On Inexplicable Murders
Sun Oct 8, 2006 06:48 (XFF:

“A toast,” Lord Shae Lorien announced from the head of the table with his goblet—a different one—held high, his mouth wreathed in a dark smile whose implications, Menaihya was sure, only she and her near-sister were supposed to interpret, “to the Aes Sedai.” Other goblets were raised, and clinks were sounded all around. Mild conversation broke out after that, even as the first course, which wetlanders called the ‘appetizer’, was brought into the dining room on silver-tooled trays by servants in their dark blue and silver livery. As what looked curiously like strips of meat—pork, she thought—curled around small, squat cylinders of beet were placed before her, Menaihya took the opportunity to turn to Terrian, who, at the moment, ported the slightest of signs of a tightness around the eyes and mouth. Only she, who knew the Amadician woman so well, could catch notice of any such thing.

“The question,” she said in a low murmur intended only for the other sister’s ears, emitting it with minimal movement to her lips, “is whether to allow him to keep on believing we have the young man in custody, or whether to end this nonsense once and for all and enforce the truth upon him that no, we do not have the youngest.” She viewed her fork, a slightly curved length of equally tooled silver, her critical blacksmith’s eye semi-consciously appraising it, and then she took it up in her fingers and cautiously jabbed it at one of the pork-beet creations. “Whatever is most advantageous to our situation.” She paused as she observed the red juices dripping from the beet and onto her plate. “To…either of our situations.”

“Of course,” Terrian answered nonchalantly, and there was no doubt that she understood. They had entered this land together, but each was on different mandates, so to speak. Menaihya had come as a representative of the Eyes and Ears division, and her charge was to discover whether something informative to the Green Ajah could be wheedled out from here. As it was whichever nation she went, in truth. Terrian as a covert Field Assigned—it was only for sake of their unmatchable friendship that she knew of this—, and her mission here… Well, that, close friends or not, Menaihya would not beg to know even if she could. They were Ajah secrets they were both keeping.

The point was that whichever decision they made about Korl Lorien—or the lack of, technically speaking—it was possible that the results could be beneficial to one of them while a weight to the other. Or not. They would have to discuss it more to make certain, but it appeared Lord Shae Lorien expected an answer tonight rather than later. Likely what with the Game in play—and when was the Game ever not in play?—the man would not give them an opportunity for ‘later’ on purpose, so that they could not have the leisure of time in which to think and reason. It was a sly, implicit impudence in daring to maneuver Aes Sedai. And then again, they had long since learned the ability to think on their feet in whichever situation, for whichever limit of time.

Menaihya set her fork, now empty of beet and pork, down and reached for her slender goblet, curling her fingers around its slenderer smooth-faced stem. “The woman whom you said was almost your sister,” she said in inquiry after she had taken a short swallow of the sweet Cairhienin vintage and felt the liquid slide down her throat, “—You said she was a ‘Leci’?” Terrian appeared to pause, but then she gave a nod. The winecup still ensconced in her hands, Menaihya transferred her gaze to the noblewoman who had been addressed as Lady Eliani, and when their eyes met she gave her a civil, yet not curious, smile. The lady inclined her head at her in courtesy, but before she turned back to her conversing companion Menaihya caught the second-long look that lingered on her near-sister. It made her wonder.

Decades ago Terrian had first revealed to her the story about her long lost love, the Child of the Light named Ian Leci. It was because of this that Menaihya was able to make the connection between this Eliani ‘Leci’ and the aforementioned man; and yet now she found herself startled at the coincidence. Terrian’s old lover’s…sister—if her presumption was correct—, here in Cairhien? Eating with them at the same table in the same manor at the same dinner-party? The Wheel casts many twists, but all come together to weave into a greater design. She felt a pang of sympathy for her near-sister. What a day this had proved for her, albeit Menaihya had not had the chance to confer with her about what exactly had happened back there in the room with Jostayn; but if she knew Terrian, the woman had been visibly daunted as she had been today very few times in the whole duration of her Aes Sedai-hood. If ever, truly.

Presently their beet-stained plates were whisked away and the next course sauntered into the room, wafting the savory scent of spring onions and a hint of what Menaihya guessed were turnips. Soup, she saw as each bowl was placed before them. She was gathering her spoon in her fingers when the nobleman seated across from her directed her his gaze and spoke. She recognized him and his half a dozen slashes of House colors across his chest from the initial introductions as Lord Trovail of House Dain. “If my knowledge is not far from wrong, Aes Sedai,” said he in a none too confidant a manner, as if he knew he was about to broach on a topic that was best left untouched, “Aiel have their own system of….keeping their channelers.” People were listening now, as they were prone to do when an Aes Sedai conversed openly with someone.

