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Testing and Oaths

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The weave of Spirit formed easily for Elin, as they almost always did, and Elin split her flow into a second weave designed to slash other weaves, then a third, a shield, designed to cut another channeler off from the source. Her lessons with Rochel Sedai had inspired the Accepted to continue her work with Spirit, especially shields and defensive uses of the Power. She was alone in that quiet garden near the Red quarters, and she let the weaves dissipate. Sitting on a marble bench, she stroked the bands at her hem. Those seven stripes were dear to her, and she had worked to earn them. She had been an Accepted for many years, and she had passed her thirtieth birthday here in the Tower. Soon she will have spent more years in the Tower than she did in Amadicia.


Back home, her brothers and sisters had probably married and had children of their own. Of course, Elin couldn’t visit them. She had obviously slowed, and it would be noticed if she came home looking a decade younger than she had any right to be. They were out of her life now, and the most she could do would be to look out for her family from a distance as much as she was able.


The sound of a slipper on the stone of the garden pulled her out of her reverie, and she looked up just in time to see Valeri Sedai standing there, wearing her shawl.


“Elin Hawes, you are summoned to be tested for the shawl of an Aes Sedai. The light see you safe and keep you whole.”


Without a word, because any noise from her would be a failure, Elin stood and followed Valeri. The path was familiar, and it felt like just the other day Elin had followed this woman along this same path to pass through the arches ter’angreal that marked her as Accepted. It was more than just days, though. In fact, years had passed, and in those years Elin had grown into a woman. When she had arrived at the Tower, she had been afraid, timid, still traumatized by the death of her twin. Becoming Accepted had forced her to face the harsh realities that she wasn’t just leaving her brother behind, but her whole family. She made her choice, and she was sure that she had made the right choice and she had bound herself to the Tower.


Her face smooth, Elin followed Valeri into the solid stone chamber where the oval ring sat. Every Accepted knew the purpose of this ter’angreal, and Elin worked to keep her face smooth. This test would make the arches look like child’s play.


Barely noticing the massive doors or the almost blindingly white walls, Elin only had eyes for the ter’angreal. It was shining silver, then pearl, then white, then gold, and yet more colors as Elin watched it. Around the room stood several Aes Sedai, all wearing their shawls, all judging her. If she so much as let a single crease show across her brow, she would fail.


“Attend,” Valeri’s word seemed to fill the chamber as the Aes Sedai formed a ring around the Mistress of Novices and the Accepted. “You come in ignorance, Elin Hawes. How would you depart?”


The ritual answer came to Elin’s lips without thought, “In knowledge of myself.”


“For what reason have you been summoned here?”


“To be tried.”


“For what reason should you be tried?”


“So that I may learn whether I am worthy.” In her heart, Elin knew she was worthy. She had to be. If she failed here, no one would seek out those poor souls being put on sham trials and executed simply for being suspected of being able to channel.


“For what would you be found worthy?”


“To wear the shawl.” The word filled Elin with a sense of pride. She would have a lovely crimson fringe on her shawl.


As the last word died in the stillness of the air, Elin stripped out of her Accepted dress, watching as Valeri continued speaking. “Therefore I will instruct you. You will see this sign upon the ground.”


She channeled, and a silver, six pointed star appeared in the air. As Elin nodded, she felt another woman channeling behind her, and a weave of spirit settled into her skull. “Remember what must be remembered.”


Elin resisted the urge to arch an eyebrow. This was not part of the ceremony... or at least what the Accepted were taught about it. A small part of Elin’s mind wondered about that weave. It was sure to be mostly Spirit, and it likely could be altered... Elin cut off that train of thought. She would ask to learn the weave once she wore the Shawl. Valeri was speaking again.


“When you see that sign, you will go to it immediately, at a steady pace, neither hurrying nor hanging back, and only then may you embrace the Power. The weaving required must begin immediately, and you may not leave that sign until it is completed.”


“Remember what must be remembered.” That voice coming from behind was a minor irritation. The least the woman could do was speak from in front so Elin could see her too.


“When the weave is complete, you will see that sign again, marking the way you must go, again at a steady pace, without hesitation.”


“Remember what must be remembered.”


“One hundred times will you weave, in the order you have been given and in perfect composure.”


