Some things never changed.
People liked to talk about the uncertainty of life—How things never stayed the same. How death was life’s only certainty. How the only constant was change itself—but if you said something like that to her, she’d look you dead in the eye and tell you that you’re full of shit. People just say things like that because they can’t control their lives. Because they can’t come to terms with their lack of power. Because they’re cowards. Because deep down they know that some things never change, and those things are the kinds of things that make children cry and grown men look away. Things like poverty. Things like suffering. Things like greed and power-lust. Things that people want to pretend don’t exist at all. Those are the things that don’t change. And she knows this.
That’s why her eyes are dead when she speaks of her life before Tar Valon.
Only a handful of people know what she truly was before entering her name in the Novice’s Book, and half of those people wish they could forget. I’m sure she’s a sweet girl, but I just can’t forget what I already know. Who we were before the Tower doesn’t matter. But, I can’t help but wonder. Has she changed?
Ask her and she’d tell you…
Cordelia surveyed the Accepted before her as she took her seat. Obviously Tarabon-born, the girl met the Amyrlin’s cool gaze without the faintest hint of hesitation in her impossibly dark eyes. They were the only two in the chamber. Cordelia had not felt it necessary to have any of the others present at this particular meeting. Truthfully, after studying Leandra’s file, the Amyrlin suspected that if the Accepted felt she was being threatened in any way, she would bolt at best. At worst, she would attempt to defend herself, striking back in any way she deemed necessary, and then run.
And in perfect honesty, Cordelia was not absolutely certain that had the entire team could have stopped her.
It was not the fact that the girl was an amazing fighter, or that she was impressively strong in the One Power that had lead her to this conclusion, for neither of those things were true. It was the fact that in the past the girl had shown a remarkable tendency to pull out of potentially-lethal situations unscathed. The former-White suspected that this had something to do with a quick wit and even quicker feet. It was what had made her the best at her former-occupation. It was why the Amyrlin Seat was taking time out of her day to converse with an Accepted who probably should have been thrown out of the Tower a dozen times by now.
“Since your arrival at the White Tower you have displayed a reluctance to speak of your former life.”
Leandra did not respond, but merely looked at her as though she had stated that it was a pleasant day.
“From what I can gage, very few here in the Tower who are still living know what you truly were before you came here.” A grimace chased across the younger woman’s face, but quickly vanished. Again she said nothing.
Cordelia paused before continuing, her logical mind trying to puzzle out the best course for this conversation to take. It was no great secret that the White Tower had taken a wolf by the ears when they had brought the adolescent acrobat into the fold. Iann Flanders and his menagerie may have been relatively unknown to the general population, but that name caused ears to perk in the underworld. One of the most elite mercenaries money could buy, Iann was known for his seemingly limitless resources and his ability to pull off impossible jobs. There was almost no illegal trade that the man did not dabble in, and it did not require a great mind to riddle out how he always got the job done. With a small host of highly skilled acrobats, fighting men, and con artists at their disposal, it would take a fool to louse up such a profession. But Iann was far from a fool. Between the iron fist he reputedly held over his performers and his keen mind for business, it was no wonder the man’s name was known by any thief or assassin who was worth their salt. And that brought Cordelia back to the girl sitting before her, though in truth all the innocence of girlhood had been robbed of the Accepted a lifetime ago.
She was one of Iann’s Girls.
She had done and seen things in her short lifetime that would cause even the most forgiving soul to scrawl a dragon’s fang upon her door. For years she had been one of the few people who had breathed life into that man’s reputation, the flesh beyond the fable, the truth behind the myth. And yet somehow she had managed to enter Tar Valon without the Shining Walls falling down upon her sinful head, a girl discovered at the age of seventeen to have the spark and brought to train as a novice. And though most in the Tower who knew the girl thought she had no viable future wearing the shawl, Cordelia now thought otherwise.
“You are on the cusp of being Raised to the shawl, and from what I understand you wish to join the Blue Ajah. To what cause do you wish to dedicate yourself?”
Leandra’s expression did not change as she studied the Amyrlin. A brief moment of tension passed before she spoke.
“Is this what you summoned me to discuss?” she asked blandly, all traces of a Taraboner accent gone from her speech. Neither of them missed the fact that she left out the honorific “Mother”.
