The Third

It all seemed very far away and long ago now. Except… times still remained when she expected she might turn a corner and stumble upon Mat Cauthon sprinting past with a stolen pie tucked under his shirt, or Calle Coplin, with a merchant guard's arm slipped around her waist. Or perhaps Rand ('always Rand…' whispered a small voice in her head, like a passing sigh) making calf-eyes at Egwene, boyish once more.

Worries still occupied her mind that did not seem to belong there. Who might be might be healing young Paet's constant scrapes and bruises with ground ivy, five-finger and sunburst root? Who would be giving Cenn Buie a talking to for stomping about and scowling at everyone like he had some kind of permanent bad smell under his nose? Of course, some people were just naturally like that. Nynaeve had learned to ignore it.

And yet, she was no longer Wisdom of the village known as Emond's Field and had not been for a long time.

My duty, and more, is elsewhere now.

That was her last thought before the carriage wheel turned over a stone and she was torn from memory.

--x--

Elnore, next to her, gave a yelp as the carriage jolted and instantly glared around at the driver as though she could be doing a better job in his place. Princess by name and nature. Nynaeve managed to restrain herself from glaring at him, too. He is not carrying a party of tinkers!

That indeed he was not. Al'Lan Mandragoran, King of Malkier, sat opposite her, regal and commanding by his very presence. Despite being plainly clothed, there was no doubting that he was a King. His hard face, almost stone, said he was not a man to bandy words with. The sword buckled at his waist vouched for that, too. On his finger was the signet ring of his ancestors. On his head the Malkier crown. More importantly, though, on his lap sat the heir to his Kingdom, her son, Maric.

Nynaeve was no ordinary woman, herself. Besides being a retired Wisdom, she was also a daughter of the White Tower, an Aes Sedai. That title alone opened doors to a whole new set of memories – scattered memories of three arches, silver arrows, of a creeping Spider in the shadows. And people, too – it was strange how, at the most spontaneous of times, she found herself reminded of Uno's eye gleaming towards her, or Theodrin, always with a comforting arm around her shoulder. Even Moiraine's cool, infuriating gaze found a place somewhere in the deepest regents of her mind, though she felt only respect and even understanding (however grudgingly given) at the woman's memory now.

Speaking of old faces, it had been enjoyable to see Thom again on their visit to the Palace, and even more enjoyable to watch him dance, with his limp now healed. No one was more qualified for the position of Caemlyn's Royal bard than he, though the Light knew nothing made Elayne smile nowadays. It pained Nynaeve to see it more than she could say, but it was a sickness beyond her power to heal. And Elayne was not the only one marred by the Last Battle. There had been so much waste.

So much waste.

It took a moment for her to realise that in the back of her head, concern became the little bundle of emotions that was Lan. She glanced at her husband and found him looking at her worriedly, but as soon as their eyes met, grief fled and gave way to love and warmth, pulsing through the bond. They smiled at one other.

During such moments, Nynaeve almost always had to firmly remind herself that she and her husband were not alone together. She only hoped she was not blushing already. It was even more of an effort to hold in her emotions now that their roles had switched under the Atha'an Miere pact – she commanded in private, and he in public. Not that she ever took advantage. Not really.

Thankfully, one person atleast came to mind that might watch Elnore and Maric for a short while. She and Lan had their own version of Elayne's nurse, Lini, in the form of Sharina Melloy. Not only was she Aes Sedai advisor to the King of Malkier (well, she was his wife – it would hardly be proper!) but she also proved a dab hand with the children, especially when she desired a quiet moment or two with Lan. Sharina could often be heard spouting Lini-esque phrases such as 'To know when to be generous and when firm - that is wisdom' and 'You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership.' Well, she thought the latter was a quote and not a piece of personal advice. She hoped. Had Lini been giving Sharina lessons? Nynaeve wouldn't put it past her, the way the two women discussed Nynaeve and Elayne's respective faults over tea as though they were their own offspring.

Speaking of offspring, Nynaeve had nothing but good to say about her own two. True, in the beginning, she had never desired babes. After years of unyielding authority (well, almost), it had been difficult to adjust to the idea of ever bringing up younglings, who almost always wanted their own way. But to watch her own babes grow up with Lan's bright blue eyes, to have their tiny hands clutching fondly at her skirts, to dress them, to comfort and protect them, was a perpetual joy. Motherhood was turning out to be more than she had ever hoped to dream. Light, it all was a dream, in a way. The Third Arch of her Accepted test had haunted her sleep for years, but now the future that had been lain out before her was falling into place like pieces of a puzzle.

But he never named the baby.

Nynaeve almost started with shock. The thought had come to her unbidden. Everything she had seen, everything thing she had known in that realm, had come to pass. Sharina's offer, her naming of 'Elnore' and Lan's of 'Maric,' the wild garden she had found on the hilltop. But the unalloyed fact that shone out was this: he had never named the baby. That was something beyond the One Power to predict… something far more precious. Something untouchable.

And that made her feel a greater thing than embracing the source ever could.

