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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

A Decade's Conclusion


James
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Sitting in her room, Lillian set aside her quill and proceeded to raise a hand to her temple. Kneading it gently, as if it would somehow help to banish the headache that was beginning to form, Lillian leaned back in her chair in a decidedly unladylike slouch. Her work was slow, not to mention subject to change either due to a new piece of information or simply a better way of expressing an idea coming to Lillian. She'd known that it was going to be a long work from the start, but it had now been over a decade since she had begun and her attempt to be as accurate as possible not only demanded constant revision but constant re-examination of her materials and research.

 

Something that had not been aided by her inability to put down her interviews to paper. One of the things she had realised early on in her work was that she could never document or ascribe where particular comments or ideas came from because many of the things expressed in the interviews were told in confidence. She even had to be careful how some of the ideas were worded so as to not betray sources where it was a possible problem. Another hurdle in her work, but in the end it had really been her own doing.

 

It had all started out as a simple task really. Study and evaluate the Ajahs and their interactions within the White Tower. Thats all it had been, along the way Lillian had hoped that she might be able to then determine what Ajah she would be best suited for. Having a finger in every pie was handy, but when it came to determining one's destiny, it proved to be a drawback. No, she was not like other people who seemed to just know what they were intended for, not the same certainty that so many people possessed. Once she discovered an answer, she was fine, but until she had that answer she couldn't simply trust her instincts because this time, her intuition was falling short.

 

Of course the project had snowballed. A study of the Ajahs had then spread to their politics and interactions, inside and outside the Tower. That in turn had included the Hall as part of her subject, and then because she was trying to determine what Ajah she would go to, she decided to study how students where guided. That had then led to other questions, like where the students had come from to begin with, within the first year the project had changed from a study of the Ajahs to a study of the White Tower itself. At least, as complete and comprehensive as she could manage.

 

Getting up, it was only a few steps to her bed where she proceeded to lay on her back and close her eyes. Slipping her hands behind her head, she began to relax even as she felt some of the stiffness in her backness evaporate. Sometimes thinking too hard about issues did nothing because it tried too hard, the only thing to do then was to think little, let the mind drift instead. In this case, it drifted to different interviews she had given over the years, to things said and things learned...

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It was a difficult task ahead of Lillian, not to mention fraught with trouble if she asked the wrong questions at the wrong time.  Most Accepted when they decided on a major research project chose ones that reflected their Ajah choices or at least their tendencies.  For Lillian, this had not been an option as she had no idea which Ajah suited her, in fact there were a lot of questions that she needed answers to before she thought she would be in a position to pick an Ajah.  Ones that needed answers other than ‘I don’t know’.

 

That was why Lillian was walking through the Halls of the Green Ajah.  Books were all well and good, but her answers needed a more personal touch, a touch that could only come from asking people their opinions, their thoughts.  She’d already done enough thinking and research on her own, now was the time to gain the help of others.  Aramina Sedai had always been supportive, even if her initial motives had seemed bent towards prying information out of her rather than assistance without a price.  But, maybe with time that had changed, or perhaps there was simply a price she did not recognise.

 

Regardless, she would find the answer to that and hopefully her other questions as she stopped before the large door that led into the Tea Room.  Taking a deep breath, Lillian knocked on the door quietly and waited to be invited within.

 

The soft knock was all Aramina needed to know her afternoon's business had arrived.  The Green Ajah's tea room was a warm and inviting place, one that Aramina found soothing from time to time.  "Come." Was her response as she sat in one of the soft high backed chairs.  A warm pot of mint tea sat at the table by her side.  As the girl came in Aramina smiled politely.  "You have perfect timing." Aramina said as she indicated the seat across from her.  "The tea is ready." She poured a cup and offered it to Lillian.

 

Taking the cup with a small smile, Lillian thanked Aramina Sedai before taking a sip from the tea and sitting it down before her.  Before they went any further, Lillian felt she needed to be clear about the nature of the topics she wished to discuss.  Or rather, where they could possibly stray, if Aramina Sedai didn’t approve then there was very little reason for their meeting.  Lillian suspected that her curiosity, if nothing else, would prompt Aramina Sedai to allow her to stray where she wished to. 

 

“The reason I asked to meet you today, Aramina Sedai, is because I have questions in regards to my research.  The research pertains to the Tower, and some of the questions I may ask may be considered by some to be inappropriate.  Before we continue, I would like to know whether I should refrain from questions that some may consider taboo, or whether I have your leave to question as I wish.”   Hands folded in her lap, Lillian’s eyes remained slightly averted as she waited for Aramina Sedai’s answer.

 

Taboo?  Aramina raised her eyebrows at that.  She wasn't certain what Lillian would want to ask about, but there was something about the girl that made Aramina want to find out.  She had a questioning mind and was smart enough to let it take her somewhere.  She took a sip of her tea and nodded her head at the girl.  "Well if you are going to be asking such things, it would be best if you stopped lowering your eyes.  You may be strong enough to become Aes Sedai one day and you must always remember to look people in the eye."   She paused as she took another sip of her tea.  "Some people would consider it a sign of untrustworthiness."

 

Looking up into Aramina Sedai’s eyes for the first time, neither her gaze nor the smile at from being given Aramina Sedai’s trust wavered as she rejoined.  “Some would also say it is preferable to scrubbing pots for impertinence.”   Getting a smile from the Aes Sedai, Lillian felt she was on safer ground now.  They had come a long way from their first meeting where they had both been rather guarded, well, herself in particular.  Then again, Aramina Sedai hadn’t asked about her mentor since.

 

But that wasn’t why they were here, it was time to push onto the questions.  It was best to start with an easier one, or so Lillian felt.  “The Green Ajah’s sisters are charged with fighting the Shadow with the one power, most often aiding the armies of the Borderlands in containing the Shadowspawn in the Blight.  What makes a Green Sister superior to those of other Ajahs for this task?”

 

Aramina thought about the question for a moment before answering.  "Two things that I could answer.  Training, of course is one of them.  We train as Yellow sisters work on their healing and herbs, as a brown sister takes care of her precious books and collections of knowledge.  It is that we set ourselves to this task, training body and mind to that purpose."  

 

She took a sip of tea and continued.  "That would be the easier answer I think.  But I also think that it takes a certain frame of mind to join the Battle Ajah.  There is no other Ajah who's Sister's face death as we do.  When you join the Battle Ajah, there is no question of what you will face.  You know that you will be asked to walk into situations others run from.  That sort of sacrifice and dedication take a certain type of person really."

 

“Training and will.”   That was how she determined the difference between sisters then?  Or did that only apply in regards to the Green Ajah because their occupation was particularly dangerous?  Maybe perspective would help throw a spin on such a thing.  “Would you then feel then that, for example, sisters of the Blue Ajah would run superior Eyes and Ears to yourself?  Or that they are better qualified to push a cause or manipulate politics in other nations?”

 

"I think it's safe to say that as a whole each Ajah has it's strength.  It would be a mistake to judge every Sister by that standard though.  There are Blue Sisters that could argue logic with the Whites all day long and Green Sisters that could hold there own with a Yellow when it comes to healing certain wounds.  Though an Ajah defines what the Sisters focus is, they all go about it differently.” Aramina pointed at the artwork around the room, all war scenes.  "I have Sisters would mostly spend their time studying strategy and war games.  I prefer to move on more subtle battle fields, though we all work towards the same cause.  The Last Battle."

 

Nodding, Lillian used the quiet pause to think on what Aramina Sedai had said and what to say next.  Although she had a general idea of the questions she wanted to ask, they changed with every answer that Aramina Sedai gave, as did how they were to be phrased.  “So you would say that other Ajahs do not work towards the Last Battle?  What of the Gray who seek peace between the nations and greater influence for the White Tower.  At the same time they also see this as part of a long term goal for the nations to be united when Tarmon Gaidon comes, do they not then work towards the same goals in this manner?”

 

"I would not say that they don't work towards the Last Battle, but I don't see that they are focused entirely on it either.  The Gray Ajah focuses on peace.  How can they be prepared to do everything it takes to win the Last Battle if they would spend all their time mediating with Trollocs?" Aramina said with a small smile.  "I do not belittle the Gray Ajah for the efforts because every nation behind us is one less to fight over, but if you choose to live your life dedicated to peace, how can you ever pick up a sword?"

 

Aramina shrugged.  There were no absolute answers in this line of questioning, but she hoped to share a little of what it means to be a Green sister with her words.  "I have learned what I can of healing because of the need to heal on the battlefield.  It doesn't make me a Yellow Sister.  What little time I have dedicated to that art simply makes it something useful to me.  I do not have the time or dedication to it that I would need to be Yellow.  And this is where frame of mind comes in.  If I was dedicated enough to healing, I wouldn't have time to do more than dally with the Last Battle.  But my mind frame brought me to the Green Ajah where I can use my talents to see us through.”

 

Lillian was sure she could think of a few Gray sisters that, if they were asked that, would have answered the sword comment rather indignantly, but that was neither here nor there.  Listening on, once again it was a matter of what one dedicated themselves to.  That was the nature of Ajah in Aramina Sedai’s opinion, what one considered their highest priority.  But there was more to consider.

 

“As you said before, individual sisters have different skills and different ideas, Ajah is meant to bind them in common.  But what happens if a sister loses faith in her Ajah or her Ajah’s ideas over time?  For example, if there is a Gray sister who becomes disillusioned with peace and wishes to take up the sword?  Or a Red Sister who has become tired of hunting men and wishes to take up studies in a topic elsewhere like a Brown Sister?  Should they be required to remain bound to their original Ajah even if they have changed over time to the point that their own personal ideas and interactions would place them more firmly in another Ajah?”

 

It was an intersting question, one that made her think that perhaps Lillian just might make a fine Aes Sedai, someone worthy to call ally.  It was a little too early to tell that for certain, but it was worth watching.  "I think that losing faith doesn't necessarily mean that a Sister loses her focus.  You can't spend a life working towards a specific goal and have that focus change suddendly.  Your mind will always keep making the same connections it did before.  If, say, I lost my taste for blood, I would still look to the world and try to see what I could do help with the Last Battle.  A Sister might find other ways to work towards her goals, but I think the focus remains."

 

Lillian grinned, Aramina Sedai had slipped around the question.  Then again, maybe it was something that people didn't think about, once a sister took a shawl for her own she never changed after all.  "But assume that a sister does.  It needn't be a sudden change, it could be over fifty years that she slowly loses faith and wants to dedicate herself to something else entirely.  Maybe a Blue Sister loses her warder to a male channeler and after that wishes to dedicate herself solely to the hunt of male channelers if you want a more sudden example.  People outside the Tower can change their focuses and their goals over time, why should sisters be any different?  Sisters certainly have more time to change their mind in if nothing else."

 

"Regular people do not spend the amount of time we do trying to discover what our focus should be though.  The average person falls into the life they lead by heredity or circumstance.  Here, we have a long time to make our choices and, in fact, to be led to the right choice.  And I will say that I think a sister that could lose herself so completely that she felt the need to severe her ties to her Ajah would be best to take up a quiet retirement somewhere.  I have no patience or sympathy for anyone that would betray their oaths and commitments in any other fashion."

 

Nodding, Lillian accepted the answer even as she formulated a new question.  One that would push the discussion towards a new question, yet one that was related to what they had been speaking of.  “If that is the case, then here is a problem I would pose.  Say we do have a sister who wished to change from one Ajah to another because her previous Ajah for one reason or another no longer matched her own beliefs or ideas.  She would be renouncing her commitments for doing so, so one would say it would better for her to retire.  Yet on the otherhand, she could still be useful to the Tower in a different Ajah.  What is the more important consideration?  The Ajah or the Tower?”

 

"The Tower is always the most important consideration.  Always.  But you cannot have a strong Tower without a strong Ajah, and allowing a sister to renounce her ties undermines the very purpose of the Ajah's.  Renouncing her ties to her Ajah, in my opinion, would be renouncing her ties to the Tower itself."

 

Smiling, Lillian felt it was time to introduce the real reason for the conversation as they had worked towards it.  How Aramina Sedai would react to the question remained to be seen.  “In that case, I must ask this question.  What is the purpose of Ajah within the Tower?  Why is the Tower dependent on the strength of Ajah?”

 

"The Tower is dependent on the purpose of the Ajahs.  It needs them all working in balance to function as it should.  Now as I see it, the Ajah itself depends on each sister.  So if a Sister is free to leave her Ajah, it undermines the Tower itself."   Aramina said as he took a sip, thinking of what to say next.  "The Ajah's are a check and balance system within the Tower itself.  Each has a different purpose and because of that we have a consensus of how to run things, not just one person who gains power and wants to do things their own way."

 

True, but now Lillian was going to push further.  There was more to it than that, if her private musings had been correct at least. “Yes, but that isn’t the only way the Tower could have balanced power within itself.  But if I could go further…  When the Ajahs founded the Tower, it was a case of strong individual groups with their own ideas uniting to form a position of strength, yet they were still individual.  Yet what if they are too individual?  Despite the need for consensus, sisters from different Ajahs and interests can run counter to each other.  Have you ever experienced trouble in your efforts in Cairhien due to the interests of other Aes Sedai in the nation for example?  And what of the restriction on travel from the Tower that was imposed by the Hall due to Ajah politick?  It allowed only those Ajahs which were part of the majority to travel, whereas those who were not were stuck within the Tower.”

 

"There are always times when the Ajah's purpose run opposite another and yes I have been out in the world and been troubled by another Sister's work.  But there is no way to stop that from happening.  Every Sister works for what she thinks is for the best of her Ajah and the Tower.  But imagine if you would, each Sister, bound only to the Tower with no guiding principle and no guiding focus on her career.  What you have is hundreds of Sisters roaming the world doing whatever they please."   She wasn't about to touch on the last question. Aramina had never liked being told where to go or what to do and the restrictions from the Hall even less.  Even if she had listened to them.

 

The omission was obvious when it came to the Hall decision.  Also there was something else that occurred to Lillian, Aramina was looking at a Tower without Ajah but didn’t consider possible alternatives to how the Tower could function without Ajah.  Maybe she could propose an idea.  “Would the sisters necessarily be roaming the world doing as they please in an alternative Tower?  Or could the Tower itself provide a common focus and goal to unite all sisters?  Is it possible that Ajahs create more dissension and political problems through rivalry than they solve?”

 

"And you think the rivalry between a hundred different women would be any less trouble?  Through the Ajah's we refine our work and our purpose.  We are guided by it's leaders and they by the Hall and Tower's.  The interest of the seven Ajah's is by far less of a distraction from our goals than it would be if the Sisters were not constrained by the beliefs and wishes of their own Ajah."

 

A silence settled between them as Lillian contemplated what was said.  It wasn’t that Lillian disagreed with Aramina Sedai, but at the same time she also felt that there were inherent problems that were overlooked or marginalised to support the current approach to Ajah.  “Then I would add this to our consideration.  During the Age of Legends, we know that the Aes Sedai of the time were able to function without permanent Ajahs.  Ajahs were groups formed for a mutual goal or ideology, but memberships were not fixed and Ajahs could be formed or dissolved, and there was no requirement to be part of an Ajah.  The Aes Sedai then were able to function, are we so different that we could not function as well with a similar approach to Ajah?”

 

"Yes."   Aramina said with a simple word.  "We are so different and so are the times.  The world we live in is not the same as the Age of Legends and all their grand ideas and abilities led to the breaking of the world.  Perhaps if they had been formal Ajah's as we have now, they could have come up with something else, something that could have stopped all the years of madness that followed."   Aramina answered.  "A question of my own.  Why do you think the Ajah's have it so wrong that you would question them so much?"

 

Taking a small sip of her tea as Aramina Sedai spoke, Lillian was glad for the moment it gave her to compose an answer to the question she was posed.  By the time she sat her cup back on its saucer, she was ready to speak.  “I don’t necessarily think the Ajahs have it all wrong, but I do think that we overlook the inherent problems because we don’t entertain alternatives.  The Tower has stood for nearly three thousand years and the world has changed greatly in that time, how much have we changed with it?  Would the Tower benefit more from a single united vision, and directing its sisters to work together for single plans in countries rather than Ajahs backing different houses in different countries and working against each other?”

 

"That is something I think we will never have an answer for.  But think on this, as long as it takes the Hall to decide on something, how would we get anything done if we waited for a consensus for everything?"

 

Lillian grinned, it seemed that any fears she had about Aramina Sedai being unable to discuss such topics were long gone with the wind.  “I think that is the precise problem with the Hall.  As you said before, the Hall requires a consensus between the Ajahs, which is no different than trying to gain a consensus between individual sisters.  In Far Madding they rule by council and their members are elected just as our sitters are elected.  Yet they do not have reserved positions, like this position must be for a general and this one for a healer etc.  They pick the best leaders available to them.  How would that change the dynamic of the Hall?  If it were possible to vote for those you felt were best suited rather than by Ajah, while the idea has its own faults, perhaps those leaders that represented the greater good for the entire tower rather than for a particular Ajah would be picked.  It would also force Ajahs to align themselves more closely to the Tower’s common goal rather than individual agenda because their positions are no longer guaranteed.  You are forced to work together or you get shut out.”

 

Aramina shook her head.  "Then your argument is about human nature and not the Ajahs.  Leave two people left alive on the planet and they will most likely argue about the fact they need food, how much they need, who should get it, and how to get it.  Human nature is to argue, whether it is a group of five or five hundred.  Someone always thinks they know better than the rest.  And even the best of leaders is prey to that instinct."

 

Taking up her cup, Lillian smiled as she answered.  “The question of Ajah and human nature are related.  Ajahs are meant to represent the common goals of their sisters.  At the same time, they are institutions because they administrate and also possess the power to discipline their own sisters as necessary.  Likewise they also produce sitters that make decisions on behalf of the Tower and everyone who resides within.  It is this administrative aspect that makes them completely different to the Ajahs of the Age of Legends.  So here is another question I would pose.  By making the Ajahs institutions that perpetuate themselves, rather than leaving them loose confederations of sisters, has it changed the basic underlying nature of them?  Do they really serve to represent the common interests of their sisters?  If that is the case, why can’t a sister move between them if her goals and ideas change with time and if she disagrees with her Ajah she is either required to remain silent except in private, or perhaps retire.”

 

"I think too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the pot and that is what you suggest."   Aramina said after careful consideration.  "And the Ajah's need to be able to discipline their own Sisters.  Without it, there would be chaos and the sort of anarchy you were talking about to begin with.  Without the oaths and the Ajah's a Sister is free to walk the world and do as she pleases.  As appealing as that might seem for myself, there are few others I would trust enough to let them walk the world unfettered."

 

“Sort of, but there is more to it than that.”   Taking a sip from her cup, Lillian considered her words before speaking them.  Maybe she wasn’t listening to Aramina Sedai correctly.  “I’m not saying that there should be no discipline amongst the sisters, but what I do suggest is that it could be done differently.  For example, let us say that there were no Ajahs and you were put in charge of overseeing the Tower’s activities in Cairhien.  Sisters would then report to you as well as discuss with you what action to take in Cairhien to best ensure stability and that they remained friendly with the Tower.  You would be empowered with the ability to discipline sisters who jeapordised the Tower’s relations, and if you were incorrect in your leadership and decisions the Tower could replace you.  Discipline and leadership based on specific tasks rather than on Ajah lines.”

