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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Blue sky and grey clouds


James
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Tick, tock, tick, tock . . .

 

Her finger tapping on the arm of her chair in time with the clock that sat next to the door, Darienna rarely entertained such an absurd habit but it was helping her keep her focus.  Lillian had just come by and told her the latest news on Estel.  Still refusing to come out of her room, two weeks now and she still refused to emerge or speak to anyone.  Two weeks and she was still holed up in her room, allowed to simply languish there in her own misery with no one able to get through to her.  Little wonder, the blistering words she'd heaped on Lillian would have been enough to drive just about anyone away.

 

But not her.

 

Enough was enough.

 

Getting to her feet, Darienna put out her pipe and sat it on the table before looking herself over.  Comfortable slippers and one of her favourite dresses that she wore as the Mistress of Novices.  A simple dress of gray cotton with a high neck, its only adornment was the rich purple cuffs.  A gift from Lillian, it was simple yet the purple would be sure to irritate those who knew of the link it had to Lillian.  That in itself made it a perfectly good dress to wear, but it was also modest and temperance was important.  That and it was fine enough to wear while in the Blue Ajah Quarters, her destination as she left her office.

 

Exchanging greetings with the few sisters that she saw in the halls, her entrance into the Blue Ajah Quarter was otherwise uninterrupted as she preferred.  After all, she knew that what was going to follow wouldn't be pretty and it definitely would not need an audience.  Stopping before the door, there was only a slight moment of hesitation before Darienna knocked on the door as she spoke.

 

"Estel?  It is Darienna, I would like to speak with you.  Would you please open the door?"

 

 

Darienna Ceradin

Mistress of Novices

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Her room was a mess.  It was usually a mess, until she wrangled some Novice into cleaning it, anyways.  However, now her entire wardrobe was strewn about the floor, dresses left where she had dropped them after deciding, as she had since the day of her return, that what was the bother in dressing if she wouldn’t leave the comfort of her very empty room?  Dirty dishes made a disgusting stack on a nearby bureau; they seemed too few to be all she had eaten in the last two weeks, especially since bits of food were rotting on them.  However, the unhealthy hollowness of her eyes and sallow skin attested to just how little she had been eating lately.  But while she may not have been eating, a half dozen empty brandy bottles told the story of what she had been ingesting.  Estel balanced herself on the dangerous line between addiction and sobriety, only memories of the husk the stuff had made of her son kept her from spending the better part of her empty days passed out or retching.

 

Occasionally people would come to visit her.  They would stare at the shifts that positively hung from her bony frame and eye her room in disgust.  Sometimes it would be disparaging rants she found herself suffering, “you are Aes Sedai, Aes Sedai don’t give in to weakness”, she had heard it all before and none of it could motivate her to even get out of bed anymore; sometimes she found pity but she would almost prefer to be yelled at, she was tired of being everyone’s charity case.  None of them understood, they could look at a Gaidin or Gaidar whose Aes Sedai had died, snapping their Bond, knowing that the Warder would likely commit suicide if nothing was done to save them.  Nobody seemed to realise Estel was the Gaidar here, not the Aes Sedai; she had lost a Bond decades ago and though she hadn’t been nearly as connected to Ged as she had with Matthias, this latest Bond hurt a whole bloody lot worse.

 

Escape: she thought about it daily.  What was there left for her here that hadn’t already been taken away?  Her entire family was dead, right down to the grandson she hadn’t even known her son had fathered until Watchers—all of them dead with nothing but curses on their lips for her name.  She had never had many friends and even Rossa got little more than a blank look these days and the rest of those she had once called “friends” had either grown apart or she had pushed them away long before the bloody Black Tower had even been founded.  Even Orion, the only constant in her life for the past nearly sixty years, grew more distant everyday as his Aes Sedai wasted away.  He didn’t need his sight to know how thin she was or how little she cared about anything; Orion knew better than anyone else.

 

Estel was totally isolated and had no one to blame but herself.  Oh, she tried to tell herself Ged, Linten, Sirayn, Faerthines, Matthias or even Orion was the source of all her problems, but in the end it all came full circle and rested on no one’s shoulders but hers.  Every choice in her life had led to one disaster after the next.  Fall in love with Orion, he gets blinded.  Bond Matthias instead, he dies and leaves her pregnant with his baby!  Confide all of this in Sirayn, suddenly she’s inducted into an Order she never wanted to join.  Anger the wrong Tower Guard, find herself publicly humiliated in the Warders Yard and named Darkfriend.  Anger the wrong Novice, suddenly posters are plastered all over the Blue Ajah Quarters.  Abandon her son in Bandar Eban, boy comes back and makes her life a living hell.  Join the Watchers mission, find herself Bonded to an incestuous Dedicated, tortured by a sexual sadist, she watched the only surviving member of her family succumb to the Taint, and finally had her Bond with Ged snap.  After sixty years of hating Sirayn, the woman disappears when she needs her most.

 

The only reason Estel could even think of to stay was just to prove everyone who’d given up on her wrong.  So far, it wasn’t working.

 

All of this ran circles in her mind as she sat in a chair, staring at nothing, just as she had been doing since she woke up.  The only interruption was the knock on the door and voice addressing her.  Estel ignored them both, maybe Darienna would think she wasn’t here.  Maybe everyone would just go away.

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Darienna could be a patient woman, but she had no intention of waiting outside or playing any games back and forth through the door today.  Taking a step back, saidar filled her as she took the door in hands of air and ripped it solidly off its hinges.  Levitating it a foot away, she let it fall to the floor as she stepped over it, weaving a ward against eavesdropping.  It was a good thing she did so as the aroma that washed over her made her release the power as quickly as she could, holding the power it made her nauseous and even with the power released she struggled with it.  Still, she had found Estel who was now sitting up in her chair and Darienna addressed her tersely.  "This has gone on long enough, Estel.  Get up."

 

She had made Corrine yell and pound at the door before the First Selector entered.  Rossa had only gotten in because she had left the door open.  Everyone else she had ignored.  Never had anyone gone to such lengths as to actually rip the door off its hinges.  Estel might have been amused had she not been in such a dismal mood, but situation as it was, the Blue unleashed her infamous fury.

