Life became simpler as a person grew older.
There was a time in her life when Kiyanna had naively held to that belief. As the years passed Kiyosa would marry, Kiyanna would travel back to Bandar Eban to oversee the affairs of the House, take a husband of her own, and life would settle into a rhythmic pattern.
That plan never came to fruition, yet the principle did not die.
Granted, there were a few months of disquieting uncertainty, but after a time the Wheel seemed to weave yet another predictable pattern for her life. She would apply herself to her studies, prove her abilities with saidar, and eventually gain the Shawl. She would then teach classes and maintain a simple and quiet life in the Green quarters, leaving all socializing, traveling and politicking for her sister to live out.
That plan had come much closer to fulfillment before being shattered, but in the end how close she had come to its realization counted for very little. At this point the Green had begun to suspect that she was being simple-minded in her belief that age brought predictability, yet some how the myth still lived on.
Potential paths were cultivated and destroyed again and again throughout the years; the struggles of the House Retiev, the fall of Malkier, the Aiel War—both beginning and ending, had all reeked havoc on her life in ways that she had never even realized possible. And despite the mounting evidence that life did not, in fact, simplify as one grew older, somehow she was shocked every time her theoretical future was thrown off course.
It was for this reason that she could not help but feel slightly foolish as she took a calming breath and smoothed phantom wrinkles from her dress before entering the antechamber of the Amyrlin Seat. Nerves were useless at this point, and yet even her pragmatic mind could not seem to banish them. Over the past several days, she had systematically picked apart her planned-out years, thread by thread. The Wheel now was weaving a pattern that she never could have foreseen, and as unsettling as it always was, this time she knew that the stakes were far higher than they had ever been before. Perhaps higher than they had ever been for anyone. Ever.
Light! If she could only get the writhing knot in her belly to uncoil…She took one last breath before assuming the famed Aes Sedai calm, and stepped through the impressive door before her.
“Light shine on you, Kiyanna.” The Keeper of the Chronicles’ semi-formal greeting rang through the large room, mere seconds after she entered.
“And on you, Maihgread,” she returned evenly, her internal anxiety already beginning to fade as she took the first steps toward her new life.
“I know that she has been expecting you,” the other woman stated as she rose from her desk, tugging absent-mindedly at the white stole around her shoulders. “I will tell her that you’re here.”
Moments later, she was escorted into the Amyrlin’s private study. A tiny motion from the woman sitting behind the impressive desk caused the door behind Kiyanna to click softly shut, Maihgread returning to work of her own. The Green smoothly dropped into a low curtsey, spreading her Shienaran-cut skirt wide as she murmured, “Light shine on you, Mother.”
“Sit, Daughter.” Cordelia’s voice was cool and clipped, showing no high regard for customary greetings in the privacy of her own chambers. Again she motioned, this time to a seat directly across from her own. Kiyanna settled herself comfortably, and looked up to find herself gazing directly into pale-blue eyes that seemed to want to drill into her mind. Yet those cold eyes were having little effect on their current study. The Domani’s naturally confident air, which had briefly abandoned her moments before in the corridor, had now returned. This time when she spoke her tone was clear as crystal.
“I have decided to accept your offer.”
“Things aren’t always what they seem!”
The Gaidin’s gruff voice echoed across the small, secluded training yard, imprinting itself on the minds of the young charges standing before him. The fighting abilities of Warders were legendary, and it was for that reason that across the continent young men would abandon their lives as they knew them and travel to Tar Valon, to train under some of the most famed warriors the Pattern had ever produced. They showed up with stars in their eyes and hayseed in their hair, dreaming of saving fair maidens and slaughtering Fades by the score. Half of them would never complete their training; most would never know the Bond of an Aes Sedai, but for right now, they still believed they had the potential to lead armies against the Blight and reclaim Malkier from the Shadow’s grasp.
“This is your first lesson at the White Tower. If you ever want to become a Warder, you must learn never to assume anything. It could cost your Aes Sedai her life. This,” he motioned to a woman stepping out from the shadows, “is Lady Retiev.” She came to stand beside him, silk-gloved hands reaching up to lower her cowl. As her features came into view, a ripple spread among the students as they adjusted their posture and nudged the men standing next to them. Before them they saw a remarkably beautiful young woman, with large liquid eyes and a warm welcoming smile. They had no reason to suspect that their collective gaze upon her made her skin crawl.
