Chapter 4– The Keeper

Reflections

Authors Note: The last chapter in the Reflections...thing. Moreover, the time line is slightly off, I think.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Wheel of Time

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I awoke to the sound of smashing glass. Alarmed, I sat up in bed. Glancing to my right, I noted that Elaida was gone. Oh, yes, of course. Alviarin had come in a moment ago – or a while ago, I couldn’t remember correctly – to tell her of some nonsense that I was half-asleep when I listened to it. Covarla so-and-so had returned from Cairhien. Elaida had seemed agitated about that – or at least I thought she was. Hard to tell with half closed eyes.

I heard a shriek of fury. And another, louder crash.

That wasn’t normal. I flung back the bedclothes, not bothering to dress or even sling a robe over my shoulders, hurrying to the doorway, only to gasp in amazement. Elaida stood in the centre of the room, back to me, dressed in a fine silken robe, staring at the tapestry that was now covered in liquid stains and shards of glass clinging to it, more scattered about the floor. She seemed to be examining her hands, running a finger along the bruise on her palm that she had given herself earlier, in another rage, breaking her delicate fish ornament in the process.

I wetted dry lips, uncertain. Elaida’s temper had been erratic for the past weeks, for vague reasons that I really had no interest in. What did I care that was going on in the Hall, as long as I slept with Elaida every night? That seven-striped (or six striped now) stole was just one more item of clothing I had to remove every night.

A soft chuckled escaped her throat and I spoke softly: “What’s going on?”

Elaida merely looked around at me, a smile dropping from her face. “How long have you been there?” She demanded, her voice harsh.

I raised one eyebrow coolly. She might have been the Amyrlin Seat, but that voice could not scare me off or make me quiver. “Since I heard you destroy that pitcher,” I nodded towards the tapestry.

Elaida seemed to relax slightly. She nodded. “Go back to bed,” She commanded me absently, turning away. “I need to make preparations for tomorrow morning,”

I stiffened slightly. “What’s happening tomorrow?”

“Things,” she said shortly. I crossed my arms irritably. “That would be much more effective if you weren’t naked,” She commented, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

At least she wasn’t completely gone, yet. I came forward, began to stroke up and down her sides, and smiled appealingly up at her. “Are you coming back to bed? We are both awake...”

She chuckled quietly and kissed my forehead. For a moment, I thought she was going to relent and let me lead her back to bed, yet she pushed me away, reluctantly brushing her hands ever so briefly over my breasts. “Go back to bed,”

I frowned at her. Her eyes glittering flintily. “What did Alviarin say to you?” I asked curiously, reaching up to flick back her hair.

She jerked back from my touch, gripping my wrist with surprising strength, wincing when she put pressure on her bruise, yet she did not let go. “None of your concern,” She breathed. “Now leave me,”

I fought an upsurge of anger. I had tried to reign my temper in. I could get...unpredictable when angered. I was proud of myself. I just tightened my lips, shot her a scathing gaze, and strode back to bed.

The next morning, the argument was forgotten and I had Elaida pinned to her desk.

She was moaning into my hair, as I pushed up her skirt. One hand on her knee, I jerked upwards for a final kiss – roughly, raggedly, with her almost biting my tongue – before I ducked downwards.

My tongue darted out and she gasped, digging her nails into my scalp. She was trembling, face flushed.

“Hu-hum,” A low cough interrupted us.

I looked around irritably. Alviarin, as always. Woman must have walked in at least five times on us since Elaida was made Amyrlin. I thought it amusing that she almost always picked the moment when things where getting the most interesting – perhaps the straight-laced White Sister entertained fantasies of her own.

Elaida’s face still flushed though, as she slid off the desk, pushing her skirts down discreetly. I merely smiled at Alviarin, running my hand through my hair. “Was there something?”

Stiffly, she ignored me, giving a jerky curtsey to Elaida. “Mother,” she said brusquely.

“Hardly the proper tone,” I noted, flopping into one of the chairs that sat facing the Amyrlin’s desk. I loved provoking Alviarin – especially seeing as how she took it upon herself to act as if I did not exist.

She shot me a look of utter contempt. “Send your whore away, Mother,”

My eyebrows rose at her insolence, yet Elaida didn’t seem to be affected by it. She would not have addressed Siuan Sanche like that. “Jealous, Alvie?” I murmured softly. “Perhaps you want to get between my legs yourself,” I patted my lap welcomingly, spreading my legs slightly.

A small sneer lit up her face. “Perhaps if I were mad,”

“You’re not already?”

