Galendra sat with her roommate, still crying softly
over the memories, when there was a knock on the door. She looked up,
wondering whom it would be. Jen calmly told her to sit, and wipe away her
tears, while she opened the door. Gali wiped away her tears quickly, and
then looked up. She gasped in surprise at who it was, and quickly rose to
curtsy. "Novice Galendra?"
"Yes Sabine Sedai?" Gali asked.
"Come, it is time" Sabine said gently, and beckoned for Galendra
Gali's brow furrowed, time, time for what? She looked at her roommates wide
eyes, and surprised expression, and all of a sudden realized what it was
time for. It was time for her to be tested. " Sabine Sedai?"
Galendra said hesitantly
"Yes Child?" Sabine said, giving Galendra a thoughtful look.
"Am I to be tested?"
"Yes, are you ready?"
"Of course Aes Sedai, I am ready for anything." Gali said with
confidence. Sabine nodded approvingly
"Good, follow me child, do not lag behind" Sabine Sedai lectured.
"Of course Aes Sedai" Galendra hurried up, swallowing her fears.
It would not be good to be afraid yet. As she followed the mistress of
novices, Galendra tried to prepare herself for what she was about to face.
"I can do it, whatever I am to face isn't real, it is my imagination! I
can do this, I must be strong!"
Galendra actually felt better after lecturing herself, and was relatively
calm when walking into the chamber. Immediately her eyes fell upon the three
shining arches in the middle, and looked no where's else. She felt drawn to
them…. Something pulled her towards them…… and all of a sudden she was
jerked back by a voice.
"Child, are you listening to me? What I have to tell you is very
important. You will be given to 3 chances to start, on the third time, if
you refuse, you will be thrown out of the tower. Do you wish to go on?"
" Yes Aes Sedai" Galendra forced the words out of her mouth,
"There are things no one hears until she comes to this room. 1; you may
not turn back! Once you begin, there is no turning back. Once you turn back,
you will be thrown out. Do you understand?"
Gali swallowed " Yes Aes Sedai"
"Good, 2; "Secondly, to seek, to strive is to know danger. Some
women have entered the ter'angreal and never come back out. When it was
allowed to grow still, they were-not-there. They were never seen again. If
you are to survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail, …" Sabine
looked at her questioningly " Knowing what you know now, do you wish to
Galendra opened her mouth to say yes, then shut it. She wanted to say no, oh
light she wanted to say no! "Yes Aes Sedai"
A red sister began to speak " Whom do you bring with you sister?"
"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister," Sabine
"Is she ready?"
"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her
fears, gain Acceptance."
"Does she know her fears?"
"She has never faced them, but now is willing."
"Then let her face her fears."
Sabine led Galendra towards the arches. At that point she stopped, and
Galendra took off her shift. She took a deep breath. This was it. She was
ready as she would ever be.
"The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be
steadfast." Sabine said. Sabine turned around, touching her shoulder
for just a second. Galendra took a breath…. And walked in.
She stumbled, Galendra picked herself up to the sound of laughing. She
turned around and saw Jaclyn grinning, "And what would you being
laughing at? If you are laughing at me, you had better be worried!"
Gali said laughing, and started running towards him. She stopped in mid
flight, "wait, what am I doing ere? I should be at the tower…. "
Gali mumbled to herself "The tower?"
"what's that Gal?" Jaclyn asked worriedly, " You aren't
having those headaches again are you?"
"oh no, just talking to myself!" Gal said laughing, " come on
lets…." Galendra didn't have a chance to finish as someone called her
"Galendra!" Called Jaclyn's mother panicky, "come quick! It's
your father!" Galendra took off, her father!
"what is it?" Gali asked breathlessly as she neared Casnesa
"Is it the same…."
"yes child, do not waste time! Hurry!"
Gali burst into the room were the wisdom was moping her fathers face. "
He is not well child, spend what time you can with him!" The wisdom
A sob wracked Gali's body as she looked at her father. She sat next to him
and pat his hand, "it'll be alright" she murmured.
Just then one of the men burst into the room.
"There is a Aes Sedai in the next town, Jack could make it Gali, and
you know you are the only one that can ride him! You must hope on quickly
and ride like the wind!" He said quickly, urging her towards the
stable. Gali kissed her fathers face, and took off, towards her horse. She
vaulted on his back without a thought. As she was galloping towards the
village, a voice called out "be brave my dear, and steadfast!"
steadfast? Where had she heard that lately?
All of a sudden a voice popped into her head "the way back will come
but once" "the way back will come but once?" Just as she
reached the village, she remembered, the arches. Standing in the middle of
the road was a silver arch. And on the next road was the Aes Sedai. Gali
stopped, indecision, the arch wavered, and she looked toward the Aes Sedai.
"the way back will come but once"
"no!!!!, I can't leave him!" Galendra sobbed, and rode Jack hard
towards the arch "I'm sorry father!" she cried as she burst
through the arches.
Galendra fell down to the floor as she burst through, sobs making her body
jerk, "I left him, I left him!" she sobbed.
"You are washed clean of what sin you may have done, and of those done
against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and
of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, heart
and soul". Sabine said.
"Damn you! I don't care if I am washed clean and pure! I left him! I
left my father! I left him to die! Damn you!" Galendra screamed.
