Disclaimer: The Wheel of Time series and all its characters belong to Robert Jordan.
Bel Tine in Malkier
In the Two Rivers, the people of the village would be dancing tonight.
Cenn Buie would be cheating at bowls and unlucky rope-tuggers would be falling flat on their faces. The Bel Tine fires would be burning strong.
It was nice to remember.
Just for tonight.
The First Maid's eyes had all but popped out of her head when el'Nynaeve Mandragoran requested her hair be wrapped in a simple fat braid. The Royal tailor had checked her temperature when she asked for a plain dress of stout brown wool. The general of the Malkieri Guard hesitated when she insisted on going alone into the night.
But tonight, she was not el'Nynaeve Mandragoran. Tonight, the lakes of Malkier seemed foreign, the Seven Towers daunting. As though she was not meant to be there.
Nynaeve leaned back against the rough of the fir tree, taking shelter in the shadows of its boughs. She had chosen this spot in particular, in the wild garden that she loved, because on Winter's Night, the women of the village would dance around a fir tree, wrapping bright ribbons around it, singing folk songs in high, mellifluous voices. She used to watch them from her window, sometimes, and the sweet music would drift into her doorway on the breeze.
Nynaeve worked the garland of flowers in her fingers, gently threading the stalks together. She sucked the end of her thumb and made a slit with her nail in the long green root of a tiny heartsblush flower. Then she encouraged the stalk of a tallow-end blossom through it, put her thumb back to her mouth, and picked up another. She was not sure what kind of flower it was. When she was a young girl she used to know all the names of all the flowers in the Westwoods and all their healing properties. Here, she could hardly tell the difference between the Malkieri equivalent of a rose from an itchweed. It made her feel more helpless somehow, more useless.
Something splashed onto her hand and it took Nynaeve a moment or two to realise that it was a tear. Light, she came up here to remember. But somehow she still felt like she was at a funeral.
She shifted her back against the fir tree uncomfortably, wiping her moist eyes with the back of her hand. Trying to see through the watery blur to the flowers in her fingers, she kept pricking herself with her nail and cursing.
He would be feeling that.
That was probably the reason why he was advancing all the more quickly now. The unknotted knot of emotions in the back of her head carried growing concern. It had not been a surprise to feel his presence. The Warder bond, however new a sensation, felt like it had always been there. She had sensed him drawing ever closer for some time. Frantically, she wiped away the last of her tears and set the garland of blossoms at her side, almost invisible in the night, and waited.
She sat perfectly still as she watched the tall, dark form of him emerge from the moonlight, as though he had sprang up from the ground, and stride towards her. He came closer until he loomed over her. Then, in a gentle voice, he spoke.
"What has caused my wife to hide away, alone, in the dark? Do not tell me I have upset her?"
She shook her head a little, smiling a little, if sadly, to ease him.
Lan crouched beside her; his face set with concern. He took her chin carefully and turned her face towards him. "What is the matter? You must tell me if I'm to help."
He had a gaze like a blue-eyed hawk. She remembered thinking that, back then, and it was still true now. It was difficult not to succumb to such a stare. "It is Bel Tine tonight," she told him softly, "The Two Rivers festival."
Lan removed his fingers from her chin. Something close to sympathy flowed through the bond. It felt sweet, like honeyed wine or candies, and soothing. True enough, no one would understand more than Lan what it was like to miss your homeland. He settled down beside her and a silence passed between them. A moment of understanding, and sharing.
After watching her for a time, Lan's lips suddenly curled into a gentle smile, as he said, "As I understand it, at Bel Tine, the women of the village courted the single men. Should I be afraid of losing my wife?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Besides, I have already taken care of that."
He laughed, as she retrieved the garland of flowers and placed it on his head, tucking them firmly into his hair. It looked incongruous with his braided leather hadori. She had thought about making him something else - the other gift that a woman of the Two Rivers sometimes made was a colourful Festival shirt for her young man. But unfortunately, Nynaeve could not stitch as much as a button. Luckily, Lan did not know as much.
Her fingers still entangled in his hair, she blushed. Suddenly the heaviness of her grief was somewhat lifted, and she abruptly felt very much like a moon-eyed girlchild. The kind she might have sniffed after back in the Two Rivers. The kind she might have tried to doze with rannel and sheepstongue root.
She drew her hands down and cleared her throat. "Alas," she said, trying to cheer herself with a jest, "the man I have taken an interest in seems not to return my affection. I gave him flowers to wear in his hair, but he has shown no such return interest."