“Like I said, Mother; send your whore away. She can lick your legs later,”

“Oh, I do more than lick her legs,” I said mildly.

Elaida had grown steadily more crimson. “Leave us, Eirana,”

I glanced at her, surprised. She gave me a barely discreet nod. Sighing, I got to my feet and stalked past Alviarin, who shot me a look of triumph. I think she was duly shocked when I patted her behind and heard Elaida’s soft chuckle.

Feeling suitably successful, I left the room. It was still early morning yet and I was bored, wandering to and fro in the Tower. I knew very little of the Tower politics. I left that to Elaida to deal with – as much as I hate to deem Alviarin correct, she was right in one respect; I was Elaida’s whore. I did not care that much as long as I lay beside Elaida every night. Though I enjoyed Elaida caring so much. It was...enjoyable to rub the tension out of her shoulders.

It was late in the evening before I seen Elaida again. I was sitting at a table in her apartment, playing stones against myself – losing, apparently. She came home with a weak smile for me, looking pale and wan. “Good evening,” I said mildly, not taking my eyes from the board.

She came to stand beside me, watched me for a moment, and then sat in my lap. I looked at her, surprised. Elaida very rarely sat in my lap – even though she knew I enjoyed it. “What are you doing?” She murmured softly, laying her head on my shoulder.

“Playing stones,” I said, gesturing. It was an odd game we played. One of us would lure the other; it was never as simple as merely falling into bed together. “I’m losing,”

“Against yourself?”

“I know – I didn’t think it could be accomplished either,” I studied the board, intensely aware of her heat on my lap and against my body. I reached out a hand to move a piece, aware that it trembled slightly. “Tell me; was the business with Alviarin resolved?”

A strange tension filled her. She was not as fluid as she was a moment ago. “Oh, yes,” She said mildly.

“Mm...you didn’t break another one of your carvings, did you?”

“No,” She replied.

“Honestly, Elaida, you should tightened the leash on –”

“Lets not talk of Alviarin,” She said abruptly. “The Keeper spoiled one of our meetings today; don’t let her ruin another,”

I was bemused by this. “As you say,”

She watched me a moment longer, then said in a cajoling tone, “Is that game really that interesting?”

“Fascinating,” How the first oath let me say that is beyond me.

“As interesting as this?” She grasped my hand that had been hovering over the board and brought it to her breast. I smirked as I felt the fabric strain. “Or this?” Her voice was getting lower. Her hand guided mine to her bare thigh, her dress having been pulled up when I wasn’t looking.

I paused.

“Do you really have to consider, dearest?”

My hands found the back of her dress, practically wrenching the buttons away. I kissed her and pressed her backwards, climbing atop her. She smiled at me, running her tongue along her lower lip.

“Alviarin was right in one thing, though,” I said huskily.

“Oh?”

“I am your whore,”

Awhile later, when we lay in bed, the lights extinguished and blankets pulled up about us, I could have sworn I felt soft sobs shake Elaida’s body.

Later, I realised why Elaida felt the need for tears. Sitting comfortably in a chair in the Red Ajah Quarters, reading, I overheard a conversation between two Aes Sedai. One, I knew, Herimas, an Andoran, the other I did not, though she was evidently from the north – borderlands, if I was not mistaken.

“Look at this – madness,” Herimas hissed, passing a sheaf of parchment to the other one.

The borderlander accepted the parchment discreetly, scanning it and then whistled softly. “The world now knows that Rand al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn. The world knows that he is a man –”

“I didn’t say to read it aloud!” Herimas muttered, pressing a hand to the other woman’s wrist.

I glanced up at them, sitting on the other side of room. This place was almost a common room of sorts, a number of chairs (red, of course) seated in the intersection where the corridors of the Red Ajah Quarters met. My interest had been piqued. Yet I kept my eyes on my book, feigning both unhearing and being uninterested. I had noticed Sisters huddling in corners these past weeks, discussing ‘men who could channel’ or whatever. I had not taken much notice. The Red Ajah had found only a hand full of male channellers in the past decade – granted three at once – but surely these rumours of hundreds of men channeling where foolish?

“‘Granted the protection of the tower’,” The borderlander muttered. “Why, under the light, would Elaida sign something like this? This is madness. Al’Thor doesn’t need any of our protection. This will only infuriate him,”

“Yes, yes...but didn’t you hear? Covarla came back to the tower. With only twelve Aes Sedai. Twelve,” Herimas shuddered. “Bad times for the Tower now,”

I did not understand the significance of it. As I said, I had not been paying much attention. Abruptly, Herimas glanced around at me and her jaw tightened. She lowered her voice and muttered to the borderlander and they both moved off.

