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The Wheel Turns
#1
The night was still, like a held breath; though maybe that was her own, caught like ice in pained lungs. She should not be out after last bell at all, but this time it was both rule and custom she flouted as she trod a familiar route through tower grounds. Her skin still chilled from memory, exhaustion a shadow that hounded her steps. There had been no guards on the door, though she doubted even her silver tongue could undo the trouble she’d find herself snared in if caught. Had a woman ever been denied after passing the final tests? She did not know, and she doubted the Aes Sedai would speak of it if it were so. Courting trouble was not a new endeavour for Nythadri, but even she might feel the sharp sting of regret should it cost her everything she had worked for these past years. Light fingers traced the cold serpent squeezing her finger, but it was the letter folded in her belt pouch that mired her thoughts.

She had barely had time to comprehend the note’s contents before her calling, but she had read it through twice now, until she needed the words no longer. Family was a shackle she shed easily the day she donned the white, though truthfully its hold had loosened long before Karina Sedai brought her to the Tower. Nythadri had long been at peace with that stillness -- the light knew she had always been a poor daughter. But Jai churned up those settled waters when he waded through blood to return Tashir’s pendant, and still the ripples of consequence tied pretty strings about her wrists. 

She paused beneath the boughs of a tree, its long skyward-reaching fingers obscuring the spangle of stars above. She did not search for constellations she recalled from the arms of the Aryth, nor allowed fresher memories to stir. Despite the desire, she’d always quashed the urge to write him in Arad Doman, even in those soft moments when she remembered the mumbled story he’d told before falling asleep in her lap. He promised the world like she was deserving of the gift, but she would never ask for it. Better for him to forget.

Better for her, too, though she never did.

Her eyes half lidded, jaw tense, but she set the thoughts aside. She would not think of the test.

In the letter, her father had been unforgivingly sparse with the truth. Mishael was shrewd enough to tally the rumours by now, though, and she had sent the pendant home to him before knowing the full grim story, and how it would tie her to it. He had accused her of involvement the day he signed the paperwork in Tar Valon, brushed away easily at the time, but since then news of Black Tower recompense spread of necessity to calm the city. He clearly smelled the lie, a blame that did not wound her. Bound by the secrets she must keep now, she could not afford to ignore him, yet what right did he have to ask a favour?

Ahead, two women shared a bench in the shadows. Nythadri paused, irritated that distraction had almost landed her in their laps. One she did not recognise, a woman with a strip of leather keeping raven locks from spilling over her cheeks, dressed like a man, but with the laces of her shirt loose enough to expose an expanse of pale bosom. The other she did though. The other was Aes Sedai. Light burn me for a fool. A Brown, though. Perhaps the Creator smiled, and the woman would not pause to investigate the pulse of familiarity that betrayed another channeler was near. The trees and darkness obscured all but the most direct of incidental glances, so long as she remained still. But Nythadri did not place much faith in luck.

“I am... sorry about Razmira, Eleanore,” the Aes Sedai said. Her accent slurred softly, the words little more than a whisper; not in effort of secrecy, but a habitual nuance of the speaker. Nythadri could not recall ever having spoken with this sister, but she did know Malaika’s reputation amongst the novices, and the rumours that surrounded her past. Few women could contemplate the collar without a shiver.

The other woman’s voice was as rich and deep as honey, but the laugh that followed was bitter. “The Wheel weaves as it wills, I suppose. Speak not of it.” She stood. Embroidery decorated the wide trousers that fell atop her boots. Her hand brushed hilt and heart beneath a short bow that the Aes Sedai acknowledged with a dip of her own head, before her attention drifted to something nestled in her lap. “Thank you for your help. I will not keep you further.”

“A sad task. I hope he found the mother’s embrace, no matter the end he chose.” Long legs took her away; she bore a warrior’s grace, but Nythadri did not think her one of the Warders. The woman’s light eyes caught her purposefully in passing, one brow raised in amusement or accusation, Nythadri could not tell. She did not pause, though, despite that she must have seen the white and rainbow-banded dress. Definitely not of the Tower. Prickled with a little guilt for things she ought not have heard, Nythadri glanced back at the Brown and wondered how easily she might now slip away.