 

She got up all right, she got up and stormed towards the Mistress of Novices holding the One Power and brandishing a club of Air in front of her.  “Get out!” she screamed straight into Darienna’s face.  “I’m not your bloody charity case, so get out and leave me alone!”

 

Frowning at the display of the one power that was made before her, there was no hesitation on Darienna's part as she embraced the source once more.  Ignoring the smell that would otherwise make her gag, Darienna's knew the weave that she wanted even as it shaped itself within a second.  No second thoughts as she slammed the shield into place over Estel, Estel's weakened state made it no challenge and the club of air the woman was wielding disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.  "Now that that is settled, I'm going to give you a simple choice.  You get into your bath and scrub up right now, or so help me I will drag you in there, strip and scrub you myself."

 

The unfortunate thing about starving oneself, keeping oneself from sleeping and being on self-imposed bed-rest is the nasty side-effect of not being nearly as strong as one normally is—not that Estel was particularly strong to begin with.  The feeling of that Shield slipping so easily into place was as much of a painful blow as nearly falling and knocking her hip against the desk.  Eyes watering and face still purple from rage, Estel snarled back at Darienna.  “Didn’t you hear me!  I don’t want you here and I’m not yours to fix!  Why does everyone seem so intent to break their teeth on me!  I can take care of myself!”

 

"Clearly."  The sarcastic edge on that comment spoke volumes.  Striding towards Estel, had to jump back from the first swing but after a couple of attempts to take her head off, Darienna closed and grabbed Estel by the arm and the neck of her dress and began to haul her towards the bathroom, giving her a shake everytime the woman tried to kick her or throw another punch.  Estel might have been taller than her by a few inches, but the woman had lost more than enough weight to leave her bone thin and it wasn't the first time that Darienna had been required to manhandle someone.  Estel's chances of escape were as strong as a snowflake's chance in the Aiel Waste.

 

Estel did not appreciate the sarcasm, she especially did not appreciate being manhandled.  However, the unfortunate thing about Estel defending herself was that Estel was generally beaten; this was a recurring theme, Rosheen and Sirayn were painful examples that popped to mind and now Darienna sought to join their esteemed company.  By the time she had been dragged to the bathroom like a petulant child, she had come to the realisation that Darienna would, in fact, strip and scrub her.  Seeking to avoid further embarrassment, the Blue straightened herself as much as possible in the Mistress’ firm grip and muttered “I’ll do it myself thank you very much.”

 

"You had better."  Releasing the woman, Darienna took a step back and was glad that Estel wasn't foolish enough to take another swing.  The bathroom was basic, only the bare essentials and the tub was empty.  Drawing water from the air to fill it, Darienna began to heat it up as she spoke to her sister with a calm tone.  "You are going to clean yourself up, put on a clean dress and make yourself presentable.  I will see you in my office within half an hour, do we understand one another?"

 

Estel snarled at the woman and nearly slammed the door in her face with a sarcastic “Yes mother.”  She stripped off the thin shift she’d been wearing and eased herself into the blessedly hot water.  For a few minutes she contemplated just drowning herself in her own bathtub, even going so far as to dunk her head under the water and keep it there.  However, the same point came up as it did every time so thought about killing herself: did she really want to die the failure who’s sunk so low as to drown herself in her own bathtub.

 

Pulling her head back out of the water, and resembling a drowned rat, Estel went back to brooding above water.

 

Door closing before her, Darienna turned and let herself out while releasing the one power, thankful for the reduced aroma.  It only threatened to clog her nose and pores now as opposed to the very fibre of her being.  The moment she stepped outside, she was immediately aware of a presence due to the blue that lurked just out of the corner of her right.  Turning, Darienna recognised the sister that was glaring at her and Darienna didn't hesitate to take a step towards the Blue Sitter as she uttered a single word.  "Yes?"

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Guest Estel

Corinne had, as of yet, not had to deal with the new Mistress of Novices.  Thus far she’d heard good things about the Gray from those Sisters who still had time to take on mentees.  Mentoring girls had never been Corinne’s forte, she had very little patience for girls who “just didn’t get it” or decided to spend their Novice years playing the truant.  This wasn’t to say the Blue didn’t have a warm place in her heart for those bright girls whose drive and focus spoke quite plainly of which Ajah they should choose—Blue of course.

 

However, Corinne was not about to meet the Mistress of Novices about a mentee.  Or at least, not a mentee Darienna had assigned her, rather this particular charge had been thrust upon her due to her office and was one of the least pleasant aspects of her duties.  Pleasant or not, though, Estel was her Sister, her problem and not something a Gray with no business in the matter, should be meddling with.  That Darienna had actually had the audacity to deface the Blue Ajah Quarters to force her way into Estel’s rooms, when it was quite apparent that she was not wanted, was a complete breach of not only propriety, but privacy as well!

 

All is all, Corinne’dei Susten was not at all happy.

 

She maintained her blank expression, but as the Taraboner had made it her business to get to know at least the Sisters who had been in the Tower since Dumai’s Wells, those Sisters also could tell that their First Selector was spitting mad.  That the angry First Selector was standing outside Estel’s... or at least what had been Estel’s door, meant that someone was going to get her head ripped off.  Estel bloody Liones was a usual candidate for figurative decapitation, and so the gathered audience—who tried very hard not to look like an audience—was quite surprised to see Darienna step out of their least favourite little sister’s rooms.  After all, general assumption was that Estel had done something spectacularly stupid again.

 

As if Darienna wasn’t already walking on thin enough ice, the woman dared to approach Corinne as if the First Selector was the one barging into the Gray’s Quarters and ripping off a Sister’s door!  Had Corinne been anything but a proper, decorum-worshipping Aes Sedai, she would have been absolutely purple!  However, this was not the place to play executioner and the unobtrusive audience of sharks was far too eager for a taste of Gray blood.

 

“You and I need to chat.” said with a pleasant smile on her face; said between clenched teeth.

