Leaving the Fire Burning
Chapter 5 of "Moonlit Walks"
By Chani Disclaimer: The dialogue from both Lan and Nynaeve was taken directly from the book and, therefore, credit goes to RJ for that. He, however, chose to write the following scene from EgWeenie's point of view (spits) and I felt that, to have decent closure to this little Lan/Nynaeve miniseries, the scene should be done from one of their points of view instead. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: The dialogue from both Lan and Nynaeve was taken directly from the book and, therefore, credit goes to RJ for that. He, however, chose to write the following scene from EgWeenie's point of view (spits) and I felt that, to have decent closure to this little Lan/Nynaeve miniseries, the scene should be done from one of their points of view instead. Hope you enjoy!
Lan stalked through the Stone of Tear, ignoring the people who scurried in various directions to avoid his path. There was only one thing on his mind at that moment, one person he wanted to see. This would be no pleasant visit, though. No, the woman had lied to him and she was going to hear exactly what he thought of it before he was finished! After all their talks, all their walks and dinners, all the time they spent together, she had lied! He still could not fathom it. She was not going back to the White Tower at all, and had he not overheard one of the servants discussing the carriage Nynaeve had ordered, he would never have known the truth. Well if she believed he would let her get away with such a betrayal, she was sorely mistaken.
He should have suspected it. In fact, it was all he could do to hold back a growl when he thought of how she had evaded discussing her plans. She had already tried that nonsense when he asked why she was questioning those women of the Black Ajah. Light, she was but an Accepted! She had no call to be that close to Darkfriends. It was simply too dangerous, something that should have been left for a full Aes Sedai. That Moiraine had approved of it—nay, encouraged it!—only infuriated him further. Of course, the older woman would not discuss the matter, claiming it was Aes Sedai business and none of his concern. In fact, she had seemed annoyed he had shown such concern for Nynaeve at all.
Had he not known better, he would have said she was jealous. Ever since they had left the Two Rivers, Moiraine had constantly goaded him, reminding him of his vows and obligations to her. Did she truly believe he had forgotten? Why she felt threatened over the time he spent with Nynaeve was beyond him. It was not as though this was the first time he spent time with other women. Over the years, he had even bedded women and Moiraine had never uttered a word. Then again, Nynaeve was not just any woman. She was not the type a man could bed and leave behind. Things with her would never go that far. It was not as though he expected anything to come of his time with her and Moiraine had to know that; on the contrary, he was well aware that they could never be together. Nynaeve deserved better than a man with nothing to his name. A man who would soon die doing his duty to fight the Shadow.
Some women don't ask for land, or gold. Just the man.
Words spoken so long ago. No, not that long ago. Even then he knew she meant them, just as he had meant what he told her in reply. She truly was a lioness, willing to give her heart…to give herself…to a man who had nothing but pain and death to give her in return. He would not let her do it. He would not allow her throw her life away for him.
I love you, Lan Mandragoran.
It took every bit of his self control to suppress a shudder when he remembered her words from the night before. She loved him. That, he had known. Yet her declaration had stilled his heart. The corners of his lips curled slightly at the memory; the kiss had unnerved her so much she had given the words voice without a thought. He had not expected it, but he had known. Light, he had known it from the first moment he laid eyes on her. And, too, he had known he would love her. He tried to resist, tried to pretend it did not exist, but with every moment he spent with her it threatened to boil, unbidden, out of him. Drown him in its warmth. Ah, but what a way to die. Drowning in Nynaeve's love rather than his own blood during a Trolloc battle.
No! This time a growl did escape him, a pained sound that sent a maid scurrying into the wall and her armful of laundry scattering on the floor. Lan never noticed. Fists clenched at his sides, he fought to maintain control of his emotions. Never had it been so difficult! Regardless of their feelings, though, it could never be. He would never be able to give her what she wanted. He had a war to fight, and he would die doing it. There was no future for him outside of that, no chance of living some romantic tale like was written in books. Only war and death.
So why are you so angry with Nynaeve for lying to you, a voice in the back of his head taunted, if it will truly never be? That thought made his jaw clench, though after a moment he had a reasonable explanation. He was angry because she was better than that! The woman was more direct than anyone he had ever met, and that was a trait he respected. For her to lie to him showed a lack of respect for herself, as well as for him. The main problem he had with it, however, was that she was going to Tanchico. That place was much too dangerous for her!
