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On Matters of Succession
1000 N.E.
Third Age
Sometime Between Winter and Spring

[Image: merdyn_3.jpg]

                Merdyn Gilyard woke with a start. His bed sheets were damp and sweat beaded his brow. This had become routine since he had fled the Black Tower. Nightmares plagued his sleep, visions of men in high collared black coats and those eyeless Myrrdraal chasing after him as the M’Hael laughed maniacally. Last night had been different though. His night terrors had been replaced with a strange dream of a young man using the Power to play, what Merdyn assumed were, instruments atop a stage.

                The man had artfully plucked at something resembling a lute and then, of all things, he had hammered away at a harpsichord with his toes… At least Merdyn thought it was a harpsichord. It sure looked like one, but it sounded different. Both things had sounded different, yet similar to the instruments they had resembled. The stranger sang about a man ‘selling the world.’ Was the song about the Lord Dragon? Strange indeed. There was something familiar about the man, but Merdyn couldn’t figure out why. He surely had never seen the man, nor instruments such as he had played. It was all…  oddly comforting.

                Shoving the silken sheets and duvet from his naked body, Merdyn shrugged off the dream. It meant nothing. Clearly, just one of those random scenarios one’s mind had concocted to soothe the soul after so many rough nights. He didn’t care what he saw in his dreams so long as it wasn’t that horrific nightmare.

                Light, man, get ahold of yourself. You’re safe now, Merdyn thought to himself as he raked a hand through damp hair. He needed a bath.

                Rising from the gilded bed, Merdyn strode over to a heavy set of maroon curtains set over the western wall of his chambers. Both of his hands made a grand flourish as he parted the embroidered drapings, revealing two large windows set with thick glass casements. One of the Palace’s many gardens could be seen below, although it had seen far better days part in thanks to the Dark One… At least that’s what Merdyn had assumed. He had heard at least a few Aes Sedai whispering about it here in the Palace, thus validating such thoughts.

                Tarmon Gai’don was on the horizon. There was no other explanation for it.

                Oddly, that thought brought another sense of comfort to Merdyn. That had to have been the reason the Black Tower had become a hornet’s nest. It had not been that way in the beginning. It couldn’t have been. That place had been a refuge for Merdyn, it had helped him overcome heartache and defeat; it had served to shape Merdyn into the man he was today. Oh, he had only been there a year, such a short time when one really considered it, but so much had happened. All of it good… How had the Shadow come to grip the Tower in its hand?

                A bath. That was what he needed. A nice hot one with scented oils and floral soaps.

                The sky above the Inner City city was a warm tone of magenta that bled into the amethyst shades of night. Sparse, dark clouds trailed across the heavens as dawn began to break upon the world. Much of the city would soon be waking along with Merdyn, although residents of the palace would still be dozing in their own chambers. The servants would be up, however, gliding in at any moment with steaming buckets of water. Merdyn had awoken with the sun every day since coming to the Palace, and he had consistently needed a bath immediately upon waking. The nightmares and sweats had come every night without fail. He would not spend more than an hour covered in his own filth.

                Especially not today.

                A crimson robe lined in black fur lay across a luxurious chaise which sat before the marble fireplace. Yellow flames blazed across the logs within the hearth, the servants no doubt tending it in the night. Merdyn slipped the soft fabric across his form and inhaled deeply. It smelled like the burning logs, he loved that scent, and the robe was just as warm as the flames. He knew the Aes Sedai trick of ignoring temperatures, but the bestowed warmth of the hearth felt too good to cast aside. The Palace wasn’t exactly frigid, but there was a draft about the Ogier worked structure… At least in his own chambers.

                Merdyn hadn’t expected the Daughter-Heir to give him the finest rooms in the Palace, he had come to her after all. In truth, he had thought she would turn him away, much less house him while he sorted through the affairs at hand… But then again, why should her favor surprise him? She needed him and his House’s support in the Succession. She put on a good front, a strong woman with a fierce determination, but he could see that she was desperate to bring together as many High Seats as possible. There was no other way to take the Lion Throne.

                The Daughter-Heir seemed to be a younger doppelganger of her late mother, a mighty woman in her own right. Despite the late Queen’s strange fall from grace, her reign was a great one. With the world thrown into chaos, Andor would need that special kind of leadership only a Trakand could offer. Merdyn had kept an eye on his homeland’s political maneuverings while he trained at the Black Tower. True, he had cast away all ties and claims once joining the Tower, but that hadn’t meant he couldn’t observe from a distance. A good thing that was, considering his present circumstances.

                The door to his modest sitting room opened slowly and a young, liveried servant gave a start at seeing Merdyn awake, seated on the chaise. He waved the servant in with a kind look. The boy must have been new to give such a reaction, no matter how minor.

                “It’s all right. The tub is in the dressing room just over there,” Merdyn said with a gesture to the large door opposite the servant.

                He was a cute one, offering a quick ‘yes, my lord’ with a clumsy bow, scuttling off into the dressing room with a pole across his shoulders, two large buckets swinging from ropes attached to the wooden rod.

                I wonder if he’ll be scrubbing my back, Merdyn thought wryly to himself. Although enticing, he would never insult the Daughter-heir by bedding one of the Palace’s staff. It would be in poor manners, especially considering that he needed her just as she needed him… Well, maybe he needed her more, but that was up for debate so far as he was concerned. Besides. There were plenty of Pleasure Houses in the Outer City should he find his urges to be insatiable. They weren’t. Merdyn was in control of his mind and body.

                Except for that first night in Camelyn. He needed a release. There was no shame in that.

