Serafelle Sedai moved blithely down the corridors of the White Tower, looking for a book. Why was she in the hallway searching rather than in a library or perhaps her room or even her private study? Because she tended to put books in odd places, to keep them safe. She kept them safe all, right- safe even from herself, because most of the time she couldnít quite recall where she'd put them in the first place. Even now, lost books tended to turn up in odd places- light fixtures, pillowcases, and in the bathtub. Sheíd only just managed to save that one from being ruined. It had been a close call, but she'd lucked out.
The whole reason she'd gotten a Warder was so that that sort of thing didnít happen. Well, that and the hauling around books. The best books were all over seven hundred pages long and unfortunately tended to weigh rather uncomfortably much, and Serafelle was too small to be able to comfortably carry more than twenty or thirty of them- in short, not even a weekendís reading. Pitiful. But she could hardly push a wheelbarrow around all the time either, could she? And besides, the only wheelbarrow she knew of had gallons and gallons of chocolate pudding in it at the moment.
The way to the Amyrlin's heart was through her chocolate, and it now seemed everyone knew that, from the Aes Sedai to the Wolfbrothers, to Shuyol Ghul.
That wasn't a pleasant thought. Could the Amyrlin turn Black if they offered her a lifetime supply of Hostessš Dingdongs? No, surely not. It would take Cupcakes at least- the little swirl of white icing really made a difference. All the same, the Amyrlin's loyalty wasnít really in question- it was merely an interesting but irrelevant train of thought. And Serafelle intended to find that book if she possibly could. Where on earth was it?
Perhaps she ought to check with Jon'atha- he'd taken a few books back to the library for her once, and most likely still knew the names. But no- it wasn't in that pile, she was sure of it. Time to go back to her room and check that one more time. And of course she hadn't checked under the bed- that was a risky venture. The last time she'd tried that, a horrendous snarl had come from under there, and Serafelle wasn't quite adventurous enough to risk that merely for a copy of "How to Talk Sense Into Idiots". It was the fifth and shabbiest copy of that book the Tower Library owned, but she still needed it for the inventory.
Since the Breaking, when all the shelves in the library had simultaneously fallen down (nearly giving the entire Brown Ajah apoplectic fits), they'd been trying a new system of classification of books, by author's last name rather than book title. Book titles were terribly inefficient after all- did anyone REALIZE how many book titles started with "the"? Or "A", or even "An"? The Breaking in some ways had turned out to be a positive blessing. Despite the fact that at least twenty books were STILL AWOL. Everybody had been instructed days ago to get all their books turned in IMMEDIATELY but there were always stragglers. "Idiots" was the only book she herself still had out.
Back in her room, she peered cautiously under the bed and, when nothing growled ominously at her, swept a hand around under there. Nothing but dust, she thought, and then barked her knuckles against something. Stifling a curse (her mother had always told her that curses weren't ladylike, to which she'd often replied with words that would make a sailor blush. AND stammer), she pulled out the book from beneath the bed and blew the dust off the cover.
Big mistake, Serafelle thought, as she was caught in a series of convulsive sneezes. After ten rather distressing minutes, she was able to read the cover. "A Travellerís Guide to Shuyol Ghul" was the title on the page, written in elegant gold on black. She opened it, and wiped more dust off the first page. Apparently it had been written by Demandred in his younger (much younger in fact) years, in dark brown ink... Hopefully it was ink, thought she, as she remembered uncomfortably that blood invariably dried brown.
It wasn't a Tower book. In fact it belonged to Shuyol Ghul; she'd borrowed it herself at least six months ago. A horrible feeling of guilt nearly overwhelmed her. The Head of the Brown Ajah, with an OVERDUE library book! If anybody ever found out about that, her reputation would be ruined. Somehow she had to get it back without being seen. But how?
Already had she forgotten about "Idiots". This was far more important. It would require speed, finesse, brains, cleverness, insanity. In fact, it required... an accomplice. Who could she trust enough not to blackmail her about this... overdue book? Insanity, she thought again, and the name that invariably followed that word popped into her brain. "Sathinar" she said aloud, and stood up, not noticing the hairy arm that snatched at her leg from underneath the bed. Apparently mold had a high evolution rate.
Carefully, she wrapped the book in brown paper, to cover up its illicit nature. This mission would be a difficult one all right...
Sathinar she found sitting in his room, eyes glazed, and he tried an evil laugh out on her, before he realized who it was. Then he let out a squeaky screaming noise, and leapt up from the chair, afraid she was going to flirt with him like she usually did. Serafelle enjoyed chasing Sathinar; it was fun, but she hoped fervently that she never caught him. That would be most unpleasant... "Stop it, Saths, this is business. I have a job for you."
