My mouth was dry. Gripping my skirts under the table, I fought to maintain my Aes Sedai serenity as Leane told me what she had heard.
“How badly hurt, daughter?” I said, my voice smooth and calm.
“Very badly, I suspect,” Leane, too, was barely clinging to those shards of serenity. “Her Warder ran a horse to its death and almost killed himself carrying her in his arms to Anaiya,”
“I see,” I pressed down hard on my lap. “Thank you, Keeper,”
She inclined her head and left, as I glanced out the window. Almost dark. Good. It would look odd if I left before dark, even to visit an ailing sister. I had not left until it was well into the night when Fervine Hedwar had arrived back at the Tower with a gash running from her throat to her navel – why should it be different for Moiraine Damodred?
Forcing myself to be slow, I calmly arranged the sheaf’s of paper on my desk, setting them into different piles according to their contents. I chose not to notice my hands where trembling.
Again, calmly, I seized saidar and doused the lights around the room. Leane looked up when I entered the anteroom, shutting the door behind me and weaving security wards. You could never be too careful, even in the Tower. Perhaps there is more need for care in the Tower than anywhere else , I thought.
“Are you leaving, Mother?” She asked the obvious.
“Yes, Leane,” I answered, hefting the folder I was carrying.
She nodded and went back to whatever she was doing – arithmetic, if I was not mistaken. “Very good. I’ll lock up here,”
I kept my pace short and measured, accepting the curtsies I was given with a short nod. The halls where quiet. It was not very late, though it was the second sitting for supper and the Novices and Accepted where in their own quarters. I strayed in the direction to my rooms, careful to make it obvious where I was headed. Concern could be used against me.
Instead of going up the stairs, I went down, in the direction of Anaiya’s rooms in the Blue’s Quarters. I was quick now, striding. These halls were deserted.
The only two people I saw where hidden in the shadows and half behind a tapestry, against one of the walls. I smirked at the soft noises they where making. They didn’t stop when I passed, telling they hadn’t seen or heard me. I wasn’t sure if it was the clerks or two Aes Sedai. Nor did I particularly care at that moment.
I hurried on, pushing open the door to the Blue Ajah. Only a few sisters where in the Halls. Their eyes widened when they seen me, yet they didn’t pass comment, merely smiling and inclining their heads. I acknowledged it with a small smile as I knocked Anaiya’s door.
The door opened; just wide enough for me to be admitted and I stepped inside, instantly assaulted with the smells of sickness. I wrinkled my nose. The room was dimly lit, with only a few candles and one brazier in the corner. It was warm in the room, so warm sweat prickled on my forehead. I had not even spared the concentration to avoid feeling heat.
“Lan,” I said, nodding at her warder, who sat, stony faced by the side of her bed. He didn’t look remotely surprised to see the Amyrlin Seat come to his Aes Sedai’s bedside. I wondered what Moiraine had told him – how close she and Lan where.
“Mother,” He responded softly.
“Anaiya,” She smiled sympathetically at me. “How bad is she?”
“Recovering,” She said briskly. “Indeed, she owes her life to Lan here – again,” She tutted disapprovingly, as if Moiraine made a habit of putting herself in unnecessary danger.
“Moiraine Sedai has saved my life numerous times,” The last king of the Malkeri said calmly. “I am merely repaying the favour,”
I nodded, eyeing his gaunt face. “Perhaps you should get something to eat, Lan. The last sitting of supper is still going on,”
A mere flicker of emotion crossed his face. He glanced towards Moiraine’s inert form on the bed, chest rising and falling, buried under Anaiya’s duvet.
“She’ll be alright, Lan,” Anaiya assured him quietly. I nodded my own reassurance.
He hesitated before answering, “Yes, yes, I suppose I will,” He got up, bowed slightly, and left.
As the door shut behind him, I took his seat, falling into it heavily, folder dropping from my hand. “She will be alright, won’t she, Anaiya?”
