|No Daughter of Mine
Author: Blue Dragon PM
Mat has followed Tuon to rule in Seanchan, but now his daughter can channel, and he will do anything to keep her from being collared. Fortunately he's been planning for this disaster for years...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Family - Mat C. - Words: 5,184 - Reviews: 38 - Favs: 38 - Follows: 24 - Published: 07-03-10 - id: 6108216
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
No daughter of mine
It was a Beltine Mat would never forget, for it was the Beltine he lost his daughter.
He had feared it since Atean's birth. Tuon – Fortuona, but he still thought of her as Tuon – had named the girl before he even saw her, and had since pretended she had no daughter. But from the moment that tiny, beautiful little girl first grasped his finger with her hand, Mat had loved her as much as he did the mother. Suddenly things either made sense or became meaningless; what mattered was Atean, and he would have sacrificed his remaining eye to ensure her happiness.
He spent as much time with her as his duties allowed. The Prince of Ravens had ridiculously many tedious duties. His and Tuon's return to Seanchan had found it in chaos, war and starvation everywhere. Mat hated battle, but the conquest had at least kept him occupied. Since things had settled down, perhaps five years after their arrival, he often found himself surrounded by high-ranking da'covale for hours on end while they debated which shade of red silk he ought to be wearing for this or that ceremony. He shirked from the robe-try-outs as often as he could to spend time with his daughter.
Tuon would scoff at him, tell him it was for the girl's own good that neither of her parents ever showed her favour, but on the other hand she never stopped him, and in quiet moments when they were alone – when he had thrown even the ever-present da'covale out – she would ask him of the girl. How she was, how she grew, how quickly she learned or understood.
Mat had reached the conclusion that Tuon's way of caring for the girl was to ignore her publicly, but question him and – he suspected – many others of her doings and development in private. She likely had a dozen Seekers on the sole mission of figuring out if the child Atean, by sorting her building blocks into groups by colour, showed enough promise to one day assume the responsibilities of an Empress.
They had no other daughters, much to Tuon's annoyance. She seemed to think it her duty as Empress to have many daughters, and it was apparently Mat's duty to help her provide them – a duty he didn't mind much at all. As a result they had three sons, fine lads, but all sent off to tutelage with favoured members of the High Blood by the time they were three, and home once or twice a year to formally greet their mother the Empress. But Mat wasn't worried about them. He was worried about Atean.
Thus, every year at Beltine, he would bring Atean with him into the woods. He had told Tuon it was a tradition with his own people, and when his sons were home he brought them too, but they seldom were.
Tuon had first allowed his expedition with that gracious nod of hers which meant she was rewarding him for good behaviour, and the second and third year he had not asked her. He had simply repeated the same procedure and told Atean's many guards and attendants that if they felt the need to question the Prince of Ravens – who every living creature down to the last bloody bug under a rock in Seandar knew by name and face and probably by smell and the sound of his footfalls too, burn them – he would simply march straight back to the Empress and tell her that he had been inconvenienced. Since every living creature down to the last bloody bug under a rock in Seandar knew that the bloody Prince of Ravens was high in the Empress's favour, they would do as he bloody well said. Well, they would once they were done prostrating and grovelling.
He wasn't about to ask Tuon's permission for every little thing he did, or he might well end up with da'covale telling him whether he should scratch his arse with his left or his right hand.
So each year he had ridden out with his precious daughter. They would be followed by the unavoidable escort of Deathwatch Guards, along with a couple of attendants, sul'dam, and damane, but once in the woods he would make sure said attendants and guards kept their distance, and over the years he had contrived to make even Jivendar, Atean's Shadow, allow him and his daughter some privacy. That had taken a bit of tweaking, to be sure. But he himself had given the man to Atean, and Jivendar remembered it.
He taught her to read the forests and to snare rabbits, how to fish in a pond, how to make a bow and how to hunt, even how to wield a quarter staff. He told her of the Two Rivers, of the Dragon Reborn, of the many campaigns he had fought and won, and how he had won them. They would spread sticks and pine cones and stones over the soft forest floor to signify troops and discuss troop movements, and Mat was amazed how quickly Atean learned.
