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On Confabulations
Fri Sep 8, 2006 11:20 (XFF:

Menaihya had never much enjoyed dealing with persons of nobility. As she stood alongside her fellow Green sister, nodding her acknowledgement to no fewer than a dozen Cairhienin lords and ladies—and each of them separately, too—, she maintained an Aes Sedai face, with her mouth lacking expression other than a political, diplomatic smile, to use the word, and her eyes remaining level and unflattering. “Senaise of House Eralde, Aes Sedai,” a small lady whose top of head could not have leveled a hand above her shoulder, even with the mass of elaborately-wrought hair, which was saying something, introduced herself as she spread her skirts in a curtsy. Her demeanor was in every sense cordial, of course, but Menaihya could sense the undercurrent of sharp curiosity emanating from the second-long look she directed them upon rising from her curtsy, and even as she strode gracefully away Menaihya felt as if the woman might as well be looking over her shoulder. Ensconced in a houseful of Cairhienin, she thought flatly, To leave here with our hides intact would be an accomplishment. And then the High Seat of House Lorien himself was striding towards them.

There was no mistaking who he was, even if Terrian and Menaihya had never set eyes on him before. Shae Lorien was stately and deported himself with all the mien of a prosperous lord, but his was a rather dumpy appearance, with a vain effort on an ornate, dark coat to hide his weak breadth of chest and the generous belly. A bell-shaped cap of velvet covered his head that was more likely balding as not, and his jowls were pinched and taut with, currently, what was likely supposed to be an affable smile, if still matted with fat. His small, dark eyes, however, were as sharp as any acute lord’s had a right to be, which only proved the maxim, ‘Never judge a man by his looks.’ Devin, apparently, took an instant disliking to the man, supposed from the way he clutched Terrian’s skirts and maneuvered himself so that he put her between them. For herself, Menaihya was hardly one to be daunted by appearances, nor was she, but she was a trifle ‘daunted’ by the man nonetheless. Perhaps it was the fact and knowledge that she was standing before Jostayn’s brother that she felt so.

“Welcome, Aes Sedai,” Shae Lorien said generously upon reaching them and bowing, after which he spread his hands, “There is always welcome for Aes Sedai in House Lorien.”

“You grace us with your hospitality,” Menaihya replied the wetlanders’ response to the greeting, her tone and demeanor cultured and hinting nothing of her homeland. She could feel the prickling gazes upon her, weighing her, measuring her, as much as Cairhienin gentlefolk could get away by scrutinizing Aes Sedai, anyway. (On a different note, too many of the gazes avoided the direction of the child Devin altogether, for obvious reasons that their true interest at this point lay predominantly with him. Cairhienin played dangerous games.) Their blank faces spoke volumes to her; an Aiel, of their most hated and feared, and yet she was also an Aes Sedai. Could they also recognize the Amadician features in Terrian? Menaihya thought with the sudden—and impractical—urge to peel her lips back and hiss like a savage. Apparently, they were a little too diverted by the disturbing notion of an Aiel Aes Sedai that they had failed to connect her near-sister with Amadicia, a land Cairhien hardly got along with. Not yet.

It was, however, an advantage, Menaihya knew and had predicted. Any means they had to keep the Cairhienin at edge, was a welcome tool.

“It is you gracing my home with your presences,” The High Seat said in turn, and either he was a very accomplished actor, or he was genuinely happy to have them here. With Cairhienin, it was tricky to tell, but Aes Sedai were a cut above even people of this enigma-oozing land. Aes Sedai spoke nothing but the truth, and yet they were still able to maneuver and monopolize a situation, and oftentimes without the other party knowing.

“A sister must and will do what she will,” she replied simply as they followed Shae Lorien into the parlor. Let them mull and puzzle away on that.

Once the large party had entered the parlor, she and Terrian separated, each attracting a scattered array of lords and ladies who dared not flock openly but lingered near—but not too near—instead. Devin, of course, tailed Terrian like a shadow. It was a few minutes later after which she had shared pleasantries and ‘extraneous small-talk’ with half a handful of nobility who were brave enough to approach her, that she found herself facing Shae Lorien himself. Blatantly aware that lords and ladies all of a sudden felt to seek company in other corners of the room, Menaihya inclined her head before the High Seat of House Lorien. If I strain, I can kind of see a resemblance to Jostayn in the eyes.

“I took a visit to Tar Valon, the Bel Tine prior to the last,” the lord said as he took up a goblet of wine in his hands from the tray of a proffering servant. “Very pleasant, the festivities.”

“The initiates do a good job in making the grounds resplendent for festival days,” Menaihya said in reply to that as she took a goblet for herself and allowed her green gaze to stray across the room.

“Initiates meaning your….novices? And your Accepted?”

“Yes, and the Gaidin trainees, as well.”

