A Matter of State

Chapter Three

Disclaimer: I don't own the Wheel of Time.

A/N: The last chapter and Eirana can be found in some of my other stories, most notably 'Reflections'.

Dedication: Rare I ever do a dedication. For Helen, who made the right decision in the end too.

~

Morgase's eyes were blazing as she stalked around the room, taking in the elaborate decorations with a sweep of her eyes. The decorations seemed cold and insulting now - now that they had lost Elayne. She was alone, alone to chew over her words and actions.

The White Tower, the Aes-bloody-Sedai, burn them all. She took a deep breath, attempting to calm down. Getting angry was not going to help herself or Elayne. All the same...all the same...

A tentative knock sounded at the door.

"Come!" Morgase barked, spinning on her heels to face the door.

Elaida poked her head around the door, before slipping inside. "Good afternoon, Morgase," She said smoothly, closing the door behind her.

"Afternoon," Morgase sneered. "Afternoon,"

Elaida didn't comment on her tone. "The Amyrlin Seat will see you this evening,"

"This evening?" Morgase spat the word. "Why not now?"

"The Amyrlin has other business to attend to -

"But what about my daughter?"

"Your daughter will be found," Elaida regarded Morgase coolly. "I assure you, Elayne will be found if I have to do it myself,"

That halted Morgase briefly. She touched a thoughtful finger to her lip. "I didn't think you cared for Elayne that much,"

"I don't," Elaida said shortly.

Morgase's eyebrows lifted. She had not expected such a blunt reply. "...then why?"

"She's the Daughter-Heir of Andor. The only Queen to be an Aes Sedai in too long a time," Elaida said softly. "That's why I care. All for the White Tower, even if her tastes are not my own," Elaida paused delicately. "And she's your daughter, I suppose,"

Morgase felt a stab of guilt. "Yes...yes...of course,"

"The Amyrlin doesn't care for Elayne the way I do," Elaida continued in a low tone. "She will use Elayne as all the past Amyrlins have used Andor. I would not hurt Elayne...though it may appear otherwise,"

Morgase sighed. "It's...it's frustrating, Elaida,"

"Yes, I know," Elaida's voice was still quiet, still melodious and understanding.

Morgase hesitated. Hesitated only briefly, before coming forward and drawing Elaida into a tentative hug. To her horror, she felt tears in her eyes, and hurriedly pressed her forehead into Elaida's shoulder. It did little good, as the tears fell and Elaida gently stroked her back. "Who was that woman I saw you with earlier?" Morgase asked suddenly, surprising both herself and Elaida.

"Oh...you saw that?" Elaida's voice was tinged with embarrassment. "That...that was Eirana,"

"Who?"

"I told you about her, years ago...you probably don't remember,"

"I was ill,"

"Ah...yes, yes, you were ill," Elaida sounded awkward now. They had never spoken about that. "Well...that was her,"

"She seemed nice,"

"Nice...nice...that's not a word I would use to describe Eirana," Elaida sounded amused in spite of herself.

Morgase drew back and gazed up at Elaida. "Then why do you stay with her?"

Elaida looked perplexed for a moment, as if she had never thought about the question. "Because I love her, I suppose,"

Morgase was stunned. She had heard Elaida comment on love only once before. "I see," She said tightly. Light, she was jealous. In Andor, Morgase knew Elaida's eyes were always fixed squarely on her. It had made Morgase...happy. Pleased to know that someone saw her as a woman, as something to be desired, even if it was another woman. In the White Tower...burn Eirana, burn her to the pit of doom.

"Yes," Elaida agreed mildly. "She's...special to me,"

"How so?" Morgase was ashamed at how sharp her voice was.

"Because she's...Eirana," Elaida sounded lost, as though she couldn't quite explain it. "She's always been there,"

"I see," Morgase repeated. "Indeed, I see,"

"Why?"

Morgase shrugged. "I can inquire, can't I?"

"I suppose so," Elaida was examining her through half-closed eyes.

"Yes, well," Morgase drew fully away from Elaida now, turning her back. "You say the Amyrlin -

Abruptly she broke off, turning back. Elaida had caught her wrist and held it in a loose grip Morgase could seem to - or didn't want to - break. Morgase stared at it for a moment, and then raised her eyes to Elaida's face. "What?" Now Morgase's voice was low.

Elaida took half a step forward. "I told you...I told you a long time ago these relationships were accepted in the White Tower," She said throatily. "I told you,"

"Yes, I know, I have no objections to you and this Eirana -

Morgase gasped as Elaida bent her head quickly, as though intending to cut off Eirana's name specifically, and pressed her lips to Morgase's. It wasn't a sensual kiss, just the pressure of firmly clenched lips pressed to another set of the same kind. Morgase stared at Elaida as though she had never seen her before...indeed, it was as if she hadn't seen her before. Elaida's eyes were hungry and desperate, though her face was calm.

