Author's notes: I apologize to everyone who has been waiting for me to update. The truth is that I hit a mental wall. I knew exactly where I wanted to go with this story when I began, but the story seems to have other ideas. Anyway, I wound up with no idea where I wanted to go from here. I am still not sure that I like the path that I have decided on. Oh well. Only time will tell. As I am not dead sent on the outcome, I am open to any suggestions.
I also apologize for any typos. I was frustrated with this chapter to the point that I was sick of looking at it.
Hugs and kisses.
"Teeth of an Aiel." Leah cursed as the small knife clattered to the floor. She brought her bloodied hand to her lips, nursing her wounded finger, as well as her bruised ego.
Her eyes darted to the man seated by the window, waiting for the reprisal. Nynaeve al'Meara did not swear. Of course, Nynaeve al'Meara had not just sliced open her hand for what felt like the thousandth time that day. Her hands ached, her skin raw and red, scratches and gashes decorating her palms like red lace. Leah firmly believed that she deserved a little forgiveness for her slip. She had after all been restraining herself all day. Prior to her intensive training in the intricacies that were Miss al'Meara, Leah would have resorted to the use of profanity much sooner.
When the rebuke that she was expecting appeared not to be forthcoming she let her gaze settle on her companion. He looked tired. This man normally radiated tightly restrained danger. He was always in control. But not today. Today he looked haggard, his eyes shadowed, a stark contrast to his too pale skin.
Lan, noticing her intense scrutiny arched an eyebrow in displeasure. Leah tore her eyes away from her previous inspection and quickly busied herself by gathering the knives that now littered the floor hoping to hide the blush that had involuntarily colored her cheeks.
"Could I not try my hands with the sword? Would that not be easier?" She asked. She cringed inwardly as the request sounded whiny even to her own ears. Of course she had known the answer to this question even before she spoke the words. Aes Sedai did not carry swords and neither would she.
"Perhaps you would prefer throwing pillows, or slippers to knives?" The Warder asked in turn. Leah paused in the act of collecting a fallen blade. She tried to push down the anger that was threatening to surface.
"You are very brave for an unarmed man." Leah replied, toying with the small knife, flipping it nimbly between her fingers. That at least she had accomplished early on.
Lan snorted in response. "It appears," he said, taking in the room, "that the safest place for me to be is the target."
Leah gave her braid a fierce tug before she too looked around. Lan had provided a makeshift target, composed of boards scavenged from the Creator alone knows where. There were several large nicks carved out in it that Leah was very proud of.
Beside the target in the boards that made up the far wall were many more gouges. A scattering of brilliant blue glass lined the floor where Leah had accidentally disposed of the carafe that had held the morning wine. The curtains had several new slashes, the smallest of which was at least three fingers width. She silently began tallying damages due to the innkeeper.
The harsh words that had been forming on her lips were quickly bitten back, and a large smile soon covered her face. Laughing heartily, she replied "It does appear that way, does it not? Again then?"
Leah resumed her collection of the small silver blades, hiding them in the folds of her plain grey dress.
Lan had arrived early that morning, looking if possible, grimmer, and more determined. The beginnings of dark circles were visible beneath his eyes, eyes which looked not only pained but haunted. He carried with him a small oak box, polished to a shine. Inside, nestled in a bed of ruby satin, lay four silver daggers.
Leah had been afraid at first. Lan had always been a harsh task-master, demanding nothing less than perfection. What would this new assignment bring?
But her tutor had seemed distracted, even disinterested at times. He positioned himself before the window, staring at some imaginary point on the horizon, failing to notice or care when a rogue knife would sail auspiciously close to his head.
And then something would bring him back, dragging him from his reverie. At those times he would patiently instruct, attuned to the finest detail. Occasionally he would even joke. His sense of humor was as dry as the Waste in summer, but pleasant still the same.
"Smooth." He had said. "Speed will come later. For now, technique is what matters."
Leah began to make progress slowly. By twilight, nearly every throw struck its mark (though few were firmly lodged). The knives were to be a weapon of last resort. Aes Sedai did not carry knives anymore than they did swords. They were to remain concealed within the yards of material that made up her dress. Only in the most dire of circumstances would the knives appear, flying surely and deftly from her hands (or so Lan had assured her they would after more practice).
The last of the four knives hit the center of the target, slicing into the wood as it struck true. The corners of her lips twitched upwards in a small smile. She allowed herself to take pride in her skill, enjoying the way that the candlelight flickered of the lustrous steel, surreptitiously ignoring the three blades that lay on the floorboards.
She wrung her hands unconsciously, her thumbs massaging the tender flesh. While it had been several hours since she had last cut herself with the daggers, the lacerations remained, marring her smooth skin. The pain had not receded completely, but had instead transformed to a dull ache. Leah forced the throbbing to the back of her mind, and reminded herself to concentrate. Yet her ministrations did not go unnoticed by the steel grey eyes that were intently observing her.