 

The gathered group of “chatting” Blues evaporated like a herd of vultures when the jackals returned and Corinne did her best not to glare at the lot of them.  Flaming gossips, this would be around the entire Ajah and then the entire Tower before sundown.  By now, even Corinne couldn’t help but turn a little pink with fury as she remained silent as the dead, keeping an ominous silence between her and the Mistress of Novices; a threat for what was to come.  Too bad Darienna seemed oblivious.  Shouldn’t the woman be at least a little worried?  After all, Corinne was a Sitter and some hundred years older than the other woman besides.

 

When they finally got inside the office, the First Selector didn’t even wait for the other woman to take a seat before ripping into her.  “You dare come charging into the Blue Quarters as if you’re the Amyrlin bloody Seat herself!  Not only do you not possess a scrap of humility when you enter another Ajah’s Halls, but you have the nerve to actually rip one of the doors off of a Blue Sisters room and invade her privacy when I’m sure she made it very clear she did not want you there!  I swear by the Oaths I took before you even came to this bloody Tower that if you don’t set your own penance I’ll take your own switch and beat you bloody!”

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Darienna wasn't exactly looking forward to the confrontation that was going to ensue when her and Corinne reached her office.  At the same time, she had not expected to be able to do what she had without repercussion, and that she had Corinne to deal with who had a reputation for shrewdness was forseeable.  Having said that, if the woman though that she was going to have any luck with her, Darienna was going to have to remedy the other woman's ignorance and re-educate her.  She had waited long enough for someone to do something and no one had, she was not going to wear someone elses ire because she had taken action when it was sorely needed.

 

She'd just closed the door behind them when the woman finally revealed what had been lurking behind the sickly pleasant suggestion that they go and have a chat.  Standing still as she simply watched the woman, the only visible reaction to the words that Darienna betrayed were a slight tightening of the jaws and an even slighter narrowing of the eyes.  She'd put Corinne in her place, but she would take her own time about it rather than dancing to the tune that the Blue was trying to play.

 

Strolling to her desk, it didn't take long for the woman to throw more imprecations her way.  More about her lack of respect for privacy, of boundaries, of having crossed a line, of not respecting her elders, of meddling in Blue Ajah business.  Darienna simply took her pipe from a draw as well as the foulest bit of tabac that she could find that she proceeded to stuff into her pipe and light with but a tiny spark of saidar.  Taking a nice long puff of it to give herself a touch of calm, as well as to spread its aroma which would be foul to someone who didn't smoke often, Darienna seated herself and made herself comfortable before she spoke with a level tone.

 

"I'm going to be blunt, Corinne.  Don't make threats that you can't follow through on.  You're just a Sitter, you spend your time politicking and trying to get this or that which suits you and playing games in the Hall.  I, on the otherhand, am the Mistress of Novices and actually work for a living and earn my stipend.  Your will against mine, you will lose."

 

Tempted to take another puff, Darienna refrained for the moment as she decided to deal with the topic promptly.  "Estel has had consistent problems, since her return she has been completely shattered.  That is the Blue Ajah business I presume you speak of?  Well, let me be the first to congratulate you on doing such a fantastic job, seeing as she was still locked in her room and seeing no one.  Not to mention the fact that she almost looks like a shambling skeleton.  Bravo, Corinne."

 

"You and your sisters have had two weeks to do something since her return.  Before that, you've had how many decades to help her?  Six?  Seven?  Smashing success there.  Now that she is deep in the pit of despair, I am not going to allow it to continue any further.  I will be taking her under my wing, I will help her get back on her feet and help her put the pieces back together.  If you want to assist, I will allow it but if you so much as think of interfering to salve that pathetic pride of yours, I will bury you."

 

"Do we understand each other?  Or do I need to speak more slowly?"  Darienna smiled slightly though there wasn't a hint of warmth to it as she pointed to one of the two chairs before her desk.

 

"You may sit."

 

 

Darienna Ceradin

Mistress of Novices

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The audacity of the woman was a downright outrage!  Who on earth had given the woman an extra post to boost her already overly inflated sense of self-importance?  According to the unspoken rules of Tower politics, not only did a Sitter stand above the Mistress of Novices, but the age difference should have lent weight to Corinne’s words.  The First Selector was appalled.  Never had she been chastised by a woman so much younger and since becoming a Sitter, and head of her Ajah, no one had dared try to “knock her down a peg or three”—not that she was deserving of such, mind, as she was in the right, damnit!

 

Not only was the other woman ridiculously insolent, but she was puffing away at a pipe whose smoke was so acrid, Corinne felt like her lungs were filled with thick black tar and she was gagging on the smell.  Where she had been angry before, now the Taraboner was positively livid!

 

“If you think the Blue Ajah hasn’t been doing everything in its power to help its troubled Sister, you are seriously mistaken.  The Blue Ajah has been trying to help her from the very beginning, as soon as her problems became obvious.  Better Sisters than yourself have tried to help her, former Sitters have tried taking her under wing,” Serena had been close to Estel when the girl had first reached the Shawl, but that relationship had deteriorate and now the two could be in the same room without tearing each other apart, “Sirayn Sedai even took an interest in her years ago, though Estel seemed to have driven her off long ago as well.  This is hardly Estel’s first episode, but she’s always seemed to pull through them before.”  An overstatement, the Domani Sister eventually dragged herself out of her room long enough to cause some sort of trouble and then she would try and escape it by leaving the Tower. 

 

Corinne was reminded of a particular incident when Estel hadn’t had the Shawl longer than six months and already the younger Sister seemed to stay cooped up in her rooms, which was highly unusual for a Sister new to her Shawl.  The First Selector at that time had given her to the Head of Eyes and Ears to keep busy but after only a few months, Estel found herself the centre of a very public beating by a Tower Guard.  The Sister had then left the Tower for some time, returning briefly to bury her Warder and then disappearing with another Tower Guard for another year.

 

Another puff of smoke assaulted Corinne’s senses and drew her back to the present.  At the end of her patience, she drew on the One Power and smothered Darienna’s smoking pipe.  “Do not make the mistake of belittling me, girl, you swear your oath to bury me and I will see you publicly flogged for your troubles.  If you care to scorn the Hall, perhaps you should take that up with them.”