“Each thread is precious, and deserving. To cut oneself free early, I cannot imagine the pain.” For a moment Nythadri thought the Aes Sedai oblivious to the departure of her companion, or perhaps murmuring quietly to herself, but presently she patted the seat of the bench beside her. Her dark eyes did not lift from the burden in her skirts -- and burden it must be, by the words and the soft hint of frown on her porcelain pale face. Malaika was thin as a reed, covered throat to ankle in dark wool. The straight silk of her hair melted into that darkness, so that she seemed almost incorporeal in the night air. A necklace of smokey quartz was her only visible adornment beyond the ring.

Nythadri hesitated, even knowing there was only one path forward. Fear did not root her, only disappointment in her own stupidity. Jai must be rubbing off. Whatever tangled emotion in her chest, leaving her room -- tonight, of all nights -- had been a pointless risk. Her hands tightened, until her nails punctured the soft flesh of her palm, and then she stepped out smoothly and sat as bid. No words escaped, and she smothered the fatalistic sigh threatening to spill. Her white skirts glowed softly in the half-light. The Aes Sedai could not fail to notice she had been joined by an Accepted. Still, she let the silence wash over her.

It was a dagger in the Aes Sedai’s lap, she realised, cradled in her hands. Her thumbs traced a sigil buried in the hilt, though Nythadri could not make it out. She knew better than to ask, of course.

“An ancient name. I did not expect that.” Malaika folded the weapon carefully in cloth, paying no apparent mind to her company. Her movements were slow and delicate, so that even an Ogier might approve of the deliberation. Sorrow tinged her words, yet the conversation Nythadri had overheard made it clear she had not known the man to whom the dagger had belonged. Discomfort for such raw emotion sensed in another warred with an edge of impatience to discover her punishment. The novices branded this one as soft-hearted as she was softly-spoken, but the leniency a sister might extend to them would likely differ from that given to a child they considered should know better, as the bands and ring attested.

“The sun is down,” she said after a moment more. Her head lifted to the pale marble of the buildings ahead, twisting and arching fearlessly into the night. She never met Nythadri’s eye, caught quite thoroughly in whatever currents swept her sad thoughts. She cradled her bundle with a touch of reverence as she stood. “An Accepted would not stray from her bed at such an hour, I think, and certainly not tonight. I’m quite sure I did not see you, child, but to be sure I will expect to see you tomorrow. I would welcome a sister’s company for the heavy task ahead.”

Nythadri’s expression betrayed little as she was left to her own company. A shiver burrowed, goosing the flesh of her arms with something not quite understood.

[[FYI this past life thread skips ahead of the currently posted timeline; it's after Nythadri goes back to the Kojima bank a second time and meets Andru, which hasn't been posted yet. That's about the last part before the old site died though. I'm rereading the books and feel like writing something in Randland.

Some context: Elly and Mal are both old characters of mine. Malaika is self-explanatory: a Seanchan Brown Aes Sedai. Eleanore was a character I inherited from another writer; she is a Blight-veteran who accompanied a Brown from the Blight (Razmira) expecting to be bonded, but was rejected. She has Malkieri blood on her mother's side, but was raised in Kandor. I can't find her bio, but that part is relevant to why she was able to recognise the origins of the dagger.]]
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#2
Gaiety swept the sitting room awash with voices and laughter oft as raucous as a tavern’s common room -- such a vast juxtaposition to the solemn oaths sworn this morning that even Nythadri found a rare smirk softening her lips. Stubbornness had set her path long before desire, yet prior to Lythia’s offer she had never countenanced to find herself here. She kept the emotion quite still, but it touched somewhere deep; somewhere she was still surprised to believe roots might grow.

