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Chapter Five: Same as Always

Chapter Five – Same As Always

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

Authors Note: I didn’t think the last chapter gave Elaida and Eirana the closure they deserved. And I know, I’ve been saying ‘The End’ for the past four chapters, but here’s another one. This one is probably the last one. I don’t think I can do much more with ‘Reflections’.

Thanks especially to Jeriana Sedai. :D

She did not look like Elaida. Her straight back had slumped, her hair had whitened...yet she still had that pride. That pride that hinted at what once had been.

She knew me right away, of course. Her eyes widened in shock, yet she bowed her head, as was appropriate for a village woman to an Aes Sedai. Kasria licked her lips expectantly. “Is this the woman, Aes Sedai?”

I glanced briefly at the girl, the one who the innkeeper had recommended in the village. “Yes, child, yes,” I pressed a coin into her hand. Yet she still hovered expectantly, obviously eager to hear what an Aes Sedai could want with a village herbiest. Not even a Wisdom – or was it Wise Woman in these parts? – just an old woman who had limited knowledge of Healing. Elaida knew little enough in the field to be regarded as anything impressive in the Tower – though in the remote parts of Murandy, it was enough to earn food.

“I remember the path you led me well, Kasria,” I said sharply.

She hesitated, before bowing her head much in the same fashion as Elaida had and leaving, closing the door behind her. I glanced about Elaida’s home – a hut, no more, on the outskirts of a village. Very different from the grandeur she had once enjoyed. Along the way, she had learned humbleness to go with her humiliation. If it had not been for that pride, I would think she had completely changed.

“Eirana,” She murmured. She looked me up and down and I detected the faintest spark of desire there – quickly suppressed.

I took half a step forward to touch her cheek, yet hesitated and let it drop. She didn’t comment, moving off to the fireplace. “Tea?”

I remember a time she would have offered me wine in a gold goblet. Now she held out tea in a cracked cup. I accepted it, sitting down on a rickety stool, on one side of the narrow table that dominated the one-roomed hut. I wondered where she slept. Or if she slept.

She sat opposite me, sipping at her own tea. Her hair had gone white instantly on the stilling – I still remembered that. Her face was not old, yet not young either. It almost resembled the Aes Sedai agelessness, if not quite.

For a moment, we where silent. Not the reunion I had expected. I had not expected Elaida to be so subdued – nor had I anticipated my own hesitancy. I imagined the old times, when I would have torn her clothes off.

“It has been a long time,” She finally said.

“Yes,” I agreed softly. “Twenty years, I think,”

She smiled vaguely. “And how is the Tower – how is Egwene –” Her mouth twisted slightly around the name. “Al’Vere coping?”

I didn’t tell her that she was widely regarded as one of the best Amyrlins ever to have lived. No need to rub salt in the wounds. “Fine,” It wasn’t a lie – even when the three oaths had been lifted at my retirement from the Aes Sedai, I still sought ways around the truth rather than outright lies. I was supposed to be heading to Rasema Hesdini, the Kinwoman who was to take care of me until I adjusted to life outside the Tower. Pah! This al’Vere woman had little faith in us who had been Aes Sedai when she was in swaddling.

The young may have hailed her as a great, yet we – the elder – saw her as a nuisance. Insisting that the oaths be removed upon my retirement – to ‘prolong’ my life. It meant we could never come out of retirement if we wished – like Romanda or Lelaine, the light bless their souls, had done years before in order to put that girl on the Amyrlin Seat. The halls had been lessening of familiar faces lately – dead or in retirement. And that accused Tower that Elaida had commissioned, now a mocking reminder of the Tower’s ‘dark years’ before the Great Purge. Before Egwene had come to the throne. History painted the halls as an enclave for the Black Ajah. Even second woman was Black, according to histories that Egwene has yet to correct. She had heralded as the one Amyrlin that ever did anything about it – Tamra Ospenya had met her fate at their hands, Sierin Vayu was one if you where to believe rumours, Siuan Sanche denied all existence and Elaida do Avriny Roihan was barely worth mentioning, a black spot in history, the product of ill judgment. What Egwene fails to recognise was Elaida, who began the search she so dutifully took up – Seaine and Pevara, both as legendary as Moiraine Damodred, would not have found any evidence if Elaida had not informed them to look.