                Since then it was strictly business. Still, Merdyn could tell a few of the servants that attended his daily baths had stolen a few peaks at his body. He didn’t mind. He liked the attention. Hard muscle and a sizable frame, this body was something he had worked hard for. It was a crime not to show it off every now and then.

                Another Servant silently glided in, a familiar face to Merdyn after a week in the Palace, a tray balanced effortlessly on her left hand. She gave a small smile to Merdyn, certainly not in line with decorum, but he had quickly made it known to the servants that they could be at ease around him. The older members of the Palace staff sniffed dismissively at the suggestion, but the younger ones had taken to it eagerly after a day or two. Merdyn wasn’t like other nobles… He wasn’t even a noble anymore, he was disowned by his father, the High Seat of House Gilyard, before joining the Black Tower.

                The events had lined up conveniently. It was easy to dismiss his father’s actions as a result of Merdyn seeking to become an Asha’man. Merdyn had strongly considered presenting that to the Daughter-heir when he came to her, but the truth would come out eventually. It wouldn’t do to deceive the future Queen of Andor. Not when he needed her help. Still. He had considered it. Merdyn was desperate.

                The High Seat of House Taravin no doubt knew the truth of it. She seemed to be acting as an advisor to the Daughter-heir, so any possibility of Merdyn lying to the Daughter-heir was completely obliterated before he had even come to the Palace gates. A good thing. The truth behind his Father’s actions was much more heartbreaking, enough to sway the Daughter-heir at least.

                “Thank you, Tamela,” Merdyn spoke smoothly to the servant as she sat her tray down atop a gilded side table beside the chaise. The rope-worked tray held a steaming pitcher of Tremalking black accompanied by a set of porcelain cups and a large dish of honey. The tea was spoiled, no doubt, that was to be expected. Food stores across the country were going rotten. Thank the Light that the honey was keeping. Merdyn filled his cup almost halfway with the sweet stuff to cover the inevitably disappointing Tremalking black.

                Tamela dipped a suitable curtsy and made her way from the room, no doubt going to fetch Merdyn’s breakfast. It would arrive after his bath, once he was suitably dressed for the stresses of the day.

                Vivienne Sedai, a Blue Sister that had attached herself to the Daughter-Heir of Camelyn, was scheduled to visit Merdyn at some point during the day. When? He couldn’t say. In true Aes Sedai fashion, the woman would come to him when she saw fit. If he wished to keep the Daughter-Heir’s favor, he would just have to lurk around his chambers until the Sister decided to call upon him. The Sister only came at the Daughter-heir’s behest, the why of it was unknown to Merdyn. He just assumed that it had to do with his plans regarding the Gilyard Estates.

                What else could it have been about?

                Merdyn sipped quietly at his spoiled tea as he watched the younger serving man lug pails of steaming hot water back and forth. He had drunk half the pitcher before the tub had finally been filled. The servant bowed to him and announced in a stutter that he had been assigned the duty of attending Merdyn and his bath.

                New indeed, Merdyn thought to himself, It’ll be fun teasing him.

                Merdyn rose from the chaise, setting his cup on the rope-worked tray, and dropped his robe unceremoniously to the ground. He stood before the handsome, nervous servant, wearing only a mischievous smile. The young man quickly turned a dark shade of red, half sputtering before covering it with a bow. Merdyn noted that the servant stole a look before retreating back into the dressing room, no doubt waiting dutifully by the tub with a sponge and brush in hand.


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[Image: viviane_1.png]

                Vivienne Accylon strode purposefully down the hallways of the Royal Palace of Camelyn, her Warder trailing a suitable distance behind. Many Sisters she had come across were scandalized at her behavior. It was not customary to Bond another woman, indeed, many scorned Vivienne because of it. That was all poppycock.

                Letto could match any man in combat, she had a sharp wit, keen senses, a level head, and she was a ‘Wolf-sister.’ The woman was more than qualified for the job, what should it matter that she was of the same gender? True, there were certain unforeseen side-effects in bonding a person of the same sex, but that only added to the mystique surrounding the Warder Bond, it made it more special.

                Not to mention that the Daughter-Heir had approved of such a Bond, indeed the woman had done the very same thing. It was a comfort that she too had been met with such opposition from the other Sisters. Why should it even matter what the other Sisters thought? The Tower was divided and Tarmon Gai’don was headed their way. Those were the real problems that the other Aes Sedai should be focusing on, not matters of propriety. Hadn’t the Dragon been reborn? Now was a time of change. The others would get used to the idea of Bonding other women, and Vivienne expected that a few of the others, probably some Greens, would eventually do as she had.

                That commonality had served as a bridge between Vivienne and the Daughter-Heir, that and the fact that Vivienne was a Blue, an Ajah that one of the two current Amyrlins had tried to disband. It had been five years since Vivienne was last in the White Tower, so the news of the split had come as a great shock. Being of the Blue, she supported the ‘rebels’ by default. True, she had tried to remain neutral, but her pride had won out in the end. If the Tower was ever mended, her entire identity could be shattered depending on which side won out over the schism. The rebels had to win, but that didn’t mean that Vivienne had to assist in such a fight. Her place was here, in Andor. Although the White Tower was her home, this nation had birthed her. Vivienne would always hold Andor close to her heart.

                Letto picked up her stride, coming to Vivienne’s side. The Warder kept her eyes forward and her hand on her sword, she spoke calmly, true to what the Bond projected.

                “Are you sure this is worth our time?” Leto asked quietly.

