“…forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine…and…fifty!”
It always struck her as odd, the things she missed being able to do in the comfort of her own rooms that she avoided when she was out on the field. It was almost always silly, inconsequential things. Things like drinking hot tea in bed, or counting aloud the number of brush strokes she made through her hair. Always fifty. And then she always parted it into two long braids before she settled in for the night. Two braids that she knew looked girlish and immature, and so never dreamed of donning when others could frantically wake her in the night with the urgency that only occurred outside of the Shining Walls.
As she tied a small strip of leather into the second braid to hold it secure, she glanced out her bedroom window at the position of the sun. There was perhaps another hour before lunch would be served in the Dining Hall for the students, which meant that it would be another two hours or so before Mari brought lunch for her. The maid knew that she preferred to eat in the early afternoon rather than when the sun was at its zenith. Two hours she would spend catching up on some much-needed sleep.
The small excursion to Alindaer had been short, but surprisingly exhausting. The presence of Whitecloaks so close to Tar Valon was unacceptable, regardless of their brief but uncomfortable alliance during the Aiel War, and she had been specifically requested to accompany another Green Sister to see that they vacated the village post-haste. She was rather shocked that she was allowed to leave the Tower, given her current…situation, let alone specifically assigned to a mission. But the task was relatively carried off without a hitch. “Relatively” because no matter how successful their work had been, no assignment where she and Bresha Maconnel were forced into close proximity could go completely without hitch. It was no secret that no love was lost between herself and the older Green, and while Kari made a point of being friendly with most everyone, she could not bring herself to even pretend to like the other woman. Bresha would have had a fit if she had seen Kari’s dark hair done in two long braids, though whether that fit would have been one of laughter or indignation, the Andoran was unsure.
Surprisingly, Bresha had seemed every bit as irritated at the fact that they were working together as Kari was. It was not uncommon for Bresha to arrange missions for the Green Ajah, but it seemed that this one had been set up by someone higher up in the ranks of the Ajah, and orders were specific that the two set out to Alindaer side by side.
Banishing all thoughts of her quasi-nemesis from her mind, Karishyn nestled down into her covers and pulled a book and her reading spectacles from her bed-side table. The spectacles were another thing which she never used when outside of the Tower, but these for no other reason than simple vanity. With her hair arranged the way it was she looked young enough, but with the lenses perched on her nose, she positively looked juvenile. Besides, her eyesight wasn’t terrible, it just needed a little help if she wanted to read for very long periods of time. Not that she planned on reading more than a few pages before she drifted off…
"...she's lucky you rode after her, Master Hawke. Otherwise she certainly would be dead. It is very fortunate for her, she did not burn herself out."
"Lucky," Bresha paused to sniff. "It would be no less than she deserved, darting out there like that. That girl has too much fire and not enough discipline. Perhaps it would be wise to remind her of her place..."
“Daughter, I respect your request for some time to consider, but just remember this: your talent would never go unappreciated if you decide to accept. You would be respected for your abilities, something which I understand is not true of your Ajah’s treatment of you. You are a great warrior, Karishyn, and the Light needs you now more than ever.”
Aes Sedai were supposed to be cool and calm and unflappable, but as she stood before the glowing ter’angreal, she found herself hoping that she did not vomit. I’m not ready for this was all she could think. She wasn’t ready, and everyone in the chamber knew it, though none would acknowledge it. She had been pumped so full of information over the last week that her brain seemed ready to burst, but when she made tentative inquiries about the seemingly frantic rush for her raising, every Aes Sedai she asked was completely unwilling to acknowledge what was clearly going on. For some reason they were anxious for her to gain the shawl as soon as possible, but no one would tell her why.
“You come in ignorance, Karishyn Romlin. How would you depart?”
“In knowledge of myself.”
“For what reason have you been summoned here?”
“To be tried.”
“For what reason should you be tried?”
“So that I may learn whether I am worthy.”
“For what would you be found worthy?”
“To wear the shawl.”
Kari started violently awake to the sound of knocking at the door to her sitting chamber. Glad to be pulled away from unpleasant dreams, she hastily picked the still-open book off her stomach and placed it onto the table. Jumping out of bed, her groggy mind tried to work out why Mari would be knocking on her apartment door. She slung her robe around her shoulders, tying the sash into a haphazard knot at her waist. As she stumbled past the mirror at her vanity, her brain somehow refused to register the fact that her spectacles were still crookedly perched on her nose or that her braids were now frayed and messy to the point of ridicule. All her life she had never been able to think clearly when first woken. Perhaps her hands are full she thought, completely forgetting in all the years she had spent as a servant, she never would have dreamed of entering through the main door to any room.