Instantly, he was on his guard. Insane he might be, but he was not stupid. Crazy, yes. One taco short of a combination plate, yes. A few links short of a chain, yes. Looney as a toon, yes. A few pigeons short of a... pigeon-thingy, yes. A few sandwiches short of a deli, yes. A few Warders short of a Green, yes. A few honey rolls away from a dozen, yes. A few feathers short of a chicken coop, yes. A few arrows short of a quiver, yes. A few bricks short of a load, yes. A few logs short of a cabin, yes. A few rolls short of a baker's dozen, yes. Half a step on the wrong side of a male channeler, yes. A few spoons away from a dinnerware set, yes. Several face cards away from a deck, yes. A few cows away from a full barn, yes. A few matches short of a set, yes. But stupid, never.
"What do you want?" he asked warily, making sure to keep at least one piece of furniture between them.
"Itís dangerous. It involves breaking into Shuyol Ghul, disposing of a package there, and getting back out, without getting caught along the way."
His eyes widened. "Are you crazy? Only a madman would think they could get away with that!" He paused for a moment and thought about what he'd just said. "I'll do it! But whatís in the package, and what's in it for me?"
"Well we can't tell anyone about it, so the notoriety factor is out. And never mind what's in the package; that doesn't really matter. What's in it for you... Hmm." Serafelle shook her head. "What would you like to be in it for you?"
Sathinar considered for a moment, and almost looked sane for a split second. "Well, the Tower is out of pigeons..."
"I can manage that, I think. Iíll requisition some more. Do you want them delivered or merely put into the Towerís cages?"
He frowned. "I like to catch them myself. Put 'em in the tower and when they let 'em go, Iíll catch 'em."
"Done. Now we have to recruit a few others."
"Hey!" he yelped. "I work alone!"
Serafelle shook her head. "Not this time. If you want out, just say so. Of course, Iíll have to kill you if you do."
"You can't! The Three Oaths prevent you!" the madman taunted, and giggled hysterically.
Gravely, the Aes Sedai shook her head. "Did I say 'with the power'?" The giggles cut off suddenly and he gave her a considering, weighing look.
"All right. Whatever you say," he agreed, sagely nodding his head.
"Wait here and Iíll come back for you with the others."
Who next? Who else to use for her little trip? Perhaps Ender Wiggin? He owed her a favor yet over the business with the trial-that-never-was. Yes, he ought to do nicely. If she could get him away from the grapes. Well sheíd just have to make him an offer he couldnít refuse, that was all. The incriminating evidence had to be gotten rid of somehow.
Serafelle found him in the Redsí quarters, as usual, Francesca with the fan and Narell with the grapes, both in the requisite filmy dresses. For some reason that stray thought made her remember Lone Wolf.
"May I borrow Ender for a moment? It wonít take long." She politely asked the others. The two Reds exchanged guarded glances and nodded to her. Serafelle drew Ender aside, into the hallway. "I have a job for you." She told him. "Itís dangerous, but I know youíre brave and all that whatsis, so do give me a hand, will you?"
"What do you need me to do?"
"Itís a covert mission and it involves sneaking into Shuyol Ghul to deposit a briefcase there." Sheíd changed the brown paper to a briefcase on the way to find Ender, to help cover her tracks.
"Whatís in the case?"
Serafelle shook her head. "It doesnít matter. Letís just say that thereís filmy dresses involved."
Ender grinned suddenly and quickly said, "Iím in."
"Good. Meet me at Sathinarís place in half an hour."
Who else... Lone Wolf, maybe? No, the poor man was still a bit upset with her over the filmy dress thing. That hadnít been her fault- he was the one that claimed he needed to be punished for that story. Well now sheíd have revenge enough for that, she decided, and knocked on his door.
He turned a sickly shade of white when he saw who it was, and she smiled innocently. "Why hello, Lone Wolf. Fancy meeting you here."
He looked a little confused. "But itís my room!"
"Why so it is. Thanks so much for pointing that out." That sickly saccharine tone was difficult to keep up, but she had to, at least until they were someplace that no one could overhear the conversation. "Arenít you going to invite me in?"
"Er... Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?" He asked suspiciously.
The smile turned brighter. "I want us to be friends, Lone Wolf. Iíd like to tell you how sorry I am about the dress..."
"Well... Okay. Come in then." He opened the door, and she stepped in, closing it behind her.