                The woman knew better than to be so frank in the halls, especially around servants scuttling about, but Vivienne was confident in the Daughter-Heir and her requests. Let the others carry whispers that Vivienne’s Warder questioned the direction they had been given. She would do as the Daughter-Heir asked, so long as it helped the woman secure the Lion Throne. The nation had been in shambles for too long. Vivienne still wasn’t sure what had come over the late Queen in her final days, but it had left Andor lost and confused. Despite all of that, she still trusted in the Trakand line, if only because the other contenders for the throne were far from capable. True, Vivienne had hoped that the High Seat of Taravin made a bid for the throne, but that was before the Daughter-Heir came back home. That changed everything, especially when the High Seat of Taravin threw her lot in with the young woman. The High Seat had been the only other option and if she didn’t want the throne…

                Vivienne kept her eyes forward and her pace even.

                “Letto. We went over this already. The Daughter-Heir condemns the actions of the High Seat of Gilyard. There is nothing else for it. We must assist his son, despite the man’s previous associations.”

                “You are no longer of this nation, Viv. You are of the White Tower, as am I. We should be focusing on what we set out to do. Why do you care so much about the Trakand woman?”

                “The stability of the nations is of interest to the White Tower. The ‘Trakand woman’ is the only woman suitable to lead Andor. Do you not wish for stability? This is incredibly pertinent to ‘what we set out to do.’”

                “I really don’t see how. You’ve never gotten involved with Tower politics before, much less the workings of nations, especially now, when the Tower is divided. We should be bringing in grain for the poor through your Gateways, you should be healing the sick, and I should be assisting with the patrols throughout the streets. We are supposed to be helping the common man, not assisting the nobles in weaving their intricate webs. You’re better than this pettiness, Viv.”

                Vivienne stopped in the middle of the hall, servants quickly scurrying away as she fixed each with a glare. She fussed at her blue fringed shawl before rounded on her Warder, fixing the woman with a hard eye. Embracing the Power, Vivienne wove a ward around the pair of them to prevent any lingering Help from eavesdropping.

                This all should have been brought up in the morning before they left their apartments, in private. Letto knew better than to behave in such a fashion. The Bond told Vivienne that her Warder was feeling restless and annoyed. That fed back into Vivienne’s own frustrations at her Warder’s public dissent. Her voice came out harsher than she had intended.

                “I am Aes Sedai and you are my Warder. That should be enough. Can’t you see that things in the world aren’t right? Surely your wild dogs have told you that things are amiss.”

                Letto’s brow furrowed and anger poured from her and into Vivienne through the Bond.

                Easy, Vivienne thought to herself as she sought serenity.

                “I apologize, Letto. I spoke hastily. Please. I did not mean that. You know I value you and your connection with the wolves. I respect that connection. It’s just… You don’t think I am restless and frustrated as well? The Dragon has been reborn, the Dark One touches the Pattern, the Nations are in chaos, there is a foreign empire invading the continent with the intent of enslaving every woman that can touch the Source, and the Tower is divided! Oh, how I wish I could fix this all with a weave, but I cannot. The commoners need our attention, true, but they also need a Queen that will care for them. By assisting the Daughter-Heir, we are assisting the people. Do you disagree?”

                Letto still felt tense, but the anger subsided. Mostly. The woman’s jaw tightened before responding.

                “Of course, Vivienne Sedai,” Letto pronounced the honorific in a half-mock tone, “It is just that I fail to see how helping some ex-noble steal his Father’s claims is going to serve the greater good.”

                Vivienne ignored the mockery, “Our future queen must show a strong sense of justice.”

                “But is it her place?”

                It was Vivienne’s turn to furrow a brow, she let her mask of serenity slip around Letto. They were in the hallways though, behind a ward. Not in their apartments. Vivienne quickly schooled her expression at the thought. She was not some flighty Novice. She was in control.

                “Yes, but the Daughter-Heir is still a High Seat in her own right, the rest of the Houses are wrapped up in the Succession. In light of the charges, the High Seat of Gilyard is a stain on Andor. He must be removed. By dispensing justice on a peer, in absence of a Queen, the Daughter-Heir is showing the other High Seats that she is not afraid to dispense justice and, also, display her own strength. Andor needs a strong queen, Letto.”

                The Warder considered it thoughtfully. She raised a finger and responded more evenly than she had before.

                “I still don’t like it. We’re supposed to spy on the ex-Asha’man and make sure he doesn’t ‘unjustly’ murder his father. Sounds like a lot of games to me, Viv,” Letto said as she folded her arms under her breasts. The woman cocked an eyebrow at Vivienne and tilted her head slightly, inviting a verbal challenge.

                “Well, keep a wary eye out if your worried, Letto, but by the Light, we are assisting Merdyn Gilyard and we shall do whatever we must to assist the Daughter-Heir in securing the Throne. For the people of Andor and for the Tower.”

                Letto groaned and Vivienne dispelled the ward, glaring back at her Warder.

                The two women proceeded down the hall, twisting and winding about the Palace in forced silence. Vivienne’s face was calm and smooth, but inside she roiled at her Warder. The woman had clearly done it to goad her, hoping to push her towards abandoning the mission out of morals, going back to the New City to work amongst the people. Vivienne wouldn’t be budged. She really did believe that the High Seat of Trakand was the best of the contenders for the Lion Throne. Vivienne had talked to the High Seat about the people of the realm, and she had proved to be a humanitarian. She wanted to care for them, feed them, protect them, harden them. The late Queen would be proud of her daughter. Not to mention that the young Trakand had held the Dragon’s favor.

