Fanfic:Closure/Part IV (b)

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Closure/Part IV (b)
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Before... The World of Dreams

Miahala awoke, but not really.

Long ago, she had first entered Tel'aran'rhiod... but it had been a long time since then. She did not instantly recognize it for what it was, except that once the fog had cleared from her mind she knew she should be elsewhere. There was a battle about to take place. Strangely, the thoughts were only coming in fragmented pieces, but quickly after the first. She recalled Saldaea, and she saw how she wasn't there now.

Something happened then that almost never happened. Mia panicked.

It began in the 'back' of her chest and slowly took over. A tingling sensation that swiftly grew into the pressure of a great weight upon her breast that made it increasingly difficult to breathe. All things seem real here. There came a slight numbness to her limbs and the pounding of adrenaline that shouted with every heart beat and lost breath: fight, or run. And yet... run from what, and to where? Or stand and fight... nothing.

"Miahala." It was a man's voice that whispered in her ear, a familiar voice but not one often heard and never heard outside of her mind... until now. In her emotional state, however, she did not fully realize this fact as strong arms circled her shoulders from behind. Pulled her back against a broad chest. Instantly, she began to calm.

"Caden," she began. But then...


The masculine voice chuckled. It was a rich sound. Deep. Warm. ...and without the rasping edge that she'd grown so accustomed to, and even fond of, in the past years. "I'll try not to take that personally," the voice of Darien Jolstraer teased.

Turning in his embrace, she realized in her movement that she... felt different. She felt less heavy. Not in the physical sense, as she had always stayed relatively fit, but in the emotional one. The relief of the weight upon her breastbone had relieved other feelings, but it was more than that. Mia briefly looked down upon herself and saw the style dress she wore long ago. Her hair was loose, pulled back at the top to be out of her face. Fingertips gingerly explored her shoulder. No scars.

"Darien?" she whispered, confused. Her blue-green eyes roamed his face and saw the strong line of his jaw with its dark beard. The Shienaran topknot she always teased him about and had never really liked. That small smile that always seemed to say he was up to something he shouldn't be, even as an adult, but was both teasing and warm at the same time. And those eyes. Blue eyes that had always seemed to cut straight to her soul. It was him.

Something deep within was telling her that this should not be... and yet something else was keeping her from listening to that voice. She pressed herself against him, buried her face against his chest the way she had when she was younger and needed comfort.

"Aye, love," he whispered in her ear, holding her close. "For a time."

"What do you mean?" she asked, pulling back.

Darien smiled sadly, knowingly. "Don't forget," he whispered significantly. His hand brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

She frowned, uncertain. Images and sensations flooded her, but they were painful. "Have I not finally just died?" she said. Her throat was thick with uncried tears and the near hope that she was dead. Life was growing so heavy.

"No," he said firmly. "This is the World of Dreams, where I have watched you from all these years. Lonisa Jenkai has sought to trap you here, because she somehow discovered you were susceptible. And this..." He touched her chest, bare to the level of propriety in this dress, in a way that was intimate when they were married but now only served to pull on the chain there, freeing its weight from with in bodice. He held up his ring - the one she received in the letter, and had worn with the others. " how she did it."

"How?" Mia asked, looking at his ring in his hand. It belongs there. What looked so large in her hands was fitting in his. "Your ring was no object of Power."

Shaking his head, he let it fall back to where it had been and she felt strangely bereft. "No, it wasn't," he agreed. His hands stayed on her hips, holding her close but still being able to meet her eyes as they spoke. "She put some weave upon it. It resembles the tracking weave I used to use, but I don't know what it is. I don't know the many secrets of the Black Ajah, after all." He paused. "When she looked at you across the field, she made it work and you fell." He kissed her forehead.

Miahala felt a strange warmth flood her from that touch - one that brought about the memories of all that had led up to the moment she fell from Sorei's back with painfully sharp clarity. She closed her eyes, crying out, but for naught. The memories did not stop...

...and were not just memories. The images continued. She seemed to see everything.

