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  1. Andar Traveller sat at his table in the tavern, drinking. He drank a lot these days. All these bloody Aiel all over the place. He spotted them everywhere, doing the Dragon's orders. Aiel brought back painful memories. Drinking pushed those memories away. Today, however, he made sure not to lose himself in his drink. That might be dangerous. This particular tavern was ... less than safe. The clientele was rough around the edges, to say the least. A drunk man was unlikely to be able to defend himself from a cutpurse or worse. So Andar made certain he didn't become drunk. As he mused over these thoughts, a stranger opened the door to the tavern. The wind and rain blew in, drawing angry grunts and curses from many of the patrons. The stranger closed the door. Andar wondered what brought the stranger here. Not many visited this establishment. Andar was only here because he was hoping for a fight. A fight would be entertaining. It would establish his reputation in town, perhaps attract a customer. He squinted at the stranger, who had turned away to hang up their cloak. Andar could not quite tell whether the newcomer was male or female. He shrugged, and went back to his drinking, daring someone to try to snatch a coin he had laid tantalizingly on the table.
  2. Viviane threw open the door to her room in the Accepted’s Quarters, strode in, and closed the wooden door as silently as possible. The action was a stark contrast to what she was feeling at that moment. Without any hesitation, she opened herself to Saidar and embraced the One Power. Deftly weaving a trick called The Circle of Silence. She encased the entire room within her ward, and after tying it off, Viviane let out a blood-curdling scream and then fell to the floor. No one outside her room would hear the cries that now escaped her lips in ragged sobs. Saidar quickly retreated from her grasp. It had been exactly one month since Viviane had been raised to the Accepted, and her body felt as if it had been working day and night since then. Things were hard. Harder than when she had been a Novice. Viviane did not know how that was possible. The other night she had risked a hushed conversation with another Accepted that had been banished to the kitchens. The pair was washing dishes when the other woman had told Viviane that everything got easier after those first few weeks. There was now a bleak hope that she would survive the Sisters long enough to reach the Shawl. Apparently, the rough treatment was the Tower’s way of weeding out the weaklings that had snuck through the seams. Aes Sedai were servants to the people of this world. They were the reason the entire planet had made it this far since the Breaking. That was no easy feat. The Tower required strong women to lead mankind into the next Age. If a woman could not survive the trivial pains that Viviane was now being put through, then she did not stand a single chance at being Aes Sedai. Not even for a day! Dabbing at tears now spilled, Viviane brought herself up so that she was at least sitting on the ground, instead of lying upon it. This was no position for her to be in, even alone. What if someone walked in while she sat here pitying herself? It was no way for an Aes Sedai to behave, thus it was no way for an Accepted to behave. And that is exactly why I wove that ward. I just need one moment to myself. I’ll be blighted if any of the other women on my floor hear my cries tonight. Let them sleep... No. I shouldn’t even cry. Nor make an excuse for it… I am Viviane Accylon, first of the Accylon women to be raised to the Accepted in nearly 500 years. I am better than a few tears and wails. I have to do better. I will do better. This last month would have been more bearable if she had at least been able to do something that she wanted to do. The Accepted were suppose to be able to choose their own studies, but Viviane had not been able to do so yet. That was the one thing she had been looking forward to, especially after 10 long years in plain white. Instead, she was running errands for Aes Sedai, doing chores around the Tower, playing assistant for Clerks, the list was endless. Oh, it was nothing different than when she was a Novice, yet her workload had doubled; and those above her had seemed even colder in attitude than before. Every time Viviane had opened her mouth to anyone, they all responded as if her mere presence were an affront to their existence. It was all very frustrating. She had seen almost 30 name-days now, and here she was crying on the carpet of her tiny chamber. She was acting like a child, but dear Light, she felt like a child. Sure. Life was better here than it had been when she had to scrape by for crumbs on the back alleys of Camelyn. Really, Viviane had zero reasons to complain. But still. This treatment she was receiving did little to encourage her to persevere. I really don’t have any reason to complain. Suck it up Viviane! Things could be so much worse. Yes. I am proud to have gotten this far, but one couldn’t tell by looking at me. Grandmother would be furious if she could see me in such a state. I’d have a worse beating from her, than from the Mistress of Novices, to be sure. Pull yourself together, Viv. This won’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing except the Wheel. With a grunt, she pushed herself from the floor and staggered over to her bed. Slipping her hand beneath the mattress, Viviane felt a momentary flash of panic. What if someone had found it while she had been scrubbing floors? The panic subsided as quickly as it appeared. That was a foolish thought of course. She had been so careful in sneaking