|The Trial of Acceptance (Part 1)
|It had been another long day for Sevanna; she was still cleaning out stalls for Iris Sedai and working in the library to help Kitana Sedai until her twins were born. In addition, she had her normal daily chores and classes. It was late and most other novices had already made their way to their beds. As Sevanna reached her room, she looked at the younger novice in the bottom bed. Even as she slept, Sevanna noticed that she had cried herself to sleep again. Although she found herself wishing that she had more time to herself so she could befriend the girl, Sevanna sighed while remembering her first year in the Tower. She too had cried herself to sleep nearly every night. The girl had arrived only a month ago and was from Falme, if Sevanna's memory served her correctly. The girl had arrived on her fifteenth name day and had not even met Sevanna until nearly a week later. Having been in the Tower nearly four years herself, Sevanna had many responsibilities and chores that pulled her out of bed before the younger girl and did not let her return until after the other was long asleep.
As she readied herself for bed, she suddenly remembered that her own name day was less than two weeks away and that she would be seventeen. Smiling, Sevanna wondered if her best friend had bought her something extravagant again this year. She hoped not. His gift last year had been a beautiful gray four-year-old mare with a white tail and mane. al'Dell had vowed to teach her to ride and that he did; in the past year, Sevanna had grown comfortable and skilled enough to stay on her horse even at a full gallop. This was something she never thought she would do as she was raised by the sea. She had learned to ride just like the sea had a rhythm. All she had to do was learn to go with it.
As she climbed into bed, it only seemed a few brief moments before weariness overcame her and she fell asleep.
Early the next morning, she was awakened by Nimue Sedai. As she opened her eyes, it took Sevanna a few minutes to focus. Upon realization of who had woken her, she quickly got out of bed and curtsied what was still an awkward yet not a stumbling curtsy.
"I am shocked to see that after nearly four years child you still have yet to accomplish mastery of a curtsy. But that is for another time. You have been summoned, child. Please come with me."
As the Mistress of Novices quickly left her room, Sevanna didn’t bother changing out of her nightclothes and followed the woman down the hallway. Curiosity plagued her mind; she could not figure out what trouble she could be in. She had not taken leave of the tower with out permission for her riding lessons, nor had she had al'Dell meet her in the novices’ quarters. She had been on time to all her classes and completed her chores in a timely matter. Worry creased her forehead as her steps slowed with out her realizing it. What could I have possibly done that could not wait until morning? What trouble have I caused? Panic suddenly hitting her, she realized something: I am not good enough to go any further in my training. They are going to ask me to leave the Tower. Stopping as the shame overwhelmed her, Nimue Sedai turned and said, "Child, do quicken your steps. The hour waits on no woman."
"Nimue Sedai, I am sorry I do not want to be put out of the Tower. I swear I will work harder and study more. Please, I have worked so hard and over come so much..."
"Child, what are you talking about? You are being summoned for raising to Accepted this morning."
Confused, Sevanna said, "Raised? This morning? Is it morning already? It seems I just went to bed."
"The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, when the Wheel wills. I do not know why you would think we were putting you out of the Tower. Come along; the others wait," said Nimue.
Sevanna nodded and followed the Aes Sedai down the hallways and corridors to the lowest chamber in the Tower. She noticed that when they reached the hall it was plain and undecorated. The pale rock was smooth and untouched with only one set of very tall, wide doors like a fortress gate made from dark wood. Nimue easily opened the door with a simple push and motioned for Sevanna to follow behind her into the large domed chamber. Looking around, Sevanna noticed tall stands with lamps that lit up the chamber. In the center of the dome, three rounded silver arches, just tall enough to walk under. They sat on a thick silver ring with their ends touching where they joined the ring. An Aes Sedai sat crossed legged at each of the spots where the arches joined the ring and each other. The Aes Sedai closest to Sevanna and the one she recognized immediately was Mariah Sedai, Sitter for the Blue Ajah, one of two she was considering to study for her own. The next sister Sevanna could see was Dejir Sedai, a Yellow sister and on the far side sat a sister that Sevanna had to really think about before remembering her name -- Philomina Sedai of the Grey Ajah. None of the three seemed to notice Sevanna and Nimue Sedai enter the room; instead their attention was completely on the arches in front of them. Iris Sedai stood to the side next to a table that had three silver chalices filled with clean clear water. Sevanna glanced quickly and nervously at Iris Sedai and back at the arches. She knew she was going to have to face her fears through those arches.
Taking her attention off the arches, Nimue Sedai spoke to her. "Novices are given three chances at this. You may refuse to enter twice, but at the third refusal, you are sent away from the Tower forever. That is how it is done; you have the right to refuse. I will now tell you two things no woman hears until she stands where you do now. Once you begin, you must go on to the end. Refuse at any point and you will be put out of the Tower just as if you had refused to begin for the third time." She glanced at the arches. The white light within them no longer flickered but filled the arches, making them opaque.
"I will not refuse. I will go on."
"The second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter'angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they...they just were not there. They were not seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. This is your last chance to refuse and it will only count as the first. You will have two more chances. If you accept, there is no turning back. It is not a shame to refuse the first time. Many have done so. Choose."
Sevanna looked at the arches again and thought to herself, Some have not come out? They would prefer their fears over returning? She stood there for what seemed to her a very long time, taking a deep breath she replied, "I will continue, Aes Sedai."
"Then ready yourself, child."
She realized she was to strip down. Removing her top was difficult for her. Years of tradition warred with her desire to continue. Once she removed her nightdress, she folded it carefully and set it aside. She did the same with her underclothes.
"Whom do you bring with you, Sister?"
Continuing in a ritual rhythm Nimue Sedai replied, "One who comes as candidate for Acceptance, Sister."
