The girl laid prone on the edge of the embankment, trailing her fingers through the water. The sun glinted off the darting silver of the minnows, and she giggled to herself as she tried to touch them. She dug her feet into the ground and pushed herself forward to reach better. She loved the smell of the forest, and the "crick" sound that the sticks made when she stepped on them. She loved the little bugs crawling through the dirt, and the little birds that trawled after them. It was fall, and the colours of the leaves were even prettier than rainbows. A squirrel chittered in the trees, alerting her to a disturbance.
"By the Creator Erynn, there you are!" She glanced up at her sister in alarm before getting hauled to her feet. A few rough strokes of Anya's hands and the leaves had been brushed from her cloak. She cringed inwardly at the expression on her sister's face. The corners of her lips turned down further, "Erynn, you CANNOT go wandering in the trees alone. How many times do I have to tell you that?" Anya shook her hard, "Do you want to end up in a trolloc cookpot?"
Tears crept into the corners of her eyes and she stared at the ground. She'd never seen a trolloc, of course, but there were lots of drawings. They were scary, but they didn't come here. The soldiers had to go far away to find them.
An exasperated sigh cut into her thoughts and Anya scooped up her hand. "What are we going to do with you!?"
She half-ran, half-skipped alongside her sister's brisk pace, her boots scuffing the dirt. Before too long, they were approaching the training square again. She didn't really know why they called it a square, because it wasn't a square. It was a rectangle. A long skinny one, surrounded by buildings and lean-tos. The children her age practiced on what she knew was the south end. Anya grabbed a small practice sword from one of the barrels as they walked past and handed it to her, directing her towards a straw-filled dummy. "Go practice your aim".
Erynn swung at the dummy, watching her sister from the corner of her eye. Anya was whispering furiously at Cowin, her training leader. Whack! She knew he was good with the sword because Larissa had said he practiced with the men. Whack! She also said he was handsome. Whack! Erynn wrinkled her nose at the idea. Whack! Whack! He stared after Anya as she walked off, and Erynn thought he looked sad.
Cowin turned his attention to Erynn and glared at her. "Why do you keep wandering off into the trees!?"
Staring at him mutely, she tried to figure out a way to explain, but then he swung his practice blade towards her. Startled, she instinctively brought her sword up to parry him, but he was angry, striking at her faster than usual. She stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, crying out and holding her arm.
He darted forward and gently grabbed her wrist. "Erynn, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to get hurt". He helped her sit up and rotated his hand, demonstrating what he wanted her to do. "Does it hurt when you do this?"
She copied the movement and shook her head. As he helped her stand he called to a dark haired boy who was tying a pony to a ring nearby, "Calion! Get over here!" The boy turned and ran over, a jaunty grin on his face.
"Hey Cowin." His grin fell as Cowin gestured to Erynn.
"Can you take Erynn home please, she's Halon's sister".
Calion frowned and started speaking, "but the pony...", before Cowin cut him off.
"I'll take care of it. Hold her hand Calion, and don't let go".
Erynn was dancing around the dummy, tapping all the contact points with the round cap on the end of her blade, when she heard the door swing closed. Spinning around, she saw Cowin standing on the paving stones, a pained expression on his face. "Anya kicked me out of her rooms again".
She shrugged and pointed a gloved hand towards a nearby crate, "Larissa gave me honey cakes for my name day, you can have some if you like, they always make me feel better".
"Oh, Erynn, those are yours, I wouldn't eat your cakes". He was holding her father's practice blade, and a twinge of worry ran through her. He was posted at a border fort, but they hadn't had word from him or her brother in months.
Cowin cocked his head questioningly, "Will you spar with me though?"
In response, she simply dropped into a fighting stance and raised her sword. They sparred, and pretty soon they were both grinning. Even though he was going easy on her as always, she struggled to get a hit in. Eventually she huffed, exasperated, "I cannot even touch you anymore!"
Cowin laughed at her, "It's because you're so short, and", he paused, snatching the dulled sword from her hand, "Larissa's sword is about two pounds too heavy for you".
She leapt for the sword, "Hey, give that back, my old one is too small!"
With a mischievous grin, he replied, "I know", then turned his head and glanced towards the corner of a lean-to, "Do you see something under the stairs!?"