She nodded. I knew she was aching to ask me questions – it was a well-held fact that Elaida had died soon after stilling. She had been sent into the wilds with sisters to take care of her – Egwene was not so barbaric as to execute the woman – and within the year, she had vanished.

Desline Bevar had taken her eyes from Elaida for a few moments – so she claimed – and she had vanished, leaving the butter she had been churning overturned in her haste to escape into the countryside. After a search of the surrounding area, Desline and her attendants had given up. Unless she could find Healing, she would most certainly die – and who would heal her? Every sister knew her description, as did ever Asha’man, as the Amyrlin had asked to M’Hael to do. Relations where cordial between the two Towers, if not warm. The Amyrlin had made allowances for the M’Hael, as the M’Hael had done for her.

Therefore, it was assumed that Elaida had died.

“How did you find me?” She finally asked, setting her cup down.

I glanced up at her. “I didn’t think you ever died, Elaida. I have merely kept an eye on the reports coming in from every country. It didn’t take much effort to trace you, once I found the trail, little over a year ago,” A passing remark by an eyes-and-hears associate, about a white-haired crone in Murandy.

“I did not think that the Tower would hold with such things any longer,” she said quietly. “What with traditions being destroyed and what-not,”

“Not all traditions have been destroyed,” I said, with mild amusement. “Al’Vere might have been intent on bringing about radical changes in the Tower – yet she could not eradicate that. The Aes Sedai will always be meddlesome busy-bodies,” I smiled to show I was joking, yet she frowned at me.

“I see,” She said. “And why are you here?”

I blinked at her, as she locked eyes with me, staring intently. “Why...because I love you,”

She snorted. “You love me, do you? Don’t be stupid, Eirana,”

I felt my hackles rise as blood rushed to my face. Elaida had changed. She had always accepted it – now I wasn’t to be stupid? “I recall you didn’t care that much twenty years ago,” I snapped. “When I slept with you – giving you comfort, regardless of what you felt for me,”

She sighed. “That was your own choice. I didn’t love you. You knew that,”

I stared at her. “You still love them, don’t you?” I mustered all the scorn I could. “Siuan Sanche and Moiraine Damodred – both of whom where at Egwene’s side when she deposed you!”

She bit her lip and shrugged. “What business is it of yours?”

I simply couldn’t believe this was happening. I gaped at her. “What business is it of mine? Come on, Elaida, you can’t just hide in the woods forever – dreaming about those two. I’m here – and I’m real, Elaida. Not some daydream,”

She ducked her head, one strand of hair falling in front of her face. This time, I leaned forward and brushed it out of her face. Her hair was shorter, I mused, as I ran my fingers through it. It barely touched her shoulders – sometimes it was at her ear, as if she had hacked it off herself. She flinched back, brushing my hand away. “Don’t do that Eirana,”

She leaned back and studied me. I hadn’t changed that much. My hair was still as dark as ever, except at my roots, which had become brushed with grey – quite recently, in the past year – and my face was still smooth and ageless, no wrinkles. Elaida had a few – around the eyes and mouth. I didn’t think they where laughter lines.

“What do you want?” She said finally, tiredly.

I looked around her shack. Indeed, what did I want? “I don’t know,”

She nodded. “You never did, I think. Always hankering after something you couldn’t have,”

“I had you,” I said savagely.

She glanced at me and sighed. “Leave me alone,” She said, moving off.

I drained my cup and got to my feet, watching her pick up a shovel. My lips tweaked. “What are you doing?”

She merely looked at me. Her face didn’t move. I remembered a time she would have flushed red and thrown the shovel down as if it was a viper. “I’m going to the garden,”

I stared at her. “The garden?”

“Yes. I’ve had to...adapt, shall we say?...to life outside the Tower,” She nodded to the door. “You can leave now. Be careful on the path down to the village. It’s trickier going down than up,” She brushed past me, out the door.

