Chapter Two: Illness
Disclaimer: I don't own the Wheel of Time.
A/N: As with the first, some facts have been overlooked. Particularly in the case of Elaida's healing ability.
Morgase of Andor was not a woman used to enduring illness. She could rarely remember being ill, the last time being when she was a child.
She sniffled, holding her hands grimly in front of the fire, waiting while her Advisor silently prepared tea, dipping lemon in the liquid.
Elaida was dressed in red, as usual, her hair piled high on her head, tendrils floating about her face, hands working smoothly at the sideboard. Morgase envied her at that moment, feeling distinctively unattractive, sitting in her dressing gown.
"Here," Elaida handed her the cup and Morgase sniffed at it experimentally. Elaida tutted. "Its only lemon,"
"And this will help?"
Elaida looked bemused for a moment. "Well...it certainly tastes nice,"
Morgase smiled vaguely, as she sipped, pleasantly surprised at the taste.
Elaida settled herself in the chair opposite and took up her knitting - something in yellow, looking vaguely sock-like. "Tell me; what of the attitude to the increased taxes in the south?"
"Still bleak," Morgase replied, launching into a speech she had recited many times for many different people, all of whom needed to be informed of the situation and all of whom never seemed to be together. It was near impossible to get hold of the Head of the Treasury these days, the woman who needed to be informed most prominently, and Morgase had finally caught her the night before.
Elaida nodded along and Morgase wondered if it was a facade. Elaida was not as clever with numbers as she would have many believe. Her tongue darted out to wet her lips and Morgase found herself momentarily distracted, watching.
Elaida leaned forward. "You're illness must be affecting your concentration, Morgase," She reached out and gently touched her forehead with two fingers. "You're warm - a fever, I think,"
"Yes...a fever," Morgase replied, trying hard not to enjoy it as Elaida began to fuss, brushing back her hair and touching her face. "It's not that bad,"
"No...no..." Elaida agreed. "Though...it's a pity, really, I'm not more of a healer,"
Morgase's lips tweaked. "I thought with your hands you'd be a natural,"
Elaida laughed uneasily. "I never was much good at it...I can hardly heal a bruise. When I was young, I gave them more often than I healed -" Abruptly, she broke off, turning away as if she had said too much.
Morgase smiled and caught her hand, gently rubbing circles on the back of it. "You know, I find it difficult to picture you as anything but Aes Sedai - let alone a child,"
Elaida looked down and flushed, before jerking her hand out of Morgase's grasp and practically throwing herself in the chair opposite. "Ah, we were all young once,"
"You still are," Morgase said, tilting her head to one side, knowing she was carefully advancing on the issue of how old the woman was - something that Aes Sedai would rather spit on the table than speak of.
Elaida's lips quirked in spite of themselves. "Still am? I doubt it,"
Morgase chewed on her lower lip, wondering if the Aes Sedai would be angered if she were to ask the question. Finally, "Why?"
Elaida's eyes were amused, even as they tightened. "How old am I, Morgase?"
"Ah, no, no -"
"Thank the Light you're not Aes Sedai, else the oaths would have you on the floor, tied in knots," Elaida replied softly.
"Well...you don't have to answer...if you don't want to..." Morgase said, hurriedly trying to undo damage.
Morgase's jaw almost slid open. Only years of discipline kept her face calm, apart from the slight widening of her eyes.
Elaida smiled, sadly this time. "See? I'm an old woman,"
"Nonsense," Morgase managed, not really believing it herself. "Lini is...at least fifteen years older,"
"Ah, Lini, who has attended three generations of Trakand ladies," Elaida said, with a strange vein of humour in it.
"Well...you hardly look it," Morgase offered.
To her surprise, Elaida laughed - a real laugh this time, not a nervous squeak. It was rich and throaty, and Morgase felt herself compelled to join in. Elaida's face was flushed with amusement, one tendril of hair hanging in her eyes... and Morgase realised that Elaida was beautiful.