"Why?" Mia whispered tearfully, her eyes still closed and still trying to not see the bodies of those she loved dead, and the rest fighting against such great numbers. All of which she could see better than they could.

"When I left Shienar for the White Tower, a young girl came with me. She was to learn to be an Aes Sedai. Her name was Lonisa Jenkai. I can look back now and see she was... in love with me, in the way girls could be. But I was still hurting from my own love and had no idea. I did not feel that for her. To me, she was just a child. A sweet girl, and one I was glad to escort and help.

"As you know, however, I discovered I could channel and had to leave the White Tower in a hurry, lest I end up at the bad end of fight with a Red. I did not tell Lonisa. She was busy as a Novice then and had her own life. I'd like to say it was altruistic, letting her be... but I simply didn't think to. I went on with my life. I learned to be an Asha'man. I mourned the life that came before, until I met you." He smiled, but it was still not without sadness.

Miahala had finally opened her eyes, in time to see the smile but it only made her feel worse. "She killed you, didn't she?" she asked weakly.

He nodded. "Not by her own hand, of course. She tried the first time, but instead I ended up only kidnapped." His sudden hard look told the rest of that story. "I never betrayed you, love. I barely remember the time, but know it was by no choice of my own. Adaegor is mine, but not by my heart... only by the force of some powerful drug. I know you know this, but I want to reaffirm it. I escaped, and came straight home... and yet Lonisa, Onnie, succeeded the second time. And apparently, it wasn't enough. She's been plotting all these long years."

Silence fell between them. Perhaps their surroundings changed with the whim of the World of Dreams. She refused to look at anything but him. The memories and images still burned in her mind and a part of her longed to go back so that she could join in the fight. Protect those she loved. Be with Caden, at his side. That was where she belonged. It was her family ground they fought on. And yet...

"I don't know if I can go back," Mia whispered. She knew what would happen when she looked at the bodies upon the field. Who she would find. "I don't know if I'm strong enough."

"Mia'chalindra," he whispered solemnly, taking her face in his hands. "You must. You have always been far stronger than even you know and you have a life there that you will be getting on with. You have a husband and other children still very much alive and in need of you. You will go back and you will live. Not like before, never again, but you will not let Lonisa have her way. You will not be trapped here."

The grip of the past began to loosen from her heart and return to her mind the memory of the bond, and the need to return to it. To him. To them. "I've never forgotten," she said softly.

He smiled that damn smile, although again not without sadness. It is his blood, too. "You never will." He lowered his face and kissed her. Her awareness erupted in white light. Time, as it had been through all of this, was utterly meaningless and her soul returned to its proper place as the last blades struck and the last flames lit the air. She woke back in the real world, the world of the waking and the living, and to all that she now must face...

Back into Reality

Standing over the remains of Lonisa Jenkai, the Fiery Serpent folded his arms behind his back.

Thus you have fallen, chasing your dream, he thought, pale grey eyes narrow slits of musing, you dreamt as if you would live forever, yet lived till you died today. Though I suppose you must rejoice - believing that your dream came true.

Lucan turned away from the swarthy cadaver, nodding his head to Darrik briefly - as a silent thank for his services. Yet his eyes came to rest upon the figure emanating from the Wards he had raised beyond the grounds of the farm. Smiling a little as the sun caught the woman's stride - since that was what any Light-blinded would do in seeing the Captain General's swift recovery - his thoughts were still on the Likeminded that had fallen. Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true. In a way, you were just like I am.

For I too live chasing a dream - at the price of my soul.

It felt strange to cross a battlefield when the battle was over, and yet to know what had happened as though one had been there.

Miahala drifted across the expanse, feeling like a shadow and hollow inside. Blood and gore covered the pasture, steam rising off burnt patches of ground and small heaps of bodies, up into the early morning air. The bond expanded in her mind and she felt Caden. It was both strange, and comforting... after what had happened in the World of Dreams. Yet her eyes could not lift from the ground.

She surveyed each body not a Trolloc... With the initial shock passed, even those at a distance she could identify. Names wandered through her mind as they all drew nearer one another.