I followed her out. Kasria was sitting nearby, on a tree stump, tossing the coin between her hands. “You’ll get no where with that one,” She commented. “A nasty plug if ever I saw one,”

I glanced irritably at her. “Didn’t I say for you to leave?”

“Yes, Aes Sedai, but the path is tricky,” Her eyes glittered with interest. No concern with my safety, just nosiness.

I didn’t like the girl, yet I let her lead me down the path, slipping and sliding on the roots and muck. She turned to help me and asked, “Did you find out what you wanted, Aes Sedai?”

I shook off her help. “No concern of yours,”

She frowned at me, but muttered, “As you wish,”

She led me back to the village – back to the inn I had paid for a night’s stay in. I had not thought I would be staying in it, truthfully. Mistress Dorann smiled at me as I entered the common room, asking me politely if she could be of service.

Unless she could persuade Elaida to let me into her bed, she couldn’t. I slumped onto a bench, accepting the broth she offered. “Mistress Dorann,” I asked, after a hesitation.

The woman stopped, nervously, tugging on her apron.

“Please – sit with me a moment,” I motioned to a spare seat at my table.

“Well...as you wish...” She sat down, now smoothing her apron.

I watched in amusement. “Tell me – what do you know of Elaida do Avriny Roihan?”

She blinked at me as if I was mad. “I don’t know anybody with this ‘do Avriny’ name,”

I sighed impatiently. “The herbiest I enquired about earlier,” Evidently people in Murandy where not the sharpest knives in the drawers.

“Ellie?”

I almost laughed. The only thing I did was puff out my cheeks slightly. “Yes,” I managed. Ellie?

“Well...I don’t know much, mind you...she came here about seventeen years ago,” Mistress Dorann frowned, rubbing her upper lip where a mustache grew. “Pretty young thing, I remember. A bit sharp of the nose and chin – not to mention the hair. Middle of winter she arrived – nearly died, suffering from a fever. The Wisdom nursed her back to health – was not a bit pleased when Ellie said she couldn’t pay. Nor was she pleased that Ellie knew a thing or two about herbs. First year here, they wouldn’t speak to each other. Still won’t exchange more than pleasantries,” She paused. “But that’s when we see Ellie. Keeps herself to herself, up in that hut. In winter, I don’t know how she survives – many a time I’ve sent my Jaike up with a pot of stew or some such to keep her going. Even in the worst weather, she will not come down into the village. Chops her own wood and grows her own food, without any husband or family to help her,” Mistress Dorann snorted, to show what she thought of that. “Makes people go up to her to fetch herbs and the like – wont come to their homes, like the Wisdom does. Makes her a bit unpopular, that,”

I raised my eyebrows. A side to Elaida I had not seen before. I had seen the aloof novice, the near-mad-with-lust Accepted, the distant Aes Sedai, the lonely Amyrlin and the defeated usurper. I had not seen the near-mad-in- the-head, sitting-alone-in-her-hut old crone.

And I still loved her. I seethed at myself. How could I love her? After everything she had done, every rejection she threw me...yet I did. I loved her and would gladly abandon everything for her.

I hated myself.

“Thank you, Mistress Dorann,” That was the signal for her to leave. She got up, inclining her head. I sipped at the broth, musing.

The next morning, Elaida came to the inn.

I was sitting in the same spot I had the night before and looked up when she came in. She went past me, without noticing. I watched her walk to the bar and inquired off Mistress Dorann, “Has the Aes Sedai left yet?”

“No, Ellie,” Mistress Dorann said, her eyes darting to me. “She’s still here,”

Elaida hissed through her teeth irritably. Odd, that. So she had abandoned all Aes Sedai serenity, as well. “Did she say anything to you?”

Mistress Dorann shifted uncomfortably, ignoring my amused smirk. “Well...she asked about you, mostly...” She nodded in my direction. “Ask her yourself,”

Elaida’s head swung around. Her eyes narrowed and she left Mistress Dorann in the middle of a sentence, stalking over to me, standing above me, hands on her hips.