                She was no fool. Vivienne knew that the Dragon Reborn would shake the land and was key to winning the Last Battle. The Blue would throw her lot in with him and his associates any day, especially with the Tower suffering a schism. She only hoped that he fulfilled the Prophecies and brought the people of the land a victory against the Shadow.

                After a time, the two women came to Lord Gilyard’s chamber door. The slender, blonde Warder shifted in her leather armor and Vivienne smoothed her silken blue skirts, taking care to tuck away loose strands of flaming red hair. She raised a hand to knock upon the door, but faltered and looked back to her Warder.

                “We should probably assert a little authority, huh?”

                Letto shrugged, barely hiding a smirk.

                Vivienne channeled flows of air and pushed the door open, striding in with a smooth face and straight back. Letto followed closely behind with wolf-like grace, Warder cloak shifting on her shoulders in a sicking shifting of colors. The hopeful-Lord Gilyard sat upon a chaise lounge, taking his morning meal with a young man in red livery attending him. The ex-Asha’man smirked and opened his mouth, but Vivienne spoke first.

                “Lord Gilyard, I presume? You may call me Vivienne Sedai. Have you any wine?”

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
[Image: 3rdage_9.jpg?w=500&ssl=1]

                Letto entered the would-be Lord’s chambers after her Aes Sedai. She had planned on going in before Vivienne, but the woman charged through the doors after forcing them open with the Power. They came into a small sitting room paneled in dark varnished wood, a small hearth set into the north wall of the room and thick curtains concealed glass casements, an immense bookcase between the curtains and above the hearth, contained a variety of tomes and a few antiques scattered amongst its shelves. Mirrored stand lamps sat in each corner adding to the light cast by the fireplace. A few tasteful paintings and tapestries covered the bare spots on the walls and three satin chaise lounges crowded around the hearth. Lord Merdyn sat on the one closest to a door set in the western wall, no doubt to his bedchamber, a young serving man stood by the fire.

                Vivienne moved into the room, introducing herself and Letto. Lord Merdyn had the young serving man pour wine for the Aes Sedai, and he lounged upon the chaise considering Vivienne. She returned the gesture on the opposite couch. Letto moved next to the door they had just entered from, folding her arms under her bosom and watching, listening for anything that might threaten her charge.

                Lord Merdyn and Vivienne Sedai watched each other in silence. Letto could feel nervousness through the bond, although Vivienne didn’t display anything on her face other than utter calm. The Aes Sedai cocked an eyebrow at the man before looking into her wine, sipping thoughtfully. Letto looked from them to the serving man. He was dressed in fine, Camelyn livery with the lion of Andor sewn across his breast. The young man had a pretty face, but only had eyes for his lord. Curious. Surely this man was of the Daughter-Heir’s employ. Why had he looked upon the would-be lord with such reverence?

                “A fine day to you, Vivienne Sedai,” Lord Merdyn finally broke the silence in a smooth tone.

                “As to you, Merdyn Gilyard,” Vivienne replied simply.

                The man furrowed his brow for a brief second before sipping at his wine again. The silence stretched on for another moment before he intoned once more.

                “To what do I owe the pleasure? Surely you have far more important duties to be attending to for the Daughter-Heir.”

                “Which is why I have called upon you, Gilyard.”

                “Oh? Then am I right in assuming this has to do with my claim upon my Father’s house?”


                Letto sat there, smug as a cat with crème. She loved it when Vivienne acted a proper Sister, speaking simply and letting the other person sweat a little. They were of the White Tower. The authority of Amrylin Seat hovered over every action they performed, every word spoken or unspoken. This ex-Asha’man knew that, surely. Let him stew a little and plead for their help. Letto didn’t like it, but if they had to do it, the least he could do was beg. Her lips tightened into a satisfied grin, Vivienne affected no notice of it or Letto’s emotions.

                “Have you been briefed on the matter?”

                “Indeed I have, Gilyard.”

                The manservant topped off the goblets that Merdyn and Vivienne held. Merdyn looked into his own cup before finding the right words to go on with.

                “And what do you think? I suspect you’re either here to chide me or assist me. Which is it?”

                Vivienne snorted and sipped at her glass. She spoke slowly.

                “That depends, Gilyard. Are you here to assist in the Succession or are you merely an opportunity seeker? What of your connections to the Black Tower?”

                Merdyn’s eyes flashed hot pokers at Vivienne.

                “My loyalties lie with Andor. They always have.”

                “But as an initiate of the Black Tower, you renounced such ties. What is your game, man?”

                Letto couldn’t help but chuckle at that. Vivienne ignored her, but she felt the frustration through the bond. The Aes Sedai would be giving her an ear-boxing after this meeting, there was no doubt about that. Still, Letto’s little laugh didn’t do much to derail the upper hand that Vivienne held. Merdyn needed them. He couldn’t very well storm a stronghold on his own, no matter his strength in the Power.

                The two of them, Vivienne and Letto, had been briefed on the young Lordling’s past and his predicament. Daddy caught him fooling around with a farmhand and went down a dark path. The man’s father killed the farmhand and his entire family for the presumed ‘shame’ that Merdyn had brought on their house. Not only that, but apparently the Father had a plot in motion to wed his son to the Daughter-Heir. She had laughed it all off, but the ploy had run deep and for all intents and efforts, it had appeared that Merdyn opposed the plan. Lucky for him. The Daughter-Heir would never take a dandy puff as a consort. No offense to him, but by the way that servant was gazing upon him, Letto would assume that the pair had engaged in relations before the meeting.

                How very improper.

