It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Wasn’t that what they said? The night sky was supposedly at its blackest just before the sun peaked above the horizon. And this was supposed to be some kind of comforting metaphor for life. As though there were some universal law which stated that horrible things were always only precursors for wonderful events yet to come. But as Karishyn stared out at the night sky, she thought it looked the exact same shade of black as it had for the previous uncounted hours. She should know. She had been staring out this window for Light knew how long, eyes still unable to focus on any one spot as her mind continued to reel over the week’s events. If that saying had any basis in reality, then her life should be getting better, even as she sat in this wooden chair and stared out at the horizon, rather than taking the horrid path which lay before her. For a moment she felt a phantom pain spasm through her abdomen. She wished she knew who had first uttered that bloody saying. She wanted to know so she could punch him square in the jaw.
The door behind her opened without so much as a knock, but Karishyn did not bother to turn around and see who had just entered. Gone were the days when she needed to carefully monitor her obligatory deference. The only person who could make her rise to her feet in her own rooms at that moment was the Amyrlin Seat herself, and Kari had a feeling that whoever had just entered did not wear the seven striped stole.
“Good. You’re up,” said a cool voice behind her. “Are you packed?”
A wave of irritation surged inside of her, but she managed to stamp it back down before speaking. Aes Sedai were always calm, and she was Aes Sedai now. She had been for nearly seven hours now.
“Considering the fact that I only own two dresses, and am wearing one of them, packing did not take long.” She still did not bother to turn around.
The other woman made a disdainful noise before speaking. “There will be plenty of time for shopping for new clothes when we return from the field, child. For now you will do well to focus your mind on the task at hand, rather than petty things like silks and slippers.”
In a flash, Karishyn was out of her seat and facing the other woman, seething in outrage. This time she made no attempt to keep animosity from her tone. “I am Aes Sedai now, just like you, so do not address me as though I were still in white,” she practically spat.
Bresha’s face registered no shock at Kari’s outburst. In truth she must have been expecting something along these lines for some time now. For the past two weeks the other woman had taken to personally training Kari for the test to be raised, and had been pushing her so hard Kari had begun to suspect that Bresha was trying to get her to snap, rather than actually prepare her to become Aes Sedai. It had all been very odd—not at all how it had been for other Accepted preparing to be raised. Rather than being eased into the idea that her raising would come soon, and gradually being walked through the weaves she needed to learn, Kari had simply had it proclaimed to her that she would begin private lessons with various Aes Sedai, all of them Green Ajah. She knew of no other Accepted who’d had their training for testing overseen by Aes Sedai, nor did she know of anyone else whose training had been so rushed. In a matter of two weeks she had gone from her normal course work, which had been progressing at a natural pace, to exclusively working on the flows she needed to know for her testing. But all her questions regarding the frantic way in which she was being trained were met with silence. No one would acknowledge what was obviously going on. Clearly someone had taken special interest in her, and wanted her raised as quickly as possible, regardless of whether she was ready or not. For a while, she had tried to convince herself that it was an honor, to be on the receiving end of such special treatment, but the lessons grew more frantic, and Bresha grew more demanding, and Kari had felt a knot of fear begin to grow in her belly that it all had something to do with the rumors that she had heard of the Aiel advancing toward Tar Valon. She even managed to convince herself that it was just coincidence that she was summoned for her testing on the day that the Aiel marched against the Shining Walls. It had been no secret that she intended to join the Green Ajah, nor was it any secret that she showed a keen ability with any battle weaves she was taught. Between that, her strength with saidar, and the fact that the sisters themselves were already stretched as thin as they could go, it should have come as no shock when they had woken her hours ago and confirmed all her suspicions. She was headed for the battle front, to help the Tower hold a strategic bridge-town on the river Erinin. To help them hold it at all costs. Light help her.
Bresha never responded to her harsh words. She merely studied her for a moment, and then turned for the door.
“Be down at the stable yard in an hour’s time. We depart then.”
I wonder if I’ll feel anything when my fingers fall off.