Finally he found himself at her door, which he flung wide and entered without pausing to knock. His eyes immediately settled on a very surprised Nynaeve. There were others there as well—Elayne and Egwene—but he gave them no notice. All he could see was the braided menace that had put him in this state of mind. Everything he had planned to say to her, however, disappeared at the sight of her. All that came out of his mouth was a raspy, "You let me believe you were returning to Tar Valon."
"You may have believed it," she replied calmly, "but I never said it."
The muscles in his jaw twitched. Her uncharacteristic coolness caused his blood to boil. Who did she think she was fooling? Nynaeve al'Meara was rarely calm! "Never said it? Never said it! You spoke of leaving today, and always linked your leaving with those Darkfriends being sent to Tar Valon. Always! What did you mean me to think?"
The question caused her eyes to fill with guilt, though she quickly recovered her composure. "But I never said—"
"Light, woman!" he roared, clenching his fists. "Do not bandy words with me!" For all the complaints she had about Aes Sedai, she certainly had no problem behaving as one! As though proving him right, she merely stood there staring at him with all the serenity of any Aes Sedai he had ever known. How dare she! How dare she remain so calm when he felt as if the world was crashing down on him! With her safety at stake!
He made a conscious effort to calm himself. It did not work. He did manage, however, to keep his expression as stony as ever. It was his singular advantage, one he would not lose. Not against her.
When he spoke again, his voice was even. "I'd not have known where you were off to if I had not heard that you had ordered a carriage. To take you to a ship bound for Tanchico. I do not know why the Amyrlin allowed you to leave the Tower in the first place, or why Moiraine involved you in questioning Black sisters, but you three are Accepted. Accepted, not Aes Sedai." He did not pause, but he was unable to stop his voice from rising. "Tanchico now is no place for anyone except a full Aes Sedai with a Warder to watch her back. I'll not let you go into that!"
"So," Nynaeve said lightly, her dark eyes sparkling with something he could not quite place, "You question Moiraine's decisions and those of the Amyrlin Seat as well. Perhaps I've misunderstood Warders all along. I thought you swore to accept and obey, among other things." Not her as well. It was bad enough Moiraine was continually reminding him of his position and vows, he did not need to hear this from Nynaeve! "Lan, I do understand your concern, and I am grateful—more than grateful—but we all have tasks to perform. We are going; you must resign yourself to the fact."
"Why? For the love of the Light, at least tell me why! Tanchico!" Hard as he tried, he could not keep the desperation out of his voice.
"If Moiraine has not told you," Nynaeve said gently, "perhaps she has her reasons. We must do our tasks, as you must do yours."
The words were a knife through his heart, twisting and turning, stabbing into his very soul. He was trembling, visibly, and the only thing that kept him from showing more emotion than that was his tightly clamped jaw. Conflict spread in his mind like bile. His feelings for her—yes, he did indeed care for her, more than he was willing to admit—warred with his duty to fight the Shadow. But instinct told him Nynaeve's purpose matched his own. And he could not let her go there alone, he simply could not.
It took some effort to find his voice, and it sounded strained, even to him. "You will need someone to help you in Tanchico. Someone to keep a Taraboner street thief from slipping a knife into your back for your purse. Tanchico was that sort of city before the war began, and everything I've heard says it is worse now. I could…I could protect you, Nynaeve." Even as he said the words, he realized he would do anything to protect this woman. Anything.
Nynaeve gave no sign he had said anything out of the ordinary, but he could feel it from her; from where he stood, he could hear the pounding of her heart, so he knew when it skipped a beat. "Your place is with Moiraine."
