In an instant, he was spread-eagled against the wall, and a secondary weave was applying pressure to his wrists making him drop the weapon and then begin to writhe in pain. Lan stopped in mid-leap realizing the Aes Sedai already had the matter in hand. Moiraine walked up to him, and tsking under her breath, adjusted the weave, bringing the man down to her eye level. Her dark eyes looked deep into his matte black eyes, and she quivered.
“The soulless. Someone powerful sent a greyman after me. Lan, take this body to wherever you plan on taking the other would be assassins after I am done with them.” Even though the greyman was more dead than alive, he still feared to lose that little bit of life remaining in him, so when the tall Malkieri man walked up to him and grabbed his head by both sides the greyman whimpered. Steeling his nerve, Lan twisted, and the body went limp against the bonds of air that held him to the wall. Neither the warder nor the sister liked killing helpless people, but releasing the shadow’s assassin to give him a fair chance at living would be foolish. Both of them had had to live with doing things they did not like before this, and would after.
Moiraine released the bonds holding the corpse and turned from Lan. They had work to do, and nothing like a squeamish stomach would stop them. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of Lan lifting the body and carrying it down the hall to the back staircase so they would not be seen. Ignoring the muffled steps, Moiraine glided across the floor to the main staircase in the front of the inn. Pausing at the uppermost step, she made sure the gem dangling on her forehead was centered, and then descended the stairs with such grace she made the stairs seem to be in a palace. With polite nods and no, thank you.’s she dismissed the men and women who stopped to gawk or ask if they could be of service. Scanning the room, she found the one she wanted. An older woman with graying hair who was passing drinks around a large table. Her years as a waitress were obvious in how she dealt with the various customers. She managed to deflect the worst of those wanting to pinch her, to distract those that wanted more, and to smile at the genuinely kind men who thanked her.
The room seemed to stop as the vertically challenged Aes Sedai crossed the room. Every eye in the room was on her; those that didn’t know she was Aes Sedai thought her a Great Lady. When she arrived at the woman’s side she glanced about the room in a slow arc, making sure all saw her eyes. As those dark liquid pools met their eyes, men turned their faces and women ducked their heads. It would not do to have a Great Lady know you were watching her. Once the focus was off her, she touched the other woman’s sleeve.
“Alys, would you be so kind as to show me where my man put the parcels I need to examine?” A twinkle entered the graying woman’s eyes, and with a small bow, she lead the Aes Sedai to a second back stairway that lead into a basement. There were lights lining the stair and several more in the room at the base. Alys shut the door behind them, and once they reached the base, both began to laugh quietly.
“Moiraine! You look not a day older than when I saw you last! If I knew channeling would keep one young forever I would have beaten you to that bloody Tower!” Alys was in her early forties, and she showed every year. Her eyes wandered over the Aes Sedai’s features, taking in each place where she knew a wrinkle adorned her own face; a touch of sadness entered her voice. “I would have gone with you.”
“Alys, we couldn’t have known you had the talent too, and by the time we did know, it was too late. Please do not weep for what could have been. I still remember that brash young serving girl who smacked my face when I accused her of stealing. I remember you every time I need to pretend to be someone I am not. I even call myself Mistress Alys or Lady Alys… I think my favorite was High Lady Alys of the House Bourgeois. Please don’t take those memories from me.” Every ounce of Aes Sedai serenity had been stripped by that look of regret on Moiraine’s long time friend.
Laughing, “Well I did actually take that ring. But I needed to sell it to feed my family.” With a deep sigh, she continued, “I guess as long as you remember me every time you need to be someone else, you must remember me every day! What I will never understand is why I am not chambermaid to the Queen Moiraine of Cairhien right now. You should have taken that throne. It was yours by right, and the only reason that bloody Riatin man got it was because you didn’t step up. Think abut it, as an Aes Sedai you could rule for generations, guiding the nation much beyond what any one ruler hopes to do in their reign. Your family would still be whole… more or less. I do not understand.” Shaking her head, she looked to her long time friend.
“Alys, I am a blue Aes Sedai. I am a member of the ajah that serves causes and my cause is the most important of all. Please, do not ask, because I cannot tell you, but if I fail, the world fails. I could not have done my task as Queen of Cairhien. Which is more important, a few members of one family or the entire world? I think you know I made the correct choice.” Her steady eyes locked with the other woman’s until they dropped.
“The bodies are through there, Aes Sedai. I would like to be of any service I can for you, so please do not hesitate to call for me, at any time.” With that, the woman with graying hair retreated to the stairs, and left Moiraine alone in the basement.
