Author: Blue Dragon PM
Eight Warders, one of each Ajah including the Black, and their Aes Sedai. A study of characters and relationships beneath the Warder bond, all turned into a single story; all their lives are about to change forever, because some can't keep their fingers out of the Shadow.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 8 - Words: 31,593 - Reviews: 48 - Favs: 24 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 08-30-08 - Published: 03-26-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4156421
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Warder of the White Sister
A tap on the door – Haqon was instantly alert, ready to fight, and looked to his Aes Sedai for guidance.
"Just open the door, Haqon. No danger yet."
Lomiel spoke without looking up from her game. A puzzle – a thousand lovingly carved wooden pieces, which when fitted correctly together were to form a marvellous painting of the White Tower, Dragonmount behind it. Lomiel paid obscene amounts of gold to have puzzles made – where she had had the idea to begin with, Haqon did not know – and only ever solved each one once. She said they bored her the second time.
Haqon rose from his chair. He set the cup of tea down – once, twice, thrice tapping it against the wooden table before finally letting it stand. He went out of Lomiel's chamber, into the antechamber, touching the frame of the doorway between the rooms thrice before stepping through. He walked to the door and gripped the handle once, twice, thrice, only the final time actually opening it.
"Good afternoon," said the young Brown sister who stood outside. If not for the shawl across her shoulders, the ring on her left forefinger, and the Warder at her heels, he would have thought her a farmer's wife instead of an Aes Sedai. She blinked up at him with intensely green eyes, her gaze studying then quickly dismissing him. "Is Lomiel Sedai in?"
He felt a shift in the bond, and knew that Lomiel had heard. Being quite weak in the Power, she stood low in the Tower hierarchy – at least, that was the reason she gave – and for her, other Aes Sedai often meant standing and curtsying. And however she might deny it, he knew that her hip pained her when she curtsied.
And neither of them knew any Aes Sedai they trusted enough to ask for Healing.
"Lomiel Sedai is resting," he said.
"She can rest later," murmured the Brown and made to step past him – just step right beneath his arm and into the antechamber! Was it rudeness, or just Brown Ajah airiness? A Brown after some scrap of knowledge would think of nothing else, least of all manners.
Or was it the beginning of a threat…?
But he had just seen – from the corner of his eye – Lomiel appear in the doorway to her bed chamber, and make an allowing gesture. So he let the Brown pass. Her Warder trailed her with a bored expression – a very young Warder. So young that he likely thought his expression one of confidence, not just boredom.
Haqon narrowed his eyes. What use did a Brown have of a Warder? And why was he trailing her through the Tower itself?
He was suspicious of everyone, and so used to it by now that he no longer felt guilty over it. Lomiel alone he trusted, and Lomiel he trusted absolutely.
Three taps of his forefinger on the handle after he closed the door, then he followed the two guests into the sitting room, where Lomiel had led the way. As he crossed the floor, he was careful not to step on the white flower mosaic, and only on the pale blue and greens surrounding them. He touched the doorframe thrice as he passed through it - the automatic gesture soothed him.
Lomiel seated herself in her favourite armchair, and with an elegant gesture invited the Brown to sit opposite her. The young Warder planted himself behind the Brown, and exchanged nod with Haqon as Haqon passed and placed himself similarly at Lomiel's side, his arms crossed over his chest.
The other Warder still appeared bored - a juvenile and unprofessional expression - but at least a bored Warder meant a calm Aes Sedai. Or a good actor. Young Warders seldom were good actors – they had not yet learned enough distance from their Aes Sedai's moods.
What did a young Brown believe she needed a Warder for? What was she up to?
"Do you have tea, Lomiel?" asked the Brown.
Lomiel nodded at Haqon, who went to fetch more from the kettle, and a pair of cups. He stepped on the black and red flowers on the carpet, and never on the interlaced white and golden roses.
"A fine day to you, Jahra," Lomiel greeted her guest. Her own tea cup, which she had brought with her from her chamber, she still held in her hands. Her back was straight as a rod, but not stiff, and her face was a mask of cool composure. "To what do I owe this visit?"
"I read an old volume on trolloc speech in the library, and found your name on it," said the Brown. "And you are still alive."
This was said as if it made her reason to visit clear as fine glass. Haqon poured tea and decided that no, it had not been rudeness; this Jahra was just a typical Brown, distracted and thoughtless. She thought little of how another might perceive things, and was so absorbed in her own trains of thought she would be surprised to find that someone else did not automatically follow them too. He tapped each cup with the spoon thrice as he added sugar, then replaced the lid on the sugar container three times before letting it settle – the other Warder gave him an odd frown, which he ignored.