 

"This is perhaps the misunderstanding between us." Aramina said with a small smile.  "The Tower does just that when it sends Sisters on a mission.  One Sister in charge of the mission who oversees those she is working with.  It is when we Sisters act on our own, not in conjunction with any Tower order, that you see conflict, and I think no matter who leads, whether we have Ajah's or not, there will always be two sorts of missions.  The Tower's and the individual Sisters."

 

“Oh no no.  I don’t just mean short term missions like you are describing.  I mean permanent ones, as in each region would have its own person in charge of it and of overseeing all sisters in that region.”   Finishing her cup, Lillian let it rest gently on the saucer before her as she continued.  “So if a new sister entered a region, they would need to let the person in charge of that region know and state their intentions.  And if it ran counter to the Tower’s policy that sister could be restrained rather than letting sisters support different houses against one another.  Ajah interests would need to be curtailed in favour of the Tower’s overall interests.”

 

"And yet a Sister could always continue working her angle in secret.  It doesn't change human nature." Aramina said as she stood and refilled her tea.  She held the pot out to Lillian and when she nodded, filled her cup as well.  "Until you can weed out personal interest, I'm afraid that you will not find a perfect system.  You see even with one Sister in charge of a region, you put those people under the orders of someone whose judgement may be impaired.  You take away their right to work as they would see fit and subject them to someone that might not have the best view of things.  Being appointed to lead does not always mean you do it well, and not wanting leadership does not always mean you wouldn't.  Sometimes those you lead would be much better for the job than you but politics always come into play when deciding such matters."

 

“It needn’t be perfect, only better.”   Taking the cup in hand, Lillian frowned slightly when she realised how hot it was and decided to continue speaking so as to let it cool a little.  “Look at the current governments of other nations.  Arad Doman and Tarabon, both of which are my heritage.  In Arad Doman the merchant families hold sway, but due to their competing interests there are many internal conflicts.  Tarabon on the otherhand centralises all of its competing interests between the King and the Panarch.  Yes their duties and powers differ, but they also have to work with each other or otherwise the country cannot hold together.  So they do work together, and Tarabon as a whole is much more peaceful than Arad Doman as a result.”

 

"You are still talking the running of a nation though.  Aes Sedai do not think only of a single nation.  They think of the world and all it's people.  Most Rulers will tell you they try to think of the whole and that they try to think of what's best for all of their people.  What they think about though is what is in their best interest.  There is no ruler who thinks of the rich as well as the poor, the working class as well and the nobles.  They think in the interest of the state, not the people.  I think that is where so many of our conflicts lie.  When a Sister takes interest in a certain aspect of a society, and not just the society as a whole."

 

“But are we not a nation unto ourselves?”   Lillian smiled as she finally took a sip of her tea, still a little hot but soothing all the same.  “There may be a council that presides over the city, but it is the Tower which dictates where her armies will march and for what purpose, it is the threat of the chair that helps keep order in the city.  The Tower is beholden to no other power and it maintains we maintain our own borders.  Even when other nations and their borders met with Tar Valon, the city’s sovereignty has always been guaranteed due to the Tower.  Yet at the same time we feud amongst ourselves, hence why I would compare us to Arad Doman, or even Altara.  Do you not feel that there are ways that we could improve what we have?  Or things that need to be changed?”

 

"Tar Valon is a nation unto itself, but we look beyond our borders to what is best for the World, not what is best for us."   Aramina reminded Lillian as she took a sip of her tea.  A bit warm, but a flow of air cooled it slightly.  "As for changes, there could always be improvements in the way things are, but I don't know what such a drastic change is needed.  I think opening up communication between the Ajahs would make more progress than more drastic changes."

 

Nodding, Lillian smiled as a memory came to her.  “I remember once asking what right we had to take a part in the politics of nations.  The Gray sister who was taking the class made the point that it was better to have the peace we wanted rather than a peace imposed on us.  I don’t think we will ever be able to look completely to the world without taking into account the Tower and Tar Valon, not with it being our home.”   Sipping her tea, she continued.  “But, how would you open up communication between the Ajahs then?”

 

"Talk to one another." Aramina said.  "It's a simple enough solution, but one that most of us have problems with.  Opening up discussion with another Ajah is as simple as going to a Sister and talking to her.  We find our common ground and build on it, instead of keeping the secrecy and the facades that abound in the Tower."  

 

It was easy enough to say that of course, but it was something Aramina would never be a part of.  Oh, she communicated with others, but only to open up bridges and give her influence when she might need it.  To tell another everything that she fought for and dreamed of being was beyond her.

 

Lillian nodded, but she refrained from asking why Aramina Sedai hadn’t done so herself.  She was after answers to questions she posed, she didn’t have the intention of convincing people and perfecting the Tower.  If she truly knew the right answers, she would no longer be asking questions.  And if she stopped asking questions, then there was little point to what she was doing.  “Let me pose a last question about Ajahs then.  Do you feel Ajahs actively discourage mingling between them?  Or is it just something that seems to happen because once accepted in an Ajah, sisters lose interest in looking beyond them?”

 

Aramina smiled at the last question.  "I think there will always be a certain amount of holding back because of Ajah alliances, but there are always those that go against such thing and find a way to make their own alliances." She was thinking of Sirayn Sedai now and as always she found herself sitting a little taller at the thought of the woman.  Perfection was a hard task, but Aramina would reach it, to be worthy of the service she performed.  Somehow. 

 

"I don't think the Ajah's actively discourage being among others, but at the same time, we do actively encourage you to get to know your own Sisters.  I can answer only for the Battle Ajah in this, but when you go into Battle, it's good to know that the person you are with can guard your back and you don't know that unless you know them.  Does that answer your last question?" She said with a small smile, wondering if it really would be the last.

 

Lillian smiled in return, that was all the questions she had for now and she had learned a fair bit about the Ajahs and more besides.  As far as her choice of people to interview went, she was glad that she had begun with Aramina Sedai.  “Yes.”

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A sharp knock at the door made Lillian jump and almost swear in a most unladylike fashion as the papers she’d been holding scattered throughout the room.  Estel was here and she wasn’t ready yet!  Panicking, she got to her feet and quickly began to gather up the papers as she called out.  “Just a second!”

 

Putting the papers on the table, she quickly scooted over to the door and swung it open to reveal Estel Sedai in a fashionable yet comfortable dress of blue.  Stepping aside as she gestured for the Aes Sedai to enter, Lillian shook her head as she spoke hurriedly.  “I’m terribly sorry about the mess, I’ll have it cleaned up in just a moment.  If you would make yourself comfortable, Estel Sedai?”

 

Shutting the door quickly, Lillian knew she was fretting a bit but she couldn’t help it.  It was the first time that Estel Sedai had been in her room and it was ruined by the papers on her desk.  Quickly walking over to the desk and scooping the papers up, she began organising them as she embraced saidar.  A thread of fire with the kettle was all it took to bring it to boil by the time she had the papers organised and stowed away in the correct drawer.

 

Producing two cups from another drawer, tea was served in quick order.  Taking one glance around the room, there were a couple of spots she felt she missed but she tried to put them out of her mind as she took her own seat on the other side of the desk more than a little shamefaced.  “I’m terribly sorry about that, I was so lost in my notes that I forgot the time and when I heard the knock at the do-  But yes, before I begin is there anything else you’d like?”

 

Estel strode through the halls to the inquisitive glances of those who knew her by reputation.  For the first time in a very long time, Estel Sedai walked the halls of the White Tower with her shoulders back, head held high and slight smile to warm an otherwise blank face.

 

Today was a good day.  She had woken up early, much to the shock of Melian who purposely came in early when in a bad mood to vent.  The older Sister had gone positively blue in face at Estel’s spotless manners and had stormed out exasperated.  That small victory had immediately brightened the ironically rainy day outside.

 

This day was only part of something bigger, though.  These “occurrences” were coming more and more frequently as dark and twisty Estel slowly ebbed away in lieu of bright and shiny Estel.  There were a number of people responsible for this drastic change in behaviour but only a handful would ever receive thanks- she wasn’t that changed.

 

Her arrival at Lillian’s door was greeted first by the Accepted’s flustered voice rather than the Accepted herself.  When the door was finally opened and the girl prattled on about the mess, Estel smothered a bark of laughter and the nearly over-whelming desire to ask ‘where is this bloody mess?’.  Such things were improper in the company of Accepteds, no matter how familiar or informal their relationship and the Blue was making an attempt at playing by the rules- no reason to ruin it already.

 

“Hello to you too, Lillian.” she said, amused.  “Tea will be fine.”

 

Nodding, Lillian took her seat and sat her tea before her.  Feeling harried had her slightly off balance and not as prepared as she normally was.  But she got along with Estel Sedai ever since they had sorted out what had been between them, it was enough for Lillian to feel comfortable with speaking openly and upfront about why she had asked Estel Sedai to meet with her.

 

“I asked you to come today because I wanted to ask you a few questions.  I’m doing a major work piece of research, on the Tower itself.  One part of that is to get the opinions of different Aes Sedai about the many aspects of the Tower.  No names will be mentioned in my work and I won’t be recording who has said what except for up here.”

 

Tapping her temple, Lillian continued.  “The first thing I’d like to talk to you about is, well, what constitutes an Aes Sedai?  In your opinion, what are the most important traits that make an Aes Sedai and separate her from others.”

 

Estel took a moment to answer.  She could always go with the annoying “Novice answer”, blabbering on about how Aes Sedai were the “Servants of All” but there was no need to bore Lillian with what she already knew.  Besides, she had never liked that load of sheep dung probably mostly because she had so many problems following it.  Instead, the Blue smiled and gave her one-word answer in a tone that hinted slightly at trying to be obnoxious.  Saidar.”

 

A look from Lillian was all Estel need to launch into her reasoning.  “Honestly, saidar is what makes us Aes Sedai.  Anyone with enough passion can devote their lives to “serving humanity”.” She marked the quotations with her fingers.  “The One Power is what makes us Aes Sedai but for the privilege of using the One Power it is our duty to devote ourselves to various causes.”

 

“Along with the causes comes all the other necessities: passion, discipline, reason, logic, perseverance...  Just because those traits aren’t what make us Aes Sedai, though, doesn’t mean we don’t need them as Aes Sedai.  Take it from the voice of experience.”   The last was said with a hint of bitter humour.

 

That had not been the answer that Lillian had been expecting by any stretch, yet she listened and sipped her tea as Estel Sedai continued.  It was an interesting definition of an Aes Sedai, focused more on the powers that made Aes Sedai unique rather than function or purpose.  Well, duty was mentioned, but that was not what had been considered first and foremost and it was more of an obligation rather than an intrinsic value.

 

“So, it is our power first and foremost that makes us Aes Sedai?”   Trying to weigh her words, not due to fear of Estel Sedai silencing her but so she was able to convey what she was thinking best, it was a moment before she decided on the right words.  “If it is power, then what seperates an Aes Sedai from others that have had the power?  The Daughters of Silence for example.”

 

“Purpose.  Perhaps I was not altogether fair in my first assessment.  The marriage of purpose- sacrificing a normal life to serve some cause greater than yourself- and power separates Aes Sedai from everyone else and all other channellers.”

 

Taking a sip from her tea as she listened, Lillian contemplated where next to go with her line of questioning.  "So, power and sacrifice.  We are the most powerful and skilled channelers and we forsake a normal life for service.  My next question then would be, why do we forsake that normal life?  What makes it necessary?"

 

“Here we enter the realm of philosophy and religion.  We are granted the power to change the world but it is our choice to do it for good or ill.  What is our power if it is not used?  What use is this gift we are given?  Some will say it is our duty to repay the Creator for our good fortune by helping His cause.  Others will say that we are simply say that it is human nature to use the power we are given.”   She didn’t say which group she belonged to but in truth, she leaned towards the first.

 

“No no no, come back.”   Smiling, Lillian set her cup down on the table as she attempted to be more specific.  “I mean, why should we sacrifice our normal life?  What makes it necessary to do so in order to be able to help those around us?  After all, when I was in your class you said that the Blue Ajah were closer to the people, all people, than any other Ajah.  Why couldn’t all the Ajahs be more like that?  Perhaps even go further and ask why is the distancing from other people who aren’t channelers even necessary?”

 

Estel gave a moment’s pause before answering.  Despite the casual meeting, certain decorum had to be kept and she couldn’t just into a rant about “Aes Sedai decorum”.  “The distance isn’t so much necessary as it is in some ways simply a gulf that has opened up because of the imbalance in power.  Because we hold abilities at our finger tips that they daren’t dream about, they fear us and tend to keep their distance when possible.  Unfortunately, the Tower encourages this gap rather than attempts to demolish it and it has become a nearly unbreakable thing steeped in tradition.”

 

Hmmmm.  “So, the gulf isn’t so much necessary as it is a reaction on both sides?  Fear on the part of those who don’t understand and the fact that the Tower encourages this in the way we behave outside of the White Tower?  What makes it so unbreakable that it cannot be changed?”

 

Estel chuckled.  “What makes any habit unbreakable?  They’re comfortable with the gap; it’s what they’re used to.  People, Aes Sedai and everyone else, don’t like stepping out of their comfort zone.”

 

Nodding in acquiescence, Lillian agreed with that wholeheartedly.  “Here is the next question, what do you think is the effect of the distance?  Specifically when it comes to Aes Sedai.”   She wanted to add more but she didn’t want to possibly lead Estel’s answers.

 

“The effect?”   Repeating the question was completely useless but it gave her a moment to think since her tea cup was long empty.  “The effect is that we forget who we’re working for.  We get caught up in ourselves and our politics and careers and are too busy to do our real job: serving all.”

 

“There is that.”   Finishing her tea, Lillian held onto her cup nevertheless as she continued.  “But I think there is more to it than that.  What about the personal effect on Aes Sedai?  Trained to shut away others, even Accepted are encouraged to cut their ties with Novices they know because they have to embrace their position.  Is it a good thing?  Oh, and sorry would you like more tea?”

 

“Thank you.” she said, allowing Lillian to refill her cup.  ‘Light save me, the girl asks good- and difficult- questions.’  “I think in its originality, the aloofness; shutting away of others, was in an attempt to have Aes Sedai focus on their causes rather than being distracted from their work personal relationships.  However, I find that rather than distract an Aes Sedai from her work, the personal relationships make her more human.  How can a woman who is trained to avoid relationships with people hope to help them when she is incapable of human communication and is expected to show no empathy for them.”

 

Refilling Estel’s cup first, Lillian then refilled her own as Estel answered her question.  It was a question that she perhaps should not have asked of Estel, but then Estel had a better perspective Lillian’s opinion due to her own experience.  “So you feel empathy is necessary in order to be able to help people?  Why?”

 

The Blue snorted.  “You have a mentee don’t you?”   The Accepted nodded.  “It would be next to impossible for you to be able to teach and mentor a Novice if you didn’t know the information yourself, right?  It’s the same with helping anyone else; how can you be expected to help without understanding what the person is going through and how they’re feeling.  Besides, why bother helping them if you feel nothing for their pain?”

 

Nodding, Lillian decided to leave that line of questioning and renew an earlier part of their discussion.  “To backtrack a bit, let us talk of Aes Sedai politics and careers interfering with the duty of serving.  What things in the Tower do you think promote these things, apart from the isolation we spoke of?”

 

“Well, obviously there has to be politics to govern such a power as the White Tower and of course there will be the necessary social system.  However, the rules and traditions have become so strict and we hammer the “toe the line” dogma into the initiates so that even when they reach Sisterhood, they will fear to step beyond the lines even if the lines interfere with their work.”

 

“Not only that, but stereotypes are so enforced upon us that we are afraid to break outside of them.  Even though a Brown might enjoy leaving the Tower and travelling through the Blight, it is generally frowned upon because “Browns are supposed to stay cooped up in the library reading”.  At the same time, Sisters from all Ajahs, although especially between the Red and Blue Ajahs, are encouraged to cut ties of friendship between Sisters of differing Ajahs even if one day they could use that old friendship to help them towards some end.”

 

“Then there are several things to consider.”   How best to phrase it?  “Do Ajah’s contribute to the politics by creating fixed groups and agendas as opposed to ancient ajah which was voluntary and could be withdrawn from?  Is there a need for revision in the White Tower?  If so, how could such a thing be achieved?  And what specifically would you see revised if you could?”

 

“Yes, the Ajah’s contribute to the politics.  And while I like the idea of returning to the ancient informal ajahs, it is unrealistic that many of the Sisters in the Tower would see it that way but I would at least like to see greater cooperation between Ajahs and encouragement for Sisters to have friendships with Sisters of different Ajahs.”

 

”If anything is going to be accomplished, it will have to start with those who set the example: the Sitters and Amyrlin.  As with everything in the Tower, it would take time, years, to implement but the Sisters will follow the example of their leaders and the ripple effect should carry the “new tradition” through to the rest of the Tower.”

 

“Why does it have to start with our leaders?”   It would be nice if it did, but there were always other ways around things and she wanted to see what Estel thought of it.  “There are a lot of movements that have started from the bottom and worked their way up.  Is it possible that a change could be effected by the ranks of the sisters and spread to the point where it leaves the leadership no choice but to integrate the change?”

 

Estel nodded, accepting the fact that she had been wrong.  Unusual for her and from most others she would have taken it as a challenge.  “Very true.  But even at the bottom ranks, one Sister must be able to influence another to follow her example and while no one leader may emerge, there will be those who set the example and those who follow it.  It is easier, though, when a movement starts with the leadership.”

 

“True.”   That being said, something else did come to mind.  “There is a particular case that comes to mind though.  Over the past…  fifty or so years?  A new trend has emerged I think.  It seems like it started with Tania Sedai of the Gray, but there seem to be more sisters since those two who have done so.  Now, two things come to mind.  Did those two manage to break a taboo?  Or has it always been but just kept very quiet?  Either way, is it a taboo that should be broken?”

 

Estel’s eyebrows raised.  For all her friendship with Lillian, the girl ought to have known better than to raise that subject.  Stupid as she was, even Estel couldn’t miss the blatant suggestion.  She took a sip of her tea and spoke curtly.  “No doubt this… sort of thing… happened every once in a while even before Tania.  However, it was of course kept quiet if not completely secret and only since Tania have others dared to come into the open.  That, though, inspires more Sisters.”

 

“As to the taboo, thus far Sister in that situation lose whatever political standing they had as well as any respect from the Sisters.  I don’t think Aes Sedai are capable of fully balancing the demands of the shawl and a family.”

 

Lillian realised she might have made a mistake, considering the rumours that were floating about, but she was stuck with it now and just leaving it be would seem like she’d just been prying away to confirm the rumour.  “Why do you feel Aes Sedai aren’t capable of balancing the demands of the shawl and family?  The obligations on an Aes Sedai are different in this time compared to the Age of Legends, but the latter Aes Sedai did have families and from what records we have, do not seem to have been stigmatised for it or had their progress impeded.”

 

“Well for one, Aes Sedai, at least most of them, travel extensively and for years at a time.  By all accounts, Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends generally spent most of their time in a single location and even when they had to move they could simply Travel, bring the rest of the family through a Gateway.  Also, the world is certainly a less safe place for Aes Sedai as it was during the Age of Legends.  The Shadow and Children of the Light are only two of the groups persecuting Aes Sedai and while Tear won’t come right out and kill a Sister, it is openly hostile against the White Tower as is Amadicia.  How can a Sister ensure the safety of a family when hers is in constant danger?”

