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Legends 3 9
“And how did you earn your bruises, my Lord Diryk?” she asked, hardly listening to the boy’s soberly delivered story of a fall. Until …
“My father says it was Lan’s luck I wasn’t killed, my Lady,” Diryk said, brightening out of his formality. “Lan is the King of Malkier, and the luckiest man in the world, and the best swordsman. Except for my father, of course.”
“The King of Malkier?” Moiraine said, blinking. Diryk nodded vigorously and began explaining in a rush of words about Lan’s exploits in the Blight and the Malkieri who had come to the Aesdaishar to follow him, until his father motioned him to silence.
“Lan is a king if he wishes it, my Lady,” Brys said. A very odd thing to say, and his doubtful tone made it odder. “He keeps much to his rooms”—Brys sounded troubled about that, too—“but you will meet him before you—My Lady, are you well?”
“Not very,” she told him. She had hoped for another meeting with Lan Mandragoran, planned for it, but not here! Her stomach was trying to twist into knots. “I myself may keep to my rooms for a few days, if you will forgive me.”
He would, of course, and everyone was full of regret at missing her company and sympathy for the strain traveling must have put on her. Though she did hear one of the women murmur that southlanders must be very delicate.
A pale-haired young woman in green-and-red was waiting to show Moiraine back to her rooms. Elis bobbed a curtsy every time she spoke, which meant she bobbed quite often in the beginning, She had been told of Moiraine’s “faintness,” and she asked every twenty paces whether Moiraine wished to sit and catch her breath, or have cool damp cloths brought to her rooms, or hot bricks for her feet, or smelling salts, or a dozen more sure cures for “a light head,” until Moiraine curtly told her to be quiet. The fool girl led on in silence, face blank.
Moiraine cared not at a whit whether the woman was offended. All she wanted right then was to find Siuan with good news. With the boy in her arms, born on Dragonmount, and his mother packed to travel would be best of all. Most of all, though, she wanted herself out of the halls before she ran into Lan Mandragoran.
Worrying about him, she rounded a corner behind the serving girl and came face-to-face with Merean, blue-fringed shawl looped over her arms. The shatayan herself was guiding Merean, and behind the motherly-looking sister came a train of servants, one woman carrying her red riding gloves, another her fur-trimmed cloak, a third her dark velvet hat. Pairs of men bore wicker pack hampers that could have been carried by one, and others had arms full of flowers. An Aes Sedai received more honor than a mere lady, however high her House.
Merean’s eyes narrowed at the sight of Moiraine. “A surprise to see you here,” she said slowly. “By your dress, I take it you’ve given over your disguise? But no. Still no ring, I see.”
Moiraine was so startled at the woman’s sudden appearance that she hardly heard what Merean said. “Are you alone?” she blurted.
For a moment Merean’s eyes became slits. “Larelle decided to go her own way. South, I believe. More, I don’t know.”
“It was Cadsuane I was thinking of,” Moiraine said, blinking in surprise. The more she had thought about Cadsuane, the more she had become convinced the woman must be Black Ajah. What surprised her was Larelle. Larelle had seemed bent on reaching Chachin, and without delay. Of course, plans could change, but suddenly Moiraine realized something that should have been obvious. Black sisters could lie. It was impossible—the Oaths could not be broken!—yet it had to be.
Merean moved close to Moiraine, and when Moiraine took a step back, she followed. Moiraine held herself erect, but she still came no higher than the other woman’s chin. “Are you so eager to see Cadsuane?” Merean said, looking down at her. Her voice was pleasant, her smooth face comforting, but her eyes were cold iron. Abruptly glancing at the servants, she seemed to realize they were not alone. The iron faded, but it did not disappear. “Cadsuane was right, you know. A young woman who thinks she knows more than she does can land herself in very deep trouble, I suggest you be very still and very quiet until we can talk.” Her gesture for the shatayan to lead on was peremptory, and the dignified woman leaped to obey. A king or queen might find themselves in a shatayan’s bad graces, but never an Aes Sedai.