"I don't understand," Morgase finally said. "I don't understand...you have Eirana,"

"What's Eirana to you?" Elaida sounded quietly despairingly. "What's anyone to you, Morgase? I love Eirana, yes, I've loved her for years, for years, but...but...I love you more,"

"Don't talk nonsense," Morgase said shakily.

"I'm not, burn you," Elaida replied. "I'm not," She inched forward again and grabbed Morgase's elbows. "You think Eirana does not love anyone else? She did love someone, though she couldn't see it, even when the girl loved Eirana, still Eirana couldn't see it. She...does not like to loose things. And she lost me. That lost her the girl's love, lost her everything. She's...half what she was, Eirana, so changed and so different I barely recognise her,"

Morgase just stared. "But we can't, even if Eirana...I already said..." Elaida pressed a gentle finger to her lips, halting the flow of words.

"I already told you," Elaida whispered. "These types of relationships are accepted in the Tower,"

"But only in the Tower..."

"Only in the Tower," Elaida agreed. "That's why I was sent here, you know, to be tested...my father found in bed with a serving girl," Morgase giggled, something she hadn't done in years. She hadn't had time. "So one would almost say the Tower is were a relationship is formed and were a relationship must stay,"

That took away her laughter. She bit her lip, contemplating. "If anyone finds out -

"They wont," Elaida assured her, in a voice that made Morgase want to trust her with her soul, as she leaned over and planted a kiss just below Morgase's eyes, were the tear-tracks were drying. "They won't, darling,"

Morgase was very aware of how loud her breathing was. Elaida was so close she could smell the faint perfume she wore - odd how she never noticed that before, Morgase thought. Slowly, very slowly, Morgase leaned up and kissed

Elaida, hardly surprised when the taller woman pulled her closer, slipping her arms around Morgase's waist.

