The Great Hunt: Page 84
Named Pedra, she was a short, wiry woman, a little older than Nynaeve, and with a briskness always in her voice. "You're given this time because it is your first day, but I'll expect you in the scullery when the gong sounds High, and not one moment later."
Egwene curtsied, then stuck out her tongue at the Accepted's retreating back. It might have been only the evening before that Sheriam had finally put her name in the novice book, but already she knew she did not like Pedra. She pushed open the door and went in.
The room was plain and small, with white walls, and there was a young woman, with reddish gold hair spilling around her shoulders, sitting on one of two hard benches. The floor was bare; novices did not get much use of rooms with carpets. Egwene thought the girl was about her own age, but there was a dignity and selfpossession about her that made her seem older. The plainly cut novice dress appeared somehow more, on her. Elegant. That was it.
"My name is Elayne," she said. She tilted her head, studying Egwene. "And you are Egwene. From Emond's Field, in the Two Rivers." She said it as if it had some significance, but went right on anyway. "Someone who has been here a little while is always assigned to a new novice for a few days, to help her find her way. Sit, please."
Egwene took the other bench, facing Elayne. "I thought the Aes Sedai would teach me, now that I'm finally a novice. But all that's happened so far is that Pedra woke me a good two hours before first light and put me to sweeping the halls. She says I have to help wash dishes after dinner, too."
Elayne grimaced. "I hate washing dishes. I never had to - well, that doesn't matter. You will have training. From now on, you will be at training at this hour every day, as a matter of fact. From breakfast until High, then again from dinner to Trine. If you are especially quick or especially slow, they may take you from supper to Full, as well, but that is usually for more chores." Elayne's blue eyes took on a thoughtful expression. "You were born with it, weren't you?"
Egwene nodded. "Yes, I thought I felt it. So was I, born with it. Do not be disappointed if you did not know. You will learn to feel the ability in other women. I had the advantage of growing up around an Aes Sedai."
Egwene wanted to ask about that - Who grows up with Aes Sedai? - but Elayne went on.
"And also do not be disappointed if it takes you some time before you can achieve anything. With the One Power, I mean. Even the simplest thing takes a little time. Patience is a virtue that must be learned." Her nose wrinkled. "Sheriam Sedai always says that, and she does her best to make us all learn it, too. Try to run when she says walk, and she'll have you in her study before you can blink."
"I've had a few lessons already," Egwene said, trying to sound modest. She opened herself to saidar - that part of it was easier now - and felt the warmth suffuse her body. She decided to try the biggest thing she knew how to do. She stretched out her hand, and a glowing sphere formed over it, pure light. It wavered - she still could not manage to hold it steady - but it was there.
Calmly, Elayne held out her hand, and a ball of light appeared above her palm. Hers flickered, too.
After a moment, a faint light glowed all around Elayne. Egwene gasped, and her ball vanished.
Elayne giggled suddenly, and her light went out, both the sphere and the light around her. "You saw it around me?" she said excitedly. "I saw it around you. Sheriam Sedai said I would, eventually. This was the first time. For you, too?"
Egwene nodded, laughing along with the other girl. "I like you, Elayne. I think we're going to be friends."
"I think so, too, Egwene. You are from the Two Rivers, from Emond's Field. Do you know a boy named Rand al'Thor?"
"I know him." Abruptly Egwene found herself remembering a tale Rand had told, a tale she had not believed, about falling off a wall into a garden and meeting... "You're the DaughterHeir of Andor," she gasped.
"Yes," Elayne said simply. "If Sheriam Sedai as much as heard I'd mentioned it, I think she would have me into her study before I finished talking."
"Everyone talks about being called to Sheriam's study. Even the Accepted. Does she scold so fiercely? She seems kindly to me."
Elayne hesitated, and when she spoke it was slowly, not meeting Egwene's eye. "She keeps a willow switch on her desk. She says if you can't learn to follow the rules in a civilized way, she will teach you another way. There are so many rules for novices, it is very hard not to break some of them," she finished.
"But that's – that's horrible! I'm not a child, and neither are you. I won't be treated as one."
"But we are children. The Aes Sedai, the full sisters, are the grown women. The Accepted are the young women, old enough to be trusted without someone looking over their shoulders every moment. And novices are the children, to be protected and cared for, guided in the way they should go, and punished when they do what they should not. That is the way Sheriam Sedai explains it. No one is going to punish you over your lessons, not unless you try something you've been told not to. It is hard not to try, sometimes; you will find you want to channel as much as you want to breathe. But if you break too many dishes because you are daydreaming when you should be washing, if you're disrespectful to an Accepted, or leave the Tower without permission, or speak to an Aes Sedai before she speaks to you, or ... The only thing to do is the best you can. There isn't anything else to do."
"It sounds almost as if they're trying to make us want to leave," Egwene protested.
"They aren't, but then again, they are. Egwene, there are only forty novices in the Tower. Only forty, and no more than seven or eight will become Accepted. That is not enough, Sheriam Sedai says. She says there are not enough Aes Sedai now to do what needs to be done. But the Tower will not ... cannot ... lower its standards. The Aes Sedai cannot take a woman as a sister if she does not have the ability, and the strength, and the desire. They can't give the ring and the shawl to one who cannot channel the Power well enough, or who will allow herself to be intimidated, or who will turn back when the road turns rough. Training and testing take care of the channeling, and for strength and desire... Well, if you want to go, they will let you. Once you know enough that you won'
"I suppose," Egwene said slowly, "Sheriam told us some of that. I never thought about there not being enough Aes Sedai, though."
"She has a theory. She says we have culled humankind. You know about culling? Cutting out of the herd those animals that have traits you don't like?" Egwene nodded impatiently; no one could grow up around sheep without knowing about culling the flock. "Sheriam Sedai says that with the Red Ajah hunting down men who could channel for three thousand years, we are culling the ability to channel out of us all. I would not mention this around any Reds, if I were you. Sheriam Sedai has been in more than one shouting match over it, and we are only novices."
Elayne paused, and then said, "Is Rand well?"
Egwene felt a sudden stab of jealousy - Elayne was very pretty - but over it came a stronger stab of fear. She went over the little she knew of Rand's one meeting with the DaughterHeir, reassuring herself: Elayne could not possibly know that Rand could channel.
"He is as well as he can be." I hope he is, the woolheaded idiot. "He was riding with some Shienaran soldiers the last I saw him."
"Shienarans! He told me he was a shepherd." She shook her head. "I find myself thinking of him at the oddest times. Elaida thinks he is important in some way. She didn't come right out and say so, but she ordered a search for him, and she was in a fury when she learned he had left Caemlyn."
"Elaida Sedai. My mother's councilor. She is Red Ajah, but Mother seems to like her despite that."
Egwene's mouth felt dry. Red Ajah, and interested in Rand. "I - I don't know where he is, now. He left Shienar, and I don't think he was going back."
Elayne gave her a level look. "I would not tell Elaida where to find him if I knew, Egwene. He has done no wrong that I know, and I fear she wants to use him in some manner. Anyway, I've not seen her since the day we arrived, with Whitecloaks dogging our trail. They are still camped on the Dragonmount side." Abruptly she bounded to her feet. "Let us talk of happier things. There are two others here who know Rand, and I would like you to meet one of them." She took Egwene's hand and pulled her out of the room.
"Two girls? Rand seems to meet a lot of girls."
"Ummm?" Still drawing Egwene down the corridor, Elayne studied her. "Yes. Well. One of them is a lazy chit named Else Grinwell. I don't think she will be here long. She shirks her chores, and she is always sneaking off to watch the Warders practice their swords.
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