“I can’t lie, Mother,” She said, with the barest hint of a smile. “She’ll be fine, I promise you,”
I nodded, reaching out to wipe hair out of Moiraine’s eyes. Anaiya watched he without comment. She knew, of course. She always had a soft spot for Moiraine when we were newly raised Aes Sedai- she was more Moiraine’s friend than mine. I smiled. The Amyrlin Seat had few friends and even fewer lovers.
Even though it had been my decision to separate, I had taken only one other lover to bed in the three years since she had last briefly visited me, at my raising to the stole.
Leane. I sighed, thinking of my Keeper.
We had tried a brief stint together and discovered that it would not work – or I discovered, anyway. I resented the fact she wasn’t Moiraine.
I wondered if Moiraine had slept with anyone else. My eyes slid to Anaiya, who was now fussing over pillows, and telling me that ‘Moiraine should be more careful’, and wondered how close she and Moiraine were. I flushed and looked away. I remembered a time after I found out about Moiraine’s one-night with Elaida I could not stand the thought of Moiraine alone with anyone else. I had come very, very close to losing her that time.
Abruptly, she stirred and I sat up, leaning closer. Anaiya was there too, on the other side.
Her eyes flickered open, glancing between us. “Anaiya. Siuan,” She muttered.
Anaiya didn’t comment that she didn’t use my title. “How do you feel?” She asked gently.
“Like I was skewered through the middle,” Her lips tweaked.
Anaiya smiled and touched her forehead. “You’re not feverish anymore. That’s good. You’ll recover,”
“Your Warder almost killed himself getting you to me – and he did kill a horse,”
She smiled shakily.
“What happened?” I asked.
Anaiya shot me the barest frown. Yet I was the Amyrlin Seat. She didn’t press me to be quiet.
Moiraine looked at me – slightly coolly, I thought. She had not wanted to end it. “Whitecloak’s arrow. Got me in the stomach – went right through me,” She lifted her head slightly, looking down at herself, reaching out –
Anaiya grasped her wrist. “I wouldn’t touch it just yet,” She advised her, with a motherly smile, as her other hand smoothed Moiraine’s hair.
Moiraine flopped back on the pillows, sighing. “How long will I be…here?”
“I’m not sure. Until you’ve regained your strength – which I will be the judge of,” Anaiya added, rather severely, as Moiraine’s mouth had opened.
I coughed and both of them looked at me. “Leave us, Anaiya. I wish to speak to my daughter Moiraine alone,”
Moiraine’s lips compressed and Anaiya’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “Yes, mother,” she ducked her head and left, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Moiraine struggled up into a sitting position, refusing my help with a gesture. “What is it you require, Mother?” She said coldly.
“Don’t be like that, Moiraine,” I said pleadingly.
“What do you expect me to be like?” She snapped.
“I haven’t seen you in three years, Moiraine, haven’t you forgiven me yet?”
“For telling me that ‘I can’t wait on you all the time’ and ‘I need someone with me’? Bah, Siuan, you said it like it was my fault I wasn’t here all the time. You know what I do is important – the world depends on what I do. We agreed on that. You said I led a soft life in Cairhien, mother, yet who’s leading the soft life now? You sit here in your bloody Tower while I run around the world – getting arrows put through me!”
I scowled. “The Tower is hardly a picnic, Moiraine,”
She snorted. “How many have you done in three years, then, Siuan? Since you simply couldn’t wait on me…at least a new one every month, I would guess…so, at least thirty six?”
“You can’t speak to me like that,” I said softly.
Moiraine raised her eyebrows. “Do you intend to punish me?” She said, equally as soft.
‘Punish’ conjured up images that made me flush with embarrassment.
She smirked at me, running her tongue over her lower lip. I remembered that expression well. Feeling unusually warm, I said, “No, I’m not going to punish you -”
“No matter how much you want to,” Her eyes where amused.
