e l ' N Y N A E V E


The winter frost made everything more beautiful here. It clung to the pear trees, glittering like white gold, and robed the crisp wild roses in glass. The Queen of Malkier's garden seemed something otherworldly, the clouds shifting so quickly in the flushed red sky that it seemed part of a dream.

Nynaeve buried her hands deeper inside the warmth of her furs, watching as the last remnants of her husband's escort disappeared into the remote east, past the snowline, setting the Saldaeans on their first steps homeward.

The children's farewells to their fellow Borderlanders had been frosty at best. Even Maric, her spirited little scholar, had seemed out of sorts, eyes fixed on the ground as though he had something to be ashamed of. As for Elnore and Prince Aybara… suffice to say, she and Faile had given up all hope that there might be a marriage between their two Houses. Nynaeve inwardly despaired for her headstrong daughter and for whose arms she might one day tumble into. Another Mat Cauthon, taunted an unwelcome voice inside her head, and she silenced it hastily. Lan would never allow it, she convinced herself. The man's sense of protectiveness could stretch beyond the point of foolishness at times.

It was that protectiveness that had presently driven her to the wild garden. It was the only place in the Kingdom where she was sure to find peace from the guardsmen who hounded her at Lan's request. Here, safe in the view of the Seven Towers, she was permitted her solitude.

Nynaeve shivered when a stray snowflake grazed her cheek; a cold and fleeting kiss. There was something about unbroken snow that called to her. She had faint, fond memories of running across the frozen drifts near the Winespring as a child, cutting patterns with her boots. Father made me snow boots from a deer pelt, she remembered. She could almost picture him then; his familiar weathered face, his big hand reaching down to ruffle her hair. And when the winter winds blew it sounded like the pear trees were whispering in his old, beloved voice. Little Wisdom, they might have been saying. My little Wisdom.

Her heart ached with the bittersweetness of the memory. It has been so long since I was that girl, just Nynaeve, Elnore and Willem's daughter… Nynaeve who grew up too quickly, who braided her hair too early.

The Queen took a lungful of cold Malkieri air, swiped at the sudden tears threatening to spill from her lashes. The babe is at work again, she reasoned. Trying to tangle with your emotions, like a kitten in a basket of yarn! Her last few months with child had made her moods as changeable as a Taren Ferry master's fare; she laughed like a fool one minute, and was as prickly as a blackthorn bush the next, yelling threats at her husband and then weeping like a babe in his arms. Not to mention the distinctly one-sided argument she had had with a pair of Lan's muddy boots! It was humiliating!

Feeling the prickle of a sudden headache, Nynaeve found herself sinking gratefully onto a fallen, snow-dusted log. She tried to shift her thoughts to more pleasant things, away from her lost father, but they only turned to other memories, other winters… mixing herbs in Mistress Barran's kitchen with mortar and pestle, watching snowflakes tumble soft and slow outside the window. She still remembered the sharp smell of andilay root stirring her nostrils, and the crackle of the fire as the Wisdom threw on logs.

Back then, Nynaeve had always seen in Doral Barran a glimpse of her own future. A strong, reliable woman; a worthy Wisdom; a rock for the Two Rivers. Yet one who would live in the same old, lonely cottage for her whole life. One who would hold no true friends, only patients and critics. No, Nynaeve al'Meara of Emond's Field had never envisioned a stranger coming to sweep her off her feet. Nor imagined holding a child of her own making in her arms…

As if summoned by her thoughts, the pale silhouette of her daughter swept into view; Elnore Mandragoran seeming to skate through the drifts with that blue-blooded grace she so naturally carried. And yet… she was a poor version of the willful, strong-minded girl the Malkieri Queen's imagination had conjured but moments ago. While the Princess did her title justice - her beauty complimented by a white winter mantle – her face hinted at some deep trouble.

She does not look well, Nynaeve thought, healer's instincts flaring. But whatever her distress, Elnore seemed determined to mask it. "Here you are, mother," she spoke, tone deceptively light. "I wanted to speak with you."

"Of course, Elnore," said Nynaeve, playing along. The girl was as stubborn as her father at times, unlikely to confess her worries without a little careful coaxing on Nynaeve's part. "Come and sit."

