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Time passed.  And for the first time in the whole arc of her long life, Corele was blissfully carefree. The revelation hit her one night all of a sudden.  She blew out the candle, pulled her feet from the cold floor, curled up under the blankets and did not cry herself to sleep. Not that she was never fulfilled as Aes Sedai, but every day since novicehood her thread felt on the verge of fraying like the fibers on a trampled shawl. It was a stressful life, which is why so few girls with the ability actually earned the elusive title. Yet saidar was a sweet reward and serving the Light made it all worthwhile. 

Perhaps she was finally coming to accept the loss of it all. 

She worked her fingers to the bone for the Queen, but did so between excited moments of gossip. After facing Faodella, she became used to being overlooked by ageless faces. The only spike of real anxiety in these last few weeks was when she was prevented entrance to the Queen’s chambers by a leathery pair of Maidens of the Spear.  It had been so long since she’d seen Aiel, it took her a moment to realize the laughter from within the Queen's rooms was his voice.  Corele bowed her head after that and did as the Maidens commanded: she left. A pleased smile touched the corners of her mouth knowing what she now knew herself.

One day she realized she’d forgotten to run to the pigeonry to check for letters until well after nightfall. Yet there was no correspondence; then or any day since. She slowly began to unclench her fist around that dream as well. They must have been wrong, she concluded: Kymira and Nessie. Someone was using Lennox’s name and maybe his face too. Corele was certainly not ignorant of the clandestine gifts of the Power. If he really was alive, he would have come by now. He would have found her. The many weeks of disappointment culled her eagerness to return, and she hadn't gone back since.

She danced and drank and was courted. It was a glimmer of the sort of life she would have known had she remained Lady Taravin: a noblewoman’s life. As such a Lady, she would have given any husband the alliance of a powerful House and the fortune of an eldest daughter’s dowry. Instead, Nicole did not have such jewels in her crown to offer, she was only a flashy prize as one of four Ladies in Waiting. At every public appearance of the Queen standing demurely behind Her Majesty was the intriguing Nicole.  Her scar never seemed to bother anyone but Aes Sedai, even after they learned the inconsequential truth of their origin. She still wondered if Faodella believed the story or not, but there was no manipulating Nicole unless she wanted to be handled. There was no leading her astray or bribing her either.  Her only temptation was that she was falling prey to her own divination. Corele conjured up an identity to pass her remaining years, and perhaps she was finally falling into it in earnest. Through the game of it all, she smiled and flirted with giving in to this reset reality. She seemed to forget about the strings of the White Tower. In the merriment she rarely considered the Last Battle even among all the talk of the Shienarans and their negotiations. In quiet moments she did not wonder what Byron was doing or fear for Arikan’s location.

She continued to wear the blue pearl, but every time Leodon twisted it around her finger, his affection dulled the questions in her mind like it tugged at dormant doubts. She came to an arrangement with young Kymira about keeping it. She fed the child all sorts of gossip which the little bird used in all sorts of creative fashions. The two were slowly becoming actual friends. Perhaps it was because Nicole treated Kymira like an adult, at least that was how the child probably viewed it. To Corele, she nudged and guided the girl like a mentor. Kymira was the Lady of the House Corele would have been had she not gone to Tar Valon. It was an obligation and a privilege to groom her long-great niece.

Kymira wasn’t the only one to benefit from their friendship.  The girl also knew about Corele and Leodon's relationship, but rather than squash their consorts, Kymira approved of it. She even helped from time to time like she was enraptured by the romance of it all. The idea of her elder brother courting some 'pig-faced twig of a brat' as she liked to describe Leo's usual matches, in her opinion, Nicole was a much better alternative. Where the girl learned such language, Corele could only fathom, but the child was right. Leodon’s prospects in marriage were overwhelmingly political. His family was in the right to make as powerful a match as they could, but unfortunately, power had little to do with trivial things like beauty and passion.

