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Traversing the Arches (Leala's Arches)

Leala Sedai

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As part of a line of Novices working in the kitchen, Leala was in charge of drying. Another girl would rinse the dishes, one would scrub until all the impurities were gone, and the first in the line would scrape until all the larger pieces were off the dishes. The girl had been part of the White Tower for a good long while and had grown into a young woman there as well. She wondered what her father would think of her at this point. He was the only one she had bonded with in Caemlyn. Her mother was more preoccupied with training Tobias to take over the family after she was gone. And Tobias never let her forget that no matter how much she tried, she would never amount to anything past being a noble’s wife, being the second born. Her father would encourage her to study and do what she liked, because no matter what she did, she was the one who dictated her identity. It was this advice that had led her to make the decision to enroll in the Tower when the Aes Sedai had come for her.


Feeling the cloth in her hand, she knew that it was too wet to do any more drying. She set it to the side on the counter and walked to the cabinets that held extra drying cloths. Opening the double doors, she peeked in and reached for a clean and dry rag. Before her hand touched the rag in sight, the kitchen door flew open behind her. The chattering girls working with her stopped in mid word and bobbed curtsies. ”Good evening, Valeri Sedai.” Blinking, Leala closed the door and turned toward the kitchen door, finding the Mistress of Novices in her shawl. Hurriedly, Leala repeated the girls’ actions, hoping she hadn’t been to slow in showing her respect. Standing straight again, she noticed that Valeri Sedai was looking straight at her.


“Novice Leala,” she said in a clear tone. “You are to be tested for Acceptance.”


Testing…Just a moment ago, she was worried about the wetness of a dish rag…and now she would go through the Arches. She could always decline. But she knew she was ready. “Of course. I am ready.” The Mistress of Novices turned from the door and left the kitchen, expecting Leala to follow, which she did. Before the door closed behind her, she heard the other Novices gasping and gossiping about her testing.


She followed Valeri Sedai through halls that she had grown accustomed to. Suddenly, the hallways and corridors were unfamiliar, and the Aes Sedai led her down a very long stairwell. She hoped the trip back up was not as terrible as she imagined it. Her stamina had increased during her Novicehood, but she would have to pace herself on the ascent. Her thoughts on this subject faded away when the Aes Sedai finally arrived at a set of double doors. These doors were opened with a weave of Air. Beyond these doors was a domed structure where rested a scene she had been preparing for all these years.


The thing that dominated the room was the large Ter’angreal. Three large white arches rested on a large silver ring. Three Aes Sedai sat where each base met the ring, concentrating on the arches. Each one wore their shawl, a Blue, a Green, and a Yellow. A fourth Sister, a White, also in her shawl, waited at a table with three chalices.


Valeri Sedai spoke again, attracting her attention. “Two things that no woman hears until she enters this room. Once you begin, you must continue to the end. Refuse to go on, no matter your potential and you will be very kindly put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you a year, and you will never be allowed back. Second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the Ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they – were – not – there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Faltering leads to failure.”


As the Mistress of Novices went on, a fluttering feeling began churning in Leala’s stomach. She would pass. She would become an Accepted and move on to become Aes Sedai, despite her nerves.


“This is your last chance, child. You can turn back now and have only one mark against you. Twice more will you be allowed to come here, and only at the third refusal will you be put out of the Tower. It is no shame to refuse. Many cannot do it their first time here. Now you may speak.”


Without hesitation, Leala spoke clearly and steadily. “I accept. I will not turn back.”


The White next to the table spoke up and began the ceremony.


“Whom do you bring with you, Sister?”


Valeri Sedai answered, “One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.”


“Is she ready?”


“She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”


“Does she know her fears?”


“She has never faced them, but now is willing.”


“Then let her face what she fears.”


