Setting: "The Eye of the World". After Lan rescues Perrin and Egwene from the Whitecloaks, he returns to meet Moiraine and finds Nynaeve missing. When she finally rides up, he is angry and grabs her arm to say something to her, but Moiraine stops him.
Description: What if Lan had found a chance to talk to Nynaeve later that night?
Lightning broke the night above the Whitecloak camp, the bolt charging the air. Just beyond the tents the earth erupted from the blow, the explosion on the ground merging with that in the sky. Before the light faded Lan was leading Perrin and Egwene forward.
The strikes continued, raining down in unison with each step they took. The darkness would return for brief moments, only to be extinguished yet again by the lightning. The accompanying thunder was one continuous, rippling boom. Fear-stricken horses screamed, their whinnies drowned except for fleeting moments when the thunder faded. Men tumbled out of their tents, some in their white cloaks, some only half clothed, some dashing to and fro, some standing as if stunned.
Through the middle of it Lan dragged Perrin and Egwene behind him at a trot, with Perrin bringing up the rear. Whitecloaks looked at them, wild-eyed, as they passed. A few shouted at them, the shouts lost in the pounding from the heavens, but with their white cloaks gathered around them no one tried to stop them. Through the tents, out of the camp and into the night, and no one raised a hand against them. That fact did not ease Lan's edginess in the least, however.
The ground turned uneven under their feet, and brush slapped at them as Lan continued to draw them along. He fought the urge to quicken his pace; the two behind him were in no shape to be running, even though neither would admit it. It seemed Two Rivers' folk were strong, as well as stubborn.
The thunder and lightning were distant sounds in Lan's ears as they continued on their journey. The fires from the camp, set by the lightning Moiraine provided, went virtually unnoticed. He knew they were there, he felt the panic of the camp's occupants as they rushed aimlessly about in an effort to find shelter, but none of that concerned him. All Lan Mandragoran allowed himself to focus on was getting these two children back to Moiraine. Safely. And that was exactly what he did.
He stopped dead in his tracks not far from his Aes Sedai, his cold blue gaze falling on the three horses outlined by the moonlight. Nynaeve was not with her.
"Nynaeve has not returned," Moiraine said irritably in reply to his unspoken question. "I fear that the young woman has done something foolish."
Lan spun on his heel around before Moiraine ever finished her sentence, intent on rescuing Nynaeve. What had she done? Had the Whitecloaks captured her? Whatever had happened, he would get her back.
The single word, as strong as a whip-crack stopped him in his tracks, but it did not stop him from glaring at the woman sideways. Rage filled him; rage at Nynaeve for having risked herself, rage at Moiraine for trying to stop him, and mostly, rage at himself, for ever allowing Nynaeve to join this wretched journey.
The truth of the matter was the fiery tempered woman from the Two Rivers had grown on him. A strong woman, she feared little, and even when she did find herself afraid, something she would vehemently deny, it did not stop her from doing what she believed needed to be done. He respected that, respected her talent. Anyone who could follow a trail he had attempted to hide had more skill than most ever dared to claim. He even respected her prickliness, which he had already seen to be nothing more than a ward to keep people from noticing the softness that lay just below her tough exterior. And then, there was her beauty. He shook the thought off quickly, focusing instead on how he could rescue her.
Moiraine's continued objections floated through the air to him. She was reminding him of his oaths in a stern voice; certainly she realized that would only serve to infuriate him. He was well aware of his oaths, and he would keep them, but in that instant all he could think of was what Nynaeve would face if he did not help her. His anger dissolved into anguish; there was no way he would leave her to the Whitecloaks.
Mind made up, he was ready to move when his determination was broken by a crash of breaking branches in the woods. In two long strides Lan was between Moiraine and the sound, the pale moonlight rippling along his sword. To the crackle and snap of underbrush a pair of horses burst from the trees, one with a rider. When he realized the rider was Nynaeve, he shoved his sword back into its scabbard with so much force, he was surprised his belt did not break. The foolish woman had risked her life to steal horses!
Nynaeve slid off the horse, sparing him only a quick glance before starting towards the other two Emond's Fielders. His anger returned, filling him to the brim—she had no idea what could have happened to her!—and he caught her arm roughly before she could get by him. Her big, dark eyes stared inquiring at him, appearing calm. Still, he saw the traces of trepidation in her gaze. She needed to be set straight. He had told her to cut the lines and get out, nothing more. They were fighting for their lives and she was trying to play the hero! She would learn to follow an order when he gave one. More importantly, she would learn not to take foolish risks; he would see to it.