"You don't mean that, it's not real, they are your fears, you can stop
now, do you wish to continue?" Sabine asked calmly.
With fury deep in her voice " Do you think I experience pain that deep
to stop now. Tell me the rest so I may stop"
"Very well, "The second time is for what is. The way back will
come but once. Be steadfast."
Galendra walked into the arch, and blinked her eyes at the sudden bright
light of the sun. She looked around her small village that had seemed so
empty since the passing of her father and Jaclyn's father. All of a sudden,
she was tackled form behind. Without looking she put on a lecturing tone and
said "Jaclyn, how many times do I have to tell you…" She
laughing turned around, and was greeted by a face she had learned to love as
much as anything.
"How are you today my love?" Jaclyn asked.
"Well, now that I have seen you" Gali replied, slipping her hand
into his, Now that they were promised to each other, the world seemed
brighter. He was what she lived for, and her for him.
"what is the news from afar? "
At this Jack's voice became worried, "Another attack my sweet, they are
"Oh jack, you worry to much!" Gali chided. "they aren't going
to come get us!, Now, I have to go and tuck in your little sister!, I'll see
you tomorrow" Gali waved as she jogged towards the house. She tucked
his sister in, and then finished what she had to do before bed, when she
heard yelling. Looking out her window, Gali saw fighting. "oh my …..
Jack was right, Gali thought to herself as she picked up her fathers sword
and ran out the door. Gali didn't think for herself, she had to help save
"Galendra! Get back in the house" Gali heard Jaclyn call.
"hahaha" Gali laughed "I'm better with a sword than you
Gali called as she sliced a man's arm.
Gali glanced over to where she heard her named called, and in her head heard
"the way back will come but once, be steadfast" and saw a silver
arch, and also saw Jack surrounded by men. She looked from one to another.
"the way back will come but once"
"The way back will come but once"
"Galendra" Jack called desperate "please! Help me!"
"no!" Gali called as she saw a sword go into Jack as she went
through the arch. "oh Light no! I could have saved him!" Galendra
pounded her hands on the ground, "I could have saved him, I could have
saved him!" Galendra looked up at the ageless faces surrounding her
"I could have saved him" she whispered.
She felt water pouring over her "You are washed clean of false pride.
You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in
heart and soul,"
" Will it ever stop hurting?" Gali asked herself. "will it
"Of course child, do you wish to continue?"
Galendra pulled herself upright, holding herself straight "Yes Sabine
Sedai, I am ready"
""The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but
once. Be steadfast."
Galendra walked through the arches. She was in a small village. She saw
fighting everywhere, and saw Jaclyn fighting for his life along sides other
warders and soldiers. She felt herself embrace saidar, and send fireballs
slicing through the air. What was going on? Oh yes the darkfriends, where
was her head? She looked behind her to make sure that the villagers were
alright. Feeling her angreal around her neck, she drew in more Saidar.
"The way back will come but once" echoed through her head "be
steadfast" She felt Jaclyn faltering. She glanced over and saw the
warder's numbers becoming smaller. She moved over towards her warder.
"Gal! Get Back!" Jaclyn called out
"Never! You're going to go down!" Jack was now facing 3
blademasters, by himself. "The way back will come but once"
Gal looked around and saw the other Aes Sedai fall back! "Fight for the
light!" Galendra called out "Never give up!" Just as she was
hurrying towards the helpless villagers, she saw the arch, and saw Jack go
down. "Jack!" She felt his pain, but she saw the enemy surround
the villagers, and the arch flicker. She was faced with three choices. She
moved towards the villagers, and felt Jack die, and the arch flicker. Torn
with pain, she ran towards the arch screaming "never give up! Never
give up! "
As she walked into the room she was yelling " Fight for the light,
fight for the light!" And in her last glance backward, saw the
villagers overcome. "no!, she tried to turn back, but she had come to
far. "why?, I killed them, I killed them!" then the feeling over
welled her "I left him twice! I left hi twice, twice to die! Oh Jack,
Jack" Galendra moaned as she cried out "jack!"
She was washed over by water. She looked up to see the Amyrlin. "You
are washed clean of Galendra Tlywelyn of Andor. You are washed clean of all
ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and
soul. You are Galendra Tlywelyn, Accepted of the White Tower."
"Does it matter? It doesn't, not when you leave someone to die, someone
you have loved all you life." The tears were gone from Galendra. All
that was left was a cold fury " For what you have put me through, I
will become Aes Sedai, but I will hate you for making me leave what I love,
I will hate you always." She said it with such a finality that it was
hard not to believe her. That she would hate them.
The Amrylin stepped up to her calmly, and put a hand on her shoulder,
"you faced your fears. Do not let them take you over, you are accepted
now Galendra, and you will have control of your emotions." When
Galendra heard these words, she remembered the words Jack and her father had
told her. That she mad them proud, and that by being Aes Sedai, she would
make them even more proud. At that point, Galendra stood up tall, and looked
She put on her dress, and ring. She saw some of the Aes Sedai actually
shudder at the look in her eyes. She would cry no more tears in front of
them. She would be strong. Always strong, never let anyone see what's inside
of you. Always strong…forever……
Kristal intended to polish the saddle until she could see her reflection on
it. She had found the grimy old thing in one of the store rooms of the Tower
and thought it might still be saved. Kristal needed a replacement for the
saddle she had used so far - it was already coming apart at the seams - but
she had no money to buy a new one. The prizes they asked in Tar Valon...