Lan grinned and leaned closer to her, but Nynaeve drew back from him, dark eyes glittering mischievously. "Now he is trying to kiss me outright!" she exclaimed in mock-scandalised tones. "The Women's Circle will be most displeased. Why, I think they may switch him until he cannot sit down for a week, whether he stands in high places or no! Maybe I shall focus my attentions on another man after all." She lifted her chin in a haughty way she had learned from Elayne then bounced on the grass, settling a few paces away from him.
"This man of yours," Lan said, leaning forward so closely that she could feel his breath on her cheek, "perhaps he only misunderstands. Tell me, what does a man of Bel Tine quality do to convey his returning interest?"
Nynaeve considered. "He may ask her to go walking. Or accept a dance."
Lan's face turned to stone. "I do not dance," he said.
"We are in private, husband," she said, smoothing woollen skirts that did not need smoothing, "If I wished you to dance, I would expect it to be done."
Were there spots of colour in Lan's cheeks? No, she had imagined it. Lan was never fazed. Ever. Still, the bond did hold a slight apprehension. She struggled not to smile. Infact, Lan would most likely be a very graceful dancer. Why, in the matter of blade, he was the best of the best, and Nynaeve always regarded that as deadly dance.
In any case, it did not take Lan long to recover. It never did. Even after all this time. "So," he said, his lips beginning to curve once more, "We must hold to Malkieri customs, Two Rivers customs, and to those of the Athan'Miere! Light, how are we to manage?" Despite the growing darkness, she knew his smile was growing larger by the minute – she could feel amusement through the bond, and it was not her own.
"I hope you are not backing out of your oaths, Lan Mandragoran." Nynaeve did not want to admit that keeping up with customs made her head spin.
"Indeed not. I will hold to my oaths."
"Well! If you will not dance like all the other Two Rivers men, perhaps you would prefer rolling hoops with the lads? A popular Bel Tine pastime. A fine sight you would be then. Rolling hoops before the Lords of the Malkier court."
This time she could not hold off a grin of her own. She dared to peer sideways at him, and found that dangerous look in his intense blue eyes. Sometimes that meant he was going to do something that she would not necessarily dislike. Sometimes it just meant he was going to say something she did not want to hear.
"Or perhaps the Queen of the Malkieri could stand against the wall while the guards shot silver arrows around her, from a hundred paces!"
Then he threw back his head and roared out loud with laughter at her gaping face.
"No?" he said, when he finally got his breath back, "perhaps you will join me in rolling hoops after all?"
Nynaeve's hand crept towards her braid (it was good to have it back; she had rather missed being able to tug it at need), before she snatched it back, eyes narrowing at him.
"You are a brave man, Lan Mandragoran," she said finally, narrowing her eyes at him. Lucky for him, she could control her temper now. She was going to skin Birgitte Trahelion alive!
She watched his face, trying to will away the amusement painted on it, to threaten it away with one of her best scowls. Why should he be the one laughing! He was the one with the pink flowers on his head!
But before she knew it, she found her anger had melted away as she took in the sight of him smiling at her. She smiled back. She lifted a hand to brush one of the flowers on his head.
"Light," she laughed, pressing her fingers to her mouth, "I doubt any King of Malkier ever wore such a crown."
"Not a King," he said, and suddenly the look in his eyes was as intent and tender as she had ever seen from him. "Just a man." And abruptly the Warder bond throbbed with love, almost to the point of pain, as he gathered her into his arms and kissed her.
- - - - - - -
In the Two Rivers tonight, the people of the village would be dancing. Abel Cauthon would be winning every round of the quarterstaff competition and the Peddlar would be setting his fireworks alight.
Nynaeve al'Meara, sitting under a fir tree in a hilltop garden, had seldom ever not felt in part a Wisdom, or an Aes Sedai, or a Queen. But tonight she felt like a Bel Tine girl of the Two Rivers, young and free, in her sweetheart's arms.
It was nice to feel that way.
Just for tonight.
Firstly, a bit of shameless promotion on my part – please visit my Lan x Nynaeve shrine (Ki'sain) at !
Why did I write about Bel Tine specifically? Because "home" and missing home is such a big theme in the characters of Nyn and Lan. Plus, I think Bel Tine is a neat little festival :) Also, I know it's strange that I spend most of this fiction talking about how she is really a Two Rivers girl at heart, while in my last one much of it was how she had transformed into el'Nynaeve. But this could be thought of as a prequel – the timescale for this is when they haven't yet had the children. Other than that, there wasn't really a lot of, well, point to the fic, it's just meant to be a silly, sweet and hopefully realistic love scene between these two wonderful characters.
Again, many thanks to the Wheel of Time Concordance for all the info – particularly all the Bel Tine traditions.
My next Lan/Nyn story will actually have a Lan POV! Be amazed! Be frightened!