                Couldn’t Vivienne see that this man was a piece of slime? Not to mention doomed. He was a man that could touch the Source. Clearly, Vivienne didn’t want to work with him for his own gain. Didn’t she? Letto didn’t, and she had made that known. They had set out to care for those that couldn’t defend themselves. When did they get caught up in politics? Sure. Many Blues sought out the webs woven by Lords and Ladies, but Viv was different. Why was she doing this? It was maddening, and no explanation she had given was satisfactory.

                Letto groaned internally and watched on as the Lord Merdyn made a fool of himself.

                They’d be back in the New City in a day or two. Vivienne wouldn’t help this man. No matter what the Daughter-Heir said.

"We are the sisters of the Moon." - Siobhan's hit single, 'Silver Skans'
Merdyn sipped thoughtfully at his wine, taking a moment to gaze in at his cup as he found the right response; one of a few Aes Sedai mannerisms he had picked up during his life. The way the Sisters handled social interactions would give any noble pause, it had served him well during his last few months in residence at the Black Tower.

                Father had never put much stock into the Aes Sedai, although Merdyn would bet his left stone that Father would have pushed him into the White Tower had he been born female. Anything to gain power and influence. Were he a more progressive sort, he might even have liked to see how high Merdyn had climbed within the Black Tower… When it came to Channeling, Asha’men were more powerful than Aes Sedai; although a wise man would point out that strength wasn’t everything.

                It had been in Merdyn’s case.

                A broken bond, eyeless faces, a cacophony of discordant laughter, panicked Gateways.

                Merdyn shook himself.

                “My game, Vivienne Sedai?” Merdyn pursed his lips. This wasn’t the Daughter-Heir he was speaking to, nor another Noble. There was no need to play the Game of Houses with her, no matter how much the Blue Sisters enjoyed their word games. This woman was his equal, as far as he was concerned. He would speak plainly with her, and by the Light, he would get her to speak plainly with him as well. Perhaps if she saw that he put no walls up, that he was willing to be honest with her? Perhaps.

                “I was groomed to succeed my Father as High Seat, he had no other heirs despite plenty of attempts… Or so my ‘ears’ tell me. The man disowned me for unfounded reasons, I joined the Black Tower and proved adept at the role prescribed to me, I am now labeled a deserter for even more unfounded reasons, and so I return to my home, praying the Daughter-Heir will aid me in recovering some semblance of dignity and security. Is that what you wanted to hear, Vivienne Sedai?”

                The Blue Sister gave no sign of reaction, yet the female Warder visibly bristled at his words.

                Such a strange thing, a female Warder. The Daughter-Heir had her own Bonded female, but the Trakand woman was royalty… Not to mention the fact that Merdyn needed her. If she wanted an entire harem of Warders, who was he to judge… But this Aes Sedai taking a female? The White Tower was notorious for their obsessions with tradition and propriety, but then again the Dragon Reborn did walk the land once more. Strange tales were being told across the Nations every single day, what was one more oddity to toss on the pile?

                The female Warder regained her calm and glared daggers at Merdyn. What had he done to gain such a look? It’s not like he was holding the Power, not that she would have known. Besides, he was the closest thing a man could get to becoming Aes Sedai, this woman should have shown at least a sliver of respect when regarding him. At the bare minimum some decorum… Honestly.

                He didn’t like the woman, she made him unsettled. That piercing gaze and that distrustful aura that permeated the Warder… If the talks failed today it would be her fault, Merdyn had no doubt she would be chittering in the Blue’s ear.

                The Aes Sedai sipped at her own goblet before responding.

                “A fair answer, if not anything I didn’t know,” The Blue set the cup down, “My question stands, Gilyard. What is your game?”

                Guess I was wrong on that gamble, Merdyn thought to himself, She still finds me suspicious. Clever girl. He smirked openly, gazing directly into the Aes Sedai’s eyes. She didn’t so much as flinch, although the cup was back in her hands within moments.

                “The Daughter-Heir is not an ignorant woman, neither are you I suspect. Would you care to hear it from my own lips then? I want my birthright. I won’t waste words lying to you or dancing around the truth, Vivienne Sedai, I am a man of my word. To be restored to my proper place in Andoran society is my only wish.”

                The Warder sniffed.

                “So an opportunist?”

                “If you want to call me that, then go right on ahead, Vivienne Sedai. My House has always thrown their lot in with House Trakand. I am shocked my Father has not proclaimed his support of the late-Queen’s daughter… Instead taking House Marne’s side…” Merdyn spat to the side, earning another harsh look from the Warder. Vivienne Sedai's faced remained passive.

                “It is no secret that Arymilla is a ninny. She must have bribed my Father to gain his backing, perhaps promising to forgive his crimes against those he has killed. As a High Seat, it is his duty to protect his people, and he has done the opposite. The Daughter-Heir knows this, Vivienne Sedai. I respected her Mother. I see a lot of the late-Queen in her. A strong, just woman. Andor needs leadership like that, especially in the days where Tarmon Gai’don looms on the horizon.”

                Vivienne Sedai nodded at that, sipping at her wine again.

                Light! What would it take to get this woman to open her mouth? Merdyn had all but begun to babble at her in hopes of prying something out, convince her to put her guards down. But no. If anything, he had accomplished the opposite. Why would she have need to speak if he insisted on filling every gap of silence with his own voice?

                And that Warder just staring at him.

                Merdyn shook his head to himself.

                You’re the ninny, Merdyn Gilyard, he thought.