His mouth opened, but Moiraine stopped him. Again! He could feel his Aes Sedai's irritation through the bond, though her voice sounded as self-possessed as ever. That Moiraine seemed determined to stop him from having his say to Nynaeve caused his blood to boil, yet his expression remained emotionless. After a slight hesitation, he released the Wisdom's arm with a threatening look. He would discuss this with her, whether Moiraine liked it or not.
Lan felt another strong flash of anger when he heard Nynaeve's small laugh. The woman believed the situation was funny? He glared after her. This was not over.
Later that night, after they had set up camp and the others had turned in for the night, Lan went to Nynaeve, who was sitting alone, muttering under her breath. "Nynaeve." Her head jerked up when he said her name, the moon lending just enough light so he could see her glare. She was, quite apparently, in a foul mood. If she believed that would deter him, she was sadly mistaken. "I need to speak with you."
She stared at him for a few moments before responding in a clipped voice, "About what?"
"Not here." He didn't ask her to come with him, nor did he offer his arm for escort. He simply grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet, dragging her away from the camp. Earlier, when he had taken her hand and guided her through the woods, she had not fought him. She had come along willingly, holding onto his hand as firmly as he held hers. Now, however, she unsuccessfully tried to jerk free from his solid grip. She only attempted it a few times before giving up.
She was actually quite strong for a woman her size, though she was no match for him and she knew it. He wondered, briefly, if he was hurting her hand. She said nothing, but something told him she'd rather be skinned alive than admit someone was capable of hurting her. Stubborn woman, he thought. Too stubborn for her own good.
Once they were a fair distance from camp, he stopped. He had no desire for anyone to hear their discussion, and knowing Nynaeve, she would start yelling when he had his say. Although he did not release her hand, he did loosen his grip a bit. Surprisingly, she did not try to tug her hand away. Instead, she asked, "Why are you so angry?"
Angry? He realized then just how angry he had been. How angry he still was. Odd, he rarely got angry. Though he had not known Nynaeve long, she somehow seemed able to draw emotions out of him, emotions he was extremely unfamiliar with. Pushing the thought aside, he focused on her question, keeping his voice even. "What were you supposed to do at the Whitecloak camp, Nynaeve?"
Her face twisted in confusion. "Cut the picket-line so the horses could get away."
"Yes," he confirmed. "And then you were to get out of the camp. To safety. Remember?" She nodded, still confused. "Then why did you not follow your orders?" Her mouth tightened in anger at the last word, but he pressed on. "What possessed you to steal Whitecloak horses?" Unbeknownst to him, his voice had gotten progressively louder, and when she tried to answer him, he cut her off. "You could have been captured! Believe me, Nynaeve, it does not make a difference how strong you think you are, the Whitecloaks can break you. You saw what they did to the blacksmith!"
"Will you stop yelling and listen to me for a minute!" she yelled, yanking her hand from his. That same hand flew to her long, dark braid, giving it a good yank. "First of all, Bela was not a Whitecloak horse—ever—and Perrin—"
"It doesn't matter whose horses they were! Those two horses were not worth risking your life over! You cannot—"
"I thought we would have to get away fast!" This time she yelled right over him, a stubborn set in her jaw. She yanked her braid again and, for a moment, Lan wondered if she would snatch it right off of her head. "Most horses don't run as quickly with two riders. And if the Whitecloaks had managed to catch even two or three of their own horses, they could have caught us—the ones who were doubled up, at any rate. I know it wasn't part of your…orders"—she spat the word at him, her eyes filled with fire—"but it made sense to me, and I was right there and had the opportunity to get the horses. I put no one at risk, and I know—"
"You put yourself at risk." His irritation dissipated, giving way to an emotion for which he had no name. "Sneaking into their camp and cutting those lines was dangerous, Nynaeve, but I knew you could do it. I did not like it, putting you at risk that way, but if you had done as we agreed, that risk was minimized." Her hands dropped to her sides and her eyes softened as he spoke. That was enough to make his tone milder. "What you did…I understand your reasoning, and it was a brave thing to do, but it was too great a risk."
She looked stunned, though at what he had no idea. "Thank you." The words seemed unfamiliar to her, as though she couldn't believe she had said them. "For worrying about my safety, I mean. But Lan, I knew what I was doing. Only one or two of the Whitecloaks noticed me leaving, and they were too confused by the thunder and lightning to try to stop me."
