Lynne pulled her cloak closer around her as she hurried down the snow-covered street of Cairhien. In her hurry, though, she failed to see the man coming up the street in the opposite direction. Nor did he, deep in thought, see her.
They collided, and fell in the snow.
"Oh!" Lynne exclaimed, blushing. She tried to stand, and slipped again, blushing deeper. The snow was knee-deep, to her. With a smile, the tall man offered a hand to help her up. "Thank you. I am sorry."
"No harm done," he said, "it was as much my fault as yours. But may I know your name, my lady?"
Lynne blinked, then looked down at her fine clothes. Of course, he took her for nobly born. Well, there was no harm in him thinking that for a while. "Lynne," she said, smiling up at him.
"And I, Darian." Still holding her hand, Darian returned her smile. She was a remarkably pretty woman, he found himself thinking. Around twenty-five, a few years younger than him, she had creamy skin and big dark eyes. Her cheeks were pink from the cold and from blushing, and a few tendrils of black hair escaped from the hood of her cloak. Remarkably pretty, indeed.
She was studying him just as frankly. He was head and shoulders and more above her, lean, with fair hair and a face made sun-dark by the recent long summer. His eyes were brown-gold, with a glint in them that she liked. His coat was good green wool, too fine for a servant, but not fine enough for a lord. "And what brings you to the City, Darian? It's clear you're not Cairhienin."
"From Andor," he said easily, which was the truth. "I'm visiting friends who live not far away." Which wasn't, or not exactly. "You live here?"
"I was born here," and she laughed, changing the subject. "Are you going to let my hand go? Or are you coming with me?"
"That depends on where you're going," he returned, holding her hand firmly in his.
"The Royal Library?"
"Oh?" Darian was interested. "You're a scholar, then?"
"Of sorts. Well, are you coming?"
No, Darian intended to say, but something - perhaps it was her smile, perhaps just his curiosity, perhaps something else - changed the word on his tongue before it was spoken. "Yes."
It was Lynne's turn for surprise. She had just been teasing, not expecting for a moment him to come with her. Still, it was an equal surprise to her when she said, "Come on then, if you're coming. It's cold out here."
Linking arms, they walked down the street to the Library. Inside, servants moved quickly to take their cloaks, offer hot towels and mugs of steaming wine. They wore the same dark livery as Palace servants, but their badge was a book worked in gold and silver thread. "They know you?" Darian asked curiously, glancing around.
"I come here often." Lynne wasn't worrying; nobody here knew her as other than a frequent visitor. She shrugged out of the fur cloak, handing it to a waiting maid. "The books I'm looking for are on the top floor, I think; would you help me find them?"
Darian looked at the long list she took from her belt pouch. "This might take a while." His gaze sharpened as he read some of the titles. "Men of Fire and Women of Air. A Study of the Breaking. Men, Women, and the One Power Among Humans. You're interested in odd things."
"I am interested in everything," she replied calmly. "I make a study of odd things. Right now I am studying this." She looked at him sideways. "If the topic makes you uneasy, you don't have to stay."
"No, I'll stay," he said slowly. It was an odd topic to be studying, but he had met men and women at the new School of Cairhien who were interested in odder. And he supposed, especially this near to the Black Tower, people would want to know about men channelling. "Besides, you'll never carry all these by yourself. Fourteen books on your list I count, and I doubt any are small."
"Probably not," she agreed with a wry grin, looking around at the shelves of leather-bound volumes. "All right, shall we start?"
They found eleven of the books on the shelves, and the head librarian promised to send a message when the other three were returned. Darian carried most of them as they left the Library, although the librarian had offered to send a servant along to help. "Can I see you again sometime?" he said as they parted outside Lynne's inn.
Now what did I say that for? he thought, surprised. He was trying not to be noticed. Well, it probably didn't matter. No one in the City knew him, after all, as long as he stayed away from the Sun Palace. "Tomorrow, maybe?"
"Why not?" she said. It would be good to have someone to talk to. "But not here. There's an inn opposite what used to be the Illuminators' headquarters. The Shooting Star."