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Grinding her pipe slightly with her teeth as a very simple weave of air smothered the flame within her pipe, Darienna was not amused.  She had never been appreciative of a weave being made an inch or two infront of her face, in particular by someone who was trying to get under her skin.  Corinne was becoming suitably incensed, there weren't many younger sisters that challenged their elders but Darienna was amongst them.  She had a job to do, a woman whose claim to authority was that they had been two hundred years a fool didn't make them any less a fool.

 

Embracing saidar once more, Darienna lit the tabac once more but this time she didn't release the power.  If Corinne was foolish enough to try her trick again, she'd shield that woman and perhaps even drag her through the halls to the Amyrlin herself.  She would not be stood over by anyone, she had enough years of experience to hold her own and she didn't wield an authority derived from strength or age, hers was based entirely on competence.

 

"Childish."  Letting that sink in as she enjoyed another puff, Darienna continued.  "Just about everyone who tries to help Estel is too quick with the rod and not so ready with the carrot.  From what I have seen, she's been successively beaten down and now her self loathing justifies itself to the point that she sabotages herself to keep it intact because she doesn't know anything else.  Meanwhile, you and your sisters don't have the patience or the willingness to devote the energy necessary to helping her properly.  And I doubt Sirayn lifted a finger for Estel without sinking a dozen barbs in first."

 

"Quite frankly, you're a bunch of amateurs whereas I've been doing this for years."  Not necessary, but definitely satisfying as far as Darienna was concerned.  That and it probably was necessary.  "She has never pulled through, Estel simply alternates between drowning and reaching the bottom of the lake.  Not one of you has managed to haul her up onto her own two feet.  Leaving her in her room when she's incredibly depressed and possibly suicidal is the last straw.  There will be no melodramatic oaths of vendetta, no posturing, I said that if you oppose me on this, I will bury you and I meant it."

 

"But, since I'm magnanimous, there are two ways this can go.  Firstly, you can go complain to everyone you can, go to your sisters, stir up a ruckus, do whatever it is you do when you feel thwarted.  You do that, I will make it publically known that you and your sisters did little to nothing to help Estel since her return.  I will let everyone know that she was so neglected that her room was filthy as an animal's den.  I will let everyone know that she was so disturbed that when I found her, she actually went so far as to create a club of air to menace me with.  I will lay all of this at your feet because you interfered with an attempt to help her."

 

"The sitters of the other Ajahs won't help you, so don't expect the Hall to intervene.  They aren't threatened, they have no need to feel so, and if you think they'd object to seeing you humbled when they don't have to do a thing, you're sorely mistaken.  My success as Mistress of Novices means you've got nothing on me, so I'll still be sitting in this office when you're barely holding onto your position as Sitter by the skin of your teeth."

 

"Or we can take the other alternative."  Darienna took a long draw of her pipe and slowly released the smoke before continuing.  "You agree to stay out of my way and otherwise not try to satisfy a petty need for revenge for your wounded pride.  You leave this office and I take Estel under my wing and begin to get her back on her feet.  As far as everyone else is concerned, you came here to remonstrate me about maybe being a little excessive with the door but in the interests of Estel's well being agreed to work with me by letting her be put in my charge."

 

"You get to be a concerned humanitarian without having to lift a single finger, I assume full risk and responsibility, and you get to have credit for having the idea to let this proceed.  Everyone appreciates your shrewd tact in taking action and making use of the skills and experience of the Mistress of Novices to approach the issue from a completely new angle.  Everyone wins and life goes on."

 

"I only make this offer once, Corinne.  Take the smart option, take the credit and be known amongst the sisters of your Ajah as the one who succeeded where the others failed.  This will be the only opportunity you get and it is the only happy ending you're going to get out of this."

 

 

Darienna Ceradin

Mistress of Novices

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If Corinne had thought she couldn’t possibly hate the Mistress of Novice any more, she was wrong—the First Selector now loathed Darienna.  Not only did the woman brazenly relight her pipe, puffing smoke back into Corinne’s purpling face, but she dared insult her as if she was some Sister new to the Shawl and on a power trip, doing something entirely stupid rather.  How on earth the woman could justify her outrageous behaviour was far beyond the First Selector’s apparently “amateur” mind.  Light, it would be so satisfying to simply slap the woman across one side of her office and then the other.  Bury her indeed!  Who’d been stupid enough to massage this woman’s ego until it got this big?

 

As for Darienna’s suggestion...  Was the woman honestly so bloody narcissistic that she thought herself capable of succeeding where none had for a good half-century?  It was sheer idiocy.  As if making Estel her assistant would do any good.  From what Corinne had heard about Estel and all of her mentees, the Domani was as capable of handling them as she was at handling anything else in her life—this would be simply disastrous!

 

‘Simply disastrous...’  The Taraboner sneered.

 

“Take Estel and do what you will with her, but don’t attach my name to this.  You call me childish while you puff smoke in my face like some greasy lowlife in a hell?  You say I have some inflated opinion of myself as Sitter while you expect to succeed where no one has in the last sixty years?  Go ahead and make Estel your assistant, put your “brilliant” plan into motion.  I will sit back and laugh as you crack your teeth on our favourite Domani Sister.

 

“Go ahead and try everything; try to be the hero!  All you’ll find is public embarrassment and scorn for meddling in something that was never your responsibility.  Estel’s too far gone for anyone to help her anymore, even if she could have been “fixed” before, whatever happened to her in Watchers was the last straw!  Either there was something fundamentally wrong with her from the beginning, or else she’s been so badly broken over the years that now the glass had been beaten down so there’s nothing but shards left.  It’s a lost cause!

 

“But you’re champion of lost causes now, aren’t you?  You’re so much more patient, so much more willing and have so much more time to devote—what with you being Mistress of Novices and all, you’re certainly not bothered by Novices at every hour of the day!  Be careful with that ego, Darienna, you’re smothering everyone else in the room!”

 

By the end of her rant, Corinne could barely breathe normally for rage and her nostrils flared with every huge intake of breath.