The three bodies were laying on a table, all lined up in a row. Their personal belongings were set out next to their owner, and all identifying belongings were set apart from the rest. Moiraine spun a quick weave to alert her if any save Lan tried to enter the basement and a second weave to ward the basement from sound. Once she was sure the room was secure, she began to delve the corpses, checking for poisons, for weaves of the Power both male and female, and lastly for cause of death, though with most of them it was quite obvious that Lan’s knife had been the cause of death.
Gasping, Moraine found something beyond out of the ordinary. One of the assassins had been attacked with a weave of Saidin recently. From what Moiraine could distinguish, it was almost entirely spirit, which narrowed it down quite a bit. Making a leap of conjecture, Moiraine guessed this man had been compelled to do something. Those two factors lead to one conclusion that filled her with dread: a male Forsaken was free, or at the least a Dreadlord. Both were terrifying options, and she hoped that she was wrong. Maybe some poor fool had managed to learn how to channel and had used his blessing, or curse, on this man. Even that was not a good option. Shuddering, Moiraine moved on to the other bodies. They were mainly uninteresting, except that each carried too many pieces of identification. No professional killer carried that much evidence and these were definite professionals. Confused, Moiraine left the cellar, and returned to her rooms planning to ponder these new revelations.
As she settled into a plush armchair, she opened a small notebook she kept in her pouch. It was the same notebook she had begun using almost two decades before when she began this quest. The first pages were filled with names of women and their children, and after that were the names of sisters Moiraine suspected were black ajah. Leafing ahead a few pages, she began a new section, writing the descriptions of the men who had tried to kill her, their possessions, and her thoughts on each. Of course, none of the writings in the book was done in plain language. Moiraine used a mixed blend of the Old Tongue, the common tongue and a dialect found only in lost Malkier. This haphazard mixture of language allowed her to write her true thoughts and have no fear that any who discovered it would know what it was they were reading. As an added precaution, Moiraine had woven a ward around the whole notebook that was sensitive to her touch. If any hand but hers tried to open the small book, the book would burst into flames burning the thief and filling the room with an acrid smoke. She hoped she never had to smell that smoke again.
Reminiscing took Moiraine back to the days when she had learned that weave. Tarabon had been a rat’s nest of trouble, and none of the women on her list still lived where they had signed on the list. One day, while pretending to be the Lady Alys, a messenger arrived at the Panarch’s palace asking for a Lady of the same name. When Moiraine arrived in the hall, she was met by a woman wearing a thick woolen cloak despite the muggy heat. At her arrival, the woman dropped the cloak, and leaned in to whisper into Moiraine’s ear.
“I met with a blue fisherbird recently, who told me to ask for the Lady and tell her that certain darker friends of the Lady’s and the bird’s were looking for the Lady and whatever it was the Lady was looking for. The bird then told me to tell the Lady ‘A blue rose grows in Ghealdan, near the coast of ivory, and a Tairen fishmonger asks twice what her merchandise is worth.’ Would you like me to return with a message to the bird?” She delivered this all as if discussing the weather, but in a low enough voice so no casual passerby could hear her words.
Going over the code in her head, Moiraine prepared her response. “I’ve always been partial to the blue ones, and tell the bird to ask the fishmonger for six grunters and three silverpike, but only at three crowns apiece. I will send her the payment after I have collected from some of our mutual debtors.” Running through the codes, she was sure she had said it all right. Of course, the blue roses and all was the standard preface to any message from a blue agent, but all that about a Tairen fishmonger was directly from the fishmonger herself. The ‘darker friends’ were black sisters, and that they were looking for Moiraine and the Dragon Reborn was a problem. The grunters were months and the silverpike were weeks, the price was unimportant, she could have said at a hundred crowns each and Siuan would have known what she meant. Moiraine would only be in the west for another six, almost seven, months, and then she would return to Tar Valon.
Bowing, the woman left Moiraine. The Aes Sedai then returned to her rooms in time to find a serving girl flipping through her notebook. Softly closing the door, Moiraine crept up behind the woman, preparing weaves of air to hold the woman in case she tried anything violent.
“I hope you found what you were looking for.” The girl jumped several feet into the air, and wheeled about, looking very foolish.
“Lady Alys. The Great Lady, she said that you would be gone for a time, and she wanted some names from a book you kept. She ordered me into your rooms. Please don’t have the cook beat me.” She was now groveling on the ground, trying to gain Moiraine’s favor.
“Child, tell me the Great Lady’s name, and where she is staying. Then you will go to the head maid, and tell her I asked her to give you five lashes with a belt. Make sure she knows I want her to do it, and will check with her later that she carried it out. Now, tell me.”