Elaida took the lead, right from the start, giving Morgase short. Morgase half-gasped when the kisses started on her neck, quicker now and Morgase entwined her arms about Elaida's neck.

~~~

Morgase awoke later and wondered where she was. It was quiet and dark and Morgase found herself beginning to doze gently, a small smile playing on her face, as Elaida shifted beside her, pressing her face into Morgase's bare shoulder, one arm loosely slung around her shoulders.

A clock chimed in the other room.

"Its late," Morgase muttered. "I have to go to the Amyrlin,"

"Don't, not yet, you still have time..." Elaida replied drowsily, kissing Morgase's ear.

Morgase didn't reply, just gripped Elaida's hand, examining the great serpent ring that she wore on her middle finger. She flushed as memories played in her mind, of what these hands were capable of. She spun the ring; smiling, surprised that it was loose on Elaida's finger.

"Its forever slipping off," Elaida said suddenly.

Morgase glanced behind her. Elaida was propped up on one elbow, hair hanging haphazardly about her face, smiling softly. "I'm surprised," Was all Morgase replied, turning so they were face to face, still playing with the ring. "I thought it would be wedged on firmly. Mine is,"

"Not mine," Elaida replied. "Merean Sedai had me running all over the Tower searching for it when I was an Accepted, because I came to her in tears to say I had lost it - the day after I received it," She chuckled at the memory.

"Merean?"

"She was Mistress of the Novices - before your time. I keep forgetting how much older I am than you," Elaida said.

Morgase felt a small flush of pleasure that Elaida trusted her enough to speak of age. "Yes...but you'll outlive me by decades,"

A flash of pain crossed Elaida's face. Morgase quickly realised her error. "Ah...I'm sorry, Elaida, I am sorry, I didn't think..."

"It's alright," Elaida looked down for a moment. "It's true, isn't it?"

"I suppose," Morgase said, then in a lighter tone. "I find it difficult to believe that you're sixty-"

"Seventy," Elaida corrected ruefully. "That was years ago, remember, Morgase, seventy-eight now,"

"Seventy-eight," Morgase said wonderingly, staring at Elaida's smooth, ageless features, and her young body, with not a wrinkle in sight. "I certainly hope I look like you when I'm seventy-eight. If I even get to seventy-eight,"

"Oh, you'll get there, my darling, you'll get there," Elaida cut in softly, putting an end to the banter. "You'll live to see your grandchildren,"

"How do you know?"

Elaida gave her a deadpan look. "I'm Aes Sedai,"

Morgase laughed. "Indeed, you're Aes Sedai," She hesitated, as Elaida began to kiss her brow. "But I wont have any grandchildren if I don't find my daughter,"

Elaida drew back. "And your sons, don't forget your sons," She smiled. "Though I can take the hint. It's time to visit Siuan Sanche, isn't it?"

"Are you coming with me?" Morgase hoped Elaida would.

"Naturally," Elaida replied. "So the Amyrlin Seat and I can bully you together,"

Morgase laughed again as she slipped out of bed, padding across the floor to were her dress had been discarded. "I remember. It was always Sanche on one side of me and you on the other, talking over my head like I was a fool and then badgering me with arguments you had obviously prepared," She glanced towards the bed, were Elaida was stretching out like a cat. Morgase admired her for a moment, and then frowned at the dress. "I'm going to have to call a serving woman to help me dress," She said regretfully, unwilling to break up the intimateness of the situation.

"I'll help you," Elaida replied, coming up behind her.

Morgase flushed. "Well...if you want..."

"Oh, I do,"

Elaida's hands were quick as they fastened the buttons up Morgase's back, and gentle, not rough like the servants Morgase was used to. "If you ever get tired of being an Aes Sedai, you can be my personal body servant,"

Elaida laughed. "I'd like that,"

Morgase was almost disappointed she couldn't help Elaida dress, who assured Morgase that she had been dressing by herself for years.

They left the rooms together, as the clock chimed a second time. "'Don't go, no yet, you still have time'," Morgase said in a gentle mocking voice as they quickened their pace towards the Amyrlin's office. Not even the Queen of Andor kept the Amyrlin Seat waiting.

Elaida smiled, though her face froze. Morgase glanced up the corridor. Eirana was standing under one of the lanterns, frowning disapprovingly at them. "You came this way six hours ago," She accused as soon as they were within earshot.

Morgase stared at the Aes Sedai. This Aes Sedai made no pretence of being cool and collected. Rage played on her face as she stared between the two of them.

It was Elaida who was pretending. Her face had clicked into the impassiveness Aes Sedai were famed for. "Can I not visit the Queen of Andor if I wish? I am her advisor, after all,"

"Of course. But why would you feel the need to stay for six hours? You only needed to tell her the time of her appointment with the Amyrlin. In six hours, you could have done many things. Twice," Her eyes glittered maliciously and Morgase suddenly felt uneasy, whereas before she had felt irritated.

"You are Eirana Sedai?" She broke in suddenly. "Elaida has told me of you,"

"Has she?" Eirana turned her gaze, still burning, to Elaida. "Has she told you everything?"

Fright appeared on Elaida's face. "No, no, not everything...please, Eirana, don't,"

Morgase was taken aback. Fright was something she had never associated with Elaida.

Eirana didn't say anything for a long moment, just stared at Elaida, chewing her lower lip. Eirana was smaller than Elaida, just slightly, enough for Morgase to notice. She darted forward and Morgase thought she was going to strike Elaida...but she didn't. She caught Elaida's cheek and kissed her briefly, a quick brushing of the lips, and leaned her forehead against Elaida's for what seemed half a second.

Then she had backed away, smiling mockingly at Morgase. "Burn you, Morgase Trakand," Then she had turned and was stalking away, every step it seemed quickening, until she disappeared around the corner. Morgase watched her, and then glanced back at Elaida, who had one finger raised to her lips, looking wondering.

"I can't believe she followed you," Morgase said finally.

