Devotion, Chapter One

Devotion

Chapter One
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The bright sun rose over the walls of a city Moiraine had sworn she would never return to. The warm rays glinted off the walls making it easy for the young Cairhien woman to understand why the founders of the city had called it ‘The Hill of the Golden Dawn’. The hood of her dark cloak hung low over her eyes, hiding all the details of her face, and the hem of her cloak dipped well below where her feet sat in the stirrups. She was riding as inconspicuously as she could, trying to hide every detail about her. While her presence here was only meant to be a short-term event, some of her former enemies, her former allies even, might see her presence as a direct threat to their plans. Not too many years in the past she had almost become Queen of this nation, and the man who had ascended that precarious throne was very aware that he held it only because she had deigned not to take up her birth-right.

”Could you not just have one of your eyes and ears check with this woman, Moiraine?” a gruff voice spoke from behind her. Al’Lan Mandragoran was a giant of a man, his grizzled features marred by scars from almost forty years of constant battles would make most women tremble in fear, but not Moiraine. She smiled at his comment. It had taken him some years to stop questioning her every decision, and until this, he had gone an entire month without asking about the wisdom of this or that.

”Of course not Lan. I could hardly send a woman into that city with such a vague description as ‘Sukira Dromanes, of the foregate in Cairhien, and her babe Draen.’ Yes, they could ask questions, and probably find out all the information I need, but they would not be able to relate it directly to me the way it was said, and if she is dead, would they hunt the boy?” She made sure to keep her eyes downcast, and her hands hidden underneath her cloak.

Growling the man spurred his horse off ahead of her, scouting the area to make sure no one was following them. Part of his urge to patrol was a threat from her past, a man by the name of Gorthanes. When Moiraine first attained the shawl, it was thought that the Hall would have her set upon the throne of Cairhien as the first Queen to be openly Aes Sedai. This went against the plans of several parties, both in Cairhien and in the rest of the world. One of those interested parties had hired this man to hunt her down and kill her. So far, he had failed.

In the eighteen years since she had begun her search, and when he began his hunt for her, she had dared to hope he was gone. But recently, certain events gave her reason to doubt his disappearance. A man with a poison knife under her bed, a woman with tea and a dagger, and most recently two men and a woman asking for healing who each held a sharp object. Between the One Power, her belt knife, and Lan’s skills she had survived each attempt on her life. Now, her quest took her into the lion’s den, where she would be able to further her quest and put this nuisance to rest. Thundering hooves announced the party long before they arrived, and as they crested the hill in front of her Moiraine realized why. It was almost a full regiment of mounted cavalry, all cantering hard. When they saw her, they slowed to a walk, until their officer was close enough to talk with the lone woman.

”Madam, it is hardly safe to be out riding alone, even this close to the city. May I offer my assistance?” He bowed in his saddle. A young lord, obviously, by the three feathers of rank, and the ornate gilding on his armor. ”My name is lieutenant Grammel Damodred, and I would be more than willing to send an escort with you to your inn, or where ever you will be staying.” An obvious attempt to gain information on her. Moiraine made a mental note to send a letter to this boy’s mother telling her to school him better in Daes’Daemar. It was intolerable that a member of her family could be so inept at the game. Before she could answer, another set of hooves sounded, Lan.

”I am here with the Lady. She needs no other escort, so you can take this lot of boys where ever it was you were headed.” His voice was gruff and as cold as winters in the Borderlands. Most would think him a man in full control, but Moiraine knew he was hovering on the edge of violence. The young boy obviously did not know a better fighter when he met one.

”I’m not sure if you’re an acceptable companion for a lady, sir. I think that my men and I should escort the Lady to the City. My lady, if you will.” He turned his back to Lan, making his first major mistake. The quiet whisper of steel sliding against leather was all the warning he received. Wheeling to face his attacker, he came face to face with the point of hard steel, forged by the One Power in the Age of Legends, this blade would never break and never need sharpening, and most of all could slice through any armor the man wore. Before it went beyond the point of no return, Moiraine put a stop to it by reaching out and putting her hand on Lan’s arm.

”That is quite enough. Grammel, I am sure your orders are very important, and it would not do to have the Damodred name marred any blacker than it already is. Our family does not need that. I will tell you simply, older cousin to younger, go on with your duties and do not spread word of this. Not for any plan or game. My arrival here is a secret, and it must remain so. Now, ride on with your men, and make sure they keep their silence as well. I will not accept failure, so do not fail me. Go.” Moiraine had grown up in the royal palace, and had learned the voice of command so well some of her cousins had called it her art. Obviously it still worked, because the boy turned and ordered his men to leave without another protest. The voice of command used with certain code words ensured obedience from minor relatives, and it was luck alone that kept those words the same as when she had learned them more than twenty years before.