 

“There are certain parallels.”   Lillian didn’t want to let go of this question too easily, there was more to consider.  “Diplomats and ambassadors face similar threats, maybe not from the same source but I don’t think it makes it any less dangerous.  These people may take their families with them or bear with the burden of not seeing their children for years at a time.  Likewise, merchants can travel for long periods of time without seeing their family.  For example.”   It was much easier to speak of now, but there was still a slight pain in mentioning them.  “My parents would sometimes have to leave me for months at a time due to my mother being a merchant and my father the head of her guard.  If people of these professions can do it, why not Aes Sedai?”

 

“Perhaps.”   Estel had to tread lightly here to avoid offending.  “However, it is hardly the most healthy atmosphere to raise a family in and family members are often used as hostages or leverage by groups.  What would happen if say the Children of the Light or the Shadow took the child of an Aes Sedai hostage?  Would that Sister be willing to sacrifice her own life for her child’s?  And what would come first, family or the Tower?”

 

“I think that’s a question that would be answered differently by every Aes Sedai.”   They were good reasons to fear having a family, but Lillian questioned still.  “I wouldn’t say that every Aes Sedai should suddenly settle down and have children.  But I think those who felt they were prepared for it and to make the sacrifices necessary, going months or years at a time without seeing them, should at least have the option of trying and not suffering for their choice.  After all, isn’t our lack of families one of the reasons that we are isolated?”

 

A pained, sombre expression passed over Estel’s face before she could cover it up.  “But the question would still remain: family first or Tower?  I agree that for some Aes Sedai having a family would not burden them so much as others.  But what about the children?  Or course it would be hard for the Aes Sedai to be away from their families but would the separation breed resentment among the children?  And of course, as children of Aes Sedai they would be privy to all sorts of information that, while seeming small at the time, could be disastrous over time.  What if one of the children grew to hate his mother for being constantly gone and betrayed her to either the Children or the Shadow?”

 

Taking note of the slip on Estel’s part, Lillian knew not to make any comment on it, perhaps the rumour was true.  Also, she was fairly certain that it was approaching time to end the conversation as it was edging too much on what was personal.  It was one thing to be curious and to seek answers, it was another thing to be pushing at another’s pain.  Most definitely it was time to wrap it up.

 

“I think that much in the way other people shield children from what they do, Aes Sedai would be no different.  And that assumes the absolute worse case, there are plenty of other things that could happen.  I know when I was a child and my mother was gone, as much as I didn’t like it I treasured the time I did have with her all the more.  Not every child is me I know, though Cara Sedai, Tania Sedai’s daughter, is a good example of it working out.”

 

“But, maybe it’s a question that has no definite answer.”   Finishing her second cup of tea, Lillian sat it down on the saucer infront of her before continuing.  “That’s all the questions I have I think.  Thank you for being open with me, not everyone has been as upfront about what they truly think.”

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Sitting opposite Sirayn Sedai of the Green Ajah, Lillian couldn’t help but wonder if this had been a smart choice on her part.  Most of the people she had questioned hadn’t had the same reputation for staunchness when it came to tradition, and had shown little tolerance to such breaches.  But, if her project was to have any sort of balance to it, then she had to question people across the spectrum or her project would be less about presenting researched findings and more about pushing a personal agenda.  Still, the fact she knew that she did have her own personal opinions and how much they influenced her helped her keep some form of impartiality.

 

Meeting in The Logical Choice in one of its private booths had probably caused a couple of people to look in surprise at Sirayn Sedai coming to an Inn that numbered the White Ajah amongst their patrons, but then people from all Ajahs were welcome regardless.  Besides, Lillian was known to visit though fewer knew it was because she knew the hostess, Tylia Evangel, well from her years at the Farm when she’d been but a Novice.

 

The same woman who had just poured their tea now and was already taking her leave.  Waiting for the door to be shut, Lillian embraced saidar only long enough to ward the room from eavesdroppers before speaking first as she had been the one to arrange the meeting.  “Thank you very much Sirayn Sedai for agreeing to meet me here.  As I said before, I wish to ask you questions about different aspects of the White Tower.  I would like to warn you in advance that some topics I wish to broach may normally be considered taboo, but I do so in order to make the best assessment I can.  Do I have your permission to raise these topics amongst others, or should I disregard them and limit my questioning to more accepted topics.”

 

Being dragged by a strange initiate to an inn which essentially flew the White Ajah banner only confirmed Sirayn Damodred’s long-held view that there was no justice in the world. Her patience with philosophers and logicians of all sorts ranked at an all-time low, she found White Ajah agents to be so exasperatingly theoretical she couldn’t stand to converse with them and if she had not reluctantly considered herself to have at least a minor duty to interact with initiates she would have sent the child packing. Unfortunately rank did have its duties as well as its privileges and one was being harassed by a complete stranger on another Ajah’s territory.

 

Initiates had a regrettable tendency to arrive at the Tower full of syrupy ideas about love, truth and overturning oppression. If she had a copper for every time a bright-eyed child had attempted to take the world by storm with their vision of a new, inclusive Tower she would be rich indeed … although, come to think of it, the world had never actually been taken by storm despite all the promises. So she reckoned there was a fair chance that she had been hauled into this to exemplify the kind of hidebound thinking everyone should escape from: the conservative few who ran the Tower, full of prejudices, repressing the common classes and so forth. History told her that only age and experience would turn idealistic little dreamers into useful people. So she had no intention of expending too much energy trying to teach realism to a stranger.

 

The prospect of giving somebody permission in advance to dig up the few but powerful topics the Tower forbade its people from discussing made her frankly suspicious. Sirayn sipped her tea and kept her voice even. “I don’t hold with discussing Malkier or the so-called Black Ajah. Period.” If the room hadn’t been warded against eavesdropping she wouldn’t even have named the Black Ajah. It did not do for Aes Sedai to be overheard talking about Darkfriends among their own ranks as calmly as if they were discussing the price of wine in Cairhien. “Otherwise you might as well amuse yourself. I certainly won’t hesitate to stop you if I think it necessary.” She clasped her hands round the hot cup. “Ask away.”

 

Lillian kept her expression neutral as she accepted what Sirayn Sedai said.  Malkier had been something she had contemplated raising, but the Black Ajah had certainly not been on the list.  It wasn’t useful for her assessment, and furthermore if there were Black Ajah, she certainly wasn’t going to ask about it and possibly make herself a target.  But, no time for those thoughts, she was meant to be asking questions.

 

Taking up her cup, Lillian decided to start with something simple.  “My first question pertains to the Tower’s position in the world.  Some class it as the sisterhood and nothing more, others as the leadership of the city state of Tar Valon and others view it as the home of an order that doesn’t possess borders.  How do you define the Tower and its place in the world?”

 

At least the child could pronounce a long word like leadership -- look, all of three syllables -- without tripping over her own tongue. Sirayn began to look more benevolently upon this otherwise tiresome affair. Indeed, she even contemplated giving a full and considered answer: the Tower as a political organisation, as a charitable trust in all but name -- where else could a child come to receive the best education in the known world, or a woman come for sanctuary, all for free? -- as a holdover from the Age of Legends, as the Light’s only true stronghold, as an institution of learning, as an instrument of stability and reason in an increasingly insane world … but she was rather tempted by a different answer.

 

“It’s a religion in disguise.” Sirayn fixed her audience with her most sincere gaze. “Our political and magical power stems from an entity almost as old as Shayol Ghul. Our service to the Tower brings rank and privilege … but also obligations. It would not be proper for us to be seen as too worldly; people would question our devotion to the cause. We educate, we stabilise and enlighten, mostly without hope that the favour will be returned. In fact, we’re the least popular sect in history. But we maintain our faith in principles higher than ourselves so we go on ministering to the unwanted, the ungrateful and the unfortunate.” Let people think her a lunatic; she reckoned the parallel was good even if solely motivated by the desire for colour and interest.

 

Not what Lillian had expected but she maintained her expression as she accepted what was said…  with a grain of salt.  After all, despite the delivery it did allow her to introduce a new topic in conjunction with the present one.  “A religion for the people but not a worldly one?  Would it be possible then that our otherworldly manner and pursuit of our mission has allowed for or even encouraged the rise of rival faiths, like the Children of the Light?”   It wasn’t how she would have introduced the topic of isolationism, but Sirayn Sedai had taken it in that direction.

 

To her astonishment the child accepted her peculiar analogy without a moment’s hesitation. For now Sirayn reserved judgement on whether this showed a complete lack of critical thought or just a good poker face. She cared a little less for the implication that the old Aes Sedai rules about marrying and having children had produced some of the most murderous fanatics alive in the world today. “Aes Sedai observing a few common-sense rules didn’t encourage the Children of the Light. Now the desire to be heavily armed and armoured, have lots of friends and kill anyone who talks back, I’d say that was a big factor in encouraging them.” Personally she thought the self-professed Children of the Light could be improved by a few rounds of extermination … but maybe that was just her.

 

Hmm…  Why Sirayn Sedai had chosen to answer the way she had, Lillian couldn’t answer for certain but she pushed on anyway.  After all, if she let herself get discouraged now, she might be passing up an insight that could only be a few questions away.  Perhaps more than a few from the flippant manner in which Sirayn Sedai seemed to be treating the interview so far.  “Many historians, contemporaries and those who have written up to the current day, have proven that the Children of the Light were not always the way they are now.  Indeed, during the Hundred Years War they were non-violent preachers who were to a good degree shaped by their circumstances.”

 

“But, the reason I make a point of the Children of the Light is that they gained a strong following, enough so that they were able to entrench themselves in Amadicia and to this day rule there.  Why?  Specifically, what do you think the Children may have offered as an alternative to the Aes Sedai as a faith that led to their survival and success, enough so that today there are thousands who not only embrace the faith but bear arms in its name?”   Lillian took a sip of her tea as she waited for Sirayn Sedai’s response.

 

Perfect: she had been approached by an apologist. No doubt if she pointed out inconvenient facts like the Children of the Light being a group of fanatical killers the child would sob that her family had been the gentlest, most loving Whitecloaks anyone could hope to be brutally murdered by. She had no time for Whitecloak supporters, nor did she believe that anyone who had ever read The Way of the Light, much less met a Child of the Light, could accept all this claptrap about everybody’s least favourite militants being fans of love and gentleness. They burned, tortured and killed with impunity. Who cared what particular philosophy their ancestors had espoused?

 

If they believed it was right and just to burn down a village to catch one suspected Darkfriend among the dead, or to indoctrinate thousands of people with the claim that the One Power is evil, then send them out to assassinate any channeller they can find, then they had no recourse as far as she was concerned. She had no interest in excusing people who subscribed to their philosophy. Nor was there any conceivable way the existence of Aes Sedai could be used to justify it. If the child was waiting for her to repeat all this nonsense about how the big bad Aes Sedai forced Whitecloaks to become rabid murderers she would have a long wait coming.

 

“Arms, armour, numbers and violence.” She repeated herself carefully on the off chance that the girl had had difficulty comprehending her earlier statement. “Ask soldiers. They like the discipline. Since we’re not exactly fighting for the chance to string people up on trumped-up charges, the Tower is scarcely a rival to the Children of the Light in any sense, and the likelihood of us competing for the same followers is, I think, minimal.”

 

Lillian wondered whether Sirayn Sedai was being deliberately simplistic or whether she was naturally obtuse when it came to the subject due to encounters with the Children of the Light she may have had.  Either way, Lillian found that the cursory way in which Sirayn Sedai was answering, or perhaps avoiding, her question was mildly irritating.  “Forgive me Sirayn Sedai, but there is more to the Children of the Light than their immediate membership.”

 

“They enjoy strong support in Amadicia, and even before they became the dominant power there that was the case.  If they were limited to butchery and atrocity, they could not have retained the people’s faith for the better part of a thousand years, not even indoctrination and fear could have justified their excesses for so long.  That means there has to be something else, which is where my questioning is aimed.  What do the Children offer that makes them something people willingly choose?  Not just Amadicians but people from different nations who travel to Amador to take oaths.  If there is something more they offer, is it different to what we offer?”

 

Frankly she found the notion that a bunch of butcherers could not hold people’s faith for a thousand years delusional. Shayol Ghul had kept its hold over successive generations for over two thousand years by her count. Indeed, she saw little to choose between the Shadow and the so-called Children of the Light, and she had grave doubts about people who appeared convinced that the Whitecloaks had some awe-inspiring inner philosophy that justified their rabid behaviour. Perhaps it made them feel all warm inside? She neither knew nor cared.

 

“Is there some problem with the idea that people choose the Children because the Children offer the discipline of an army? Or because they are uneducated, selfish, violent, sadistic or a combination of the above? There is no choice between the Children and the Tower any more than there is between the Tower and the Shadow. If a person is so corroded by their irrational beliefs that they must pick up a sword and kill anyone who disagrees with them then they are unlikely to put aside worldly life and don novice whites. It must be tempting to think that nobody as murderous as the Children of the Light can be as successful as they appear, that there must be some redeeming feature about them, but I find that logic quite fallacious. They offer approximately the same opportunities as does a Darkfriend career. If that’s your cup of tea, you join the Shadow, the Whitecloaks or both. Simple.”

 

Keeping her silence as Sirayn Sedai finished, Lillian sipped her tea even as she concluded that they had exhausted Sirayn Sedai’s opinion on the matter.  Setting her tea down, Lillian chose to pursue a new topic in a mild tone.  “A new topic, then?  Another area of investigation I have chosen to pursue is on the matter of the Arches, and the practice of using it to determine who may rise to Accepted.  What is your opinion on the Arches and their usefulness, specifically why the Arches are preferable to any possible alternatives.”

 

It didn’t take much imagination to picture Lillian, wearing a circlet of pretty flowers in her hair, skipping through a field hand in hand with all the oppressed little novices. This question rose regular as clockwork every time a particularly sensitive bloom entered the Arches and came out a lunatic, in tears or not at all; outraged mentors protested on behalf of their little darlings and so forth. Indeed, if she remembered rightly, she’d had no small objection to the Arches herself after what she’d seen. But she wasn’t a scrap of a child any more -- she was an Aes Sedai, with all the obligations that implied, and she had neither the freedom nor the inclination to whine like a puppy that the Arches were too harsh. Compared to the real trials she’d been through the Arches paled into insignificance.

 

“It’s a selection process. No more, no less. It cuts out the weak, the indecisive and the uncommitted. If you aren’t devoted to becoming Aes Sedai you either don’t enter or don’t make it through. The punishment for uncertainty is on the harsh side -- indeed, it tends toward the fatal -- but it does ascertain that only children with a fair shot of becoming Aes Sedai get through the net. What alternative could there be that tests a person’s willingness to put aside everything else for the Tower? It’s not exactly a criterion for which one could set a written test.”

 

Lillian betrayed nothing except a lack of reaction as she responded.  “The Arches pose scenarios that test that willing, hypotheticals that pick from things that are closest to a person and then make them choose between that and the Tower.  What if it were possible to recreate those same tests without using the Arches?  Or something similar enough that there was little difference as long as the choice was still given to the Novice and it could be observed whether or not the individual had the necessary will to choose the Tower?”

 

“The reason I raise this issue is because of the inherent problem with the test, failure within the test is fatal.  Is it right to expose students to such risk?  They are the Tower’s charges, with that comes the responsibility of safeguarding them, the very reason anyone is admitted to the Tower is admitted specifically so they can at least learn enough control of saidar so as to be safe.  Why should the testing to become Accepted be exempt from that responsibility?”

 

Responsibility: six syllables! Her expectations were being smashed today. She didn’t find the implication that the Tower administration had half a dozen other options up its sleeve and just preferred the fatal one quite so amusing, but far be it from her to defend the evil Tower and its wicked ways. “That would be ideal. Nobody actually wants to kill the failures as far as I’m aware. However, no safe alternative to the Arches has been found in the Tower’s long existence, so this is merely a fantasy.”

 

Lillian was fairly certain that if Sirayn Sedai had not, in fact, been Aes Sedai, Lillian would have said something.  On the otherhand, since Sirayn Sedai was, in fact, Aes Sedai, she was free to indulge in sarcasm as she wished and Lillian would simply have to bear with it.  “Well, I must admit I am ignorant to attempts to try alternatives, I certainly haven’t read anything on the topic.  What alternatives have been attempted?”

 

The child did not stand alone in not having studied alternatives to the Arches, but an Aes Sedai should be a master of bluffing. “No weave can recreate the effects of the Arches. The effort necessary to create a fully sustained illusion of that intensity, potentially infinite in scope and with which the user could interact, would be immense. Even if we could create that kind of alternate reality, how would we take the right images from the user’s own mind? We don’t even know how the Arches do it. In fact, we know very little about any ter’angreal -- for all we know the Arches was designed as a drinks dispenser. It’s a million to one chance that we could find another ter’angreal which would imitate the effect, and even then, odds are that it would be a copy of the Arches and thus have a tendency to kill people as well. So the fact is that there is no alternative.”

 

There were several things that came to mind to say, and while it would have been quite satisfying to point out several things that were wrong in what was said, it wouldn’t serve the purpose of the interview.  Pointing out the answer given had nothing to do with the question, or that such an assertion assumed that the Arches and its method was the only way to test a person’s willingness, or even that Lillian suspected there had been no attempt at all to ever change, well that would have done nothing.  “Another topic then.  Telcia Sedai was your mentor wasn’t she?  I once took a class with her on the Age of Legends, and the distinction she made between the ajahs of the past and the Ajahs of today was interesting.  Our Ajahs are permanent institutions whereas the ajah of the past were groups formed for mutual benefit and purpose, but they were not fixtures.  The Ajahs are approaching the end of their third millennium in the Tower, do you feel they are as pertinent now as they were nearly three thousand years ago?”

 

She didn’t like Lillian knowing who her mentor was. It was an irrational thought, she probably had twice as much information on the child as the child did on her, and anyway it was public knowledge that Telcia Sedai had been her mentor … but it still made her uncomfortable. She maintained a calm face and stillness, though inwardly she remembered all the insecurities of novicehood -- why hadn’t Telcia spent more time with her, had she been so dull that she didn’t even interest her own mentor, did her mentor like Lillian better, stupid stupid thoughts -- and thereafter put Telcia Alianin Nalemar firmly from her mind.

 

One or two Ajahs she wasn’t certain had ever been in the first place. Or maybe one Ajah in specific: one which neither healed, nor gathered knowledge, nor went to war against male channellers or other Darkfriends, or did anything else remotely useful to the cause. In fact she often wondered if it had been added just to make up the numbers to a nice round seven. But it wasn’t her place to criticise the White Ajah in front of an initiate, particularly not on the White Ajah’s own territory, and thus she held her tongue. “The underlying problems our current Ajahs were created to handle still exist. There is still war, and injury, and male channelers running amok, and much to be gained from hunting knowledge and so on. I think they’re still pertinent.” But then again, an Aes Sedai who advised the disbanding of her own Ajah probably wouldn’t make it very far.