"I believe that I should take my leave. You have done well." Lan said as he uncoiled himself from his chair, as sinuous as a snake. Leah cursed the man's grace. If she had been lounging in a hard straight-backed chair all day she knew that she would have more closely resembled a decrepit old woman than a languid jungle cat.
Leah nodded, thankful for the reprieve. She escorted him silently to the door, suddenly aware of how tired she was. Untrained muscles screamed at her for the day's misuse. Clenching her fingers around the brass knob seemed almost too much to bear.
As the door clicked shut on the Warder's heels, Leah allowed her shoulders to slump. Her head lulled forward, her chin nearly resting on her chest. Her fingers resumed massaging her tender skin.
"I will take care of the candles but the remaining mess will wait until morning. Which of course will be arriving all too soon." She unhappily reminded herself.
She reached her hands up behind her neck her fingers carefully settling on the first of the many small pearl buttons lining the back of her gown. Her skin tightened across her knuckles causing her to grimace in discomfort. "I suppose changing will have to wait for morning as well." She sighed, dropping her hands to her side.
After blowing out the candles casting the room in total darkness, Leah dragged her fully clothed body onto the bed, not bothering to first pull back the covers. Her eyes slid shut before her head had hit the pillow.
A knock at the door brought a rather vulgar curse to her lips.
She threw her legs off the side of the bed allowing the momentum to help carry her to her feet. In four brisk strides she was across the room, her anger radiating off her in waves. She unlatched the bolt swiftly, and threw the door open, allowing the light from the hallway to spill into her darkened quarters.
Lan stood before her, a matching look of fury etched on his features. He grasped her forearm firmly. Leah let out a gasp of surprise as he roughly pushed her into the room, slamming the door behind her. Her breathing and heartbeat quickened, her rage instantly dissipating as she realized that she was now trapped in a very dark room with an equally dangerous man.
"Don't you ever, ever open the door without first knowing who is on the other side." His voice was low, the effect more frightening than if he had yelled.
"Yes....yes sir." Leah stammered only realizing that she had been backing away as the back of her thighs came into contact with the bed.
The room was suddenly bathed in light. Lan had not been advancing on her as she had imagined. Instead he had silently maneuvered across the room where he was now relighting the previously extinguished candles. A green enamel bowl sat beside him on the table, and in her heightened state of alertness Leah had noted that it had not been there previously.
Lan spun on his heels, his hardened gaze pining her where she was. "I had thought that I had managed to stress the danger of our situation. I thought that you were aware of what was at risk"
Leah cringed under his sudden scrutiny. "I am sorry, I just wasn't thinking. I am sorry."
Lan nodded at this but Leah noticed that nothing about him softened. He grabbed the bowl from its spot on the table and crossed the room. He thrust the bowl into her hands. "Here."
Leah noted with some surprise that the bowl was filled with freshly collected snow. "For your hands." He replied in answer to her questioning look.
Leah gratefully buried her hands up to her wrists into the snow, letting the chill dull the pain in her aching appendages. She left them there until the last of the snowflakes had melted, only then reluctantly removing them from the tepid water. She dried them hastily on her rumpled skirt.
"Thank you." She said, struggling to meet his gaze. She wondered where this sudden shyness had come from.
"Better?" It was asked tersely, but not unkindly.
"Much." In a futile effort she smoothed her skirts. She told herself that this was NOT in an effort to avoid the Warder's intent gaze.
"But they still hurt." It was not a question but Leah nodded in response.
"Here." Leah suppressed a gasp as he took her right hand in his lightly calloused ones before resting it on his lap. He removed a small vial of yellow liquid from his inside pocket and quickly removed the lid. The sell of rosemary and thyme as well as several other herbs she could not place assaulted her nostrils. Lan poured a small amount of the liquid into his upturned palm before briskly rubbing his hands together. He again engulfed her smaller hand in his before massaging the fragrant smelling oil into her skin.
A moan escaped her lips as the pain was washed away. "It is a healing salve. I have told you that Nynaeve was her village's Wisdom before she became Aes Sedai." Leah forced herself to nod in recognition of his statement. The exhaustion that she had felt earlier was returning tenfold.
Lan began the process anew with her left hand. His fingers moved deftly across the skin, erasing the pain. She watched in fascination as the scratches seemed to fade away, as if they had never been. 'A very powerful healer indeed.' She thought to herself wryly.
He eased her fingers apart with his own taking time knead the tender skin there before returning to the back of her hands his thumb circling lazily across her palm. Her eyes drifted shut as her turned her palm heavenwards, tracing her lifeline as his fingers gently grazed her knuckles.
Her breathing slowed as she concentrated on his glorious hands. She was unaware that he could be so tender, so caring. She moaned again, this time in appreciation of his skill.
Lan jerked his hands away as if burned. Leah's eyes flew open but Lan was already on his feet.
"I must be going. It is late." He was at the door and opening it before Leah had time to process what was happening.
"I am sorry...I...is something wrong?" She managed at last to stutter out before he had exited the room.
Lan turned, his eyes once again like ice. "Nothing is wrong. I will return in the morning." And without giving her a chance to further question his abrupt departure he was gone, leaving a very confused young woman behind.