By the time she was twelve the entire retinue knew the process well enough that when they arrived at their usual spot, the Gardeners from the Deathwatch Guard had already scouted out the woods beforehand and set up a perimeter, the servants and da'covale and sul'dam would set up a camp in a pretty little clearing, and he could spend time alone with his daughter for near the entire day without anyone bothering them.
And by the time she was twelve he had been biting his nails with concern, knowing that time was running out. Then, properly alone for the first time, he had summoned help.
He wore a ring, given to him by Egwene and Elayne before he left for Seanchan, that worked as a locator. The ring's twin, he was told, was to always be carried by some Aes Sedai of his familiarity. Not that he much trusted Aes Sedai, but…
…but when he first activated the ring, his own sister Bodewhin showed up, tailed by a Warder who looked at him as if he might try to eat her. That, or collar her. Bode had distressed the man even further by rushing at him and hugging him, but Mat had been delighted to see her. Not delighted that she was Aes Sedai – Green, of course – but he supposed it was unavoidable. He was equally delighted that she had taken precautions when she came, hiding her ability to channel, inverting her weaves, so that the not-so-far-away sul'dam and damane would detect nothing.
The purpose, of course, was to test Atean's ability to channel. If Atean could channel – as was likely, considering that the trait ran in both her father's and her mother's line – Mat intended to ferret her out of Seanchan before she was collared. Bode tested the girl and talked to her of the White Tower and talked to Mat of all that had happened since his departure.
Atean, grown up among secrets, knew how to keep one more.
The third time he summoned Bode, when Atean was fourteen, Bode tested the girl and looked up at Mat with an expression that made Mat's blood run cold.
It was a bright day, that Beltine he had dreaded for so long.
Bode's Warders – she had two of them, now – stood silent watch in opposite directions, Bode held her gateway open behind her to provide a quick escape, Mat had just received some pleasant news from home, and Atean… Atean could channel.
"I couldn't tell last time, she was too young. I suspected she'd at least be able to learn, but… oh, Mat," Bode said. "I'm certain now. She's born with the spark. She'll test true for damane."
"Then I must be collared," said the girl soberly.
Mat felt his knees go weak. He leaned on his ashandarei. Bode set a hand to Atean's face, and Atean reflexively pulled away. She was not accustomed to being touched.
"No," Bode said firmly, and looked to Mat. "You mustn't. You may come with me, to Tar Valon, and train as an Aes Sedai."
Mat nodded, still feeling ill.
His daughter studied him. She looked very much like Tuon had done, if with a fairer complexion, and she had inherited her mother's talent for hard looks. The look she turned to Bode was one of her hardest. All prisoners to be executed immediately. "I will not follow you anywhere, marath'damane."
Bode looked angry, but before she could speak –
"I know things are different in your land," Atean said, "but this is Seanchan. You are my father's sister and I will not report you to the sul'dam because he has asked me not to." That, Mat thought, and his very shrewd and often scheming daughter likely saw some advantage for the future in a secret connection to the White Tower. She was like Tuon in that way, too, and he was glad, because it kept her alive. He knew of seventeen attempts on her life already, and he was sure there had been many more. "In Seanchan, women who can channel must be collared. Father, we must go immediately to Kellanda and tell her of this."
Kellanda was Atean's der'sul'dam, a woman who was even stricter with her sul'dam than with her damane. But Kellanda was no fool.
"If we tell Kellanda of this, she will ask too many questions," Mat replied. He took his hat off to scratch his head. "Questions as in… how do we know you can channel?"
Atean put her chin up. "Father –"
"Blood and ashes, Atean, do you want to be collared?"
Atean blinked, but controlled herself. "It is not a matter of what I want, father. It is my duty to the Empire."
"Burn that," muttered Mat.
Atean had folded her hands in front of her and stood expectantly, like a ruler who had issued her commands and waited for them to be carried out.
"Burn that," Mat repeated, louder. "Listen, Atean. I'm not giving you over to the sul'dam and the collar, and that's that. No daughter of mine is going to end up a slave."