"What!?", with a puzzled frown Erynn walked over to the stairs and poked her head underneath. "There's something...". Wiggling backwards, she pulled out a sack cloth bundle and undid the wrappings. She gasped, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "It's beautiful!" She ran her fingers along the design carved into the wooden sheath. A flower covered vine ran the length of it and continued up to wrap around the hilt and pommel. Grasping the hilt, she drew her new practice sword. It was the perfect length for her, and thin, though not as thin as a real sword could be.
He smiled, "I know how you love to collect your flowers."
She snapped her eyes towards him, huffing, "They aren't flowers, they are herbs!" As he put his hands up in resignation Erynn ran to him and hugged him fiercely, "Thank you, I love it". She moved back and picked up the sword, swishing it through it air. Excitement coloured her tone, "The next time I see Cal, I'm going to beat him so good".
Cowin idly scratched the side of his face, "Do you think I should come for your tea, or will that make Anya madder?"
Erynn peered at him, a knowing look in her eye, "She's still sore at you because Leanne is your carneira".
He leaned against a tree and crossed his arms, "I know why, Erynn, she just doesn't have to be. We are going to be married after all".
Eyebrows reaching for the sky, she exclaimed, "How do you know that!?"-
He picked up the sack cloth wrappings from the ground and started folding them, "Because I know how these things work, little girl, our mothers have been talking about it for years".
She schooled her face to serenity and squared her shoulders, "I'm hardly a little girl anymore".
"Oh, is that so?", his grin was teasing, "I do not see a ki'sain on your forehead!"
She mock scowled at him, but her lips tipped up at the corners and gave her away. She extended her arm for him to take, "Lets go in and eat. Today is my name day, and you are my guest. You'll just have to make her laugh so she isn't mad at me. Also. If she wallops you, I'll make you a salve".
He chuckled. "Deal".
Calion was laying across her bed with his head in her lap, reading her leather-bound notebook. She ran her fingers absently through his shoulder-length hair and stared at the pine-scented candle on her night stand.
"Erynn, are you listening to me?" She peered into his eyes and shook her head as he laughed and tossed the book aside, "I was just saying how you've got quite the collection of plants recorded in that...", the sentence faded as he frowned at the expression on her face. He sat up, pulling a finely woven throw over her legs. "Tell me what's wrong".
"Cal, I think there's something wrong with me".
He grabbed her hand and leaned back into the bed cushions, pulling her into his side. "What do you mean?"
Erynn threaded her fingers through his and leaned into him. "I don't dream anymore".
Laughing lightly, he replied, "What, that's it? I don't dream that often".
Her brows drew together as she replied, her voice laced with concern, "No, I mean, not at all, not in almost a year". She struggled to explain, "It's this feeling. That they're still there and yet not. I don't see anything, or remember. I don't know what to tell you, but it's deeply unsettling".
His smirk faded. "Have you spoken to Mavin about it?"
Giving him a look, she replied, "Of course I have".
"Right, of course you have."
She shifted slightly, moving her arm to a more comfortable position. "You're right, it's probably nothing".
"I didn't say it was nothing". He frowned at her. "You know, there's an Aes Sedai in the capital right now. Someone mentioned it from my patrol group".
She arched an eyebrow incredulously, "You think I should bother an Aes Sedai because I don't dream?"
"I don't know, Erynn, but I think you deserve to be punished for the look you're giving me!" He tickled her until she started coughing. As he patted her back he advised her, "Maybe you should ask your mother about the Aes Sedai".
Resting her head on Larissa's door, Erynn continued speaking, "Please Lare, let me say goodbye".
Her mother was calling from down the hall, telling her to hurry. Kneeling before the polished oak, Erynn slid her notebook under the gap in the bottom of the door. As she hurried to the sitting room, her mother threw a fur-lined crimson cloak around her shoulders.
Erynn shook her head, "Not this one, Relaya Sedai said that I wouldn't get to keep anything, we may as well leave it here".
Her mother tsked at her, "No daughter of mine is going to show up at the Tower looking like a beggar".
She didn't argue. There was no point. She accepted the proffered coin purse and buckled it onto her belt. Her mother handed her a sack with snacks and a midday meal. Her satchel contained clothes for traveling, and nothing more. She had given the rest of her things away.