With the excuse of Kymira’s friendship, Corele often found herself in the company of her older brother. The two would find some reason to depart only to reunite somewhere else. She savored those moments when she discarded every shred of sense. If she closed her eyes, and felt only the heat of his skin pressed against hers, she forgot Corele Taravin and her nephew ever existed and instead knew only two people desperately infatuated with each other.
[Image: LordTaravin-edited.jpg][Image: Leodon_redgold-cropped.jpg]
Lord Leopold Taravin & Lord Leodon Taravin

Corele was calm as she waited at the side of the room. They were in one of the palace drawing rooms. A formal space where the Queen met with members of nobility or Aes Sedai for more intimate conversations. As a Lady in Waiting, she was more trusted than a servant, but could summon one when they were needed. She also served the Queen’s guests, whom were presently engaged deep in conversation with her.

Following weeks of negotiations, the Queen pledged soldiers to march to Shienar but only upon requiring the Great Houses to send members of their own retinues. The Houses of Mantear, Sarand, Taravin, and Darwyn were among the first to commit. Even House Winther agreed in an effort to return to better graces. Despite the verbal promises, each House walked a balance beam of details before they specified numbers. Corele listened to the rumors diligently, especially when Ellomai Sedai was brought in for consultation by the Queen. As she understood it, each House desored to send the largest number of soldiers so their representative would be in command of the entire Andoran presence, but they all wanted to spare the fewest arms as possible. It was a dance that Corele nudged however she could, and in the end, it was the House of Taravin that came out on top.

The Queen’s first was the stately High Seat of House Taravin, Lord Leopold. He had red-gold hair styled neatly from his face with white mixed heavily in the trimmed whiskers lining his cheeks. He was handsome even in his late fifties, all the more for his dignified expressions and lordly power. Seated next to him was his firstborn son and heir, Leodon, who took after his father in confidence and bearing. He had the same coloring and sweeping style of his hair, though his eyes were blue where his father’s was the famous Taravin hazel. In his thirties now, Leodon was still unwed and beginning to feel the pressure to continue the House line.

Still under the guise as Nicole, the demure Lady in Waiting, Corele was listening intently to their conversation though she looked anywhere but at the participants of the conversation. How she longed for the aid of the One Power to help the effort of straining.

The Queen was speaking. “As House Taravin is sending the greatest number of arms, your House will have command of the soldiers present, including the Queen’s Guards that I will be sending. I’ve made our officers aware that they will be under the command of Taravin.”

At that, the elder Lord Leopold nodded. “I am humbled and honored, your Majesty.” The High Seat replied.

The Queen’s expression was blank, but her eyes flicked toward the younger Leodon. “Lord Taravin, you are needed in Caemlyn. I am sending your heir.”

Nicole couldn’t help but stare. Leodon was blinking and his father was rendered quite speechless. Neither of them would dare disagree nor would they ask that the queen reconsider the decision, but they were obviously put out of sorts. Nicole, eyes wide, listened and contemplated.

“Lord Leodon, you are in the best position to broker a solid alliance with Shienar.” Nicole swallowed. The Queen meant by marriage, clearly. Since Leodon had dragged his feet for so long in choosing an Andoran bride, the Queen thought to use this to the nation’s advantage. “And as heir, you will forge friendships and alliances that will last long in the Seat of your House. You are young and should be exposed to true battle. The kind that changes a man and gives him perspective no other noble House will know.”

That clearly meant that she was grooming him in battle experience. Was this about the Last Battle? Did she know something from her husband that none of them did?

Once the arrangements were settled, Leodon did all he could to not look at Nicole as he exited. She longed to follow her distant relative  and hear their plans, but instead, the Queen beckoned her to attendance. Of course, she went.

Once the doors were closed, Nicole bowed her head in deference, her own hazel eyes settling briefly on the Serpent Ring on the Queen’s finger. She was Green Ajah after all, and one of the rarest people alive to know Nicole’s true identity as the former Keeper of the Chronicles. As such, she relied on Nicole’s counsel from time to time, but as a former Blue, Corele could provide little advice on battle plans. The choice to send Leodon was sound, though it made her weak to admit it. He would have an advantage over his competitors for the rest of his life as a result of this experience. It would be dangerous, however. He was walking into something no Andoran could fathom, and Corele prayed that the Blightborder really was as calm as rumor said it was.

“Yes, your Majesty,” she sat when beckoned, hands folded gracefully in her lap.