The smile instantly changed, and the hapless Wolf was reminded of a hawk about to swoop down on a mouse. He gulped, and wished he could squeak and run for cover.
"I have a proposition to make for you." He turned even whiter all of a sudden, and began to back away. "Not THAT kind of proposition, you idiot! I want you to help me with a covert mission to Shuyol Ghul. Weíll be in, deposit a briefcase, and out again without being caught."
"No way! You are crazy, arenít you! You think that Iím going to help you after what you made me do!"
Serafelleís grin now resembled that of a cat playing with a mouse. "Do it, or Iíll tell the entire Tower what you were wearing with that dress."
The blush that instantly suffused his face was almost as satisfying as finishing a good book. The stammer was even better. "All right. All right, Iíll do it, but you have to promise never to tell anybody about it."
"Done. Meet me at Sathinarís in twenty minutes." She said in a businesslike fashion.
He raised a hand as she turned to go.
The Brown raised one eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Whatís in the case?"
She shook her head. "Do you really want to know?"
Lone Wolf reconsidered.
Hmm. Now who to recruit? Three men and one lady. Perhaps Joníatha? No, he would only flirt with her disgracefully and make her laugh at some horribly crucial point. Phoenix was too important and was probably swamped with post-Breaking bugs anyway. Incognito would merely snipe and tell her the mission was impossible- it was probably true but then she was far, far better than Martin Landau and Tom Cruise anyway. Blackthorne, alas, was gone- sheíd have appreciated the jest too. Serafelle sighed as she went to the Wardersí quarters. Ben was her Warder, he deserved to come along too.
She knocked softly on his door and he opened it and grinned widely at her. He did that a lot and in fact it was rather contagious, Serafelle thought sourly, but almost against her will she grinned back. Then he held out his arms and she flew into them, covering his face with kisses. Of course, he had to stoop for her to reach, because he was well over six feet and she was a little under five, but that made things all the more... interesting.
"Hey," he said laughing. "I thought we were platonic?"
"We are," she said. "This is a silly story. Itís a running gag, like the pudding and the grapes."
Ben frowned. "But everyone knows the Amyrlin is a pudding fiend and everyone knows that the Reds like to feed men grapes before they gentle them. Or after. Or during. Or even if they donít ever plan to gentle them."
"You overanalyze things too much." Serafelle complained. "The point is, weíre the second most well-known-to-be-not-involved-with-each-other Warder-Aes Sedai couple in the Tower, after Matalina and Yveva. Since weíre the most prominent non-involved couple, therefore, in a silly story we have to be involved. Itís the most obvious satire ever."
"Are you sure youíre allowed to hyphenate that many words all at once?" He asked doubtfully.
She rolled her eyes. "Shut up and kiss me."
He shrugged. "Okay, but Iím still not sure I get it."
She stood on her tiptoes thinking, really, from now on in these silly stories I will have to wear high heels and he kissed her.
"Okay, thatís good. I think weíve gotten it so that they notice the running gag. Now I have a proposition for you... Eek! Donít do that for the Lightís sake or Iíll never get this story finished! Itís not that kind of a proposition! Iím not that kind of girl! I have a dangerous job Iím going to do and I want you with me to make sure nothing goes wrong."
Ben twined his arms around her neck. "What is it?"
"It involves depositing a briefcase in the heart of Shuyol Ghul and leaving again without being detected. And stop licking my ear, itís distracting."
"Whatís in the case?" He asked, momentarily distracted.
"It doesnít matter."
"Yes, it does. Is it an explosive device like an Illuminatorís firework? Or a sabotage device? A secret coded message of some sort to one of the Brownís eyes-and-ears within the Pit of Doom?"
Serafelle shook her head. "No, itís- I said stop doing that! It tickles! No, itís more important than that. Meet me at Sathinarís place in ten minutes."
Heading back to her rooms, suitcase in hand, she passed a few others and hoped they didnít notice the suitcase in her hand. Hurriedly she changed into a filmy black dress- it had been her motherís and was therefore a little too long, but otherwise it fit well. A few years out of style but hopefully Ender wouldnít notice that- after all he was a man and shouldnít really know those kinds of things. She only chose it because sheíd promised him filmy dresses and the Oath Rod prevented her from lying. Naturally stretching the truth nearly to its breaking point didnít count.
She reached the agreed-upon meeting place exactly one minute early, and found everyone already there. Lone Wolf looked depressed and Ender had an anticipatory smile on his face, Saths looked hungry and Ben looked skeptical. Ordinarily she would have smacked Ender upside the head for looking at her like that, but she had promised him a filmy dress.