She stopped laughing, as all humour fled from the situation. For one moment she stared at the still laughing Aes Sedai, mouth drying. Improper thoughts, all decency forgotten...it wasn't seemly, this...flirtation with her advisor. Once - once - she had toyed with the idea of taking it further. A moment of weakness, she had put it down to, a moment of vulnerability after Taringail and Thom, after Elayne's birth when she was feeling lonely...It simply wasn't done.
Then Elaida looked at her curiously. "Is there something the matter?"
"No," It was much too high.
Elaida's eyebrows quirked. "Again - had you been an Aes Sedai you'd be in knots on the floor,"
Morgase looked at her. "Damnable Aes Sedai know-it-all," It wasn't mocking.
Elaida looked taken aback by the sudden switch in the Queen's demeanour. "Morgase -"
"You should leave,"
Elaida looked puzzled. "I don't understand -"
"You don't have to," The words were sharp. "Just leave, leave me,"
For a moment, Morgase thought Elaida would resist. Her brows had knitted together and her face darkened. She was staring at the Queen with barely controlled fury. She jerked to her feet and turned, her skirts swirling.
"Before you go; take the tea - its gone cold anyway,"
Elaida stood frozen for a moment, back to Morgase, staunchly refusing to acknowledge her command. "You'd do well not to anger me, Morgase, I am the White Tower's representative - I am the Amyrlin Seat's voice in Andor,"
"Take the tea,"
Morgase saw Elaida's hands clench and unclench - but Morgase knew Elaida would never lash out against her. Morgase knew Elaida loved her too much for that. Quilt was a curious thing to experience, so soon after anger.
Elaida turned stiffly, with the formality of an arms woman, and bent over Morgase, taking the cup.
Morgase caught both her wrists. "I don't mean to be angry, Elaida, I really don't,"
"You don't understand. You said so," Morgase sighed. "Do you remember that day when the rats spoiled the grain?"
"Yes," A peculiar note crept into her voice.
"Remember...I remember it too," Morgase looked up and ran her forefinger along Elaida's chin, other hand still clenched about her right wrist. Elaida's breath caught. "You kissed me,"
Elaida's face whitened. "I did n - " She choked, spluttering and coughing, as she staggered. But again, she tried to lie, "I did n- " That sent her to her knees, wracked with coughs. Bleakly, she peered around at Morgase. "Yes," She said after a long moment. "Yes, I did,"
"I didn't mind,"
Elaida's face was carefully guarded. "Oh?"
Morgase's voice went very, very quiet. "Had I been less tired, I would have kissed you back,"
Elaida struggled onto her knees, sitting in front of Morgase's chair. "Really?"
"Yes," Morgase paused.
A strange light came to her eyes, as she caught Morgase's hand. For a moment, she hesitated, then gently ran her lips along the Queen's fingertips. Morgase swallowed as the warmth spread through her hand. "Ah...Elaida...we...I don't think..."
Elaida ignored her. She gripped the sides of Morgase's face and pulled her down into a kiss, squashing her lips against the Queen's. Morgase made a small sound of protest, even as Elaida slipped her tongue inside her mouth and pushed upwards, moaning into Morgase's mouth. Morgase's hands found Elaida's shoulders and she attempted to push Elaida away...but Elaida would not be deterred. She used the opportunity to slip her arms about Morgase and pull Morgase on to the ground along with her, kissing her collarbone. Morgase shifted involuntarily into Elaida's mouth, the sleek wetness moving down her neck. A soft sigh tore from her throat, even as her mind worked...this simply wasn't right. It couldn't be right, could it? Oh, Light, that felt good, light, Elaida, sweet Elaida, soft, kind, good Elaida, so lonely, sad and vulnerable...
Light forbid anyone should find out. This could be used for black mail, could be used to force her from the throne, could disinherit the House of Trakand completely, send them into shame...could loose Elayne the opportunity to rule.