Kristal shook her head in disgust and kept polishing. Novices could not be
She was so engrossed in her task that she did not even notice Sabine Sedai
before the Brown Sister patted her on the shoulder. She jumped, lifting her
golden brown eyes to the Mistress of Novices. "Kristal. Come along,
child", Sabine Sedai said in her most commanding voice. Kristal almost
dropped the saddle out of sheer fright.
"But I have this chore to finish..." Kristal managed, not knowing
what she had done to merit the Mistress of Novices' undivided attention.
"The hour waits on no woman", Sabine Sedai said, and only then did
Kristal understand. Fear fluttered in her stomach like a dozen butterflies.
The Testing? She had waited for this day, even longed for it - but now that
it was here, so suddenly and unexpectedly, she did not know if she was ready
to face the terror of the Arches after all.
Kristal tried to keep her calm as she followed the Mistress of Novices to
the underground chamber where she knew the Testing would take place. Sabine
Sedai talked and talked, explaining to her what to expect and what to do,
but Kristal heard none of it. The frantic drumming of her own heart drowned
all other sounds, and to her great shame, Kristal realised that her hands
were shaking violently. When they entered the Three Arches chamber and
Kristal laid eyes on the glowing ter'angreal, she had to shut her eyes and
bite her lip to stop the scream that she felt coming from the very depths of
Three Sisters were sitting around the ter'angreal, staring into its depths
intently, and yet another waited by a simple table on which stood three
silver chalices. All the Sisters wore their shawls, the Mistress of Novices
included. Kristal focused on the shawls, not knowing what else to do in her
fear. Sabine Sedai was a Brown. The one standing was a Yellow. The other
three, none of whom Kristal recognised, were members of the Green, Blue, and
White Ajahs. Kristal looked around frantically, searching for Sisters of the
Red and Gray Ajahs - the rainbow would not be complete without them. The
ter'angreal filled the chamber with a soft humming sound, but Kristal
refused to look at it. Where were the Sisters? They had to be there
The Mistress of Novices touched her arm.
"You may refuse, Kristal", Sabine Sedai reminded her, not
unkindly. "No one is forcing you to do this."
Kristal forced herself to calm down and stop jumping at every sound like a
newborn foal. "No. I must do it sooner or later", she whispered,
her voice shaking like a leaf in an autumn storm. "I will not
"Very well, then", the Mistress of Novices said.
The Yellow Sister approached. "Whom do you bring with you,
Sister?" she asked Sabine Sedai in formal tones.
"One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister", the
Mistress of Novices replied just as formally.
"Is she ready?"
"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her
fears, gain Acceptance."
"Does she know her fears?"
"She has never faced them, but now is willing", Sabine Sedai said.
No, I am not willing, Kristal thought, but what choice do I have?
"Then let her face what she fears", the Yellow intoned, stepping
aside so that there was nothing between Kristal and the softly humming
Kristal undressed quickly and folded the white dress neatly before placing
it on the floor. She shivered from the chill that seemed to linger in the
room - it was as if the ghosts of the past had come to see her fail or
succeed. If everything went well, she would never have to wear white again.
But if something happened... Kristal shook all over. She did not want to
think about it. The young Borderlander straightened her back, lifted her
chin proudly, and stepped towards the ter'angreal.
"The first time is for what was", Sabine Sedai said, and Kristal
knew with a sinking certainty that the moment had come. "The way back
will come but once. Be steadfast."
Taking a deep breath, Kristal stepped into the light.
Be steadfast. The way back will come but once. The strange, disembodied
voice buzzed at the edge of Kristal's consciousness. She shook her head,
trying to clear her confused thoughts. What had the voice said again? It was
probably nothing important.
The morning sun shed its bright light over the granite city of Fal Dara.
Kristal sat in her mother's little garden, absently trimming a bed of
snowdrops. For some reason her thoughts were fuzzy and she could not quite
remember what she had been doing a moment before. She stopped in her work,
staring at her hands. They were small and grubby.
"Why the long face, little sister? You look like Aleisa did after that
gorgeous blademaster told her that he was married."
Kristal looked up as her elder sister joined her by the flowerbed and
answered the question with an angry question. "What are you doing here
in the garden with the outcasts, miss High Lady of the King's Court?"
Sharelle's presentation ball had taken place but a few weeks earlier, and
Kristal was sick of hearing about it.
"Why do you always have to be so dramatic, little flea?" her
pretty, smart sister laughed and threw back her head so that her lustrous
blond hair flashed golden in the sunlight. At seventeen, Sharelle was well
aware of her beauty. "By the way, Mother said that you can go
now", she winked at Kristal. "She thinks you have had enough time
to think about ladylike behaviour. To be honest, the cloud of your self-pity
must have perplexed people on the other side of the world. Off with you now,
but if I hear you cursing like a fishmonger's wife again..." Sharelle
lifted an eyebrow in a most irritating way. Kristal hated it when her sister
started to act superior, but there was nothing she could do about it.