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Vivienne couldn’t help but notice the front that Letto was putting on in front of Merdyn Gilyard. Oh, the dislike her Warder had felt for the man was palpable over the Bond, but she didn’t feel as suspicious as she looked. Indeed, she seemed more curious than anything. Or was that Vivienne’s own feelings? It could be hard, at times, to keep their separate emotions in check when they both felt something similar. Vivienne felt all of these things and more, but Letto’s mind only seemed to amplify certain emotions.

                She wasn’t trying to remain quiet during this meeting, it was all Letto’s fault. Vivienne was dividing her attention between the meeting and the feelings… But it seemed that the confusion over her emotions served to steer the conversation into something more beneficial for herself. She was no Ta'veren, but at this moment she had felt like one. Merdyn Gilyard had seemed to divulge his entire soul to her without so much as a few choice words on her part.

                Would it always be like this when she played at politics? Oh, if only the other Blues knew about this. Surely the Warder Bond, with a male, wouldn’t function the same way? The way the Greens went on about it seemed to suggest so, at least. Perhaps she should have tried her hand at the Game of Houses a long while ago… But could she really take credit for any of this? She wasn’t built for subterfuge. This was just lucky happenstance. Still. It was all working out in her favor and an Aes Sedai used any tool she could wield with finesse. How else could she exploit this quirk in the Bond for her favor?

                Letto seemed to be sensing those thoughts, or at least an impression of them, for she had begun to send a strong wave of annoyance towards Vivienne. The woman didn’t like to be used. She was here to protect Vivienne; nothing more.

                Vivienne set her wine down on the table before her with careful grace. She settled back into the chaise lounge, considering the ex-Asha’man for a moment. He smiled at her, clearly trying to pour on the charm. She was no Green. She would not be wooed by a pretty face, especially knowing that the man preferred the company of other men… That was a worry of the Daughter-Heir. She did not detest any man that pursued such affections, but if she were to install this man as the High Seat of Gilyard, he would have to produce his own heir. True, he could name a cousin as such, or his holdings could just as easily go back to the Crown upon this man’s death; but the Daughter-Heir was looking for allies amongst the houses. If he did not produce his own heir, she ran the risk of losing the support of House Gilyard, no matter who Merdyn might name. Why go through the trouble of securing this House’s allegiance if, one day, this house might cease to be? The Daughter-Heir might as well take the Holdings now if that seemed to be the case.

                Finally, Vivienne spoke.

                “It was simply a question, Gilyard. Do not take offense where none was meant. Surely, you had to know I would be asking after such things?”

                “Can you blame me for taking it so?”

                “No, but I had heard you were masterful at the Game of Houses. I have yet to see where that reputation came from.”

                Merdyn spluttered.

                “Again… If you’re going to react in such a fashion, then I’m beginning to agree with my other Sisters. You Asha’men could stand for some tutelage in the White Tower.”

                “We have done just fine on our own, Vivienne Sedai.”


                “Look, are you here to berate me? Or are we here to discuss the problems surrounding my house?”

                “Ah. Yes. I am glad you brought that up.”

                Vivienne grabbed at her wine, the boy in the room rushed over from his place behind Gilyard to refresh her cup. He almost tripped over his own two feet… Really, as endearing as it was, the Daughter-Heir should not have set so many fresh faces to tending the Lords in the Palace. How long had this boy been in the employ of the Daughter-Heir? She nodded to him in thanks and sipped again at the cup.

                “How do you plan on securing an heir to your seat?”

                Surprise flashed across the Bond and also across Merdyn Gilyard’s face.

                “It is a valid question. I am aware of your past and your present. You have never been known to lie with a woman. Unless you Asha’men have discovered how to… work around that problem… Well, I am certainly curious to hear your thoughts on the matter either way.”

                Merdyn recovered quickly before standing abruptly. Letto’s hand was on her sword immediately. Vivienne held a hand up to her Warder, eyes never leaving Merdyn.

                He smirked again before his form started to ripple. Vivienne gasped softly to herself as his form changed to that of a red-headed woman in a blue dress. It was like looking into a mirror. Merdyn had taken on the form of herself. Oh, there were some details here and there that were off… The hair a bit too long, the nose a touch too wide, and the bosom a bit too buxom; but there it was.

                Vivienne rose from her seat and walked around Merdyn, inspecting the Illusion. She poked and prodded at him. The Mask of Mirrors rippled when she did so. He didn’t have as much finesse as he thought he did. Still. It was impressive.

                “What does this have to do with anything, Gilyard?”

                When he spoke, it was with her own voice.

                “It isn’t obvious?”

                Vivienne didn’t respond.

                The Mask rippled once more, shifting back to Merdyn’s form. Suddenly, she felt a sense of panic over the bond and heard her Warder gasp. Vivienne’s eyes shot over to Letto. The woman no longer stood there. In her place was a copy of the boy-servant who was attending Merdyn.

                “Of course…” Vivienne muttered, “Kindly remove your weave from my Warder.”

                “Of course,” Merdyn repeated in a mock tone.

                The Weave vanished.

                “So, you’re going to wed a female and use the Mask of Mirrors to… Aid you… When you must perform your duties?”

                Merdyn only smirked at her.

                “Clever. I wish you luck in finding a woman who will put up with such a thing.”

                “So that means you will help me?”

                “Far from it. Walk with me, Gilyard.”

                Vivienne spun on her heal and marched out of the room, not waiting to see if the man followed.