“They do,” spoke up another man a few seats down, who had caught drift of the beginnings of the conversation. One could tell this man was tall, even though he was seated like everyone else, and he had a strong breadth of shoulder. His slightly narrow, angled face could never be called handsome, but it was strong, and so appeared he, if a bit weathered. To Menaihya’s Aiel recognition of these things, he appeared a fighter. She could not place a name to him; he had either not been at the initial introductions, or he had not had the chance to come forth to either her or Terrian. “I am Officer Rolen Tamdril of House Tamdril,” he said by way of introduction, bowing his head from his seat to both of them in turn. “I have seen this. Aiel channelers.”

Menaihya regarded him. “You have seen them, Officer Rolen?”

“Yes, Aes Sedai. I was at the Battle of Caralain, and I witnessed balls of fire as big as carriages. And they were coming from amidst the Aiel.”

“Like every other race of people, we also have channelers born amongst us,” Menaihya explained, nodding. But only recently did the Wise Ones begin to use the One Power as a weapon, she thought silently to herself. As an Aes Sedai who had taken the oath to never do such a thing, she clearly disapproved, but on second thought she couldn’t decide whether it was a beneficial thing or not, disregarding the fact that it rendered all past Aiel customs somewhat skewed and off-balance. And then the covert, wistful dawning: If I had chosen to stay in the Three-fold Land to train under a Wise One in lieu of coming to the White Tower, I could also have been allowed to use the One Power as a means to fight. But such a line of thought was banished under a clearer understanding: that she would never have chosen a different route than that her life had taken, had she been given a hundred chances to relive the past. The Oaths were what made them. What distinguished them.

Besides, she personally could never have agreed to swear her life on following Rand al’Thor, the so-called Car’a’carn—as an Eyes and Ears agent she also had contacts within the Aiel—, like that. Not like that.

This was the difference between the White Tower and the Black Tower.

“In all my life, Menaihya Sedai,” the nobleman named Trovail Dain continued, “I have never heard of an Aiel who abandoned her people and came to join the White Tower.” It was utterly silent in their near vicinity now, save the soft clinking of silverware against plates; by the way ladies and lords were bent upon not looking at her she could tell they were holding their breaths to see what her reaction would be. Who dared ask an Aes Sedai why she hadn’t chosen an alternative life? It was akin to…questioning her very motive.

Menaihya allowed a smile, and that seemed to relieve half the people. “The Wheel has plans for us all,” she replied simply, and that was that.

Not that the conversation could have continued any further, because not much later Devin, seated to her right, spilt his drink all over the front of his shirt. There was a light commotion as ladies laughed softly behind their hands and shifted in their seats towards the boy to aid him, and Menaihya’s gaze met Terrian’s in a wordless agreement that Terrian should take the child away to the washroom. But just at that moment, the High Seat of House Lorien from the head of the table turned his attention to her near-sister and spoke up in a query that would involve, in turn, her participation in attention, and Terrian had no choice but to shift her face towards him. Menaihya nodded and reached for Devin’s hand.

“Come, child,” she said, and then realized this had been a mistake. Under all the lord and ladies’ scrutiny, Devin cowered back in his chair as far as the space would allow, his brown eyes large and full of….something not good. Fear, she thought. Dear Creator in heaven. “Come, Devin,” she tried again, “Let us get you cleaned up.” Reasoning was running through her head. The Cairhienin hid their thoughts well behind a mask of indifferent expressions, but Menaihya knew what they were thinking. If Devin was indeed their ‘child’, so to speak, or a boy companion they were well-acquainted and traveling with on a whim, then he would know them well. Obviously, this showed them he did not. This all but screamed out that he was somewhat of a stranger. A stranger….kidnapped, maybe. A certain…Korl Lorien kidnapped, maybe. Menaihya felt a tiredness settling over her. “Well? Do you want to sit there in you soaking clothes all night?”

Somehow that seemed to stir him, and he finally slid off his seat and began following her, if in a slightly wooden fashion. Menaihya was relieved when they exited the dining hall. “Where might the washroom be located?” she asked of a passing servant then, and was informed it was down a corridor and around a corner. The servant before taking her leave asked whether the Aes Sedai would desire if she took the boy herself, so that the Aes Sedai might be able to remain at the table—but Menaihya declined. In this house, much less this land, I don’t trust anybody with the boy. So they walked, Devin skittering half a step behind her and four steps wide of her, down the hallway that was decorated with vases set in niches and lights burning on torches. It was now uniform dark past the windows that lined the walls in infrequent intervals.