"Father, if…" but Atean hesitated, and when she spoke again her tone had moderated: "But you're not my father any more, are you? If I can channel, and am marath'damane, then my name will be stricken from the books and I will be given a new name, and taken far from Seandar so that no one may ever recognize me."
Mat felt as if someone had grabbed hold of his innards and twisted them. "No," he managed. "Atean, you are going with Bode."
"I will not."
Mat threw his weathered old hat to the ground. Anger burned cool, and he felt as if he had grown three sizes with it. "Bode, you've taken precautions, haven't you?"
Bode gave a curt nod which told him she was – and her face told him not to ask stupid questions. So she was still hiding her ability and inverting her weaves; good.
"Get rid of that bloody gateway." Without waiting for her to comply, he turned, cupped his hands about his mouth, and bellowed; "Kellanda!"
They were no further than a cry away, Atean's attendants. They never were.
"What are you doing?" hissed Bode, and her Warders reached for their blades.
"Keep your dogs back," Mat replied her, and then glared at the two men. "Keep your heads and this will go well. Let me talk and act."
They looked to Bode, of course, who after a moment nodded her acquiescence, though she was none too pleased that he had addressed her Warders. He had some vague memory that Greens could be touchy about such things.
"Tell me what you are doing –" Bode demanded, her chin rising, her arms crossing over her chest.
He gave her his hardest look. She didn't flinch, but she stopped speaking, frowning at him in a way that reminded him of his mother. "Three people will appear," he told her. "Shield the damane, hold the sul'dam and the fop. Keep your dogs out of sight."
Bode opened her mouth again.
"Do it!" he barked, then spun to his daughter and caught her face between his hands. "I must show you something," he told her, in the same harsh voice he had used with Bode. "And you will see it, burn you."
"I will see," she assured him, still calm despite his none-too-gentle hold. She must have been working through her keen mind the possibility that he was, after all, an enemy. That hurt. But he had known this day would hurt.
If her eyes had filled with tears or she had pleaded him to let go, he would have. But that was not what Atean would do. He hadn't seen her weep since her seventh year, when one of those assassination attempts ended with a crossbow bolt through her beloved pony's head.
He stood his daughter before him, his hands on her shoulders, to face when Kellanda emerged through the woods. She kept still and regal, not even tense. Like her mother. Either she didn't have the good sense to be afraid, or she had nerves of solid steel and simply didn't show it. He suspected it was the latter, and he was proud of her. So very proud of her.
He was surprised when she raised her hands to intertwine her fingers into his, and kept them there. The meaning of the gesture was obvious; she was taking away her opportunity to sign some warning to Kellanda, or to Jivendar.
Jivendar came first, of course. That man would leave his charge with Mat, the Prince of Ravens, but he would allow no one else to approach her without him nearby. Not even her own der'sul'dam. He came on light feet, and when he caught sight of them he sprang into the air, and somersaulted the rest of the way towards them. He landed nimbly inside the clearing and bowed to Atean, acting for all the world as if neither Mat nor Bode – a woman who should not have been there – were present.
He would have fooled anyone; Jivendar was an entertainer. An acrobat, a juggler, a singer of no small skill, a storyteller, and a fool. He had eyes for no one and nothing but his young mistress, and lived to see her smile. He kept Atean company wherever she went.
Of course, he was also her bodyguard, though he looked as far from the part as a fish did from a bird. The shear colourful silks and veils he dressed in revealed smooth dark skin oiled until gleaming and the toned muscle of a dancer, and he wore both bracelets and anklets and a necklace of gold. This day. Other days he wore silver bells that tingled as he pranced. For Jivendar rarely walked; he pranced, or danced, or hopped, or somersaulted. Often he did so in someone's way.
Paces behind came Kellanda in her silk skirts with forked lightening down the front, leading a grey-clad, white-haired woman with an ageless face. Mat felt himself stiffen; he had forgotten that. This day, Kellanda was 'complete' with a former Aes Sedai. A woman now called Scenta, prized for her skills with Healing. He had no idea what her Ajah or allegiance had been before her capture, for now she was the perfect damane. She would surely, however, recognize Bodewhin's now-ageless face and reveal her for what she was.