Ten-year-olds did not dictate the behaviour of elder siblings.
"Fine. The snowdrops are not very lively company anyway", she
"In that case, you might want to know that Rolan just rode into
town", Sharelle said, winking at her. "I saw him coming from my
window. I think he will stay for a week or so, to celebrate his twenty-first
name day, before he goes on patrol again."
"Why didn't you tell me right away? I have to see him at once!"
Kristal exclaimed, already running. She took the shortest way to the
stables, desperate to get there ahead of the others so that she could spend
a few precious moments alone with Rolan. He had been away for ages, and she
had missed him so much. They all had, but she worst of all.
She got there just in time to see the tall, blond warrior riding through the
gate on his roan Daggertip. Sunlight glinted on his twin swords, and the
proud tilt of his head made Kristal think he must be the mightiest warrior
in the world.
She could not help herself. "Rolan! Rolan, you're home!" she
screamed, running to him with her arms outstretched. He dismounted and
turned to face her with a wide grin on his handsome face.
"Kristal! How's my baby sister?" he laughed and caught her as she
came rushing into his arms.
Suddenly the stableyard was full of voices, all screaming the same name.
Rolan hugged Kristal for a moment longer before releasing her and turning to
receive equally affectionate welcomes from the rest of the family. Their
brother Kail burst out of the stables with an incredulous expression on his
lively face, and hurried to greet Rolan who was grinning like a pumpkin.
Both their sisters, Aleisa and Sharelle, approached more slowly but their
welcoming hugs were no less affectionate than Kristal's had been. And
finally, when most of the commotion had died, their beautiful mother came on
their father's arm, walked gracefully across the stableyard, and fell
weeping into her eldest child's embrace.
"Welcome home, son", their father said, smiling gently. "I
know there are things you wish to do, but your mother and I must talk to you
first. Let's go into my study. There is something you should know."
For the last five minutes, Kristal had been busy trying to regain the full
attention of her brother and had not paid much attention to anyone else, but
their father's words sounded so serious and secretive even to her that she
released Rolan's sleeve and looked up at her brother questioningly.
"Later, pest", he smiled down at her, then turned to their father.
"What is it, Father?"
"You'll see", their mother spoke in her clear, melodious voice and
took his arm. "Come now, Rolan. You are a grown man now, and you have
the right to know." Rolan gave their mother a curious look, but the
three of them walked into the house without another word. Kristal had never
seen them behave so strangely. She wondered what was going on.
A half-hour later, Kristal was happily bouncing along one of the corridors
of the Meridin family home, when a loud commotion broke out somewhere
nearby. Startled, she saw Rolan burst out of their father's study, followed
by their mother who looked panicky for the first time in Kristal's memory.
"Son, please listen to me! It is all in the past, I do not want you to
risk your life for things long buried", she shouted, to no avail.
Rolan's face was like stone, and an expression of terrible determination
glowed in his dark eyes. He brushed Kristal aside like a feather and marched
out of the main door, their mother still trailing after him and begging him
not to go. Their father emerged from the study, walking like a wounded man,
and restrained his wife with a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"If he has to go, he has to go. You told him, my love, knowing that
this might happen", Karel Meridin said quietly. His resigned tone
frightened Kristal, who had frozen on the doorstep when Rolan had pushed her
"Go where?" Kristal did not understand. She found her courage and
ran after her brother. "Where are you going? Can I come with you?"
Rolan seemed not to notice her at all. He was clenching and unclenching his
fists and staring at nothing. Kristal had to run to keep pace with him. Not
a word did he utter, but marched straight to his warhorse's stall and
saddled the roan Daggertip.
"Rolan, you can't leave! It is your name day", Kristal panicked,
tugging her big brother's sleeve.
Rolan laughed, a sardonic, pained guffaw that left Kristal's heart bleeding.
She had never heard him laugh like that, nor had she seen this kind of
tearing pain in his dark eyes. "My name day. Yes. And such a present
Mother just gave me", he said, taking his horse out of the stall.
"Go back inside, little sister. You do not need to see me go."
"I don't understand - why are you going? What did Mother say to you?
Let me go with you!"
"Just go inside, Kristal. You'll catch your death out here. The
Shienaran winters are colder every year", Rolan smiled sadly and
mounted Daggertip. Kristal reached out her arms, wanting him to lift her up
on the horse's back like so many times before, but he shook his head.
Kristal could almost feel her heart breaking.
"What was that?" Kristal yelped, looking around in search of
whomever it was that had just spoken. There was no one there. She turned
back to her brother only to see him riding through the gate into the cold,
snowy city. "Rolan, wait! You can't leave like this! Tell me what's
wrong! Please!" she screamed after him.
He turned to face her once more then. His smile was sad, sadder than she had
ever seen. "Goodbye, Kristal. You will be beautiful when you grow up. I
only wish I could be here to see it."
Tears were flowing freely from her golden brown eyes. She did not know what
her parents had said to Rolan, but she would not - could not - accept this.
"At least let me come with you to the city gates, Rolan. Don't leave me
A hint of indecision touched his face, and he hesitated for a heartbeat.
Kristal felt her hopes rising.
Be steadfast. The way back will come but once.
