The Foretelling: Before New Spring

The Foretelling: Before New Spring

By
Cerendrallion
~

Moiraine Damodred’s face was meek as Merean lectured. Elaida scowled at them from across the Mistress of the Novice’s desk, occasionally glancing at offending rodents that lay dead on the desk. Three field mice – captured just that morning by Siuan in the gardens.

Moiraine glanced at Siuan now, her friends face impassive. Light, she wished she could be like Siuan! Siuan never seemed to let Merean’s anger touch her – well, not where Merean could see anyway. Siuan somehow kept her eyes dry until they were safely back in the Accepted Quarters, where she would let out a weak sob.

Merean finished her rant, eventually sitting down behind the desk, hands clasped in front of her. She shook her head ruefully, allowing a half-amused smile to flit across her face.

“What’s their punishment?” Elaida demanded irritably. Still a young Aes Sedai, her face still wasn’t ageless and occasionally that façade of icy serenity cracked before her anger.

“Three times each with a switch,” Merean answered, opening the drawer of her desk and producing a bendy willow switch.

Moiraine groaned silently. It had just been cut that evening, with small droplets of dew still shining in the lamplight.

“Is that all?” Elaida’s eyes flashed furiously. “Light! They invaded my privacy – went into my rooms! The Creator only knows what they did in there before I caught them – they are little thieves after all, probably went through all my possessions to see if they say anything they liked! Half my gold is probably missing!”

Siuan opened her mouth furiously. “We did not! You have no proof! We only got there before you did, Elaida -” Siuan purposely forgot to add the honorific ‘Sedai’. “- and you have not right to accuse us of things we didn’t do!”

Merean’s eyes narrowed as she considered them.

Elaida’s mask of cool composure was back and she raised an eyebrow in an amused fashion at the two Accepted. “I suggest we forego the letting them become Aes Sedai – see how they like another few years as Accepted,”

Moiraine and Siuan’s jaws hit the ground and they turned, eyes pleading, to look at kindly Merean. She frowned at Elaida. “We cannot, Elaida Sedai, they have already passed the test for the shawl and the official ceremony is the day after tomorrow,” Merean shrugged. “Switching will have to do,” She turned her eyes to Siuan. Those normally motherly eyes were as hard as steel. “For your insolence in addressing an Aes Sedai in such a manner, the switching shall be increased. Five times. Each,”

Siuan opened her mouth to protest, but Moiraine nudged her. Light, all they needed was Siuan’s mouth to get them even more switches!

Merean came to stand in the centre of the small study. She nodded to Siuan and Moiraine who had been through this more times than either could remember. Dragging their feet, they came to stand in front of her and turned their back to her. Tucking the switch under her arm, Merean undid both of their Accepted dresses and pulled them down so that their backs where bare, but their front was covered, sparing them their modesty.

Moiraine steeled herself, settling herself into a part of her mind that was completely empty. It wasn’t saidar, but it was close.

A flash of pain erupted in her lower back. It spread up her back and reached her shoulders, which began to ache. She gritted her teeth and concentrated even more on the emptiness, where no pain could touch her.

Distantly, she realised Siuan was enduring the same treatment.

And there it was again. On the same spot. The already tender area felt like someone was pressing a firebrand to it. Now her legs began to tremble with pain. The emptiness faltered.

And then it exploded. The emptiness shattered and the full pain of it drove her to her knees. Her back ached as her shoulders shook with sobs. She felt Merean hesitate. Siuan, somewhat distantly was arguing: “Light! Look at her, Merean Sedai, she can’t take anymore,”

Pride reared its head. She would not be bought kindness. She was going to be Aes Sedai in a few days – she’d had better learn to endure things. “No,” She said rather shakily, getting to unsteady legs. Merean turned to look at her, Siuan stared at her as though she had just announced she planned to jump off the Tower and Elaida was regarding her with considering eyes. “Finish it, Merean; I will not be spared out of pity,”

Something crossed Merean’s eyes. Pride? Merean proud of her? No. It couldn’t be.

She turned her back defiantly on them, awaiting the blows.

They came, of course. Siuan’s as well.

