Authors Note: Slightly-but-not-quite related to ‘Reflections’.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Wheel of Time.
’Specially for you, Marie.
I am still not completely sure when I began to suspect it was more than hatred. Hatred, I have heard the White Sisters say, is but a threads difference from love. I think it was that time when she came to ‘help’ us with the Accepted’s test.
During that time, I was completely convinced she hated us. I thought she was bitterly sadistic – someone who did not deserve the Shawl. It was when I tore my gaze from Siuan to glance at her face that I got the vaguest idea of the truth. Utter enjoyment – pleasure. Her face had softened and she was smiling...tenderly.
At that moment, it froze my blood. It was not until later, when Siuan’s arms where wrapped around me and her face was buried in my hair, that I thought briefly about Elaida Sedai. Maybe she was in favour of tough love. It was an amusing, fleeting thought. It *was* amusing...to think that Elaida Sedai felt anything other than hatred? Sometimes I thought that all the Aes Sedai in the Tower where blind. They thought Siuan and I where Elaida’s pets...we where the dogs that where kicked too much and left out in the rain.
I went to sleep and thought of her no more until the next morning, when she healed us. Again, I was disturbed. I could have sworn I seen her gaze flicker ever-so-briefly over my naked form and the barest smile curl her lips, before it was gone.
Siuan did not notice anything. She grumbled to me. “Bloody blood and bloody ashes!” She swore softly, as soon as Elaida let the door shut behind her. “Who does that bloody woman think she is?”
I did not answer. Partly because Siuan chose that moment to kiss me.
The Accepted Quarter’s are full of Pillow Friends. There are some who just share the same bed and whisper secrets to each other at night...first stage Pillow Friends, they’re called with fond amusement. And up the scale they go until they reach lovers. When I left Siuan’s that morning, I could see the ever-amorous Leane kissing a scandalized Tairen. The Tairen’s dark eyes where flickering as if she was horribly embarrassed, while Leane chuckled and continued to kiss her lover’s neck.
It was awhile later that I discovered Elaida’s secret. Siuan and I had finished copying names for the evening and thought we where all alone. Siuan was running her hands up and down my sides, muttering into my ear. Something about a bath, I believe. Her lips trailed across my jaw to my ear and her hands began to work at the buttons at my back.
“We can’t...” I muttered to her. “Anyone could walk in...”
A wicked chuckled was all I got in reply. Her hands continued to undo the buttons and, in truth, I offered very little resistance. In fact, I could have sworn my own hands where drawn to the buttons that ran down her back.
A soft cough interrupted us. We leapt apart, spinning to confront the person that disturbed us.
A very amused Mistress of the Novices stood watching us. I flushed, as did Siuan. “Mistress...” She choked, hands frantically working at her back in an attempt to restore her decency. Her dress had fallen away and left very little to the imagination. I was no better, needless to say.
“Siuan, Moiraine,” Merean smiled genially, in a highly amused fashion. Aes Sedai know, of course, about the pillow friendships that go on between Accepted and Novices of the White Tower. It goes on with some Aes Sedai too. I once heard an Eirana Sedai remark that all Aes Sedai have at one point found comfort and solace in the arms of another sister.
When we had returned ourselves to propriety, Merean informed us of why she had...interrupted us. “I want you to deliver messages for me,” She said. “All the clerks are in bed for the night – do you know how late it is, children? You’ve been here over twelve hours – and really I couldn’t ask a clerk to run these messages. Terribly snippy people,” She said this still wearing that oh-so-amused smile. “Siuan, deliver this to a Lyrana Sedai, would you? And Moiraine, deliver this to Elaida Sedai,” She handed me over a piece of parchment, sealed with her serpent ring. “Then you may return to your...activities. Siuan, didn’t you say something about a bath?”
Siuan, whose face was returning to the normal colour, blushed again as she accepted her own parchment.
Merean bundled us out of the room and closed the door after us, making sure Siuan and I went in the opposite directions.
The Red Ajah’s Quarters where quiet, only the gentle murmuring of sisters audible. The Red Ajah was the Ajah that the kissing from the Accepted Quarters went on. I had seen a dark haired Aes Sedai leading a fair haired Aes Sedai into her rooms by the hand. The fair haired one had seemed tentative, uncertain of herself. The dark haired one laughed softly and leaned into her companion, whispering something that made her friend blush, but laugh quietly at the same time. The dark haired one planted a kiss on the fair haired one’s cheek and smiled.
They did not notice me, even though I passed within an inch from them, brushing past them. I did not think they would have noticed had the Amyrlin Seat herself walked past.