 

“True, but what about the problems that distinct Ajahs create?  Do the benefits of specific Ajahs as permanent structures offset this?  For example.”   Lillian took a moment to pick which specific issue to use.  “The different Ajahs have agenda’s that often conflict.  Not just their basic purpose, but the politics that develop around each Ajah but even individual sisters.  A Blue could easily come into conflict with a Gray sister within a problem outside of the tower for example, a Blue’s interest is reform and justice whereas the Gray is more interested in mediation and settling a problem peaceably rather than overturning the status quo, unless its unavoidable.  Or different interests in the Hall between sitters.  A possible alternative, instead of each Ajah managing its sisters actions throughout the world, having a regional leader in each country that co-ordinated the efforts of sisters within a land.  Would alternatives, possibly like the one I’ve presented, be more effective in not only managing the Tower’s interests outside the Tower but also reducing internal politic?  Or is there no better system?”

 

It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that she didn’t give a damn what any Sitter did in the incestuous, vitriolic Light-forsaken Hall of the Tower. Luckily for all concerned, not to mention for her possible future career, she managed not to be quite as blunt as she wanted. Ajah boundaries had become considerably less relevant to her than they once had with the stealthy rise of the Order; she need no longer fear that some fool of an Ajah Head would frustrate her plans when she could simply get her representative in their Ajah to handle it for her. Nevertheless, she remembered what it was like to have every hand of a certain Ajah raised against her, and indeed wishing that a meteor would hit the Brown Ajah quarters.

 

“Dividing ourselves along regional lines only transfers the problem. Instead of fighting over Ajah influence, we’d be fighting over regional influence, or what proportion of resources is allocated to which region, or whether an Ebou Dari sister should be stationed in Altara because she knows it best or away from there because she has too much of a personal interest or … something else.” But since it would never happen, it was quite irrelevant. Now she knew why she didn’t like this kind of discussion: it was purely theoretical -- never in a hundred years would the Ajahs be abolished and the Tower undergo such a radical structuring -- and hypothesising about the possibilities for centuries into the future was, frankly, wasting both of their times. But the girl seemed to have some interest in theory, unless the Children of the Light had told her to ask these questions, so she would continue to indulge the child. “Alternative divisions would be no more efficient than the current system.”

 

Lillian couldn’t help it, well that and it was a question which made sense.  “Why?  Yes we see the pursuit of politics in different organisations outside of the Tower no matter how they’re structured, but there have to be ways to minimise this.  Since the Tower was raised, has there ever been any major attempt to try and reform the system?  The problem can’t be solved completely but is improvement truly out of reach?”

 

Hours could be spent chasing flights of fantasy. Unfortunately the drawback to fantasising was that every twist took one further away from the cold truth, which was that the Tower did not do reform, it never had and never would do, and to speculate on the impossible only wasted both their time. “I’m not aware of any likely alternatives to the Ajah system. Nor have any been attempted to my knowledge.” She kept her voice cool. Truth was, she didn’t want to be aware of any alternatives. She knew her beloved Green Ajah, maybe it was all she knew, and she didn’t want the ground shifting under her any time soon.

 

As far as she was concerned, Lillian was fairly certain that they’d reached the end of the interview.  Between the evasions and the consistent answers that what existed was the best that could be hoped for, she was certain she had learned all she could from Sirayn Sedai.  Well, that and Sirayn Sedai’s view of the world beyond the White Tower, a remarkably low opinion that Lillian chose not to comment on, even within her private monologue.

 

Instead, she finished her tea before speaking, settling the cup upon the saucer as she kept her eyes averted downward slightly, as she had throughout the entire interview.  “That concludes my questioning, thank you very much Sirayn Sedai for being frank and open with your answers.”   Not a hint of sarcasm, or anything else for that matter, betrayed Lillian in her voice or manner.

 

On reflection, she still didn’t quite know what was going on here. She had discovered only that Lillian had a quite unfounded sympathy for a band of murderous crusaders and fancied herself a revolutionary in her spare time -- both of which qualities she had only disdain for. Still, the child had been at least polite if possibly an idiot, though she had her doubts about the honesty of the girl’s thanks, so she maintained her own straight face: “It’s been a pleasure.”

 

Now that must’ve been splitting hairs for Sirayn Sedai, but no doubt she had found a way to make it true enough that she could utter the words.  Lillian would have smiled but she refrained from painting herself a target and instead stood and opened the door for Sirayn Sedai.  Removing the ward on the room as Sirayn Sedai stood, Lillian kept her silence as Sirayn Sedai walked by her and out of sight.  Interesting set of opinions, they clashed with her but that hadn’t been what had irritated her.  It was more Sirayn Sedai’s intolerance and tunnel vision, but maybe that was just her own intolerance branding Sirayn Sedai as intolerant.

 

No, not really, but she liked to give the benefit of the doubt.  Either way, she had notes to make and a paper to modify in light of the new opinions.

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The dappled shade was enough.  The heat was nigh intolerable, even for Rossa who was used to the fierce heat of summers in Altara.  She could have retreated indoors, but the four walls seemed confining after a night spent tossing and turning in restless dreams; so claustrophobic and intense, the outdoors provided welcome relief when she did not have to stay cooped up.  Rossa felt she would be called by the Mistress of Novices any day to be taken for her test, and she couldn’t wait for it, but right now the dreams were difficult to distinguish from reality.  The garden helped. 

 

The rows of neatly planted flowers gave Rossa a sense of peace.  Having planted these blooms with the help of Saline and Syara – a project for Vera Sedai that had been completed a little while ago and now the place became a sanctuary.  Sitting under ones of the trees, Rossa rested her back against it and just listened; a curtain of self-imposed solitude around herself so she could put her mind in order again. 

 

She sighed, the sudden exhalation skimming the fabric of her white skirt and she rested her head on her knees.  I don’t want to go to sleep anymore!    But staying awake wasn’t the answer… eventually she fell asleep and the dreams would happen again.  Not many more days of waiting on Estel Sedai now, not long until she could return to her normal chores the same as any other novice.  She had decided a few things though.

 

Smiling as she saw Rossa, Lillian stepped into the garden and made her way over to the Novice.  She almost thought of Rossa as young, but her friend was nearing the end of her novitiate now.  It wouldn’t be long before she rose to the rank of Accepted, a thought that caused her to frown inwardly.  She was sure that Rossa would be fine, there was no room for an alternative outcome if Rossa accepted the test.  Kneeling down next to her, Lillian was tempted to give her a little shock as a bit of mischief, instead she simply reached for Rossa’s arm and gave it a gentle shake.  “Roz?  Rise and shine.”

 

Rossa’s eyes opened instantly and looked around her, jumping slightly at the pressure on her arm.  “I wasn’t asleep, Accepted.”   She caught a glimpse of banded skirts and looked up to see Lillian’s face.  “At least, if I did, I didn’t mean to.  It is so peaceful here.”   Rossa envied her friend and was often torn between showing the proper courtesies and respects her rank deserved and calling her by her name, as she asked Rossa to.  For someone so schooled in proprieties and courtly behaviour, Rossa was often confused as to how to address her, particularly if caught unawares.

 

“Accepted?”   Poking Rossa’s arm playfully, Lillian turned and sat down beside Rossa, leaning against the tree as she did.  It was an old point of contention and had been for years now.  It wasn’t that Rossa wasn’t friends with her, far from it, more that Rossa was very aware of the difference in their rank.  Lillian couldn’t entirely blame her, as a Novice she had always held a certain measure of wariness for those of a higher rank than herself, even now she was wary of sisters who hadn’t given her leave to be free in private.  “Its alright, with the heat I have to admit I’m feeling a little sleepy myself.  I had some questions for you, they’re for my major work.  We can leave it for later if you want though.”

 

“No, Acc … Lillian, it is fine.  I have a class I need to go to later on, but for now you have my undivided attention.”   Rossa nearly blushed at being teased yet again for calling her friend by her rank, but she managed to control it.  Questions, though.  Rossa would always be happy to answer questions.  “What questions did you want to ask?”

 

Smiling, Lillian stretched her toes as she responded.  “Well, I am thinking that perhaps you are nearing the end of your novitiate.  If you are, then perhaps it would do good to have a look at it and try and understand it.  For yourself and for my major work.  There are no wrong answers, just what you feel and what you understand.  To start with, how do you feel you’ve been trained as a novice and for what reason?...  I know that’s really broad but just whatever comes to mind.”

 

It was a broad topic.  Usually the answers were quite definite with a distinct right or wrong answer, but this felt almost like she had to be wary again.  Vagueness was usually a sign of Daes Dae’mar, and Rossa’s instincts were going mad again.  Well, she would focus on one aspect of it, and give as much detail as she could on that. 

 

“My training as a novice has been very thorough.  I try to do my best at all times, even though some of the lessons have not always been as easy to deal with as others.”   She went on to explain the level of the lessons and how she had eventually learned to live with her fear of smoke, and then something else occurred to her.

 

“I have learned a lot more about myself as a person thanks to the lessons as well.  I have learned that I am a good artist, and I have learned more tact.  I enjoyed any lessons relating to Saidar or to etiquette as they have the most meaning for when I become Aes Sedai.  Are these the sorts of answers you were looking for, Lillian?”

 

Lillian couldn’t help but grin at the mention of Rossa mentioning that she had learned she was a good artist.  That had been one of the reasons for their initial meeting, and there had been some amusing things done since then with that art of hers.  “It’s a good start.  Oh, and forgot to mention, anything you say while I might use in my major work, I will not name who has said what.  You won’t have to fear anyone else seeing what is said and judging you on that.”

 

”Its important because of the questions that are going to follow.”   Looking at Rossa, Lillian took only a moment to decide which question to ask.  “The lessons have changed you, informed you more and helped you deal with things like your phobia.  But do you think the way that you’ve been taught has shaped how you’ve acted?  Think of the different teachers you’ve had, how has their manner and style of teaching influenced the way you’ve learned and developed?”

 

She considered it for a while.  In a way, it had.  Her formative years spent under the tuition of those better trained in politics than she was with the added bonus of knowing how to wield the One Power had definitely shaped her.  “I would say that it has affected me because I look in each one for what it means to be Aes Sedai.  For my own personal future I want to be the best I can be and that means learning from those that have already become sisters.”   She smoothed her skirt over her knee.  Surely she would not be a novice for much longer.  “Ever since I was a little girl I’ve acted older than I was – it is just how I have been brought up, but now it has been brought out with the lessons I have undertaken.”

 

Nodding, Lillian followed up on a particular point that Rossa had made.  “So everything has been aimed towards bringing out what things within you make an Aes Sedai?  Let me ask something, have you always wanted to be Aes Sedai?  Or only since you discovered you had the gift?  Or further still into your Novicehood that you settled on the idea of wanting to bear the ring and shawl?”

 

“I did not know if I could channel when I came to the White Tower.  My family had been taken from me in a fire; the honour of my family name destroyed my mentions of intrigue.  I saw it as a way to improve their name, by being the best I can possibly be and restoring it to them.  My views have changed a little though.”

 

Ah, so she had come to study originally, Lillian had never known because after the first time they had spoken of Rossa’s past, Lillian had learned to speak little of it.  Rossa hadn’t wanted reminding, it was painful enough as it was and Rossa had known that if she had ever needed to speak of it, Lillian would listen.  It showed how far Rossa had come for her to be able to speak of it so openly.  “They have?  How?”

 

Rossa closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her knees, trying to compose herself before she began speaking.  “At first it was for purely political motivation, perhaps with a touch of a desire for vengeance.”   Her brown eyes flashed with fire.  “They deserve that much at least!  Their names will be remembered with pride and the name will endure!”   She settled, recalling she was talking to an Accepted and that even though she was a friend, it might be recalled at an inopportune moment.  Her plans would continue though.

 

“It has changed because now there is a desire to see good done – a practical application of the thing I would have used purely to improve my own name.  For example,” Rossa was warming to the subject now and becoming a little impassioned.  “I originally wanted to learn about food preservation techniques so that the villagers and townsfolk that looked to House Venye to keep them would be able to better look after themselves.  Now, it seems incredibly selfish to keep such knowledge purely for my own gain, even if those I would protect would benefit.  The needs of the many…”  Rossa sighed.

 

Reaching over, Lillian took Rossa’s hand and gave it a light squeeze.  While she had steered carefully about certain things with Rossa, her friend’s desire to feed the world was one she was familiar with and she didn’t disagree with it either.  Aes Sedai had many abilities, some were spectacular and while the feat of preserving food would be wondrous to those without the power, for women like themselves it was an easy feat and could do a lot to ease suffering.  “I know.  Tell me…  Do you think there might have been a different way to learn?”

 

“I don’t think there would have been.  There’s a variety of teaching styles that I’ve become used to and, as a novice, you really only get to participate in the lessons on the receiving end.  There are so many things to learn, and the Aes Sedai know better than I do.”   She straightened her back, smiling.  “I know my place in society, Accepted.  It was one of the first things I was ever taught while growing up.  Know your position in any situation and you know how much power you have.  You can work around anything if you know where you stand.”

 

Laughing, Lillian nudged Rossa with her elbow.  “Accepted again?  You’re making me feel old.  But, that is a handy segue so we shall make use of it.  You wish to be Accepted, what do you see ahead of you?”

 

Rossa devoutly hoped she would get the chance to take the test to become Accepted soon.  There were always stories, girls and young women she knew, going for their tests and not coming back from them.  Tales from history, and sometimes more recent, but it did not put her off.  She cleared her throat.

 

“As an Accepted, I hope to do more of the same.  To be trusted with more study and to be able to choose some of my own areas for study so that I can pursue some more areas of my “cause” as you called it.  Beyond that, Lillian, I can only hope to become Aes Sedai.  A friend or two would be nice, but I’m not sure that will work out.”

 

Now that was interesting, if a bit strange.  Then again, Rossa’s mentor was a conservative traditionalist though and through, much like her own.  Not that Lillian really thought of Halvie Sedai as her mentor beyond name, there were other Aes Sedai who had helped her far more and actively assisted her, as opposed to constantly attempting to get at her every weakness, especially when she had been weakest.  “Why don’t you think friends would work out?”

 

Rossa did not want to go any further with this.  Deep in her heart she was not a very trusting person, far too used to being alone and having to look after herself.  Every time she seemed to get close, something happened to take them away.  Boys she had liked at court stolen by rivals, her family burning…  She looked away and mentioned that last one.  That she did not want to trust in anything in case it got taken away, or was somehow changed.  “That’s why.  I don’t know how well I can cope with loss.”

 

The conversation had taken quite a serious turn, enough so that Lillian felt that now would be a good time to wind it up.  That and she had the main pointers that she needed, but Rossa was her first consideration.  Remaining silent for a moment, Lillian chose her words carefully.  “I think you’re strong enough.  That was the cruelest blow of all you took, if you could take that then you could take anything.”   Grinning all of a sudden, she nudged Rossa.  “Besides, you’re stuck with me.”

 

She smiled again, but it never reached her eyes.  It was indeed good to know that Lillian would be there for her, and she knew she herself would be there for Lillian in turn, but her heart was heavy anyway.  Ah well.  “I’m pleased to hear it, Lillian.”   She wondered which Ajah her friend would pick.  The way she was carrying out so much research and was forever asking questions gave Rossa a pretty good idea, but she kept it to herself as it was not a mere novice’s place to speculate. 

 

“May I ask, what will you use this for?”

 

“I thought you knew.”   Smiling, Lillian answered the question.  “Its part of a project I’ve been working on for…  a year now?  Maybe a little longer.  I’ve been researching, interviewing people, observing, all for a thesis.  I thought I’d do something that would be useful regardless of which Ajah I chose, so I decided to do a thesis on the Tower itself.  How it works, the reason for it, examine places where traditions haven’t kept with modern times, anything and everything ranging from education to Ajahs to the Hall.”

 

“Just a modest little thing.”

 

Yes, that was it.  It helped to hear it again though.  There was so much information to take in as a novice.  And it was a noble cause, similar to Rossa’s grand idea of feeding the hungry.  Study the mistakes and practices of the past and present to prevent mistakes or worse happening in the future.  Rossa could fully appreciate that.  She nodded at her friend and absently picked a blade of grass from the lawn she sat on.

 

Chuckling as Rossa nodded and took up the blade of grass, Lillian stretched.  "Most Accepted end up having to do a piece or thesis of some sort, you'll get your chance once you get past the test."   She would pass.  "In the meantime, I have to interview a couple more people while I have the free time today.  I'll see you at dinner, yes?"   Nevermind that Accepted weren't meant to sit with Novices, Lillian made a habit of breaking that taboo on a regular basis and tonight was going to be no different.  Leaning forward, Lillian got to her feet.

 

That really made Rossa smile.  That Lillian came to sit near her in spite of the usual Tower-inspired segregation between the ranks was always something that made her smile.  She smiled, rose to her feet and dropped a deep curtsey. 

 

“Yes, Accepted, I will see you at dinner.  Although if I get caught calling you by your name, I will likely be serving your dinner.”   Straightening, Rossa realised that she would be called to class soon.  It really did never end.

 

Laughing at the curtsey and title, Lillian laid a hand on Rossa’s shoulder as she replied.  “If I catch you calling me by my title, you definitely will be serving dinner.”   Squeezing Rossa lightly, Lillian let go as she stepped back and turned, calling over her shoulder as she left.

 

“See you at dinner.”

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Looking about her room, Lillian couldn’t help but remember a time that it had been less than pristine.  She didn’t normally remember it, but today Rossa was coming to see her and they were going to talk about topics that were…  painful.  It had been six months since Rossa had been raised, Lillian had wanted to allow time for Rossa to be able to cope and come to terms with it.  She knew all too well how sore the experience could be, she still remembered Estel sticking her fingers unwittingly in those wounds.

 

And how Rossa had born her wounding.  Like most, she’d struggled to cope during the first couple of months.  At random times she would simply cry, those were the times she came out of her room at all.  Most of the time, Lillian and others had to go visit her in order to see her, and Lillian had made sure she’d done so at least every second day during the first month.  People often wanted to be alone, yet at the same time the loneliness hurt just as much.  Then, after the first couple of months, Rossa had started to come out more and return to her old self, but much of that was gone.

 

Something that Lillian wanted to speak to her about.

 

Hearing a knock at the door, Lillian began pouring the tea as she called.  “Its open Roz, come in!”   It was still a wonder seeing Rossa in her banded hems, or so Lillian thought as Rossa entered.  They fit her, at the same time they didn’t, that would change with time though.  Gesturing to the seat on the other side of the table, Lillian passed the tea over to her as she began pouring her own.  “Haven’t seen you for a couple of days now, the Aes Sedai are keeping you busy I presume?”

 

Rossa entered her friend’s room quietly, closing the door behind her.  It felt different seeing her friend in the same situation as herself, only more advanced by dint of age and experience, but it was good to see her nonetheless.  While her Arches had been traumatic, they had been useful to restore a sense of immediacy to Rossa, who tended to think too far in the future sometimes.  It reminded her to take good care of the here and now as well as the yet to come.  She sat down opposite Lillian and lifted the cup of tea to her lips, blowing across it to cool it slightly before taking a sip.

 

“Thank you, Lillian.  I know I’ve been very busy lately.  It’s hard to get a moment to myself, although that’s still very much a good thing.”   Rossa knew the other woman would appreciate her situation and she tried not to let her mind dwell on the things she had seen.  They were close to home though, as events always were, and still rather fresh in her mind.  Not getting the chance to tell her mother she loved her was a pain in her heart like a knife.  And yet she had managed to overcome it somehow.

 

“I hope you’ve been well.”