Moiraine stared after Merean until she vanished around a corner far down the corridor. Everything Merean had just said could have come from one of Tamra’s chosen. Black sisters could lie. Had Larelle changed her mind about Chachin? Or was she dead somewhere, like Tamra and the others? Suddenly Moiraine realized she was smoothing her skirts. Stilling her hands was easy, but she could not stop herself trembling faintly.
Elis was staring at her with her mouth open. “You’re Aes Sedai, too!” the woman squeaked, then gave a jump, taking Moiraine’s wince for a grimace. “I won’t say a word to anyone, Aes Sedai,” she said breathlessly. “I swear, by the Light and my father’s grave!” As if every person behind Merean had not heard everything she had. They would not hold their tongues.
“Take me to Lan Mandragoran’s apartments,” Moiraine told her. What was true at sunrise could change by noon, and so could what was necessary. She took the Great Serpent ring from her pouch and put it on her right hand. Sometimes, you had to gamble.
After a long walk, mercifully in silence, Elis rapped at a red door and announced to the gray-haired woman who opened it that the Lady Moiraine Damodred Aes Sedai wished to speak with King al’Lan Mandragoran. The woman had added her own touches to what Moiraine told her. King, indeed! Shockingly, the reply came back that Lord Mandragoran had no wish to speak with any Aes Sedai. The gray-haired woman looked scandalized, but closed the door firmly.
Elis stared at Moiraine wide-eyed. “I can show my Lady Aes Sedai to her own rooms now,” she said uncertainly, “if—” She squeaked when Moiraine pushed open the door and went in.
The gray-haired servingwoman and another a little younger leaped up from where they had been sitting, apparently darning shirts. A bony young man scrambled awkwardly to his feet beside the fireplace, looking to the women for instruction. They simply stared at Moiraine until she raised a questioning eyebrow. Then the gray-haired woman pointed to one of the two doors leading deeper into the apartments.
The door she pointed to led to a sitting room much like Moiraine’s own, but all of the gilded chairs had been moved back against the walls and the flowered carpets rolled up. Shirtless, Lan was practicing the sword in the cleared area. A small golden locket swung at his neck as he moved, his blade a blur. Sweat covered him, and more scars than she expected on a man so young. Not to mention a number of half-healed wounds crossed by dark stitches. He spun gracefully out of the forms to face her, the point of his sword grounding on the floor tiles. He still did not quite meet her gaze, in that strange way he and Bukama had. His hair hung damply, clinging to his face despite the leather cord, but he was not breathing hard.
“You,” he growled. “So you are Aes Sedai and a Damodred today. I’ve no time for your games, Cairhienin. I am waiting for someone.” Cold blue eyes flickered to the door behind her. Oddly, what appeared to be a cord woven of hair was tied around the inner handle in an elaborate knot. “She will not be pleased to find another woman here.”
“Your lady love need have no fear of me,” Moiraine told him dryly. “For one thing, you are much too tall, and for another, I prefer men with at least a modicum of charm. And manners. I came for your help. There was a pledge made, and held since the War of the Hundred Years, that Malkier would ride when the White Tower called. I am Aes Sedai, and I call you!”
“You know the hills are high, but not how they lie,” he muttered as if quoting some Malkieri saying. Stalking across the room away from her, he snatched up his scabbard and sheathed the sword forcefully. “I’ll give you your help, if you can answer a question. I’ve asked Aes Sedai over the years, but they wriggled away from answering like vipers. If you are Aes Sedai, answer it.”
“If I know the answer, I will.” She would n
ot tell him again that she was what she was, but she embraced saidar, and moved one of the gilded chairs out into the middle of the floor. She could not have lifted the thing with her hands, yet it floated easily on flows of Air, and would have had it been twice as heavy. Sitting, she rested her hands on crossed knees where the golden serpent on her finger was plain. The taller person had an advantage when both stood, but someone standing must feel they were being judged by someone sitting, especially an Aes Sedai.
He did not seem to feel anything of the kind. For the first time since she had met him, he met her eyes directly, and his stare was blue ice. “When Malkier died,” he said in tones of quiet steel, “Shienar and Arafel sent men. They could not stop the flood of Trollocs and Myrddraal, yet they came. Men rode from Kandor, and even Saldaea. They came too late, but they came.” Blue ice became blue fire. His voice did not change, but his knuckles grew white gripping his sword. “For nine hundred years we rode when the White Tower called, but where was the Tower when Malkier died? If you are Aes Sedai, answer me that!”