It was like waking from a dream. There, on the other side of the stableyard,
was the shining arch that brought back all her memories. Suddenly she knew
exactly what their mother had told Rolan, and remembered the confused pain
she had felt - would feel - when she herself heard the truth about her
family's Malkieri origin. The destruction of the land that should have been
theirs had given Rolan a wound that had never healed, a wound that had sent
him to the Seven Towers... this very day. Torn between love and duty,
Kristal hesitated, glancing from her brother - the brother that had died and
would die again if she let him go now - to the silvery arch that represented
the destiny she knew could be hers one day. This is not real, he is gone
forever and I cannot change that, she thought, but could not help wondering.
The moment of hesitation cost her dearly. Between one glance and another,
Rolan had time to dig his heels into Daggertip's flanks. With a clatter of
steel-shod hooves, the warhorse leaped forward, taking Kristal's brother
with him. To the Blight, to his death. Suddenly Kristal was a ten-year-old
girl again, a child that knew deep inside that she had just lost her
brother. She had failed again.
"Rolan! Noooo! Wait!" Kristal screamed after him, knowing that if
she ran, she might still shout him a warning and perhaps save his life, but
knowing also that she herself had no time to lose. The arch... She glanced
back at the accursed thing.
Be steadfast. The arch was flickering. Pain clutched at heart so hard that
she thought it might burst, but still Kristal ran into the light.
Kristal fell to the floor, clenching and unclenching her fists in absolute
outrage. "That was cruel!" she shrieked as the Yellow Sister
approached her with a silver chalice. The fury in her golden brown eyes made
the Aes Sedai hesitate, but a nod from Sabine Sedai was enough to send her
forward and pour the water in the chalice over Kristal's head.
"You are washed clean of what sin you may have done", the Sister
intoned, "and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what
crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come
to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul."
Kristal took a deep breath and focused on Sabine Sedai, feeling confused and
hurt. Had the Sisters done this to her on purpose? "Clean? How can I
ever feel clean again after holding his life in my hands and then letting
him die all over again?" she choked, staggering up from the floor. She
couldn't bear the thought of having to endure something like that twice
"Every woman's fears are her own", Sabine Sedai sighed, leading
her to the second arch. "You know that the second time will be worse,
and the third worse still. No one will force you to enter the arches again,
but if you refuse to continue now, you will be kindly put out of the Tower
with enough silver to support you for a year, and that will be the end of
"No fear of that. I will see this through", Kristal snapped,
getting angrier by the minute. The terror was eating her alive, but she knew
she had to continue. She had to. If she failed in this, too, after so many
other failures, she would only prove that fear ruled her, and she could
never look her reflection in the eyes any more. Her resolution came close to
crumbling as she stood before the second arch, looking into the silvery mist
that swirled steadily, concealing the Light only knew what behind it.
"The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be
Kristal walked into the swirling fog stiffly, as if someone was holding a
dagger to her throat.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Kristal frowned in
puzzlement, losing track of the conversation for a moment. She had a slight
headache. Lifting her hands to her temples, she tried to remember what she
had been about to say if anything. The chatter of countless noblemen and
noblewomen echoed in her head. Such silly court butterflies they were.
"Are you well, my lady?" a soft, worried voice reached her ears
and someone touched her wrist cautiously. Kristal lifted her eyes and saw a
tall, darkly handsome warrior looming over her protectively. His eyes
gleamed golden in the candlelight. She flashed him her brightest smile, the
one she always used when she did not want to reveal her true feelings, and
got a relieved grin in return. Light, but he was gorgeous when he grinned
like that. From somewhere came... memories, faint recollections of a reality
other than this, warnings that she should keep her head clear because there
was something unpleasant she would soon have to do, but Kristal brushed them
away like flies. She concentrated on the man in front of her, searching her
mind for the right thing to say to him. Somehow she had the feeling that
saying the right thing was very important. This man was... someone
"I beg your pardon, Lord Larys, but the heat always has this effect on
me. I cannot stand crowds. You were saying?"
"It was of no importance. I merely said once more that it is a rare
honour to serve under your father. Even the greenest beginner feels like a
blademaster when Karel Meridin leads the patrol." He winked at her.
Kristal chuckled in delight, blushing slightly. Larys had grown bolder with
her of late. How well she remembered the day when her father had introduced
the young Border-lord to her, at his shy request. Larys had not even dared
look her in the eyes then. Kristal's father had told her later that Larys
had seen her hunting with her mother that day, and quietly wondered who the
young woman who rode like the wind was. What a stroke of luck that the young
woman in question had a sharp-sighted father who led that particular border
And Larys had gradually gained more confidence when Kristal had shown no
sign of being intimidated by his yellow eyes. Last week he had even asked
her out for a ride. Kristal had fought a hard battle with her mother to be
allowed to go, but she had had her way in the end. She usually did.
"Father has had nothing but praise for you since I came home, lord
Larys. Surely you are no beginner in the art of war." And she knew he
was not. Larys was young to be sure, but he had risen through the ranks
faster than anyone in years. Kristal had heard her father talk about Larys,
and knew that he approved of him. She had overheard her father telling her
mother that even if young Larys did have strange eyes, he was a skilled
swordsman with the heart in the right place, and intelligent enough to be a
scholar. Kristal suspected that her mother would never have allowed Larys to
escort her to her presentation ball, had her father not had such a high
opinion on the young blademaster. Larys's eyes made her mother and sisters
terribly nervous. Kristal sighed and smoothed her lavish gown of blue silk,
thinking that it was a miracle that she was here at all, and not in Tar
Valon wearing Novice white.
