his way back to the barracks. He noticed that some people were staring at him as he walked past them, and only later realized that it must have been because of the wide smile that he had stretched across his face.


Radiant, he arrived at the barracks and waited at the entrance until the warden allowed his passage with Granans permission, who went to the door to meet Rand.

They both went to his room and when they got there Rand said, ”Ive spent the entire day pondering whether I should or should accept the offer. In fact I only just now made a final decision while walking in the park. I want to join, ” he said conclusively.

”Son, I know just how difficult this decision can be, but I am glad that you chose to join. I don have much time to talk today because now I need to let Irwen know, but as soon as possible we will talk and Ill explain to you how things will work from now on. I will tell you a bit more about your training as well, since I would imagine that has fed your curiosity. ”

Rand nodded, even though he had purposely omitted Valeries involvement in his decision. He was too ashamed to say that she had been the main reason why he accepted the offer.

Before leaving the room, Granan added one final remark, ”Go now to the hall to sup. We ended up going late yesterday and you weren able to eat as well as you could have, ” before leaving through the door.

Rand didn quite understand what he meant by that but did as he was advised and headed down to the hall. He was starving and wanted to drink something in commemoration of his new life.

When he got there he understood what Granan had meant, since during that hour the hall was full of Brotherhood soldiers. Many men gathered in groups seated at the tables and corners of the room, some of them played, others ate while still others sang but all of them drank. The previous day Rand had noted that the place was run by a woman nearing her forties. She was tall, dark haired and had a voluptuous body for her age. Granan had called her Elena. She was there again putting order to the chaos, with numerous girls under her pupilage who would serve the men their food and beverages.

Rand searched for a place to sit. While doing that he sensed the strong scent of cooked meat and of drink looming in the air. The smells were not divorced from the noise of singing that spread throughout the hall and that is why he preferred to accommodate himself in a corner near one of the doors. As he sat he saw a lady waiting on a table next to his. The girl was place newly filled mugs of beer while a man passed his hand under her skirt.

Rand indicated to her and she came over to him. The woman said, relieved, ”Good evening lad, ” displaying a set of yellow teeth as she smiled to Rand. ”Can I help you with anything? ”

”Good evening, ” he said, returning the smile. ”Bring me the evening meal and some wine with honey, please. ”

As she walked away towards the kitchen, Rand sat and watched her go. She must have been around twenty and some years, had long dark brown hair, her body was thin, but her face wasn comely. Rand had never been with any woman and that frequently left him uncomfortable. Maybe that was a good time to end this issue.

But when the woman returned with his food he did not say a word, despite noticing that she was looking differently at him. Perhaps his highborn appearance and his well looked after teeth had left an impression, but he soon shoved those thoughts aside and thought about Valerie again. He could not think of anything else.

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