Her farewell party was small. Her mother, Anya, and the twins. She had bid Mavin and her closest friends goodbye over the last few days. Cowin and Calion had been away at the northwestern fort for the last three weeks.
She hugged them all silently - they had already done plenty of talking, and Anya's little girls gave her bleary-eyed kisses. With a wave, she pulled up her hood and headed down the stairs and into the cold.
She was kicking the snow off her boots on the coach step when Larissa's voice rang through the darkness, "Erynn, wait!"
Erynn turned to see her sister running from the glowing doorway, still in her night dress and bare feet. She threw her arms around Erynn's shoulders in a fierce embrace and then stepped back, pressing a letter into her hand. "Don't forget me". Trembling from the cold, Larissa spun and fled back inside, the heavy door slamming shut behind her.
Inside the coach, Erynn ran through the rosebud exercise that Relaya Sedai had shown her, smiling to herself as she felt saidar fill her. Focusing intently, she managed to draw forth a coin-sized white light on her palm after the fifth try. It was the only thing she knew, and the Aes Sedai had warned her against trying anything else until she was given further instruction.
Unfolding the letter, she tilted her hand to read the contents. The writing was messier than Lare's usual neat script, an indication she had written it in a hurry.
Erynn let the little light wink out, and it seemed to get colder as saidar left her. She wondered if she would be old enough to forget them, one day."Erynn,
I am sorry about our argument, I don't want us to part on bad terms.
Since you're leaving forever, I guess I can tell you that I have always been jealous of you. Everyone has always paid attention to your antics, and I'm so tired of being forgotten. Father and Halon took you hunting with them before they disappeared, and I never even got to say goodbye. You somehow managed to get Cowin to give you personal training with the sword. Then, you got your ki'sain first and picked Calion. I thought you did it to spite me, Erynn, and I still think it sometimes when I'm particularly cross with you. Even healing. It was mine first, and Mavin never took more than one apprentice at a time until you followed me to her cabin. I just wish I could be better at things. Now you're going off to the Tower to become an Aes Sedai. At least I know you didn't pick this one on purpose.
I just hope that someday when you're wearing your yellow shawl you'll look back and remember the time you mixed up heartslung and wormwood. I'll never forget the look on Saritha's face when you made her drink that tea. I bailed you out that day, and I just want you to know that I'll always be there for you. Even if you are insufferable, you'll always be my little sister.
I love you. Don't forget me."
The white marble was cold beneath her stockinged feet and Erynn hurried to pull the rainbow-trimmed dress over her head so that she could put her shoes on. She itched to give into the draw of saidar and heat the floor, but the Tower didn't approve of using it for such menial tasks. At least, not until you were a Sedai. Hypocrites.
This room was still as plain and tiny as the last one, but at least she didn't have to share it with another girl. She actually had space to think. She had no sooner entertained the thought when a girl burst through the door and sat on the coverlet she was in the process of straightening. Erynn frowned, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow at Brianne. The girl was smiling wickedly, "I hope you do no have any plans this morning, Accepted".
Erynn rolled her eyes. When she had first come to the Tower, the girls had become fast friends, but Brianne had been there for years already, and nine months later their friendship had ended when she made Accepted. The chipper Illianer had wasted no time trying to rekindle things once Erynn was in matching clothes again. Brianne was constantly trying to rile her up by throwing the Accepted title at her every chance she got. Still, Erynn's interest was piqued. Brianne never fell back to her homeland speech unless she was excited.
"Okay Brianne, I'll bite, what's going on?"
"I was helping Thera Sedai with her history class last night when I overheard Elitheara and Janelle chit chatting. You know what I do hear?"
Elitheara and Janelle were shameless flirts who spent most of their time sneaking off to the practice yard and nearly as much time washing dishes in penance. Erynn suspected they would never apply themselves enough to face the Arches. She waved her hand at Brianne and spoke dryly, "Please, continue with this thrilling piece of information".
Throwing back her head and laughing, Brianne responded, "They did say there was a new gaidin apprentice who spoke to them". Seeing the nonplussed expression on Erynn's face, she continued, "They did say he asked after you".
Erynn stilled, momentarily stunned into silence. Who would have come to the Tower that she knew?