She couldn’t remember ever being this cold before in her life. Andoran winters could be harsh, to be sure, and she had spent several winters north of Caemlyn in Tar Valon, but never before had she been forced to be outdoors for hours on end when snow piled the ground. The heavy traveling cloak she wore was wrapped tight around her, cowl pulled forward to block the wind, and as she shivered she glared daggers at the backs of the two women ahead of her. Neither Bresha nor Galeana had deigned to teach her that mysterious trick of not allowing the climate to touch you—a trick that every other Aes Sedai seemed to know. The two women had kept to themselves thus far on the journey, and when Karishyn had made a small attempt to join their hushed conversation, they had treated her as though she were a servant sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. Or at least Bresha had treated her that way. Galeana had merely looked at her, with a calm, even gaze and said nothing. The older Green always looked calm and even, even when Kari had accidentally set her skirts on fire while Galeana was tutoring her on the weaves for her raising. She had simply extinguished the flames with an unhurried weave, and asked Kari to try again. Secretly, she wondered if Galeana would not have made a better White than Green, but even so there was a fundamental steel to the woman’s personality, the same steel which all Greens seemed to possess. Not to mention the fact that she held the bond of three warders, who traveled with them now. It had been Galeana who had informed her in that calm voice that she had been nearly beyond the point of Healing when she had completed her testing. The news did not particularly surprise her, after all she had taken an arrow in her stomach during her final trial, it was still unsettling to be told that you had almost died in such a matter-of-fact way.
Yet despite her level-headedness and her seniority, the elder Aes Sedai seemed to take her cues from Bresha. This had been the cause of quite a bit of pondering on Kari’s part, as she tried to puzzle out why a woman like Galeana would follow after a woman like Bresha, but for the life of her she could not figure it out. For an instant she had thought it must be due to the fact that Bresha was stronger in the power than Galeana, but that notion had been quickly dismissed when Kari figured that if that were the case, Bresha should defer to Kari herself, as she could wield far more saidar than the other woman. Finally she had been forced to come to the conclusion that she was simply being left out of some loop, and it was very possible that she was being left out intentionally. She knew very little of inner-Ajah politics, and so she could not say if Galeana or Bresha held some special place of importance in the Green Ajah itself, though she doubted it. It only added up that there was something that she was flat-out not being told.
Just then Erik, one of Galeana’s Warders, came riding up. He had spent most of the journey scouting the road ahead of the small party, and only returned when there was something to report.
“We should arrive in two hours time,” he said in his low, gravely voice. These words were directed to Galeana, but it was Bresha who responded.
“Excellent. We should be in well before nightfall.” She twisted round to look at Kari. “Karishyn, when we arrive, take the few medical supplies we have to their infirmary, and then stay there offering Healing to whoever needs it. I will summon you in the evening and tell you then what other work we might have for you.”
Kari opened her mouth to spit back that Bresha knew she could not Heal worth a damn, or she may have intended to just spit, but clamped it shut again knowing full well that no amount of protesting would change the other woman’s mind. At least she had not called her “child” again. Bresha’s face was smug as she turned back to her oh-so-private conversation with Galeana. Was it Kari’s imagination, or had Galeana shot her a brief, apologetic look?
Returning to her own silent musings, Kari found herself wishing she were still back in the Tower. Still wearing the banded white.
On their arrival, Bresha had immediately taken up talking with a grim-faced man who seemed to be in charge of some troops. Kari could understand being grim if your men were in all the state that these soldiers were in, but even so the stony-faced man’s expression bordered on frightening.
Maybe he’s just angry because he’s being forced to have a conversation with Bresha. I know I would be.
Galeana was speaking with her Warders, and so Kari was left to unpack the few medical supplies they had brought and carry them to the infirmary by herself. While they had not brought much in the way of salves and bandages, what they had brought filled Kari’s arms to the point of having a difficult time balancing everything and walking in a straight line.