” -because it means I would have to explain to the hall why,” I finished, as if she had never spoken. I stood up. “I’ll send Anaiya back in. I’ll visit you tomorrow to get a report on your…progress,”
I didn’t wait for a response, leaving her with her mouth half-opened, sweeping out of the room. I gestured for Anaiya to go back in, not speaking.
When I got back to my rooms, I relieved myself of the near-painful warmth that had built up while I was in the same room as Moiraine.
Lying alone on my bed, shift pulled up to my stomach, hands behind my head, I was not tired at all, even though it was late. I wondered if Leane was awake. She said she would be there…if I changed my mind. A small smile flickered across my face, as I thought of Leane naked.
But she wasn’t Moiraine. Pity. Yet she was pretty.
I went in search of my Keeper. She had not left the anteroom yet, looking up in surprise as I entered. “Mother,” She said, shocking filtering into her voice. “I thought you had gone to bed,”
“I couldn’t sleep,” I replied, coming to stand beside her, peering at her working. She shifted uncomfortably, glancing down at the neat rows of sums on the page. She knew they were not wrong.
She hesitated. “Is there something wrong, Mother?”
“No,” I smiled at her, leaning forward to kiss her, arms encircling her waist.
Her breath caught as I pressed my lips to hers. “Mother…ah…” I used the opportunity to slip my tongue inside her mouth. She made a mumbled protest, gently gripping my arms and pushing me away.
“Siuan…” She said awkwardly, as if the name was difficult for her to say. “Siuan,” She repeated more firmly. “…is this…because of Moiraine?”
Of course it was. I shrugged.
She said softly, “Did you know I was involved with Sheriam?”
I looked up sharply, staring at her. “You where?”
“Am,” Leane corrected quietly.
I licked my lips, feeling a flush creep up my neck. “I see,” I was hideously embarrassed. The stole suddenly seemed heavier.
She smiled sympathetically, kissing my cheek.
“I’ll…I’ll be leaving…bed,” I muttered, turning from her.
“Goodnight, Siuan,” She called after me.
On the way back to my apartments, I passed Sheriam. “Mistress,” I greeted her curtly.
“Mother,” She replied, curtseying.
I was surprised at the resentment. I hoped Leane wouldn’t tell her.
The next morning, things where strained. Leane curtseyed lower than usual, keeping her eyes carefully evaded from me, handing me papers with downcast eyes.
In the late afternoon, I went to see Moiraine, only to receive the report, no more. I would call ‘daughter’ throughout. Like the servant and master we where. I nodded firmly to myself.
Moiraine was not there when Anaiya answered the door, furious. “She left,” She hissed. “ Left! I told her specifically not-to-leave!”
I frowned. “How did she manage it?”
“Asked for some honey in her tea,” She muttered darkly. “Honey in her tea. She knows I don’t like my tea sweet, so I went to ask Lyrana if she had some. And I came back and she was gone,” She scowled.
“Moiraine never did like being cooped up in bed,” I said mildly, more amused than I liked to admit.
“You’d know,” Anaiya said, so upset her tongue grew sharp, yet I shot her a pointed look and she quickly tamed herself to meekness. “Yes…I’ve looked in the Blue Quarters – scoured them,” She said. “She’s not here,”
“You didn’t expect her to linger, did you?” I said dryly. “She’s probably halfway out of Tar Valon by now,”
Anaiya sighed, plucking at the duvet. “I’m sorry, Mother,”
I shrugged. “Don’t concern yourself, Anaiya,” I left, disappointed and stung. I had at least expected her to tell me when she left.
I decided to take the long way back to the Amyrlin’s office. I did not want to exchange tense formalities with Leane just yet. Wandering through a deserted hallway – many more where becoming less used, as Aes Sedai became scarcer – I came across an unusual sight.
Moiraine Damodred, looking utterly bewildered, standing in the centre of the hallway. “Moiraine?” I asked, quickening my pace, coming up behind her, forgetting about my pledge to call her ‘daughter’.
She turned and looked at me, rather blankly, eyes oddly bright. “Siuan,” Her voice was strangely slurred.