Brianne's grin slipped and her formal speech training slid back into place, "Erynn? I hoped you would be happy".
"I just...I need to go. Fix my coverlet would you?"
Startled, Erynn turned from her intent scanning to face an Aes Sedai she had never seen before. She curtsied, her notebook nearly sliding from her hand. "I'm doing a study on blade forms, Aes Sedai," Erynn blurted the words without thinking. That was technically true, she WAS doing a study on blade forms, she just didn't necessarily need to be standing in the practice yard and staring like a cracked goose to do it. She had also offered the information up unasked. What a chit.
The pretty Green arched an eyebrow, a hint of laughter dancing in her eyes. "My name is Ramandra Sedai, Accepted". Her eyes slid to focus on something behind Erynn. "I have some business to attend to currently, but I expect to see a copy of that study on my desk when you finish it". As she swept off, Erynn marveled at her poise. Blood and ashes, she could never wear a dress like that.
This time she recognized the voice behind her, but had barely dared hope at the possibility. A smile bloomed on her face as she spun to face Calion.
He moved to hug her and she stepped back awkwardly. Instantly his demeanor changed, posture stiffening and a guarded expression forming on his face. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me". He diverted his gaze, as if she were a stranger.
Her smile dropped a fraction, "Calion, I can't".
His reply was bitter, "Can't what, Erynn? Bear to see me?" Running a hand over his hadori and through his hair, he said, "I shouldn't have come".
"No, wool head, I can't touch you. I'll get sent to the farm".
He shook his head, "The farm...? Nevermind. I wasn't sure what you would say. You never even told me you were leaving. You left without saying goodbye".
She had said goodbye. In a letter that would reach him after she was gone. She hadn't known what to say. Sharing her feelings would only have made everything hurt more, for both of them. "I thought it was best". Her mind zeroed in on his first statement. "Say to what? Cal, why are you here?"
"By the Creator Erynn, just take the time to think about this before you reply", he paused and pulled something out of his pocket. Glancing down, she recognized the black and verdant weave immediately. It was his daori. A hint of vulnerability shone through when he said, "I've come to be your warder".
Erynn was wakened by the pulse of Cal's irritation in her mind. She sat up drowsily, pulling thin threads of air and fire to form a soft yellow light ball that hung in the air above her. He was fully dressed, his cloak blending into the darkness as he silently paced the room. "What are you doing?"
She caught a glimpse of his sword beneath the cloak as he spun to face her, "Erynn. We need to leave. The last letter from Larissa worries me. Things seem much worse than the reports we've been hearing".
Inwardly, Erynn agreed. She wasn't privy to much of the information from the eyes and ears network but certain Sisters had been tight-lipped and tense when she approached them about anything involving Malkier. A sure sign they were hiding things. "The Hall is still deliberating..."
"Curse the Hall!" Frustration was plain on his face, "Flaming Hall, flaming Tower, and flaming Noane for being a light-blinded fool! She has everyone in there talking when we should be moving!"
Erynn frowned and threaded her fingers together, idly massaging her palm with the ball of her thumb, "I agree Cal, but we need the Tower".
"Stay then, Erynn, and push your Ajah to stand for Malkier". His hand rested on his pommel as he continued, "but let me ride ahead". He pushed his cloak over his shoulder and sat on the edge of their bed, "Let me make sure our families are safe". He moved to tuck a strand of silvery hair behind her ear and rested his forehead against hers, "Please". The strength of his anticipation was tangible.
Fear slithered inside her, along with a twinge of jealousy. Masking the selfish emotions, she tried to think about everything logically, but she had never even been close to destined for the White. She wondered if his faith in her was misplaced. The Keeper had already intimated that her loyalty to the Tower was in question. Her decision to marry Calion had ostracized her in the eyes of many and her interest in Malkier only seemed to discredit her meager two years wearing the Shawl further. Maybe she was right. Erynn hadn't seen it when they burned her belongings from home, but the loss of mere possessions had never cut ties as cleanly as the Tower desired. Loyalty to the nation was bred into Malkieri bones. When she had turned her back on her home and family during the Arches she had certainly felt like a traitor afterwards. Calion had only magnified those feelings.
Nothing about this was simple, but she knew Cal like she knew herself. Some things had changed once he became her warder, but others hadn't. He no longer fought her tooth and nail as they had as children, but he would still brood.