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Listening to the ravings of the Blue Sitter before her, Darienna could have taken the woman by the scruff of the neck and put her through the wall.  It was exactly this sort of raving that revealed why the Blues never succeeded in helping Estel.  Once the first few decided she was a lost cause, the idea was contagious.  Whoever then tried was expected to fail, Estel was expected to fail, and the vicious cycle continued and continued until Estel needed no assistance at all.  Even with no one to put her down, she was perfectly capable of doing that to herself.

 

But there was a difference this time, this time Estel wasn't just beaten down, she was thoroughly destroyed.  That which was tangled was ridiculously difficult to straighten, that which was completely leveled was much easier to build upon anew.  All that needed to be done was for the base, the foundation to be made strong.  Something that would take a good deal more than simply making Estel her assistant, but making Estel her assistant was only the beginning.  The fact that Corinne didn't truly perceive that only added to Darienna's contempt for the woman.

 

By the time Corinne was done, she seemed to have difficulty breathing from the way she was panting.  The vindictive pleasure she indulged was that every deep breath was giving her another great lungful of smoke, speaking of which, Darienna took another long draw to send in the woman's direction before she spoke.  "That attitude is exactly why you could never help her.  You treat her like a mark of shame, like a joke, like an impossible task.  The only shame is the one that you should bear for being too proud and not having the compassion necessary to treat Estel as she should be."

 

"As for my ego, I'm perfectly confident in my abilities and talent and that I am perfectly suited for my role.  I do not need to cling to my title and remind others of it, as if it might simply vanish without being mentioned every couple of minutes.  Seriously, do you ever listen to yourself?  I'm surprised your sisters aren't laughing in their sleeves at you."

 

"And althought your presence here has been somewhat amusing, I am done with you and you may go.  Run along back to your quarters where you may gnaw on your liver over a mere Mistress of Novices half your age daring to speak to you in such a fashion.  Find a drink, find a man, find a woman, find a wall and smack your head against it repeatedly until you pass out for all I care."

 

"And send in Estel if she is waiting outside.  She, at least, is worth my time."

 

 

Darienna Ceradin

Mistress of Novices

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Guest Estel

Dismissed!  The bloody woman went so far as to dismiss her!  And the worst part was that Corinne had to leave or else appear petulant.  Her hands itched and twitched towards the other woman’s face; just one minute where she could completely abandon Aes Sedai decorum, or propriety in general...  But alas, she had better control over herself than that.  Maybe if she just shoved that stupid pipe down Darienna’s throat...

 

Corinne didn’t quite go so far as to actually growl—not quite.  However, her teeth were grinding loud enough for the entire Novice’s Quarters to hear.  “Enjoy chewing on your rock, Darienna.  Don’t come crying to me when you don’t have enough teeth left to hold that foul pipe in your mouth.”  With that, she swept from the room and Estel was, indeed, waiting outside.  Brown eyes met hazel and while no words were spoken, everything Corinne had never dared express towards the younger woman; all the frustration, anger, resentment and scorn; was conveyed with the curl of her lip and narrowing of her eyes.

 

 

Estel had seen that look many times before: disparagement.  Most Sisters she knew had given her that self-same expression a hundred times before; hell, Estel had looked in the mirror as she curled her lip at the way the dress she wore hung like a potato sack off her bony frame.  But it didn’t really matter that she had gotten used to facing that look wherever she went among her peers, her hatred for it never disappeared with time.  If anything, it only made her angrier.

 

The entire Blue Ajah, with the possible except of Rossa and maybe Serena, had given up on her years ago.  She’d been the butt of a thousand of their jokes whispered where they though she wouldn’t hear.  “A few weaves short of a blanket”, “Stupid as Estel”, “Don’t do like Estel”, the list went on and all of them grated on her unstable temper.  All she had left was anger, and it filled her to the brim.

 

All that anger with no outlet.  Only this: she’d prove them all wrong, damnit!

 

So it was with a great deal more purpose that Estel entered Darienna’s office.  Purpose, though, did not excuse being manhandled and the door being ripped off her room.  Plus her unvented anger at Corinne lent her a great deal of ire.  “You rang?”

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Watching Corinne as she left, Darienna knew that this was more than likely going to come back to haunt her at some point.  Having said that, she would deal with it when the time came, for now the Blue Sister Estel Liones was going to be the focal point of her attention.  The woman who had just entered, closing the door behind her sharply and addressing her in a tone that communicated a good deal of fury.  Well, at least she wasn't a husk, better angry than a husk, that meant there was still that spark within her.  All it needed was the right encouragement.

 

Gesturing to one of the seats on the other side of the table as she took the pipe out of her mouth, Darienna smothered it herself as she spoke.  "Please, sit down.  Sorry for smell, give me a moment to deal with it."

 

As the woman sat, Darienna stood and walked to the window.  Quick to lift the latch and throw the window open, Darienna used a slight breeze to help carry the worst of the smell out.  As she did so, she held the pipe upside down and tapped it on the edge of the windowframe, emptying the pipe as best she could as she spoke.  "I normally don't smoke this tabac unless I have disagreeable company, and just between us, Corinne is viper that needs a good slap across the chops."

 

Turning about with a slight smile on her face, it felt good to be able to say that openly, Darienna took a seat once more and laid her pipe aside as she regarded Estel.  "I'm going to be blunt.  Its been two weeks, its too long to be by yourself and you've been nursing your self loathing for a long time now.  I think it is dangerous to leave you be, and I am not going to sit idle while you hide away and tear yourself to pieces."

 

"Don't mistake me, I'm not going to say I know your pain and that I understand it all, I don't.  Anyone who says they do is an idiot.  What I do understand is that you are 'in' pain, and while people have different ways of dealing with it, I am not going to leave you alone to suffer and possibly hurt yourself.  As of today, you'll be moving into my personal apartment.  You're also going to be my assistant with my duties as the Mistress of Novices."

 

"I'm sure you have questions, so ask away."

 

 

Darienna Ceradin

Mistress of Novices

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Guest Estel

There was a very large difference between showing everyone in the Tower she was better than being just some pathetic failure and being someone’s charity case.  For one, the charity case never got any of the credit for getting fixed, even though it was likely just as hard as or harder for the object of charity to change than it was for the benefactor to exact the change.  Second, the patronising way Darienna addressed her felt more condescending than Corinne or any other Aes Sedai’s contempt.  At least when they despised her, they granted her enough dignity to be considered at least near their level, being patronised made her feel like some idiot Novice.  She may be an idiot, but she was no Novice, damnit!