Elnore obliged her, biting prettily into her lip. "I wanted to know…" she began uneasily. "About you and father, about your first meeting…"

Nynaeve arched an eyebrow, surprised at the question. And where was her daughter's usual aplomb? "But, you know that story well, Elnore. We met on the journey to the Eye of the World." A small, fond smile graced her lips. "I thought it was your brother who loved the same old tales told half-a-hundred times?"

"I know that you met in the Two Rivers, yes," said Elnore, a note of exasperation creeping into her voice. "And that you were betrothed in a tower in Tar Valon."

Nynaeve flushed at the mention of the word betrothed; perhaps she had tweaked that particular story a little. The ring of Malkieri kings had been bequeathed to her for a very different purpose, to hear Lan tell it. And yet, where was the harm in her version? After all, Lan had not bothered to correct her back in Ebou Dar, so why should she correct herself now? Perhaps I should make sure Maric gets the story from me…

"And I know that you were wed in Malkier at the same time you were crowned," Elnore was saying.

Nynaeve shifted uncomfortably. Well, that was not entirely true either. Their first wedding had been on the Windrunner. But better to spin a falsehood there, than let her daughter grow curious about the wedding rituals of the Ath'an Miere! Burn me, I would never hear the end of it!

"But that is not where love begins," her daughter finished passionately. As though she would know, at sixteen! "It does not begin in a meeting, or a betrothal. It happens in between all that." Elnore frowned at her hands suddenly, as though they had done her some great wrong. "I wanted to know… you were a Wisdom then, and father a Warder. And it was such a time to fall in love! How did you even begin? When was there ever a free moment to say it?"

Nynaeve's own hands suddenly became as fascinating. "We had made camp that night," she heard herself say, words escaping her mouth before she had even made a conscious decision to answer. "On the fringe of the Blight. Near Malkier."

We might not have been far from this very hilltop, Nynaeve realised. She had seen the network of lakes from their campsite, and the ruined towers. Had felt the dark and clinging sadness al'Lan Mandragoran's dead homeland inspired... and that thing in the lake, Light, that writhing, monstrous thing…

"Mother?" Elnore urged.

"The other Emond's Fielders were asleep," Nynaeve continued, voice quivering like a falling silverleaf. "I brought him tea, of all things. Made myself known."

Her stomach twisted as she remembered the moment his hands had left hers, as he had made excuses and left her, trembling, before the half-light of the lantern. So very long ago. Lan's words to her then were forever locked in her memory, the bitter and the sweet… never stop fighting… never shame you… hate the man you choose because he is not me… widow's black as her brideprice.

"Light, it was madness," she sighed, "proclaiming myself like that. I told myself so a hundred times before I did it. It seemed as though everything was working against your father and I. Loyalties. Duty. Even age."

"Then why?" Elnore's voice carried a pleading note, which Nynaeve seemed not to notice as she gathered her strength to revisit her reasons at last.

"Because," she said desperately. "A part of me knew that if I didn't make myself known, I would have lost him forever. Our paths were too different. We would have gone our separate ways and never looked upon one another again. He would not have given me another thought. Somehow, I couldn't have borne that." As she confessed the words she knew them to be true.

Elnore had kept her silence during her speech, and for the first time Nynaeve looked to her daughter, wondering what scandalised reaction her confession might have spurned. But it was sadness rather than scandal that filled her eyes.

"What's the matter, Elnore? Are you unwell?"

Her daughter's small face was as pale as a morningstar and as cold as hoarfrost when Nynaeve took it between her hands. A simple weave of Spirit, Water and Air was all it would take to detect a lingering cold. Saidar was there, she could almost touch it, just out of reach, like a blossom at the end of a long branch. Sharina had warned her as much; the One Power had come and gone as it pleased while she was with child. "It is no use," she said grudgingly. "You will have to go to Sharina Sedai."

But Elnore was reluctant. "I am not ill, mother," she promised.

Oh? thought Nynaeve, then why do you sound as though your voice is about to break? "Are you feeling the loss of our Saldaean friends?" she teased, trying for cheer. But to her surprise Elnore's breath hitched ever so slightly at the jest, and an unpleasant prospect dawned upon Nynaeve. Lan's words came flooding back to her, on the marriage she and Faile had so earnestly hoped for. Something about not forcing the sun to shine.