“Remember what must be remembered.” Elin let the urge to mutter about that phrase sink into her and pass without acting on it. One hundred weaves that every Accepted learned and knew by heart. It was time to perform them, not being tested by her friends, but with real sisters judging her. Suddenly, the weave she felt behind her settled into her flesh, and she fought the need to shiver.


Moving without signal, the seven sisters walked to the ter’angreal and knelt at its base. They all began weaving a tapestry of the five powers, more complex than most weaves. The oval began to increase the speed of the flow of its colors, and suddenly the opening flashed white.


The last bit of covering she had was her Great Serpent ring, and without showing her pain at giving it up, Elin set it atop her pile of clothing. Then she stepped into that blinding light, and was suddenly somewhere else.


She was naked, but she knew she could not react to that fact. There was a comfortable, black dress sitting on the ground next to her, and she calmly bent to gather it and dress. Once she was clothed, she saw a six pointed star inlaid on the hardpacked ground. With a small smile, Elin began walking toward the star. As she walked, the dress became tighter and tighter. Each step brought the seams in tighter. The high neck was suddenly a cinch around her neck. Despite the fact that she was being strangled, she kept her face smooth and merely walked to the star.


When she arrived, the dress was cutting off the air in her throat, the blood to her arms, and it felt like it would cut her in half at the waist. Ignoring those facts, she channeled the first weave, the only weave her mind would let her channel. A blue coin popped into existence, and suddenly the dress was the correct size again. To her right, a six pointed star sat above an archway.


With her hands held at her waist, Elin walked to the arch.


The second she passed under the arch, she was wearing a ball gown in the most comlex of Cairhienin styles. Elin was surrounded by a horde of angry women, their hands turned to claws. They each screamed vile words and phrases at her, some were so bold to reach for her dress and tear the slashes that denote rank clean off her dress.


These women obviously did not think Elin deserved to claim the rank the slashes spoke to, and so they were tearing her down, literally.


Ignoring them, Elin walked through the room at a stately pace toward the tiled six pointed star, and once she reached it, the tangled web practically sprang into existence. This weave was difficult for Elin because it involved so much Earth, but she kept her face serene while the women tore the gown off her back.


Once the weave was formed, Elin smiled. She hadn’t been shocked. To her left was a door in the shape of a six pointed star, and Elin walked toward it.


In the next room, she was somewhere else again. She was still naked, and still had some of the scratches... but she didn’t know why she was scratched. There was a dress sitting on a chair next to her, so she put it on, along with the slippers that sat under it. Across the room was a pattern of wooden slats in the floor, in the shape of a six pointed star. Walking to it, Elin felt the cool air on her ankles.


That was wrong, but she didn’t let her confusion show. She knew that she had to remain entirely emotionless throughout... whatever this was that was going on.


Suddenly, there was a drunken man leering at her, and she felt the air blowing on her shins. What had been a full dress now ended at her knees. With each step, more fabric disappeared, and more men appeared.


At the star, she barely had a collar of fabric anymore. As she began to weave the lacey mixture of Air, Earth, and Spirit, even that small collar disappeared. She couldn’t help but blush at that moment.


Situation after situation passed. Some were merely embarrassing for her, like the disappearing dress, while others were hazardous to her health, like a pitched battlefield she had to cross without letting a single emotion show be it fear, concern, worry, or any other fleeting feeling that might want to cross her face.


Every time her mind blanked, she found herself somewhere new, but she still had any injuries she’d received previously. It definitely confused Elin to find herself nude with scratches, gouges and bruises all over her body.


After 99 weaves, Elin found herself standing in her village square in front of her family’s mill. Part of her knew that almost two decades had passed since she had left that village, but another part saw the wood piled up at the base of a stake. Tied to the stake was her brother Nile. The fire hadn’t caught yet at the woodpile, but Elin knew she could stop the fire from catching at all... but she could not channel until she reached the silver star marked out in stones in the middle of the road out of town.


She was wearing the traditional dress and bonnet, even her baking apron, and as she walked, her back to Nile on the stake, she heard his cries. She heard the crackle as the flames caught on the wood. She smelled the scent of roasting flesh. When she reached the star, she began channeling the required weave. Turning back to her brother, she could see that he still lived. Splitting her flows, she continued the required weave while also creating a large ball of water that she let fall onto the flames, dousing them. Nile wept with mingled relief and pain. As she finished the final weave, it erupted into sparks.