Her new sisters had been free with gifts and advice to welcome a new woman into their fold, and not without a sense of humour. If they expected her to blush upon the presentation of some of them they should be disappointed by the sly smirk they received instead. Or perhaps not, given the shameless gleam of amusement in some of those eyes.

But the Ajah’s welcome quietened by now, despite present appearances. Even Greens could not spare all day for celebration in these difficult times. Nythadri did not mind.

A green so deep as to touch turquoise smoothed her hips. The dress barely cupped her shoulders before sweeping beneath her collarbones, a darker brocade of curled vines and flowers hugging the bodice; one of three garments found hanging in the rooms she had been told now belonged to her. Luxury seemed a long distant companion, but she did not miss the shapeless white. Even so the ring rested on the finger it always had, catching soft in the light as she twitched the heavy drapes for a taste of freedom waiting beyond.
 
The years had stretched long. She had not lied to Jai about that.

Duty still waited patiently, of course, but even its looming promise could not dampen a lightness in her chest she tried desperately not to dwell on, lest it prove as fragile as she suspected. She thought about the Brown and her dagger, too, for distraction. It seemed stranger in daylight, igniting curiosity that had remained buried last night -- and even now she was not so sure the interest would not somehow burn her. But perhaps that discomfort stemmed only from the new tightness of her skin, like the oaths sucked everything close to the bone. Somewhat foolishly, she had already tried to test those new boundaries, but it had been both painful and futile. 

Soft laughter drew her pale gaze away, joined by a steering arm. Maylis smelled faintly of the meadowsweet she must use in her baths. Dark hair swept away from her face, held by carved combs in the shape of leopards. A thin white scar curved with the slope of her left cheekbone, bright against her deep olive complexion, but she wore it like a jewel. A few strands of silver grew where the old wound met her hairline. “Sit with me for a while, sister.”

The tea had long cooled, the remains of the food all but picked clean from the sturdy porcelain dishes. The Aes Sedai sat with her arm draped along the back of the stuffed couch, legs crossed beneath her skirts, lounging with all the predatory grace of the wild cats pinning back her curls. Her gaze swept the room as Nythadri joined her, not bothering to suppress the weighing measure of it. A low hum of somewhat dry amusement escaped Nythadri’s throat, but she indulged what she expected was coming.

Several Aes Sedai had shrugged off any attempt at subtly to point out to her those unbonded, listing talents and flaws as they saw them, but no one had yet spoken of the tall Kandori woman who moved among them. Nythadri had recognised her amongst those gathered; a selection that had inevitably included those who used the warder’s training fields but were not students. Today her blouse was soft mauve and tailored to exhibit a woman’s form beneath a coat that flared over her hips, though her manner with those around her lacked obvious flirtation. Rather she looked at ease among compatriots. 

She might no longer be Accepted, but Malaika had no need of assurances that Nythadri would attend her as instructed, in gratitude of her silence if nothing else. Yet somehow Nythadri doubted the Brown had thought to send her.

“The Borderland woman. Do you know who she is?”

Maylis’s head tilted. If she were intrigued or surprised by the question, she did not show it. Female warders were still not so common, but they existed amongst the Greens more than anywhere else. “Eleanore Candevin Aramorgran. She escorted a Brown Sister whilst the woman ambled around recording flora in the Blight -- the Light only knows what she was thinking, with no gaidin to see her safely. Worse, Razmira has no thought for the grave insult of letting that one go the moment her feet touched Tower soil. Browns, for you.” Her hands gesticulated lazily as she spoke. It clicked the puzzle of Malaika’s apology, as well as the root of such an unusual association; the question she had truly been curious of, but Maylis continued on. “She set her sights on Milene Auri next.” The Aes Sedai clicked her tongue in irritation. “Foolish to contemplate a Sister who married her Warder, only then to wonder at her burnt fingers. Foolish too not to realise a sister does the choosing and not the other way around. Now she swears a need to return north and for home. A vital waste.”

Nythadri listened quietly, content to let the other do the talking. If Eleanore noticed or minded their study of her, she did not show it, though she must have felt the crawl of eyes. Maylis was not circumspect, even if her gaze was a warm one.

