I couldn't get this out of my head. Certainly not the best WoT fic you'll ever read. Oh, and if you weren't paying attention to the summary... KOD SPOILERS. I won't say it again.
Disclaimer: The Wheel of Time series and all characters therein are the property of Robert Jordan. No copyright infringement is intended by this piece, despite the millions I'm making off it. :coughIwishcough: Honestly, I just wanted to have a little fun.
There was mud on the carpet.
It was the first thing Galad noticed when he entered his tent. This was problematic: the servants, and all his fellow Children, knew better than to track dirt into his tent. Cleanliness was synonymous with order, dirt with chaos. And no one besides his manservant and Trom would enter his quarters when he was gone, anyway. This spot of mud (about the length of his smallest finger, and the width of a properly trimmed fingernail) suggested that someone had entered his tent who was Not Supposed to Be There.
The second thing he noticed was that the flap separating his "study" from his "sleeping chamber" had gotten caught on the coat rack next to it. Not only had the intruder been messy; he had been careless, as well.
Galad's first instinct was to pull out his handkerchief and try to get as much of the filth out of the carpet as possible; his second, to straighten the doorflap. Years of training, however, told him that it would be far wiser to check and see if the intruder still remained. It would be silly to clean the carpet, then have to have it removed anyway because of bloodstains.
He hesitated, torn, then pulled out his blade and slowly crept to the doorflap, moving as quietly as possible. He paused before it, listening intently. It seemed he could hear something, like a voice just out of hearing range. Lips thinning, he thrust aside the doorflap, sword ready. Inside the sleeping chamber, a woman stood with her back to him, staring down at the bed. This was disturbing for three reasons.
One, she was dressed in tattered brown garments that were torn in several places, and stained with mud and blood.
Two, he could see through her, which meant she was one of the ghostly apparitions that had begun recently to plague his men.
Three, she was his mother. And she was singing, the same lullaby she had sung to him so many times before she had disappeared.
This was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.
His sword slipped from his hands, and he took a halting step forward. "Mama?"
The apparition turned to him. Her face was smeared with blood, and her smile was sad. And then she vanished.
For several moments after, Galad was too stunned to react. Could it really have been her? He thought he would have recognized that voice anywhere, even after all the years... and yet... That face. Harder, certainly, than in any of the portraits, and older, but undoubtedly the same. Not at all different than the miniature portrait that traveled with him wherever he went.
His eyes went automatically to the miniature, which claimed pride of place on his night stand. He often studied it when sleep eluded him, his eyes following well-worn patterns along the contours of her face.
Someone had moved the portrait. It was now a hands-length forward, and tilted a hair, so it no longer faced the bed directly. Without thinking, he went to it and put the portrait in its proper place.
It was then he noticed that his bed was occupied. By a real, living, breathing person.
Who was none other than Rand al'Thor.
There was no mistaking his identity. It had been years since al'Thor had made his brief appearance in the palace gardens, but he was little changed. His face was harder, and great weariness was visible even as he slept. His hair was longer, and desperately needed trimming. On his right hand was a glittering dragon's head. Galad could not fathom how it had been made. Al'Thor's left hand was notably absent. Galad could not recall whether this had always been so, or if it was a more recent development.
There was mud on al'Thor's boots.
At least he'd had the decency to leave them dangling off the bed, so as not to dirty Galad's pristine sheets.
Galad took a step back, studying the other man. Al'Thor appeared to be sleeping, although why he had chosen to do so in Galad's bed, and not his own, was a complete mystery. Perhaps al'Thor's laundresses weren't very thorough. Galad had had similar problems on many occasions.
Of course, none of this explained why the apparition of Galad's mother had been standing over al'Thor, singing. (Had she been singing? None of the reports had ever mentioned them making noise.) His eyes slid back to the portrait.
Al'Thor looked like her.
It was little things--the shape of his face, the curve of lips and cheekbones, the same pert little nose... All in all, a remarkable resemblance.
And she'd been standing over him.
Galad was... piqued. It hardly seemed fair; one would expect that, when an apparition of one's own mother would appear, she would at least have the decency to hover about her own son.
For a moment, he tried not to see the echos of her face in al'Thor's features.
At least her muddy boots hadn't dirtied the carpet.
Two hours later, al'Thor peered cautiously past the doorflap. Galad sat at the sturdy desk that had once belonged to Eamon Valda, perusing supply lists with a pensive frown. Despite the cold, food was spoiling faster than it could be eaten. Galad was well aware of the man as he slipped almost soundlessly into the study, such as it were. Galad didn't bother looking up until al'Thor cleared his throat softly.
He set the parchment down, deliberately straightening the stack before looking up. "I see you're awake."
It was odd, seeing the flush of embarrassment creeping into that too-hard face. He watched with fascination as blue eyes darted about. "You... Do you know who I am?"
"Yes. I remember." He folded his hands on the desk, waiting patiently for al'Thor to get to the point.
The other man gave him a small smile that did not reach his eyes. "I was surprised when I learned you now lead the White--Children of the Light. I mean, Elayne--your sister--is..."
"There is more to the Children than persecuting Aes Sedai," Galad snapped, a bit more harshly than he intended. Moderating his tone, he continued, "The eradication of the Dark is a noble goal. If the Children have become a bit, ah, excessive in their methods over the years... Well, it's nothing a little reform won't fix."
Al'Thor looked sheepish. "I know," he said earnestly. "That's why I've come--to offer an alliance between the Wh-Children, and the forces of the Dragon Reborn." He made a curt gesture. "Surely you've noticed the signs. The Last Battle is approaching. We've got to work together to defeat the Dark One, once and for all."
