"I found it".
"It’s as fine a blade as I’ve ever seen". Tam pulled it out again, looking at the folds of the metal. "It’s ancient. And used. Well-used. Cared for, certainly, but this didn’t just sit in some warlord’s trophy case. Men have swung this blade. Killed with it".
"It belonged . . . to a kindred soul".
Tam looked at him, searching his eyes. "Well, I suppose I should try it out, then. Come on".
"In the night?"
"It’s early evening still", Tam said. "This is a good time. The practice grounds won’t be clogged".
Rand raised an eyebrow, but stepped aside as Tam rounded the table and left the tent. Rand followed, the Maidens falling in behind them, and trailed his father to the nearby practice grounds, where a few Warders sparred, lit by glowing lanterns on poles.
Near the rack of wooden practice weapons, Tam took the new sword out and moved into a few forms. Though his hair was gray, his face creased around the eyes, Tam al’Thor moved like a ribbon of silk in the wind. Rand had never seen his father fight, not even spar. In truth, a piece of him had had trouble imagining gentle Tam al’Thor killing anything other than a grouse for the firepit.
Now he saw. Lit by flickering lantern light, Tam al’Thor slipped into the sword forms like a comfortable pair of boots. Oddly, Rand found himself jealous. Not of his father specifically, but of any who could know the peace of sword practice. Rand held up his hand, then the stump of the other. Many of the forms required two hands. To fight as Tam did was not the same as fighting with shortsword and shield, as many men in the infantry did. This was something else. Rand might still be able to fight, but he could never do this. No more than a man missing one foot could dance.
Tam completed Hare Finds Its Hole, sliding the weapon into its sheath in one smooth motion. Orange lantern light reflected off of the blade as it slipped into its cover. "Beautiful", Tam said. "Light, the weight, the construction . . . Is it Power-forged?"
"I don’t know", Rand said.
He’d never had a chance to fight with it.
Tam took a cup of water from a serving boy. A few newer recruits ran through pike formations in the distance, working late into the night. Every moment of training was precious, particularly for those who were not often on the front lines.
New recruits, Rand thought, watching them. These, too, are my burden. Every man who fights.
He would find a way to defeat the Dark One. If he did not, these men fought in vain.
"You’re worried, son", Tam said, handing the cup back to the serving boy.
Rand calmed himself, finding peace, turning to Tam. He remembered, from his old memories, something from a book. The key to leadership is in the rippling waves. You could not find stillness on a body of water if there was turmoil underneath. Likewise, you could not find peace and focus in a group unless the leader himself had peace within.
Tam eyed him, but did not challenge Rand on the sudden mask of control that he had adopted. Instead, Tam reached to the side and took one of the balanced wooden practice swords from the rack. He tossed it to Rand, who caught it, standing with his other arm folded behind his back.
"Father", Rand said warningly as his father picked up another sparring sword. "This is not a good idea".
"I’ve heard you became quite the swordsman", Tam said, taking a few swipes with the practice sword to test its balance. "I’d like to see what you can do. Call it a father’s pride".
Rand sighed, holding up his other arm, displaying the stump. People’s eyes tended to slide off it, as if they were seeing a Gray Man. They didn’t like the idea that their Dragon Reborn was flawed.
He never let them know how tired he felt, inside. His body was worn, like a millstone that had worked for generations. He was still tough enough to do his job, and he would, but Light, he felt tired sometimes. Carrying the hopes of millions was heavier than lifting any mountain.
Tam didn’t pay any heed to the stump. He took out a handkerchief and wrapped it around one of his hands, then tied it tight using his teeth. "I won’t be able to grip a thing with my offhand", he said, swinging the sword again. "It will be a fair fight. Come on, son".
Tam’s voice carried authority—the authority of a father. It was the same tone he had once used to get Rand out of bed to go muck the milking shed.
Rand couldn’t disobey that voice, not Tam’s. It was just built into him. He sighed, stepping forward. "I don’t need the sword to fight any longer. I have the One Power".
"That would be important", Tam said, "if sparring right now had anything to do with fighting".
Rand frowned. "What—"
Tam came at him.
Rand parried with a halfhearted swing. Tam moved into Feathers in the Wind, spinning his sword and delivering a second blow. Rand stepped back, parrying again. Something stirred inside of him, an eagerness. As Tam attacked a second time, Rand lifted the sword and—by instinct—brought his hands together.
Only, he didn’t have his other hand to grip the bottom of the sword. That left his grip weak, and when Tam hit again, it nearly twisted the sword out of Rand’s grip.
Rand set his teeth, stepping back. What would Lan say, if he’d seen this shoddy performance by one of his students? What would he say? He’d say, "Rand, don’t get into swordfights. You can’t win them. Not any longer".
Tam’s next attack feinted right, then came around and hit Rand on the thigh with a solid thump. Rand danced backward, smarting. Tam had actually hit him, and hard. The man certainly wasn’t holding back.
How long had it been since Rand had sparred with someone who was actually willing to hurt him? Too many treated him like glass. Lan had never done that.
Rand threw himself into the fight, trying Boar Rushes Down the Mountain. He beat at Tam for a few moments, but then a slap from Tam’s weapon almost twisted the sword from Rand’s hand again. The long swords, designed for swordmasters, were difficult to stabilize correctly without a second hand.
Rand growled, again trying to fall into a two-handed stance, again failing. He’d learned, by now, to deal with what he had lost—in normal life, at least. He hadn’t spent time sparring since the physical loss, although he’d intended to.
He felt like a chair that was missing one of its legs. He could balance, with effort, but not very well. He fought, he tried form after form, but he barely held on aga