He fought the urge to shake her until her teeth rattled. She had been noticed, just as he suspected. "You were lucky this time. Next time you might not be so lucky. That is why, in the future, you will not take foolish chances, no matter what the reason. And when I give you a task, do it as we agree—nothing more." He ignored her indignant glare. She is even beautiful when she's angry. The thought was unbidden…and unwelcome. Shaking his head, he continued. "I will not have you courting more danger than necessity requires." If he had his way, she would not court it at all. She should be back in Two Rivers, where she would be safe.
Her mouth had opened, hung there for a moment, then snapped shut again. He held back a small smile at that; she was clearly not accustomed to being told what to do, much less being in a position where she had to listen. Her tiny hand grasped her braid yet again, even rougher this time, but she seemed too enraged to speak. The glower she directed at him would have, no doubt, made most men take a step back. But al'Lan Mandragoran was not most men. After another long hesitation, she turned to leave without a word.
"Where are you going?" he asked, catching her arm before she could take even one step away from him.
"Back to camp." She pulled on her arm, but could not break his grasp. When that didn't work, she resorted to stomping the top of his foot. It hurt, but he still did not relent. For a moment, he thought she meant to do worse to him, and, for some reason that almost amused him. "If you're finished berating me, that is," she added, giving him an impudent look. That was enough to quell his amusement.
"I'm not…" He trailed off, running his free hand across his forehead. She is the most frustrating woman I have ever met! "I only want you to understand what we face and be aware of the danger, Nynaeve." He let out a breath and loosened his grip on her arm slightly. "It was quick thinking on your part to consider the need for more horses. But there are times when even the best plans should be abandoned, and that was one of those times." His throat tightened at the possibility of her being captured by Whitecloaks. "I do not want to see you get hurt. I cannot stand the thought of it."
She stiffened suddenly, as though he had slapped her, but quickly relaxed. Without the moonlight, he never would have seen her slight nod. "When you are Wisdom," she began in a whisper, "your job is to take care of everyone else. You spend your time worrying about everyone's health and safety while they go about their business. People rarely worry about the Wisdom." She swallowed hard, and it was all he could do to keep himself from pulling her into his arms. He knew, deep inside his heart, that he was seeing that few, if any, ever had—the softness within her. "It is…difficult…to accept it when someone does." After a deep breath, she hurriedly added, "Besides, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I do not need anyone worrying about me."
"Whether you need it or not is debatable, but you had best get used to it." The words were out of his mouth before he realized it, so he could not have stopped them even if he had desired to do so. He had not planned on sharing the sentiment, but he meant what he said. He would keep an eye on her and do his best to protect her.
She opened her mouth, as if to speak, but promptly closed it to lick her lips. Her eyes were locked on his, and it almost felt as if she was looking through them to his innermost thoughts. The possibility made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
"We should go back to camp and get some sleep," he said hoarsely. Letting go of her arm, he instinctively reached for her hand again. It is necessary, he told himself. She could get lost on the way back to camp.
She dropped her gaze to their hands, making no effort to break free. In fact, after a slight hesitation, her fingers tangled through his, returning his firm grasp. When he began walking, he had no need to pull her along.
He set a leisurely pace, and convinced himself it was necessary to make a turn or two that managed to extend their walk. Staying as close as possible to him, she frequently brushed her body against his arm; he was not certain if it was intentional or not, but the contact quickened his pulse. She remained eerily silent, and it was that silence that allowed thoughts he wished to ignore to have free reign. What was this woman doing to him? He had wanted women before, and bedded most of the ones he wanted, yet it had never been more than fulfilling a simple physical desire. Emotions were never a part of it. But with Nynaeve…
The thought faded as they reached the camp and he stopped to look down at her. She gazed back at him, her eyes filled with a longing he doubted she realized was there. He steeled himself against it, convinced himself he did not see it. Nynaeve was not a woman for him to bed and leave, and unfortunately, he could give her nothing more.
Regardless of his thoughts, he squeezed her hand affectionately, his thumb gently stroking her silky skin. He allowed himself to get lost in the feel of her…the emotion in her eyes…if for only a few brief moments.
Then, with more than just a tinge of regret, he forced himself to drop her hand and walk away.
Note: Many thanks to Neela for checking this for me first and for getting me to flesh out the parts that needed it. You're the best!