Leala could almost mouth the words as they were spoken. Each Novice knew this ritual. Valeri Sedai asked her to undress, to accept no protection besides the Light. She doffed her Novice white for the last time and set it aside. She felt slightly uncomfortable, but only for a moment. She even untied her white cord from her hair and let it fall along with the dress. Her hair had grown so much that the weight allowed it to sit away from her vision.


She followed the Aes Sedai to the first Arch which glowed with a soft light. “The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”


Leala straightened her back and slipped into the first Arch.


“Blood and bloody ashes, Leala!”


Leala lifted her head and stared straight into the blue eyes of her older brother, Tobias. She sat hunched over a large tome, detailing meetings of other Andoran nobles with the nobles of Cairhien. “Do you need something?”


“No wonder you don’t have a suitor, your nose is always in a bloody book,” her brother said, sitting at the desk across from her. He had a look on his face that she did not like. “Which is why I’ve taken the liberty to help you.”


“I do not wish for your help. I am only fourteen, and—“


And…you are of marrying age.” A silence hung over the siblings. Her brother’s thin, pale lips were curled in a wicked grin. “At least give Elyan a chance.”


“I suppose I can do that much.” Rising from her chair, she announced that she was going to visit with their father. She walked from the study to her father’s room. He had taken ill a few months ago and had been bedridden for weeks. After the terrible exchange she had just had, she needed some support. She found his chamber and the two talked. He never seemed to mind that she seemed to keep her Daes Dae’mar ways around him, despite their bond. It was how she had been raised, and after a while, it became a part of who she was. They talked until he took her small hand in his larger and weaker hands and gently said that he would sleep. She let him hold her hand as he drifted off. She blew out the candle next to his bed and noticed that it was nearly completely dark in the twilight hours.


She sat in the dark and the silence.


The girl jumped when the door opened. A young man she had never met entered. Leala saw her brother smile at her and leave on the other side. This must have been Elyan.


“Leala…your brother’s told me so much about you,” the young noble said, taking another chair. “My name is…”


“Elyan, yes. My brother has told me nothing of you besides your name, I apologize.”


“I don’t mind telling you about myself…” he said in soft tones, leaning toward her.


“I would not object to that, but I would like to spend time with my father.”


“Ah…but he’s asleep,” he whispered, stroking her cheek. She jerked her head around. “Don’t be afraid…we should get to know each other before we wed, right?”


“I do not object to talking, but I would –“


Before she could say another word, Elyan leaned forward and kissed her. She tried to jump away, but he caught her by the waist. Looking around frantically, she saw a silver arch on the other side of the room. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. With all her might, she pushed against him and tried to free herself, but his arms were too strong. All of a sudden, one of his arms was pulled away. After a moment, she noticed that her father had grabbed his arm and was squeezing with all of his might. Elyan let out a scream and let her go altogether. She jumped from the chair and fled toward the arch. Thank you, father. I’ll never forget this, she thought as she entered the arch and stopped completely.


She found herself back in the domed structure. The water from the first of the chalices was poured down her head. Her eyes stung with tears, but they did not flow. Reality was found and she knew her father was not sick, and she had not been assaulted. Well, she had, but not truly.


“You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul,” the White intoned.


She stayed silent, waiting for more instructions. Valeri Sedai simply nodded toward the second arch. Leala followed suit and walked toward it. “The second arch is for what is. The way will come but once. Be steadfast.”


Again, Leala straightened her back and walked confidently into the second arch.


The noble girl stood in front of Valeri Sedai’s desk in her office. The last few words she had said, filled her ears, her head, her every thought, but they would not complete their process in her thoughts. “Wh…what?” she asked as the color drained from her face.


“Don’t make this difficult, child.”


“But…I don’t understand. I may not be as strong in the Power as others, but I have such—“


“No. I have discussed this with every Sitter in the Hall to the Amyrlin. You have made progress, but we believe that you have reached a plateau. You do not have the strength in you to reach the rank of Aes Sedai. You will be given enough silver to support you for a year. Although, I’m sure your family will support you more than that.”