The Queen’s eyes darted around the room momentarily, and Corele assumed she had just channeled a ward against hearing. She blinked sadly at the recognition.

“I am sending you to accompany Lord Taravin,” the Queen said.

Corele’s mouth parted in surprise. “My Lady, is that wise? I am in no position,” she stopped when the Queen raised her hand. Even when they were both Aes Sedai, Corele would have deferred to the Queen’s strength in the Power but for the fact she wore the stole Keeper.

“Ellomai Sedai has been called back to Tar Valon or she would be an appropriate candidate to accompany them, but all our sisters are being called to Tar Valon or otherwise are being assigned places far away. The Tower isn’t safe right now. You will need to be my eyes and ears there, Nicole.”

Of course Nicole would obey, then the Queen shifted on the precipice of saying more. Why was the Tower not safe? Was it Black Ajah? Forsaken? She dared not ask, though.

“And there is another reason. You must end it with him, Nicole. I am aware of you two, and I have turned a blind eye for a long time out of respect for what you have been through. I cannot imagine… and I do want you to be happy. As such, I am sending you to Shienar so you have your last months with him. Have his child if you want, and I will make certain that you can live out your days in peace with a different kind of love, but upon your return I am ordering you to leave him alone. The Taravin line must remain strong for Andor. For the Last Battle.”

[Image: Nicole-Soiree.jpg][Image: Leodon-narrow.jpg]
"Nicole Candraed" and Lord Leodon Taravin

A sick knot tightened in Nicole’s chest that would not dislodge the entire rest of the night. She helped the Queen prepare for bed then left the opulence of the palace in a rush, and hoped that Leodon had been able to slip away for their rendezvous.

Nicole was practically asleep in her chair by the time the door burst open. The candles had long dripped their last wax and only the smoldering light from the dying fire remained. It must have been the middle of the night.

Leodon’s figure outlined the door, which he hurriedly closed behind him. Not a single word passed between them before they rushed toward one another. The embrace made her head swim. His arms wrapped around her shoulders, holding her tight against him. He smelled like the fur of his coat collar, cologne and sweat. To go from such empty longing to being together all in a space of a few moments was like Traveling across the world in a single step. He hurriedly stripped the dress from her shoulders, and she shoved the coat from his. Some time later, she lay her cheek on him nd curled her fingers through the hair of his chest, eyes heavy, body weak.

“I am going to Shienar,” he said, and she wondered if behind the words he was excited, afraid or both.

“It will be dangerous,” she replied before stopping herself. He kissed the top of her head, thinking her to only know what the stories said about the Blightborder.

“It’s an immense honor. One I intend to return to enjoy.” She could tell he was smiling as she nestled further in his arms, but then he tensed and his voice grew flat. “There is something else. I’ve been ordered to marry upon my return. To continue the line. I have cousins who could inherit the High Seat should I die young or never have a son, but the Seat has passed from father to firstborn son for hundreds of years, Nicole. I will be responsible for the broken lineage if I do not do my duty.”

Her eyes grew warm, though she could not bear to look up. Some people were simply not meant to be together forever, and Nicole’s present station was only half of that hindered destiny.

“I’ve been ordered to go as well,” her voice was cool as stone. It broke some sort of spell between them and he shifted to find her gaze.

“That’s impossible. I will not allow it,” he stated with such determination, Nicole was briefly hurt. He softened then, “if it is dangerous for me, it will be too dangerous for you.” And he stroked her cheek.

“It’s the Queen’s orders,” She could protect him there. They did not play the Great Game in the borderlands, but she understood the Queen’s intentions for Leodon and the threat of the Dark One. What the implication of the Last Battle meant for Andor, and she knew the families. Could help him select the best, most advantageous option. His wife would need to be able to learn how to play the Game if she were to come to Caemlyn. They didn’t need the fortune, thankfully, but someone who could make him happy. Someone who could provide the heirs he, and the Queen, needed. Children who could survive the Last Battle and keep Andor strong in the aftermath.

“The Queen’s orders,” he repeated and settled back into the pillow. He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but instead, he held her tight like he never wanted this moment to end.

But it did. He left without staying the rest of the night, and Nicole slept alone.

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