I shut the cover of my book with a snap. Everyone in the Tower knew who I was – or what I was. People calling her ‘mad’ in the hallways would not go down well with Elaida. Yet I pondered. Elaida was not stupid. She wouldn’t have come up with something like this off her own bat.

Slowly, I straightened my skirts and strode off, in the direction of the Amyrlin’s apartments. If I could aid Elaida, I would. Discord in the Tower at such a crucial point – when the last battle was coming (I knew enough to know that) – was not a good thing. On my way up the stairs – I detested all these steps up to her rooms, even though I knew she loved the view, in my opinion, it simply wasn’t worth it – I passed the Mistress of the Novices, Silviana, on the way down. She gave me a quick nod, before trudging on. I smirked. I knew Silviana’s reputation. Hard with the belt or the switch. She was also quite rough in bed, I recall.

I knocked the door to her room, to be greeted only with silence. I sighed impatiently and pushed open the door. Elaida would not give a penance to me. Yet there was no sign of her in the first room, only stalks of broken roses – blue, the rarest. For some reason, that unsettled me. Elaida loved those damnable roses, why would she be breaking them?

“Elaida?” I called.

“Eirana?” Her voice replied, from the bedroom.

I frowned again, yet quickly made my way across the room to the door. “I’m coming in,”

“No –” Her half-shriek was cut off by me flinging open the door. I took one- step inside and then stopped dead.

Elaida was seated on the bed, naked, tears running freely down her face, shift discarded on the floor, biting her lip. She raised her head to me and whimpered: “Leave me alone. Please,” She added as an afterthought.

I merely stared at her, numbed. “What’s going on?” I instinctively looked around for another lover. That was the only reason I could think of for her to be here, naked. Unless she was entertaining herself, which would not have made her cry.

Silviana. The name clicked with me. Silviana liked making her lovers cry. I flushed with fury and betrayal. “Silviana,” I muttered darkly. “You’ve been sleeping with Silviana,”

She looked blankly at me. “No, of course not,” She shifted and winced suddenly, closing her eyes in pain.

I thanked the light for the first oath. “Then, what –?” I gasped as she turned her back to me. Red welts ran the length and breadth of her back, red and some bleeding, dribbling down her in fine rivulets.

A small – very small – part of me liked it. A part of me ached tear my own nails down her back. I gritted my teeth, disgusted at myself, moving forward and sitting on her bed, gently touching the flesh. She cried out in agony, gripping the bed sheets.

“Hush, hush,” I whispered, kissing her gently on the neck. I embraced saidar and quickly wove weaves of Healing, pressing my hands to the back of her head. She went rigid, breath coming out in sharp gasps. Before my eyes, the wounds healed and their redness lessened. Yet I was not a Yellow Sister. I couldn’t completely Heal them. The sores remained, lessened, yet still there. When I released saidar, she fell limply back into my arms, face pale and wan, and sweat faintly making her dark hair damp. Tears still ran freely down her face and she sniffled, pressing her face into my breast. “I’m going to get Guendain,” I decided suddenly, moving to get up, yet she gripped me.

“No,” She muttered. “No, please don’t...”

I hesitated. “How did this happen?”

“Silviana,” she mumbled and I opened my mouth, ready to reassert my accusations of an affair. “No, no...a private penance...”

“A...what?” I frowned at her. “Sisters who take penances at every opportunity are fools, Elaida. Especially when there is no need,” I stroked her hair. “Why did you accept it?”

“I didn’t,” Tears fell with more intensity now and her voice quivered. “I didn’t! It was Alviarin,” She moaned as though the name caused her physical pain. “It was her! All her doing! Two weeks she was gone, Eirana, two weeks and I had hoped – prayed even – that she laid dead somewhere. Under a snow bank, somewhere cold with no one to mourn her,” She dissolved again into sobs that shook her body and I merely held her, thinking on her words.

“But...why?” I asked. “You’re the Amyrlin Seat. She’s just the Keeper,”

“A puppet Amyrlin,” She whispered. “I’m a puppet for her. By the Light, she’s holding a sword over my head. I’ve been so stupid!”

