The sound of Lan reentering the room snapped her back from the reverie into the present. His icy eyes met hers, and she knew he had a lead. Setting the notebook down, she stared into his eyes, willing him to breach the subject, but somehow he refused. Finally, she gave in and asked.
“Lan, what have you discovered?” Her simple question was just that, and had no hooks or barbs hidden within it. Surprised, it took Lan a moment to answer her.
“Well, Moiraine. A man who works for various houses hired the men who hired the men who tried to kill you. I found him and … convinced him to tell me for whom he had hired those men. It was your nephew, Barthanes. I think we should take some time and visit him. To disabuse him of the idea of trying to kill you.” He cracked his knuckles and stretched his arms, and somehow those simple motions made him seem even more dangerous than normal. His pale blue eyes had taken on an icy chill, and Moiraine doubted Barthanes would survive the encounter, unless she made sure Lan did not go too far.
“Gaidin, we will go meet with my nephew, and we will convince him of the error of his ways, but you will not harm him. It would be the worst thing we could do for the house and Cairhien.” His jaw tightened, and he looked as if he would argue the point more, but Moiraine prodded that bundle of emotions in her head, and looked at him, her left eyebrow arching.
“Yes, Moiraine Aes Sedai. I will obey you in this, but I tell you now, I swore to protect you, no matter the threat. If we find this man to be more of a threat than you had thought before, he won’t live long enough to realize his mistake.” That bundle of emotions had gone from feeling as hard as the usual block of iron to feeling like heartstone. Al’Lan Mandragoran’s word was as good as the word of an Aes Sedai who had just sworn her oaths on the rod. They went to their rooms to prepare for the evenings events.
Lan came out of his room, and as he entered the common room, every voice hushed. He was dressed as a Battle Lord of old. His gauntlets and greaves shone silver in the firelight; his scaled shirt armor was hidden underneath his black silk shirt, but glints of silver flashed at his throat. For once, he was wearing a normal cloak, albeit a cloak few lords could afford. It was thick with layers of oiled silk on the outside, down feathers sewn into the lining, and a warm layer of lamb’s fleece on the inside. On his head, he wore the traditional ha’dori, but woven around it was a small golden cord, the ends of which dangled at his temples. He was magnificent. The most regal image any in the common room would ever see. Until Moiraine entered the room.
A dazzling net of onyx beads and sapphires, woven to suggest water, held her hair back. Her dress matched the jet-black beads, but was made of a material so light that in some places it seemed to lift off the woman underneath it. At the wrists, the neck, the buttons that ran down the front, and at the hem silver and cobalt embroidery hinted at waves crashing on rocks and vines climbing mountains. From top of the neck of the gown all the way to the bottom, red, green and black stripes marched all in a row. As the most senior member of her house, she was entitled to each and every stripe she wore. Her cloak was a rich satin the same shade as the sapphires and the embroidery, and at its edges black stitching showed tiny climbing roses scaling her shoulders. Amid this stunning vision a small blue stone rested on her forehead, and any who saw it were drawn into its depths. Moiraine was more regal than any queen was with an army at one hand and ten Aes Sedai advisors on the other. She was royalty incarnate. “Let us visit my nephew.”
The two of them stepped into the street, and every eye was drawn to them. Moiraine resisted smiling when she heard drivers begin cursing when their coaches collided. It had been many years since she stopped traffic. Without moving a muscle, they made it known the wanted a coach to convey them somewhere, and within a blink five different coached were jostling in front of them, trying to gain their patronage. The Aes Sedai and Gaidin chose the one that looked the most successful, feeling that their coach would lend as much to the image they wanted to create as their wardrobe. A few simple words were all it took to get the driver moving, heading for the stately town home that Lord Barthanes lived in. When they arrived it was obvious Moiraine’s nephew was entertaining this evening. Coaches lined the streets for several streets in all directions. When their driver pulled in front of the manor, Lan leaned forward and gave him instructions on when to return for them. He only waited long enough for them to be entirely out of his vehicle before racing off to sell his information of the Great Damodred Lady who arrived at Barthanes’ manor with no notice.
The doorman’s eyes bulged when he saw Moiraine’s dress, and nearly fell out of his head when he saw Lan. They were a stunning pair. The sister and her warder left their cloaks with the servant, and waited for the next servant to announce their arrival. Moiraine watched the crowd as their names were read, “The Lady Moiraine Damodred, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah. Al’Lan Mandragoran, of Malkier, warder to Lady Moiraine Aes Sedai.” She had wanted Lan to use his full title: Diademed Battle Lord, uncrowned King. But his rock stubborn pride refused to bend, but he did accede to admitting his nationality.