 

“So far, I haven’t seen Saya Sedai for awhile though so that’s been a contributing factor.”   Novice or Accepted, even some of the sisters for that matter, all of them had good reason to worry when Saya Sedai was nearby.  Imperious and commanding, she was what some might have referred to as ‘old school’ at the best of times.  Well, except those rare occasions where she mellowed, but those were nearly as common as identical snowflakes.

 

Letting her tea sit, Lillian knew that the only way to do this, if it happened at all, was to be upfront.  “The reason I asked you to come by today wasn’t just to see you.  I’m still working on my project, and one of the areas is education.  I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on it all, your time as a Novice, the test, how you feel now as an Accepted.  Now, I’ve spoken to other girls over the year, some of them haven’t been able to speak of it and I’ll understand if you don’t want to either, after all you remember how I was, and especi-  Well, you know.  If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to and we can use the time to catch up and relax instead.”

 

“No, no, its fine, Lillian.  We can do this anytime, and I can rest when I’m asleep.”   The haunted look to her eyes said otherwise, dreams as she had been of late it seemed that rest was never going to happen.  The nights were filled with nightmares.  Rossa attempted to cover her expression by lowering her head to take another sip of tea and wondered how Sirayn Sedai, her fierce mentor, had been after her test and Arches.  “What would you like to know?”

 

Where to start, a chronological order would probably be best.  It would allow Rossa to know where her question was going, and Lillian wanted to give Rossa every chance to be able to brace herself for the worst rather than ambushing her randomly from different angles.  “Howabout we start with how you feel about your years as a Novice.  I asked you before about how you felt you were prepared, how do you feel about it now in hindsight?”

 

Rossa mused.  Certainly she felt different now to when she was a novice, having more freedom to pursue her own studies where she could.  She thought she remembered saying she was looking forward to that when Lillian had interviewed her as a novice, and it held true. 

 

“I felt I was prepared for it, but I did not anticipate the test being as hard as it was.  They should, I feel, prepare the novice a little more for that.  I know it is hard, and I know it has to be fairly impartial, but there could be a little more coaching to help on that side of things.”   She had another sip.  Lillian certainly knew where to find good tea.  “I think the lessons helped me a lot in my own personal development as well as my academic and practical skills being bettered.  Looking back, I don’t think there was anything else I could have done better apart from spending more time studying instead of sketching.”

 

Nodding, Lillian was quick to decide on her next question.  Having questioned Rossa before, even if it was the better part of a year ago, gave her a good idea of what to explore since the reason for this questioning was to be able to compare and contrast between then and now.  “What do you believe to be the important aspects of the test?  The reasons why the test is administered to each person who would be Accepted.”

 

“For me, it is knowing that you can leave personal issues behind rather than be consumed by them, that and having confidence in yourself and your strengths.  To me, those are the most important parts, rather than the ceremony itself.”   She sighed, remembering the pain, how it had all seemed so real.  It hurt.

 

Maybe Rossa’s arches had been a little different from hers, but Lillian was most certainly not going to explore that idea further.  Instead, there was another question that paired itself with the one that Lillian had previously asked.  “How do you feel about the…  element of danger, in the test.”   Now that was a sensitive question, for both of them for that matter.

 

Rossa continued to ponder as her fingers tapped lightly on the tabletop.  It was necessary, to Rossa’s mind.  She said as much.  “A blade cannot be forged without fire.  I believe danger to bring out a person’s true colours and show what mettle they truly have.”   Sometimes physical pain was just easier to deal with than mental, or so Rossa believed.  She would much rather recover from a burn or a broken arm than a problem of the spirit or heart.  They hurt so much more, which was the main reason for hardly trusting anyone but the small group she called friends.  Nerome…  He was different.  She knew she could rely on him without the kind of dependency she’d seen other Accepted or Aes Sedai have.  They were very similar, Nerome and her. 

 

“My father spoke of it sometimes, before he died.  Soldiers that were not battle trained were all bluff and bluster, but the ones that had experienced it already were silent.  Therefore that makes them so much harder to judge or predict.”   Rossa knew she was going into territory more suited to warfare than Accepted studies, but she wanted to make her point.  She believed that it was acceptable to have some physical danger.  A person did not truly know who they were until they lived something.  How can one cope otherwise?

 

Nodding, Lillian decided now was the time to voice a possibility she had been considering for some years now.  “What if there were an alternative to the Arches?  It wouldn’t create quite so convincing an illusion, nor would it be able to read you so completely.  On the otherhand, while the testing would carry the threat of danger it would be guaranteed to be non-fatal, and it would be based on observing a Novice throughout her years which, considering how perceptive our teachers can be, would run a close second to the Arches.  If there were that possibility, would you consider it worth investigation?”

 

Would it be worth it?  Rossa did not think so.  “I don’t know that it is worth introducing if anything came of it, but I do not personally believe it would work.  This is in the long run, I mean.  For a start, if word ever got out that it was harmless, people would not see the danger or the severity and treat it as a test, something they could take over and over without the true level of fear or commitment or awe that it really needs.  Strong people are borne from strong actions.”   She nodded.  Those were her own opinions, but at the end of the day it would not, Rossa thought, fall to her to choose.  “It is definitely worth the research though.”

 

Not entirely the answer Lillian might have hoped for, but Rossa wasn’t her friend because she agreed with Lillian on ever subject, she was her friend because Lillian could trust her and because she was honest.  Maybe with time, Lillian could win her over to her way of thinking by explaining her ideas, but now wasn’t the time and it wouldn’t be for a long time until Rossa had better come to terms with what had happened, or at least until the pain was numb.

 

Lillian took a bit of time as she mulled over the direction to take, but once she was certain of where to go she moved forward.  “Where do you see yourself now?  As an Accepted.”

 

“That is a difficult one to reply to.”   Rossa smiled at her friend.  “I still want to be an Aes Sedai, as I did when I was a novice, but as I told you what would happen has happened.  I am able to study a bit more freely, even if I can’t help but feel like I have no time to relax.  My views are a bit worldlier now that I have been given more responsibility.”   Rossa stared at her lap for a time.  Light, but she sounded as if she had memorised it and was reciting it from memory.  It was how she felt though, it was just her current state of body and mind that was making the words seem so.

 

Worldlier.  Less innocent certainly, but Lillian wasn’t so sure about the former.  Then again, it wasn’t difficult to become a bit worldlier than a Novice, shut away inside the Tower the entire time with a life run by…  Well, there was no need to go into that internal dialogue for the moment.  Besides, she was misinterpreting the nature of what Rossa meant by worldly, she was right in the sense of responsibility.  “Fair enough, and your feelings about becoming Aes Sedai?”

 

“I think it will be a lot of hard work, and I certainly will take a while to follow my own cause before I teach any classes, particularly novice ones.”   Remembering some of the unruly ones, Rossa realised with a stab of minor guilt that she did not have as much patience as she had once had.  Teaching was important, but Rossa knew for a fact that if you did something that often, you tended to stagnate.  She recalled her old geography teacher who had always fallen asleep in the middle of teaching Rossa and her siblings the different countries of the land.  He’d smelt faintly of fish.  She did not want to end up like that.

 

“No, beyond that I still truly want to be Aes Sedai, and not just because of matters relating to my past.  I will do my share for the Tower and spreading knowledge as I may, but I feel at the moment a trace of … impotence, or is it impatience?  I am learning all of this knowledge and want to use it.”

 

Chuckling, Lillian nodded at Rossa’s comment about feeling useless.  “Its enough to drive you up the wall after the first couple of years, but you tend to find ways to make use of whatever gifts you have within the limited range we are permitted to.”   At least Rossa had gotten through her novitiate quickly, if she moved through her years as Accepted with the same speed she would finish her time as Accepted years earlier than Lillian would, that much she knew for certain.  “Wish they’d give us more opportunity to do so, but we have to make do with what we can.  Besides, you already have a good idea what to do, once the right Aes Sedai realise and take you under wing, you’ll be set.”

 

Rossa thought about Sirayn Sedai, already seeming to take Rossa under her wing or at least to let her know there were people with more political acumen and stronger connections than herself in the White Tower.  She didn’t think she would ever come to understand Estel Sedai, even though she was in the middle of serving the Blue sister for a week.  Stranger things had happened in the past though, so there was no point discounting the possibility entirely.  She picked up her teacup and drank the remaining bit, wondering when she had stopped taking honey in her tea.  Light, she had changed.

 

The silence didn’t last long as there was a knock at the door.  Frowning, Lillian called for whoever it was to enter, no one was expected.  Lillian didn’t recognise the office but when she read the letter she was given, it didn’t matter.  Thanking the Novice for the letter as she departed, Lillian turned to Rossa.  “Odd, I’m to go and attend the Keeper immediately.”

 

“I shall go back to my room and read, I think,” Rossa told her friend.  There was no point staying if the other Accepted was leaving, and she had nowhere else to be.  Perhaps she would draw some of the things she had dreamt.  “It has been good to talk to you, Lillian.  May the Light give you an unexpected pleasure this day.”   And she rose, walking towards the door.

 

Surprised at the speed that Rossa had vacated the room, Lillian hadn’t even had time to say goodbye.  No matter, she’d catch up with Rossa after seeing Arette Sedai about whatever she wished to speak of.  Making her way to the door, she closed it behind her as she went to discover what the Keeper of Chronicles required of her.

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It had been a long time since Arette had had anyone over for a tea in her quarters in the Brown Ajah's floor on the White Tower itself. Usually the Browns used the communal dining room or met in someone's rooms over the Library... when they were not buried on their individual studies. The rooms had been awfully dusty and she was glad she had realized to check upon them and have novices clean. As usual they had been rewarded with cookies made with the special recipe of the Brown Ajah, perfected over hundreds of years and other small hidden surprises. But the girl - or young woman rather, she reprimanded herself - who was coming was no novice. She was an Accepted who was close to her Raising and was still undecided on her Ajah. It was most unusual for someone of her promise to not have found her path yet and be taken to under the wing by her future Ajah.

 

Lillian was a strange case in other sense too; Arette had participated her grand study project where she examined critically the existing traditions of the White Tower. She was certain that many Sisters had been trying to snub her down and guide her to more acceptable and traditional paths and most Accepted and even newly Raised Sister kept their real opinions quiet, trying to fit the mold. Some never changed that that thinking and even those Sisters who had been radical in their youth would grow to be more conservative as they aged and the shawl began to affect their thinking more. Sisters like her, she decided. She had really become the epitome of a cloistered Brown secluded from the world who pored over old tomes and slowly lost touch with the normal people. Many times she had considered going again on a trip but she had always gotten into a new study or met an interesting Accepted or begun to teach a class. Maybe this time she...

 

A knock on the door interrupted her pondering and she called Lillian to enter. "Welcome, Lillian. I am glad that you could find time for this discussion", she said with a self-ironic smile and a twinkle in her eyes. If an Aes Sedai summoned an Accepted, she would come unless another Sister needed her right then. And even then it was a matter of status which assignment would be considered more important. So complicated. "Please, have a seat and make yourself comfortable. Cookies, tea?" , she fussed. "Now, are you still working on that project of yours? And meeting the various Sisters of different Ajahs? I'm certain that you guessed that this visit pertains to that. It is just such an important decision."

 

Focusing on her tea, she gave the younger woman time to gather her thoughts and answer.

 

Over her many years in the Tower, first as a Novice then as one of the Accepted, Lillian had answered the summons of many different Aes Sedai throughout the Tower. She had not, however, expected to be summoned by Arette Sedai of the Brown Ajah. A woman of her stature had little need to meet with Accepted, or Novices for that matter, beyond a chore of some sort and Lillian doubted she was being summoned for such a chore. Nor did she believe it was due to her work that she had discussed with Arette Sedai, she had not voiced any great objections to her materials in particular or her line of question. Perhaps she wanted an update on how the work was progressing?

 

That didn't make sense though, if Arette Sedai had wanted to know how she was progressing, she would have most likely asked her to bring what work she had completed with her. Besides, Arette Sedai was also quite a busy woman with the responsibilities that rested on her shoulders, that couldn't be it. Even if she did find time to see students of the Tower when she could, it didn't feel right. There had to be another reason, and the narrow range that those reasons could fit into made her a touch wary.

 

Not that Arette Sedai was someone she felt she needed to fear. On the contrary, while Lillian was quite aware of the vast gap between their ranks it was not something that Arette Sedai asserted. Then again, she didn't really need to.

 

Stopping before the room that she had been summoned to, Lillian knocked and opened the door as she was called to enter. Closing the door behind her as Arette Sedai greeted her, Lillian nodded in turn in greeting and took her seat as she was asked to. Tea was welcome, as was the cookie she quickly sequestered, she didn't want to appear rude in saying no and she possessed a vague suspicion that she was going to be sitting there for awhile. The questions that she was asked quickly revealed Arette Sedai's agenda, for which Lillian was thankful. At least she knew where this would be going now which meant it didn't take long to formulate a response.

 

"I suspected as much but I didn't wish to presume, Arette Sedai." Lifting her tea, Lillian added. "What would you like to know?"

 

The young woman was behaving very properly if formally and she was not very forthcoming. But then chatterboxes seldom made it very far in the White Tower, at least not if they didn't have solid things to day.

 

"Lets have it be just Arette now when we are in private, that honorary title does get cumbersome over long discussions", she offered with a smile. "Now, besides being interested in your Ajah choice - and of course hoping to make myself a new notch in the secret Brown Ajah's new recruit vault wall - I also want to hear how your project proceeds. Or more accurately, what kind of reactions it is getting and from who. It is somewhat controversial as you surely know and not everyone like even mere suggestions of new winds in the White Tower. Stirring the pot lifts interesting nuggets in the surface for a careful observer. But we can come back to that."

 

"I believe that you have had many sisters trying to advise and even manipulate you toward your choice. And despite the earlier comment, I want everyone to find the place where they fit the best and can serve the Tower and their Ajah to their best capability." At least the girl had gotten a warning that she might be biased if Lillian asked about her Ajah. And she did still have an Ajah no matter that it wasn't entirely clear whether or not the Keeper left her colours behind when taking the position. She avoided bias to her best ability when performing her duties but she had been a Brown for over hundred years and it was a rediculous notion that she could be free of her shawl.

 

"I might not be the person who makes your path clear for you but if I have helped to shed even some light on it, I am satisfied."

 

"Tell me about yourself, Lillian. What kind of a personality are you and what are your streghts and weaknesses? And how would you fit in each Ajah and benefit them the best... and how would you be a bad match for each Ajah?"

 

That was quite a flurry of questions to deal with, some of which Lillian did not really intend to answer if she could avoid it. Not to mention one in particular that she would outright refuse to, but even if formalities had been dispensed, she didn't want to tempt anything by any means. She didn't know Arette Se- Arette, that well, and her rank was something to be careful of all the same until she did know her better. The last thing she needed to do was set her progress back by putting the Keeper offside, she certainly did not wish to add more years onto her time as an Accepted if she could avoid it.

 

Chewing a piece of her biscuit slowly, to give herself time to formulate her words as much as it was to savour the taste, Lillian wondered how much Arette would push the Brown Ajah. Her joke about it had been disarming, but that could be the very nature of it. Normally she was not quite as suspicious, but whenever an Aes Sedai raised the issue of Ajah aspiration, she couldn't help it. She did not like people pushing her into a decision when it came to Ajah, or prodding, or anything of a sort. It was a final decision once made, she did not wish to lock herself into a choice until she absolutely had to, nor did she like the idea of making a choice only to change her mind and thereby snub the Ajah she initially chose. No, she'd be showing a great deal of care when it came to the subject.

 

"I'm not sure I could give an objective assessment of my personality, after all, it is mine. But as to the Ajahs... I could serve in any one of them, all of their causes appeal equally to me. It would have been a bit easier if they were better defined, but I've noticed that when people speak of their Ajah, they are quick to point out that their Ajah is capable of doing what every Ajah does. Green sisters need healers too, Blue sisters can champion justice and mediate, White sisters would give a cause truth, Yellow sisters can use people who can research tomes, Brown sisters must also go out in the world to find new tomes and to conduct research."

 

"If that is the case, then it is who is in the Ajah that would determine my choice. But, in every Ajah I have friends and people I look up to, I cannot find a preference that way. Positions in the Hall shift and change so that is no measure. Essentially I am good for all Ajahs and bad for all of them at the same time, over the past few years I have tried to find an answer to the question but... There is time yet for the wheel to weave an answer." All said and done, Lillian had revealed alot yet at the same time not very much, it was a topic she didn't discuss with everyone readily. Even the Keeper.

 

Especially the Keeper.

 

As Lillian went on, Arette found it hard to keep a smile from her face. It was true what she said that all Ajahs needed all kind of talents and tried to appeal a bit to all kind of initiates but the girl carefully avoided revealing anything personal and just spoke relative self-evident words that would have made the most evasive Daes Dae'mar player proud. She might not speak because she did not trust Arette and then they were both just wasting their time. She wanted to get to the bottom of that.

 

When the Accepted was done, she applauded. "Remarkable, my dear. You said alot and nothing. There isn't much left in dodging undesireable questions department for you to learn. But what is the motive behind all that? I am not trying to make you declare your decision and what ever you say here tentatively will not hold and bind you in anyway. Is it because the issue and the questions are too personal and you barely know me? Maybe you would like me to answer the very same questions first."

 

"Also to be frank, it is nonsense that all Ajahs are capable of doing the same things. They all have a certain specialisation and function for the White Tower, some defined more excessively than others, and most of the Ajah's Sisters serve that mission in their own way. When you say that Greens need Healers, it is so that they could be more effectively the Battle Ajah. And the Browns go out into the world to seek for tomes because that advances the cause of Knowledge. To be able to function in that Ajah, you need to feel that cause as your own and be passionate about it. Is there passion for any of our causes in you?"

 

"Now, is there a way to continue this discussion?" Lillian could end it here if she wanted and Arette would let her. Of course she would draw her own conclusions but it was her choice really. She had offered her help but that was no use if it was not accepted.

 

"There is." Sipping her tea, Lillian had already decided that it would be unwise to close the door entirely. Saying no to the Keeper, especially as an Accepted, wasn't a wise idea even if the option was offered. Not unless there was a particularly good reason and in this case she could afford to share some things. It might even raise her profile depending, that would certainly help in terms of seeing her Acceptedhood end sooner. The sooner it ended, the sooner she could don her ring on any finger she choose, claim whichever shawl she claimed and get out in the world and actually achieve something. With every year it was becoming harder and harder to imagine that dream as it was, and it was a dream she did not want to lose.

 

"But I wouldn't be so quick to denigrate the Ajahs. They are meant to serve specific functions, but in the end each individual sister has her own strengths and weaknesses. I even think that some over the years may have been better suited to a purpose other than that of their chosen Ajah. It doesn't help that all their causes are worthy, or in the case of the Blue Ajah, being able to determine one's own causes as it suits one's purposes. I can see myself in each of the Ajahs and happy in each of them. Therefore its not so easy to pick, something which seems to frustrate everyone around me to varying degrees but that is how it is."

 

Clever girl. Arette merely nodded to acknowledge that they would keep talking and tried to not appear like it had been the only wise option.

 

"I do not denigrate the Ajahs but I believe that I understand their function better than you do. The Tower is full of strong women - in many cases even headstrong - who are believed to know after their training what is their role in Serving All. The Tower does not micromanage the Sisters even though it sometimes chooses certain specific individuals for missions that are important for one reason or another. But the Tower must have some way in guiding the Sisters and that is why we need the Ajahs. They focus our missions, visions and goals. If we had a thousand individuals doing what ever they would please, the Tower would have broken by now and lost its significance."