"I have considered retiring," Lomiel replied, after a moment, when she had figured out what the Brown might have meant. There was nothing in her voice, but the bond betrayed guardedness.
Haqon could not recall any volumes on or even interests in trolloc language. Must have been before his time, and he had been her Warder for… was it fifty years? Lomiel had been white-haired even then, but now his hair was as white as hers, and grown thin besides.
But he had never heard her speak of retirement before.
"My pardons, Jahra," Lomiel went on. "I hardly remember the volume in question. My name is on it because I helped the author with a few details, some flaws in the logic – not that there is much logic in anything trollocs do, mind."
"I know – why thank you, Gaidin –" She took the tea cup Haqon offered her without looking at him. "– but, Lomiel, what strikes me is that it isn't the only work where I've found your name in conjunction with Adenda Sedai, who was of the Brown. Brown writers rarely cite help from outside their own Ajah."
Haqon handed the Brown's Warder a cup of tea, too, and the boy took it with another nod, smelled it once, then set it down. Likely he found it too sweet – Haqon made tea to suit Lomiel, and Lomiel liked her tea sweet.
The Brown, however, sipped hers and looked pleased.
"Adenda was an acquaintance," said Lomiel, serene as ever while the bond betrayed growing unease. She had rested her hands on her lap, and sat very still, even for her.
Haqon touched his belt knife – and jerked his hand away. Foolish, to betray his Aes Sedai like that! He locked both hands behind his back. Haqon knew to take nothing in the Tower for granted. Trust was a thing the years had bled out of him. But so far, this was just another inquisitive Brown, and he had no business with his belt knife.
He had two swords hidden nearby – one in Lomiel's bed chamber, and one hidden in the spine of the armchair where Lomiel sat. Reassuring, that. And he had his knives – he steeled himself to avoid touching the hiding place of each in turn to count them – and the other Warder carried no sword, just a single long dagger.
But Lomiel was wary, so Haqon scowled. The other Warder raised his eyebrows, as if amused. Haqon deepened his scowl. He was not that old.
"More than an acquaintance, I would say," murmured the Brown in her soft voice. "You worked with her – and however minor your involvement, you did it often enough to keep the two of you cooped up together for years."
"This isn't about trolloc language."
Jahra smiled. "No, it isn't. This is about what happened to Adenda Sedai."
"She retired near a hundred years ago."
"Yes. But her retirement was never planned."
"It was a rather abrupt decision…"
"Neither was it peaceful. One might even say it was… cut brutally short."
Lomiel stood so suddenly that Haqon drew his belt knife and was in a fighter's crouch before he knew what he was doing. If Lomiel let her icy White Ajah serenity fall, then it was high time to –
But the Brown just sipped her tea. Her Warder drew closer to her, hand resting on his dagger, eyes alert. Haqon recognized him now: his name was Jored, and he was fast as a striking snake. Dangerous, that.
Jahra set her cup on the table. "I had hoped we could avoid this. Do release the Source and sit down, Lomiel. I have questions for you. That is all, I promise."
Lomiel smoothed her skirts, and gradually rewrapped herself in her cool composure as if it was a shawl, or perhaps an armour. But the bond was a jumble of frustration and wariness, anger, all threaded through by twitching fear.
Haqon twirled his belt knife in his hand and sheathed it. Was the other Warder fast enough to duck a throwing knife at that short distance? He had one in his sleeve. As for the Brown… well, he and Lomiel had faced Aes Sedai stronger than she was before, and emerged alive. Noone was to know, of course. That was crucial; noone must ever know.
But slowly, Lomiel lowered herself back into her armchair.
Jahra continued. "Adenda Sedai wrote much on a certain faction among people. Among people of every state and city – Darkfriends. She described them as integrated in every system throughout the world, every population. Evil in the common man. A subject for which I share her fascination; what makes a person turn to the Dark..?"
"Adenda spent her life writing – I can't recall all she ever –"
"Also, dated just before she retired, she wrote a treatise on the Black Ajah."
"Where did you –" began Lomiel, then snapped her mouth shut so abruptly that her teeth clicked, and like a cat caught ungraceful, she pretended the slip had never happened.