Larys seemed to read her thoughts, for he took her hand in his and lifted it
to his lips, all the while keeping his golden eyes on her face. He knew she
was not afraid of him and admired her all the more for it. Kristal could not
help thinking that his eyes held mystery upon mystery, and that she would
like to explore each and every one of them. One could easily drown in those
eyes. "You cannot begin to guess how grateful I am that the Aes Sedai
sent you back home, my lady", he told her, a little smile touching his
lips. Kristal smiled. She still could not believe that she was free of Aes
Sedai forever. "I would never even have met you, if they had discovered
that you could channel. I have never had a friend like you before. I had
thought I was doomed to a life of duty and dark solitude, but here I am now,
speaking to the most beautiful woman I have ever beheld, a woman who truly
cares, and she is smiling to me like the sun itself."
Kristal blushed crimson, but did not pull her hand from his.
"Outrageous flatterer", she reprimanded him. "Compared to the
other girls here, I am but a thorn among the roses."
"Your beauty is the brilliance of well-polished steel, Kristal. The
pretty faces in this room will fade to nothingness and be gone forever, but
your loveliness cuts me straight to the heart", Larys took her other
hand and pressed it to his heart. "Will you dance with me?"
Kristal's heart thundered in her chest as he drew her to the centre of the
dance floor and pulled her close. As the music surrounded them and Larys led
her through the steps of a popular Shienaran dance, Kristal felt as if she
was flying. His smiling face, his gentle eyes, they were so close. Kristal
could not understand why people shunned Larys and named him Darkfriend
because of his eyes - he was kind and good, and she thought she could easily
spend the rest of her life in his arms like this.
Kristal jumped at the sound, startling Larys. "What is the matter, my
lady? Are you unwell?" he asked, sounding worried. His arms tightened
around her, which made her swoon all the more.
"No, I am fine, there is nothing wrong with me", she gasped.
"The heat... it must be the heat that is making me so dizzy."
"What was I thinking of, I should never have asked you to dance in the
first place", Larys cursed, leading her from the dance floor and away
from the crowd. "You need fresh air and there is none to be had here.
Will you come with me to the gardens?"
"I will, and gladly", she managed, leaning heavily on him as he
led her outdoors. Kristal breathed deeply on the fresh air of the summer
evening, let her senses be filled with the fragrance of night-blooming
flowers, and closed her eyes as a gentle breeze cooled her feverish brow.
The blessed silence allowed her to gather her thoughts. "Thank
you", she said to Larys. "I did not realise just how stuffy it was
in there. Too many people, too much noisy chatter. I much prefer to be alone
with you like this." Suddenly she fell quiet, realising what she had
just said. For a moment, the whole world seemed to be holding its breath.
"Kristal, I have been meaning to ask you something", lord Larys
said, his eyes gleaming in the twilight like two little stars. "I know
I have no right to ask, but..."
Be steadfast. The way back will come but once. It was only when Larys
released her hands and asked worriedly if he had insulted her that Kristal
realised she had not heard his last words at all. The strange, disembodied
voice that had come from nowhere and everywhere at once had drowned his
"What... what did you just say?" she asked, her voice shaking of
suppressed emotion. She had the nasty feeling that she was supposed to be
doing something very important, but having him there was enough to drive
everything else away. Could it be? Was he finally proposing to her?
"I know you can only say no, but... I love you with all my heart. Will
you marry me?" he asked, suddenly sounding very young and very
insecure. Kristal's heart reached out to him. Happiness choked her so that
she could not speak. She lifted her hand to his face, gently touching his
raven black hair, softer than silk. Hope flashed in his lupine eyes, and
Kristal did not even realise tears were flowing freely down her cheeks.
Be steadfast. A sudden chill made her shiver. Something silvery had appeared
at the edge of her vision. Without wanting to, she turned her head and saw
with dread the familiar arch. Her expression of indescribable happiness
changed into one of purest terror in the blink of an eye. "Oh no",
she whispered. "Oh no. No. Not now." She went stiff in Larys's
arms and disentangled herself. A jolt of unbearable pain went through her at
the sight of his face. He seemed suddenly lost, blind, unable to understand
what was happening but painfully aware that whatever it was, it was taking
her away from him.
"Kristal, what is wrong? I am sorry, I should not have..."
"No, hush, don't say another word. I have to go", she blurted out,
knowing that if he told her one more time that he loved her, she would be
undone. She took a step towards the silver arch, a step away from Larys. He
reached for her, but she shrank away from his touch - and saw to her horror
that the hope that had shone so brightly in his eyes now flickered and died.
"Is it my eyes? Are you afraid that I will go mad, like everyone else
believes?" he said in a choked voice, his hand still outstretched, his
expression breaking her heart.