"Mother!" It was Sadira's voice that caught her first, as she was nearest. The Blue rushed closer, but then paused in understanding. Ryne and Sadie shared a surprised, yet grateful smile, but stayed back and let Caden through first.

Lifting his head where he leaned upon his grounded sabre, Caden was covered in dust and blood. Yet as he felt Miahala reawaken from her condition, that single precious glimmer of hope and faith in the Light had pierced the clouds of hatred. His face unclenched while he straightened - the breeze shedding the dust from his form. His harried features turned to see her, the green eye cast jade by brilliant sun.

Pulling his tool of murder from the ground, he walked to meet her. Purpose rekindled in his well-being, he found reason to sheath his blade by his side. He should not have doubted the Healer, and had faith in his wife's indomitable spirit. His fears had been ungrounded, and there was no cause for him to ride the remaining leagues to the Mountains of Dhoom.

Nay, his meaning of life walked right there, angling towards him even though the horror and grief marred the beacon inside his mind - the knot that was her; Miahala Ives Sedai. He limped past the array of kin and friend, battle's marks upon skin yet with relief in his cold heart.

He reached her and took her into his arms.

"I'm sorry," he rasped to her faintly, his gauntlet rubbing her back. "We were too late."

Smothering a sob in the deep of her throat, Mia let herself be pulled into the embrace without care for the ideas of images or propriety. She was long, long past that. Her hands weakly spread over the front of his bloodied and dusty armor as though she wished to grasp it in them and pull herself inside his chest. To hide herself there from the horrors that lay all around her.

"I know," she whispered. "I saw it."

Beyond the veil of emotion, and the fact of their reunion, Caden gradually developed a small frown on his stony features. He parted from her a little, his hands on her arms. "How could you have seen it?" He lifted his gauntlet and tenderly stroked her cheek. "And how did you manage to return?"

Miahala lifted her head to look into his eyes and the great wealth of emotions, complex and eternal, spread out like the ocean in her gaze. "From Dreams," she said. Her tone was distant and sorrowful. A stab of guilt shifted through her as she realized she was in the arms of one husband while about to speak the name of another... and yet the one was dead, and Caden was alive. She broke no vow. "Darien..." She smiled sadly. "He helped me free, to return to life and those I love."

Though he could not possibly understand how something that was mentioned had come about, Caden accepted his wife's words for that they were and what they meant. The Wheel Weaved as the Wheel willed, and he had learned long ago that the grind was unpredictable, and sometimes unexplainable. Since before the ambush - months ago - where Miahala has been poisoned, the Freak did have faith in her love for him and would not let trite jealousy touch his thoughts at the mention of her late husband.

Since Miahala was returned to him, he admitted deep gratefulness if the spirit of Darien Jolstaer had in fact played a part in the unexplainable events beyond the world they considered their own. "I understand," he said, even if he could not - but he understood enough to know what had been done. The important thing was that it had sufficed. "The Light was merciful in that at least."

Whatever she might have said in response faded away as her eyes finally moved to the field. She had been trying very hard to not let them, but it was inevitable. Miahala drifted from Caden's embrace towards the broken body of a woman. The face was not visible from where she stood, but somehow... she just knew.

Walking towards the gathering, Lucan came to stand close to Thea Sedai. He turned his head to her, arms still folded behind his back and his white coat now grey and black. "We should gather the dead," he said quietly, "yet I have a feeling the Captain General wishes to say her farewells first."

In a low, demure voice - a whisper on the wind - the Fiery Serpent added, "In the meantime, I will be Healing those in need. You... you need not bother, Sister, should you not have the heart to leave your Gaidin's side. I can provide the treatments as needed." Things had come to an end, and still Lucan played his role - never letting his mask drop. As it was always to be.

Thea had not been involved in the battle the same as the others - she was no warrior. As such, she knew that this was her time. Her eyes drifted to Ryne, but his gaze was respectfully averted from his mother and looking towards Thea instead. He gave her an imperceptible nod of understanding just before she looked back to Lucan. "I will aid, Brother," she said in her soft voice.