Al'Thor's stomach growled.
They both looked down at it, then back at each other. Al'Thor looked away quickly.
"There's some bread and mutton," Galad told him, repressing a smile as he gestured to the covered tray on the edge of his desk. "Please, have a seat."
Al'Thor sat stiffly across from him while Galad poured them wine. The mutton was cold, and the bread had weevils. Al'Thor studied his feet while Galad cut tidy pieces of each and arranged them fastidiously on a small plate.
"Do you know what happened to my boots?"
Galad put the cover back on the tray and pushed the plate towards al'Thor. "They were dirty. I had them cleaned." He gestured to the entrance, where al'Thor's slightly scuffed boots stood.
Al'Thor eyed him bemusedly for a moment before picking up the bread and examining it dubiously. He took a tentative bite, grimacing.
"If I may ask," Galad took a small sip of wine. "Why did you come here alone?"
Al'Thor set the bread down, frowning. "I didn't want to alarm you. I thought it would be best to come and arrange things in person before sending an official delegation."
"I see," Galad said wisely. "And by falling asleep in my bed, you were proving your absolute trust in the Children." He chuckled at al'Thor's mortified expression. "Despite what you may have heard, I do have a sense of humor," he told the younger man kindly.
Al'Thor's expression hardened, anger narrowing his eyes. Galad hurriedly changed the subject. "It's fortunate that you came, actually. I've been considering the best way to make contact with you. We--the Children--feel it's high time to put aside our differences with Aes Sedai. The Last Battle is coming; the signs are unmistakable. Our duty is to the Light. Petty squabbles are meaningless when the Dark One is breaking free."
Al'Thor nodded slowly. "My thoughts, as well."
Galad noticed a breadcrumb had escaped the plate, and fastidiously pinched the offending bit between his thumb and forefinger, then flicked it back onto the plate. Al'Thor was staring at him bemusedly again. Their eyes met, then Galad turned his head away, feeling a curious heat within him. There was a long, awkward pause.
"Expect the delegation within the next few days," al'Thor said at last, rising. "I trust you won't mind if I include my Asha'man and Aes Sedai?"
"Of course not."
Al'Thor grabbed his boots, not bothering to put them on, and moved to the center of the tent. Suddenly he staggered, and Galad shot to his feet, expecting the man to fall. Al'Thor regained his balance quickly, though, and a slash of silver appeared before him, widening to reveal an unfamiliar room. Al'Thor moved to step through the strange doorway, and something in Galad's chest clenched.
"Wait!" he cried. Al'Thor paused, surprised. Galad took a deep breath, and spoke before his courage could fail him. "What was your mother's name?"
Al'Thor was looking at him strangely. Galad cursed himself for playing the fool. "Shaiel," the other man said at last. "She was a Maiden of the Spear." And the younger man disappeared through the doorway, which vanished as soon as he stepped through.
"Mother's milk in a cup," he swore vehemently. Immediately his hand flew to his mouth, and he looked to the entrance, hoping no one passing by had heard. Light, but the soldiers were a bad influence on him!
His eyes fell on the dirtied plate, and he clucked his tongue and set about tidying up as he pondered al'Thor's answer. Shaiel, a Maiden of the Spear. That meant an Aiel woman. And yet... he hadn't said "An Aiel." Just "A Maiden of the Spear." Was that significant?
Desk tidied, he straightened the chairs, then examined the rug for any dirt he might have missed earlier. It was dirt-free, but where al'Thor had made his strange Power-wrought door, the threads of the rug were frayed and sticking out. Galad sighed, vexed. It would have to be replaced, after all.
He left a note for the Child acting as his manservant to attend to it, then retired to his sleeping area. For awhile he sat staring, unblinking, at the miniature of his mother.
Shaiel. A Maiden of the Spear. The ghostly woman standing over him. Tattered brown garments. No mistaking those for anything but cadin'sor now. All the same, he was positive she was who he'd thought she was.
He studied the face in the portrait intently. There was no mistaking the identity of the bloodied apparition.
He lay back on the bed with a heavy sigh, careful to keep his boots off the sheets. It seemed only Rand al'Thor had the answers, and the man was Light alone knew where at the moment. But hopefully, he'd be back. In the meantime...
Inspired, Galad sat up and returned to his desk. From the top drawer, he lovingly extracted Lothair Mantelar's book. Not the copy given to him by Eamon Valda; that one he had thrown into the fire in a fit of rage and despair after hearing the rumors that had led him to challenge Valda. No, this copy was pristine, hardly looked at since he'd gotten it. He'd felt better having it nearby, though. Mantelar's wisdom could guide a man through the darkest of nights.
Worrying his lower lip absently, he dipped his quill, then inscribed on the inside of the cover: Rand al'Thor: May you always find the strength to do the right thing. I hope Mantelar's words will illuminate for you the paths to the Light. They have for me. With fondest regards, Galadedrid Damodred. Your Brother.
He blotted the ink carefully. Smudged ink was unacceptable. Then he leaned back, eying the inscription critically. Oh, that would never do. Too righteous. Too high-handed. To... intimate.
Growling, he replaced the book in the top drawer with far more force than was necessary. He sat for a moment, staring blankly at the desktop, wondering at how upset he was. Then he rose and snuffed out the lamps before returning to his bed. He undressed in the dark, for once not wanting to look at his mother's portrait as he readied himself for sleep.
He was very tired. But sleep was a long time coming that night. And when it did, he dreamed of a bloodied apparition, whose face was echoed in al'Thor's.