"Moiraine." The name caused sweat to bead on his hard face, and he struggled to find the right words. He had a duty to Moiraine, true, but he felt a duty to Nynaeve as well. No, it was more than duty. Something stronger, something that could tear his world to shreds. Could he really walk away from the woman he had sworn to obey until the end of his days? A fist tightened around his heart, making it hard to breathe. Even harder to think. And the answer came to him then, clear as the very sun itself—if the only way he could keep Nynaeve alive, then he would find a way to go with her. Somehow. But how? The fist tightened and he felt a desperation that he had never before encountered, even in the direst of battles. He was standing on a precipice, ready to jump into an abyss just for the love of her. And through the bond, Moiraine could feel it. His jaw tightened; he knew what he must do, though he found trouble voicing it. "I can…I must…Nynaeve, I…I…"
"You will remain with Moiraine," Nynaeve said sharply, taking the choice from him, "until she releases you from your bond. You will do as I say." He blinked once. Until she releases him from his bond? What in the name of the Light was she talking about? Would Moiraine do that? Would she…no, he forced the thought away, distracted by the folded paper she was carefully pulling from her pouch. Without hesitation, she thrust it into his hands.
He frowned as he looked down to read it.
What the bearer does is done at my order and by my authority. Obey, and keep silent, at my command.
Watcher of the Seals
Flame of Tar Valon
The Amyrlin Seat
Blinking, he read it again. This was insanity. "But this allows you to do anything you please," he protested. "You can speak in the Amyrlin's name. Why would she give this to an Accepted?"
"Ask no questions I cannot answer," Nynaeve said, then added with a hint of a grin, "Just count yourself lucky I do not tell you to dance for me."
White hot anger surged in him, along with another emotion he could not quite name. The heat of them both nearly burned him alive. "Do you not? You dispose of me very neatly. My bond, and my oaths. This letter." The dangerous look he gave her went unnoticed as she took back the letter and replaced it in the-pouch on her belt.
"You are very full of yourself, al'Lan Mandragoran," she told him haughtily. "We do as we must, as you will."
The anger peaked, as did the other emotion he was trying to force down. "Full of myself, Nynaeve al'Meara? I am full of myself?" There was no thought about what he did next; he merely acted on instinct, moving so quickly toward Nynaeve that she did not have time to react. Her jaw hung open as he swept her into his arms, covering her mouth with his to give her a very thorough kiss. He had kissed her before, after their walks, but he had been tender with her…reserved. Not so this time. This time he unleashed the full force of his passion for her—the anger, the frustration, and yes, the love—drowning her in it. Possessing her with it. She believed she was in complete control, yet as soon as the kiss began, they both knew better.
At first she fought him, kicking his shins and hammering him with her fists as she made sounds of frantic, furious protest, but her kicks slowed and stopped, and then she was holding on to his shoulders and not protesting at all. She melted against him, her body warm and pliant as she responded to the kiss with equal fervor. Her words from the night before echoed in his ears—I love you, Lan Mandragoran—and he deepened the kiss. Her reaction had him fighting to hold back a groan. Desire rose in him, stronger than he ever felt for any woman, so he tightened his arms around her even more. He had no desire to let her go. Not now. Truthfully, not ever.
That thought brought reality crashing down on him, and with great reluctance he finally set her down on her feet. She swayed a bit as she straightened her dress and patted her hair furiously. The indignant expression she was trying to muster contradicted the way she was still swooning from his kiss. Amused, he regarded her with a raised eyebrow. "You have no right…" she began in a breathless voice, then stopped to swallow. "I will not be manhandled in that fashion for the whole world to see. I will not!"
Manhandled? Her accusation almost made him laugh. Had she forgotten how willing she was only moments before? Had they been alone…the thought nearly made him shudder, but he retained control as he replied firmly, "Not the whole world. But if they can see, they can hear as well. You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones." The words he chose should have surprised him, or at least troubled him, but every one was true. She deserved the truth. She had declared her love for him in her way, this was his. "Remember this, on this journey you insist on making. If you die, I will not survive you long."
It was as if someone had dumped a barrel of icy water over her head, and her shock brought a smile to his lips. It seemed she had a habit of making him smile. "And remember also, I am not always so easily commanded, even with letters from the Amyrlin." That point was proven, he thought, demonstrated again by the fact that she appeared barely able to keep her knees from buckling under her. And it seemed he had found an effective way to battle her stubbornness. "As you command," he murmured dryly, making an elegant bow, "so do I obey." Before Nynaeve had a chance to respond, he was gone.