Elaida's tongue reached out to touch her lips, as she rubbed her forefinger against her thumb. It was, Morgase realised dimly, as though she was savouring the taste of Eirana. Morgase felt awkward, as though she was the third party in a marriage. "Shall we continue on?" Elaida asked quietly, as though intent upon ignoring Eirana's presence.

They walked the rest of the way in silence, Elaida looking troubled. Morgase felt her own mood darkening with every step.

The Keeper, Leane, looked up when they entered the anteroom outside the Amyrlin's office. She pushed back in her chair. "Elaida Sedai, Your Majesty," Somehow it seemed she said 'Sedai' with more respect than 'Your Majesty'. That irritated Morgase. "The Amyrlin is expecting you,"

Morgase refrained from a snappy retort, simply nodded as Elaida replied, "Thank you, Keeper,"

Leane got up and led then to the door, knocking and pushing it open.

Siuan Sanche did not get up when they entered. Leane took up a position near the window, while Elaida swept forward and kissed the Amyrlin's ring. "Mother," she said softly.

"Welcome back, daughter," The Amyrlin responded, motioning her to a seat.

Morgase came forward next, pointedly not bending to kiss the Amyrlin's ring. The Tairen's eyebrows raised a fraction, before she quickly lowered her hand, as though she had not expected Morgase to kiss it at all.

"Where is Elayne?" Morgase asked coldly.

She heard Elaida shift and Leane mutter something she couldn't quite make out.

The Amyrlin's face did not flicker. "I don't know," She responded slowly.

"You-don't-know?" Morgase bit off every word. "How can you not know?"

"There was another incident that night, Morgase,"

"Something more important than the Daughter-Heir running away?"

"Much, much more important," The Amyrlin's voice was very low now. "The world does not revolve around Andor, Morgase, as much as you would like to believe it does,"

Morgase felt like she had been slapped. She merely stared at the Amyrlin. "She must be found,"

"Of course. She will be," She sounded quietly confident. "She is not alone. Egwene al'Vere and Nynaeve al'Meara ran away with her,"

"Much use their names are to me,"

"They must be returned to the Tower," Now the Amyrlin's voice had taken on an edge. "They must be returned. If you come across them by some chance before I do, I demand you send then back to me,"

"Certainly. I have no use for them," Morgase replied. "But Elayne must be returned to Caemlyn if you find her first. I demand it,"

"That would not be wise," Morgase opened her mouth to argue, but the Amyrlin drowned her out. "Elayne is very powerful. It wouldn't do if she were to die because she had not the proper training,"

Morgase bit her tongue. For a moment, all eyes in the room were on her. "Very well," She said icily. "Very well indeed - a little longer, just a little. She has no need to be Aes Sedai. It would be a hindrance rather than a help in the end, anyway, no one trusts an Aes Sedai," She could feel the disapproval radiating from Siuan Sanche. She had said it on purpose, a small spite. "And my sons shall be leaving with me,"

The Amyrlin didn't look remotely surprised or annoyed. "If you wish,"

Ah. The Princes weren't quite so important. "And only a little longer, I said," Morgase repeated. "Elayne will stay a little longer,"

"What if she wishes otherwise?"

"Then you will send her back whether you like it or not," Her tone was unacceptable, she knew, and she didn't care.

"I'm afraid I can't do that," The Amyrlin spread her hands. "I can't force the child to leave...not if she is strong and wants to learn,"

Morgase felt anger boil inside her. "But I -

"Really, Morgase, inside the Tower you can't demand off me. Please think logically about this," Siuan sat back, as though this was all she had to say to win Morgase over.

"I don't need the Tower," The words came out, a torrent of anger. "Burn this; I do not need you,"

Siuan's eyebrow rose in a highly amused fashion.

"I don't need you. And I certainly don't need you to tell me how to govern Andor," Morgase's voice was high and angry. "Elaida...Elaida Sedai shall not return with me to Andor,"

She had the satisfaction of seeing the Amyrlin's eyes widen before the guilt set in. She felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. Without Elaida...she pointedly did not look around at the Aes Sedai's face. It had been said in anger, a moment of madness, instantly regretted...yet she couldn't relent now. She couldn't show weakness in front of the insufferable Siuan Sanche, burn her. All anger was gone, replaced by a cold reality.

"But Morgase -"

"No!" Morgase responded, feeling as though she were suffocating. "You know my terms, Siuan Sanche,"

Leane gasped.

"You know my terms and you will abide by them,"

The Amyrlin's face was tight with anger. She said nothing, just stared at Morgase as though seeing her clearly for the first time. Finally, "We shall speak more tomorrow,"

"If you wish, though I do not see what about," Morgase turned and looked appealingly at Elaida, a thousand apologies in her glance. Elaida's face was bleak with shock and betrayal and she didn't acknowledge the look as Morgase passed her chair.

Morgase left alone, walking down the corridor feeling tired.

"Morgase!"

Morgase felt relief as she spun. Elaida was following her, walking quickly to keep up. They met under a lantern.

"Thank the light," Morgase said, smiling. "Thank the light you understood,"

Elaida was not smiling. "Understand? Yes, I think I understand you more now than I have done for the past twenty years,"

The smile was wiped off Morgase's face.

"You used me," Elaida's voice was riddled with hurt. "You used me, Morgase, after everything...you used me as a pawn in your game to strike a blow against the Tower. I'm so worthless I can be tossed aside like I'm nothing,"

"No, that's not -

"Yes it is," Elaida replied coldly, her face half-obscured by shadow. "I thought...I thought...there was something...,"

"There is -"

"Don't lie," Elaida said shortly. "Eirana told me this would end in tears. If she's anything, she is observant. I am hurt and its my own fault, like it always is,"

Morgase said nothing, just stared helplessly at the Aes Sedai. "Please don't think that. Please,"

Elaida laughed quietly. "And what am I supposed to think? Goodbye, Morgase, and good luck. I hope your daughter is found," Elaida turned and Morgase half reached out to grip her elbow, but stopped.

Elaida disappeared into the shadows and Morgase alone, standing beneath the lantern.

~

~ The End

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