"Libraries are wonderful places for hiding books, not only for finding them. I found a copy folded into that volume on trolloc language. It isn't a very good book on the subject, and we have three copies only here in Tar Valon, only the first of which shows any signs of wear at all… I doubt the third has been touched by more than a dust feather since it was scribed."
Lomiel sat silent and unblinking like a statue, her hands folded in her lap and her calm might have been regal if it had not been so cold.
Her lack of response did nor bother the Brown. "The Black Ajah very much exist, if Adenda Sedai is to be believed. Why shouldn't they? Every other society we know of has Darkfriends, even in the Broderlands, and among the Children of the Light, too, I'd wager. Why not us? What would set us above the rest?"
"What do you want me to say?" Even beneath her cool surface, Lomiel had gathered her courage and wits again. The bond, as her voice, was steady.
The Brown sister had set down her cup of tea, and forgotten it. She was leaned forwards in her seat, her attention rapt on Lomiel. "You were Novice and Accepted with Adenda. I checked the books. You were raised to the shawl together, and you worked with her. You must have known her well, what she did, and why. But tell me under the Oaths that you know nothing of any Black Ajah, and I will believe you."
Lomiel sat, unblinking, staring at the other Aes Sedai. She still said not a word – but it was a different kind of muteness, now, and finally she folded down her gaze in defeat. She felt cornered. No longer afraid – simply cornered and uneasy.
"The treatise said the Black Ajah could likely lie. So I will assume you are not Black, for then you would have told me 'I know nothing of the Black Ajah'."
"Which, of course, you would have told me, had it been the truth. So all I now have learned is that you probably know something, and you are probably not Black – and thus, likely not responsible for Adenda Sedai's untimely demise. Few knew where she went, so I'll admit it; I did suspect your involvement."
So therefore she brought the Warder, thought Haqon, and a piece of the puzzle clicked into place in his head. It did not answer why she thought she had needed a Warder to begin with.
"Fewer knew she was killed," said Lomiel.
"Answers come to those who seek persistently."
"So she did manage to hide a copy of the treatise?"
The Brown sister nodded. "Where even few Browns would ever find it. Honestly, that book on trolloc language is horrible. I can't understand why anyone ever bothered to scribe three copies…"
Haqon had reverted to standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face, but Lomiel's calm was returned in full force. "I told Adenda never to write that treatise – and if she did, never to book it in the library. But Adenda lived in her own world. I don't believe she ever even left the Tower before her retirement… Darkfriends and the Black Ajah were no more real to her than letters on a paper. An abstract reality to be pondered in peace." Lomiel looked the young Brown in the eye. Her face was perfectly expressionless, but her voice hinted at sentiment behind her words. "Don't make the same mistake."
Behind the Brown young Jored shifted uneasily, as if worried that that was exactly what Jahra would do.
"Then they exist? You know this?"
"Who else would host any desire to kill Adenda? And if it was them, they must have connections in the Brown, for whoever murdered her knew where she was sent. I travelled to visit her…" Lomiel blinked as tears suddenly flooded her eyes. She dried them hastily on her sleeve.
Haqon's scowl was broken – he had to stop himself from staring at her. Oh, she had lost her composure before, that was nothing new. It was unusual, but it happened. But tears..? He had never seen her weep before. Not once. Not once in fifty years –
"And not only Adenda. I lost Petryn, my first Warder…"
That explained the tears – relieved, Haqon could scowl on. Her first Warder had been killed decades before she had bonded him. Her second… four years. She had never been long without. Unusual, for a White. Even for one who made frequent and lengthy journeys away from the Tower – which was also unusual for a White.
And there was that detail that noone was to know of. Those encounters with other Aes Sedai – Aes Sedai stronger than Lomiel, but that had not saved them.
The young Brown nodded. "I thank you for your time…"
"One thing I can tell you," said Lomiel interrupted quietly, raising a hand to halt the Brown before she rose to leave. "She always sent a copy of every work she made to her cousin's library. Her cousin's – and then his son's. I believe she even sent her notes there. It's all encrypted, but there are things there that aren't to be found in the Tower."
Jahra's smile was longing, and her eyes bright and alert. "Where?"
For some reason, relief swept into Lomiel, and she spoke almost in a sigh, as if she for long had held her breath and now, finally, could let it out. She told the young Brown where to find Adenda's notes, and warned her to be careful. To keep her mouth duly closed. "I will send a pigeon to the current inhabitant, and tell him to expect you and grant you access."
"I thank you."