The girl’s eyes popped, it was well known that the head maid had been a blacksmith for several years before becoming a maid. “The Great Lady is staying in the townhouse of House Cordelaron. She isn’t one of that house, but a guest of their lord. But she won’t be there now, my lady. She told me to meet her in the third basement where we store the dark wines. She said to meet her inside the hour. I must go quickly to be there on time.” She bowed as if to leave, but Moiraine stopped her.
“You will go to the Head Maid, I will deal with this Great Lady. What did you say her name was?” she began tapping her foot. It was not a breach of Aes Sedai calm, however. She did it on purpose, knowing it made some servants and lower folk wary, and more willing to obey.
“Yes, my lady. The Great Lady is called Aemilee. She did not give a surname. May I leave now?” at Moiraine’s nod, she practically bolted out of the apartment. Moiraine, however, took more time, grabbing a small angreal she kept with the permission of the hall. Aemilee may be as strong as she, but Moiraine doubted the woman carried an angreal, and that could be the extra edge she needed. Striding out of the room, Moiraine stopped, and wove a small ward around her rooms, one that would keep anyone from entering the room. She made a mental note to always weave that around her rooms when she was not in them. The trip across the city was uneventful, and Moiraine used the time to prepare what she would say.
She arrived at the door and when it was opened, she told the coatman that she had business with the Lady who was guesting in the house. The servant took her cloak and offered to show her to the Lady’s sitting room, Moiraine declined. The Aes Sedai swept up the stairs crossing the marble floors as if they were in the Palace of Cairhien. She was the Lady Moiraine Damodred to the hilt, and if this Aemilee thought she could best her, well Moiraine would prove her wrong. Pausing at the door, she let her senses flow out. Yes, there were two women in this house who could channel, neither was as strong as she was, but both were channeling at that moment. She prepared to embrace the source through her angreal, and knocked on the door. The woman inside ceased channeling, and the door opened to reveal a short, plump woman with wings of grey at her temples. A very old Aes Sedai.
“It is good that you came here of your own will child. I did not want to have to send Fallion after you.” Her face smoothed into a motherly face, and she embraced the source, or tried to. Moiraine had beaten her to the draw, and held a shield between the woman and the source. The motherly expression fled and a look of rage blossomed contorting her warm visage into an ugly mask. Before she could try to claw Moiraine’s face, the blue sister had wrapped the obviously black sister in flows of air, holding her tight and gagging her mouth. Before Moiraine could try to question the black sister, she felt a feeble battering at the connection between her and the source. Tying off the weaves holding the motherly black, both of air and of the shield, Moiraine made a new flow and flung the door wide open, knocking it into the other black outside the room, sending her sprawling. A second shield severed her connection to the source, and more flows of air brought her into the room. With the two sisters neatly pinioned to the wall, Moiraine walked into the hall and called for a servant.
When the girl arrived, she pulled a silver crown from her purse and placed it in the girl’s hand. “Now run up to the palace and find a man. He should be inside the guards’ barracks, ask for Lan Mandragoran. When you find him, tell him that Lady Alys needs his help at this house. Then bring him straight here. Now go!” She turned from the girl, her eyes growing dark when she looked at the two sisters held against the wall. They were both struggling feebly, trying to break bonds no person could break without the use of the Power. Her dark eyes flashed with righteous fire, and each of the black sisters saw it and ceased struggling. They seemed to be trying to explain now. Raising her hand, Moiraine commanded silence.
“Fallion. How long have you been Aes Sedai?” she removed the gag of air long enough for the woman to answer her question.
“I was raised just five months past-…” The gag of air inserted itself back into her mouth. The Cairhien Aes Sedai began tapping her lips with the forefinger of her left hand, her right hand cupped her elbow, and she began pacing.
“Now, a young, newly raised sister traveling with a much older sister, both of which tried to shield me, and when that failed, tried to attack me. What does that sound like to you two? No, don’t answer. I think I know what it means. You two are black ajah.” They began to shake, frantically trying to deny the accusation. Laughing, Moiraine continued, “So, the question becomes for me, what to do with you. I think you will tell me everything you know. Starting with you, Mistress Aemilee.” Thus began a long night of questioning, when Lan arrived, they worked together, inspiring fear and making each other be firm when it was needed. At one time, Moiraine went to look in one of Aemilee’s books, searching for answers, the book flashed into flame. The small Aes Sedai turned to look at the older woman, a dark gleam in her eye. Before the night was out, Moiraine knew exactly how to form the weave that would protect secret documents.