But, with tears running down her face, she maintained some dignity. Merean eventually returned the switch to her drawer and the two Accepted pulled their dresses up. The fabric brushed the tender spot and Moiraine grimaced.

“You are dismissed,” Merean said coolly, motioning to the door. Moiraine and Siuan walked, half hobbled, to the doorway. When they where outside and the door shut behind them, Siuan began to cry.

Not loudly, just a few tears. It was quite a difference from the bawling that Moiraine had done in front of Merean and Elaida. The embarrassment crept up on her.

Light! She thought angrily to herself as she hugged her friend in the deserted corridor. What a weakness to show…the Creator only knows when they’ll dreg that up against me.

Siuan ran a sleeve over her eyes, cursing all the while. “Blood and bloody ashes!” They strode off down the corridor. The Tower was deserted at this time of night, thankfully, so no one seen their red rimmed eyes or noticed their slight limp. “I can’t believe they did that! Light! Fancy old Elaida coming when she did – damn her!” Suddenly, she turned on Moiraine. “Where you not supposed to be watching the door?”

Moiraine, who had been silent, scowled. “Yes – and I would have seen her coming, too, if you hadn’t been the fool to be distracting me by rummaging in her drawers! Light, I almost died when they brought that up – you where too quick to defend yourself, Siuan,”

“What?” Siuan asked incredulously. “How can you be too quick to defend yourself?”

“Did you see how Merean’s eyes narrowed? She suspected you – you jumped in there,” Moiraine explained patiently. “Daes Dae’mar,”

“Oh,” Siuan muttered. Then her voice took on a sarcastic tone. “I’m sorry, Lady Moiraine, I wasn’t fortunate to grow up among the Game of Houses,”

Moiraine felt the blood rise in her face. She hated when Siuan did this – bring up the differences in their rank. She was the niece of King Laman and, if the right people died, heir to the Sun Throne of Cairhien. Siuan was daughter of a Fisherman from Tear. She frowned. “You know I didn’t mean it like that, Siuan,”

Siuan looked like she was about to retort, then her own face coloured. “Yes,” She replied in a somewhat tired voice. “I know, sorry,”

They reached the door to Moiraine’s room in the Accepted Quarters of the Tower.

Siuan paused. She laid a heavily calloused hand on Moiraine’s arm. “How are you coping with…his death?” She said the last bit in a rush.

“His death? Whose death?” Moiraine blinked.

Siuan sighed in exasperation. “Laman’s! And Light, your parents!”

Moiraine was surprised at Siuan’s distress. She smiled a comforting smile, though her voice should have frozen the sun at its zenith. “The fool had it coming. He should never have cut down that tree,”

For a second, Siuan stared at her as though she had sprouted horns. Never in all their friendship had Moiraine been so cold.

“And my parents,” She continued. “I shed little tears over their death,”

Siuan swallowed. “Right,” She whispered. “Goodnight, Moiraine,”

“Goodnight, Siuan,” Moiraine replied, forcing warmth into her words, trying to tell Siuan silently that she would never be as cold as that over her.

She went inside her room. It was a plain room – but a good deal better than the one she had had as a novice. It over looked Tar Valon and she could see Dragonmount, which Aiel still swarming over it. The Lion Banner flew in the wind, marking Andor…and there was Illian…even a small delegation of surviving Cairhienins. The mountain seemed alight in the darkness with torches. The battle would soon be over, the Aiel driven backwards to the Three-fold Land.

Moiraine leaned on the window ledge, peering out. She was strangely without emotions when she heard of the Aiel’s ravaging of Cairhien, her home country. Maybe because she had long since stopped calling it home. The Tower was where she belonged. She hadn’t realised it at first, of course, but now she did.

It was true what she said to Siuan. She cared little for Laman – even if she was his ‘favourite’ niece. Laman made her uncomfortable. She remembered her first year of womanhood, when unexpected changes began to occur in her body. Mezra had taken the time to explain these things to her – her mother was far too ‘busy’ exchanging gossip to take notice of her youngest daughter – and she remembered wearing a particular low-cut dress to one of the public courts that summer. Light, she had enjoyed it! The young men where falling over themselves to be of any help to the Lady Moiraine. Then she had spotted a disturbing thing.