 

"In the same way than the Three Oaths define us, so do the Ajahs. They balance our high individualism with collectivity. All their causes are indeed worthy but you cannot be everything for everyone. You have to choose one that you will become the most passionate about. If you don't choose, then likely you will be fitted for some mold that you might not yourself have picked."

 

"I do sympathise with your situation. If you are good with many things and interested of them all, it might even seem futile to choose at all. I myself was lucky to know almost from the start what cause interested me the most and where my gifts lay. I suppose that the Tower tries in some way to force the Sisters to become experts in some thing because a master of a trade is more valuable than jack of all trades. Another reason why you are being pushed to choose is because we do not like unpredictability when it just can be avoided." She leaned forward in a conspiratory manner. "It is also a practical manner. All Ajahs make certain preparations for their new members and if the rest of the six do them futily as a precaution, they will likely not be pleased. It might even postpone your Raising if the choice is not done."

 

"But answer me something, are you viewing the Ajahs more as something you are interested in and that can give you something, or as something you give something to, your talents? I'm certain that you want to say both but which one of the options is closer to your stance?"

 

“One shouldn’t ask what one’s Ajah can do for you, rather what you can do for one’s Tower.” Smiling slightly as she made the reference, Lillian set her tea down before her.  “In the end, all the Ajahs are appendages of the Tower, its not a matter of picking sides, it’s a matter of deciding how best I can serve the Tower.  Since I can do each job, and I think do it well, and moreover I wouldn’t mind doing any of them, perhaps it will come down to what the Tower needs most of me when the time comes.”

 

Looking up at Arette rather than keeping her eyes averted, Lillian decided to throw a challenge out.  “I disagree though, on several points.  The Ajahs are not the best way to organise the Tower, not even close.” Now that garnered a tad more attention than she had held before.  “The system is basically on par with that of a guild.  It has similar advantages, such as protecting members of that guild and ensuring the standard of its members.  I wouldn’t argue that at all.”

 

“But here is an example of a problem with that system, let me think of a parallel… Say you have coopers and roofers in a city, the wood supply becomes a bit lean, only enough to fully sustain one of the two guilds.  Those guilds will then compete for that wood supply not necessarily to match demand for their services, but for self perpetuation.  The same occurs here in the Tower, Ajahs feud due to the differences of their profession and the identities of their Ajahs.  It frustrates most attempts at co-operation, and sisters are often required to tow Ajah lines rather than pursue co-operation, Blue and Red Ajah rivalry is a good example of that.”

 

Lillian wasn’t sure how Arette was receiving this, her face was unreadable, but she had already begun.  “I’m not saying that the Tower should micromanage every sister, but there would have to be a better way to organise the Tower’s resources.  Regional organisation would be one way, assembling teams for each area composed of sisters of different professions.  Its susceptible to its own problems, true, but it would allow for united Tower involvement in the world as opposed to Ajah agenda crossing paths.”

 

”I’m not saying it could be changed just like that either, that would be naïve and ignoring the weight of nearly two thousand years of tradition.  But at the same time I wouldn’t accept that the Ajahs are the best way simply because they’ve survived so long.  It focuses on the tools we have, the skills, rather than the specific purposes we could apply them to.” That just about wound up her opinion of the Ajahs, but she thought she may as well add something extra on the end of it.  “That’s why, although I cannot decide which Ajah to aspire to, I’m not worried.  Regardless of my choice, I’ll collaborate with anyone who is willing to get whatever needs doing, done.”

 

Tapping her finger to her lips like Arette always did when she was thinking, she was listening. This kind of thoughts could only come from an Accepted for any Sister Raised knew that the Ajahs would oppose to their many members' last heartbeats disbanding or even changes or heavier hand in their management. The wood supply Lillian refered to could be for example the waning number of initiates they received. So far the Ajahs had found new members in somewhat good proportions, the larger Ajahs still remaining bigger, but she did not even want to think what would happen if some Ajah's numbers really began to wean. Aes Sedai lived for a long time so the issue might not become immediate but if the Ajahs did not get new blood...

 

It was a valid point that Ajahs raised biases that necessarily would not have been there despite sometimes conflicting goals that the Ajahs had. The finger tapped at slightly quicker pace when Lillian mentioned the regional teams, kind of like constantly on-going missions with their assigned Sisters. It had been something that she and Karana had discussed and it would be beneficial exactly because it would allow larger involvement in the world and because the teams would be under the command of the Amyrlin and not the Hall. Oh, of course the Sitters and Ajah Heads would give their own tasks and agendas for the Sisters sent but mainly they would be doing they were supposed to do. The biggest threat was that on the long run it would weaken the central White Tower's organization and contest the power of the Amyrlin and the Sitters. The local nobles and maybe even rulers would no longer come to the White Tower itself but would approach the Sisters there. And there were always crafty Sisters who would have nothing against that. They could be recalled and others sent to replace them but it would be the growing trend. The Tower's influence in the world would likely grow but in unpredictable and hard to control way and those two were curse words for the Hall.

 

It was good that Lillian acknowledged the fact that it would take more than her lifetime to change the Ajahs. Slow changes could be initiated but it would take a new generation to fully adopt new attitudes. Maybe Lillian would one day be the Sitter of her Ajah and try to change the system from the inside which was the only way to do any permanent good. But since she was so young, Arette would likely be dead by that time. And Lillian might have lost her idealism, bored down by the amount of Ajah bickering and politicking. She had dealt with it for only few years and it was getting more and more burdensome. The Hall meetings would often try the patience of a brick wall. She had seen the growing cynicism happen to too many young Sisters, firebrands eager to do what they thought was right and snuffed down by their elders. In the end they escaped to the world where no one could attach strings to them and where they could choose how to Serve.

 

"You raise valid issues. I don't think that we can do off entirely with the Ajahs exactly because of the focus of expertise and level of standards they bring. And not to mention that they are the basis of how the Tower is run in the form of the Hall. How would you propose that we chose those who represent us if not from among those qualified among their Ajahs? Which brings up the point that when you change one thing, it affects other things too. What kind of consequences do you foresee if the Tower became more regional, at first with the Ajah system intact?" She was going to suggest to Karana sending Sisters from several Ajahs to a longer mission to places in the world. If they were to circulate in, say the Western part of the world for a year, they could tackle problems they came across and find new novices. And if some issue arose in the area, they could be sent a message and the messy and long Hall procedure where the matter was discussed and representatives chosen might not needed to be endured.

 

Well, there was no criticism due to her ideas, that was reassuring.  Instead, Lillian was challenged to substantiate her ideas with further detail, more answers, that was something she could do.  Well, at least attempt, if she had the correct answers then her project would have been finished and the Tower revitalised.  Chiding herself inwardly for the sarcasm of her final thought, Lillian responded.  “I know that it a change there would affect everything else, to be honest that would be what I would be counting on if I were to make a change.”

 

“The Ajahs are not the only way to guarantee standard and expertise.  One wouldn’t even need to do away with them entirely, but there are several changes I could think of.  The first would be a return to the old idea of ajah, that participation was voluntary and by no means final.  It would allow for a flexibility for individual sisters to dedicate themselves to where their energies would be best suited, as opposed to a permanent commitment that would determine their life for them.  Say someone has been a Blue sister for a hundred years and after those years of crusading wants to retire to study and increasing the tower’s knowledge, she could swap between blue to brown without issue.”

 

“The second point I’d make is removing Ajah from the hall, remove their direct influence in the politics and decision making of the Tower.  A nation or a city state is not run by lawyers, merchants, soldiers and physicians.  They are led by people who are capable of leading wherever possible.  Dynasty would be useless, but Far Madding gives one example with their system of council.  Elective bodies have their own problems, and people could be placed to fit agendas, but it is an alternative.  One which would require each council member to appeal to the majority of sisters, as opposed to their particular Ajah and niche.  A hall made of representatives chosen for their appeal throughout the Tower as opposed to their profession might go a long way to encouraging co-operation, because only those who would co-operate could gather enough support to be placed there.”

 

“The effect on culture in the tower would be an issue of course.  The main benefit would be a breakdown in Ajah control and influence.  It would still be there, and I doubt it could ever be entirely uprooted and perhaps it shouldn’t be, it can be a handy counterbalance sometimes when in good measure.  But it would tear down walls, which would be important for strengthening the Tower and its capacity to act as a united body as a whole.”

 

Sipping her tea, Lillian continued.  “As for regional leadership, it’s a delegation of authority that has its benefits and its drawbacks.  It would allow for more immediate responses to issues in a region, cross-disciplinary approach would allow for many talents to be brought to bear on a situation rather than one particular Ajah.  Major decisions could still be referred back to the Hall here to preserve central authority at the same time, but give the flexibility required to adapt to changing circumstances by allowing regional heads to act as they see best.  As you would pick people you felt you could trust for these positions, while there could be problems it would allow for a greater participation by the Tower in the world, increase in influence not only with nobility and ruling classes but even with common people with the provision of services.  Healing, education, even reform by influence in areas that require it.  Imagine a Murandy stabilised over a period of say, fifty to a hundred years, applying pressure in the right areas to achieve such a thing.”

 

“The only real problem with regional groups is if the wrong person is picked for the job, or they turn out to be the wrong person over time.  The same issue faced whenever any sort of mission is launched by an Ajah or the Tower itself, picking the right person is always important.  Likewise, our participation in the world would cause reactions.  Those that are strengthened by it would welcome it, those that were weakened would be resentful.  But its hard to generalise there because the participation of Aes Sedai in each region would be determined by the circumstances, one would need a specific example to make an evaluation.”

 

Lillian mentioned Ajahs becoming ajahs again was expected but it wasn't as easy as she she thought. Accepted likely thought that Ajahs were ruled by their Sitters but that was not true and she could not correct that wrong perception as the Ajah Heads were a secret sealed to the shawl. Ajahs had their own secrets and it would make it difficult to change them into ajahs and allow those secrets to be moved with members. Of course Sisters transfering could be just made to swear to not pass those secrets on but still there would be great reluctance and likely bias against the movers at first. And who would have the courage to start the change and propose it? She doubted that even Deane Aryman, Gerra Kishar and Kathana Trevalear had been strong enough Amyrlins to attempt anything like that.

 

She made a small disbelieving sound when Lillian mentioned making the Hall Ajah free but let her continue. It was just impossible to see how that kind of a change would be started and how they could keep the Ajah members from voting mainly their own Ajah members - maybe even the ones who their Ajah Heads told them to. And that would only benefit the bigger Ajahs and the smaller Ajahs might not get anyone into the Hall.

 

The Tower becoming more active in the everyday life of people would certainly cause ripples. That had originally brought about the Three Oaths; people had mistrusted the Aes Sedai involvement and feared their power of destruction after the Trolloc Wars. They might even start to demand that they take a fourth Oath about manipulation. Lillian's last comment gave her an idea and maybe she would give the girl an assignment that would show how well she could actually apply her ideas rather than just create visions.

 

"How would you suggest that we would get started with the transition into ajahs and not to mention the revamp of the Hall? You have no idea on how many toes those suggestions would trample." She grinned when she thought the apoplexy the Sitters would get when the idea was brought to their attention. "I am not actually certain would any Tower Laws needed to be changed, though. But the traditions governing the Hall and the Ajahs are as strong as the Laws and if the Amyrlin decreed something that the majority of the Sitters were not behind... Amyrlins and their Keepers have been Deposed for doing things like that." She gave Lillian a piercing stare and her throat constricted at the thought of the penalty: Stilling, to never be able to feel the sweetness of Saidar again. No Sister liked to think that. "And I doubt that even many Sisters would be keen on such radical upheavals. Even if they were for the best of the Tower in the long run." She sighed.

 

Smiling slightly, Lillian had expected such a challenge to be given to her.  It was the same one she had been giving herself over the years since she had first discovered the problem in her work.  It was well and good to point out problems, harder to point out possible solutions, harder still to point out how to make those solutions viable.  “I’m not under the illusion that people would suddenly embrace new ideas.  Like any power structure there are vested interests, both those which are visible and those that swim in the undercurrents.” Lillian had spent long enough on her work to know that Sitters only had so much power.  All one had to do was look at the differences between the elected sitters yet still find consistent politics between them all to realise that there were strings pulled behind that.  Whether it was some sort of leadership or simply a power group that had the clout to provide consistency to the Ajah politic Lillian could not say.

 

“There are two main possibilities when it comes to changing the culture and structure of the Tower.  But, before dealing with those, the hurdles have to be recognised.  The first one, as you pointed out, are the toes that would be stepped on.  The second that you have also pointed out is tradition, it holds as strong as law.  The time it has been in place has given it weight and it is geared entirely towards maintaining the current Tower structure, it self perpetuates.  Its impossible to push against it, but there are ways that I will get to.”

 

“Lastly, there is the existing culture of isolationism.  Firstly between the Ajahs, while there is some crossing between the Ajahs, large ventures by the Tower are generally handled by individual Ajahs that claim expertise.  Secondly, the isolation of the Tower with the world, by withdrawing rather than embracing we’ve allowed mystery to surround us.  While the mystery can be useful, its also a great hindrance.  People cannot trust what they do not understand, thereby limiting the Tower’s capacity to interact with the world and contributing to a series of problems that the Tower faces today ranging from filling the Novice roll to simply being able to inspire a smidgeon of trust in the average person.”

 

Finishing her tea, Lillian set the cup on the saucer and folded her hands in her lap before continuing.  “As I said, there are two ways.  The first way is slow, sure, steady, but most certainly slow.  It has to start with sisters leading by example, openly helping one another regardless of their Ajah ties.  This has to occur not only within the Tower, but out in the world as well.  The purpose of this would be to demonstrate the benefit of co-operation between sisters of different Ajahs in achieving goals that serve the Tower.”

 

“These sisters that did such a thing would not be looked on kindly by their Ajahs for quite a time.  The change would have to work through one sister at a time, it would take decades to effect the change.  Success would engender more sisters to participate.  At the same time, one would want to ensure that the news of these successes also reached the Novices and the Accepted.  They’re the new generation, that needs to be cultivated as much as the sisters themselves.  Teachers who were won over by co-operation would be key to this effort.  The Tower itself would also be key to this, it would have to openly reward co-operation between Ajahs and help make it a more attractive alternative, not to mention help counterweight the ostracism that sisters would experience in the early stages of this effort to change.”

 

“Culture changes when given the time and pressure, and when culture changes then traditions change and are reinterpreted.  New leadership eventually rises, these leaders might not necessarily agree with the new culture but they will with time acknowledge it.  Any power group in any Ajah can only maintain control as long as it represents the majority of an Ajah.  If they cannot, they are either removed or their sisters cease to acknowledge them.  It might cause problems, much like a child’s growth pains, but these are things that would eventually pass.  Assistance from the top of the power structure, from Aes Sedai like yourself, would make it easier because you would be in a better position to create incentives and rewards for joint venture, but it wouldn’t be necessary.  Possibly not preferable depending on how wary one was of, well, stepping on toes.”

 

“That’s a very brief skim of the slow solution.  The other possibility is far quicker but far more dangerous and has requirements.  A quick challenge to the current system could only occur if the system failed so thoroughly that not even tradition and authority could hold it in check.  There are several possibilities that could lead to this, and all of them are terrible.  The loss of a large expedition of sisters, a serious compromise of the security of the Tower and Tar Valon, these are just a couple.  Regardless of the issue, it would have to be of such a nature that it created a complete loss in confidence in the Hall for sisters as well as whatever other groups were involved in the issue.  The closest historical example we have would be perhaps Bonwhin, but imagine if the Hall had stood by her against the general discontent of the Tower.”

 

“The next requirement would be at least one very strong personality to weld that discontent into a force capable of challenging the Hall and whatever other groups were involved.  The Amyrlin could circumvent the Hall if she had been bound by their ruling to whatever disastrous action occurred for example.  Or, you could pick from other strong personalities in the White Tower if you wished to, people that have enough influence as well as personal motivation to take up a banner and possessed of the charisma and/or political connections to weld that discontent into a force.  Open confrontation, more likely than not some form of scapegoating regardless of which side winning.  The aftermath would require concessions from the victors, regardless, but change would be a result of such a clash which would probably be violent.”

 

“Forcing a change like that would be downright foolish, depending on how it played out it could cripple the Tower altogether.  Therefore the only viable solution would be the slow approach, rather than fighting the existing system you just slowly alter it with subtle pressures.  It would have the best outcome, the least collateral damage and if I had to pick a way to do it, that would be it.  Then one day we might see sisters in every city, yellow sisters being available to heal more people, gray sisters directly involved in the maintainence of law and order beyond our borders.”

 

“Not that there aren’t holes in the theory, but that’s a bit of what I have so far.  May I?” Getting a nod, Lillian helped herself to another cookie and began to pour herself another cup of tea.  “Would you like some?”

 

It was curious how Arette had come to address them as 'we' at some point, a change that likely showed that she was not entirely unsymphatetic to the cause. But her warning had been clear, she would not get involved with anything that would not have lasting good effects and that would only compromise her own position of power where she could affect things. Lillian continued laying out her grand plan and she had to agree with her that the mysterious image and keeping their distance was the root of many of the Tower's problems in public relations. If the Tower were more approachable, like they would be approached more then by novices too. In the beginning they would have to come halfway there and for example changing the testing policy could be a good sign of that. She doubted that anyone would oppose that if it brought them more initiates; it was something everyone were worried about after all.

 

She nodded slightly signaling that the slow way was definately the only way in her opinion. There were many ways how co-operation could be supported and rewarded and she began to already make a mental list of potential people to approach, a certain Red Sitter the first person who came to mind. Ah, was this child making a jab at her fear of being seen supportive of the cause, afraid of the consequences? She had gall. But then this whole plan - not to mention advocating it as openly as she did - required a great amount of pride and self-certainty... and courage. Yes, this Lillian was certainly someone whose process should be followed.

 

The second option was completely unfeasible. Such crisis she described had not happened in years and would require almost conscious effort to make things to wrong. And that was far too risky for the Tower's reputation and internal politics to be even attempted. Slow way it was. It would be sweet indeed to be there to witness the day Lillian described but Arette was realistic enough to admit that it would not likely happen during her lifetime. She and Karana could do their best to send regular long-lasting missions to the various regions and it would likely send some signals to the rest of the Tower but first the Ajahs would need to co-operate better.

 

She shook her head for no when Lillian suggested more tea and cookies but she could not help sneaking a longing glance at the plate. She liked sweet things too much and it was starting to show. "I would say that your theory is fairly accurate and I agree that only slow changes of the whole culture have any permanent effects."

 

She openly smiled as she more than half-jokingly returned to the topic that had got this all started. "Mayhap you should consider not joining any of the existing Ajahs but find your own ajah. Although that would confirm in everyone's mind that you are a dangerous firebrand and they would be wary of any suggestions you made from that on. I am certain that with radical ideas like this, you have already caused some Sisters to think that you might prove difficult, not to mention your difficulty of choosing an Ajah. You do not quite fit the mould."

 

"Still, I wouldn't ask you to abandon the goal but be weary of stepping on toes. There is a careful balance of achieving new things and loosing the credibility to do so."