For her part, Sadira - for once - could not be as stoic as her brother. Her father's eyes followed her mother as she walked towards the body. Sadie knew it too, and she was over-whelmed. Turning away, she was met by Scerai - who, in her moment of grief, she hadn't sense draw near - and he held her as she wept silently for the vastness of the life claimed here today and for all of them that she needed to remember.

Jerid's eyes fell over the carnage for the first time since the end of the battle. In his long life he had seen many such fields, but only once before had it held so profound an impact as it did now. Removed from the torrent of Saidin, the cold reality set in for the Indigo that another child of the Tower had been robbed. A flash of sorrow skittered across the surface of his mind.

His gold-green eyes followed Miahala's path, and slowly he drew closer until he stood near Selenirra and Benar. His gaze flashed toward Lysira briefly, and he grasped his Warder's hand and squeezed it tightly. It was more for his benefit than anything else, and to serve as an anchor for where he stood now.

The desire to cross the small distance to the Green warred inside with the necessity to allow this grieving process. In the end, he stayed where he was. Miahala was like a sister to him, but there were some moments that only belonged to family. To a parent of a lost child.

Jerid knew, and it was enough to cause his normally hard expression to soften. He could empathize with Miahala, could remember all too bitterly the anger and painful anguish that came with such a thing. His own daughter had been robbed of him, and his grandchildren. An aged look entered his eyes, revealing the many decades that had passed before his eyes and he suddenly felt very tired.

He looked at Lysira and then to her parents and made the decision to stay until he was needed elsewhere. It would do little to comfort or console Miahala, but nonetheless he would remain.

Benar and Selenirra lingered near their daughter and her bondmate, for though they understood some of the pain here... they knew they were also set apart from it. They understood what it was like to believe you'd outlived your children, but they had never had this scene... and they had gotten their daughter back. So, out of respect, they stayed at the edge of this moment and let it be for those it belonged to.

Apart from the rest, in her mind if not in proximity, Miahala dropped to her knees in the dirt, heedless of the blood and char.

She reached out and touched the cooling body, rolling the woman on to her back so that Mia could see and be certain of who it was. As the face, slack in lifelessness, turned up towards the sky, it was confirmed and the aching hollow in Mia's chest expanded. It was bad enough to see the bodies of any family, and worse yet of the children and then of a few stablehands who never even held the blood relation to bring this on themselves... only bad timing. That all was bad enough.

It was worse yet to actually lay hands upon a dead child, even if that child was far from their youth. Mia was never more painfully aware than at that moment of the agelessness of her face while her fingertips traced the age lines in Tianna's, ran over the white hair. To think that Mia had lived so long... She had never been unaware of this, but it was still something else to see it. Worse yet, in these circumstances.

Mia pulled Tianna close to her chest, bending over her in mournful affection. Softly, she began to sing a song she had once sung to Tianna and Tarvin when they were but infants.

Epilogue: The Reason

It had been a little over three weeks since they had returned from Saldaea. The Green had taken leave from her positions for that time, as she could not work during this and there had been other matters to attend to. All that was needed to be known had been gathered at the farm - the list of the dead - and Miahala had been in contact with family back in the Borderlands and closer to the Tower.

Miahala Sha'hal was the oldest living member of her family. This fell to her. Also because it had been her that had brought this particular blood line to life, and had - indirectly and directly - brought about its end.

No, she wasn't blaming herself... not really. Who could have known? She did take the guilt of it in many ways, because she was a mother and her daughter had died. She hadn't been there and couldn't even take part in the fight to avenge her family. Mia was aware that, again, there had been nothing she could do...

...but there had been nothing she could do. That had worn on her.

At least Caden had been there, she took comfort in and for many, many reasons. She had spoken since with the others who had been there - all of them, blood or not - to thank them for their help. She had taken solace and given comfort to her remaining children, and had told Sadira of her father. They had spoken oft of Darien, which Mia could now do again with all emotions in their proper places. That part of it had been a beautiful and tragic experience, and not one ever to be forgotten.