Laman. He sat on the throne, ogling her. His eyes slid appreciatively over her body, marvelling at the suddenly well-developed curves.

Moiraine had gone cold, the attentions of the young men not seeming so charming all of a sudden. She went to stand in the shadows, next to Mezra, the old nurse having spotted it as well. She put an arm protectively around Moiraine and drew her away as soon as court was finished, making sure Laman couldn’t call her back.

Then there where her parents.

Moiraine’s lip twisted at the thought of them. Her father, Lord Tregornal, brother to the king, had little time for any of his children, least of all his daughter. He led a busy life, what with his wife, who despised him, his drinking and gambling and then his numerous mistresses.

And then her mother, Lady Allienta. Allienta was a beautiful woman, with enough gentlemen callers to rival her husband’s mistresses. Her days consisted of lazing with her lady friends and exchanging gossip, listening to Gleemen who they frequently bedded later, occasionally dabbling in the Game of Houses. Her youngest child was a pest.

It was a loveless childhood indeed, though she was more fortunate than some. And if it hadn’t been for Mezra, Moiraine’s life would truly have been a misery. Her older siblings too old to have their sister around, Mezra was the girl’s only true friend.

It was with Mezra whom she celebrated her birthdays and Bel Tine. It was Mezra who had given her the small blue stone that sometimes hung on her forehead, traditionally given to the daughter by her mother. It was Mezra who had kept her safe from Laman’s eyes. It was Mezra who kindled a love of reading inside her and had given her, her first book ‘The Travels of Jain Farstrider’.

And it was Mezra’s fate that haunted Moiraine.

Light, no one had thought to include the fate of the old nurse maid in the pigeon message that had come just yesterday, describing the deaths of her relatives. Moiraine had woken up in a cold sweat the night before, dreaming of Mezra being cut down by Aiel. Blood splattered in the old woman’s hair, she screamed as she fell.

Moiraine suddenly felt bile well up in her throat.

She turned and fled to the empty basin on her wash stand, retching. When she had finished emptying her stomach, she leaned back against the wall, arms wrapped around herself, sobbing for all she was worth. She slid to the ground, curling herself into a ball and eventually crying herself to sleep as dawn touched the sky.

It was like that Siuan found her the next morning. Siuan was startled, to say the least. She knelt beside Moiraine, who had not changed into a shift, dried tears reddening her face. Crusty vomit coated her chin and some of her dress. Siuan felt guilt and sorrow well up inside her. She should have come last night, when she heard the muffled sounds coming from her friend’s room. And she pitied Moiraine as there was obviously something troubling her.

She shook her friends shoulder. “Moiraine?” She asked gently.

Moiraine stirred and opened her eyes. For a split second, her eyes were filled with an unspoken sadness and then she gasped, horrified. She scrambled to her feet, which were still unsteady. Her face burned. “Siuan!” She said in a strangled voice. She wiped her face, smearing the vomit. She cursed and Siuan blinked. Moiraine wasn’t one for swearing an oath. She hurried to the basin and groaned at the vomit. She began bathing herself from the jug, water icy cold with the window being open all night.

Siuan leaned against the wall. She had already dressed and washed. “Care to tell me what’s wrong?”

For a second, Moiraine hesitated. “No,” she said finally, drying her face and hands and pulling out a clean dress. Siuan turned to give her privacy. “I knew you where more upset that you where letting on,”

Moiraine snorted. “What? Laman? My parents? No,”

Siuan sighed. It would take an awesome amount of persuasion to get Moiraine to budge on this. “Very well. Are you fit enough for breakfast?”

“I’m not ill,” Moiraine snapped, even though the thought of food made her queasy.

Siuan remained quiet until she had dressed and combed her hair, then they left to go to the first serving of breakfast. Moiraine was still remarkably pale and she walked with a strange jerk that had nothing to do with the beating last night that still had Siuan limping.

They sat down at one of the tables after collecting their breakfast – porridge. Moiraine groaned. She hated porridge and without jam to sweeten it, all you could taste was the oats.