“I need a volunteer,” the instructor barked. As always happened, the majority of the young men eagerly stepped forward, anxious to have something to do with the beautiful Lady Retiev. “You!” the Warder said, pointing to one of the students in the front, who displayed an overly-confident air and too many teeth in his grin as he strode forward, obviously pleased with himself for being selected. He bowed elaborately before the Lady when he reached her, pretty blue eyes fixed on her face. Eyes that she suspected he was often told were pretty by young girls who were taken with his charm.
“Straighten up, boy!” the teacher snapped as he clamped a large hand on the youth’s shoulder, causing him to stagger sideways. A look of embarrassment mixed with annoyance flashed across the young man’s face before he did as he was told. “You have one task, boy, and one alone. Complete it, and the Lady will give you a kiss. You understand?” An eager grin appeared on his face as he nodded, and for a moment Kiyanna had to fight her instinct to turn and run away.
“Strike the Lady,” the Gaidin said, nodding to the woman before them.
A look of complete bewilderment crossed the student’s face, and he opened his mouth to protest before being cut off by his teacher. “Strike her, and she will give you a kiss.” The young man turned alarmed eyes to Kiyanna, completely caught off guard by his command. “Lady, I could never…”
“It’s all right,” her smooth voice cut him off, and he seemed startled at hearing her speak. “I am not made of glass, I will not break. Do as he says. Strike me.”
The look on his face was comical. It were as though he had just been informed that his mother was actually a goat. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I simply cannot strike…”
He was mid-sentence when her fist connected soundly with his jaw, with enough force to send him flying onto his rump in the dust. He looked up at her with an expression of complete astonishment, but she did not give him the chance to respond.
“Get up, and strike me.”
He leapt to his feet, and danced in place for a moment, seemingly conflicted on the best course of action. His mood seemed to pass from shock, to anger, to uncertainty and back again, unsure of where to settle. After a moment’s deliberation, sensing that were he to take too long she would take the offensive again, he took a half-hearted swing at her shoulder. In a light movement, she sidestepped the blow with ease.
“I said, strike me.”
Her words seemed to egg him on, and he did not wait so long before repeating a similar swing with more force behind it. Again, she quickly stepped out of its path.
She was cut off by his third attempt, a serious swing at her face. This time, rather than dodging, she stepped in to the punch, blocking by raising her left forearm to push the blow off path, and raising her right elbow to connect with his now-exposed temple. The strike was not a serious one, she did not wish to injure anything other than his pride, and simply caused him to stagger sideways rather than fall to the ground.
As soon as his balance was regained, he did not need any coaching to strike at her again. As was often the case with young men, he did not respond well to being humiliated in front of others, especially by a woman in a test of physical strength. Snarling, he lunged at her in a savage attempt to tackle her to the ground. Forced to move quicker than before, she leapt to the side, but left one leg extended. It was a simplistic move, but had the desired effect. Rather than tackling her, the student tripped over her leg and landed face first in the dirt. To prevent him from rising, she placed a soft leather boot on the back of his shoulders, applying just enough pressure to keep his nose in the dust.
“Things aren’t always what they seem!” The Gaidin shouted for the second time that day.
“You!” he barked again, this time pointing to a man who was not as young as the others. “You look as though you’ve seen a few good brawls in your days. Come here.”
Looking rather startled at being picked out, and somewhat alarmed at what he was likely going to be asked to do, the man stepped forward as Kiyanna released her first opponent. The younger man glowered as he stood, but she paid him no mind as she surveyed the man approaching her. Clearly he was Domani as well, though he lacked the moustache, and he seemed the have a slightly sickly pallor. Despite his ill look, she could not help but feel her hackles rise. The men from her homeland were known for their tempers.
“You heard the arrangement. Strike her, and she will kiss you. If you fail, you’ll end up with your face in the mud.”
Her new challenger did not speak in protest when he turned to face her, though he did swallow hard enough to make his adams-apple bob forcefully. As though sensing her heightened aggression, he quickly raised his fists to cover his chest and face in a motion that belied familiarity. He hopped from one foot to the other and back again, nearly jogging in place, and wasted little time before making his first strike. His fist shot toward her nose, and rather than dancing out of the way, she quickly bent back and toward the side from her waist, barely removing her face from his reach. She did not have time to fully straighten before a similar punch was delivered again, this time from the opposite direction, and again she simply twisted out of the blow’s path.
Before striking again, the man before her studied her for a moment, green eyes surveying her face as though trying to calculate the best course of action, trying to guess what she might do next. He had seen, just like everyone else, when she had struck the other man with enough force to knock him off his feet, so he knew she was not a benign opponent. But he still did not know just how aggressive or bold she was, nor how developed her skills were when it came to hand-to-hand combat. It did not take him long to process his knowledge of her fighting style and decide on his next move.