Well, there is time aplenty for that, she mused, a faint blush rising in her cheeks. She patted her stomach absently and tucked the thought away for now. Elnore and Maric were quite enough to concentrate on for the time being!

Of course, there was Lan to help. The bond had communicated how the prospect of becoming a father had affected him. It had tied his stomach in knots, though he would never admit to it – the man could be quite stubborn at times! - and no wonder, with the way that some of the servants flinched or ran from his powerful presence. But Maric loved and admired him without limit. He was desperate to adopt the braided leather hadori but he would have to take patience – he had not yet 'come of age' in the reckoning of the Malkieri. Thankfully, patience was a trait that Maric indeed possessed. Whether he had inherited that from his father or mother, Nynaeve could not say. Lan did not even protest when Maric adopted the name of Mandarb for his black gelding. He had heard enough stories about the black warhorse. Though he showed promise of matching any blademaster, Maric loved books and lore, and Thom had not exactly helped that obsession after their visit to Caemlyn.

Elnore was as eager to please her father and mother both. When she knew it would help them, she adopted the guise of an innocent girlchild, smiling and giggling for the Lords that visited the court. And yet, when she dropped the guise…

Suffice to say, the Light help the boy who Elnore picked as her carniera!

Now there was a difficult custom to adjust to. Lan had explained it to her in a very… delicate fashion. In the Two Rivers such a thing would have been considered scandalous. Of course, Elnore would probably think the custom a wonderful idea, when Nynaeve chose to tell her about it. Light, if her friends have not already! There was a worrying thought. Perhaps Nynaeve should tell Sharina to keep an extra eye on her. The girl was becoming too interested in silk and laces, and too quickly at that.

Nynaeve's own dress was of Malkieri style, with gorgeous sweeping sleeves that poured outwards at the wrists, a neckline woven delicately with tiny white blossom patterns, scattered with seed pearls. Her long green skirts flowed downwards almost to the point of trailing on the ground. Lan liked green, but that was not the reason she wore it. The Queen of Malkier ought to match her King, really.

In any case, Nynaeve really ought to do something about that particular fixation of Elnore's, before it got out of hand. Another thing the girl had taken to lately was muttering under her breath - the Light alone knew who she got that habit from! Everyone in the Palace was polite to a fault! But now the ocassional curse could be heard hissing between her teeth (though between she and Sharina, these were almost always caught and dealt with) and more often than not a haughty "Light! The Princess of Malkier!"

It always made Nynaeve grimace. Elnore was her flesh and blood and she loved her beyond measure, but the sooner the child was put in white, the better. No doubt her foolish pride would be washed down the drain hole along with the dish water from a score of Novice pots. Of course, if the White Tower treated her too harshly, they would hear about it from her. Light, the Princess of Malkier should atleast have some privileges! She gave her daughter a fond look.

Well, it was fond, until she noticed that Elnore was peering back at her with an odd (and decidedly rude) expression - speculative and curious.

"What are you looking at me like that for?" she snapped.

"Mother," Elnore frowned prettily – somehow she had possession of the gift Nynaeve remembered all too well from years of Elayne's company – and hesitated. "Who is Valan Luca?"

Nynaeve gave a start so great that her head almost collided with the roof of the carriage. Or it would have if she had been tall enough.

Blood and ashes. The red dress!

Sitting across from her, Lan raised an eyebrow, probably feeling shock, anger and embarrassment through the bond all at once, which instantly mingled with a slight anxiety that he would delve further into the matter.

"Where did you hear that name?" she said sharply.

"Lady Birgitte said--"

That woman!

"--that if Father knows what's best for him he should never try and give you flowers." She shrugged bemusedly. "When I asked her what she meant she started mumbling something about a fellow called Valan Luca. And is it true that you--"

Maric was now listening interestedly, Nynaeve realised, nodding all the while Elnore spoke. And he kept opening his mouth and closing it again like a pipefish, as though waiting for an opportunity to offer his own scraps of information. "Lady Birgitte said you had a fist fight with a s'redit handler," he said eagerly, when Elnore took a breath "Did you win, Mother? Did you really see s'redit?"

And to think! That was only the first meeting they had had with the woman. Doubtless she had more stories tucked in the pockets of those voluminous yellow trousers. Well burn me, I have stories too! She could not think of anything embarassing enough to suffice right now, true, but give her time! Next time Nynaeve saw her, she would give the Lady Birgitte – Lady indeed! The woman has as a tongue foul enough to match Mat bloody flaming Cauthon! – a what for and no mistake! Rather than this, she would have Thom fill Maric's head with his gleeman's tales after all! Birgitte, relating those stories to her own children, not to mention her own husband, now!

Not that Lan hadn't seen her… scuffle… before, she thought, cheeks warming. Infact, her husband had been bolder than Petra ever had when he separated she and Myrelle by the scruffs of their necks. It was worth it though, just to see a few bruises on that serene Aes Sedai face. She almost grinned from the memory alone. Oh, Myrelle Berengari would think twice before getting on the wrong side of Nynaeve again!