"No, no, I did not mean it that way, please can't we talk about this
some other time, I have to go", Kristal pleaded, fixing her eyes on the
arch, fearing that it might disappear any moment. She knew she had to hurry
"Don't, please", he begged her, anxiety and desperation plain on
his handsome face. "I feel like I will never see you again if I let you
out of my sight now. Please, Kristal, I love you so."
The tears came and Kristal had no strength to stop them. As Larys tried to
reach her one last time, she whirled away from him and ran towards the arch,
pressing her hands to her ears as hard as she could to avoid hearing him
call her name. Weeping bitterly, she stumbled into the white light.
"I could have married him", she sobbed, curling into a tight
little ball, shutting out the world. "I could have had a family, a
normal life. I could have been happy if you had let me stay there."
"Dear child, there is always a reason not to return", Sabine Sedai
spoke, motioning for the Yellow Sister to approach with the second chalice.
Kristal did not even look at her, but shuddered when the water splashed over
"You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false
ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul", the sister
intoned. Kristal staggered up, shot murderous glances around the room, and
walked to the third and final arch. She refused to even think what lay on
the other side. If she faltered even a little now, she knew she would not be
able to continue.
"Let's get this over and done with", she growled, not even
bothering to remember her manners. Having to endure horror after horror was
enough to bring the darker side of anyone to the light.
"The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once.
Be steadfast", Sabine Sedai's voice seemed to be coming from a
distance. Kristal stared at the silvery mist for a long moment before
walking into it.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Kristal stumbled in the
middle of a step and nearly fell. What was it about this day - she had been
unbelievably clumsy since daybreak; dropping dishes, fumbling with her
buttons, nearly cutting her own hand with a knife, almost breaking
Windarrow's new harness. She frowned, shaking her head to clear her
thoughts. Perhaps she was coming down with a cold or something.
"I see that the legendary Aes Sedai grace is slightly overrated, little
sister", Kail mocked her from the other side of the yard. "Watch
out or you'll end up breaking your neck. I had hoped you'd stay around for a
while, now that you are finally home."
"Shut up or I'll change you into a frog", Kristal snapped back,
smoothing her blue-fringed shawl. "Aes Sedai do not use the Power as a
weapon except in extreme circumstances, but silencing a brother like you
might be considered self-defence. Don't try me."
Kail choked back laughter and turned to saddle his white mare, Sunburst,
shoulders shaking of barely suppressed mirth. Frowning fiercely at his
turned back, Kristal occupied herself with untangling the last burrs from
Windarrow's silky tail and wondered if she was being punished for something.
She could feel Kail's amusement - the bloody man's laughter filled her head.
On second thought, bonding her own brother Warder had perhaps not been such
a good idea.
"Ready? Let's go, then", she said after a moment. "It's a
long way to the Blightborder."
Kail's customary cheeky grin was nowhere to be seen when the two of them
rode through the gates of Fal Dara and into the wilderness. He was all
business, alert, and on his guard as they entered the dark woods and turned
North. They rode in silence for many hours; there was no need to fill the
silence with words, for Kail and Kristal knew each other's thoughts well
enough even without the bond. Brother and sister, they anticipated and
complemented each other's movements, keeping an eye out for danger.
"What do you think the Seven Towers will look like?" Kristal asked
in the end, thinking that she had to do something or Windarrow's smooth,
swaying gait would lull her to sleep. She felt a touch of sadness through
the bond, and when Kail spoke, his brown eyes were full of sorrow.
"It will be bad, Kristal, and you should prepare for the sight. I broke
down and cried the first time I saw the crumbling ruins and the infested
lakes. The Blight corrupts everything, even the jewel that was once Malkier.
The city is dead."
"I have hopes that it will not always be like that", Kristal
sighed, fingering her belt-pouch, feeling the telltale shape of the tiny but
powerful angreal inside. For the last five years, she had been doing
research in the Tower, seeking for possible ways to purify shadow-tainted
land. She had had some promising results, but trying the weaves in practice
was what she had to do now. The mere thought made her shiver, but she
straightened her back proudly and reminded herself once more that the
Meridins did not give up that easily.
"I don't doubt your abilities, Kristal, but you do know that it's
extremely dangerous, not to mention foolish, to ride off like this?"
Kail sighed as they were crossing a small clearing.
...Kristal did not even bother to answer his half-hearted question. They had
had many a heated discussion on this subject, and she had won every single
one. Kail wanted to try reclaiming Malkier as much as she did, and he did
not have the heart to say no, regardless of how dangerous their mission was.
Both of them knew that it was easier to avoid danger in the Blight if the
party was small. Danger there would be, plenty of it, but Kristal hoped she
and Kail would be able to sneak past most of it. And if not, well, Kail had
his sword and Kristal had the One Power. And an angreal.
"We'll see how it goes-" Kristal's words were cut off by a loud
crack that came from somewhere near. She froze, fumbling for her belt knife.
"Shadowspawn", Kail growled and drew his sword with one smooth,
swift movement. Both scanned the treeline with their eyes, every sense
alert. The silence was oppressive, until the howling trollocs burst from the
woods, brandishing their crude weapons, snarling and eager to spill their
blood. A raiding party! Kristal did not know how the beasts had managed to
get past the watchtowers unseen, but there was no time to dwell on that now.
She thought she spotted the black cloak of a Halfman behind the horde, but
Kail rode protectively in front of her before she could be certain.