Once he had made it a fair distance from her room, he stopped and leaned against the wall. His anger had subsided, leaving only concern in its wake. He meant what he had told her—he would not let her go to Tanchico without proper protection, regardless of what she, the Amyrlin or Moiraine said. No, if he could not be there to protect her, he would see to it that someone else, someone capable, would.
As soon as the dark-haired man on the other side of the door began to ease it open, Lan pushed through and entered the house. The appalled look on the man's face did not deter him in the least; Lan had no intention of bandying words; there was no choice. For either of them. "My name is Lan Mandragoran, and I have a job for you," he announced, tossing a large silken bag of gold coins on the table that sat in the middle of the room.
Lan ended the man's objection with no more than a look. "If there is something you need to pack, do it now. I cannot tell you how long you will be gone, but were I you I would prepare for a long journey."
The man blinked. "You're insane! You can't just barge into my house and…" The sound of a steel blade being eased from its scabbard was enough to make his words fade, but as his gaze drifted to the sword he moved quickly—most likely to reach for his own weapon. Lan, however, was quicker.
Grabbing a handful of the man's unlaced shirt, Lan shoved him against the wall. "That bag of gold on the table is more than you could hope to earn in your next five jobs." Truthfully, it was more than the man could hope to earn in a year. "Don't be a fool, man. Take the gold, pack your things, and I will explain the job as you do." Had the man not nodded, Lan was prepared to forcefully drag him to the docks of Tear. He had been assured Wavedancer would not set sail until he returned, but even al'Thor could only do so much to delay the Sea Folk.
"Juilin, I…" Lan turned to see a freshly dressed woman enter, her eyes suddenly wide with fear. "What's…I…"
"Your friend is going on a journey," he told the woman coldly, stepping away from Sandar. "You should leave." She hesitated, at least until she saw the look in his eyes. With a muffled cry, she grabbed a bag from the plush chair to her side and rushed out of the house.
"Blood and ashes, do you have any idea how long it took me to get anywhere with her? I—"
Another deadly look stopped the man's tirade. "Your romantic entanglements do not concern me. Now pack." As the man grabbed a small satchel and tied it snugly closed, Lan explained the job. He had to stifle the urge to chuckle when Sandar paled at the mention of Nynaeve's name—she had apparently made quite an impression—but continued explaining the assignment. What he knew of it, anyway. There were, admittedly, parts to this job even Lan did not know, such as how long it would take, and another he had no intention of sharing. He still could not believe Nynaeve and Elayne were hunting the Black Ajah. Alone! The Amyrlin had apparently lost her mind, sending two Accepted after Darkfriends. Channelers, no less! Nynaeve could not channel so much as a spark without being angry; how could she fight the Black Ajah? The thought of it had his hand tightening around the hilt of his sword.
"I'm almost done," Sandar said defensively. It was obvious he thought Lan's anger was directed at him, which was enough incentive to make him move even faster. The man was capable, Lan was certain of that. And though he had played a part in Nynaeve and the other two girls' capture, he had helped to rescue them.
The sound of his heart pounding suddenly echoed in his ears, warning him of the fury he barely managed to contain. Nynaeve had been captured by the same two Darkfriends she had put to question. Light! How could Nynaeve keep that from him? How could Moiraine? He had half a mind to go after Nynaeve anyway and confront her about her habit of hiding the truth. If there was more time, then maybe…
Lan nodded coldly at Sandar and closed the distance between them, drawing his sword as he did so. "You are being paid well," he said, "as you can see. But understand one thing…if you fail in this task"—his gaze narrowed as he slid the point of his sword up to the man's chest—"there is nowhere you can hide where I will not find you, not even the Blight itself. When I do find you, I will make you curse the day your father was born. And when I am finished with you, my friend will have a turn."
Gulping, the man nodded. "The job must be very important to you."
"Important?" Nynaeve's face flashed across his vision, her lips swollen and cheeks flushed from his kiss. That invisible fist tightened around his heart again, though his expression belied nothing. I love you, Lan Mandragoran. He swallowed hard and nodded again. "My very life depends on it." He paused only a moment, his gaze darkening. "And so does yours. Now let's go."
Well guys, that's it! Many thanks to Neela for beta reading the story for me, and many thanks to all of you who took time to review it. :-)