But Bodewhin was no fool, either. Barely had the damane's eyes widened before the stiffness in her posture, and in Kellanda's and Jivendar's, revealed that Bode's weaves were in place.
Scenta began to tremble, a moan somewhere deep in her throat, but of course Bode had woven weaves to prevent speaking, too. Jivendar's toned muscles flexed beneath that silly silk so-called clothing, but at a negating jerk of Atean's head he stilled and hung limp in his bonds, his face the mask of the uninterested fool. He looked like a discarded puppet, awaiting the return of the puppeteer.
Kellanda frowned. That was all. She frowned.
"We are waiting, father," Atean said in imperious tones. "Tell us what this is all about."
"Yes, Matrim," Bode echoed darkly, her arms still crossed over her chest. "Please do."
Mat took a deep breath, walked straight up to Kellanda and took the bracelet from her wrist. He turned to Scenta and unsnapped the collar from her neck. The damane's face whitened and she might have cried out, had the weaves allowed it. Mat didn't pause; he snapped the collar shut about Kellanda's neck instead. The der'sul'dam kept frowning at him, revealing nothing. With her grey hair in a bun at the nape of her neck she reminded him of someone's strict grandmother. The kind that would snap you across the fingers, not the one who would give you apples and warm honeycakes and sunny smiles.
"Let these two go," Mat instructed Bode.
Scenta collapsed into a prone position, face to the soil, hands stretched out to clasp the rim of Kellanda's skirts. She shook like a frightened child, her murmurs – when loud enough to hear – pleading the der'sul'dam to save her.
For her part; Kellanda's hands went at once to the bracelet around her neck, but when she tried to undo the clasp her hands spasmed away and her eyes widened. She looked to Mat. As always, she didn't quite meet his eyes, fixing her gaze about the level of his shoulders, then meekly and properly folding it down to the level of his knees. He backed two steps away from her. Away from the denial and terror that began to grow behind her dark eyes.
"Your highness…" she began, her voice only slightly steadier than the damane's.
"Foolery," decided Atean. She started towards the der'sul'dam with the obvious intention of helping her – Mat caught her by the arm and drew her back.
"No, sweetling," he said. "Kellanda must come to us. If she can."
Kellanda took two steps, three, then her knees buckled. Behind her Scenta gave a moan when the dress was jerked from her fingers' reach, and Kellanda fell in a heap, biting back a cry as the cramps took her.
Mat stood in silence and watched her, his grip on Atean's shoulder's firm. Atean's eyes never left her der'sul'dam. Kellanda's cramps began to fade, her body ceased to twitch, and she came out of it panting, her face a pained grimace.
"See, daughter," Mat told Atean coolly, "your Kellanda is a marath'damane, too."
"Impossible," breathed Atean.
"Not at all. The Tower, as you know, seeks two kinds of girls. Those born with the spark, and those who can't channel, but can learn. Isn't that so, Bode?"
"That's so," Bodewhin confirmed.
"The ones born with the spark test true for damane," Mat went on. "The ones who can learn don't. But should they try, they'll find that they can become sul'dam. Only, once they've held the bracelet long enough, they've learned to channel. They begin to see weaves. In the end, they're channellers as much as the damane are, even if they don't know it."
"No," croaked Kellanda. "No! Your highnesses, please –" She crawled forward, no more than an arm's length, and the cramps beset her again and cut off her words. When she came out of them there were tears in her eyes. "Please, your – your highnesses –"
Atean was deep in her own thoughts as she studied her der'sul'dam. "Every sul'dam who has held the leash long enough, you say?"
"They can all be collared, like this?"
"Including… my mother the Empress, might she live forever."
So Mat wouldn't have to say it. Of course not. His daughter was smart. "Yes," he said. "And you understand what it would mean if Seanchan learned that the Empress is marath'damane."
Atean nodded slowly. "Then no one must ever know," she said. "The Empress, may she live forever, represents order, and we must have order."