Something still tickled though; something she could not quite put her finger to, but felt like a growing knot in her stomach. Those from the Borderlands numbered high among Tower numbers, and it was unlikely Malaika did not have an Ajah sister she could have taken the dagger to, if she suspected that to be where it had come from.

“She appears to wear a hadori.”

“A claimed bloodline somewhere on her mother’s side, I believe. She does not seem to care that it is a male custom or that Malkier was a grave long before she was born.” Maylis tilted her shoulder in some sort of shrug, a southerner herself, but it was Nythadri she turned to watch now. Amusement danced, not unkindly. “You surprise me. I had wagered you would have set your sights elsewhere. A foolish notion, of course. Asha’man make poor Warders. Even Lia saw the truth of that when she finally bonded Tess. Our brothers are essential, of course, but not for that...”


The rooms were probably grander than those in which she had spent her childhood, or maybe her memories had been washed clean by the simplicity of years calling the Tower home. She noticed little of it, and probably appreciated it less than she should. The privacy, though; that she craved acutely as the ornate doors clicked shut and she stood for a moment’s breath in the anterooms. Her fingers worked through her dark tresses, easing the gnaw of a headache born of last night’s sleepless vigil. Afterwards Nythadri stared a moment at her hands; at the serpent ring and the embroidered cuffs of her sleeves. She had never doubted her dedication, even before it was what she wanted. Had never doubted this day would arrive. But it felt unreal. And came at what cost?

It felt like a betrayal, that was it. She was dismayed to realise her hands were trembling before she balled them. The weight of the reaction was perhaps delayed, but it was crushing. Memories that felt real, even though she assured herself they were confined to the ter’angreal. Maylis spoke gently against the bonding of an Asha’man, but Nythadri did not need the preaching, if not necessarily for the reasons the sister believed. She had seen Jai die. In a test or a false world or a dream, but she had seen it, and it had been as real as the heart pounding pain in her chest. To ever have to feel it too. That would assuredly break her.

Light.

It was unlikely to ever come up between them, given the paths they strode. A small blessing. But the knife-edge the damned man walked remained, as it always would. She had accepted that when he had been little more than a pleasant distraction in an ocean away from duty; an easy thing to dismiss, then. But she had accepted it still when she’d gathered him close and thanked the Creator the Black Tower had not yet broken him.

And she would accept it again, when the memory of the screaming faded.

Her palms brushed her cheeks, vaguely surprised to find them come away damp. But control returned now, soothing the lapse. In this world, Jai was not dead. In this world, she would not allow it to happen.

She doubted he kept tabs on the Tower, or on her. Even if he did, it would take time for him to discover she had been raised to the shawl, and maybe he would not come even if the news came directly from her; she knew his feelings on Aes Sedai. The desperate desire to see him safe and whole warred with the need to keep a distance, at least until the wound began to heal and she might look at him without remembering. The Arches faded, in time. This would too.

Her footsteps echoed on polished wooden floors. She would take a moment to collect herself, and then she would seek out the Brown as promised. Somehow it did not surprise her for her first act as Aes Sedai to be serving a penance, the thought prompting a dry smile as she pushed through the door into the sitting room.

And found herself filled with saidar.

A woman perched on one of the chairs. Hair as fiery as an Aiel’s hung sleek and motionless to her shoulders, and a smattering of freckles brushed her nose and cheeks. Talin had never really committed to revealing her country of birth, and Nythadri had never seen reason to pry, though she had her suspicions. The woman dressed in sky-blue silks today, studded at bust and hem with buds and blooms of bright yellow flowers, a girlish embellishment to her severe expression.

“Blood and bloody ashes, Talin!” Nythadri dropped hold on the Power, relief and annoyance battling in equal waves. She did not smooth the irritation from her expression. This suite felt like it belonged to a stranger still, but it did not gratify her to find someone within it, uninvited. 