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Merdyn Gilyard looked abashed at Vivienne’s abruptness. Letto followed the pair out into the hallways of the palace, her hand remaining on her sword. Saidin had touched her. Gooseflesh covered every inch of her at the thought. She knew this ex-Asha’man couldn’t be trusted… He had actually placed a weave upon her without her consent!? Wasn’t this man trying to gain their favor? He was an ex-noble, surely he had some idea of decency. All good Andorans did. What was he playing at to just Channel at her without warning or asking? The man would have lost his head had she not been Bonded to Vivienne and had he not been a guest of the Daughter-Heir.

                Letto twisted her lips in disgust when she looked at the back of the man’s head, who was now walking in lock-step with her Aes Sedai. A sense of calmness and pleasure swept through the Bond; the tell-tale sign that Vivienne was Channeling. She had gone on at length about the feelings of Saidar and what it meant to Channel, it wasn’t long before Letto was able to tell when Vivienne wove threads of the One Power. If their earlier interaction was any indication, her Aes Sedai had performed another ward against eavesdropping, although she made a point to include Letto in the perimeter since she could still hear the pair talking.

                “The Daughter-Heir has decided to back you in this endeavor of yours, Gilyard.”

                “Thank the Light for that. When do we leave for my father’s estates?”

                “I’m afraid it’s not so simple. We shall require a certain amount of subterfuge in this matter. I trust you are more skilled in that art than the Game of Houses?”       
                Merdyn made an affronted noise, but Vivienne held up her hand.

                “Listen before you object, man. I am offering you an opportunity here. Please put your pride aside.”

                “As you say, Aes Sedai,” The man said with a strangled tone.

                Letto allowed herself a satisfied smirk. She regularly schooled her face, but neither of the two could see her lest they turn around, and she knew that Vivienne would not bother looking back when she could feel such smugness over the Bond; and for all she knew, Gilyard was on guard around Vivienne. At the very least he was nervous over this whole ordeal.

                “The Daughter-Heir has suggested that I approach your Father as an advisor. Judging by the man’s ambition, we doubt that he would turn down an Aes Sedai to guide him, no matter the fact that the Sisters of the Blue are considered to be Rebels by one of the Amyrlins,” Vivienne said with a hint of distaste to her voice, “At the very least my presence will gain him prestige in Armyllia’s eyes, thus a more favored position amongst the houses that back her. Once I have been accepted into the estates, I will move to admit yourself and a small contingency of the Andoran forces, under cover of night, into the Gilyard estates so that we may arrest your Father for trial. You will oversee the estates until the Daughter-Heir has levied justice upon your father, with the backing of the other Houses that support her, and you shall ensure that your Father’s bannermen and forces are brought to heel. After that, it will be a simple matter to hand the estates over to you legally and instate you as the Head of the Gilyard House. I suspect this shall take no longer than a week’s time, two at most. What say you?”

                Gilyard laughed out loud and Letto grimaced at the afront to her Aes Sedai.

                “You really think it shall be so simple? The words came from your mouth, Vivienne Sedai, my father is an ambitious man. Surely, he has eyes and ears located around Camelyn and within the palace, as should Arymilla. I have no doubt in my mind that both of them are aware of this plot.”

                “I can assure you, Gilyard, that the Daughter-Heir and myself have taken every precaution when making these plans. There are only five people that know of them. Letto, yourself, myself, the High Seat of House Taravin, and the Daughter-Heir herself.”

                “Is Dyelin Taravin that trusted?”

                “Have you been away from Camelyn so long, Gilyard? Surely, you must have done your own snooping whilst in residence here. I can assure you, by the Light, that Dyelin Taravin is the most trusted of the Daughter-Heir’s advisors. Why a good portion of this ploy was of her own design.”

                “That’s what worries me.”

                Vivienne stopped up short and Merdyn almost stumbled over his feet at the halt. Letto anticipated the action and stopped in time with her Aes Sedai. Vivienne turned to face Gilyard.

                “If you are unwilling to accept the help of Dyelin Taravin, and by extension, the Daughter-heir, I suggest you vacate the palace immediately.”

                Merdyn towered over Vivienne by about four hand spans, but she did not flinch. She simply stared back with that icy-cool Aes Sedai calm. Merdyn looked away first and swore an oath under his breath. Vivienne spoke first.

                “It is a good thing for you I am going in and not you under the Mask of Mirrors. I am not sure I trust you not to act a fool, or worse, vengeful. Trust in the White Tower and the Lion of Andor in this matter. Not many are offered such a dispensation such as this.”

                “I would like to, Vivienne Sedai, but you can hardly blame me for my doubts or worries over the matter…”

                What a fool this Merdyn Gilyard was. He did not realize just how able-bodied Vivienne was- how could he? This woman was one of the strongest in the Power the White Tower had ever known in over a hundred years. She had borne a daughter before even taking on Novice White and had successfully hidden the fact from the Hall for over twenty years. True, the child had been revealed when Vivienne’s daughter had come to be tested, and Vivienne had borne a harsh penance for such subterfuge, but she had taken it without question and done her time with pride. She had Bonded a woman, against all customs and unwritten laws of the Tower, and still, she had borne the repercussions without thought. All of that and still the woman had had a harsh past before her time in the Tower. Vivienne was a force to be reckoned with, even if she did not look like it, with her wild, unkempt hair and naive outlook on life. This woman had won over Letto’s allegiance a thousand times over. In time, Merdyn Gilyard would know just how powerful this woman was, both in the Power and in character.