Morgase's eyes flew open. Whatever the consequences to herself, she would not shame her children in such a manner. These...activities...may be an open secret in the Tower, yet they were still frowned upon in Andoran Society...not to mention the rumours about the White Tower tying ever more strings to Andor. The Queen with an Aes Sedai lover...
Morgase managed a humourless smile, as Elaida gently kissed the exposed flesh just above Morgase's breast. "Elaida...sweeting...stop," It wasn't a command; it was a request.
Elaida took heed this time, looking up. "We can't. You know we can't -"
"You...you understand that there are people opposed, yes? I can't afford to upset the public...not when it could be avoided,"
"But if it was Thom -"
"Thom is hardly different," Morgase said softly. "People would have been more accepting, yes, but even then it would be greeted with hostility - people don't want their Queen to be a real woman,"
"And a Queen with another woman?"
"Worse," Morgase smiled down into Elaida's face. "Worse, I'm afraid. I'm sorry,"
Elaida looked down to the carpet. A hand quickly brushed moisture from her eyes. "Of course I understand that,"
Morgase's chewed her lip dismally. "I am sorry,"
"No need to be," Elaida said hoarsely. "Its me, you know, its me. I became too involved - I didn't guard myself against it...against...love," She forced it out in a hiss. "I didn't think I would find it outside the Tower,"
Morgase frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Ah, Morgase, haven't you worked it out yet?" Elaida sounded impatient. "The Tower knows about these types of...relationships,"
"Not everyone. Most. At least once," Elaida sighed. "I left to come here,"
"Oh," Morgase was suddenly awkward and guilty.
"She was nothing like you, you know," Elaida continued quietly. "She was dark - dark hair, dark eyes and pale skin. Before I met you, I thought I had a 'type'," She laughed softly.
Morgase managed a weak laugh in response. "Well, I thought I only liked men,"
Elaida looked up and smiled, gently touching her knee. "You should try to like them. It's lonely if you don't,"
"I suppose it is," Morgase replied, brushing back hair from Elaida's eyes.
Morgase rolled away from Elaida, holding her dressing gown closed with one hand. She got to her feet, realising the Aes Sedai had not moved. She turned, puzzled, towering over Elaida's crouched form.
She was wiping away tears.
Morgase didn't know what to do. She stood, helpless, one hand half-raised. "Elaida - "
"Don't say anything more, Morgase. I understand. I know. You don't have to repeat yourself," This time, Elaida struggled to her feet, face turned slightly away.
"I know how you feel, I honestly do," Morgase said, with a hint of desperation in her voice. She already felt Elaida pulling from her, distancing herself, making the strange closeness they had formed since Elaida had taken up the position of advisor impossible to re-attain. She had been surprised they had been able to form any sort of closeness - when Morgase first laid eyes on Elaida, she was sure the Aes Sedai would be an impossible ice-sculpture. "I know loneliness-"
Elaida's bitter laugh cut Morgase off. "Loneliness? Loneliness? You know nothing of loneliness, Morgase, nothing."
Morgase was stunned at the venom in her voice. Even after all of this, she was surprised that the Aes Sedai could feel such emotions. "I wouldn't quite say that,"
Elaida snorted. "Thank the light you're not an Aes Sedai - thank the light," Morgase didn't say anything. She just stared bleakly at Elaida.
The energy seemed to die from her. She tugged awkwardly on the sleeve of her dress. "I'm sorry,"
"It's just..." Elaida shrugged. "I'm sorry," She repeated.
"Well," Elaida drew in an explosive breath. "Well...I'll go, shall I? Yes, that would be a good idea. I need to write...things," She turned her back and started across the room, leaving her knitting.
"Yes?" She paused at the door, not looking around.
"Had the circumstances been different...you know,"
Elaida's shoulders shook. "Yes," She said in a strangled tone, opening the door and glancing back. "Yes, I know...goodbye, Morgase,"
She clicked the door shut after her.
Morgase stared at the shut door for a long moment, before sitting heavily in Elaida's chair, gently running her forefinger over the Aes Sedai's knitting.