She wanted to go with him, but something wasn't adding up. Lain's death, Larissa's unease, the report of an odd troop movement that Seryn had let slip. She might not be able to speak in the Hall but she felt like she was gaining traction with the Yellow. At least she hoped so, amongst all the sympathetic ears. She cleared her throat, "Alright".
"Peace Erynn! I expected to have to fight harder than that". He kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around him.
Her breath caressed his cheek as she spoke, "It's because you're right".
He squeezed her shoulders as he pulled away. "I'll meet you at the pass".
She nodded and responded, "See you there". There was nothing else to say. He could feel her love.
Erynn was among the first group of Sisters and their Warders that had been sent from the Tower. Though their army was as composed as one would expect, an underlying current of unease had been spreading. She pushed her spry gelding forward, swinging down to join a group of Sisters who had dismounted and were arguing vehemently. She heard Brianne dismount behind her.
Nyelin, a Green, turned her attention to Erynn, "Sister, where is your warder?"
The bond put him to the northeast, and she responded without hesitation, "The Seven Towers".
Though their faces betrayed nothing, collectively Erynn felt the shift in temperament at her answer, and she demanded, "Why?"
"Scouts just reported back", Nyelin spoke grimly, "Malkier has broken. They met a group of soldiers fleeing south, heading for Jehaan".
Erynn's heart leapt into her throat. It didn't seem possible. If the fight was over, why was Cal still up there? Her hand tightened around Staba's bridle, knuckles whitening. "He's still alive". She felt Brianne's hand fall to her shoulder.
Fidgeting with the edges of her gray Shawl, Juraile addressed the group, "As I said, we need to consider returning to the Tower before too many know of our presence. It's better to have decided not to come than to come and have failed".
Whispers assaulted Erynn's ears as her fury rose. Her tone was biting, "He is still alive! That means there is a chance that someone is still holding..."
Juraile cut her off, "Sister, if it was not for your wool-brained warder, Nacelle would be here instead. You may have knowledge of Malkier, but you have no say in this".
Nyelin's voice was rising, "This is not the Hall, she can speak if she wishes. Erynn is right, we have a duty to fight the Shadow. If her warder is still fighting we may be able to do something yet". Her fellow Greens murmured in agreement and another spoke, "We have wasted enough time talking - let us not waste any more here. There is a battle to be joined".
They silently remounted and continued on the road north, though they were a grim procession. Erynn struggled to keep her calm as scenarios ran through her mind. Since they bonded, she had never been this far from Calion before, and she wished she felt more from the bond than a sense of direction. She goaded her horse to a trot, but she wanted to gallop. Casting her gaze to the side, she saw Brianne staring at her with concern, but her friend offered no words of comfort. She couldn't lie.
They were still at least a half day's ride from Herot's Crossing when anguish seized her. Vision blurring, Erynn fell from her horse and screamed. No loss she had ever felt before compared to the empty desolation left inside her when the bond dissolved into nothing. Scrabbling in the dirt, she sobbed as her heart broke. She barely felt Nyelin's warder lift her from the ground, or Brianne's fingertips on her forehead. She was only dimly aware of Juraile speaking through the haze of her grief before her vision went black.
Ten years ago.
She tried to focus on the detailing of the plant, but the girl had drawn a crane in the background of the picture, and her eyes kept drifting to it.
"Aes Sedai?" The Novice's voice was timid.
Erynn looked up at the girl, she could have been Larissa's twin, "Yes child?"
"Your quill...the ink is leaking onto your shawl".
She glanced down as another drop fell, the ink splattering and running along the daffodil coloured weave like a spider's web. Shifting her hand, Erynn deposited the quill into the carved ebony holder on her desk. "Thank you...", the sentence died in a cough. She had nearly called the girl Larissa, the Oaths the only thing stopping her from voicing the thought.
The Novice shifted nervously, "Calliana, Aes Sedai". Another unwanted reminder, the name was so close...
"Calliana, this is lovely work". Erynn passed the drawing back to her, smiling softly, "Do the bluewort and chainleaf as your next assignment, you can go to your next appointment".
