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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Silver Archways


Myrenna
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The gardens were dank and cold, this time of year. A lot of the plants were suffering for it, struggling to survive this autumn, and Auriane had been set to tend to them. She gently lifted a limp rose, its once-lavish petals recoiling back from the cold, soggy and brown. With one swift motion, she sliced it off and placed it in her basket. The dead flowers would serve as compost in the spring. The dying supported the young: such was life.

 

“Auriane Feidwyn,” intoned a voice behind her. Spinning around, Auriane saw the Mistress of Novices and started a quick curtsy. Before she could complete it, the woman continued: “You are to be tested for the banded dress.”

 

Auriane’s curtsy stopped dead in its tracks. Slowly rising, she nodded to the Aes Sedai. She left her tools and basket in the pile of equipment to the side, and one of the girls she had been working with gave her a shy smile. Auriane quickly winked at her and turned to follow Valeri Sedai.

 

She knew she was ready. It had been twelve years since the wide-eyed country girl had arrived at the Tower, barely aware of what an Aes Sedai even was. In channelling, she had been ready to be tested for a long time, she knew, but she required enough education to pass through the Arches and become Accepted, and that took her longer than most girls, considering her background. Luckily, she had never had trouble with the chores of Novicehood, so Auriane had had enough time in the day to study alone. As Accepted, she would be doing much more of that, and the Aes Sedai had to make sure she would be ready for personal study. The thought filled her with apprehension, but Auriane knew she was ready.

 

Following Valeri Sedai, Auriane got concerned glances from other Novices she had known during her time so far in the Tower. After a long walk through familiar halls where she had worked, conversed and played, the two women began to traverse dark and grand corridors, unknown to Auriane. At twenty-nine, her childhood was about to end.

 

Valeri Sedai stopped at a set of grand doors. Aided by the Power, the doors opened and the two women stepped inside. A huge ter’angreal sat on the floor, consisting of three silvery arches. At each arch sat a concentrating Aes Sedai, and another beshawled woman stood beside a table, on which rested three chalices filled with water.

 

Auriane looked at the Mistress of Novices, and the Aes Sedai spoke. “Auriane, there are two things that no woman hears until she enters this room.” This worried the Novice. They had been taught the ceremony several times, and she knew she was ready for what she had been told -- was it going to be completely different? “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 a failure.”

 

Auriane nodded at the woman solemnly before she spoke up again. “This is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, and you will have only 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.”

 

“I am ready, Valeri Sedai,” said Auriane.

 

The tall, white-haired Aes Sedai who stood by the table recited: “Whom do you bring with you, Sister?”

 

“One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister,” came Valeri’s reply.

 

“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.” The final words of the many-repeated conversation had a tone of foreboding to them, a challenge.

 

Valeri Sedai then turned to Auriane and nodded. This was her signal: she would now remove her white dress for the last time. In truth, it was mucky and covered with green and brown patches, but soon she would wear the banded dress. Hopefully, soon. Valeri Sedai put a hand on Auriane’s shoulder and led her to the first arch, steadily glowing. The Mistress of Novices was always a pillar of support for girls coming to the Tower, and her duties would not end here.

 

Taking her hand away from Auriane’s shoulder, the Aes Sedai intoned: “The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

 

Be steadfast, Auriane thought as, steeling herself, she stepped through the first arch. An all-encompassing, white light surrounded the girl, blinding her.

 

Opening the battered wooden door with a frail hand, Riana stepped out of the silent square and into her silent cottage. She hanged her coat up and looked out of the window at the brown Green, then walked into the bedroom. The babe she carried softly mumbled as she placed him into his cradle, crooning softly to soothe the child. “I’ll be back in a moment, little Jack,” she said quietly, forcing a smile.

 

Riana gently closed the door to the bedroom and made her way to the pantry. Perhaps this time, by some miracle, there would be some food. It would be Sunday in two weeks, and preparations had not even begun. Her husband was working in the fields, trying his hardest, but the harvests had failed two years running. There would be no Sunday cider this year, partially due to the poor apple collection last year. Partially due to Master Renlow’s health. Riana was famished: she had not eaten in two days, and even then it had not been filling. Her stomach growled weakly and she closed the pantry door. It was hot. Last year, the rains had come heavily, drowning the crops. This year, they had barely come at all.

 

Her husband was away working in the fields, in the vain hope that there would be a harvest, however small. Secretly, Riana wished that he would stay at home with her. But here in the Black Hills, folk had to be tough to survive. Perseverance was in their bones: they would not give up so easily before they had time to recover. Just one more season, and everything would right itself. Surely, it would.

 

It was supposed to be lunch-time, and a babe would not stop being hungry for her inconvenience. Riana slowly walked back to the bedroom. Truly, she had not the energy for anything more and her movements were lethargic. She worried for her husband. He refused to stop working, as did the other village men, though the haunted looks in their eyes said they were on the brink of surrender.