I waited for her to continue. After a few moments of stilling her sobs so there they where only whimpers, she spoke softly: “The disaster at Dumai’s Wells, the certain disaster at the Black Tower – the Asha’men,” She grimaced. “The rebels approaching, the rumours coming out of Cairhien, Covarla...light! It just gets worse! The Hall will depose me and still me! Still me! I suppose I deserve that, don’t I? I stilled Siuan Sanche...” She sighed. That regret still burned at her. “I hope they will let me leave,” she whispered. “I hope they don’t make me serve as a scullery maid. I would like just to crawl off and die decently like a stilled woman should –”

I hit her then. Not as hard as I once would have – a slap, almost – yet almost as hard as Silviana with that belt of hers. It was amazingly agile, as she was clasped to my breast.

She gasped and jerked out of my arms. Her eyes blazed. “What –?”

“You where babbling,” I told her, gently clasping her by the shoulders. I kissed her firmly and hugged her, so that she laid her head on my shoulder. I stared down at the red marks on her back, worried. Yet I kept my voice optimistic. “You will find a way out, I promise you,”

She made a non-committal sound in her throat.

I was there when Alviarin decided to return. Elaida, grimfaced, sat in her chair. I stood by the window, arms folded. I scowled at Alviarin when she entered. The serene Keeper flashed me the smallest of smirks. “Good day to you, Eirana,” she said, her tone slightly mocking.

“Alviarin,”

She glanced towards Elaida. “I see you don’t have Mother bent over her desk again,”

“No,” I said coldly.

Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinised me. She stepped very close, eyeing me up and down. “You know,” It was not a question. A fully-fledged smirk lit up her face.

“Yes,” I replied. “I do. And it’s pathetic,”

“Pathetic?” Her eyes glittered frostily. “And you are not, my dear? Whore to a woman who doesn’t love you, yet you love her and can’t tear yourself away from her? Never trying to better yourself, never hoping to be a sitter or research the One Power, living solely for her pleasure...isn’t that pathetic? Someone who would die inside if they couldn’t make her come at least once at day?”

My face was white. I was staring at her, mouth dry. No one – no one – had ever thrown that up in my face. Yet she continued.

“And what about that Accepted you slept with for years? Ishtara, wasn’t that her name?”

“How do you –?”

“I have my ways,” She was smiling unpleasantly. “You didn’t think everyone was unaware, did you? Did you think the eyes of the White Tower where blind? Oh, granted, no one in power knew about your little liaison. Merean would have skinned your hide,” She laughed harshly. “Yet a few knew, a few eyes and ears here and there,” Her eyes slid to Elaida, who looked on the verge of tears again. “Tell me; was she as good as Elaida? Did she taste as good?”

“Shut up!” I was trembling with fury. I took half a step forward. “Just shut up!”

“Touched a nerve, have I?” That smirk became a genuine smile. “Has Elaida told you everything?”

“Of course,” I said through clenched teeth.

“Everything?” I did not like that expression on her face. She turned suddenly to Elaida. “Repeat it,” She commanded.

Elaida shuddered. “I will do as I am told,” She muttered softly, staring at the tabletop.

“Louder!” Alviarin snapped. “Louder, like you’re shouting it in the Hall,”

“I will do as I am told,” Elaida said in a louder voice, a flat, resigned voice. “I will speak the words you tell me to speak and no more. I will sign what you tell me to sign and nothing else. I am obedient to your will,”

I gaped at her. I swung around, angrily, to Alviarin. “That’s sadistic!” I snarled. “That’s bloody sadistic!”

“You’re hypocritical today, Eirana,” Alviarin said coolly. “You where quite apt at sadism in your younger days,”

That left me fumbling for words. How did she know these things? Eyes and ears...they would not have known that. Not unless they had a peephole to my bedroom.

“Think, Eirana, think,” She patted my cheek. “I could have your dear Elaida here do anything. Anything,”

I licked my lips. “What would you have her do?” I said hoarsely.

“Well...she is quite attractive, isn’t she? In a severe kind of way, of course,” Alviarin murmured in a sultry tone. “She’d be a lovely notch up the bedpost for many people...I included. And I would not be a gentle as you where. Now or in the past,”

“You would not,” I said faintly. “You would not. I would kill you,”

“You’d kill me?” Alviarin snorted. “Should I be quaking in my boots?” I gripped my skirts with both hands to stop myself from hitting her. “Now. Leave us alone,” She made a dismissive gesture. “And speak one word of this to anyone and you know what I’ll do,”

I stood resolutely, unwilling to leave.

“Go, Eirana,” Elaida commanded quietly.

With ruffled dignity, I left.

That night, I fumed against Alviarin while I rubbed salve into Elaida’s wounds. That bluster was to cover the cringing. I was mortified to know that she knew Elaida didn’t love me. That she knew how I felt inside. She knew how desperate I was, how I clung to Elaida’s tenuous affection.