She had taken to wearing a thin black choker as her only outward sign of mourning, as she was a private woman, when all was said and done.

The Master of Arms made his way back towards the Ives quarters, another day of tasks completed while feeling the beacon of black grief inside his skull. He had no mind for the administration of the Yards with his dear wife feeling the way she did, but he shouldered his duties like he always did - yet with a far more tangible bitterness in his stony mien.

Yet again the Shadow had affected their lives, and though they had been victorious, the cost had been too dire. No manner of victory was worth the life of kin, and that was why he shared his wife's feelings the past weeks. The Final Battle was too long in coming, and the casualties amounted to more and more with each meanwhile conflict that passed. In the end, would it still be worth it all?

That was a question that lingered in is mind, when Caden Ives turned the key and reunited with his family - another day at end.

When her husband walked into their apartment, he would find his wife and child in one of the more unusual postures. The Captain General was lying on her back on the floor with a just-about four year old sitting on her stomach. Mia was smiling. (Grief lingered on the bond, but she was keeping herself together.) His green eyes dazzled at a little ball of Power- wrought light that was floating in front of him. Sometimes it rose and fell, and he would try to catch it - to no avail.

Mia turned to look at Caden as he walked in. "He's looking more like you every day," she had to comment. The light disappeared and Haeden now also saw his father. "Papa!" he called, scrambling off his mother's abdomen and rushing over to his father. "He can also now count up to twenty objects in a row," she added. It seemed a little silly to be lying on the floor, but she didn't move just yet, pulling an arm behind her head.

Life was... hard, in many ways, after what had happened... but she was finding it a little easier than she thought it would be, with the help of her husband and still living children, of course, and particularly Haeden. A child of his age was always good to distract one, and it was nice to just be... a wife and mother for a while.

Since she looked rather comfortable where she lay, Caden opted to hoist Haeden up to his shoulder when he came to him - one calloused hand holding him in place. "At this pace, he will have his mother's delightful smile and eyes, and eventually also her mind." He began to walk around Miahala with Haeden on his shoulder, giving the child a ride around the carpet. As he played with his son leisurely, he continued to converse with his wife. "How fare you this day?"

Miahala watched father and son with a wistful expression. "A little better with each day," she replied quietly. "And you, my love?"

"The Yards stands ready," he rasped in reply, "as they will stand when the Final Battle comes, thus I consider myself content. Yet I struggle like I do all days when I feel your grief. For I try to stand strong for you and lend you my strength, but also know that there is just so much I can do - for both Yards and you."

Her head wasn't precisely in place to nod, but she sort of nodded. Turning it to face the ceiling again, she let out a quiet breath. Briefly there passed a sense of guilt for weighing on him so, but it swiftly faded into another idea... There had been a thought lingering in her mind for days now and it chose that point to reassert itself.

When his wife spoke no words, Caden remained on his circling path around her - Haeden beginning to play with his closest braid. The Freak made no comment to his son, but let him swing the braid as if it was a rope. As he passed over Miahala's head, he realised the hue of the bond to her had taken on a contemplative shade. "What is on your mind, dearest?"

"I was just thinking," she replied softly. The Green frowned slightly. "We never speak of it... too far off, or too likely unattainable..." she began. She knew that she was speaking in enigmas, but she couldn't seem to help it. The round-about way was the only way that she was going to get to it. "...yet I cannot help but often wonder, more so now than ever, what it might be like to live a life like others do."

In the same round-about way, Caden answered, during his round-about gait. "The rarest treat, I say."

Pushing herself to a sitting position, she folded her legs beside her and turned her body to face him with a thoughtful expression. "Do you ever think about it? About not... leading the lives we do? To have some semblance of normality, where we are not chasing the Shadow in every instance? Or living more for duty than for our hearts? To be bound in chains to this place..." There was almost a sense of urgency to her tone, but very muted.