Mat felt anger rise again. An old anger, this time. "Order?" he repeated. "What order is there in this? Is it right to treat one no better than a beast, and honour the other, when the damane are as human as their sul'dam?"
"They were perhaps human," Atean agreed, "but the Power corrupts them. That is too, I think, what happens to the sul'dam. The Power corrupts them."
"When has the Power corrupted you?"
She paused, frowned, and shook her head. "Irrelevant," she decided. "I am what I am and must accept my place."
"You are the bloody Daughter of the Nine Moons," Mat told her. "You can't scurry off and become a damane –"
"No one is safe from the testing, father, you know that," she retorted patiently. "Not even me."
"I won't allow it," Mat told her flatly. "No daughter of mine will be made a slave. Light help me, you're going with Bodewhin. Going where you'll be safe."
She raised her chin. She looked very much like her mother. "And if I refuse?"
Again, Mat drew slowly for air. He clenched and unclenched his fists around the ashandarei."If you stay, daughter, I'll overthrow the system instead. Stay, and this is what I'll do to your Empire." He pointed at the collared der'sul'dam. "Half the sul'dam in Seandar will wake on the morrow with a collar around their necks." Kellanda drew for air. It sounded like a wail more than a gasp. He glared at her, jabbed his finger towards her again, and looked to Atean. "This, is what I'll do to your bloody mother, may she live forever."
Atean's face whitened.
"Then I'll watch the drama unfold," he said. "What will they do? Make their Empress damane?"
"You'd let your Empress, may she live forever, become damane?" whispered Atean.
Mat grimaced. Humbling as it might be for her to feel a damane's collar for a few days, he had no wish to see his Tuon broken. "No," he admitted softly.
But Kellanda gave a wail. "My prince!" she cried. "Your highness, you mustn't – you mustn't –" Her eyes came up, pleading, despairing.
Mat tapped her cheek with the end of the ashandarei. "If you want that collar to come off, hold your tongue."
Kellanda prostrated herself just as Scenta had, but more quietly. The Aes Sedai-made-damane still whimpered with every breath.
Then Atean stepped in beneath his arm, hugged him tight, as if she was no more than a four-year-old again. She buried her face against his doublet. "Please, father. You mustn't. Don't. For my sake, for my mother's sake… don't."
His heart melted, and tears formed in his eyes. He untangled himself from her arms and knelt before her, taking both her hands in one of his, lightly touching her face with the other. "Anything you might wish is yours, sweetling," he told her, his voice thick. "But I won't give you a damane's collar. I'll break the Empire before I let it break you. Understand me? I can protect you best by sending you away. But stay here, Atean, and I'll war against the a'dam."
"What if I choose to stay and warn mother of your treachery?"
"She would imprison me in the Tower of Ravens, I imagine, or lop my head off."
Atean raised her chin. "My duty to –"
He nodded towards Kellanda. "What is her duty, now? Is she to be damane or der'sul'dam?"
Atean bit her lip, and for once looked her age. She glanced at Bode, but then turned her eyes to Kellanda. Then she was the Daughter of the Nine Moons again, somewhere above the rest of humanity, like a cat swaggering above mice. "Kellanda."
"Your… your highness?" the der'sul'dam whispered, without raising her face.
"Speak your mind," Atean commanded.
"It would lower my eyes, your highness. It would shame me to…"
"Y-yes, your highness. Do… do as the Prince asks."
Kellanda shifted, uncertain, but still did not raise her face. "The Prince is a man of his word, your highness. His threats are not without substance. And this…" With a trembling hand she touched the collar at her throat. "I would never choose this for myself. I would advice your highness not to… choose it."
"Your honesty pleases me, Kellanda," Atean said formally, then turned from the der'sul'dam. She considered Mat much as if he was a da'covale she thought of buying. Very different from the little girl who had hugged him moments ago. Then her eyes softened. Slightly. "Mother will be… angry with you."
Mat exhaled as if he'd been holding his breath for a year. He knew he had won. "Wouldn't be the first time."