Her brows drawn in concern, the girl glanced at the time piece on the wall. "I have a few minutes Aes Sedai, I can bring you some tea if you wish." She fiddled with the edges of her drawing, looking as if she was going to speak again, but remained silent.
"Thank you Calliana, but no", Erynn waved the girl off, already writing session notes into the girls notebook. Hearing the soft click of the door, she leaned forward on the desk, massaging her temples. Even after thirty years, this time of year was always difficult. Sometimes less so, this one had so far been the worst in many. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to regain her serenity. All the girls, they would be grandmothers now. The boys...they had been men to her once, but were boys once more. In a different world they probably would have been lost to the Blight by now anyway...except Calion. The regret of letting him ride ahead clung to her like a dead thistle on a cur. He would have been angry but it would have abated with time, and he would be with her still. She ran her finger softly over the golden crane earring in the top of her ear, crafted from the molten remains of her wedding band. Noane had disapproved of the earring nearly as much as the marriage. Nevertheless, Erynn still had it in her heart to be grateful the Amyrlin had given her consent.
Cowin. Erynn still couldn't match the boy she had known with who he had become. The wounds of his betrayal had never healed. How could they, with an entire nation lost to the Blight. Grasping her hands behind her neck, she curled into herself. For the thousandth time, she wondered if Anya had known. Erynn knew the pointlessness of this countless spiral, but her insomnia-fueled exhaustion would not let it stop. She considered asking Brianne to push the fatigue away again, but knew her Sister would wish to speak to her about it. She had nothing left to say.
With a thin stream of air, she gently twisted a leaf on the branch and bent to examine the striations on the bottom. Sighing, she released the weave and unconsciously rubbed her palms on her dress, as if she had physically touched it. The blight rot clung to the saplings with a persistence that she did not yet comprehend. She took a deep breath, preparing to delve the little tree, when a panicked shriek cut through the halls. Gathering her skirts with one hand, she ran from the room and towards the cacophony.
Coming through the arch of an auditorium, Erynn surveyed the scene. Novices milled around like a flock of geese and she caught a glance of goldenrod satin and thin blonde braids. Katrina, then. Raised to the Shawl in Tammaz. A thin novice stood beyond her, blue eyes wide with panic. The girl was shaking, her arms held out in front of her as if it would somehow help her hold the weave.
"Girls, out, NOW!" Erynn shouted at them, and they ran from the room in silence.
"Cut her off, Erynn, cut her off!" Katrina was yelling hysterically, all semblance of calm lost.
Erynn embraced saidar and began to pull together threads of spirit. Her passion was healing, but shields had always been her forte. Brows furrowed in concentration, she pulled them around the girl, but the power moving through the novice was immense and building rapidly. Erynn couldn't recognize the weave in it's tangled form. She attempted to speak, to guide the girl, but exhaustion pulled at her and a strangled whisper was all that came out. There was a blinding flash and a thousand tiny needles drove into her head. Erynn passed out. For the first time in over forty years, she dreamed.
She stood at the window, staring out into the city and endlessly twisting the ring on her hand. Blue rose, red rose, purple rose, yellow. No matter the colour, the bud in her mind's eye refused to open. It lingered at the edge of her senses, like the face of a long departed friend. She closed her eyes, the glow through her lids reminding her of what had happened. The taste of blood still lingered in her mouth. She picked up a cold cup of mint tea and sipped at it, bitterness flooding through her. Such a short time ago... she didn't even know what day it was, but she would have been able to heat the tea with barely a thought. What had Katrina been thinking? Why had the Novice been picking a weave apart anyway? It did not matter. Burning out was as permanent as death.
Soft footsteps entered the room and stopped behind her. An awkward clearing of the throat, then Brianne spoke, her voice matching her steps, "Sister?"
Erynn didn't respond, gaze fixed outside.
"Katrina is well".
She took another sip of her tea, "And the girl?"
Erynn caught the expression on Brianne's face in the reflection of the glass, the one she always had when she was searching for a way to skirt the truth. Resignation filled her gaze before she answered, "There is nothing left of her".
Fury and guilt built inside her, constricting her chest like a steel band on a keg. She closed her eyes, "I'm leaving, Brianne".
Erynn slapped the window, the bang echoing through the small room, "I am not your Sister anymore!" She flipped her hand over, staring at her reddening palm. She could not remember the last time she'd had an outburst like that, and was instantly filled with shame. An apology danced in her thoughts, but she pointedly ignored it and said instead, "It cannot be changed".