I studied her, worried. Her face was pale and bloodless, her lips thin, hair hanging listlessly about her face. “Are you…are you…alright?” I took half a step forward, as she swayed unsteadily.
She shrugged uncertainly, wiping at her forehead, where beads of perspiration gathered.
I was no Yellow, but I knew when a person was ill. “We should get you back to Anaiya,” I said firmly, reaching out to take her arm. She slumped against me, laying her head on my shoulder. I wrapped an arm about her waist, noting her body was frail and thin.
“I don’t want to go back to Anaiya,” She muttered.
“You have to get well, Moiraine,” I told her, as if I was speaking to a small child. I made my tone as gentle as I could. “Then you can leave,”
“I was looking for you,” She said blearily, looking at me through hazy eyes. Had she been well, she would never have said it.
I nodded, herding her on. It was at the end of the corridor she passed out. Her sudden deadweight made me stumble, just catching myself before I fell. I could not carry her through the populated areas of the Tower like this. Suspicions where already there about how close Moiraine and I where. If I carried her like this…and I couldn’t leave her here. Not like this.
I picked her up, cradling her. She was light, being so small. Next to Moiraine, I always felt gangly, too tall, where she was petite.
I carried her to my rooms through an unpopulated root. The Amyrlin’s apartments had a floor to themselves and people rarely came here during the day, when I was in my office. Moiraine stirred when I sat her on my bed, curling up and wrapping her arms about herself.
I flushed at the thoughts I was having. Moiraine had been here before.
I pulled on a bell pull, summoning a clerk, a woman named Shevalle, whom I admitted to my sitting room, discreetly shutting the door of my bedroom. I sent her to get Anaiya. She was ruffled at being asked to do such a menial task, yet she complied, and minutes later, Anaiya arrived, red faced from the climb up the stairs.
Her eyebrows raised at Moiraine curled up on my bed, sheets twisting around her body, dress sloppily pulled on. She looked over at me uncertainly.
“I found her in a hallway. She collapsed. I brought her here – it was the closest,” And least embarrassing.
“I see,” Anaiya said carefully. “Perhaps….we should be discreet about Moiraine’s presence in your rooms?”
I looked at her, aghast. “You’re not going to move her?”
“I would prefer not to,” She said calmly. “It could damage her health further,”
I had no reply to that. I just looked at her, mouth open. “So,” She continued, unfazed. “Shall we change her out of that dress? Into a shift? Or I could do it,” She added quickly, at my expression.
“Yes – I’ve got some spare shifts here,” I plucked one from a drawer and handed it to her.
She tutted disapprovingly. “This is too big,”
I raised one eyebrow.
“But it’ll do fine,” She hastily assured me. “Fine,”
I was shooed from the room as Moiraine was changed, being admitted only when she was safely tucked under my sheets, as if the sight of her bare legs would make me climb on top of her.
“As I said Mother,” Anaiya said, smoothing the sheets. “Discretion. Given your current position, it would not be advisable for the Tower to find out about this,”
“And now I must be going,” She turned to leave.
“What?” I was alarmed. “You’re not staying? Who’s going to look after Moiraine?”
“You are, Mother,” She gave me an entirely complacent look. “My staying would cause equal suspicion. People know I’m here. They would wonder why I spent the night in your rooms,” This time her cheeks tinged red.
I stared at her, hating her because she was right. “Very well. Go,” She turned. “Wait,” It was evening. There would be no point in returning to the Amyrlin’s Office now. “Go to Leane and tell her I an indisposed at the minute. Hint I am ill. And inform Lan,”
Anaiya smiled. “As you wish, Mother,”
She left me alone with Moiraine. I peered in at her, anxiously standing by the door, twisting my hands together as she slept. Sleep, Anaiya told me, was the best cure. The wound was healed and Moiraine needed to regain her strength – the little escapade in the hall the result of a tired body, desperately in need of rest.
Her chest moved up and down under the sheets, her face serene yet too pale, her cheeks hollow.