I tentatively knocked Elaida Sedai’s door. There was no reply.
I stood, uncertain of what to do. Yet I could see light creeping from underneath the doorway. She was inside. Where else would she be? I knocked again.
Again there was no reply. After a moment’s hesitation, I opened the door and stepped inside. The room was scrupulously neat. Nothing less than I would have expected from Elaida. What surprised me was the decanter of wine that stood opened on a table and the half drunk glass beside it. I did not pin Elaida for a drinker.
“Elaida Sedai?” I called.
I didn’t get a reply. I let my gaze trail around the room, absently running my hand along the back of a chair. Red satin, of course.
“Elaida Sedai?” I tried again.
That time there was a reply. A soft cry. I stopped and listened. It was coming from the door that led off the main rooms. I strode forward and opened the door into what was another sitting room and the cry was louder now. I crossed the room and opened the door opposite the one I had come through.
Then stopped dead.
Elaida was leaning against the far wall, hair hanging in tendrils about her face, body faintly veiled in sweat, dressing gown hanging open. There were no lamps lit in the room and no curtains drawn. The moon bathed her body in light and I could clearly see her hands, working frantically at her crotch...
I choked. Her head snapped up to stare at me. Her eyes widened as I gazed back at her. A strange half-cry wrung its way from her mouth. How very alike, I thought to myself, the cries of love are to those of the dying.
Then I turned away, too embarrassed to say or do anything except let her breathe raggedly as she tugged on her dressing gown. I stepped back into the sitting room next to her bedchamber and she followed me. I was acutely aware that she wore nothing under that gown of shimmering material and was exceptionally aware of her proximity.
“Wine?” She asked me.
“Wine,” She stood in the centre of the room. “Do you want wine?”
“Take it. You look like you need it,” She went to a side board and produced another decanter and two cups. She poured the dark orange liquid and handed me a cup. She took the other and we both sipped. “It’s good,” I commented, unable to fathom anything relevant to say.
“It is, isn’t it?” She said, not looking at me, taking a seat the farthest away she could manage, at the window. “From Arafel,”
“I didn’t know the Arafellins made wine,” I responded, still burning with shock and embarrassment.
“They do,” We where silent for a moment, each nursing our own wine and humiliation. “Moiraine,” She began after a moment and it was the first time I noticed that almost purring-like quality to the timbre of her voice. I did not like noticing that. “What you seen –”
“Was none of my business,” I interrupted.
She smiled, her hair falling in front of her face and fingers tracing a pattern on the glass. Long, delicate fingers that a moment before had been doing something quite different...I looked away quickly. “Yes...but I would like to explain to you...I am quite...lonely...” She was struggling with words. “Quite lonely, yes. And I...since I lost my lover...have had to look for comfort elsewhere,” She laughed. “I am not the most attractive woman –”
“You’re nice looking,” I interjected, instantly regretting my words as she gave me a profoundly speculative look.
“Yes...well, I have had to find comfort within myself, you understand,” She looked away from me and I thought she was about to cry. As strange as it sounds, I did not want to see Elaida Sedai – the woman who I thought could withstand all the bleakness of Shayol Ghul – cry.
I stepped forward and awkwardly patted her shoulder. She glanced around at me, eyes burning, and I was shocked to see the desire there.
“All Aes Sedai have such longings,” Was all she whispered softly.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. I was staring down at her. She was staring up at me. I thought of Siuan. Siuan Sanche, who loved me. Siuan who would do anything for me.
All thoughts of Siuan where banished when she leaned up and kissed me. At first it was quick and chaste and when I didn’t immediately pull away or declare my disgust, she kissed me more lingeringly but just as tentatively. She looked so pleading, so wretched, so desperate for me not to reject her...
And then I kissed her.
My pity made me do it. My guilt over Siuan seemed very small compared with the intoxication of both the wine and the knowledge of being wanted and needed.
Her mouth tasted like the wine and I got the impression she had drunk quite a bit before I had arrived. The message I was supposed to give her dropped from my hand as both of them became entangled in her hair. She was making soft noises into my mouth, gently caressing my cheek with one hand and running her other through my hair, which had become unbound.
When we broke apart, her eyes had darkened and she was looking at me with a new-found passion. Siuan had always wanted me and loved me. But she had never needed me like this before.
Slowly, she got to her feet and, with shaking hands; I began to undo the sash of her robe. It fell away from her and I was trembling. I had never been with anyone but Siuan. I knew how to please Siuan. I was in unknown territory with Elaida. A fear of failure almost overwhelmed me.