Lan looked at her, his icy blue eyes questioning, ”How long before tales of a powerful Damodred woman arriving and ordering the lesser family about before she even meets with the Head of the House begin in the City?” His tone held the closest thing to mirth she had heard from him in a long time.

”He’ll keep his silence, and do his best to keep his men from selling the story. We’re family.” Her tiny smile was the only hint of emotion on her face. Their relationship was an odd one. Both were royalty, or as good as. He the uncrowned King of a dead nation, her, the woman who would have been Queen had she not ran from it. She was an Aes Sedai; he was her warder, yet neither followed all the customs that supposedly bound all Aes Sedai and their Gaidin. He was married to his war with the Shadow, and her life was so filled with her quest, her cause, that she had only taken four lovers in the almost eighteen years she had been out of the Tower. They were complete physical opposites, yet they were the same on so many levels, they were closer than lovers could be.

Nodding his head in acceptance, they rode on down the paved road not saying another word. As the city grew closer, Moiraine drew deeper into her hood, and when they were just one hill from the foregate, she stopped and dismounted without a word. She stood for a moment, and after concentrating, she returned to her saddle. Bewildered, Lan tried to look inside her hood. A very different woman met his eyes. Where Moiraine was pale with dark hair and eyes, this woman had tawny skin and hair to match, with startling blue eyes hidden behind smoky eyelids. Moiraine was always beautiful, but like this, she seemed somehow less than she was. Lan suddenly realized she was laughing. At him.

”You needn’t be shocked Lan, this is just another weave I learned from Sircosgi before her black sisters killed her.” A different darkness entered Moiraine’s eyes then. Four years previously, they had met an Aes Sedai who offered to help them. She said she had word from Siuan, and that it was vital to their search. Sircosgi had been a yellow, which set Moiraine’s senses off. Siuan would hardly trust another Blue, let alone a woman from a different ajah. But the woman had certain codes that convinced Moiraine to trust her. After listening to the information the woman brought, Moiraine agreed to let her sleep in their camp. Using a technique taught to her by a very old sister, Moiraine wove ward around the other sister while she slept. In the middle of the night, Moiraine woke to a tingling. Her ward was going off. Sircosgi was channeling, and not a nice weave either. With contemptuous ease, Moiraine shielded the other woman, having an angreal one’s opponent is unaware of is a large advantage.

Thus began a long night of questioning that ended up teaching Moiraine several secret weaves that had previously been known only to black and yellow sisters. She had felt guilt at learning the yellow ajah’s secrets, but she could not let up on this black Aes Sedai. At the end of the night, Moiraine tied off the shield on the other woman, leaving it in a knot so complex she doubted she could unknot it herself and sent the woman back to the tower. Unfortunately, she died in her sleep the night she returned, along with the three other women she had revealed to Moiraine. No one liked remembering their past failures, but this counted on Moiraine’s private list of personal failures, and it galled that all the black ajah had to do to hide was to kill any who were found out.

Shaking her head, Moiraine cleared her mind of the Black Ajah; that was a problem for another day. Taking up Carneira’s reins, Moiraine returned to the road, Lan following after. The warder rarely relaxed, but as they entered the warren of buildings and people called the foregate, he tensed if a tight rope can be said to tense. The only thing that kept him from actually drawing his power wrought sword was the firm lump of calm nestled in the back of his head. Moiraine was entirely calm and that was all that kept him from bundling her off and back to the Tower.

The garishly bright foregaters danced and whirled as music poured from the various inns, taverns, and street performers. Tightening her grip on the cloak’s edge, Moiraine began a novice exorcise, the river was contained by the bank. Just because they were gauche, rude, and loud did not mean she had to avoid them or could not move through them. Deep down inside, she wondered how they could call themselves Cairhien, they behaved almost in an exact opposite of how other Cairhien acted. Her face was smooth and unruffled not showing any of the stress bubbling within her. Letting her hands hang loose, she began to take on the alternate persona. Here she was not Lady Moiraine Damodred, former High Seat of House Damodred, and former heir to the throne; here she was the Lady Alys, a minor noble from near the border with Andor. Slipping into that character was much easier than it had been in her first years.

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