“Congratulations, sister.” A queer smile lifted her lips. She did not comment on the foul language, though her brow flickered. Talin had had few friends amongst the Accepted, and Nythadri would have named their own relationship a friendship of convenience -- and expected Talin to view it the same. Few had dared practise the hundred weaves with this one, with good reason, but Nythadri had tolerated the more cruelly minded of her inclinations in order to learn quickly. Sometimes they had studied together beyond that, but she had not expected to find the woman here, nor for their association to transcend their once shared goal for the shawl -- let alone the chasm of their Ajahs, now. Talin had chosen Yellow, some months before.

Ignoring the other woman, Nythadri sank into the cushions of another chair. She’d not suffer airs and graces for a woman she’d scrubbed pots with. Fortunately Talin did not enjoy small talk any more than she did, so she did not imagine this anything close to a simple social call, no matter the first congratulatory words from her mouth. She slid the slippers from her feet and tucked them under her, pale gaze patient, knowing the ease of her manner would probably irritate. She felt Talin calculating the situation, but did not mind herself with it. “I’d offer you tea, but I’ve had more than my fill for one day, and I doubt you care for the nicety either.” She rested her head on her fist and felt her muscles ease. A small smirk softened the otherwise sharp words. “Although I must say, it’s pleasant to see a familiar face. Even if it’s yours.”

Talin’s eyes rolled and an absent gesture with her fingers brushed the words away. Her back remained rigid; she sat like a small bird in a tree, with her hands resting soft in her lap and her bright gaze intent. “You took your time, you know. With your strength it should have taken half the years it has. Such a gift to squander. You ought to grow better at breaking the rules and getting away with it, Nythadri.”

She did not stop the genuine laugh as it spilled, glad for the release. Talin would deny the words for banter, and maybe she truly did mean them as an insult, but Nythadri had always appreciated that shocking candor. “Light, Talin, I think I missed you.”

Her head tilted like maybe she accepted a compliment, or simply because she did not always understand Nythadri’s reactions. “Still, I am glad. Truly. Late is better than never.” She smoothed the fabric over her thighs, lips pursed. It reminded Nythadri of something Lythia had said, about earning the shawl before the Last Battle grasped the world by the throat, and it sobered her somewhat as she watched Talin glance briefly at the room around them. Nythadri had had no hand in its decor, of course, but it was ostentatiously Green. Talin’s distaste brushed against the weapons mounted on the walls. She sighed.

“The Dragon breaks the world, if he does so slowly. Our world will change, sooner or later. I mean to survive it, of course. Don’t we all.” Her gaze moved away from the crossed swords above a mantel. Her tone was casual, as though she spoke of no more than surviving a particularly nasty storm. Nythadri let her talk. Talin would come to the point sooner or later, and Nythadri was content to let her do so in the manner she wished. “The Tower clings to old ways, old traditions, old thinking. None of these things will allow it to survive, yet it will not countenance the new.”

“You’re not in trouble?” Nythadri interrupted suddenly, the hint of a small frown creasing her brow. Talin followed laws to the very letter, and had rarely been punished for insubordination the entire time they had trained together, but Nythadri suspected she needed them laid bare in black and white. The woman's internal compass did not fare so well when left to spin its own direction. 

Though, light, what did she intend to do about it if so? She needed less bloody trouble not more.

“Of course not.” Talin sounded surprised, perhaps a little offended. A brow rose. “I just mean that I think it important for youth such as us to stick together. We are not impeded by the same… prejudices. We see some things the same, you and I. I value that.” There was earnestness in her expression, but little of true emotion. She let the words soak, then stood smoothly, like an accord had been met. Nythadri did not rise, but her head tilted in silent contemplation. After a moment she nodded, unsure to what she agreed, but certain she preferred Talin for an ally. The woman smiled, a small flicker of her lips. Little touched her eyes, it never did, but she seemed satisfied. “If an opportunity arose, I think you would see it the same way as I, and would act accordingly. I shall see myself out, sister.”
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