Jahra stood again to leave, but Jored set a hand to her shoulder. He looked at Lomiel with more distrust than had his Aes Sedai. "Forgive me, Lomiel Sedai, but why are you helping us?"
Haqon grunted before he could stop himself. He might have asked the very same thing.
Lomiel's expression said nothing, and her words came in a lazy drawl. She raised a single forefinger. "For one simple reason. Currently all Adenda's work is to no use, and you've expressed interest in it. She would be glad. But if you end up like she did, I'll not take the blame."
"She never had a Warder," said Jahra, and smiled fondly up at Jored. She turned back to Lomiel, while patting her Warder's hand, which still rested on her shoulder. "Jored will keep me safe. And in any case, I won't be going alone. I have a friend who will likely travel with me." The young Brown frowned, still patting her Warder's hand as if her arm was moving of its own, left at its task and forgotten by her mind. "And Jored, we should stop to see your mother when we head home. It is on the way."
Jored gave a visible start, then caught himself. He sent Lomiel and Haqon a short, suspicious glare, then replied simply; "Yes, Jahra. She would appreciate that."
"But just the two of us. If we bring company your mother will feel overwhelmed."
Jored smiled. "Having one Aes Sedai in the house is quite enough for her, you're right."
Jahra nodded. She took a sip from her tea cup, set it down, and rose. "Again, thank you," she said to Lomiel, then turned to leave without a second glance.
Lomiel made no effort to hold her even a moment longer, so did not even return the goodbye.
Jored and Haqon exchanged another nod, and Haqon followed them to the door. The two trooped down the hallway, Jahra tripping and Jored striding beside her. Haqon remained in the doorway, glad to see them go, waiting until they were safely out of sight. Just to be sure.
As they came to the first cross corridor, the young Brown hesitated. "Jored," she asked. "Where was I going?"
"To visit Yamela," her Warder told her. "The practice yard."
"Oh. Yes." Jahra nodded thoughtfully, and only after a moment went on; "This way, Jored." She picked a small, leather-bound book from a pocket on her skirt, put it beneath her nose, and strolled off in the direction not towards the practice yard. Her Warder followed with a rueful smile.
Haqon raised his eyebrows. Perhaps the girl did have need of a Warder, after all. He closed the door – tapped the handle three times – and went back inside to Lomiel, who had picked up her tea again. It had grown cold, and beneath her cool expression she was sad. He thought he knew why.
"Do we tell her?" he asked.
"We tell her everything," Lomiel replied. "As we must, especially of late. Would you do it? Put a note in the usual place."
Haqon went to a nearby writing desk for pen and ink. He had a neater hand than did his Aes Sedai. She was more for taking personal notes than writing things to others, and her hand had a neglected slant which made it barely legible.
"And Haqon..? Just mention the Brown and her Warder, and their interests and questions, and where they're going. No need to mention Adenda's notes. I've kept that from them so far, and I'd like to keep doing so."
Haqon brought out ink, paper, a feather pen, and composed the message. Each time the pen went into the ink jar, he scraped exactly thrice on the rim of the jar to be rid of the excess ink, and each time the pen touched paper, it did so three times before he could begin the letter.
Lomiel spoke into her tea. "Doing this… I feel like I'm holding my hand cupped to protect a candle while I let the fire die in the fireplace. It's illogical. I should focus on what is most important. I should focus on the fire."
"Illogical?" said Haqon, returning ink and feather pen to their places - he had to close the lid of the pen case three times; click, click, click. The repetition soothed him. "Logically, in the end, you're no more than human, Lomiel. And you act like a human."
She sniffed. "You mean I commit a human's mistakes. I should…"
"You do your part of the work for the fireplace too, Lomiel."
"But it's never enough, is it?"
Haqon would not lie to her. "No," he said softly. "It isn't. But that doesn't mean we can give up. Or retire…?"
Lomiel laughed. She had a wonderfully rich laugh, when she let it out. All in all, he had heard her laugh perhaps a dozen times more than he had seen her weep. "Oh, I've considered retiring. Dreamed of it. But how could I?"
Haqon folded the note together and handed it to her. She needed to do something with the Power on it before he could deliver it. She bent over her work, and he waited.
"If you wish to retire," he said softly, "then do it. I'll come with you. There will be no cutting your retirement short."
"Someday, Haqon. But not today. There is still work to be done."
"As you say, Aes Sedai," Haqon agreed. He retook the note and went to deliver it. Soon, the Brown's Warder would no longer look so infuriatinglybored.