Sheriam and Leane joined them at their table. Both where nice enough and where supposed to be raised to the shawl the same night Siuan and Moiraine where. But, in her heap of emotions that Moiraine felt, she only could express irritation at their presence.

Sheriam smiled at them both. “Good morning, Siuan, Moiraine,”

Siuan echoed their hello, but Moiraine merely nodded.

Sheriam took it in her stride, though felt slightly annoyed. “Practising already for that Aes Sedai impassiveness?” She quipped, pouring herself some tea.

Moiraine roused herself from the misery that she hadn’t been able to shake since last night and tried to get the joke. “What?”

“You. You’re sitting there all icy serenity and – oh, forget it,” Sheriam didn’t like explaining things.

Leane chewed on her porridge. “Are you ready for this afternoon, you two?”

“Ready for what?” Siuan asked quickly, as though afraid Moiraine would jump in with some biting remark.

Leane laughed, a tinkling sound like bells ringing. She was Domani and had half the Warders and guards tripping over themselves when she walked past. Light, she is annoying, Moiraine thought dismally. “You’re attending the Amyrlin, remember? Though I think it’s the Keeper that needs attending – needs somebody to carry her up all those stairs,”

Siuan chortled and Sheriam smiled. “Ah, Gitara’s nice,” She commented. “Gone a bit loopy though…I hear she’s older than Cadsuane,”

Siuan scoffed. “Impossible,” She waved her spoon for emphasise. “Cadsuane is the oldest – Light, have you heard some of the rumours about her?”

Leane leaned in. “It’s hard not to. I heard she assaulted an Amyrlin! Hit her, right there in the Amyrlin’s study, with the then Keeper watching!”

Siuan laughed again and in spite of herself, Moiraine felt herself being drawn into the conversation. She had met Cadsuane once. About a year and a half ago, just after the Aiel war erupted. Well, met was an exaggeration. She had seen her in the hallway, talking to another Aes Sedai. That particular Aes Sedai looked as though she would have rather been forced to run naked into Shayol Ghul. She had read a little about her. “I read that she kidnapped a King of Tarabon when she found out he could channel,”

That suddenly brought the conversation to a halt. Mentioning a man who could channel? Idiot!

Leane stared into her porridge, Sheriam sipped her tea and Siuan avoided looking at Moiraine.

Then, in desperation, she said weakly: “I seen her once,”

“What?” Siuan demanded suddenly. “How come you didn’t tell me?”

“I don’t tell you everything, Siuan,”

Sheriam whispered. “Is it true? Is she really ten feet tall and her strength makes Aes Sedai faint?”

Moiraine blinked. “No. She is quite a normal size – about two heads taller than me,” Moiraine shrugged at their disappointment. “But her strength – light, I can tell you this, I wouldn’t like to try to shield her! Her just breaking the shield would probably still you!”

“Blood and bloody ashes,” Siuan said loudly. That earned her a sniff from a passing Aes Sedai.

The day passed slowly. The Aiel War was slowly coming to a halt and there were numerous refugees inside the Shining Walls. Most where women with children – Children? Moiraine had thought in amazement, What on earth are those women thinking of? – and some where men in dire need of healing. Moiraine’s skills in that area, while still not as good as a Yellow’s, where adequate and she spent an uncomfortable morning tending the wounded in the Tower grounds. While it was biting cold outside and most of these foolish men didn’t seem to want to set foot in the tower. Light! Old superstitions die hard, it would seem!

Even wrapped up in a heavy cloak, with gloves and stout boots, the wind tore at her and she was glad to escape at Luncheon into the tower for a warm cup of tea, a change of clothes and a few minutes in front of the fire.

Moiraine was in a considerably better mood when she met Siuan outside the Amyrlin’s Study. Mezra had been pushed to the back of her mind and she wouldn’t be asked to go out again in the snow for at least another three days – if the Yellows hadn’t been so spread out and shorthanded, she wouldn’t have been asked at all. She smiled at her friend.

“Well,” Siuan said picking up on Moiraine’s thoughts. “You’re in a good mood at last,”

They entered the Study together, curtseying to the Amyrlin Seat.