 

Smiling slightly, Lillian nodded as she acknowledged Arette's comment on the possibility of losing credibility.  "Thats why I won't be seeking to push people to adopt changes, that would simply alienate people.  The only thing that I can do is offer participation, to offer to help any sister who requires it regardless of Ajah and allow people to judge the benefits from that point.  As to my own choice...  How would a Purple Ajah sound?"   Her smile widening, Lillian added.  "A dark purple shawl would certainly have a regal look to it.  But, I did consider another possibility.  During my oaths, I could always walk towards the Amyrlin instead of one of the other Ajahs, as far as I can tell there isn't a precedent for it."

 

The look on Arette's face told Lillian that she hadn't considered such a possibility either.  "Not that I will, I doubt the Tower would be quite prepared for a Rainbow sister and that would step on everyone's toes at once by creating a challenge to Ajah by allowing the Amyrlin to create a following tied to her directly.  Creating such a challenge would be unwise, though the thought of it has been a persistent dream nevertheless."   Sipping her tea, Lillian wondered whether the cogs and wheels were turning over the idea in Arette's mind or if she had simply banished them because of the very dangerous nature of them.

 

She should have known that Lillian would play along and even elaborate the idea. But Purple Ajah sounded so... unbelievable that her lips twitched with a suppressed smile. The next idea had not even come to her mind, that someone could be of all Ajahs and none who was not the Amyrlin Seat. It could be the solution but it was dangerous, oh so dangerous. Karana was a strong Amyrlin and the Hall and the Sisters respected her but there were certain ways that were considered safe displays of power. Something this radical and new would raise hackles and wariness. And it would mean change in the power balances if the Amyrlin Seat had Sisters loyal to only her. It would be handy, though and she wondered if some Amyrlins had had Sisters like that in secret.

 

"Rainbow sister is not quite the name I would go with", she said with a wrinkle of a nose. "But you're right that the Tower is not prepared for that. If you wish to swear in private to the Mother, though, I shall arrange the meeting." The suggestion was made with an entirely straight face and finally she filled the thoughtful silence that followed.

 

"Anyway, if you want a colour that is a mix of all the others, it would have to be brown", she grinned. "See? I have not entirely forgotten the original topic even though I allowed myself to be distracted by another awfully interesting subject. Do you think that you would really have it in you? Would you fit in to our book-loving and too often action forsaking Sisterhood? I would imagine that you could give us a good dusting but could you enjoy and appreciate us as we are?"

 

“You mean that every Brown Sister is, as rumour guys, unaware of the world around them and completely incapable of applying any of their vaunted knowledge to real issues in the current day?”   Lillian smiled as she answered.  “Most certainly not.  On the otherhand, sisters don’t become Keepers and Amyrlins unless they are capable, and I think that while there are some that are truly lost in a world of their own, there are plenty more who are more than happy to let people believe what they believe and more fool them.”

 

Arette laughed. "Or then the story about us being shockingly cunning behind that absent-minded librarian act is just our own devicing so that we can be left at peace. But you are right that the Brown Ajah has had the priviledge of claiming two of the most important women of this century, Kathana Trevalear and Karana Majin. Kathana was one of the longest reigning Amyrlins as she was chosen at so young age and the current Mother... well, she has only reigned for few years but she is an awesome woman who will accomplish much." If only Light gave her years, she thought with constricted heart. Karana was old and she herself expected to have no longer than a decade. Arette would miss her dearly and the Tower just would not be the same anymore without her.

 

"As for Keepers, our most important trait is loyalty. Of course no Amyrlin picks just a good friend with no other qualities but what those abilities are varies greatly. Mine are not people but book keeping and managing assets", she shrugged to signal that she didn't think that much of them. No one had been more surprised than her when Karana had asked her to become her Keeper and even though she thought she was doing decent job, she often felt like she had to work more to be as good as someone else could have been. And she certainly was faulty of perfectionism and expecting too much of herself too which could be both, a strength and a weakness.

 

"But you never answered my question about whether you think that you could fit or not. You have been quite evasive with every personal question so if you don't want to answer, we can just leave it to that. It is just my impression that it isn't very likely that you will be the guest of honour in our welcome party." She softened the words with a smile.

 

Nodding in acquiescence with Arette’s observation about her evasiveness, she wasn’t so quick to nod at Arette’s suspicion.  “It is less evasiveness and more because I cannot give a certain answer, I can’t answer what I don’t honestly know.  But it’s a possibility, as are the other Ajahs, maybe one day I’ll realise which one of those possibilities is a certainty.”

 

She merely nodded, a bit disappointed that they likely would not be getting this bright new addition. "I wish you good luck with that. I am certain that you would feel home anywhere and get along with almost every Sister." Pouring her more tea, she asked. "Now, would you like to speak a bit more of the other topics or even something entirely else?" She didn't want to give the impression that she was in hurry of ending the conversation because she had reserved a few hours for this. But if Lillian really had exhausted the interesting topics and she couldn't or wouldn't speak of herself, Arette had more important things to do than chit chat over tea. It might be beneficial in this case to get to know the young woman more intimately and in a less blunt way than her direct questions. Ah well, they would see.

 

“I would.”   Lillian smiled.  “But I do not wish to take more of your time, you have more important things to attend to.  That and most of the questions I would ask I’ve learned that I’m not allowed to hear the answers to as of yet if the gaps in our library are anything to go by.”   It wasn’t spoken of, but it was known that there were limits to what knowledge Novices and Accepted were granted permission to.  Some things were for when they ‘were ready’, never mind that the information could have proven quite useful.  Although her tea had been refilled, Lillian set herself to finishing it as she listened to Arette’s response.

 

"Depends on the questions, I suppose", Arette replied with an easy smile. It was very clever of Lillian to have deduced that there were books she had no access to as of yet. "There are some layers even for Sisters but as the keepers of the Library, the Browns have some privileges..." Though not even all Browns were allowed into the library that was meant only for the eyes of the Sitters, the Amyrlin and the Keeper. She herself had never set foot on there until her first day with the Staff and she was still feeling the thrill in the pit of her stomach when she stepped in there to find some tome.

 

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely tempted.”   Lillian set her empty tea cup on its saucer.  “Unfortunately, if my paper has insights that my access to information shouldn’t have permitted, the first question that will be asked is where I got the information from.  If I’m ignorant of what I’m not meant to know, then I can’t let it slip and I can’t be questioned about it.”   Standing, Lillian prepared to curtsey as she asked.  “By your leave?”

 

The girl resisted the temptation much better than she would have. Though as an Accepted she had been awfully rule-abiding and likely wouldn't have dared to do anything that would have even prompted an offer like this. And Lillian wouldn't have had to write any of the information given down, just know it. If she had given any. "You have my leave. Have a good day, Lillian and I do hope to discuss with you again."

 

Curtseying, Lillian bowed her head as she did so before turning and making her way out of the Keeper’s office.  She couldn’t help but feel that she had learned a great deal and at the same time revealed much.  Then again, the revealing would hopefully hinder rather than harm, but that was something only time would tell.

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Throwing the quill away in an uncharacteristic display of relief, Lillian felt she could have jumped on her desk and finally done a jig. After, well, Creator alone knew how many hours of work, research, on occasion incidents of theft and an assortment of other things that didn't bear mentioning, she felt that she was finally done. A book in its own right, the sheer amount of sheafs of paper that she had used were going to have to be punched through with a pin at least a foot long and twine would have to be used to then bind it together. A vast conglomeration of particular studies, statistics, arguments, references and everything else that she could think to include.

 

And thats when it hit her. Sinking in her chair, Lillian repressed the urge to beat her brains out on the table infront of her. The sheer amount of information that she'd collected and argued in its main form was going to be of incredibly large scope and take a great deal of time to process. She'd need to write an accompanying paper, a small summary as such that would help someone at least understand the basics of her work and what it was about. Nevermind that a summary would lack the subtlety, not to mention the particular details that were the sum of her research. Distilling them into a shorter form was going to be downright painful because there was no way that she was going to be capture the same subtleties and nuances that were vital in seeing the greater picture.

 

Sighing, she touched saidar only as long as necessary to retrieve her quill from across the room and fetch herself a new sheaf of paper. She would write a summary, but she'd be damned if she went through the same process of revision and editing that she did for her main work. Whatever she wrote off the cuff would stick, that would be the end of it. Touching her quill to the inkpot, it glided over the sheaf of paper before her in turn as she began with a simple beginning, a foreword.

 

 

0. Foreword

 

The White Tower is not only a structure, nor is it just a symbol, it is every woman that resides within its walls whether they wear a humble white dress of the Novice, one marked with the rainbow bands of the Accepted or marked by a shawl denoting her Ajah.  It is an idea, it is an entity in its own right and for the better part of three thousand years it has stood free and resisted both the tides of darkness and mortal armies alike.  No foe has been able to defeat the sisters of ring and shawl, in the minds of a good many, the White Tower has not only endured but shall continue to do so regardless of what occurs.

 

But, if that is true then there are some disquieting realities that remain unanswered and undealt with.  Our halls dwindle, where once they overflowed with students that were overjoyed at the prospect of becoming Aes Sedai, these students including myself have become but a handful.  Abroad, Aes Sedai are respected in some places but also feared to a great degree and this fear has in turn led to envy and resentment, creating obstacles and dangers alike.  Sisters carry the title of Aes Sedai, yet compared to our ancestors we possess but a part of their strength, knowledge and wisdom that has slowly but surely dwindled away.  And how can this be?  The answer is that the White Tower has been fighting a losing battle, an insidious foe that may fell the Tower the same way it humbled our ancestors.

 

Decadence.

 

The truth is that none of us, least of all myself, possess the power or wisdom that we have pretended to.  The White Tower has been in a long process of decay, a problem further exacerbated by an unwillingness to acknowledge or even address the issues that face the White Tower, at least openly.  For the past decade, I have researched records, I have interviewed, I have observed and I have pondered and the following is a summary that I have attached to the main body of my work.  This summary piece has been divided into the following:

 

- Sustainability & Recruitment

- Education & Ethics

- Sisterhood & Ajah

- Statehood & Foreign Policy

- The Mantle of Aes Sedai

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1. Sustainability & Recruitment

 

One of the most important concerns for the White Tower, dwindling numbers within the halls and a less than impressive amount of students to replace those sisters that are lost.  Not only do we lose sisters to old age, a fair number have been lost in an assortment of violent incidents ranging from encounters with the Shadow on the Borderlands to assassins employed by the Children of the Light and a variety of opponents that change with both the wind and season.

 

There is only so much that can be done to prevent the loss of sisters, both to age and to murderous intent.  Everything from the adoption of Warders in the early stages of our history to the development of the Tower Guard, the security of the White Tower and even the training of those Accepted and Sisters willing to learn self defence, any measure possible that is both feasible and practical has been adopted.

 

Yet when it has come to the security of our future by ensuring a steady flow of Novices, Accepted and Sisters, the White Tower has performed very poorly indeed and during the White Tower’s existence, very little has changed since its founding in this regard.  The recruitment policy of the White Tower has been simple, let those who wish to learn come and enroll themselves.

 

It is, of course, a very enlightened policy, but one that ignores several disparities between when the policies were enacted and today:

 

a) The Aes Sedai of the time were overwhelmed with women wanting to test and see if they had the gift, the Novice and Accepted Halls were burgeoning with students and the flow was consistent.

b) Aes Sedai, especially during the time of the Compact, were widely respected for their participation in the world and assistance in not only quelling their male counterparts, but for helping keep the Shadow at bay.

c) The population was many times greater in the Westlands during the earlier periods than the current day, meaning that the chance of women being born with the talent was far greater.

 

When the policy was enacted, those were the luxuries that made such an open handed policy both possible and indeed preferable.  Of course, today we are now plagued by several problems that make the current status quo untenable.

 

a) Aes Sedai no longer command the same respect and love of the people that they once did.  The desire overall to be tested has decreased dramatically and our halls are far from burgeoning.

b) The world has in many ways forgotten what the White Tower has done for it, something aided by the White Tower’s decreased participation in the world, which shall be dealt with in a later chapter.

c) The population has been greatly diminished not only by the Trolloc Wars but by the War of a Hundred Years.  No population in the Westlands has experienced a population boom for the past six hundred years, indeed a decline in birthrate along with sporadic warfare has seen the disappearance of many of the nations of the New Era, including; Almoth, Caralain, Goaban, Hardan, Irenvelle, Kintara, Mar Haddon, Maredo and Mosara.

 

White Tower policy in this respect has fallen behind the world by a good six hundred years at least, if not more.  If the White Tower is to boost its numbers, the only solution short of a new birth boom is a more aggressive approach to the recruitment and cultivation of those who possess the ability to touch saidar.  An active scouring of the land for those who could join the Sisterhood and help balance the failing numbers.  This would also include allowing women, regardless of age, to enroll rather than allowing those who are ‘too old’ to slip through the Tower’s grasp.

 

There have been a number of arguments for and against such an aggressive strategy as well as the unsuitability of older students, but in the end it comes down to numbers and a very sickening possibility.  Over the past one hundred and fifty years, the Blightborder has seen an increase in activity and Malkier’s resources have become increasingly strained.  Indeed a penetration of Malkier’s borders within the past century led to the siege and near loss of Fal Dara to a horde of Trollocs and accompanying Dreadlords that failed only due to the presence of a cadre of Green and Gray sisters.  Yet this warning was ignored, a herald to the fall of Malkier in 955 NE.

 

The threat from the north is growing, yet unlike the Trolloc Wars we do not have the number of sisters necessary to repel a second invasion.  Indeed, the White Tower does not even possess half the numbers it did during that nightmare that raged for three hundred and fifty years.  If there was any reason more pressing to reconsider the active recruitment of women with the ability to channel, there would be one right there.

 

There is also an alternative to actively scouring the nations for children who may have the gift, one that tradition has not only impeded but nearly crippled.  It is a well acknowledged fact that children of channelers have a higher tendency to manifest the ability to channel yet we actively discourage sisters from having children.

 

Now, yes there are the dangers that come with this when it comes to male children, as well as other more sordid dangers.  Do not mistake me for someone who would make an argument for an active eugenics program either, as a very few have counseled in the past.  I certainly have no intention of spawning a brood myself, yet it is a curious thing that those sisters who do bear children are ostracised by their sisters for having committed some great sin.

 

After all, we have the example of Cara Sedai of the Brown Ajah to look to.  Daughter of Tania Sedai of the Gray Ajah, she grew up within the Tower and was discovered from a young age to be able to channel and progressed through the training at a reasonable pace without great incident.  Tania Sedai gave her own flesh and blood to the Tower, yet she was condemned by a number of her sisters for the act, not only was it a cruel thing to do to a Sister who gave to the Tower so, it made no practical sense.  The Tower gained a sister, both of which serve to this day and there is no reason why other sisters could not find similar happiness, as well as bolster the Tower while they are at it.  While one wouldn’t actively encourage other sisters to do so, it is a senseless thing to punish those who do.

 

In conclusion, to achieve sustainable numbers the Tower’s two obvious options are to not only actively seek out new students, it must also dispense with the taboo of Aes Sedai bearing children.

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2. Education & Ethics

 

The education of Novices and Accepted is a great priority that has increasingly demanded re-examination over the years.  This isn’t to impugn the quality of the teaching, indeed, my teachers have challenged me with every topic and by doing so have exposed me to many ideas and matters I might not have otherwise encountered.  But there is a basic flaw within the education system imposed on Novices and Accepted.

 

Over-education.

 

Not exactly something one would necessarily consider a problem, indeed one would feel that the better one could prepare a person for the world and inform them, the better they could carry out their duties as an Aes Sedai.  The problem though is that exposure to that outside world that Novices and Accepted are being prepared for is entirely too limited. 

 

That isn’t to say that teachers do not take students out into the city, but that is as far as it goes.  Tar Valon is a limited form of experience, owing to its cosmopolitan nature and the fact that at the end of the day, every student is back in the dormitory.  Its effectively sheltering our new generations of Aes Sedai, regardless of their previous backgrounds, after a minimum of twenty years spent in constant study and limited access to the world beyond the Tower there are several general trends that can be identified:

 

a) The sheltered nature of the education inhibits the effectiveness of new Aes Sedai until they are reacclimatised with the world.

b) A disproportionate number of sisters spend most of their time within the Tower, one of the contributing factors for this is the limit of outside contact which has focused them inward.

c) The sheltered nature of the education is also isolationist.  It may cultivate identity with the Tower but the separation from non-channelers not affiliated with the Tower is a problem, one that will be dealt with in later chapters.

 

As far as apprenticeships go, that of a Novice and Accepted is absurdly long compared to people of other professions, even when taking into account the extended lifespan.  The integration of more outside experience in Tar Valon earlier in the curriculum, even more travel to different nations, would be highly beneficial and help cultivate more worldly and skilled Aes Sedai better able to communicate with people from other backgrounds.  A worthy outcome in its own right, regardless of Ajah aspirations the students may have and a vital rounding off of the education system.

 

The other side of this is a question of ethics when it comes to certain aspects of our education system.  For the purposes of brevity, I shall focus on one particular concern and that is the continued use of the Arches as a valid form of testing for those who would become Accepted.

 

The primary reason the Arches are implemented is because of their uncanny ability to find the weakest points in a person’s character and exploit them, force an individual to confront them but at the same time expose those individuals to great risk.  Those who pass the test are considered worthy of becoming Accepted because they have not only broken with their past and their troubles, but the shared suffering also becomes a common link between all Accepted and Aes Sedai that is important to forming a common identity and kinship, sisterhood even.

 

Yet the Arches are outright barbaric.  Students, children as we often refer to Novices, they are put through terrible trauma in the Arches and not one goes through without pain or scars.  These children are the Tower’s charges, how can the Tower ethically put those students in a potentially lethal situation like that who are reliant on the Tower for their safety?

 

There are a couple of defences usually leveled in favour of the Arches that attempt to defend the test.  The first tries to defend it on ethical grounds, that each Novice has a choice whether to make the jump to Accepted, they are warned of the risk and it is their choice to do so.  To answer that defence, I would pose these issues.  The first is that there is a level of coercion present.  To refuse three times is to be banished from the White Tower and Tar Valon, the complete uprooting of one’s life and to have everyone one holds dear turn their face away, how is this a free choice?  The second point is that no amount of training can completely prepare anyone for the Arches, without being able to completely prepare Novices for the danger beyond drilling the importance of the White Tower into them during their novitiate so they run for their silver arch when the time comes, how can we send ill prepared Novices into that level of danger?

 

The other defence abandons ethics altogether and instead contends that the Arches are the only way to truly test someone.  Why?  The two main purposes of the test are to ensure the loyalty of those that pass through to the White Tower over other considerations and to force individuals to confront their weaknesses.

 

Is the White Tower truly so lacking in resourcefulness, imagination, determination and perceptiveness that it must rely on a ter’angreal that isn’t fully understood to achieve these outcomes?  Why can we not assess each individual, design individual tests to suit them and test them accordingly, and do so in a situation that we can fully control as opposed to hurling gurls through a silver arch and hoping for the best?  At best its criminal negligence, in reality its unthinkable!  There isn’t any other legal organisation throughout the Westlands that employs such dangerous measures, with the possible exception of the Hand of the Light and that is not a group I think anyone would like the White Tower to run parallel with.