"You should know by now not to trust everything you hear. A great many people mistake opinions for facts," she said pointedly to Elnore and Maric. "Of course I won," she added as an afterthought. Well, she would if she had used the Power, anyway. It had not really been a fair fight, after all.

Her face must have darkened considerably by this point in the conversation, she realised. Because Maric suddenly chuckled and said "Lady Birgitte said you used to pull your braid like this-" (he leaned forward in the carriage to give it a gentle tug, not finding it difficult - he was easily going to be as tall as his father one day) "when you were really angry."

"Lady Birgitte said that you once took one sip of wine too many and had to be carried to your bed singing The Dancing Lass. Where did you learn a song like that, Mother?" Elnore said in scandalized tones, not seeming to realize that this meant she had obviously heard the song too – Nynaeve would be querying her about that, for certain. Another day. At that particular moment she was focusing all her energies on keeping her face from turning as red as the coin peppers they had at dinner.

As it was, all she could do was sit there in mortification while they dealt out more and more humiliating blows ("Lady Birgitte said--" "Lady Birgitte told me--" "According to Lady Birgitte--"). When she finally glanced helplessly at Lan, she found his face painted, infuriatingly, with amusement. Nynaeve directed a warning look at him, but he only smiled at her.

It was hardly fair! He had no right to smile like that at her and turn her brain to fluff when she had been about to tell him – to tell him - what was it she had been about to tell him? Surely it must have been something about the depth of his brilliant blue eyes… or her longing to run fingers through that silky dark hair, or how was she supposed to remember how to breathe when he looked at her that way, or–

Abruptly, she gave herself a shake. This is not the time or place! Atleast Elnore and Maric had stopped speaking. For some reason they were rolling their eyes at one another instead. Well, children were confusing at the best of times. All children are foreigners. That was one of Sharina's best.

"Here we are," Lan said, and Nynaeve jumped. He was out of the carriage before she even realised it had come to a halt. Lan always seemed to move quicker than the speed of his own sword, and that was considerable, but she suspected it had more to do with his gratefulness at being back here.

After lifting Elnore and Maric out, Lan offered her a hand as she stepped out and her feet touched down.

She thought she understood how he felt, though. Light, but it was good to be home.

-- x --

She wore a smile as she held up her skirts, strolling through the long grass where the loversknot tickled her bare feet and butterflies bumped clumsily together for a spot on her dress.

The wild garden here on the hilltop was her favourite. Here, the herbs she had picked as a lass grew aplenty, the wildlife thrived and prospered, and the view… oh Light, the view.

As she cast her gaze over the Kingdom, she could see the Seven Towers, scraping the sky, always an eye-opener no matter how many times she sought their peaks among the clouds. The Thousand Lakes glittered, like a necklace beneath the sun. That was the way Lan always described it. And there was the banner of the Golden Crane, billowing in the wind. She had begun to feel a swell of pride when she looked upon it.

Gently, she unwound the ribbon threaded through her braid. The wind picked up, whisking her hair so that it caught on the golden wires, the iridescent moonstones laced about it. She did not care. The ribbon fell away into the breeze.

I am el'Nynaeve Mandragoran. I am Malkieri now as if I have never been anything else, she thought, thinking tenderly of the red ki'sain on her forehead that she could not see but knew was there, never wavering.

She thought how she would have to return to the Towers soon. She had to have that word with Sharina. And a letter needed composing for the Queen of Saldea, who had a certain hairy-backed friend in common with Nynaeve. And of course, Maric would want a book before bedtime. He liked The Travels of Jain Farstrider

That was her last thought, before the familiar sound of hooves made her turn.

---A/N---

I used The Wheel of Time Concordance widely as a resource for this story. Thanks!

I'm not striving to become a writer. I just really like Wheel of Time (most particularly Nyn & Lan). And I wanted to have some fun with writing Nynaeve RJ-style, in terms of the constant contradictions, anger at her own humiliation etc etc.

I give little hints about who survives and who doesn't in this WOT universe but I didn't go into details about it – how Lini could possibly still be alive, where Min and Aviendha are, or Mat, Egwene… (though let me say, in my WOT universe she dies a horrible death, preferably ruthlessly beheaded by her own lover *evil snicker*) etc. This story belongs to Nynaeve, not them.

I took the always Rand straight from Winter's Heart, as some of you may recognise. This quote shocked me when I read it. It made me think about the ties Rand binds to the characters from the book. He effects everyone, including Nynaeve. Personally, I think that him being torn out of her life would leave an irreplaceable hole inside… an everlasting sense of regret, and not just because he's ta'veren.

Oh yeah. I don't think Malkier has a succession of Kings only (remember, Edeyn could have claimed the title el'Edeyn), but I decided I would have Maric as heir and not Elnore, because, quite frankly, my Elnore is a mini-brat :P I imagine Maric as more of a wise Faramir type figure, quiet yet powerful and liking both books and horses!

I definitely have more ideas for Lan/Nynaeve stories post Tarmon Gai'don. And err… they definitely have more Lan than this one. But hell, you try writing Lan Mandragoran's POV – it's damn well difficult. No wonder RJ hasn't tackled it yet! (and don't bring up New Spring – you know what I mean.)