She seemed so much smaller naked that I would have thought. So much less fierce and much more vulnerable. I swallowed hard as she guided my hands to her breasts. She had begun undoing the buttons of my Accepted’s dress, pushing the fabric away so that it lay in a pool about my feet.
Elaida was a demanding lover and much more nimble than Siuan. She was more experienced, I realised as I lay below her. Making love is an acquired talent...much like channelling saidar. The more you do of it, the better you become. Her nails left dark bruises on my shoulders and I had a bite mark on the inside of my thigh.
It was very late when I lay half on top of her on the floor of the sitting room, before the fire that was glowing embers now. She was propped up on one elbow, inattentively tracing my cheek. I was silent. When she began to trace my lips, I absently kissed her fingers. She laughed softly and I felt her throat vibrating against my ear.
“You understand you can tell no one of what happened?” Elaida said quietly. It was a profoundly intimate moment. “Merean would have me digging turnips on a farm before I could even defend myself,”
“I understand,” I replied drowsily.
“Sleep,” She murmured. “You’re tired,”
“No...Siuan will be waiting for me,” I felt a pang of guilt. I had left Siuan over five hours ago and indulged with Elaida.
She paused. “Do you love Siuan?”
“Yes,” I answered sincerely.
She smiled rather sadly at me and then kissed my brow tenderly. “You’d had better go, then,”
I got up and picked my dress up from the floor, hurriedly smoothing out the wrinkles with saidar and slipped it on. I paused at the doorway, somehow feeling that I should say something to her. “There’s a message for you...somewhere...” I pointed absently around the room. I was not too sure where the letter had ended up.
“I’ll find it,” She slowly pulled herself up. I gazed at her perfectly nude body. “Is there something else?” I almost cringed at the hope in her voice.
“I...Siuan...I do not think this should happen again...”
She briefly hesitated, not quite looking at me. “I see,”
I nodded. “Good night, Elaida,”
“Good night, Moiraine,”
I left her and made my way through the silent corridors of the White Tower. What would I tell Siuan? Different – equally awful – scenarios ran through my head.
She was waiting for me like I predicted she would. She was lying on my bed, asleep, dark hair tousled.
I came and sat beside her, gently shaking her awake. She stirred and glanced at me. “Where have you –?”
“Shush,” I whispered softly, touching her lips with one finger. She stared at me in surprise, sitting up and stretching. She looked patiently at me for an explanation. “Do you know I love you?”
“Of course I do,” She replied, slightly uneasy. “I love you too,”
“Mm,” I touched her hair fondly. “I would never do anything intentionally to harm you,”
“I know...” Her eyes where wide and worried. “Why?”
“I comforted Elaida,”
“Why would you...” She trailed off and her eyes went flat. “No,”
“I am sorry, Siuan,”
“No...how could you...with her!” Siuan’s eyes where flinty and she was gripping the covers of my bed with white-knuckled fists. “You...I would never have...”
“Sorry? Just ‘sorry’?” Her mouth was twisting around the words distastefully, as if she still could not believe it. “This...this is unforgivable...”
“She was so miserable and lonely, Siuan,” I replied. “You would have understood had you seen her,”
Siuan did something then that I would never have expected her to do. She hit me. She swung back her fist and hit me so hard my head snapped back and hit the wall. I cried out.
A moment later, I realised Siuan was touching my face with a handkerchief, dabbing at my nose and lip which she had been successful in making bleed. The torso of my dress was covered in a dark crimson liquid and I was whimpering in pain.
“You make me so angry, Moiraine Damodred,” She breathed. “Burn you; you make me so angry,”
I absently touched my lip and was rewarded with a sharp burst of pain.
“Don’t do that!” Siuan snapped, gripped my wrist.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured thickly.
“For what? Touching the lip or sleeping with Elaida?”
“Both,” I muttered. She was being strangely gentle. “Why are you being so kindly to me? I thought you’d be kicking me,”
Siuan didn’t answer a moment, just continuing dabbing at my lip. “Because,” She eventually answered. “As much as I am angry with you at the minute for doing that...with her...I love you. Burn you for making me love you,” she dabbed suddenly rather fiercely.
“You have such a low pain threshold,” She said with wry amusement.
“You don’t know how hard you can hit,” I replied with a smile.
Uncertainly, she leaned over and kissed me. It was very much like the first kiss we had ever shared – an unsure, fumbling kiss. I attempted to kiss her back but moaned instead. “Don’t be a wool head,” She said fondly. She began to stroke my cheek, eyes still guarded but returning to normal.
I leaned against her, resting my head contently on her shoulder.