Tamra Ospenya, The Amyrlin Seat, The Watcher of the Seals, The Flame of Tar Valon, was a short woman. She was taller than Moiraine, but she had to peer up to Siuan. Her short, dark hair touched her shoulders and her stole of office hung around her neck. She wore a dark blue dress, with white trims, and her eyes where as sharp as steel.

She acknowledged the two Accepted with a curt nod. “You speak when spoken to. I may not need you immediately, but that doesn’t mean you can daydream or talk to each other. Understand?”

“Yes mother,” They murmured, ducking their heads.

The Amyrlin motioned them to one side and they stood by the window, arms neatly folded as Tamra went on with her work. Moiraine never realised attending the Amyrlin Seat would be so boring.

Suddenly, a knock came at the door. Tamra looked up at Moiraine. “You. Get the door,”

While babbling ‘Yes Mother’, Moiraine opened the door to the Keeper. Gitara, the Keeper of the Chronicles, was about the same size as Moiraine, though, looking at her, Moiraine couldn’t help wonder if she was older than Cadsuane. Her face was like wrinkled leather, hair snow white, where she was from undeterminable. She stumped past Moiraine, leaning on a staff.

“Light! Tamra, you should move the Amyrlin’s study closer to the ground,” She huffed, sitting down. Tamra raised one eyebrow. “Er…Mother, even. Though that is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? I mean, I’m old enough to be your grandmother,”

The Amyrlin sighed, obviously never been able to curb Gitara’s tongue. “Very well, what news of the Tower?”

Gitara glanced at the sheaf of paper she held. “The Yellow are healing with a fair success rate – only those mortally wounded have died. Though we still can’t convince them to come within the Tower. Most of the women are more sensible. We have a few lodging in the lower levels,”

Tamra nodded in acknowledgement.

“The Aiel are being successfully driven back. We hope to run them off Dragonmount today,”

“Very good,”

“And – ” Suddenly, Gitara’s eyes went very wide. She gaped at nothing. Her voice became distant. “Upon the slopes of Dragonmount in the ten days before the winter snows melt, there will be a boy-child born. The Dragon shall return and again ride upon the wings of time. Let the Lord of Chaos rule. This I foretell,”

Gitara sagged in her seat. It was a well known fact that the Keeper sometimes had the Foretelling. Tamra’s eyes bulged out.

At her side, Moiraine felt Siuan’s knees give way. She tumbled to the ground. Moiraine’s knees weren’t feeling too steady either.

Gitara held Tamra’s gaze for a second, then tumbled to one side.

Moiraine, being the best at healing, half walked, half staggered forward. She pressed her forefingers into her neck, feeling for her life beat. There was none. “She’s dead,” Moiraine managed in a weak voice.

Tamra stared at the former Keeper. “Light,” She muttered and ran a weary hand across her eyes. “The Dragon Reborn,”

Siuan spoke up. “Mother? What will we do?”

Tamra’s eyes went to Siuan. “I don’t know, child,” She answered with honesty, which Moiraine respected her for. She got up and stalked to the window, ignoring Siuan who sat with a glazed expression on her face. “The creator’s hand shelter us,”

Moiraine licked dry lips. “Mother, this child…is already born?”

“That’s not certain,” Tamra said sharply. “Ten days before the snows melt – look outside, daughter, the snow is still thick upon the ground,” Suddenly, Tamra whirled around, staring at them in horror, as if suddenly realising she spoke to Accepted. “Light! Speak not a word of this outside this room, do you understand, daughters? Blood and ashes! If word of this got out, the Reds would be after the child! The Tower would be torn with panic!” She stared at them. “This is sealed to the Flame, understand? Go, now, daughters and breathe a word of what has happened and I will make sure you weep!”

Moiraine gripped Siuan by the shoulder and half dragged her from the room. She sank to her knees against the door. Luckily, it was time for dinner and the halls where empty. “Siuan,” She hissed in a harsh whisper. “Siuan! Get a hold of yourself!”

Siuan blinked. “Blood and bloody ashes…Moiraine! The Dragon!” She uttered an oath at that point that would have made mercenaries blush.