it up here. And Light, she needed it! Ten years. Ten long years she had gone without a sip of wine. Not even at meals was she allowed a drink of the stuff, even when Winter reared its ugly head. She especially missed those nights with a warm mug of mulled spiced wine. Mother always made the best batches. Tonight she didn’t have that, though. Instead, she had to settle for something little better than cooking wine. Viviane pulled a waterskin from beneath her mattress with a flourish, smiling to herself triumphantly. The aforementioned wine was within, of course. Without wasting any time, Viviane uncorked the skin and drank deeply. The fact that the wine actually tasted good was a testament to how long it had been since she had a good drink. Unfortunately, she had not been able to get away with much. Viviane was all too aware that the amount she held would probably only give her a little tiny buzz tonight and a splitting headache the day after. She didn’t care. All the more reason to make the best of it while she felt it. What a gamble this is… If an Aes Sedai were to walk in and even suspect… I’d be halfway to Camelyn by morning. Best not to get too uppity, Viv. This is just a means of release. That is all. Everyone deserves to have one every now and then, even Accepted. Why I bet the Amryllin herself had done the same thing when she was in my shoes! Who could fault me just one sip? It’s not like I broke into the good stuff… Within moments the thing was empty of its contents and a nice warmth had spread throughout Viviane’s body. She tossed the waterskin into a wicker basket that contained her dresses that needed a wash. Tomorrow was her day at the scrubboards, so there was little worry that another would stumble upon the skin. A Sister would need only to open it up and take a sniff before knowing what Viviane had been up to. She shuddered at the thought. No. She’d rid herself of the thing in the morning, away from prying eyes. With a look around the room, Viviane’s eyes crossed her writing table. On it lay a letter from Mother. Viviane had read it hundreds of times since receiving it. The letters were her only connection to Mother and also the outside world. Accepted were able to enter the city of Tar Valon sometimes. Viviane had not had a free day since being raised, but she already had plans for it when the day did arrive. She would go out and see as much of the City as possible. Despite the petty hardships she suffered, Viviane had everything she could ask for in the Tower. Everything except a network of information. It had been whispered among Novices and Accepted that the Ajahs all had ‘Eyes and Ears’ out in the world, a means to stay abreast with current events. Viviane had something similar in Camelyn, although much cruder and much less effective. Really, it was just two or three other children in the area… Anyone that had lived on the streets had informants or other sources of information. Her needs in the future would be very different from any she had in the past, however. True. She had no use for a network of informants now, what schemes did she have? None. What interests in the world did she have? None. That’s not what this was about at the moment. Now was the time for forming relationships and cultivating trust. She was young and full of promise. A pretty face, some clever words, and carefully placed coin could reap benefits further down the line. Oh, I am being foolish to even be considering… The notion suddenly seemed haughty. Viviane hadn’t thought that way in years. She had been so focused on studying and discipline for so long… Perhaps it was the wine that was making her feel loose. No. It was definitely the wine. Viviane’s eyes still lingered on that letter from her Mother. Before realizing what she was doing, Viviane was standing before the writing table with the letter in her hands, going over the words again. Mother was doing well, if not thriving. The business had picked back up and Mother even had a few steady customers. It was still too early to tell if those customers would remain loyal, but otherwise, everything was looking up for the shop. She had even taken on a new apprentice, one of the local girls. Viviane had never met the girl. It was hard to accept, but Viviane knew it was inevitable if the shop was to remain open. She was to be Aes Sedai, of course, Mother should look for a replacement. I just hope this apprentice has not become a replacement daughter for her… I’ve bound myself to the Tower, but she will always be my Mother. I just couldn’t bear the thought… The rest of the letter was glowing praise and happiness at Viviane’s raising to the Accepted. Mother could not control her tongue around the neighbors either, it seemed. All of Camelyn had heard of Viviane’s raising if Mother was to be believed. That biting feeling of jealousy for the new apprentice quickly faded as Viviane finished reading the letter. There was no question of Mother’s love for her. I’m her daughter, she loves me, and I’m just being silly… Viviane dropped the letter to the desk and retreated back to the bed. A copy of Gilded Hearts and Lengthy Lords sat atop a short stool close by. Viviane grabbed the novel and sank back onto the stiff mattress. She didn’t make it three pages before the book fell atop her chest, as it rose and fell in rhythm with her snoring. Eyes firmly shut, Viviane slept deeply that night. She dreamt of a brighter future for Mother. One where Father was alive. Viviane was Aes Sedai in that dream and she had made sure that neither had to want for anything in the world. A smile stayed upon her face as the night passed into morning.
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