                Despite his ignorance, Letto could not help but feel contempt for him. She had felt that way about damn near everyone that had underestimated her Aes Sedai. Oh, Vivienne had often said ‘it was better to be underestimated than overestimated,’ but even so. She was a woman of the Tower. How far humanity had fallen if they were so quick to forget that it was the Sisters of the Tower that had saved this world from destruction? That alone should have afforded her even the slightest shred of respect. But, no. This Asha’man was an upstart and overly prideful at that. Letto prayed to the Light that this mission succeeded, if only for Vivienne’s safety. Letto would accompany her, but Gilyard was right, much could go wrong.

                “What would you do differently, Gilyard?”

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  “For a start? Your Ajah. My Light blasted Father would warm quicker to a Red if he has any idea as to where I ran after fleeing his estates. I wager he knew about it the moment I stepped onto the Farm. Why, I would bet my last coin against the Dark One on that,” Merdyn said lightly with a shrug of his shoulders. The woman’s plan wasn’t all bad, but there were far too many holes in it.

                Far too many.

                With a twitch of her shawl, Vivienne Sedai gave him a suffering look, “The Three Oaths will not allow me to make such a claim. Do you suggest to use your little tricks to throw your own voice and speak the words for me? I thought not.”

                Merdyn was shaking his head vigorously, “There are many ways to proclaim yourself, you don’t have to outright say you’re Red, but if you come in wearing a red fringed shawl…?”

                “Assumptions and half-truths are all well and good, but I would rather not take that risk. I’ve heard it said your Father has grown paranoid these past months. What do you think he would do should he suspect me of deception?” Vivienne asked coolly. Letto, the female Warder, grunted as if in agreement. Merdyn ignored the silly chit. She may be here to protect the Aes Sedai, true, but that did not give her a say in this matter no matter how she wore that scowl.

                “Fine, fine,” Merdyn said impatiently, throwing up his hands, “He does not like Aes Sedai period, so you may be right on that front. What will you do if he turns you away?”

                Vivienne was silent.

                Thought so, Merdyn thought to himself with a wry grin. If he was not mistaken, the Aes Sedai had even stiffened her back slightly. Let her stew in that for a moment.

                The silence seemed to stretch on for a time until the Aes Sedai finally broke it with a near whisper, “He will not turn me away.”

                “How can your Three Oaths let you say something like that when you do not know,” Merdyn asked seriously. The woman sounded far too confident.

                “Because I have met your Father many times,” Vivienne said with a sudden seriousness painting her face.

                This time it was Merdyn’s turn to stop short in their walk through the Palace. Vivienne halted as soon as he did, almost as if she had anticipated this reaction. Merdyn turned completely to stare at her, ignoring the palace servants that were rushing away; no doubt they thought an Aes Sedai and an Asha’man were about to come to blows in the Palace itself. Fools. Merdyn Gilyard was a proud Andoran through and through. He would never disrespect the Daughter-Heir and his country by behaving in such a manner. Still. It was probably better to find themselves alone for this conversation. No doubt tongues were already wagging about the three of them marching down the hallways in a cone of silence.

                “You’re mad. My Father would never-“

                Vivienne held up a hand forestalling him. Merdyn’s tongue knotted in his mouth as he bit off the last of what he had been about to say. The Aes Sedai carried on in cool, serious tones.

                “Before the Daughter-Heir returned to the Palace in Camelyn, I occupied my time with the common folk and seeing to their needs. The City was in a downward spiral before the late Queen departed and even more so once the Dragon Reborn came to court. There was no one else to do it. I have treated with your Father more than once. He has helped me considerably in securing grain for the city and providing work to some of the less fortunate,” Vivienne said as Merdyn shook his head in disbelief.

                “Aes Sedai, are you quite sure we are speaking of the same man?” Merdyn asked incredulously. There was no way, but she could not speak any word that was untrue. He would have to speak with his own eyes and ears, clearly, there was much that they had left out in their reports to him.

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   “I speak it plainly so you know it for certain,” Vivienne said before resuming their stately pace down the length of the corridor. This man, this lordling, was starting to chafe at her nerves. She had been nothing but honest with the man, discounting several bits she had left out, so why should he be so disbelieving? Let this Lordling Gilyard treat with one of the Grays and he’d be begging for her to come back, and aid him, on his knees.

                Vivienne shook her head imperceptibly to banish the thought. She was more than enough for this man; he would just have to bear it and like it. Let him chew on those new morsels for a moment; his shock was more than palpable. In truth, Vivienne had dearly wished to avoid this sudden revelation, but the man had all but goaded her into speaking it. She usually had more control of self than that, but the man’s arrogance was becoming a burr in her side. This whole encounter seemed to remind her of Letto’s admonishing words earlier in the day.

                Smugness oozed through the Bond. Or it could be Letto in this moment… Vivienne thought to herself with a sigh. She all but tramped down the emotion that leaked through.

                “Fine, yes, you are right,” Merdyn said breathlessly as he closed the gap between them with a quick trot of the legs. His brow was only slightly furrowed as he went on, “But, do come again? Why did you not open with that? Your relationship changes everything.”

                “We have no relationship,” Vivienne said in short tones, “We have simply had enough dealings in the past for him to have come to trust me; in a fashion.”

                “Be that as it may, there are still holes in your plan,” Merdyn spoke just as shortly.

                “Such as?”

                “He must know you’ve attached yourself to the Daughter-Heir and he has proclaimed for House Marne. With your Three Oaths, what can you possibly say that will convince him that you have turned cloak without speaking it plain?” Merdyn asked. The man really was getting above himself. He had no title yet and had scorned the two pins that had marked him Asha’man. Who was he to question her so? He was the one that needed the help of the Tower and the Daughter-Heir. Vivienne knew Letto's emotions were staining her own, but part of her did feel that way. Why couldn't the man humble himself more?

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"

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