She jerked the door open unceremoniously just as the second round of knocking began, and then leapt nearly a foot backward when she saw who was standing on the other side. Elijah Hawke stood, hand still raised in a fist as though to knock, staring at her with a look of complete astonishment on his face. Or at least what passed for complete astonishment on his face, though in truth it was only a brief instant of shock.
“Elijah!” she nearly shouted, half an exclamation and half a surprised greeting. “Elijah!” she tried again. “I…uhhh…I thought you were…a maid. I mean…not you…but…uhhh…the knocking.” Somehow, even with all the awkward pauses, the words managed to rush out of her mouth.
“I’m sorry.” He said with a great deal more composure than she felt. “I can come back later if this is a bad time.”
“No!” she replied with unnecessary gusto. “Ahem. I mean. No, this is fine. I was asleep, obviously, but I’m awake now.” She gave a sickly attempt at a chuckle, and though she knew it was nearly impossible to see a blush on her dark skin, she would have sworn at that moment her face must have been glowing like the sun. “If you left now, I would just be awake for no reason, and that would be…bad” she finished lamely. Shut up Kari! her now-awake mind screamed.
Suddenly remembering her appearance, she snatched her glasses off her face so fast it seemed as though she were hoping he wouldn’t notice. Light! He was standing there looking at her, and she had had on her spectacles! And she was wearing a robe! Oh blood and ashes, my hair!
“Please, come in. Would you like some tea?” That’s better. Act normal. Like this happens all the time.
As he seated himself in her sitting chamber having declined anything to drink, Kari rushed into her bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her. She remembered one time when she had overslept and nearly missed Gretchen Sedai’s class. The woman was a Red who had the temper and charm of a starving bear with a toothache. She had thought at the time that no one could possibly dress as quickly as she had, but as she hurriedly buttoned up the first dress she had grabbed out of her wardrobe, she knew she had just beaten her own record. It was a mere matter of moments later that she emerged normally clothed, and with her hair hanging in dark loose waves. She had been in such a rush that she had not even counted brush strokes.
"Karishyn...you know why I'm here?” he asked as she poured herself a cup of tea. He had worked with her enough times to know that she generally disliked the formality of being called “Karishyn Sedai”.
“Yes,” she confirmed, not looking up at him. “Yes, I do.” He had been one of the few present people at that fateful meeting, when she had been presented with the most thrilling and frightening opportunity of a lifetime.
“Your week is up, and she needs an answer.” He paused before adding, “I would...I urge you to accept." He seemed to be having trouble with the words, which she knew was rather unlike him. While he could be reticent at times, when he spoke it was usually decisive.
That caused her to look up, and she was surprised to see the strange look in his grey eyes. Normally so cold, they now seemed...almost earnest. “Surely you understand the implications of declining.” His voice was flat and cold as usual, but she noticed a tension there that had been absent before.
Yes, she understood, and she was surprised he would bring it up. “That’s why you’re here then? She is waiting for me?” In the brief years she had worn the shawl, she had learned to sidestep when necessary. She didn’t know why she felt uncomfortable talking about all of this, but she did.
“Yes,” his voice was hard, but whether it was from irritation or resignation, she could not tell.
“Very well, let’s go then. I’m certainly in no position to keep the Amyrlin Seat waiting.” They both stood, but as she crossed in front of him to go to the door, he reached out and grabbed her arm. She was surprised to find his grip was almost gentle.
“Karishyn, I saved your life once, but if you turn her down…I cannot save you from this.” The coldness was gone from his voice. It was as soft as his touch...but also as unyielding. She knew the sadness he might feel, but she also knew that no amount of sadness would keep him from doing as duty bade him.
A small smile crept onto her face as she looked up at him. “It’s all right, Elijah. You won’t have to save me.”
“We were concerned that you might not accept the proposition,” Kiyanna’s voice interrupted Kari’s not-so-subtle squirms of discomfort, as though if she shifted around enough the uneasy feeling in her flesh would dissipate. She’d forgotten how much she hated that bloody rod.
“It was never really a matter of whether or not I wanted to accept,” she returned. “I just needed some time to…adjust, I guess. This is a rather big deal.” It occurred to her that she was stating the obvious, but somehow it seemed to only appropriate thing to say.
“I understand,” the Domani woman replied. “I needed several days myself before I accepted.”
It struck Kari that Kiyanna could be lying to her. She could have accepted on the spot, and yet claim to have needed eons to think about her place in the Pattern. But it was a stupid thing to lie about, and she was unsure why it had even come to mind. Probably because of the unnatural tightness she felt in her skin.
“So where do we go from here?” the younger Green asked.
A look of wry amusement spread across Kiyanna’s face.
“That, Karishyn, is a very good question.”