"Elnore, I did not mean to push you into a rapport with Prince Aybara," she told her daughter tentatively. Presently Elnore raised her eyes, blue and trembling, the way she had done when she was a child seeking her mother's comfort. Well, it seems I have hit the mark. Encouraged, Nynaeve continued, "You need not feel bad for… rejecting him as a choice, if that is what you are feeling. Faile tells me Darrell is very popular in Shienar. Perhaps we shall see him wed to some pale-eyed Shienarian princess with a topknot, hmm?"

She was hoping to elicit a laugh, or a smile at the very least, but found to her despair that Elnore's complexion had turned even paler, if that were possible. Defeated, she cupped her daughter's chin and turned her ashen face towards her. "I would never have you do anything other than follow your heart, Elnore. Do you understand?"

"Yes," whispered the Malkieri princess, those blue eyes as arresting as her father's, the colour of frozen lakes. "May I take my leave, mother? It's so cold."

Nynaeve conceded after a moment, though not without reluctance. It is true what Lan said, she realised, when Elnore was naught but a fleck of dark brown hair in the distance. Our daughter is growing, growing so fast I can barely keep up. Who knew what changes were taking place in her young heart?

Perhaps she would consult with Elayne on her next visit to Camelyn. Several of her daughters were past sixteen now… had left that dense and dangerous forest long ago. Yes, better to go to Elayne than Sharina! Their Aes Sedai advisor treated her like a daughter sometimes! Yes, and expected Nynaeve to play along with her mother hen act! That reminds me, Nynaeve remembered, I had better not delay my return for too long, or she will be angry with me.

Nynaeve kept a keen eye to the ground as she went, meaning to walk back in Elnore's footprints so as not to soak her dress in the drifts. Lan always teased her about the size of her feet - her cheeks warmed - right before he takes them in his hands and…

It was only then that Nynaeve noticed the other set of footprints had not returned to the Seven Towers. "Elnore," she said out loud. They were her daughter's prints, right enough. Anyone trained in woodscraft could not mistake such a thing. There is nothing for her that way, Nynaeve knew, incomprehension prickling her skin like three-needle pinecones. She has headed east. It was impossible to take a wrong turning when the Seven Towers were in full view! So where has she-

Something seized Nynaeve then, an old, familiar feeling that had not come to her in years. Faint, yes. Dull, perhaps. But it was there all the same, a fear bone-deep, enough to make her blood run cold.

Once she knew a storm was coming, nothing could stop it.


AUTHOR'S NOTES

THIS CHAPTER: My attempt at drama. Laughable, I know. Just keep in mind this story is merely a hobby for me; I'm not trying to be some grand novelist. I'm not a bloody great invincible Warder, as our heroine might say!

This chapter began a little too introspective and serious, but I feel as though I found Nynaeve's voice again in the later drafts which I hope returned a little humour to events!

I figured that if I want to finish this story before the last book appears on the shelves I should get myself in gear!

NEXT CHAPTER: Back to Elnore, and more pitiable attempts at drama. A fair piece of it is already written, so the update shouldn't take so long. I'll aim for less than a month!


REVIEW REPLIES

Ha ha, as soon as I ask my reviewers to keep talking to me, most of them stop talking to me. Lesson learned!

pennyante – Ah, thankyou so much for the lovely words! They are my favourites too, of course, which is why no matter how brilliantly Jordan wrote them I was never satisfied. I always wanted more of their story. So I'm glad I'm giving you a credible version of their future! I'll try my best to keep it so!

Ginnia – Thankyou for such a detailed review! The Nynaeve/Leanna AU one-shot hasn't been written yet unfortunately, it only exists as the merest idea. Thanks for indulging me though, I love playing around with the concept. I think if I did write it I would take the easy way out in regards to their meeting, probably via something like the Three Arches.

Mashiara No More – The wonderful thing about writing in the WoT category is that I receive such eloquence from my reviewers! Thankyou so much, I mean it. As regards the flashbacks… that is exactly what I didn't want to do by omitting them, retract from the narrative. But I was confusing more people than I was pleasing. You'll see them again, just not in this story.

RE: Your query about 'The Third' – I did intend the 'hooves' sequence to be linked with the one in the book. But, you're absolutely right, it doesn't prove an exact fit as I link it with the time that she's still pregnant, whereas the baby should be born by that time. I hadn't realised that. I think all I would have to do to remedy it would be to remove the Sharina reference at the end? Which I will. I wish you all the best with your aspirations, hope to see your books on the shelves one day! Goodness knows sci-fi/fantasy needs more contributions, especially from people who appreciate Jordan and Martin!