I smiled up at her. “Good morning,”

“Good morning,” She sneered. “Good morning. Why are you still here?”

I shrugged.

She scowled, yet she glanced back to where Mistress Dorann was scrupulously polishing a glass, pretending not to be listening. “You should not be here,”

“Tell me you’re happy,” I said calmly. “Tell me you have everything you want here; and I’ll leave you alone,”

She stared down at me. “Come and see me this afternoon,” she said abruptly.

It was barely past noon before I was stumbling back up the path, brambles scratching at my legs. She was not in her hut.

I walked around it. She was in her garden. Not the muck pile I thought it would be. It was actually quite neat. Rows of vegetables surrounded by a picket fence, all growing surprisingly well. Or so I thought. I was not a gardener.

I stepped over the fence and approached her from behind. She stopped what she was doing – something with a long pole and a sharp curled piece of metal on the end – and looked around at me. She had a streak of dirt on her nose.

“I told you to come in the afternoon,” she said, wiping at her hair.

“It is the afternoon,” I answered.

She frowned at me. She tapped her pole on the earth and continued to overturn the dirt. “So. When are you leaving?”

I folded my arms. “Why are you so eager to get rid of me?”

Her hands tightened on the pole. “Do you always have to ask these questions?”

“Yes. Why?”

She began to hit the earth rather than overturning it gently. “Just because I found you attractive twenty years ago does not mean I still do,”

I moved my feet out of her way. “You loved me twenty years ago,”

“Ah. But I was never in love with you,” She pointed out.

My anger flared. “Oh, come on, Elaida. I saw the way you where looking at me yesterday – you feel something for me, at least. It may not be –”

She threw down the pole. I broke off and stared at her. She was breathing heavily, rubbing her hands on her knees. Her hair was falling in front of her face, making it impossible to judge her expression. “Do you want to know why I am eager to see the last of you, Eirana?” She turned to face me, eyes blazing.

I didn’t reply.

Do you?”

“Yes,” I muttered.

“I’ll tell you. You remind me of everything I lost. Have you ever been stilled, Eirana?”

“You know I haven’t,”

She sneered at me. “You watched me being stilled in the traitor’s court – you watched as Siuan Sanche and Moiraine Damodred smirked. You watched as Egwene al’Vere turned her back on me as if I was nothing! You watched Eirana! You watched and didn’t do anything! Never spoke up in my defense, never said that it was Alviarin that painted me as half-mad!” Her face was flushed.

“I cried,” I whispered in response, though I didn’t think she heard.

“Oh yes, I might live out in the middle of no where in some hut that barely deserves that title but I know what goes on in the world! I know what you where too afraid to tell me – Egwene al’Vere, heralded as the one of the greatest Amyrlin Seats ever,” Her face twisted. “Deposer of the usurper, the first Amyrlin to recognise the very real threat of the Black Ajah. Bah! Had I not deposed Siuan Sanche, she would never have come to the stole and staff!” she broke off her rant furiously, trembling.

Slowly, I put my arms around her. “Hush,” I muttered. “Hush. That is all over now. That was years ago,”

At first, she resisted. Then her resolve broke she slumped into my arms, sobbing. I wondered if she had cried in all the years that she was gone.

I held her, gently stroking her hair back. When she stopped and her sobs where soft moans, I was kneeling in the dirt and she was curled up in my arms. There was utter silence all around and I wondered how Elaida could stand it. “Do you really love me?” She asked after a moment.

“Yes,” I whispered in response.

“Why?”

Strange question. It took me aback for a moment. I hesitated and she glanced up at me, eyes red rimmed. “I don’t know,” I finally confessed. “I don’t know,”

She sighed. “An odd pair we are, Eirana. You loved me and I never returned it,” She fell silent and then murmured, so softly I barely hear it, “Perhaps I should have,”

My breath caught.

“Do you remember yesterday how you asked whether I still loved Moiraine and Siuan?”