 

Putting aside the fact that the ter’angreal isn’t fully understood, there is still the issue of the trauma that the Arches cause those who use it.  While it might force people to confront their inner fears, it is by no means a cure all.  Indeed, there are few Aes Sedai who are so at peace with what occurred in their Arches that they can speak of it, even years afterward.  Others still have been unbalanced by the experience, Yellow and Brown Ajah records document multiple cases where this has occurred.

 

But, of course, not often enough to label the Arches as ‘too dangerous’.  Likewise the deaths that have occurred due to the Arches have been written off as acceptable.  But, let us, for the sake of argument assume that five hundred women during the time the Arches have been used have died or ‘been lost’, and the actual number is higher, how can that many women be written off as an acceptable loss?  How can the death of even one Novice when there has not even been one serious attempt at trying to employ an alternative to the Arches be called ‘justified’?  Or necessary?  That’s a stain the Tower cannot wash from its hands, and something that needs to change.

 

To finish, our education curriculum needs to be addressed to allow for the training of more worldly Aes Sedai that are more involved beyond the Tower, and there are ethical issues that require addressing but have been ignored due to tradition and a variety of weak justifications.

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3. Sisterhood & Ajah

 

While the main body of work is far more extensive on this matter, I wish to address a couple of issues in regards to Sisterhood and Ajah.  The first of these is the separatist and isolationist nature of the Sisters of the different Ajahs.

 

This is a problem that is rooted in the founding of the White Tower, it was formed by a conglomeration of the largest groups of female channelers that claimed the title Aes Sedai that were then able to bring other separate ajah into line.  Each Ajah has had its own individual agenda from the beginning, its own purpose.  Even after close to three thousand years under the one roof, the Ajahs have in many ways atrophied rather than attempted to break down the walls that exist between the different Ajah.

 

We see these walls everyday, the legendary rivalry between the Blue and Red Ajahs would be one such example.  For the sake of nothing more than tradition and expected behaviour, these two sisters of these two Ajahs as a general rule are unwilling to co-operate with one another.  As professions, championing particular causes and gentling male channelers, their purposes don’t even clash yet the weight of history bears down upon those Sisters to the point that even aspirants to those two Ajahs are quick to adopt the prejudices that come with them.

 

The Tower offers little to no incentive currently for sisters of different Ajahs to co-operate with one another.  Joint ventures are spur of the moment and short term, anything longer is quickly curtailed by the different Ajahs because they undermine Ajah authority due to these ventures existing outside of immediate control.

 

This leads to the issue of Ajah leadership.  While Sitters are the representatives of their Ajahs, it isn’t difficult to postulate that every Ajah is possessed of either some form of secret leadership or a powerful interest group that is strong enough to hold the rest of the Ajah in line.  One needs only to look at the differences in personal politics of each Sitter and to then study the Hall records that are available to be able to make this assertion.

 

This is hardly a surprise, Ajahs are essentially guilds and most guilds have some form of internal hierarchy that is inscrutable to outsiders.  The problem posed by this leadership or interest group is that like any guild, the primary interest is self perpetuation and primacy.  This involves not only the maintainence of existing structure and culture, isolation from other Ajahs and the constant struggle in the Hall to achieve greater influence and authority within the Tower, but also a deliberate opposition to any change because they may undermine existing authority.

 

This means that the problem of isolationism and lack of co-operation isn’t only due to the prevailing culture within the Tower, it is also because of the top of the hierarchy being concerned with maintaining the current balance as it is so not as to endanger their authority.  These interrelated obstacles to change can only be changed two ways.

 

The first is quick and highly dangerous, not to mention unpredictable.  It is also contingent on a couple of requirements.  The first requirement is that something so disastrous occurs that it causes a complete loss of faith in at least the majority of Sitters in the Hall, as well as their associated interest groups.  The second requirement would be at least one strong personality with the necessary charisma and political links amongst the Sisters to weld that discontent into a force.  The result of which would be confrontation, whether one of words or even one of violence and although the outcome would produce some sort of change, there would be no telling where it would go, it would be uncontrollable and outright dangerous.  To put it mildly, this would be an undesirable vehicle of change.

 

The alternative is much slower, surer, safer and more productive in achieving outcomes that rectify the existing problems of isolation amongst Ajahs and the Sisters.  It would require at least a few sisters to begin setting an example by voluntarily working with sisters of other Ajahs, and it would require those sisters to be prepared to accept the consequences which could range from internal punishments to outright ostracism from those Ajahs.

 

While there are the natural incentives of co-operation between sisters of different Ajahs to be harnessed, the sharing of information and knowledge and expertise, it would also assist the process if the Tower actively created further inducements for such behaviour.  A possible way to encourage such behaviour would be to offer greater access to Tower resources to ventures that are run by composite groups of sisters as opposed to those that are strictly domineered by a single Ajah.

 

Regardless, the process will be slow and it will rely on example on the part of those sisters that are willing to participate.  Only then will the walls begin to be pulled down and the Tower reap the benefits of a sisterhood that is more than a name.  As the old maxim goes, ‘United we Stand, Divided we Fall’.

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4. Statehood & Foreign Policy

 

Before one can begin a discussion about Tar Valon’s statehood, one must first assess what elements of it define it as a state.  The elements I have focused on are:

 

a) Government:  The White Tower which handles all major decisions, often in conjunction with elected council members within the city for domestic purposes, while foreign policy is handled solely by the Tower.

b) Territory:  Tar Valon not only encapsulates the island city but also the surrounding area and associated settlements.  Territory is undisputed due to the fact that Tar Valon’s borders do not touch those of any other nation.

c) Military:  A sizeable military force is maintained including the Tower Guard that stands at about two thousand soldiers and an army that is maintained at three thousand.  Another three thousand people constitute the city watch and according to the last census, another twenty thousand could be called to service if necessary.  All of which are united under a centralised command.

d) Economy:  Tar Valon serves primarily as a waypoint between the Borderlands and the southern nations in trade, in particular due to its position on the River Erinin though the land routes bring their share of wealth.  Agriculture almost sustains the current population, though Tar Valon is dependent on import for the majority of its goods.

 

Now that these basic elements have been pointed out, I would like to outline some of the problems that plague these elements and possible solutions to the problems.  Because government leads into the second half of this summary, I shall first contend with territorial, military and economic concerns as these three are entirely interwoven.

 

To be blunt, Tar Valon is in a highly precarious situation.  Territory is decreasing as more people abandon the countryside for the city, farms are abandoned and there are no new settlers to take their place.  This isn’t a problem unique to Tar Valon, this has been the trend throughout the nations for the past few centuries, but the problem is more exacerbated for us as a city state.

 

Tar Valon’s existence and success has always been primarily due to its position on the River Erinin.  Not only does it have a commanding position on the river to take advantage of trade flowing on it between the Borderlands and the southern nations, the land routes also lead here to take advantage of the water route.  Much like Far Madding, this has allowed for a great influx of both goods and people, and as the home of the White Tower whose Aes Sedai hail from all parts of the world, it has developed into a decidedly cosmopolitan city.

 

Yet the very life of the city is dependent on that trade.  The majority of food, resources and goods that circulate throughout the city are imports, the city has no great exports and indeed most professions within the city are either concerned with the production of specialist and luxury goods, or more commonly with the provision of services.  Like Far Madding, services for travelers like inns are particularly higher priority and most streets in Tar Valon one may find an inn along it at some point or other.  The city caters for travelers and in turn those profits allow for the continued import of needed goods.

 

The problem is that as more people abandon the countryside for the attractive life of the city, the strain upon our economy increases as we become less self sufficient and more dependent on the imports brought to us.  More Tar Valon coin leaves our economy in the hands of traders, while we have no export to bring that coin back.

 

At the same time, an increase in population within the city along with a rise in imports has led to an increased cost of living within Tar Valon and there’s one simple yet sure sign that this is true.  Beggars.  The rise in homelessness and the destitute over the past fifty years alone has been steady, but sure.  Whether people who have fallen upon hard times, those who have left the country for the city and been unable to make it, or even refugees from other lands that have been unable to make a good start of a new life in Tar Valon.  Only the fear of our ‘throne of woe’ as well as the generosity of the Tower has helped to keep crime relatively static within the city’s confines.

 

This problem doesn’t just touch the destitute, it also makes it more expensive to maintain families and there has been a corresponding fall in birthrate as a result.  Indeed, first and second generation migrants make a sizeable section of our city’s growth.  This in turn has impacted on our ability to raise and maintain a military force.  While we maintain a large military and security force compared to our population, the fact is that it would only be effective as long as it remains in Tar Valon.

 

That is to say, we could not field an offensive army with any certainty of success save against the Shadow where our sisters can bring their powers to bear and support a military force we send.  Defensively, we cannot win, we only have the capacity to withstand an attack until our allies arrive and relieve us.  While our alliances make us a difficult target to fathom, we are also dependent on those alliances for our survival, which is something that shall be dealt with later in this chapter.

 

To sum up, our military is inadequate, our population isn’t growing fast enough to support an expansion of the military, there aren’t enough incentives for our population to move out into the countryside and help expand our territorial borders, and our economy is becoming increasingly strained by our increased need for imported goods.  All these forces are remaining relatively unchecked and as a result the constriction continues.

 

There are several things that can be done to better address this issue.  The first is the introduction of subsidies to encourage people to return to the field and to make it more attractive.  In addition to this, the Tower needs to directly invest in this development as most people that would be attracted would not possess the necessary capital or resources to begin.

 

This in turn must be supported by increased migration.  Tar Valon needs to become more attractive to people of different nations, those looking for a new start or simply refugees.  The only way to do that would be to improve our reputation abroad, which shall be dealt with in the second part of this chapter.  But, a push in migration along with a return of people from the city to the fields would go a long way to relieving the stress in the city and making it easier for families to develop.

 

In addition to this, we must more seriously look towards the development of our own domestic industry.  While our current territories aren’t rich in natural resources, we have highly capable craftsmen residing in the city.  With the right investment and a supply of materials to match the need, we could bolster different crafts to the point where they could begin exporting their goods down south, or even up north where Tar Valon’s name is respected.  The coin from those exchanges would then come back to Tar Valon.

 

But why stop there?  What about the application of our own abilities to commerce?  We are the only organisation of channelers in the entire Westlands!  There is an instant monopoly on services that we specifically could provide.  Imagine importing glassware, then exporting it in a hardened form that was less likely to break.  We already have the weaves necessary to do the feat and on the market such items would be worth much more than their original price.  Just the sale of the service would be a money earner when it comes to making precious and valued items more durable.  We have abilities that can be applied to just about every area of commerce and yet we do not and why?  Because some might feel that it is beneath our dignity and that using the power in such a way is akin to prostituting oneself?  Perhaps such assumptions would quickly disappear if Sisters did not draw regular stipends from the Tower and had to provide for themselves.

 

As for the military, costs aside one really needs the available pool of recruits and that can only follow an expansion in population.  That in turn shall be entirely dependent on reinvigorating our people and our economy with fresh blood and fresh ideas.  Without innovation, Tar Valon shall continue to stagnate.

 

While I’ve touched on the domestic side of government and the level of intervention required by the Tower within Tar Valon, there is still its foreign politics and participation to deal with.  One of the main problems is our meddling interference in the politics of different nations.

 

It isn’t so much that the Tower meddles, rather its our motivation and agenda for doing so that is the problem.  As noted previously, the Tower’s security is based not on our impotent military, but rather our web of alliances that we have managed to weave during and since the War of a Hundred Years.  Ever since the day Deanne Aryman bartered with Queen Ishara of Andor, foreign policy has done the following:

 

a) Played upon our mystery and our ability as channelers to create awe and fear.

b) Made ourselves indispensable as advisors and mediators.

c) Actively supported Tower friendly factions in different nations.

d) Used our existing alliances to either entice or intimidate the leadership of different nations to enter or maintain such agreements.

 

While there are some issues that come with these tactics, one of our main problems isn’t so much that these things are done, but rather because we are entirely dependent upon them for our security which has been aided by our isolation from other kingdoms.  It has meant that we have then been unable to explore other possibilities and opportunities in regard to the rest of the Westlands, ones that are becoming increasingly important.

 

In previous chapters, issues of recruitment, education and more have kept coming back to the same issue of our foreign policy.  Because of its limited as well as isolationist nature, we are stuck.  If we take the steps necessary to make ourselves less dependent on our reputations and our ability to manipulate, we open the door to shedding our mystery and our awe.

 

But why?  To answer this, I am going to propose an idea that I can then use to better explain the possible benefits to be reaped.  Let us say that within one hundred years time we have better secured our position and marginally increased our numbers due to a more proactive involvement in recruiting new sisters or at least the number has become static.  Let us say that in each major nation, we build a chapterhouse where we station at least, say twenty Aes Sedai.

 

These Aes Sedai are tied to their particular region and to particular duties.  Yellow sisters to the healing of the sick in the city, Gray sisters with the mediation of local disputes as well as acting as ambassadors and advisors, White and Brown sisters with the development of education, the list goes on.  Aes Sedai are seen actively engaged in the different communities they are present in, not being whispered about for meddling in the politics and being generally nefarious and untrustworthy.  Instead, people begin talking about how one Yellow sister saved a man’s leg, or how a Brown sister has been teaching the children of a district for a year.

 

It is a simple concept, lead by example.  People cannot say good things about you if you are not seen doing good things.  To whine and bemoan the terrible state of affairs and to complain about how the Borderlands are so much more appreciative of the Aes Sedai than say, Tear, is useless.  Why is it that few people ever seem to consider the question of why this is so?  It is because Aes Sedai are actively helping the people there, the Green Ajah is seen constantly fighting alongside the soldiers of the Borderlands and stemming the Blight while Yellow Sisters are seen there healing the wounded.  The very proof that Aes Sedai actively aiding the people and using their powers for good purpose improves our reputation and reduces our need for intimidation and mystery is right there before us, as well as the proof of what happens when we fail to develop that good reputation through a lack of action in the southern nations.

 

To recap the entire chapter, it is necessary for us to strengthen Tar Valon as a city state in order to reduce our dependency upon our allies.  When this is done, our reliance upon mystery and awe alongside intimidation and manipulation will be greatly reduced and allow for possibilities that will further strengthen our position, our security, and reputation beyond our borders.

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5. The Mantle of Aes Sedai

 

While the previous chapters deal with various issues, problems and obstacles that need to be dealt with and possible solutions as well as points of consideration, this one deals with the why of it all.  Why change?  Why give up our traditions and our ways that make us who we are?

 

There are many different points I could make, all ranging from the responsibility of power to the Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends being so humble as to go out and assist the fishermen in pulling in their catch and how it should be emulated.  But, to be honest there is a much more pressing reason for all of these changes.

 

Survival.

 

Our ancestors are not, as some would say, the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends.  They were different people for a different time.  They truly served all in a humble and self effacing manner that while worthy of recognition and, it is, they are not our ancestors.  Those Aes Sedai perished during the Breaking, with them went much of the knowledge and wisdom of an Age that perished in fire and chaos.

 

No, our ancestors were the children of those Aes Sedai.  Half trained and lacking in the experience and knowledge of the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends, they claimed the title and embraced the spirit of serving all in a different way.  They were not concerned with the humble tasks and duties of a much more tranquil time.  These Aes Sedai sought to serve all by ensuring not only their personal survival, but of as much of a lost age as possible.

 

These Aes Sedai sought to bring order to a chaotic and ever shifting world.  They quelled the maddened Male Aes Sedai and to gentle male channelers without training yet cursed with the taint that would drive them to insanity.  They fought the Shadow and Mesaana’s Children with equal fervour to preserve what little survived the destruction.  They made a home, a place of safety at a place they called Tar Valon and they ensured that what knowledge of their art they had retained would not be lost.

 

Aes Sedai like Queen Mabriam of Aramaelle were responsible for the Compact of Ten Nations, of bringing peace and order through example and participation.  Not only for their own survival, but for the survival of all peoples.  They understood that their survival and that of the nations was inextricably linked, that only by standing together they could survive.  They drove the Shadow out and when the Shadow returned as the Trolloc Hordes marched south, the Aes Sedai fought.  They didn’t fight for honour or for duty, they fought for survive and did so for over three hundred and fifty years till the danger was past.

 

Our ancestors understood that peace was necessary, and from the ashes of the compact arose new nations.  Our ancestors sought to maintain the peace between these new nations, and for over eight hundred years they succeeded.  When the False Dragon reared his head proclaimed himself falsely, it was our ancestors who rode with Hawkwing to see the threat ended, because the peace was necessary to survive.

 

It was Bonwhin Maighande’s fatal mistake that saw our ancestors forget their mantle, their duty to survive.  Decadence and pride led to the forgetting of a simple truth, that the survival of Aes Sedai was dependent upon the survival of the people, on peace.  That mistake led to the Tower nearly being destroyed, nearly falling to those it would protect.

 

But if Bonwhin’s mistake was pride, Deane Aryman’s was her failure to take up the mantle.  Yes, she saved the Tower from destruction, but she forgot that it wasn’t just a building that had to survive.  Our Tower is also a symbol, it is an idea, most importantly it is those who reside within from our mother to our sisters, our daughters and our children.

 

Our Tower chokes on tradition, on pride, as if these are the things that we inherit from our ancestors that make us what we are.  What we inherit from our ancestors is our sole purpose, our motivation, our agenda, the mantle that we must don and pass down to those who follow.

 

Survival.

 

If we do not embrace that single dictate from our ancestors, if we do not make it our most important consideration, then we shall continue to dwindle.  Our numbers will fall and the regard we are held in shall degenerate further, our Tower will crumble.  When the shadow comes, even if we are there we shall be too weak to stem the tide and we will drown in the dark tide.

 

That will be our legacy if we do not act, if we do not rediscover what made our ancestors great and rekindle the flame once more.  That is our mantle that we must bear.

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Lillian didn't even hesitate as she added the last jot to her summary that sealed the deal well and done.  Taking her inkpot and quill, she immediately put them away where she couldn't see them.  If she saw them within the next couple of days, she was certain that she was going to hurl them out the window, and when it was all said and done it wasn't really their fault that they had become an object of pure irritation and frustration over the past few months as her thesis had truly taken shape.  Done was done, well and truly and she glad to see it finished.

 

Well, perhaps a little sad.  It had been a constant in her life during the past decade, seeing it finished like that was like closing a book on a particular part of her life.  Having said that, that particular sadness quickly evaporated when the realisation set in that the book was most certainly closed.  No more researching for a paper on the subject.  That wasn't to say that she wasn't going to be interested in the topic in the future, but it wasn't going to be assessed so it didn't matter!

 

Binding the smaller summary didn't take long.  Sitting it ontop of her main work, Lillian hugged the pair of them to her chest as she made her way to the door humming a hearty little tune.  The first thing she was going to do was find someone that she could make copy the entire thing out.  Normally she did her own copying but after spending ten years on this particular topic and writing it, she didn't feel particularly bad about stealing a Novice for a couple of days to make her a personal copy.  Besides, the Novice would probably pick up a few things in the text, and in the end it was all about spreading the word and the ideas.

 

Afterward, she could hand her work in and the job was done.  The response to her work she was fairly certain was either going to be very good or very bad and entirely dependent on what mood her assessors and what ideas they entertained.  But, even if they didn't approve, maybe one or two of the ideas might appeal to them.  If even a couple managed to stick, seed and blossom, then it was ten years well spent.

 

 

Lillian Tremina

Accepted of the White Tower

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