Moiraine, crimson to the roots of her face, said: “Come, Siuan don’t upset the others over this,”

Siuan allowed herself to be led down the corridor by Moiraine. They went to Siuan’s room, where Moiraine made Mint Tea to calm her nerves.

Amused by the irony of her making something to comfort Siuan, she handed it to her. Siuan was trembling.

“Well,” Moiraine said, her tone even. “There’s nothing we can do about it,”

“There’s nothing we can do about it?” Siuan gaped, sloshing tea over her wrist. “Damn that! Light! We’ve got to help!”

Moiraine’s jaw hit the ground. “What? Help? Help the Dragon? Light! He’s Lews Therin Telamon reborn! He doesn’t need our help – us, two Accepted!”

“Ah, Moiraine, you forget,” Siuan said with a smirk, raising one finger. “He is but a baby at his mother’s breast and we are to be raised to the shawl tomorrow…who is better to help than us?”

“Oh, I don’t know – maybe stronger, more experienced sisters?” Moiraine suggested, words brushed with icy sarcasm.

Siuan waved off her comments. “Ones who would gentle him at the blink of an eye…and others who would do worse,”

Moiraine sighed. “Between us you and I have read the Prophecies of the Dragon – it doesn’t mention interfering Aes Sedai. He should fear us, Siuan, for what the Reds would do,”

“We will make him trust,” Siuan said firmly, eyes glowing with excitement. “For trust us he must,”

It was long into the night they talked, discussing the Prophecies and what this meant for the world.

~

The Four Accepted trembled outside the Hall of the Tower. They wore their Accepted dresses for the last time. Leane arrived last, flushed and out of breath.

Siuan raised an eyebrow.

“What?” The Domani said defensively. “There was a really nice refugee boy among the injured – good thing one of the yellows healed him,”

Sheriam rolled her eyes, while Siuan and Moiraine looked scandalized. Cairhienins usually wore dour colours and sneered at those who exposed more of their bosom than absolutely necessary. Folk from Tear where exactly the same.

“Enter!” The voice boomed from within.

All four hurriedly straightened their dresses and pushed open the door. Light! The hall was huge!

All the sitters where there, with Tamra looking considerably haggard and the Keeper’s place empty. All wore their shawls, with the flame of Tar Valon on their backs.

Tamra got to her feet, staring down at the four Accepted. The Amyrlin Seat – the Throne, not the person – stood a little higher than the other chairs in the rooms. She paused once to adjust her cowl, and then said in a loud voice: “I am Tamra Ospenya, the Amyrlin Seat, The Watcher of the Seals, The Flame of Tar Valon. I am a woman,” As if to emphasise this, she pulled down her dress to reveal her breasts.

Moiraine went purple. Her mouth dropped open and to her side, Siuan was spluttering. Tamra raised an eyebrow and Siuan stopped abruptly. She had only ever she this kind of debauchery at New Year…

Light, what was the woman thinking?

Sheriam didn’t look too comfortable either, but Leane was doing her best impersonation of being an Aes Sedai. Suddenly, all the other Aes Sedai began pulling down their dresses and proclaiming they where woman also and Moiraine felt her mouth go dry with every ruffling of fabric.

Tamra turned to the Accepted. “Are you also women?” She demanded.

Moiraine’s hands clenched at her dress. No. Certainly not. Certainly…certainly they did not expect them to pull down their dresses?

Leane stepped forward and half yanked down her dress, exposing her top half. “I am a woman,”

Moiraine groaned silently.

“I am a woman,” That was Sheriam. She was half naked too.

“I am a woman,” Siuan said, with a hint of embarrassment in her tone. Now Siuan’s dress was down about her waist.

Moiraine was the last one. She stared at the ground. “I am a woman,” She said in a surprising level voice. And with that, Moiraine pulled her dress down. She stood, eyes downwards, goose-bumps rising on her flesh.

There was a pause.

Tamra stalked among the assembled Aes Sedai, making sure they where all women.

As if a man could slip through, Moiraine thought wryly.

She gave a curt nod and everyone pulled their dresses up again. Except the Accepted. They stepped out of their dresses entirely.