 

“Don’t feed me this dung about wanting to help me, treating me like I’m one of your Novices—you’re no better than Corinne in that.  If I was ready to change, don’t you think I would have by now?  I’ve told you before: I don’t want your charity.  This isn’t something you get to do for me, these are my problems, and I’ll deal with myself or die trying.”  Unfortunately her outlook seemed to be favouring the latter choice at the moment.

 

“Don’t sit there and try and gossip with me like you know me.  You know as little about all of this as any in the Tower, and less than some.  Everything you know about me comes from rumours you pick off the gossip grapevine; by the time it reaches you it’s been through how many Novices?  Honestly, what do you think the truth is?  What gives you the right to make me your “problem” when you know nothing of mine?”

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"Thats an interesting observation."  Darienna smiled slightly as she leaned back in her seat.  It seemed small steps were required, one at a time.  "So, when you're ready you will?  Its not something that just magically happens Estel, its something that has to be worked at and its something you, or anyone else, needs help with.  But, I tell you what, I'll make you a deal.  If you can tell me that you don't want to change, that you don't hate yourself and torment yourself with that self-loathing, or that you haven't entertained one suicidal thought, I'll admit I don't know a thing and you can walk out that door and never have to deal with me again."

 

The worst part about Darienna was that she seemed to always be right.  It irritated Estel to the point of glaring and nearly slapping the woman.  And Estel just wouldn’t be Estel bloody Liones if she didn’t try to make everything difficult for everyone around her.  So Darienna thought she knew all about her, hmm?

 

“And they told me Aes Sedai telepathy was all a myth.”  Her voice was heavily laden with sarcasm.  “I never said I didn’t want to change; “want” and “ready” are two different words, what’s the saying... “if wishes were wings, pigs would fly”?  You can sit here in this office and accuse me of self-loathing and entertaining thoughts of suicide; go ahead, we both know I can’t lie and deny them.  But hey, let’s all state the obvious and hope the wreck melts to the point where she’s mouldable."

 

“But self-loathing and thoughts of suicide are by-products of other problems, not the problems themselves.  So go ahead, take a shot and see if you can sort the truth for the gossip—I can take it and have been for years.  Honestly Darienna, what do you think happened to me?”  Despite the sarcasm of her voice, Estel was honestly interested as to what everyone did think was the matter with her.  After all, could the rumours be any worse than the truth?

 

Listening, Darienna decided it was going well enough so far.  Estel was angry, but she was letting it out rather than trying to bottle it up.  But then, her anger wasn't the problem, it was the byproduct.  Something that would resolve itself as Estel's condition improved, and Darienna was determined to see Estel improve no matter what.  Unlike the others who may have tried, she actually had an idea of what to do.  She'd just have to figure out the rest as she went.  "I'm more interested in what you think happened to you.  Why don't you tell me?"

 

Estel laughed; it sounded like something between a cackle and a snort.  Yes, yes.  Darienna was the one in charge and thus the one who got to ask the questions.  When Estel tried to push anything on her, the woman immediately evaded.  “I don’t really give a damn what you’re interested in Darienna.  You dragged me, nearly literally, out of my rooms for this chat and you don’t bother to humour my questions.  As for why I don’t tell you; why should I?  I’ve never talked to anyone about what I think—what I know happened to me, so why should I start now?  And with a woman I barely know, nor trust?”

 

"I could think of a few reasons."  Estel was still combative, but Darienna knew there would be little point in fighting.  Fighting would only beat the woman down more.  "And I didn't lie, I am far more interested in what you think happened.  But if you desire to know that much, then I will tell you.  I don't know what the root or roots of your pain are.  What I know is that, whatever it is, you keep it buried deep in there and you don't let anyone help you."

 

"You're quick to take an offer for help as an insult, that people only offer to help you because they pity you, because they're embarrassed by you, or perhaps they do it simply to find a bit of leverage so they can use you for their own purpose, or still it could be so people can just feel better about themselves.  I think that enough people have actually done that that you've convinced yourself that everyone is like that, or that it would be a complete failure on your part to open up to someone.  That it would somehow make you less of a person to let someone help, and that you're so desperately afraid of falling any lower that you don't see that there are some people who would actually help you get back on your feet."

 

"I think that people have treated you badly for so long, heaped scorn and worse upon you for so long, you're convinced that they're right.  That you don't deserve your shawl, that you mess everything up, that you are some sort of pariah that is to be shunned and that you're unworthy.  I think that everytime that you even come close to getting back on your feet, someone or something keeps knocking you down, or that maybe you even sabotage yourself because this bleak existance of yours is all you've known for a long time."

 

Carefully considering her words, Darienna decided to ask the simple question.  "You know what some of your sisters say about you.  Knowing that, haven't you ever wondered why I keep giving you students?"

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Guest Estel

The woman should have been a Yellow or Brown, specializing in the psyche of the human mind.  But again, everything the Mistress of Novices prattled off was common observations and symptoms; the woman had nothing more about her than anything else.  Darienna wasn’t one of the few who knew what her Cause had been before the Watchers mission, Estel doubted the Gray even knew about her father.  She certainly hadn’t been one of the three Aes Sedai who knew about Faerthines before he was born.  Unless she had spent a great deal of time in the Yards while both Matthias and Faerthines were there, it was unlikely the woman would have made the connection between the last name of Estel’s first Warder and the Trainee who had been her mirror image.  Not even Orion knew about the arrangement Carise had made with her little Blue mentee before going away and then coming back only to betray it.  Unless Sirayn had been inducted even more secret members to the Order of the Rose, Darienna wouldn’t know the problems that had went on there, nor the personal vendettas Estel still held against most of its members: Lavinya and Aramina, Estel had only begun to get over her hatred for Serena and Sirayn—or at least until Sirayn vanished.