"I know it. I'll meet you there at noon, then?"
"'Till then," and taking the books from him, she went inside. A servant scurried to carry them for her before she was more than a few steps into the common room.
Darian glanced up at the sun, briefly out from behind a cloud. It was about time to leave, if he wanted to be back before dark. Pulling his cloak around him again, he hurried up the street toward the City gates.
From her window, Lynne watched him go.
The Shooting Star was filled with talk and music and the smell of hot spiced wine. Lynne, entering, smiled. Darian was sitting at a table near the window.
"Hello, stranger," she greeted him, taking a seat opposite. He grinned back at her, hazel eyes sparkling.
"Hello, beautiful stranger. Have you any books you'd like carried, perhaps?"
"Not today. I'll tell you when I do." She signalled a young serving man, who brought two cups and a pitcher and set them on the table. The steam rising from the hot wine smelt of sweet herbs and spices, cinnamon and vervet and ginger. Lynne pulled off her gloves and tucked them behind her belt, pushed back her cloak. Her cream riding dress, although high-necked in the Cairhienin fashion, fitted her quite tightly, and she wondered idly if Darian had noticed.
Darian had noticed. His eyes sparkled even more as he regarded her over the rim of his cup. He wore the same green coat as the day before. "How are your studies coming, then?"
"Well enough," she said carefully. In truth, there was little in the books that she did not know already, and nothing at all of use. It seemed this was another vain endeavour. "The other three books should arrive before long. I was surprised they had been borrowed, though. Not many people want to read about men channelling."
"Nowadays..." Darian shrugged. "I suppose more people are interested."
"True." She laughed suddenly. "Perhaps someone from the Black Tower took them. Or the Dragon Reborn himself, for that matter. He certainly has a reason for being interested."
"Who knows?" He changed the subject quickly; this was not a topic he wanted to get into. "What else have you studied?"
They talked about books, and libraries. They talked about the countries each had visited, and agreed that Ebou Dari held the best festivals, that Lugard had the most thieves and that only a fool visited the Borderlands in winter. They laughed over Domani food and the difficulty of eating it. They talked about music, dreams, poetry, politics and the weather. It seemed so short a time that both were astonished at looking out the window and realizing it was nearly dusk.
"Tomorrow?" Darian said, looking regretfully at the darkening sky. It was a pity to have to leave.
"Tomorrow," Lynne agreed.
They met again the next day. And again, the day after that.
There was always a table left for them, the same table near the window. The cups of wine were brought as soon as they entered, and the plump innkeeper watched, smiling, from the counter.
She thought they were courting, Lynne realised, half-amused, half- embarrassed. Of course, what else would anyone think when they met so often? She liked Darian, maybe more than liked him, but - well, it was out of the question, in the circumstances. She blushed to find herself wishing the circumstances were different.
Darian had also realised, and wasn't sure what to do about it. Certainly, Lynne was his friend. And that was all it was, he told himself firmly, pushing down the daydreams that floated to the top of his mind. Anything more was impossible.
Maybe they should stop meeting, Lynne thought as the innkeeper continued to smile. Of course it was only friendship, but it might too easily become something more. She had her work to do, and she couldn't afford entanglements. And sooner or later she would have to leave Cairhien. It would be better all around for them not to meet again.
It was too dangerous to continue meeting, Darian thought, as he found himself continually thinking of Lynne as more than a friend. He was in no position to enter into any kind of relationship, now or in the foreseeable future. Yes, it would be best if they didn't meet again.
They continued meeting.
"Hello, stranger!" Lynne tossed aside her cloak and sat down beside him. Somehow, over the days since they had been meeting here, their chairs had moved closer and closer together. Now, when they sat down, their thighs were almost touching. Neither felt any inclination to move.
"Hello, beautiful stranger," Darian responded as usual, smiling. "Isn't the weather foul?" The snow had hardened to sleet, which was hurtling down in storms from a dirty grey sky.