Having stopped by her side, Caden crouched down to let Haeden roam the apartments a little while he spoke to his wife. One knee upon the carpet and one arm resting upon the other, he searched her eyes - trying to gauge what little the bond did not already relay. "I have," he said to her gravely, remembering his erstwhile thinking outside Baerlon, where he had waited for Lysria Gaidar to return from her scouting mission. "You know already how I yearn for respite, so that should not be a surprise to you. Yet recently I have found the allure of the third path, that does not involve duty or death. Are you saying that you have found it an alternative?"

Mia nodded. "Aye, of a sort," she whispered. "I think about it often and I've not been able to stop, it seems, lately. So long have I lived and never have I regretted my life... until now, I suppose, but not even then. It gave me many good things, but I can't help but think that maybe I've given enough." She brushed her hair from her eyes. "I think I want to step down... as Mistress of Novices and Captain General. To release my chains. I will be your Aes Sedai, your wife and Haeden's mother, mother to my other children... and just Miahala."

Blue-green eyes glistened softly as tears began to well. "Do you think I could do that?" she whispered.

Moving his frame closer to her, Caden ran his arms around her - slowly embracing her to himself. "You are all things you say already," he scraped to her, one of his hands stroking her opposite shoulder, "and you are those things to the fullest. You leave neither man, husband or Warder in me wanting as you are now, so for you to be less to others means naught in the issue of you and I."

He parted from her a little, looking at her with words ringing true and sure. "You can never be 'less' to me," he clarified, "but only so much more for 'us'. Though we might serve our duties well, there are others that stand capable. Should you resign your Ajah and the Novice Halls to others, the Light will find other ways to shine."

Within his arms, she held herself against him and pressed her head to his shoulder. He was the anchoring force in her life, above all else. Her children were her reason, but he was what kept her steady when the tumults of her mind threatened to over-whelm her. Mia took great comfort in this now, as the lights inside her mind took on new hues. "Truly so?" she whispered, almost not daring to believe that she had a choice. She had believed it once, long ago... and needed to believe it again.

"Aye," rasped Caden adamantly, "listen to me. Whatever duties we have towards others, there is only a single one that remains an obligation regardless of rank and standing. And you know what that obligation is; the single call to arms that everyone will heed. It is the moment and place, where all paths of life will lead - the knot where all Threads meet."

Miahala's eyes were open and yet from where she rested against him, they stared upon little. (Vaguely outside her immediate senses, she could hear Haeden moving around in the room and so she knew he was well and was of the age when she didn't need to watch him every second in a room 'child safe', as this one had been made.) Her immediate focus remained with her husband. "Tarmon Gaidon," she said quietly.

She knew she would stand when that day came, should she be alive to see it... Nothing would ever change that. For, like he said, all would be called to arms. No matter where she was or what she was doing, that would be the singular truth. Now was the moment to decide what to do with her life until then, which was far more complex than the knowledge of the Final Battle... strange though that balance was.

"A Prophecy dictates me," said Caden, the deep noise in his ruptured throat regretful, "or tells me, that I shall be there, and lead the Yards into the Fourth Age. Yet I have come to realise that perhaps this Prophecy did not deny me some manner of respite until that time comes."

His other hand came up to rest against the back of her head and he closed his eyes. "Perhaps, it will let me gather my House under my lead, and let me rest before I take up my sabre again. There is no way to judge when the horn will be called, and thus no way for me to know if I can believe in a life beyond these Battlements. Until I find the truth about my own path, I will remain - hoping for the third path to branch from my steps."

Pulling back slightly, Mia lifted her head and looked up into his eyes - knowing only one would gaze back. "The Light cannot mean to keep us from that," she said quietly. Her gaze and her voice had taken on a distant quality, and yet there were intense undertones in it. One was like desperation, a need based on grief. The other, though, was like a thrill of realization and knowledge. "We will all stand come that day, yet the path before it is ours to choose.