Brianne's mousey footsteps retreated. Erynn moved to the edge of the bed and sat down, glaring at the table nearby. It was covered in activities. Books, art and craft supplies. Puzzles, games and playing cards. The bitter feeling magnified...as if any of it could take the place of saidar. A box of oil paints caught her eye. Unlatching the silver clasp, she pulled out the tube of white. Tears blurred her vision as she untwisted the cap and squeezed a small amount on her fingertip. She stared at it contemplatively for a moment and then tapped it between her brows.
Servant of Nothing. The least she could do was remember.
As she opened her eyes, the vestiges of her dream images swirled away against awakening senses. The scent of wood smoke clung to her blankets, even though she knew by the dampness in the air that the fire would be dead. Good riddance, she thought, knowing as it crossed her mind that it was a strange thing for her to think. The shadows that plagued her dreams liked the dark. No, that was...inaccurate. They liked the light, they just didn't like fire.
Casting her bedding aside, she stood and stretched, her fingertips reaching for the sun. As she closed her eyes to breathe in the crisp morning air, her mind automatically reached for saidar. Shoving the thought away, she growled, and set to packing her meager belongings. Within ten minutes, she was up and heading west again. As she walked, she chewed dried berries from her pocket and ran through sword exercises in her mind. It was a safe topic - these days she skirted around thinking about anything important with a dedication akin to a Novice avoiding dishes. She really had no idea where she was headed, but the fewer people she saw, the better she felt.
It was midday when she caught the whiff of a nearby farm. Her first instinct was to head deeper into the forest, but she needed supplies badly. With a sigh, she followed her senses.
She was cutting across an empty field when she noticed the farmboy pitching hay in the distance. Ignoring him, she headed towards the road, tufts of dandelion seeds floating up as she trod through the dying weeds. When he started shouting at her she considered not stopping, but he was running towards her now. It would be rude to continue, and he might have something important to tell her.
Erynn jumped up on the fence, and tucked her feet into one of the rails, waiting. As the boy neared, he squinted against the sunlight and confusion showed on his face.
"Oh, uh, hello, sorry".
She blinked at him. Maybe she should have just kept walking. "What are you sorry for?"
Blushing, he responded, "I thought you were a grandmother, at least until you jumped up on the fence...I've never seen anyone my age with white hair before".
She peered at him, evaluating. He couldn't be more than twenty, maybe younger. Having had gray hair since she was a fifteen, it had been no surprise to her when it went white at a young age, even with the slowing. She had lost the remaining colour when she lost Cal. She knew the ageless face confused people, but she hadn't been mistaken for anyone this young since she was a Novice. "Well, I'm not your age - why did you come over here?" She technically wasn't a grandmother, either.
"I was going to offer you a ride to town, so you didn't have to walk back, but now I can see that you aren't from here". He stared at her.
Silence broadened, and she caught up the stilt in the conversation, even though this road only went two directions. "Which way is town?"
"Oh". Predictably, he pointed to the west. "We can take my father's horses if you like".
Somewhat baffled at his expression, she shook her head and jumped down. "No, I'll just walk. The Light shine on you".
"And you!", he called after her.
She'd gotten twine for snares, a woolen vest, and a pair of breeches. They were practical. There was nobody left to judge her anyway. Except the people in this village, apparently, who had been staring at her since she arrived. Not that she bothered to hide her face anymore now that she traveled without purpose. Erynn was headed towards the western end of the village, where the tailor had told her the blacksmith resided. That suited her just fine. She'd be able to be out in the forest and laying a fire before dark.
The shop was a squat square building made of the same rough hewn logs as the little cabin beside it, though whoever had built them had taken care with the finishing touches. The heavy wooden door had an artfully crafted handle of twisted black iron, and matching hammered trim ran around the windows. The blacksmith turned away from his bellows as she entered the shop, wiping his sweaty hands on his apron and offering her a short greeting. He was an attractive middle-aged man, fit from his work, with a rugged beard that suited his face.