If Leala had not been sitting down, she would have fallen to the ground. “I…” For the first time since entering the Tower, she felt her emotions bared to the world. Before she could complete her thoughts, her dress that she had worn to the White Tower that day so many years ago was in her lap with her silver cord on top. Her vision blurred with tears as a pair of servant came in and tried to console her as they nudged her toward the door. “No…no!” she exclaimed as she was half dragged from the place.


“Come now, Mistress, surely you must be happy to be headed back home to your family,” a servant said. Mistress? Home? Family? Tobias.


“No…” she growled. Whipping around partially because of the hands holding her back, she saw the door swing in and out. There was a silver arch right in front of Valeri Sedai’s desk. The way will come but once. Be steadfast. “I must be steadfast,” she said mostly to herself. She pulled against the hands holding her arms. She dropped her old dress in the process. She pulled and pushed until she was finally free. She dashed back into the office, but the Aes Sedai was ready for her.


Weaves of Air held her back. She embraced Saidar and cut the weaves as best she could. There was still some force holding her back, some of it cutting into her skin, but she finally reach the arch and stumbled through.


Leala caught herself and clutched at her chest and her arms, catching her breath as more water was poured onto her head. Looking around, she found Valeri Sedai, her face a perfect Aes Sedai mask, the same as it was in the arch. But this one believed in what she could do. This one knew what was best for her. “You are washed clean of false pride,” the White said. “You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”


This time, Valeri Sedai approached her and led her to the third arch, gently by touch of her shoulder. She glanced at her in askance, but Leala simply nodded her head, saying that she was ready for the third arch. “The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”


Leala did not straighten her back the third time. She stroked her arms from the bruises that were forming from the arms and hands and weaves of Air that had assaulted her. But she still walked through.


The One Power filled her with joy and jubilance. She truly felt alive. However, there was a tinge of something beyond it. Before her, her brother stood with his crooked grin gone, replaced by an elated and wild smile. She had woven a thick shield of Air that was struggling to hold its form. Her brother had become a male wilder in her time in the Tower. Two of her Sisters of the Red Ajah flanked her.


“Little sister…give your brother a hug!” he said, spreading his arms wide. With that action, her shield threatened to break, but she still held it.


“Tobias…what have you become?” she asked him.


“What the Pattern has in store for me,” he answered, his countenance falling. The strength of his attack diminished, too. The Red Sisters advanced, weaving threads of all five elements. Leala followed them, keeping the shield up, however. Once the three had reached him, the Red Sisters set to work. As they began their blocks on his power, the noble woman noticed a silver arch beyond her brother. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.


Moving around the small group, she headed to the arch, ten feet beyond. Suddenly, a bolt of pain found her side. She clutched it, feeling heat and smelling burning skin and cloth. “Sister!” one of the Reds called out. Tobias had attacked her, but reaching this arch was much more important.


Walking through it, she found herself in the domed structure yet again. She lowered her hand from her side. The bruises on her arms were still forming, and the burn on her side still felt hot as if it had not yet festered. In front of her, the Amyrlin Seat stood with her stole draped over her shoulders. Aes Sedai from each Ajah flanked her, each wearing their shawl. The Amyrlin instructed her to kneel before her, which she did.


This time, it was the Amyrlin who let spill the water from the chalice over her head. “You are washed clean of Leala Gymorraine of Caemlyn. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You are Leala Gymorraine, Accepted of the White Tower.” Leala let out a calming breath and smiled.


“You are sealed to us now. Welcome, daughter.” She handed the last chalice to the Gray standing to her side. She held out her hand and showed her a Great Serpent ring. Her ring. The Amyrlin slipped it onto her third finger on her left hand and took her arms gently, helping her to her feet. “Welcome, daughter,” she said again, kissing Leala’s cheek. “Welcome,” placing a kiss on the other cheek.


Leala had passed. She was that much closer to gaining the shawl. She was that much closer to her purpose.

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