“Ah, yes,” Shae Lorien smiled, “The Aethan’Tar and Sei’Tar.” Not words most outsiders would know, but nobility learned in the ways of the world would. “I couldn’t help but notice,” the man continued, “the number of….black-coats that I saw there.”

Black-coats? He must have meant nothing other than the Black Tower denizens, in which case Menaihya had a hunch she knew where this was going. Whitecloaks, black-coats. Cute.

“Menaihya Sedai, if I may be as forward as to ask you this, what are your thoughts on the White—Black Tower alliance?” A dangerous thing to ask, she thought as her expressionless gaze met the lord’s coal-black one; Shae Lorien obviously knew that she and Terrian were staying at the residence of the Black Tower ambassador, and yet he showed the temerity to ask this? What was his ploy? “Does it mean,” Shae Lorien continued, his voice as normal as if he were stating the weather, “that the White Tower is openly declaring for the Lord Dragon?”

There it is. The punchline. Menaihya’s expression did not shift. “You, of all people, must know that intentions cannot always be relayed through actions,” she said at last, “Or if they can, they are oftentimes misinterpreted.” She studied the man’s countenance. No change. Good. It means he is concentrating. The weight of what she had just said was most definitely gargantuan; she had just insinuated, though not stated outright, which would have been banned by the First Oath (but Shae Lorien didn’t know that), that the White Tower might have a different intention in allying with the Black Tower. A seed planted, just there.

“I understand,” the High Seat spoke slowly, his eyes studying her, and then he took a small sip of his wine. Presently his gaze swung outward, onto the crowd of nobility. “You see those folk?” the man said at length, arching his goblet expansively towards them, “All of them, come through choice invitation—” Obviously, considering there would have been no lack of lords and ladies who would witness a dinner-party attended by two Aes Sedai who had, apparently, taken a step in discarding all other invitations except for this one. Thanks to Terrian and her excellent grasp and intuition of Daes Dae’mar, she thought. “—and yet very few here are family.” Menaihya’s fingers on her goblet stilled. Already? “Menaihya Sedai,” Shae Lorien turned squarely towards her, his face blank and yet his voice low and his eyes porting something….unpleasant. “I would like my youngest brother back.”

Menaihya parted her mouth just slightly, and then shut it again. “If you will look over there,” she said at last, calmly, indicating the direction of her near-sister and the boy, “you will be able to see for yourself that the boy we have with us is not your brother.”

The man seemed to disregard her words! “The White Tower plays the Great Game like an expert, I’m aware,” he said without twitching his head, “And yet this, with all due respect, is an internal Cairhienin issue to be solved by Cairhienin hands. I am not,” he said with stolid ease, “asking you to hand over your custody of Korl Lorien without a certain price paid. I have an offer for you, Aes Sedai, and something your White Tower will most likely benefit from.”

Her face was smooth as pondwater in winter, yet she could not believe what she was hearing. “Lord Shae Lorien,” she said with firm patience, though incredulity was mounting in her, “I will remind you that bargaining with the White Tower is a dangerous thing.” She paused as she allowed this to sink. “But I will overlook this offense in light of pointing out to you, not for the first time, that you are severely mistaken. The boy we have with us, as you can see, is not Korl Lorien. Surely you can recognize your own blood kin?” Was the man as blind?

Shae Lorien stared at her. “Menaihya Sedai,” his voice adopting somewhat of an edge, “I will ask you not to treat me as the fool you think I am.” Aside from her will, one of her brows lifted. “Of course that is not Korl Lorien. Let us assume for a moment that I am not without a certain measure of wit and cannot reason for myself that you cannot have brought Korl Lorien here to flash him in front of two dozen of Cairhienin’s most acute nobility. No, Menaihya Sedai.”

Light shine on them, the man thought Terrian and she actually were harboring the real Korl Lorien! It hit her like a blast of burnt air. Shae Lorien had made the presumption that they had left Korl Lorien behind in the sanctum of…somewhere safe, probably the ambassador’s house, and that they had brought this boy, a pretender, in his place to try to verify their argument that they did not have Korl Lorien. No matter what, Cairhienin minds will ever amaze me.

“I must confabulate with my sister,” Menaihya spoke, and after a moment the High Seat bowed his head. Not soon after a servant entered the parlor to announce that supper was set, and everyone was ushered into the dining room for the nightly repast. As Menaihya took her seat at the long, polished table next to Terrian, she tried to set the thoughts in her head in a semblance of order.

Interesting night indeed.

OOC: The second paragraph quoted, almost verbatim, from Shae Lorien’s description in A Tale in Cairhien.

Hurrah that your AP work is over, though! (or is it?) I suppose I also know how Terrian feels; the uncertainty and barrage of doubt that worms and poisons its way into you. Uhh. I felt like that, a week ago before my boyfriend dumped me, because I wasn’t sure for a time whether he loved me anymore. *bitter chuckle* Guess intuitions are often as correct as they are not. In Terrian’s case, we know they’re not. :)

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