Down the path leading out of town, Elin saw a pair of trees tied together to form an arch, with a shining star high in their branches. Walking down the path, Elin kept her face smooth even though she heard Nile calling for her again, knowing that the villages wouldn’t let a single doused fire stop them.


When she passed under the arch, she found herself back in the basements of the Tower outside the oval ter’angreal. Suddenly it all crashed down onto Elin. Every person she had walked away from, every pain inflicted on her, every shame. Then she saw Valeri Sedai.


“It is done. Let no one ever speak of what has passed here. It is for us to share in silence with she who experienced it. It is done.” She clapped her hands. “Elin Hawes, you will spend tonight in prayer and contemplation of the burdens you will take up on the morrow, when you don the shawl of an Aes Sedai. It is done.”


When Valeri left, Elin stood in the center of the seven sisters who all offered her Healing for her many wounds, and Elin knew that they had created the scenes she had lived through. A part of her wondered who had put Nile onto the stake... but she set that part of her aside. These women were now her sisters.


Dressing in her Accepted’s dress for what would be the second to last time, Elin slipped her ring back onto her finger and was escorted back to her room by the sister from the Red and a sister from the Blue. At her door, she smiled at the women, and nodded to them. She had passed her tests, so she no longer had to curtsy.


In her bed, she knew her body was exhausted, but her mind was reliving the test. She finally fell asleep, her fingers twitching as she imagined weaving the hundred weaves again.


The next morning, she woke early and tidied her room for the last time. When the knock at her door came, she smiled and set down her brush. Her black curls were shining, and she was ready.


Outside her door were seven Aes Sedai, one from each Ajah. She nodded to them, and they formed a circle around her. No one said a word, and Elin knew that was how it was meant to be. They retraced the steps from the night before back to the ter’angreal room, when the door opened, the seven sisters left Elin to walk through on her own.


Inside the room, there were thirty women in the room waiting for her. The three sitters for each ajah, the Keeper and the Amyrlin. Elin had never had cause to wait on Shevarra Sedai. The Amyrlin tended to keep to herself. The remaining seven women were the newest members of their ajahs, and they each held a shawl with their bright fringes.


Elin stepped through the ter’angreal again, knowing that nothing would happen to her this time. With a smooth face, but pride in her heart, Elin walked to the Amyrlin.


“Who comes here.” Shevarra’s voice filled the chamber.


With a loud, clear voice, Elin spoke her named. “Elin Hawes.”


“For what reason do you come.”


“To swear the three oaths and thereby claim the shawl of an Aes Sedai.”


“By what right do you claim this burden?”


“By right of having made the passage, submitting myself to the will of the White Tower.”


“Then come, if you dare, and bind yourself to the White Tower.”


Elin stepped closer, and took the Oath Rod from the plush pillow it rested on in the Keeper’s hands. While it was in her hands, Shevarra Sedai channeled Spirit into the end with the Old Tongue numeral, and Elin knew it was time.


“Under the light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will speak no word that is not true.” As soon as she finished the sentence, she felt like her skin was suddenly tighter than it had been moments before.


“Under the light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will make no weapon for one man to kill another.” When the words were finished, the invisible screws that were tightening her skin ratcheted another notch, pulling her skin even tighter than before.


“Under the light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will never use the One Power as a weapon except against Darkfriends and shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of defending my life, or that of my warder, or another sister.” Elin knew that she would have to live with this oath as close as a lover if she wished to live the life she had planned, despite its mention of a warder. She would be a Red, and they had always eschewed warders. When the Oath settled into her flesh, Elin rose to her feet and handed the Rod to the Amyrlin.


With a small smile, the Amyrlin spoke again. “It is half done, daughter, and the White Tower is graven onto your bones. Come now, Aes Sedai, and choose your Ajah and all will be done that may be done under the Light.”


Elin curtsied to the Amyrlin, as was proper, and then turned to the assembled Sisters. She smiled at the Green and Blue sisters, knowing that if things had happened differently, she might have found a home there, but she turned her back on them and walked past the Yellows, Grays, Whites, and Browns. She walked Home to the warm embrace of the Red Ajah.


It was time to deal with the formalities. She would be a sister of the Red Ajah tonight. There was no other option.

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