Irritation flashed up inside of Cordelia, though it did not show in her face or her voice as she spoke in frosty tones. “There are other things we could discuss, if you would rather. The fact that you broke the nose of an Accepted your second week here at the Tower. The number of times you have been birched for sneaking off Tower grounds at night. The far greater number of times you have been strapped for being caught sneaking back onto Tower grounds, with alcohol on your breath. The reputation you have for getting into fistfights. Your inability to control your foul language. The pattern of girls who anger you turning up violently ill. The very legitimate question of why you were not expelled years ago. These are all things we could discuss, if you wish.”
For the first time that day the Amyrlin’s words seemed to register with the Accepted, and amusement shone in her eyes as a smirk broke out across her tan face. “If you don’t mind, Mother,” she stated in a flippant tone, “those are topics which Aleis Sedai and I talk about on a regular basis. I think I would rather discuss something new, if it’s all right with you.”
Cordelia blinked and sat back in her seat. She had known that the girl was self-assured, if not arrogant, but this bordered on foolhardy. Suddenly the Amyrlin was absolutely certain she had made the right decision in approaching her. All she had to do now was win her over.
“If you haven’t noticed, the world is falling apart in the aftermath of the War. Nations are in turmoil, cities are in ruins, and politicians are so busy squabbling amongst themselves that they are neglecting the basic needs of their citizens. You come from the roughest area of Tanchico, which is one of the roughest cities on the continent. You know first-hand that often times ruling bodies are so self-involved that they ignore the task of providing for their subjects. But unfortunately, sometimes even when change for the better is desired by those with power, there is so much bureaucracy to steer through that they are unable to do any good.
“It is no secret that the White Tower is one of the most powerful entities in the world, if not the most powerful. And as the leader of the Tower, I am possibly the most influential woman alive. From my position of power, I see great need, but often times the politics of dealing with the Hall binds my hands from doing the good that I wish to do. Many of my predecessors have been able to deal with these politics, and for good reason. They did not have the urgent needs before them that I face. The fact is that every day that goes by with the world in a state such as it is, countless lives are lost needlessly in the chaos. I cannot live with the world in such a state, knowing that I could have done something to make a difference.”
Cordelia paused. Leandra was leaning slightly forward in her seat, and though her expression was almost blank, the Amyrlin could tell that she was taking in every word.
“It is for this reason that I have decided to do something that most will never know about, and very few would be able to understand. I am assembling a team of highly skilled Aes Sedai and fighting men who will answer solely to me. They will not be bound by the bureaucracy and politics of the Tower, they will not be weighed down by the chain of command within their Ajah. They are sworn to secrecy and loyalty, for if they were discovered there is no telling what the retribution might be. The Aes Sedai are released from the Three Oaths, and swear new oaths which bind them to me. And in return, I swear to do all that is within my power to protect them…”
“I’m in,” Leandra cut in, mid-explanation.
Again, irritation flared within the Amyrlin, but this time it was mixed with a fair bit of surprise as well. She had not even finished.
“Just like that?” she asked coolly.
This caused the Accepted to burst into a peal of laughter.
“What do you mean, ‘just like that?’ I may have been illiterate when I showed up on your doorstep, but I’ve never been a bloody fool. Hypothetically, were I to turn you down, you and I both know that the only way for you to keep your bloody secret safe would be to kill me. And lesson number one in the life of a homeless orphan is ‘always do what you have to do to survive.’ So yeah, I accept your so-called offer ‘just like that.’ Save your ‘I must fulfill my duty to the Light’ speech for someone who gives a damn. The bottom line is, I don’t fancy the idea of you killing me.” She chuckled again, as though this were some kind of amusing joke to her. But there was a fundamental hardness to her expression and her tone that told Cordelia that she was taking this all very seriously.
“Besides,” she added, “it sounds exciting. A lot better than staying cooped up here and teaching a bunch of snot-nosed brats. Or worse, traveling around and looking for snot-nosed brats to teach. Ugh.” She gave a slight shudder that caused the beads in her pale braids to faintly clatter.
“Very well,” said Cordelia firmly. “Report back to me after your Raising, and I will arrange for you to be released of your Oaths. You will be given further instructions at that time. Speak of this to no one. That is all, you are dismissed.”
The Accepted rose, and Cordelia was not sure if she was surprised or not that she bobbed a curtsey before she turned for the door.
“And Leandra,” she called out as the other woman placed her hand on the door handle. “You may be very skilled at your work, and you may be on the verge of being Raised, but you are not Aes Sedai yet. You are to report to Aleis Sedai and tell her of your inability to control your tongue. Again.”
For the first time that day, a genuine grin broke out across Leandra’s face. “As you say, Mother. Your wish is my command.”