I slept in a chair beside her bed that night, waking up with a crick in my neck and stiff limbs. She was looking at me when I woke up, her face carefully guarded. Evidently, she was sensible this morning.
“Good morning,” I muttered, rubbing sleep from my eyes and stretching out.
“Good morning,” She replied, glancing about. “Where am I, Siuan?”
“In my rooms,” I answered her, amused at how her eyes widened. “No…you fainted and I carried you here,”
“You…carried me?” She peered curiously at me.
“I…I see,” She looked surprised.
I left when Lan arrived. He was the closest thing to worried I had ever seen him and immediately went to her bedside. I went and spent a distracted day signing papers and meeting with Sitters, aware of Leane’s concerned presence.
That night, as I pushed open my door, I wondered if Lan would still be there. He wasn’t. Only Moiraine, sitting in an armchair, buried in one of my dressing gowns – an old, downy one that I should have thrown out years ago – nursing a cup of tea.
I sat down my papers and she looked up, managing a wan smile.
“Where’s Lan?” I asked.
“I sent him for supper. He spent the day with me,”
“I see,” I said carefully, trying and not succeeding in hiding my jealousy. She looked amused. I decided to broach a subject that had been bothering me since I heard of their bonding. “Do you mind if I ask you a question, Moiraine?”
“I suppose not,”
“How…close are you and Lan?”
She regarded me coolly; reminiscent of that same look she had given me two days ago. “Not as close as you and I where,”
I felt my chest loosen. “I see,” I was relieved. “And…have you been…close to anyone, Moiraine?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” She said, eyes fiery. “One, Siuan, one,”
“One,” I repeated. “Who?”
“Does it matter?”
I tried to find a way to evade the truth. I couldn’t. “To me it does,” I admitted.
She sighed. “Her name was Jaelle,” She told me calmly. “She was a borderland lady. Lan and I travelled with her and her entourage to Sheinar for ten days,” She shrugged. “The nights where lonely,”
“And you, Siuan?”
A semi-gasp tore from her. I looked at her quickly and her expression had not flickered. In fact, had I not heard the gasp, I would not think she had not reacted. She was hurt, I realised, very hurt.
“Leane,” She said coolly. She might as well have called her a Domani whore for all the convincing she was being. She sipped her tea. “I see,”
“Are you upset?” I asked.
She didn’t answer. Cursing the first oath, no doubt.
“I miss you, Moiraine,” I said quietly.
She looked down. “I miss you too,” She said, equally as quiet, swirling her tea in her lap. “Light, I miss you. Those nights with Jaelle…I imagined she was you,” She took a sip quickly, as if embarrassed by this admission.
“I could not stay with Leane,” I whispered.
She looked up at me.
“She wasn’t you,”
Had she been a lesser woman, she would have cried. A haunted look flickered across her face, gone so quickly I doubted it had been there. Serenity remained. Moiraine Damodred was Aes Sedai to her bone.
“We are such fools,” She told me calmly.
I smiled my agreement. She stood up and I noted how the gown enveloped her, making her look even smaller than she was. “I’m going to bed,” She told me.
“Have you eaten?” I asked shrewdly, eyeing her gaunt form.
“A little,” She admitted.
I paused, biting my lip. “You should eat. You need to build up your strength,”
“Have you eaten?” She demanded in return.
“I ate luncheon,” I said, slightly defensive.
“Luncheon,” She sneered. “Ten hours ago,”
“I’m not ill,” I said coolly. “You are,”
For a moment, she regarded me silently. “The last sitting of supper is over. I’ll wait until morning,”
She gaped at me, surprised at how forceful I was.
“You will not wait until morning. I’ll order something from the kitchens,” I reached out to tug the bell pull and she scowled.
“You’re making a nuisance of yourself, Siuan,” She warned me severely. I merely smiled in return.
A moment later, Moiraine disappeared into the bedroom, as a clerk was admitted. Shevalle again. I ordered a roast.
“A roast?” Moiraine demanded, when Shevalle had shut the door after her. “For the two of us?”