"Run, Kristal!" he shouted, not even looking at her. "Back to
Fal Dara now! I'll hold these!" He dug his heels to Sunburst's flanks,
and the sturdy white mare leaped towards the enemy before Kristal could stop
"No, you idiot! Get out of the way, I'll-" she yelped, embracing
saidar through the angreal and preparing to hurl the biggest, hottest
fireball she could manage. But Kail did not hear her. He rode one of the
trollocs down, hacking at it with his sword as it stumbled. He was in the
middle of the fray before Kristal could even take another breath, dancing
the forms more elegantly than she had ever seen. Soon three trollocs lay
lifeless at Sunburst's feet, but then one of the beasts lunged at Kail from
behind and pulled him from the saddle. Kail stabbed it through the eye and
it collapsed, but more were coming and he was badly outnumbered. Heart
fluttering in terror, Kristal held back the fireball in fear of scorching
Kail as well. She could only watch as he fought for his life, and hers.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. Kristal felt a shiver in her
spine as the disembodied voice whispered to her. She turned her head and saw
with growing dread a shining silvery arch appear at the edge of the
clearing. The memories pulled her under. Kail suddenly shouted in pain, and
when Kristal whirled around, she saw him pressing his hand to a gaping wound
on his thigh. She could feel his pain through the bond. An enormous trolloc
with a snarling wolf's head and cruel claws was closing in on him. Kristal
turned to look at the arch again, torn between love and duty.
"No. No, I cannot", she whispered, turning back towards Kail.
"No, I will not. Kail!" she screamed and leaped down from
Windarrow's back as her brother stumbled and barely dodged the trolloc's
attack. She started to run towards her brother, brandishing her little
knife. Kail was in agony - even Kristal could sense the pain the wound was
causing him. There must have been poison in the trolloc's blade.
Be steadfast. Kristal halted in mid-step, turning to look against her better
judgement. The arch was flickering now, ever so slightly. Sobbing in terror,
Kristal took a step towards it, remembering how she had sworn she would be a
Blue Sister one day. This is not real, she told herself. Kail is safe in Fal
Dara, he is safe, he is not dying. But she could not help looking over her
shoulder at the weakening warrior she knew was also her beloved brother.
"Kristal! Get away from here!" Kail gasped, his steps faltering.
The trolloc had slashed a deep wound to his sword arm, and his useless blade
fell to the ground with a clank. A Halfman emerged from the shadows, drawing
its deadly sword, walking to Kail with an executioner's calmness and a
murderer's coldness. The trolloc stepped aside, slobbering, giving way to
the snakelike figure in its black cloak. The fading sunlight glinted on the
Halfman's blade as it rose, rose, prepared for the final blow.
"Run, sister! Burn you, Kristal, run!" The bond told the truth and
nothing but the truth - Kail knew what was going to happen, and still he was
more afraid for her than for himself.
The blade flashed down.
"NOOOO!" Kristal shrieked as Kail fell and the bond between them
flickered and died, leaving behind only emptiness. Crying hysterically,
Kristal whirled around and ran to the arch. She closed her eyes because she
did not want to see any more. She fell into the white light hating the White
Tower and the Aes Sedai with all her heart.
Kristal crashed to the cold floor with speed, the momentum making her roll
far from the ter'angreal, but the physical pain she felt was nothing
compared to the mental agony that was tearing her apart from the inside. She
curled into a ball, weeping louder than she had ever wept before, hiding her
face from those around her.
"Not him, please Light, not him", she choked, seeing over and over
again how Kail fell to the enemy. "Please, please not my only brother,
take me instead, take me instead…" Her voice was so thick with tears
that it was barely recognisable. She wept on, not caring how many people saw
her shame and disgrace. "I can't do this again, I can't. I refuse, I
refuse, you can't force me…"
Someone touched her gently on the shoulder. When she finally looked up, she
saw Sabine Sedai's sympathetic face looking down on her. "Calm down,
child", the Mistress of Novices said, but Kristal could not calm down.
It was impossible.
"Nothing is worth that much", she sobbed. "Nothing!"
The Mistress of Novices sighed and helped Kristal up, a hint of old pain in
her eyes. "Come now", she said. "You have paid the first
price. Take what you have paid for."
Only then did Kristal realise that there were no more arches to go through.
She had made it. Wiping the tears from her face, she lifted her red-rimmed
eyes and saw the Amyrlin Seat, who was holding yet another silver chalice.
She knew what she was supposed to do and, refusing the supporting hand
Sabine Sedai offered, walked the last steps on her own. She closed her eyes
as the Amyrlin poured the cool water over her head, and let her past be
"You are washed clean of Kristal Meridin from Fal Dara", the
Amyrlin Seat spoke. "You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to
the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Kristal
Meridin, Accepted of the White Tower. You are sealed to us now."
Kristal hoped there was something she could have said or done to change
that. There was nothing. Someone handed her a dress, and she pulled it over
her head without thinking. Someone lifted her limp hand and pushed a Great
Serpent Ring to the middle finger.
Kristal collapsed to the floor, buried her face in her hands and wept.
OOC: Here they are! Congrats to anyone who managed to read this far. I got a
little carried away...
Accepted, Always Blue