Moiraine suddenly schooled her expression to impassiveness. Arms neatly folded beneath her breast, she stared up at Tamra, as if daring her to do something worse. Tamra motioned and the most senior member of the Sitters came forward – a White by the name of Renalli – if the hall was back to its normal state, this duty would be performed by the Keeper. She held the Oath Rod. She handed it to Tamra, curtseyed and backed away.

Tamra came to stand in front of Moiraine, regarding her with eyes that where full of…something. Worry? Amusement? Pride? It was hard to tell with that mask of serenity.

She handed the ter’angreal to Moiraine. “Swear this oath: I swear to speak no word that is not true,”

“I swear to speak no word that is not true,”

“I swear not to make a weapon with which one man can harm another,”

“I swear not to make a weapon with which one man can harm another,”

“I swear never to use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, in the last extreme defence of my own life, of my warder or another sister,”

“I swear never to use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, in the last extreme defence of my own life, of my warder or another sister,” Moiraine felt an instant prickling of the skin as she swore the last oath. “This I swear by the Light and hope of being Reborn, by the Tower and by this binding force,” Light, it was as if her skin had been tightened! She gasped, choking for breath.

Tamra smiled slightly, a bare curling of the lips. “Pledge to your Ajah,”

Moiraine hesitated. This she hadn’t given much thought. “Blue,”

There was a slight intake of breath. The two blue sisters stood up straighter.

She walked over to them – Merli and Jacun, was it? – and knelt before them. “I ask,” She murmured. “That I be accepted to you, Blue Sisters, that I will be bonded to you,”

The Blues laid a shawl about her shoulders. It was blue and Merli said: “We accept you, Moiraine Sedai,”

Moiraine felt a curious rush of exhilaration at that. She was an Aes Sedai! She curtseyed to them as she dressed in a dress of Blue Cotton that the Blues had provided and stood to one side.

The same went on with the rest and the hall was surprised that all of them chose Blue.

“You have certainly gained a boon today,” Tamra remarked, eyeing the new Aes Sedai.

“We have, Mother,” Jacun responded.

The Hall was dismissed and Siuan and Moiraine hovered nervously at the door. Tamra raised an eyebrow to them – damn that woman and her eyebrow! – as she came along with Renalli, Merean and Alinta – a sitter for the Yellow.

Siuan nudged her. Moiraine glared at her, but stepped forward: “Mother, we must speak with you. Privately,” She added this, with a pointed look at Renalli, Merean and Alinta.

“You have worn the shawl for ten minutes and you wish to speak to the Amyrlin Seat?” Merean repeated dubiously.

“Yes, Merean Sedai,” Moiraine stared the Mistress of the Novices down. Merean opened her mouth again to speak, but was cut across by Moiraine: “Merean, I mean no disrespect, but I have every right to speak with the Amyrlin as you do,”

“She is no longer an Accepted, Merean,” The Amyrlin Seat said mildly. “What is it you wish to speak about?”

Moiraine licked her lips nervously. “Perhaps it would be best -?” She motioned to the three Aes Sedai.

Tamra blinked. “You have gall, young one, and I think that maybe I will be indulgent this time,” She gestured and the three Aes Sedai left, shooting looks of worry over their shoulder. She turned to Moiraine and Siuan.

“I…yesterday, with Gitara,” Moiraine began and instantly regretted it. Tamra’s face clouded over for an instant with worry and grief, and then flashed back to impassiveness.

“I assume,” Tamra said icily, her voice a strange contrast to her face. “You have a good reason for bringing that up?”

“Indeed, Mother,” Was all Siuan said.

Moiraine felt her face heat slightly. “We…we want to help,”

Tamra stared at them. “Help?”