Moiraine hesitated. The answer he wanted was Sealed to the Tower, taught to Accepted in history lessons yet forbidden to any except initiates of the Tower. But what was a penance alongside what she faced? “Over a hundred sisters were ordered to Malkier,” she said more calmly than she felt. By everything she had been taught, she should ask a penance for what she had told him already. “Even Aes Sedai cannot fly, however. They were too late.” By the time the first had arrived, the armies of Malkier were already broken by endless hordes of Shadowspawn, the people fleeing or dead. The death of Malkier had been hard and blood-soaked, and fast. “That was before I was born, but I regret it deeply. And I regret that the Tower decided to keep their effort secret.” Better that the Tower be thought to have done nothing than to have it known Aes Sedai had tried and failed. Failure was a blow to stature, and mystery an armor the Tower needed. Aes Sedai had reasons of their own for what they did, and for what they did not do, and those reasons were known only to Aes Sedai. “That is as much answer as I can give. More than I should have, more than any other sister ever will, I think. Will it suffice?”
For a time he simply looked at her, fire slowly fading to ice once more. His eyes fell away. “Almost, I can believe,” he muttered finally, without saying what he almost believed. He gave a bitter laugh. “What help can I give you?”
Moiraine frowned. She very much wanted time alone with this man, to bring him to heel, but that had to wait. “There is another sister in the Palace. Merean Redhill. I need to know where she goes, what she does, who she meets.” He blinked, but did not ask the obvious questions. Perhaps he knew he would get no answers, but his silence was still pleasing.
“I have been keeping to my rooms the past few days,” he said, looking at the door again. “I do not know how much watching I can do.”
In spite of herself, she sniffed. The man promised help, then looked anxiously for his lady. Perhaps he was not what she had thought. But he was who she had. “Not you,” she told him. Her visit here would be known throughout the Aesdaishar soon, if it was not already, and if he was noticed spying on Merean … That could be disaster even if the woman was as innocent as a babe. “I thought you might ask one of the Malkieri I understand have gathered here to follow you. Someone with a sharp eye and a close tongue. This must be done in utter secrecy.”
“No one follows me,” he said sharply. Glancing at the door once more, he suddenly seemed weary. He did not slump, but he moved to the fireplace and propped his sword beside it with the care of a tired man. Standing with his back to her, he said, “I will ask Bukama and Ryne to watch her, but I cannot promise for them. That is all I can do for you.”
She stifled a vexed sound. Whether it was all he could do or all he would, she had no leverage to force him. “Bukama,” she said. “Only him.” Going by how he had behaved around her, Ryne would be too busy staring at Merean to see or hear anything. That was if he did not confess what he was doing the moment Merean looked at him. “And do not tell him why.”
His head whipped around, but after a moment he nodded. And again he did not ask the questions most people would have. Telling him how to get word to her, by notes passed to her maid Suki, she hoped she was not making a grave mistake.
Back in her own rooms, she discovered just how quickly news had spread. In the sitting room, Siuan was offering a tray of sweetmeats to a tall, full-mouthed young woman in pale green silk, little older than a girl, with black hair that fell well below her hips and a small blue dot painted on her forehead about where the stone of Moiraine’s kesiera hung. Siuan’s face was smooth, but her voice was tight as she made introductions. The Lady Iselle quickly showed why.
“Everyone in the Palace is saying you are Aes Sedai,” she said, eyeing Moiraine doubtfully. She did not rise, much less curtsy, or even incline her head. “If that is so, I need your assistance. I wish to go to the White Tower. My mother wants me to marry. I would not mind Lan as my carneira if Mother were not already his, but when I marry, I think it will be one of my Warders. I will be Green Ajah.” She frowned faintly at Siuan. “Don’t hover, girl. Stand over there until you are needed.” Siuan took up a stance by the fireplace, back stiff and arms folded beneath her breasts. No real servant would have stood so—or frowned so—but Iselle no longer noticed her. “Do sit down, Moiraine,” she went on with a smile, “and I will tell you what I need of you. If you are Aes Sedai, of course.”