Shaking her head, she murmured a noncommittal response and turned her attention to the shop. The warmth from the bellows allowed for large windows, and the smith had the coverings rolled up, making the room bright and welcoming. The small space was tidy and well laid out, and she easily found the fish hooks and buckles she sought. As she placed them on the counter, a sword resting on decorative pegs caught her eye. It was thin and sinuous, with foliage carved into the honey-coloured hilt. From the polished gleam, it was well-cared for.
Erynn cleared her throat. "Does your sword have a name?"
"A name?" He narrowed his eyes at her, "I've never had a milk-faced slip of a girl ask me if a sword had a name before". She blinked at him. There it was again.
The sword called to her, and she wanted it, badly. "May I hold it?"
He started to count her fish hooks and replied, "It's not for sale, and even if it were, you couldn't afford it".
"There's fifteen of them". Maybe she was going about this the wrong way. She smiled at him. "Please? It's very beautiful work".
With a sigh, he reached to get the sword and handed it to her, hilt first. "If I let you look at it will you leave me in peace? Don't cut yourself".
Observing the ease with which she handled the blade and tested its weight, he gave her an appraising look before speaking, "Drelle Dovienya".
She chuckled, "I could use some luck".
Astonishment filled his face and he held out his palm for the sword. "You speak the Old Tongue."
"To be fair", she replied, handing him the sword, "I've never met a blacksmith who did".
He looked somewhat abashed. "I only know those two words because of this sword. I didn't make it. Or name it. I don't know who crafted it, but I bought it in Caemlyn". His eyes roved along the blade as he set it down on the counter. "I've had it hanging in my shop for fifteen years".
She dug the last of her crowns from her coin purse and put them in a neat stack on the counter. The blacksmith gaped at her slightly, but shook his head. "I don't know why you're dressed in rags, but the sword is worth more". His gaze flicked to the earring she wore, and she instinctively pulled up her hood. He moved to take the blade and she touched his arm. "Wait".
Using her hunting knife, she deftly sliced open an inner seam on her cloak. She only hesitated a moment before placing the ring on the counter with the coins. Erynn heard the sharp intake of his breath.
Scooping the coins and ring into his pocket he said, "The blade is yours. If anyone comes looking for you, I never saw you". Amusement filled her. He thought she was a runaway. Interesting, but no matter. She no longer cared how or why people knew about such things. She winked at him and thrust the naked blade through her belt. She'd make a sheath later.
"Thank you". She tucked the buckles and fish hooks into her pack.
As she moved to push the door open, he suddenly asked her, "Do you know where you're going?"
She smiled at him somewhat wistfully and responded, "Sa souvraya niende misain ye", before walking out into the twilight.
The lake was near freezing, and Erynn hurried to squeeze the water from her hair. As she moved towards the shore, she caught a glimpse of her reflection, and stilled. The angle of the light was perfect, and the boy's words came back to her. "Anyone my age..." The slight distortion made it difficult to see exact details, but she had undoubtedly lost her ageless look, and possibly forty years as well. A violent shiver moved through her and the image was lost in the ripples. As she dried herself off, the Yellow in her briefly piqued her curiosity, and she wondered why she had never read a study on life after stilling. The curiosity faded as she shuttered her mind and focused on counting how many different types of birds she could hear instead.
Leaping through the snow, she twirled with the sword, parrying and thrusting in a wild dance with herself until she could dance no more. Panting, she stared at the blade in her hand. She couldn't feel the hilt through the numbness in her hands. It was almost as if it was a part of her. A pine warbler trilled overhead and she thought that she might follow it for a while.
The rabbit screamed when she caught it, and she silenced it with a quick twist. It had been too easy. The snow had melted quickly and the white fur had stood out like an Aes Sedai in a call house. She frowned. She had never liked that joke.
With a resigned sigh, she flopped onto the ground as another deer got away, it's flouncing tail waving a mocking goodbye. This had been so much easier in her dreams with a bit of help. The grass here felt amazing, though.
She kneeled in the river, watching the pinkish-silver fish struggle along. Even though she wasn't hungry anymore, she was enjoying the feel of the warm sun on her back and the cool water around her limbs. Maybe just one more little fish head...
9 Years Ago.
"Wake up. The Twisted Ones come. We hunt". When her eyes snapped open, she finally knew who the shadows were. They were her kin, and they called to her by name. It wasn't Erynn.