"You're not joking." Lynne shuddered elaborately. "I nearly broke my neck, getting through those streets. I'm not sure which is worse, this or the heat."
"I'll walk you home," Darian offered immediately. The weather made travel through the city next to impossible, but two were safer than one.
"Thank you," but Lynne smiled wryly. "We need to talk, though, - and not about the weather. Darian, you must have noticed - I mean, I think a lot of you - I mean, we've become close and - Oh, this is impossible. Darian, as stupid as it may sound, I think I love you."
He stared at her, stunned, as words raced through his mind. What to say. How to answer. A thousand phrases tumbled over each other, and he didn't know which one was on his lips until he heard himself say it. "I love you too," he said, and knew as he said it that it was the right one.
"You don't know how relieved that makes me." Lynne toyed with a strand of her ravens-wing hair, still not quite meeting his eyes. "I was afraid I was making a total fool of myself. Darian, there's still something I haven't told you about me, and I think you'd better know before you make a decision."
"You don't know everything about me, either," Darian said quietly. "I've been keeping a secret from you, too, and it's the reason I haven't spoken before." He looked outside. It was still grey and sleeting, but a crowded common room was no place for saying what he had to say. "Shall we go outside?"
Lynne nodded. "There's a garden behind the inn. It'll be cold, but at least there's some shelter, and there'll be nobody out there." She was just as glad not to speak here, although no one would hear them over the music. What was this secret of Darian's? Was he going to tell her he was married? Light, she hoped it wasn't that.
They stood in the shelter of a nearly leafless beech, the snow a thick carpet at their feet. "Mine, first," Darian said. He wondered what Lynne's secret was. Light, he hoped she wasn't married. It couldn't be as bad as his - could it?
It was best to be blunt. Say it straight out. "Lynne, I can channel. I am an Asha'man at the Black Tower." It was out now, for better or worse. What would her reaction be?
She stared at him, and all the colour slowly drained from her face, her dark eyes huge against the whiteness of her skin. "No. Oh, Light, no, not that!" His brown-gold eyes no longer sparkled; they were wary, watching her. "Light, oh Light, no. Irony, sweet irony, it'll kill me." She shook her head, half laughing, half crying.
"No." She stepped back sharply. Truth would out. "I, too, can channel," she said flatly. "That was my secret. I was raised last year to the shawl and the Brown Ajah."
There was silence. Darian looked as if she had struck him. For that matter, Lynne thought, she couldn't look much better. Drawing a breath, she went on. "I left Tar Valon when the Tower broke. I came home, here. With the rumours of the Black Tower, I thought it was only wise to find out all I could about the madness. Especially, to see if there might be a way of healing it." She shook her head wearily. Irony.
"I love you," Darian said, and knew it was still true. He shook his own head. "But how? It can't be."
"There are some things love can't conquer," Lynne said bitterly. "There's a word, Darian, they use in the Borderlands. Mashiara, love lost."
"Mashiara." He touched her cheek gently. "Lynne my love, my lost love. Remember me. That's all I ask. Will you remember me?"
"Always." Tears were brimming in her eyes. No, she thought, no, I can't cry! "Kiss me, Darian. One kiss for remembrance."
Their lips touched, lightly, a feather-touch. And then they were in each other's arms, clinging as if for dear life, weeping a storm of tears. "I can't bear it," Lynne whispered, and felt her words echoed by Darian. "I can't bear it." Love should be sweet, should be like the embrace of the Power, but stilling could not be worse than this! "Remember me." And she was not sure which of them had said it.
They stood close together, though no longer touching. "I won't come back," Darian said. "You won't see me again. I'll stay outside the City."
Lynne nodded, tiredly. It didn't matter. Even if they did see each other, each would have to pretend the other didn't exist. Aes Sedai did not know Asha'man, Asha'man did not know Aes Sedai. So life was, so life would ever be. "Goodbye, Darian."
As Lynne watched him go from the garden, she saw his head turn back, and saw the word upon his lips. And silently, her lips formed the same word.