He realized a moment too late that he had decided wrong.
His third blow was similar to the first too, though faster and harder. He moved the entire right half of his body forward, following behind the punch. But her defense was nothing like the earlier diversions. Moving her entire body slightly to his left, she spun as his fist went over her shoulder, her back now facing him. His mind had not finished registering her quick movement before he felt two hands firmly grasp his still-extended arm, and pull with surprising force. Suddenly he felt himself slam into her body, and then go sailing over her bent back to land on the ground, dazed eyes staring up into the cloudy sky.
It took his brain a few seconds to finally register that she had flipped him over her shoulder, and it took his lungs even longer before they seemed to fill again with air. He then saw her from the corner of his vision moving toward him. Mind not fully functioning from the jolt it had just received, he felt a twinge of panic at the thought of her striking again while he was so vulnerable. But why was she leaving herself so open? He did not have time to think, however, only react. In a quick motion, he flipped himself over and shot out his hands to grasp her ankle. Feeling soft leather beneath his fingers, and ignoring the roar in his ears, he jerked with all his might, sending the Lady crashing to the ground beside him.
It was Kiyanna’s turn to be dazed and uncertain of what exactly was going on, but when the world seemed to finally come back into focus she was aware that the Gaidin was red in the face from shouting at the student who had managed to knock her off her feet. She started to rise when her assailant saw her movement and hurried over to extend his hand to assist.
“I’m so sorry,” he was saying. “I was shocked by what you’d done, and didn’t realize we were finished. I should never have…”
“It’s quite all right,” she cut in, ignoring his proffered hand and standing on her own. “I could see that you were dazed, and I should have known better than to approach you in such a state. The fault is my own.”
She made a half-hearted attempt at dusting herself off, though in truth it was just an attempt to buy some time. She had preformed this ritual countless times, appearing to new recruits and proving that a book can never be judged by its cover, yet this was the first time an opponent had managed to strike her back. She had never had to live up to her half of the bargain before. It was just a ploy. Or at least it had been until now. And as much as she loathed the idea of kissing anyone, the Saldaean inside of her bristled at the thought of going back on her word, though she was not technically bound by the Oaths.
“Well,” she said after an awkward moment, “it seems that I owe you something.”
His eyebrows nearly vanished into his hairline, and for the second time his hands came up almost as though he again wanted to defend himself. “Please, Lady Retiev, I couldn’t possibly accept…”
“It has been a long time since anyone has called me Lady Retiev,” she stated, interrupting him yet again. “Please, you may call me Kiyanna Sedai.”
A collective gasp issued from the group of onlookers, and if possible the man before her looked even more ill. As they watched the youthfulness of her face seemed to melt away, transforming itself into an ageless quality.
“You would not wish to make an Aes Sedai a liar, would you?” The tone of her voice seemed almost mocking, though whether she was mocking him or mocking herself, he could not be sure.
“Please, Aes Sedai,” he veritably stammered. “If there is any way…I am not comfortable accepting a reward for my misjudgment.”
A long moment passed as she studied him, mentally trying to figure out what sort of man he could possibly be, as though he were some sort of fascinating puzzle.
“Very well, Master…”
“Sahem,” he returned uncertainly.
“Very well, Master Sahem, I will not kiss you.” After a pause, she added “It seems as though I am in your debt.” Not waiting for a reply, she turned and walked away from the class and out of the training yard.
“Very impressive.” A female voice caused her to turn at the entrance to the main training grounds to discover a previously unrealized observer. Maihgread stepped out from the shadow of the stone wall she stood under, pale blue eyes visibly sizing her up. “But I am not here to discuss your fighting abilities,” she continued. “The Amyrlin wishes to see you. Immediately.”
Kiyanna had to bite back a request to answer the summons once she had the chance to take a bath and change her gown. It was not even noon, and already it had been a long day.
Little did she know, it was about to get much longer.
“Good. I am pleased,” Cordelia returned, though none of her pleasure was apparent in her tone or in her face.
“It will be your specific responsibility to act as the communication link between the team and myself. This will be done through your abilities as a Dreamwalker. I posses a ter’angreal that will allow me entrance into tel’aran’rhiod, where we will meet at appointed times to discuss team matters. Naturally, there are risks with such communication, but it is our most reliable option.”
She went on to discuss her connections both within and without the Tower, her skill at Daes Dae’mar, and other qualities she would bring to the team, but as she spoke Kiyanna found herself wondering what kind of woman this was that could so matter-of-factly turn someone’s entire universe upside down in a matter of days.
She was about to find out.