 

The door creaked as Riana opened it and entered the bedroom. She walked over to the cradle, smiling again, and lifted the babe from its bed. She sat down on her own bed and started unbuttoning her tattered dress.

 

Something was wrong. The child had not babbled in greeting when she came for him. She lifted him away from herself and quietened, listening. He did not breathe. Not a second son! A wave of panic rose up within her breast, and she held the child closer to her, frantically checking for the slightest sign of life.

 

None came.

 

Shaking, the woman teetered over to the crib, and laid the babe down in it. She had to find someone. Mistress Renlow, the innkeeper’s wife, was knowledgeable on such matters, but she was busy with her husband. Her shock wearing off, Riana fully realised the gravity of the situation. There would be no respite. Howling in agony and desperation, Riana tried to think of something to do. She could not leave the child. Her husband must be home soon.

 

She turned her head and saw a silver arch where her door had once been. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

 

Filled with terror, the bereaved mother stumbled towards the arch. It was a betrayal. She couldn’t save the babe, but leaving her husband to deal with a second loss alone was an abominable act. An abominable act, but a necessary one.

 

Auriane staggered out of the shimmering arch, and fell onto the floor, wailing in grief. She was back in the White Tower, and now remembered everything. She shook on the floor, and cold, clean water was poured over her in a splash. “You are washed clean of what sin you may have done and of those done against you,” intoned the white-haired Sister. “You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you.”

 

The words were comforting to Auriane, although she knew it would take time for her to accept their truth. “You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul,” the Sister finished.

 

After Auriane had calmed, the Mistress of Novices helped her to her feet. She spoke gently to the girl: “It is not real. The arches show a possibility, nothing more. Whatever you have done, trust the ceremony. You are cleansed.” Auriane nodded and was led to the second arch.

 

“The second arch is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

 

Stepping through the second archway, Auriane was once more welcomed by the bright light.

 

As an Accepted, Auriane was much more independent than she had been as a Novice. It was her freeday, today, and she walked in the Tower’s gardens. It was early summer and a soft breeze cooled her forehead as she strolled through the neat shrubs. Soon it would be time for lunch, and she would meet with her friends once more. Turning with the bushes, Auriane saw a man who must be one of the Tower’s many gardeners. She smiled at him, and then walked on. It would have been polite to say “Hello,” but Novices and Accepted should not speak with men, for obvious reasons. She could be seen and her actions could be misinterpreted.

 

She continued to walk down the lovely footpaths edged by flowers. Auriane far preferred the meadows of home, which were completely natural. The irregularity of wildflowers was much more interesting to her, but the gardens here still were beautiful. She ambled down to a small pond covered with lilies, and sat down on the ground. There were small fish in the pond, darting between stalks. Auriane picked up a twig beside her and prodded the water, watching ripples form from her hand. She always found the gardens very tranquil and calming, when Tower life had been stressful. One of the classes she was teaching was very slow, and she often found herself frustrated. It was very testing.

 

Suddenly, a callused hand clasped over her mouth, gagging her, and her flailing wrists were bound by another. She struggled and kicked, and tried to yell, but her cries were muffled and this area was empty other than her and her attacker. Auriane felt a foot push her back forward into a kneeling position over the water, and whoever this was stood on her exposed legs so she could not kick. In one swift motion, the hand on her mouth was around the back of her neck, forcing her towards the pond. Barely having time to take a gulp of air, Auriane was plunged into the water with a huge splash.

 

It was murky but for the golden shapes darting around her, for one split second, until the fish were gone and hiding from their disturber. Bubbles rose around her, and her golden hair billowed around her face. Her eyes stung with the dirty water’s contact and her body began to ache above the surface. She could neither hear nor see and she was running out of energy. She knew she did not have much longer. How did a thug get into the Tower? Why would he murder an Accepted?

 

Auriane was taken aback when she saw a soft, shimmering glow below her. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

 

She had to get to the bottom of the pond.

 

Twisting her body around, Auriane bit into the man’s arm as hard as she could. She tasted blood, and refused to even think about what she had felt. She was an animal. She heard a dull yelp from above the water and was released for a moment. Wriggling free, Auriane delved deeper into the murky depth, just before another hand plunged into the water, catching her hair. It was painful, but she managed to tug free, kicking away the hand and dragging herself downward laboriously. A strand of pondweed whipped around her neck as she was almost at the glowing oval. She was so close. It held her back, but Auriane reached forward and grabbed onto the thing. It was smooth and otherworldly. She had not a clue as to why she was digging deeper, rather than getting out of the pond, but she pulled herself forward and with the stonewort cutting into her neck, drove herself through the ring.

 

Auriane fell into the Tower, surprised at finding herself surrounded by air, at last. She knelt on the floor, coughing up water and gasping for air, when the tall Sister dropped yet more onto her. “You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”

 

When she had recovered, Auriane stood, shivering. I really need a bath, she thought to herself, then inwardly reprimanded for having such frivolous thoughts during such an important occasion. She walked to the third arch with the Mistress of Novices. The woman spoke for the final time: “The third time is for what will be. Be steadfast, for the way back will come but once.”