Later, when Elaida was curled up in my arms, I said, “We will find a way to bring her down, my love, you and I,”

Elaida didn’t reply.

The next few weeks where nightmarish. Elaida seemed to grow unsure by the hour, yet she kept repeating a single word to herself to keep her steady. ‘Foretelling’.

Had she had a foretelling? I asked her. Indeed, she had, she replied with a triumphant smile. About how ‘Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger’.

I smiled at this, yet ice formed in my stomach. Ah yes, he would face the Amyrlin Seat. But...it hadn’t said which Amyrlin Seat.

Elaida or this rebel leader, Egwene al’Vere?

Yet I did not voice this. Elaida was barely holding onto the power she had. Yet she had a secret scheme, something she would not even tell me, to bring Alviarin down. How long, though? The weeks where ticking by with no sign of any strong evidence to pull down Alviarin.

I was more than surprised to have Alviarin visit me, the day before she set off on one of her wanders into the countryside where no one knew where she went or what she did.

She stalked into my apartments, taking in the surroundings and me in one sweep of her eyes.

My eyebrows rose, yet I shut the cover of my book calmly. “What do you want?” My voice was hardly warm. If anything, it should have frozen the sun at its zenith.

“I want to talk to you, Eirana,” She said serenely, not sitting down, standing, arms crossed in front of the fire.

“About?” I said snappishly.

“Your...attachment to Elaida,” She smirked. “I want it to end. Now,”

“Oh? Do you now?” I stood up, facing her squarely. “It may come as a surprise to you, Alvie, but I do not take orders from you,”

“But your lover does,” She smiled at me through her eyelashes. “I want Elaida to be an empty husk, someone I can bend and mould easily, someone who will not question me like she continues to do, no matter how many times I send Silviana to her or beat her myself –” her eyes glittered with an unnatural pleasure. “And to do that I must remove you. She depends on you for moral support, for someone to turn to and...get comfort from,” Her mouth twisted.

“And why should it end?” I asked coolly.

“In the end, I might let Elaida live,”

That cold statement made my blood freeze. “You intend to expose her to the Hall?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” She smiled idly. “Strange things happen in the night, don’t they? People get smothered under blankets, assassins creep in...” She let the thought trail away. “But one way or another Elaida do Roihan Aviny will end up deposed,”

I didn’t say anything, chewing my lip.

Slowly, she approached me. “You wouldn’t be lonely, Eirana,” She whispered. “Not lonely at all,” She kissed the side of my jaw. “I would find it amusing to have you,”

I shoved her away, disgusted, stalking to the window. “I would not sleep with you, Alviarin, not even to save my life,”

“But to save Elaida’s?” She asked quietly.

I spun and almost jerked in surprise. She stood right behind me, eyes glittering, so close I could smell the faint perfume she wore and feel her breath on my neck. “What would you do to save Elaida’s life?” She whispered.

“Anything,” I muttered, bowing my head to my chest. “Anything at all,”

“You will make love to me,” Alviarin said softly. “And you will praise me and tell me I am better than Elaida,” She tipped my head up. “Do you understand?”

Tears running down my face, I took her to my bedroom.

Later, when she caressed my face and kissed me painfully goodbye and left, I lay curled up under my sheets, disgusted.

I could not tell Elaida. I could not tell her that. So, in the days that followed, I went about my normal routine. I went to bed with Elaida every night, though very often did not sleep.

It was almost a relief when the rebel army appeared suddenly, without warning. I hoped they would slaughter us all. I didn’t care if they learned Traveling. A sword thrust through the heart would be very welcome at this point.

Yet I forgot Elaida. She took advantage of the situation, twisting the words and laying blame on others, telling the Hall that Alviarin, as Keeper, should be at her Amyrlin’s side when the rebels turned up. The hall agreed and, sure enough, Alviarin was deposed as Keeper in one sitting of the Hall.

A nasty little shock waited for Alviarin when she returned.

I saw her soon after she was deposed. Standing on a balcony, touching her forehead with a trembling finger.

“It would seem,” I said with a triumphant smile as she turned to me with dull eyes. “That you are finished,”

“Me? Finished?” I was surprised she could muster such scorn. She turned her back on me. “I may not be Keeper any more, Eirana, but I am not finished. Not yet. Not while the sun still rises in the east and the wheel turns,”

“Trite rubbish,” I replied. “This is the end for you,”

She laughed as I walked away.

~

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