“Yes,”

“I don’t,” She shook her head. “It wasn’t them who filled my dreams the past years. How could it be? I never felt them, never tasted them. How can you love something you never had? I have been a fool for too long, Eirana,”

I kissed her temple. Slowly, she untangled herself from my arms, turned to face me, reaching out to caress my cheek. I leaned into the caress and she leaned forward to kiss me.

It didn’t seem to matter very much that we where outside. As she opened the back of my dress, she trailed her lips down my back and then my front.

“Too long, Eirana,” She muttered. “It has been too long,”

I had an idea then. The danger hardly occurred to me. I had never done it before. I had seen it done once – even with this safety, stillings where rare. I embraced saidar. Elaida did not look up from her task, gently biting me just below my breast, leaving a small red mark. It was not the wound I would once have given her.

Gently I clasped her head between my hands and pulled her up. She looked puzzled, eyes distressed. She was desperate for closeness after twenty years of imposed celibacy that it would have destroyed her to have me reject her. Yet I wove the five elements, gently swirling them and touching her with the flow. She gasped.

I let go of saidar and watched her hopefully.

Tears trickled down her face as slowly the glow of saidar formed around her. I smiled at her, even as she leaned forward and kissed me hard, practically forcing my mouth open. She had not let go of saidar and I seized it again.

We had never made love while holding saidar and I thought we had done everything. Yet this...was...strange. It was hard to say what the lovemaking was and what was saidar. She kissed my thigh, I gripped her hair, and I tasted myself from her lips repeatedly. I tasted myself from her nipples, too, where she had smeared my fluids.

The surroundings seemed to blur into nothingness and I do not know to this day how long we stayed in her garden.

Yet, when it was over, it was dark and I knelt in front of her, gripping her hand. “Come with me to the Kinswomen,” I pleaded. “Come with me,”

She stared at me. “And be stilled again, Eirana? The Kin know my face as well as the Aes Sedai,” she entwined her arms about me, hugging me to her breast. “No. I’m not going to throw away this gift,”

I sighed. “Then I’m not going,” I said stubbornly. “No, Elaida, listen – let Rasema Hesdini think I died on the way to her,”

She stared at me, her thumb stroking my jaw line. “I love you, Eirana,” She said finally.

I looked up sharply at her. “What?”

“I love you,” She replied. Her eyes where oddly bright and I thought she was going to cry.

“No, no tears,” I whispered, wiping away the ones that fell. “Don’t be sad, Elaida. I love you, too,”

She bit her lip. “I remember the years I never said it back to you. I’m sorry,”

When it began to get cold, Elaida led me back to her hut. “Where do you sleep?” I asked with interest.

She flushed with embarrassment. “On the floor,” She pointed to a jumble of blankets curled up in the corner.

My eyebrows flew up. “Not tonight, Elaida. If I am going to make love to you, it’ll be in a bed. I’ve had enough of the ground for one day,”

She smiled at me.

There was a hushed pause in the common room as I led Elaida inside by the hand. Mistress Dorann stared at our clasped hands as if they where the most bizarre thing she had seen. Yet she regained her posture quickly – quicker than most folk whose mouths hung open. She swept a brief curtsey and said, “Good evening, Aes Sedai, Ellie,” She hesitated. “How may I help you?”

“Elaida Sedai,” Mistress Dorann’s eyes bulged. “Will be joining me tonight in my room – I trust that is fine?” I passed her a coin in a flippant manner.

“Of course, Aes Sedai, of course,” She accepted the coin and inclined her head to Elaida.

I distinctively heard a man mutter, “So that’s the reason for no family,” I ignored that.

I led Elaida up the stairs, not pausing in the darkened hallway to hear the coarse jokes that they had not the nerve to say to our faces.

Later that night, when Elaida was lying naked beside me, stretched out contently, lying on a mattress for the first time in years, I commented, “We can’t possibly stay in this village, you know,”

“Where had you in mind?” she barely kept the eagerness from her tone.

“Arad Doman?” I suggested.

She laughed low in her throat.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing you in one of their dresses, either,” I whispered into her ear.

We left the next morning.

The End