Disclaimer: "The Wheel of Time" and characters belong to Robert Jordan, his estate and Tor Books. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rating: M for strong sexual content (female/female)
The Long Goodbye
The Amyrlin is dead.
Those words were on every lip as they rode into Aringill. And the talk didn't end there, Tar Valon was the centre of the world, and the White Tower rose above the Shining Walls. They would have been gossiping from the lowest tavern to the royal courts and councils.
There were murmurs about the short length of Sierin Vayu's rule, only five years. It had been a turbulent few years as well, with more sisters about, and many not bothering to hide their red-fringed shawls. The mood turned darker, as people muttered into their cups about how these Aes Sedai left gentled men in their wake, loudly denouncing them as channelers and allowing the mob to tear them apart.
There were also more ominous whispers. Sierin Vayu had ruled for only a short time, on the heels of another short reign by Tamra Ospenya. There could only be one reason for the instability amongst the long-lived Aes Sedai. Darkfriends. The Black Ajah.
Moiraine and Lan soothed where they could, and loudly scoffed at the more outrageous claims. Privately though, they were worried by how close the rumours came to the truth. It didn't need to be said, they could feel each other's unease through the bond.
The mood was sombre when they rode into the courtyard of The Scroll and Quill. The man standing guard at the front stoop gave them a brief nod when he saw them, and ducked inside the inn. Seconds later, the innkeeper herself came bustling out to meet them. "Lady Alys! Master Andra! It's been too long since we've seen you and had the pleasure of your company. Harwin, take their horses. Jored, take Lady Alys and Master Andra's bags, there... Master Andra, you would prefer to stay and supervise? Of course, of course... come inside when you are ready and I will have a girl show you to your rooms."
After slipping a silver penny to each of their attendants, Moiraine accompanied the innkeeper alone back inside. "How is business, Mistress Maryn?" she asked quietly, eyeing the half-full common room. The Scroll and Quill served mostly wealthy merchants, and she could see a fair number of women sitting at the tables. However, thankfully, none had the ageless look of an Aes Sedai.
The innkeeper sighed, shaking her head. "Not as good as it has been, my lady. Not as good as it was last season. Bad news this, about the Amyrlin Seat. They say that the Children of Light are massing, ready to take advantage of the White Tower's weakness. And there is talk that one of the Cairhienin houses had tied themselves up in the fortunes of this Amyrlin and is ready to go to war to prevent their own ruin. No one wants to travel in this mood, or risk their goods. War is always bad for business."
"The Whitecloaks are always ready to take advantage of the Tower's weakness, and the Cairhienins are always playing Daes Dae'mar." Moiraine said dryly. "I don't believe that either situation will come to open warfare."
"Be that as it may, my lady. Be that as it may. The Scroll and Quill will always be open to provide clean beds and good fare to travellers. We have the best rooms in the inn available for you and Master Andra... will you prefer to refresh yourselves first, or would you like to take a little wine or a meal? I can organise a private dining room for you."
Lan entered the inn then, shaking off his cloak. Moiraine caught his eye, and nodded her head towards the stairs. "Please show us to our rooms, Mistress Maryn. It's been a long day and we would like some time to rest."
"Of course, my lady." The innkeeper said graciously. She beckoned to Jored, who had followed Lan inside, carrying their saddlebags. Maryn guided them upstairs herself, chatting to Moiraine about where she and Lan had been, and filling in the silences when faced with Moiraine's vague answers. The innkeeper bustled around when they reached their appointed rooms, opening a window, twitching a cushion into place, and directing Jored to where he could set down their bags. Once the man had been sent down to take his place at the front doors again, Mistress Maryn hesitated, glancing out into the hall to make sure that there was no one near. The eyes turned shrewder in that round face, as she pulled out a small bone cylinder from her apron. "My lady... this came for you a few days ago."
"Thank you, Mistress Maryn." The innkeeper bowed her head, and pulled the door shut behind her as she left the room. The woman was one of the most trusted members of the Blue Ajah's eyes-and-ears, and kept her own carrier pigeons in the yard behind the inn. Moraine had sent word weeks ago to Siuan that she would be stopping at The Scroll and Quill, if she needed to contact her. Even so, she was surprised at the message once she unrolled it. There was no hint of the cipher that she and Siuan had derived, the message was stark and bare, but unmistakeably in Siuan's hand.
She stared at it for long moments. So many possibilities flashed through her mind. The Black Ajah had finally discovered their plans. Or the Reds had found out, and were calling her back to undertake her penance. It could have been another Aes Sedai plot to take advantage of the current tensions in Cairhien, to install her on the throne. Whatever it was, she just hoped against hope that Siuan wasn't in trouble.
A movement in the room caught her eye, and she looked up to see that Lan had shifted his position from where he was lounging by the doorway. From any other man, that would have been the same as a deluge of questions. She smiled wanly, and passed the note on to him.
"Tomorrow, we ride for Tar Valon."
They had been on the road for three days, taking the shortest route possible to the White Tower. That meant that The Scroll and Quill had been the last time that they had spent the night in any comfort. They had made camp under the stars once again, Lan roasting a rabbit over the fire, while Moiraine was buried in a copy of the Karaethon Cycle, a white ball of light hanging by her shoulder, helping her to read. Suddenly, Moiraine snapped the book shut, the light disappearing at the same time.
"You're troubled," she stated, although Lan hadn't moved from where he was poking the coals on which the rabbit rested.
He lifted his head and looked at her. His face might have been carved from stone; his eyes were blue and cold. His voice betrayed only mild interest when he replied. "I have been your Warder for nearly five years. This is the first time that we are going to the White Tower."
Moiraine nodded. There were still some parts of her past which she had not shared with him. "I had not wanted to return when Sierin Vayu was still alive. Her last command to me was to stay in Tar Valon as they had plans for me. At that time, Laman had just been killed and the Cairhenin Houses were scrambling to appoint his successor. I believe that the White Tower was plotting to appoint me as an Aes Sedai ruler... and their puppet."
Moiraine shook her head. "I don't think this message has anything to do with the Cairhienin throne. Galldrian has established himself as king. This nonsense about House Dhulaine arming themselves for war... even if it was true, they are far from the centre of power. I can see no way how the Tower can use it as an opportunity to effect a succession." She sighed and stretched her legs towards the fire. "No, this message... I'm afraid that Siuan has gotten herself into trouble. She never did know the meaning of caution."
Lan nodded thoughtfully, poking at the coals once again. He and Siuan had met in Chanchin, when Moiraine had taken him back after bonding him as her Warder, and before Siuan had returned to the White Tower. They had immediately fallen into an antagonistic relationship, with Siuan berating Moiraine on her 'fool decision' when Lan had still been in the room. But there was also grudging respect there, with each recognising the other's immense strength and ability to command. Still, though Moiraine missed her friend unbearably, she had been relieved when Siuan finally left for Tar Valon as it meant she had no longer had to be the mediator between them. She was roused from her thoughts when Lan sliced the cooked rabbit, neatly spearing it and passing half of it over to her. But before she could begin eating, Lan barked a short laugh. In the five years since she had known him, Moiraine could count the amount of times she heard him laugh on one hand. She looked up quizzically from her meal.
"It just occurred to me. You are an unwilling queen of Cairhien and I am the uncrowned king of Malkier. And yet, here we sit on the ground, about to eat with our fingers."
She gave him a wintry smile. "The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, my friend."
Continued in Part 2