 

There were a thousand other things that no one knew, least of all the woman sitting across from her, professing to be there to help her.  Rumours abounded about what had happened at Watchers, but none of them held the half of it.  Estel hadn’t told Annais or anyone else about Linten had done to her, nor that Isha, now dead and gone, was her grandson.  And it was unlikely that anyone else would ever know about any of it; two knew the most.  Orion she could trust to hold her secrets and Sirayn had vanished.  Of the remaining two who knew for certain she had a son, Perine was dead, leaving only Maegan.  The Red Sister had promised to keep the secret and despite the woman’s choice of Ajah, the Red Shawl didn’t hold nearly so much scorn from Estel since Watchers, Estel couldn’t let go of the Novice who had idolised the members of the GPCN.

 

However, Darienna would never know any of that and it would be best to simply evade the question of “why she was who she was” rather than having to constantly rebuff prying. 

 

So, onto the other questions.  “Yes, I’ve wondered why I always seemed to be overloaded with mentees.  But hey, people have seemed to think keeping me busy was a way to “fix me” for years.

 

“And since you seem to be getting all your questions asked, I want to know why.  You insinuate you’re not here because I’m embarrassing or to make yourself feel better or to attach strings to me.  So why?  No one acts without motive.”

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Waiting until Estel finished, Darienna didn't hesitate in her response.  "I didn't give you mentees to 'fix you'.  I gave you mentees so that you would have the opportunity to fix yourself, I gave you responsibility because I know that are capable.  You might have convinced yourself that you're unworthy to be an Aes Sedai, but no one becomes one unless they can be one.  You have talent, you don't have the most brilliant mind but you're not a dunce either and if you backed yourself, if you really genuinely believed in yourself for just one moment, you might realise that as well."

 

"And why?"  Darienna smiled.  "Its probably a good thing I have my oath or no doubt you'd disbelieve me.  We aren't friends, we rarely see each other and ever since I became the Mistress of Novices, you've been wary of me.  But the simple thing is that it is the right thing to do.  You don't abandon a sister, leave her in a pit to claw her own eyes out and then blame her for it.  You reach down and you take her hand and you help her out.  Not just any sister, but anyone."

 

"I've hoped for years that you would be able to take the opportunities, but time and time again I underestimated how quick others were to railway you.  Corinne, while she was in here, even went to so far as to say that Sirayn was helping you and I almost laughed in her face.  The difference is, this time I'm going to make sure that there isn't anyone there to knock you down.  You might not feel ready, but haven't you suffered enough?  And unlike others that might have just walked away, I'm not about to."

 

The right thing.  Simple as that.

 

Supposedly anyway.

 

Estel wasn’t given to trusting anyone.  But she’d gone through why a thousand times before, there was no need to pick at those particular wounds—wasn’t she supposed to be trying to heal?  Did it really matter if she trusted Darienna of not, though?  It wasn’t like she had many others to turn to; her Ajah hated her, her mentor was gone and had abandoned her anyway, even she and Orion were on rough footing since the debacle with Aran.  Besides, what else did she have to do in the Tower but coop herself up in her rooms and dwell on her past and the fact that her life’s work had recently flown out the nearest window.

 

If she was going to change, she needed to start doing something about it.  And no one else seemed to be forthcoming about helping.

 

There was one little thing that nagged at her, though.  Estel was shocked that it even bothered her, she had spent sixty years saying the same—hell, after giving that woman an inch, she goes and breaks her side of the “bargain”.  But like she had said before, there were only so many people who knew anything about her, let alone as much as she had revealed to the former Amyrlin Seat.  She contemplated not saying anything, but sixty years and a betrayal warranted at least this small favour.  “Corinne was right in that.  Sirayn helped me more than anyone else bothered to.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Darienna was surprised at that answer.  Definitely not the answer she had expected, but there was always the possibility that she was wrong.  Having said that, she couldn't credit it.  "I think there are others who would have offered you more genuine help.  I could be mistaken, but of all I know of Sirayn and the few dealings I had with her as the Mistress of Novices, there was nothing she offered that was not barbed.  Light, Lillian would bleed for you if you let her."

 

Estel laughed.  She couldn’t help it.  It was just so bloody ironic!  But then again, Sirayn was as much to blame for her reputation as Estel was for hers.  Darienna hadn’t been there that night during her trial before the entire Order of the Rose, nor had she bared her soul on bended knee, part of her aim to defend herself while mostly she just begged for some understanding.  Darienna hadn’t been there to receive completely unexpected mercy.

 

‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’

 

The Mistress of Novices spoke of those giving up on Estel, but questions she had never bother to ask suddenly came to mind.  What had made Sirayn so guarded and secretive?  There were always reasons an Aes Sedai acted the way she did, the Blue knew that as well as anyone.  So many had given up on Estel; it seemed as many had given up on Sirayn.

 

She didn’t say any more on the subject, though.  The little tyrannical Green might have disappeared and her Order disbanded, but Estel had betrayed her connection to Sirayn once before and wasn’t eager to repeat that chain of events.

 

“Lillian probably would; she would bleed for a lot of people, that’s Lillian.” Estel didn’t push that thought any further either, though.  She was “friends” with the White—or at least as far as Estel had any friends—but even then, the Blue felt separated from the other woman by a number of things: mainly opinions on matters and just the fact that whereas Estel was so broken, Lillian seemed so whole.

 

"That doesn't make it any less meaningful.  She isn't the only one who cares about you either.  Even before Annais became the Amyrlin she was worried about you, and the only reason I can think of that Maegan hasn't ever stepped in is because she knows your sisters are prickly around Reds and you might wear more trouble for it.  I can tell you right now, if you went to her she would welcome you with open arms.  Not because there is some advantage to be claimed over you, but simply because they care."

 

Leaning forward, Darienna rested her arms on the table as she added.  "You have people that care about you, people that aren't about to kick you in the teeth while you're down.  You don't have to be alone, you don't have to be on your knees, struggling to rise only to be slapped by those that pass by.  Do you want to live the rest of your life like that, Estel?  Do you really want to keep on suffering, or do you want to rediscover what its like to have some confidence in yourself, to actually be happy?  I can't magic it away, only hard work will do it and you're the one that has to do it.  But I will be here to help you every step as you need it, and I think if you ask those I spoke of, they will support you as well."