I smiled again.
She struggled for protests. “It’ll be cold by the time it gets up here,”
“No, it wont,” I said calmly. “You forget about the passageways in the Tower – they’re not only there so servants can get from one place to another unnoticed. Speed, too, is a bonus,”
She sat down, crossing her arms sullenly. Moiraine could be adorably sulky when she wanted to be.
Laras brought the roast personally half an hour later, with an elaborate speech prepared about how the kitchens where happy to facilitate the Amyrlin’s appetite, no matter the time or if it be day or night. I smiled patiently through it, dismissing her curtly when I thought it had gone far enough.
Moiraine eyed the meat, sitting down. “It’s too much,” She told me stubbornly, picking at it.
I cut myself a generous portion and a moment later, after watching me eat, Moiraine did the same.
“It’s not bad,” She admitted grudgingly.
“Wine?” I offered her.
“Please,” She said, not moving, continuing to eat.
I handed her a goblet and she took a swig of it quickly. I raised my eyebrows. She drank four goblets successively. I watched her, growing concerned. “Are you alright?” I asked curiously.
“Fine,” She said dazedly.
Perhaps I should not have offered her wine. I remember reading about offering alcohol to someone who had lost blood. “That’s enough, I think,” I said rather quickly, reaching out to take the bottle and returning it to the sideboard. She slumped against the back of the chair, smiling lucidly.
“Bed, now,” I told her, noting it was late.
She nodded, getting up, staggering slightly. I gripped her waist, keeping her steady. She was not as delicate as she was a few days ago.
She leaned against me. “I love you, Siuan,” She muttered sleepily, huskily kissing my neck.
I stiffened uncomfortably. “I love you, too, Moiraine,” I said calmly, cheeks tingeing pink, “Now – to bed -”
“To bed?” She giggled. “Gladly, Siuan,”
“Uh…no…not…to bed with me …” She kissed me on the mouth and my resolve weakened slightly. I wanted her…yet it would not be proper. No. Her mind was muddled and I would be taking advantage.
She merely smiled and I gasped. Slowly, she had begun to rub me through my dress. “Ah…Moiraine…” I said hastily, trying to push away her insistent hands. “You are not well, it would not be proper…”
“Tell me you do not want me, then,” Moiraine said and even managed to keep her voice steady.
I stared down at her grimly. “You know I can’t do that,”
She rubbed harder.
I exhaled sharply. “You are ill,” I repeated. “You’ll regret this tomorrow,”
“Perhaps,” She murmured, leaning up and kissing me again, one hand reaching up and letting the downy gown falling from her shoulders.
She wore nothing under it.
Almost unconsciously, I wrapped my arms about his waist, brushing my hands over her smooth skin. She nuzzled into my neck, kissing gently, tugging at my dress.
I traced a scar on her abdomen, a remnant of the Whitecloak’s arrow.
The next morning, I woke up first. She was sleeping beside me, head leaning on my shoulder, one arm slung loosely over my waist. Colour was returning to her face and her breathing was deep and regular. I grimaced, wondering what she would say.
Her eyes flickered open, briefly, looking at me. Then they shut and she said in a small voice, “Siuan?”
“Damn,” She squeezed her eyes open and stared at me. “I think we have made a mistake,” She said softly, rolling onto her back.
I propped my head on my elbow and looked down on her. “So,”
Slowly, she inched away from me. “I feel much better, actually, Siuan,” She said calmly. “I’ll leave as soon as I see Anaiya – Lan and I have Arad Doman to search yet,” She slid off the bed, reaching for the dress Anaiya had taken from her days before, pulling it on, smoothing it quickly with saidar.
“I told you you’d regret it in the morning,” I called to her.
She gave me a long look. “Yes, you did,” She sighed. “You where right as well,”
I sat up, curling my arms around me.
“I’ll see you later, Mother,” She said, stopping at the door. “I’ll see Anaiya,”
“Yes, daughter,” I replied.