Moiraine stared. Invited to take a chair in her own sitting room. This silly child was certainly a suitable match for Lan when it came to arrogance. Her carneira? That meant “first” in the Old Tongue, and plainly something else here. Not what it seemed to, of course; even these Malkieri could not be that peculiar! Sitting, she said dryly, “Choosing your Ajah should at least wait until I test you to see whether there is any point in sending you to the Tower. A few minutes will determine whether you can learn to channel, and your potential strength if you—” The girl blithely broke in.
“Oh, I was tested years ago. The Aes Sedai said I would be very strong. I told her I was fifteen, but she learned the truth. I don’t see why I could not go to the Tower at twelve if I wanted. Mother was furious. She has always said I was to be Queen of Malkier one day, but that means marrying Lan, which I would not want even if mother weren’t his carneira. When you tell her you are taking me to the Tower, she will have to listen. Everyone knows that Aes Sedai take any woman they want for training, and no one can stop them.” That full mouth pursed. “You are Aes Sedai, aren’t you?”
Moiraine performed the rosebud exercise. “If you want to go to Tar Valon, then go. I certainly do not have time to escort you. You will find sisters there about whom you can have no doubts. Suki, will you show the Lady Iselle out? No doubt she does not wish to delay in setting off before her mother catches her.”
The chit was all indignation, of course, but Moiraine wanted only to see the back of her, and Siuan very nearly pushed her out into the corridor.
“That one,” Siuan said as she came back dusting her hands, “won’t last a month if she can equal Cadsuane.” The Tower clung like iron bands to any woman who had the smallest chance of earning the shawl, but those who could not or would not learn did find themselves put out, and channeling was only part of what had to be learned.
“Sierin herself can toss her from the top of the Tower for all I care,” Moiraine snapped. “Did you learn anything?”
It seemed that Siuan had learned that the young footman knew how to kiss, a revelation that did not even pinken her cheeks, and aside from that, nothing whatsoever. Surprisingly, learning that Moiraine had approached Lan upset her more than Merean’s appearance.
“Skin me and salt me if you don’t take idiot risks, Moiraine. A man who claims the throne of a dead country is nine kinds of fool. He could be flapping his tongue about you right this minute to anybody who’ll bloody listen! If Merean learns you’re having her watched.… Burn me!”
“He is many k
inds of fool, Siuan, but I do not think he ever ‘flaps his tongue.’ Besides, ‘you cannot win if you will not risk a copper,’ as you always tell me your father used to say. We have no choice but to take risks. With Merean here, time may be running out. You must reach the Lady Ines as quickly as you can.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Siuan muttered, and stalked out squaring her shoulders as if for a struggle. But she was smoothing her skirt over her hips, too.
Night had long since fallen and Moiraine was trying to read by lamplight when Siuan returned. Moiraine set her book aside; she had been staring at the same page for the past hour. This time, Siuan did have news, delivered while digging through the dresses and shifts Mistress Dorelmin had made.
For one thing, she had been approached on her way back to Moiraine’s rooms by “a gristly old stork” who asked if she was Suki, then told her Merean had spent almost the entire day with Prince Brys before retiring to her apartments for the night. No clue there to anything. More important, Siuan had been able to bring up Rahien in casual conversation with Cal. The footman had not been with the Lady Ines when the boy was born, but he did know the day, one day after the Aiel began their retreat from Tar Valon. Moiraine and Siuan shared a long look over that. One day after Gitara Moroso had made her Foretelling of the Dragon’s Rebirth and dropped dead from the shock of it. Dawn over the mountain, and born during the ten days before a sudden thaw melted the snow. Gitara had specifically mentioned the snow.
“Anyway,” Siuan went on, beginning to make a bundle of clothes and stockings, “I led Cal to believe I’d been dismissed from your service for spilling wine on your dress, and he’s offered me a bed with the Lady Ines’ servants. He thinks he might be able to get me a place with his Lady.” She snorted with amusement, then caught Moiraine’s eyes and snorted again, more roughly. “It isn’t his bloody bed, Moiraine. And if it was, well, he has a gentle manner and the prettiest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. One of these days, you’re going to find yourself ready to do more than dream about some man, and I hope I’m there to see it!”