"Might be the last," Atean told him.
Mat shifted his ashandarei to his other hand. He looked down at his hat, but did not pick it up. "I've faced worse than your mother, and lived."
Atean reached up to the cord about her neck, undid a clasp, and handed Mat the silver fox medallion. She pressed it into his hand. "You might need this."
He closed his fingers about it and kissed her forehead. He found no cause to argue: there would be no shielding her from the Power where she was going now. "Thank you, sweetling."
"May I bring Jivendar?"
"I was counting on it."
Bode began a protest, but Mat shook his head; "He doesn't look it, Bode, but he'll make a fine Warder once she reaches the shawl. Trust me."
Bode looked the man over with a frown, then shrugged. She snapped her fingers and her Warders emerged from the cover of the trees. "We might as well be going," she said. She held out her hand for Atean. "Come, child."
Atean had made up her mind, and when the Daughter of the Nine Moons had made up her mind, it was well and truly made up. No doubt, no hesitation. She took Jivendar by one of the loose silk folds that served for a tunic and led him as if he'd been a puppy on a leash toward Bode. She considered her aunt's hand for a moment, then walked right past it and through the gateway Bode had reopened.
Bodewhin strode up to Mat and gave him a hasty hug. "Are you sure you're not coming with us?" she asked him, while her Warders watched Kellanda and Scenta like two snakes that might strike any moment.
"I couldn't do that to Tuon," Mat told her.
"The same Tuon who might lop your head off or throw you into that Tower of Ravens?"
"Might," Mat said, and shrugged. "Then again, might not."
Bode watched his eyes, her gaze so searching that he looked away, uncomfortable. "I'll tell mother that you are well, and that you love your wife very much. Call for me in a month's time. Or else I'll tell mother that you loved your wife very much but she's lopped your head off. In that case, your wife had better watch out."
Mat grinned at her. "Take care, Bode."
"Take care of her, too."
"I will. I'll –"
"Bode," one of her Warders prompted.
She touched his arm, gave Mat a last look, then disappeared through the gateway with one Warder right in front and the other on her heels. The gateway closed behind them.
And Mat had lost his daughter. He wasted some time staring at the space in the air where the gateway had been, then took hold of himself and turned back to the two woman still face-down on the ground. With a stride he was at Kellanda's side, then undid the collar from around her neck. When he touched the damane's chin to raise her face, meaning to ask her if she wished the collar back, she reached eagerly for it. Sighing, he clasped it around her neck. He had almost given up on freeing the damane. As soon as it was in place she began to weep, big fat tears of relief, and prostrated herself again at his feet, murmuring a litany of thanks and promises to be a good damane.
Kellanda sat up on her knees and began soothing the other woman by stroking her hair. She clasped the bracelet around her wrist again. But her eyes were wary when they glanced up at Mat, and she looked shaken out of her customary composure.
"Your… highness," she croaked. She touched her throat. "I… thank you for…"
"Not leaving that thing on?"
"You'd have been just like her, in a few months," Mat said, nodding down at Scenta.
"I know, your highness."
"Does that frighten you?"
She nodded again. "What… what do you intend to do, your Highness?" Kellanda whispered. "With the Daughter of the Nine Moons gone… what will we do?"
"You, are most likely going to end up grovelling on the floor," Mat told her bluntly, and he didn't care if he was rude. He felt like biting off someone's head wouldn't be a bad thing, and he knew that if he was going to survive the coming encounter with Tuon, he had better nurse that sentiment a couple of hours longer. She wouldn't have him executed, he was quite certain. But let a woman like her run an argument, and you'd end up flatter than a good sheet of paper. To face her wrath, he needed all the spunk he could muster. "I am going to tell my wife the Empress, may she bloody live forever, the truth."
Kellanda bowed her head. "You are braver than I, my Prince."
Mat grimaced. "Not a good thing. It's why I keep getting into trouble." With a last look over his shoulder at the clearing, he walked away. He left his worn hat on the ground. He felt numb all over, and the hat wasn't important enough to merit picking up; he had lost something much more precious.
He had lost his daughter.