“Yes,”

All the Amyrlin Seat’s cool posture evaporated. She threw back her head and laughed, as Moiraine went scarlet and Siuan frowned angrily. Eventually, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, she smiled kindly, with only a hint of she was patronising them about the slight curving of the lips. “Daughters, I appreciate your offer and I know of your accomplishments – some of the quickest and strongest we’ve had in years – but it would bear fruit if you remembered you where raised from Accepted a few minutes ago. I do not usually hand out assignments of that the world depends on to wet-behind-the-ears Aes Sedai,” Siuan bit her lip in what looked like frustration, but Moiraine knew it was to keep a vicious retort from creeping out. Tamra noticed and said mildly: “But, if you want to help-” Siuan’s head snapped up eagerly. “-you can collect the names from the woman who have given birth within the last ten days and offer them assistance. You were there yesterday and this morning the snow already melts. Light knows, the Dragon Reborn could be suckling at his mother’s breast inside Tar Valon at this very moment,” Siuan’s face dropped.

They left the Hall of Sitters dejectedly, somehow having been signed up to collect names from refugees. “Well,” Moiraine said lightly as they strode away. “That’s that,”

Siuan muttered something that might have been a grumble.

“Look, I know it’s not the result we were after, but -“

“Siuan Sanche!” A voice interrupted them. Moiraine jumped, cut off abruptly. Both turned to see Cetalia Delarme walking up behind them. “Congratulations,” She said absently, touching Siuan’s shawl. “I hoped you would pick Blue,”

Siuan gazed at her, astonished. Cetalia was a Blue as well, but had never shown any special interest in either her or Moiraine.

“I must speak with you,” She eyed Moiraine. “If you would excuse us, chi-Moiraine Sedai?”

“Of course, Cetalia,” She purposely didn’t use the ceremonial ‘Sedai’ to make sure Cetalia knew that she was no longer ‘child’ but an Aes Sedai.

Cetalia’s mouth tightened but she nodded and led Siuan off.

Moiraine stood alone in the hallway, awkward. She frowned, pushing her hands into the pocket of her dress, a habit she would have to break if she was ever to be looked upon as something other than ‘child’. She went back to her quarters in the Accepted portion of the Tower. She would have to get new rooms, she thought vaguely, as she slipped into a fine dress of blue silk that she had brought with her from the Sun Palace and had never worn before.

Siuan burst into her rooms, still wearing the blue cotton dress. “Light! The nerve of that woman!”

“What?” Moiraine asked, draping her shawl around her shoulders.

“That wool-brained idiot! All I’ve ever wanted was both of us to get the shawl and get the hell out of this Tower and now I’m stuck with Cetalia! Light, the Blues-eyes-and-ears will survive without someone to sort through the reports -” She stopped, eyes widening. “Light! Don’t tell anyone about that! I wasn’t supposed to tell,”

Moiraine nodded. “Alright,”

Siuan sniffed. “Well, I certainly can’t go and collect names now! My days are full for the next week…apparently no one has even tried to sort out these reports since my predecessor died,”

“What?” Moiraine stared at her in horror. “You mean I’ll have to go out on my own, collect names because of an idea you had?”

Siuan smiled sheepishly. “In a nutshell,”

~

Moiraine concentrated. The small trick of ignoring the cold seemed to be working and she let the wind tear at her cloak without concern of catching cold. If anything, people would know she was Aes Sedai as she wasn’t shivering.

She glanced at the small book she carried. This morning it had been empty, now half its pages were covered with carefully copied down names.

Recent advents had made of think of Mezra’s fate and put it aside, putting all her energy into work. Or so she told herself. Moiraine knew it would be a long time before she would stop having nightmares of the old nurse and the Dragon combined.

Light, how many bloody women gave birth the past ten days?

Rubbing gloved hands together as her concentration slipped, she strode towards a woman sitting atop a black stallion, a man dressed in Illian’s solder garb by her side holding the horse’s reins. A small bundle was wrapped in the folds of her velvet cloak.

“Good morning,” Moiraine said politely, inclining her head to the woman and man.

“‘Morning, Aes Sedai,” The man said, both bowing their heads.

Moiraine smiled at being recognised for what she was. “Excuse me, but we are doing a census of sorts, what with all the births in the recent days. May I ask you who you are?”

The woman peered down at Moiraine, soft locks of dark red hair curling at her shoulders. Blue eyes riddled with intelligence, amusement and warmth smiled at her. “Of course, Aes Sedai,” She said. “I am Kari. Kari Al’Thor,”

The End