 

The white glow became brighter and brighter when she stepped through the archway, fully encompassing her vision, blinding her once more.

 

After Auriane had been stilled, almost a year ago now, she had travelled to Altara. It had been caused by an accident with a ter’angreal she had found in a nobleman’s basement in Cairhien. He had no idea what the thing was, and clearly no Sister had yet found it. On her way back to the Tower, she had been caught by surprise and accidentally embraced the source while touching it. She was burned out completely. Now, she was a maid in a rural lord’s manor. She looked after his wife, a horrid, vain and callous woman. Women were not known to live for long after stilling, unless they found something into which they put their whole heart, soul and body, their whole being, to replace saidar. Auriane knew she didn’t have long left to live, but she had survived a while by being a diligent and dedicated worker. Black Hills folk had perseverance in their bones, and she was no exception.

 

Walking purposefully down the hallways carrying a basket of extravagant laundry, Auriane passed a few other servants. She was well-known in the manor because of her diligence and friendliness, and the other servants all greeted her. They greeted her by her false name, and Auriane felt a pang of guilt that she deceived these people. No matter, she thought. It cannot be helped and there is no use fretting over something I cannot change. She could not think of it that way, however, no matter how many times she told herself to. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are but threads in the Pattern. It was a bitter thought, this time. No, Auriane did not have long left to live.

 

Auriane heard agonised screams coming from further down the corridor, and quickened her pace. Her subconscious, with Aes Sedai practices fully ingrained, wanted her to walk slowly and serenely, but she forced herself to jog to reach the yelling’s source. The sound led her to a room where a young woman was giving birth on a bed. Light, but that‘s lucky, Auriane thought, I almost thought someone was being murdered for a moment! A moment later, however, she realised that something was wrong. Dropping her laundry basket, she rushed to the struggling midwife. The babe was almost free, but there was too much blood and the woman seemed to be having trouble breathing.

 

Sidling around the bed, Auriane reached the mother. “Don’t worry, child, it’s almost over. The midwife will deal with the babe, I will deal with you.” She could not give up her life as an Aes Sedai so easily and would not stand by and watch while this girl suffered. She smiled comfortingly and smoothed back the young woman’s hair. “What’s your name?” asked Auriane to her. Before the girl could answer, a cry came from the end of the bed: the child had been born. The midwife beamed, bustling away to a sink at the end of the room to clean the babe and Auriane turned back to the new mother. “Well done!” she said. “The babe is healthy and you did fantastically. You’ll need to rest for a while; it was a difficult birth, but you’ll be spry as a young deer in no time at all.”

 

The young woman again did not reply. She smiled briefly and, closing her eyes, her head rolled to the side. She was still bleeding and was going to die if someone did not aid her.

 

Auriane imagined a rosebud. She became the rosebud, she was the rosebud.

 

But saidar was not there. It never would be there, not ever again and this young woman would die because Auriane could not help her. The dying supported the young: such was life. A shimmering, silver archway lay just beyond the girl’s deathbed, and Auriane knew that she had to leave the poor thing. She had already accepted her own mortality: she had had almost a year to do so. This poor girl, however, she couldn’t have a clue. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She had to leave the woman to her death, and leave the newborn babe without a mother.

 

Edging around the bed, hating herself every moment, Auriane sped towards the archway.

 

When Auriane reached the other side, the white-haired Sister seemed to show slight surprise that she was not writhing on the floor as her other two appearances. This time, she stood tall. The things she had done broke her heart, but she had completed the test. She was Accepted. The Amyrlin Seat herself stood before her, stoled and proud. To each side of her stood a Sister from each Ajah, wearing their ceremonial shawls, all serene. It was a grand sight. Auriane stepped towards the Amyrlin and knelt there.

 

The Amyrlin Seat held the final chalice, and ritually poured its contents over Auriane’s already soaked head. “You are washed clean of Auriane Feidwyn of the Black Hills,” she chanted. “You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean in heart and soul. You are Auriane Feidwyn, Accepted of the White Tower.”

 

Auriane could not help herself but to beam with pride as the Amyrlin continued. “You are sealed to us, now. Welcome, daughter.” The Amyrlin passed the silver chalice to one of the Sisters behind her and turned back to Auriane, now with a golden ring in hand. It was a snake, biting its own tail. The Great Serpent Ring of the Aes Sedai. Auriane offered her hand incredulously, and the Amyrlin slipped onto the ring finger of her left hand. It felt strange. Auriane had never worn a ring before, and here she was with one made of gold.

 

Auriane stood, and the Amyrlin said: “Welcome, Daughter.” She kissed the girl on both cheeks and said again, “Welcome.”

 

When the ceremony was over, Auriane had to embrace the Source, just for a split second. She was met with stern looks from some of the Aes Sedai in the room with her, and understanding looks from others. She just had to check it was still there.

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