They reached the washroom, and upon entering it Menaihya faced the ash-haired boy and said, “I am going to channel your stain off, alright? It is only going to take that stain off, and dry your shirt.” The boy did not answer; he simply looked up at her with those large eyes in which had entered a wild light. Not for the first time, Menaihya wondered whether there was a substantial reason of why the child regarded Aiel in such fright—but then, it could just be her, too. She sighed, and then squatted. “I am going to channel now,” she said, not that he would understand. Saidar flooded through her, filling her with its pure and sweet essence, and for a split second she forgot about everything, about the muddle of Cairhienin politics, about the pressing matter of her Eyes and Ears duties—everything. But only for a split second.

She channeled, lifting the oblong stain of colored drink from the material of Devin’s shirt, and the child started, but watched, wide-eyed, as the stain collapsed inwardly on itself and compacted into a ball. Devin caught it in the air and ogled at it. Menaihya reached out to take it away from him and dispose of it, but on second thought, she regarded the boy for a moment and let him keep it. Standing, she headed towards the door. “Come along, child,” she said over her shoulder.

She started making her way back, Devin following a few steps behind, as he was still marveling at the ball of dried stain in his hands. Menaihya’s thoughts were already straying back to the dinner table and its conversations, and their journey was nearly halfway done, when Devin’s husky voice piped up from behind. “Ineedtogo,” was all Menaihya heard, and even as she was trying to interpret what this meant and turning to regard the child, he was already a blur of colors as he raced back towards the washroom whence they came. Exasperated at this uncalled-for stunt, Menaihya cried out for him to stop, but he was already gone. ‘I need to go’? What the…? As she began following, she realized he meant he had to go relieve himself. Ah. It was as she turned the corner of the hall, however, that her nerves spiked to a high once again.

There was a woman lying facedown on the floor.

Menaihya didn’t hesitate; she hurried over and crouched to check the woman’s pulse. It was still beating, but very faintly, and slowing by the second, which was no surprise considering she had a bleeding chest wound that looked to have been stabbed with a knife. This close she was able to see that the woman was the liveried servant whom she and Devin had passed just minutes ago, the one who had volunteered to take Devin to the washroom. Something is very awry here. And speaking of the boy… Menaihya whipped her head up, and her sharp gaze assessed everything ahead of her. The door to the washroom was hanging open on its hinges, and beyond that….empty.

She raced into the parlor where everyone was assembled, as the meal had ended by this time, and her expression was utterly blank and unrevealing. “Terrian,” she said in a brisk tone when she found her near-sister seconds later, “I must talk to you. Devin has vani…” It was then that there was a commotion in the far end of the room, where the other door was located; their attentions were riveted towards it, and they were able to perceive Shae Lorien entering the room with a smile on his face. His hands were placed greatfather-like on the shoulders of an ash-haired boy: Devin.

Terrian turned her eyes towards her, surprise blooming on her expression. “What?” she asked, clearly puzzled.

“I do not know,” Menaihya replied, just as, if more, bewildered. Devin, with Lord Shae?

The High Seat approached them upon sighting them. “This little fellow,” he said, “appears to be a quite curious young man. You can’t imagine my surprise when I took a visit to my personal anteroom and found him standing there, looking stranded if anything.” Devin wrenched free from under Lord Shae’s hands and rushed towards Terrian. The High Seat watched him, that same dark smile curling his lips, deepening knowingly when his eyes lifted to meet Menaihya’s. “You see, Menaihya Sedai,” he said softly, “I am not so foolish as to commit the unthinkable. I would never, say, kidnap this boy from under your nose, even though, I’m sure you are aware, I had the most perfect chance just now.”

“If I were you, Lord Shae,” Menaihya said then, “I would be worrying about something else right now. There is a murdered woman lying in one of your halls at this very moment.” She saw Lord Shae’s smug look drain into that of blanched shock for an instant before she turned away and faced Terrian. “Terrian, you must come see whether you can Heal this woman.”

They three, with an addition of Devin, were soon rushing their way towards the scene of the befuddling crime.

OOC: Holy cow. I’m not sure how I came to write that. [And all in here got cut - word limit. Bah. But I sent it over to you on email, Tiffanie.]^ ~ Yay for light homework!

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