Finding the makeshift infirmary did not take long, as it was the converted common room of one of the town’s few inns and located on one of the main streets. A disheartening sight greeted her as she pushed her way through the door. While the number of injured men occupying the room was not necessarily alarming, the atmosphere spoke of resignation and loss of hope.
She did not stand inside the door for long before a woman approached her with a careworn face. Despite obvious exhaustion, the other woman clearly had a kind and nurturing nature, with sympathetic brown eyes and mostly silver hair knotted into a bun on the nape of her neck.
“May I help you, ma’am? Are these supplies?” The second question came out in a tone that suggested a fear to hope.
“I am Karishyn Sedai,” Kari responded in a far more calm tone than she felt. Her emotions seemed to be all over the map as of late, and she knew it related directly to lack of sleep and stress. Right now she wanted to weep for these people who seemed to have already given so much, and now seemed to be living in fear that all their giving had been in vain. But she managed to keep her sadness from her voice. “A small party from the Tower has just arrived, and I am here to offer these medical supplies. I am afraid I have no skill with Healing, but hopefully these will be of some use.”
The elderly woman whose name she still did not know made no such effort to check her feelings. At Kari’s words, her kind brown eyes suddenly were swimming with tears. “Aes Sedai? Here? Light have mercy, there’s hope after all” she trailed off into a choking noise.
It was almost too much for Kari, and she felt tears of her own well in her eyes, but she knew it would not do on her first full day as Aes Sedai to burst into tears in front of a room full of soldiers. So she settled for shifting awkwardly beneath the bulk of her load, which seemed to snap the other woman back to focus.
“Allow me, Aes Sedai,” she said as she took much of the load from Kari, and then directed her on where to set out the supplies.
Kari learned that the other woman’s name was Bergiana, and that while the town itself had yet to see a real battle, soldiers had been trailing in for nearly a week now in search of food and shelter for their injured. Apparently the Aiel were so close now that everyone expected an attack at any moment, and they knew that if they lost control of the bridge, the Aiel would have a much more direct path to Tar Valon. In truth Kari knew very little of the battle strategy, she had not even been shown a map of who was where and where the Aiel were pushing, but apparently the Green Ajah did not care whether or not she understood the situation so long as she did as she was told.
As though disgruntled thoughts of her Ajah had summoned her, Bresha pushed her way through the main door just as Kari finished helping Bergiana count and tab supplies.
“Karishyn, a word,” was all she said as she made a motion toward the street outside, and then stepped back through the door. And as quickly as that her subdued sadness flashed into broiling anger, barely contained beneath an Aes Sedai mask of calm. She did not think she would ever learn to wear that mask continuously, as all the other Sisters seemed to do, but she could summon it when she needed it. Barely.
She set a bottle of ointment back down on the table so firmly that the other bottles around it rattled against one another. “If you will excuse me a moment, Bergiana.”
As she stepped out onto the street, her fragile grip of her temper seemed to slip away at the sight of Bresha standing there, looking at her as though she were a Novice who had just been caught cuddling with one of the men in training. Of all the infuriating…!
Kari nearly gave a start when she suddenly realized that Bresha was not alone, though, and it took her nearly until she was standing next to the woman to see the same grim faced man from earlier standing off to one side. She must not have kept the startled look completely from her face, however, because when Bresha spoke she now wore an amused expression.
“Karishyn, this is Elijah Hawke. He is in charge of most of the fighting men in the city, and he has informed me that most of their armor is in desperate need of repairs. I told him that you would be happy to assist them with their needs, if he would be so kind as to direct you to where to go. I know you are hopeless when it comes to Healing, so I thought that this way you could at least be of some use. I will be helping the men here in the infirmary.”
Kari made a slightly strangled noise as she barely bit back the words “I hope you die in this war, you stupid cow.” It was one thing to speak to her with such patronizing words in private, but the man was standing right there! Instead, she just turned toward him, and mumbled the word “Fine.” She was afraid if she said more, she would say too much. Instead, she turned her attention to the grey-eyed man beside her, glad to have an excuse to get away from the other woman.
“Master Hawke, if you will lead the way.”