"Itís an Arad Doman piece isnít it, approximately forty years old?" He said airily, and Serafelle gaped at him in astonishment.
"Howíd you know?"
"The skirt is cut in the AlíSace fashion of that time period, but the neck indicates a definite Arímani influence. Therefore Iíd place it between forty and fifty years old, probably nearer to forty due to the cut of the back. And of course itís too long for you and therefore I can assume it was your motherís, who is well-known to have been Domani. It looks good on you, but you should take in the seams a little." He grinned.
Stunned, she sat down on a nearby chair, only to find it was Sathinar. "What are you doing?" She asked and didnít get up.
"Iím a chair. Itís my disguise."
"Ah. Oookay then. Never mind, forget I asked. Now the reason Iíve gathered you all together tonight is so that we may all accomplish this mission with all the alacrity necessary to the job. It is integral that we not get caught with the briefcase. And DONíT ask whatís in the case!"
Everybody flinched, and her chair almost fell over.
"I have a plan, you see. Deep in the Tower Library there are the complete architectural plans of the Pit of Doomís Library, which is where weíre going to deposit the case."
Ender raised his hand. "Why in the library?"
"Iím a Brown, I know how to hide out in a library," snapped Serafelle. "Now stop interrupting! Anyway. I want you, Lone Wolf, to go and get the plans, right now. Theyíre in the last shelf on the left side of the library using the noviceís entrance. If anyone asks what youíre doing, tell them I sent you. But try not to let anyone accost you. I want no traces of this left anywhere at all." Lone Wolf nodded grimly, and stalked off to the library. The poor man probably didnít like being blackmailed; by all accounts it was an uncomfortable position to be in. Oh well, sheíd promise not to tell and that would be that. Hopefully he wouldnít bear too much of a grudge. Itís not as if sheíd made him wear pink or anything...
"Anyway, the plan is this: we sneak up to Shuyol Ghul dressed as three Myrdraal, a pretty Black Aes Sedai, and er... a walking armchair." She glanced behind her at Sathinarís face; it looked exactly like an antimacassar. Serafelle was impressed. "Er... Then we infiltrate the library from the ventilation system and leave the package there. We get out the same way. I have enough black robes left over from the costume party a few years ago. Myrdraal were in style then. A little white facepaint should be easy to find and as long as you keep your eyes in the shadows no one will see them. Ben, you go get the robes from my closet. Theyíre on the right side of the door as you walk in. Bring enough for three of you, and pick up my makeup case while youíre at it." Ben nodded and left.
The chair spoke. "Youíre going to be the pretty Black Aes Sedai?" It laughed hysterically and she elbowed it in its overstuffed back. It gasped and tried to collapse.
"Stop that," ordered Serafelle and pushed back to recline. The chair grunted but leaned back. "You Ender, will be the one to drop down from the ventilation system and set the package on the table. Thereís a heat and movement-sensitive system of weavings permanently woven around the library, so weíll have to lower you down from a rope. Therefore I want you to be the one to go and get your rope; that way if it breaks, itíll be your own fault." He went to get the rope.
Sathinar the chair meekly said, "Can you get off of me now? Itís kind of uncomfortable. And when will I get my pigeons?"
"When the missionís completed and not before. Youíre going to be the one to help lower Ender down, along with my Warder. Iím going to distract the librarian." She stood up and began to pace, silently wondering if they could get away with such an outrageous plan.
When all the men had come back and the chair stood up and looked almost human again (which was to say he looked like himself), she recapitulated the plan, stressing the secrecy factor. It was plain that they all wanted to know what was in the case, but she had already resolved not to tell them that no matter what. Sheíd never live it down if anyone found out that she had an overdue library book.
Time to go forth and conquer. They might be rats in a room full of cats, but they were gonna go after that cheese! They were gonna come, see, and CONQUER! Seize the day, carpe diem! Time to be all that they could be! Onward, armchair soldiers! Ask not what your librarian can do for you, but what you can do for your librarian! One man, one vote! Divide and conquer! Tippecanoe and Tyler, too! 54-40 or fight! Remember the Alamo! We have not yet begun to fight! For a moment Serafelle was torn between saying 'Just do it' and 'Just say no'. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!! Man will go to the moon, in this decade!
Suddenly she found herself wondering why she was thinking all those strange things and put them firmly out of her mind, with a final, irrational 'He's dead, Jim' echoing through her head. "C'mon, gang. Let's go. And... be careful out there."
To be continued...