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Guest Estel

“Does anyone want to be like this?” she bit back.

 

Rediscover?  Estel nearly laughed again.  How long had it been since she’d had much confidence in herself at all?  Hell, had she even had very much remaining once she “earned” her Blue shawl?  That was only a few months after Orion’s accident and her inability to help him and he knowledge she would never be able to Bond him Warder had left her an empty husk of the person she had been.  How often had she dreamed of going back to her Accepted years; the heyday of her life when she had been respected, if not altogether popular?

 

And now Darienna brought up all of those who “cared”.  The Blue had met Annais once, maybe twice if you counted that she had been knocked out over the course of that meeting.  Of course Annais would be worried, Estel had tried to jump out the window, was babbling all sorts of things about Watchers and needing Sirayn and had she attacked the then Amyrlin-to-be?  She couldn’t remember, though if she had, it seemed to be becoming a habit.  Then there was Maegan.  They had talked only a handful of times as Aes Sedai and the Red’s only favour was keeping her baby a secret.  Besides that, Estel had avoided her.  And of course Lillian.  Lillian who was always out busy with something or other and whom Estel felt guilty bothering when surely depressed, broken Blue Sisters were farther down the list than half a hundred of the other things that kept the younger Sister busy.

 

“I don’t want to be like this.  But hey, you know that, don’t you.  Just like you know everything about everyone around me, but you still don’t dare take a stab at “what really happened”.  Light forbid!  You might get it wrong!”

 

 

Unflappable, Darienna found it easy to simply let what was said wash over her.  Better that Estel spent her anger.  "It’s not a matter of daring to take a stab or being afraid I might be wrong.  I'm already fairly certain I don't know what started it, otherwise you would not be so quick to taunt.  You're evading, you're doing it because you've been going it alone for so long that it’s natural to shove people away.  I can tell you though, it’s not going to work and you're only hurting yourself.  Why not take a chance and see what happens if you open up a little?"

 

 

“To you?” she snorted.  This was absolutely ridiculous; the woman honestly thought Estel would start spilling out long-held secrets just because helping her was “the right thing to do”.  “I think not.  We’ve sat here for maybe a half an hour talking, Darienna.  If it took everyone half an hour to tell them anything, I’d be in far worse condition now than I already am.”

 

 

"I'm not asking for you to tell me everything, I just asked why you don't try opening up a little."  Refraining from the urge to raise an eyebrow at her sister, Darienna added.  "Nothing ventured is nothing gained.  While the sceptic might say that nothing ventured is nothing lost, how much more do you have left to lose?  Why do you keep trying to push away chances to help yourself when that is what you keep saying that is what you want, to help yourself?"

 

 

“Because it’s never worked before, why should it start working now?” Estel snarled before she could catch herself.  Light but this was frustrating.  She’d heard most of this before, hell, she’d tried half of it before and it hadn’t worked.  This was just salting the open wounds that hadn’t had the chance to heal and had festered instead over seventy years.

 

 

"It won't work with me because it hasn't worked with others?"  An inevitable argument perhaps, Darienna had hoped to skip it.  "How am I like others then?  How are you certain that I will be just like the others?  Or is it because you'd rather that I was like the others and then you can feel better about not taking a chance?  Because I don't recall ever once taking you aside to kick you in the teeth and tear you apart.  I told you plainly, I am here for the long haul.  This isn't some one week project where you end up magically transformed in some sort of extreme makeover.  This is where you take the steps, if you really want it.  And don't talk about not being ready, no one ever is.  You either want to stand on your own two feet or you just want to tell yourself that and soak up the attention."

 

Her tone having sharpened, Darienna softened it once more as she finished with.  "I think it’s the former, but it’s up to you.  Do you really want to take your life back?  Or do you just want to say that you do and do nothing?"

 

 

“For someone with such a high opinion of herself, you certainly have a dim opinion of everyone else.” Estel was back to sarcasm; at least it was better than seething anger.  After a moment of thought though, she went on.  “Liones is the name of my step-father.  I don’t know my real last name, nor do I know anything about my real father except that he was a male channeller who was taken to the Tower by the Reds a few months before I was born.  That’s all you get for today, don’t expect me to spill my heart and soul just because you asked nicely and don’t expect this to work because “you’re in it for the long haul”, others have been too.  Stop thinking you’re the only one with good intentions.”

 

 

Darienna simply smiled at the last comment, she'd only said a little while before that there were others who cared for Estel, that Estel forgot that wasn't a problem.  She suspected that Estel would have many choice things to say to her for quite some time.  As for the dim opinion of others, Estel's state spoke for the efforts others had made.  Didn't necessarily mean they didn't have their hearts in the right place, but they didn't have her expertise either.  Enough years as a Mistress of Novice taught more than enough about those in the Tower and how they struggled, and how to help them.

 

"That’s a start.  Incidentally, I never knew who my father was either, but I'll leave it at that so we can skip the scathing comment about how that doesn't make us anything alike.  A beginning is a good step, and since that is all for today, let us move onto your duties.  First thing you need to do is familiarise yourself with the curriculum, it’s different to when we were Accepted."

 

Leaning to her right, Darienna had to tug at the bottom drawer to get it to open.  Pulling out half a dozen folders, she shoved the drawer closed and then sat them on the table so that Estel could take them.  "Everything from lists of classes and basic summaries of their purpose to teaching technique.  While I assign you particular duties every day, you'll be working your way through these."

 

 

It appeared she would be teaching some classes.  ‘Blood and ashes.’  Estel and classrooms had a rather spotty history.  In fact, she taught very few classes that didn’t end in someone deciding to prank her; Rossa and her posters were a particularly infamous example of this.  However, Estel no longer had the energy to argue with Darienna and for now, all she had to do was read the stupid files.  She’d argue later, besides, she was horrible hungry.

 

The Blue scooped the folders off the desk and tucked them under her bony arm.  She nodded in recognition of Darienna’s dismissal and headed towards the kitchen, hoping the cooks would have something for her to eat.

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