Marion paced the hall outside of her sister’s room nervously. Today was Aubrea’s eleventh naming day, and that meant another Aes Sedai, another testing. Aubrea was a sweet girl, a bit shy perhaps, but she did not deserve to have her dreams dashed. Going to the White Tower was still a mantle of pride for the Caldwin girls, even if Marion had failed so badly. Their own mother had left the Tower as an Accepted, too weak in the Power to wear the shawl, but still, she had been trained there. After hearing Mistress Caldwin had three girls, the Aes Sedai had become very interested in their family.
The door squeaked open and Aubrea peeked out. Marion looked at her little sister solemnly, then ruffled her hair. “You’ll do great, Aubrea!” she said, a bit more optimistically than she felt. For Aubrea’s sake, Marion did hope the girl would pass the test, though that would mean another sister at the White Tower and Marion left behind, all alone this time. Had it really been eight years since she’d heard from Alexa? Marion had regularly written letters to her sister for some months after her failure, but Alexa’s had stopped immediately after. She smiled at Aubrea and ushered the girl out the door. “The Aes Sedai will be here soon.”
The two walked down the stairs together in time to witness the arrival of the guest. Marion twisted her lips. Cyneria again. The woman hadn’t aged a day. A surge of memories flooded Marion and she steadied herself against the bannister as she descended the stairs. She had to be strong, for Aubrea’s sake.
The Aes Sedai regarded the two girls as they entered the room. Was it her imagination or was the Aes Sedai smiling at Aubrea? Do Aes Sedai smile? Marion thought ruefully. Marion stood protectively behind her sister as the girl sat before the Aes Sedai.
“Now then, Aubrea, I want you to picture a rosebud in your mind. Can you see it?”
Aubrea nodded, and Marion’s heart sunk. If the Aes Sedai was giving her this much attention, it could only mean Aubrea would be heading to the Tower too. She sat watching the exchange, distracted by her own selfish thoughts. A small flame erupted from Aubrea’s hand, startling Marion back to the reality that faced her. Aubrea grinned, pride beaming from her. Marion’s cheeks burned with the shame she felt at not being happier for her sister. This was the dream of the Caldwins after all, and if they could produce two Aes Sedai… She looked at the scene: Aubrea grinning, her parents hugging and smiling at each other. Marion took a deep breath and forced a smile on her face. If she pretended to be happy, maybe it wouldn’t sting as much. How long would it be before she’d stop hearing from Aubrea too?
“You should make arrangements for the girl to come to the White Tower immediately,” Cyneria spoke. “She must be entered into the Book of Novices and start her training in all haste. I sense a great deal of ability in her.”
Mistress Caldwin beamed at the compliment. Marion looked at her mother, jealousy creeping through her. She knew the woman would only ever regard her as a failure. She swallowed trying to draw some moisture into her mouth and spoke weakly. “I’ll escort her to Tar Valon.”
She struggled to maintain her composure under her parents’ gaze. “Oh, Marion, she’ll need a proper escort to Tar Valon. The roads aren’t safe for two girls alone,” her mother spoke.
Marion straightened, “Then I’ll go with the escort. Not much for me to do here anyway, and I’d like to see my little sister off. Besides, maybe I’ll see Alexa there,” she said, a pang of regret rushing through her.
Her parents whispered to each other, debating the proposition. Finally, Master Caldwin spoke. “You can go, Marion, but you’ll need to return after Aubrea’s been initiated. You’ll be taking over the family business after all, and you’re at the age where you should be thinking about a proper suitor…”
Marion winced. While Alexa and Aubrea got to live out their days as Aes Sedai, she would be stuck here, tending the family business and doting on her husband, whomever he may be… She couldn’t imagine a more droll prospect for her life. At least I get to go on one last adventure with my sister, she thought. She looked at Aubrea. The girl was beaming, any hint of shyness gone for the moment. Marion tried to let go of her jealousy, her fear, her hurt. Her sister was happy, and that should be all that mattered.
That night, after the name day activities were done, Marion busied herself packing for the journey ahead. “Marion…” Her father’s voice startled her, and she turned to look at him. He looked flustered, perhaps even a bit embarrassed. He heaved a heavy sigh and placed a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Marion, you know your mother and I love you, whether you have the potential to be Aes Sedai or not, right? And you know that we’re proud of you?”
“I know,” Marion lied.
“I have a gift for you, for the road. King Galldrian gave it to me himself for the latest maps I made of Cold Rocks Hold.” He held out a long, thin package. Marion took the package and opened it, revealing a heavy, curved sword. She took it out carefully, eyeing it as if it were a snake in her hand.
“Thank you father, but I don’t know how to use this…”
“Take some time to train with the guards on your trip north. You never know when such a skill may come in handy.”
Marion set the sword down and hugged her father, burying her face into his chest. After the man left her room, Marion tentatively buckled the sheathed sword onto her waist and looked at herself in the mirror. The baldric hung loosely on her hips, obviously made for someone bigger, more muscular than her. The sword was a bit too long for her frame and knocked upon the ground awkwardly as she walked. She sighed. Who was she kidding? She was no swordsman. She was a map-maker and a soon-to-be wife to some merchant. Demoralized, she unbuckled the belt and continued packing her belongings. When she finished, she plopped into bed and slept fitfully.
The two girls, accompanied by a small entourage of well-trained men, left for Tar Valon at first dawn. At long last, Marion would see the city that stole her sisters away.