Men and women who had been playing the game years before Moiraine had been born lost their calm and even went so far as to let their jaws drop at their names. Lan’s sword drew many eyes, but Moiraine had insisted he wear it. For that matter, Lan had insisted he wear it. As the Aes Sedai descended the steps, a tall, thin man approached. At first, Moiraine feared a ghost had come to haunt her, the man looked so like her long dead uncle that she almost quivered at the sight of him, but taking hold of herself, she forced her face into tranquility.
“Moiraine Aes Sedai, cousin, it is well that you found the time to come and visit the family here. May I offer you a townhouse for your use?” He was skilled in the game. “I could even offer you this one. I just acquired some lands, formerly belonging to the crown, and have already had a rather large manor built there. This was my going away party.”
Moiraine’s smile held as much warmth as a borderland winter. “My young cousin, much has come to my attention. We will talk. In the upstairs library.” At his shocked look, she let her icy smile broaden a hair, “Remember, this was the home my parents lived in when they wished to avoid the palace. I know it from the rafters to the bedrock. Let us go talk.” Their family training went to deep for him to disobey the will of one wearing that many stripes, using those codes. He made polite excuses to his guests as he left with his cousin and her warder. When they arrived, he made another play at being the kind host.
“Take a seat near the fire, cousin. This has been a cool spring. Would you like some…” without moving or saying a word, Moiraine made her presence so overbearing, he could not continue talking. Some fools thought it was a trick of the power, but it was just self-confidence. Knowing that one held power, and that that power was stronger than any other was. She lifted her slim, pale hand and pointed to a wooden chair near the fireplace. She turned to Lan, and her eyes told him where to wait for her. As he left the room, the candles dimmed, and the fire beneath the mantle leaped up. That was a trick of the Power.
With a deft flick of spirit, she wove a web that once it settled on him, forced him to speak only the truth. “Barthanes, tell me. Are you a darkfriend?” Her liquid eyes were like pools that drowned souls, and the younger man found himself quaking as he nodded, and tried to say the words.
“Yes, cousin. I gave my soul to the Great Lord seven years ago, and he had blessed me.” His whole body was shaking now.
Disgust flared in those soul-drowning pools, “Have you ever tried to kill me, my warder of another Aes Sedai?” Another weave of air, fire, and spirit made her words sound like they filled the room and bored into his soul.
Shaking, his tongue darted out between his lips, “No… Aes Sedai. I have not tried to kill you, al’Lan, or any other sister.” His eyes were leaping about. He was terrified now.
“I tell you now, if I knew you had done anything yourself, I would crumple you now, and send your soul down to your Great Master, to see what he would do with you. But my oaths do not allow for punishment. Count your blessings, flea.” With a weave of air, she lifted him to his feet. “Do you know a man named Gorthanes?” His eyes widened until they were almost pure black pools.
“Know him? He is the one who gives me my orders. Gorthanes is the leader of my-” his voice cut off as a quiet noise sounded behind Moiraine’s back. She released the weaves holding Barthanes in the air, and rewove them into bonds holding him to the chair, then turned to the noise from behind her. It was he, Gorthanes.
The short man laughed. “Yes, I lead this pathetic fool’s circle. I receive my orders directly from Ishmael himself. I did not think my task would be this easy. I had feared I would have to hunt you to Arad Doman or some other dark end of nowhere. Thank you for coming here, where I can deal more easily with you.” Moving so fast his hand blurred, the man launched a thin bladed knife across the room. Moiraine gasped as the blade slid between her ribs. Her groan was loud enough that Lan heard it, and the door opened to let Death flow in.
Using his sword, hands, and feet, Lan managed to kill the would-be assassin, and was about to decapitate Barthanes, when Moiraine stopped him. “My Gaidin. Stop. Barthanes. This is your only warning. If I have any more attempts on my life, I will return here, and do worse to you than you fear anything your lord could do. Rule this house well, and know if you displease me, that will be as fatal as trying to kill me.” Then she gasped, and fell back. Moving faster than most men could, Lan gathered Moiraine in his arms, and bore her out of the house. He bundled her into the first coach they found, and raced back to their inn. There he left a purse that easily weighed twice what the entire inn was worth, and raced out of the city. He tied her onto Carneira, and led the smaller horse on Mandarb.