"As we have said to one another when this life came to us. Our love. Our marriage. Our son. ...there must be a reason to fight and if nothing else, we will be fighting for each other's sake, and so I cannot imagine the Light would forsake us a chance to know it better before the horn is called." Her words took on a quiet fervor. "I press not for your steps in these things, but I think my mind has already made itself up. I want a chance to know that life, at least for a while, before the day comes."

"The Light has not been kind to us before," he said as he clenched his jaws, looking away from Mia's blue-green eyes, "challenging us every step of the way. Perchance he had just to see this path all the while we fought, or the Wheel shows you mercy in this realisation. Yet the nations still crumble, and there is still much to do to make sure the Yards do not deteriorate before the horn is called. Should it sound, I reckon we should not travel too far. Preferably, I would still oversee the Yards."

Mia smiled slightly. "The walls matter not," she said simply. "Only the understanding. I wish to remove these immense weights upon my shoulders and focus on the things that are the most important, as they always have been... but now my ability to carry so many is less and I don't want duties of the present to outweigh my family. Already have I lost many of them for it, in many ways. I want to enjoy those that remain, while I can." The silver sheen had deepened over her eyes.

"You imply that there is no time left for us," said Caden and looked back. "Do you already lack your faith in me - as I begin to turn grey?" A small smile, whilst shooting a mock accusatory look to her.

She could do nothing but laugh softly and shake her head, yet as she did there was a distant ruefulness to her eyes as the met his gaze again. "I have learned quite soundly that Warders, and beloveds, are so even after death." Mia smiled and yet there was a warm solemnity. A contradiction of expression, yet they matched each other in her look all too well. Some tears escaped silently, blazed a trail down her cheek. "You know I would never lack faith in your ability, nor believe there was no time for us. I simply wish more of it now than we have had up until this moment."

"I understand," said Caden and looked down upon the carpet briefly. His thoughts were not upon the dead Warder of his woman's, but upon the present - what truly mattered to him.

"You deserve your respite, wife." Caden brushed his fingers against her cheek as he finally said those words. "I will have mine eventually, but I will not be the one to pilfer you of such a thing just because I still have to serve the Tower directly for some time more. I will not deny you a more quiet life out of petty jealousy, since you benefit our small family by stepping down. Eventually, I will find someone to take my place, and I will purchase a farm where we might lead our lives - should you wish to escape these walls."

Her eyes widened in honest surprise. Mia blinked and then laughed softly. "A farm?" she asked, with a small bit of incredulity in her words.

Chuckling a little, Caden assumed a slightly hurt expression. "You do not think me able, then?"

Miahala gave him a warm smile to erase any hurt that her initial reaction may have caused. "You know that I think you incapable of nothing." The Oaths made it so. "I believe you could do anything that you set your mind to do, and yet I will admit to no small amount of surprise... I was born the daughter of a farmer, and I can see myself there again, living the life I left behind... but I do have a harder time picturing you there. Yet if you wished it, so would I follow. I would follow you anywhere." She paused for the sincerity of the statement, but then had to laugh softly again. "Since when did this farm idea come upon you?"

"Since Baerlon," he answered her, glad to see that even if the tears fell, her spirits were finally lifting, "where I came to understand that the Light might grant us a measure of mercy before the horn sounds. A quiet life, where I might find the respite I need without ending my life, and still be ready for the time I am needed." Tilting his head minutely, he trailed two fingertips along the side of her eye. "I think you have stopped crying."

Lifting a hand to her face, Mia wiped away a few errant tears. Before she could speak, there was a small body standing beside her. Miahala turned to look at her son who had come up with a disconcerted look on his young face. "Is Mama okay?" he asked.

"Yes, little one, I'm fine," she said with a warm smile. Leaning back a little and pulling an arm from where it had been resting upon Caden's chest, she pulled her son close to her and kissed the top of his head. Bright and perceptive, unobtrusive in his innocence. She smiled with a mother's warmth as she rested her head slightly against his and her eyes drifted back to Caden's. The reason, she thought.

Almost as if reading her mind, Caden's mien wore a faint smile. The reason.

Their hearts had a reason, that reason and duty could not know.

The End