"Is she ready?" Iris asked formally.
"She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance."
"Does she know her fears?" came Iris' next question.
"She has never faced them, but now is willing."
"Then let her face what she fears," was Iris' final statement.
"The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast," Nimue said as she led Sevanna to the first arch.
Without hesitation, she took a deep breath and stepped through into the light, as it seemed to swallow her and fill her all at once.
* * *
"Evening Wind? Are you not feeling well?"
Slightly confused, Sevanna looked at the woman speaking to her. It was the WaveMistress of her clan of Somarin and SailMistress of the Raker she was Windfinder for. Her closest friend, Sariar din Boraill Night Waves. "No Sariar, I am fine." Taking a sip of honeyed wine, Sevanna wondered how she came to be a Windfinder.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
It was a voice she could not place, but yet felt she should know it somehow. Shaking her head, she looked at Sariar and smiled. "I can not believe all of this. It seems so unreal to me."
"Sevanna? What does?"
"This," Sevanna's reply came as she motioned to the ship around her. "Being Windfinder to you my friend and the WaveMistress of Somarin."
"We have been working together for years, Evening Wind. This still all amazes you? Are you sure you are not ill? We have been on Wind-dancer this Raker for many years."
Suddenly, the Raker shifted unexpectedly. Looking up, Sevanna considered going up on deck to see if the deck girl who she was training in the ways of Windfinding needed help. "I should go up on deck Sariar, to see all is well."
"Sit friend, all is well or they would have sent for us." Changing the subject Sariar said, "I have noticed Dariom, our Swordmaster watching closely and protectively Sevanna. I do believe he loves you. He will make Master of Blades for Somarin one day Sevanna. He would be a good match for you."
Shaking her head, she smiled, "I do not wish family and love, Sariar. I love what I do. I love being on the seas and finding the winds for our sails. The sea and Wind-dancer are my love and family..."
Her words were cut off as the ship shifted and lurched again. "Sariar, I feel no storm within miles of us. We should not be lurching about so."
"I will go up and see to things. You should stay here and rest. I do not believe you are well."
Watching her friend leave to go up deck, Sevanna stood and paced her quarters. Something felt completely wrong about this. Maybe it was the night.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
Ignoring the words again, Sevanna caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the cabin wall. Five earrings in each ear with her nose chain and a chain connecting the earrings on each of her ears. Awestruck, Sevanna looked at herself. I do not recall earning all of this. Something pulled at Sevanna's memory but she could not quite place it. Of course you remember earning all of this. You studied hard and worked hard to earn you way to be Windfinder. From the day you became deck girl you worked for all of this.
The boat lurched harder this time. Sariar had not come down to let her know all was well. Going up on deck Sevanna found nothing amiss. Sariar was talking to the Cargomaster, most likely about where they would be going to port next. Going to the front of the Raker, she let the wind go through her long dark locks brushing her hair away from her breasts. It felt odd being with out her top after so many years. She thought to herself, You do this every night, Sevanna. It is the way you feel one with the sea and wind.
Not knowing what was causing her to feel this way, Sevanna walked over to Sariar who had finished her conversation. "Sariar, you may be right, I am not quite feeling myself tonight. I am going below decks. If you need me for anything, I will be in my cabin."
Sariar nodded at her and Sevanna returned to her cabin. Everything seemed in place and as it should be but still felt like she was just out of place. She could not put a finger on it. Readying herself for bed...Now this seems oddly familiar as if I had done this already today.
Shaking her head again, she knew she had not. Once in bed, she fell asleep easily.
She woke up with a start. According to the position of the stars outside her cabin's small window, she had been asleep only about three candlemarks. She could hear commotion up on the deck and at first did not hear anything to concern her. After all they would come down to get her when she was needed. Frowning she could feel something amiss still. Suddenly, she smelled fire and the commotion up deck grew louder. Putting breeches on, Sevanna quickly went up on deck. What she found there nearly caused her to panic. Thendrii. Her people were fighting Thendrii, trying to prevent them from coming on deck. Some of the deck crew were fighting the Thendrii that had come on board while others tried to put the fire out in the main sail. Frowning, Sevanna quickly went to find Sariar. She found her on the port side, cornered by two men who had boarded their decks. Not another crewmember was near her.
"How dare you not ask permission or bargain for passage upon Wind-dancer. You threaten the wrong woman on this ship," Sevanna said angrily. Both men turned to her at the same time, swords drawn. A woman's sharp voice, coming from behind Sevanna halted them from attacking her. "Not that one, she will be damane." Turning towards the woman, Sevanna noticed that she wore a long gray robe with lightning bolts down the sides. She was carrying an a'dam. Sevanna knew what that would do to her. Stepping back so that she could look at Sariar and back at the Thendrian woman, Sevanna was torn between helping her friend and near sister. Sariar was as close to her as a sister of the blood, if not closer. She could not, would not leave her to be killed.
"Sevanna go, now! Save yourself! What this woman holds can bring you to your worse fears. "
Shaking her head at her friend she said, "I will not leave you to this fate alone, Sariar." Before she realized what she was doing Sevanna was bringing on a storm from the seas, a violent one causing the Raker to lurch and shudder at the winds. She would not allow Wind-dancer or any of her crew to be lost to these Thendrii. The Raker lurched again causing the woman in the gray dress to stumble.
The way back comes but once...
Suddenly remembering what that meant, Sevanna looked behind her and between her and the railing of the ship, she saw a shimmering archway. No, she cried out in her mind. I must not abandon my people, I must not abandon my honor.
She looked back at Sariar and saw one of the Thendrii starting towards her throat with a knife.
"Nooooo!" Tears forming in her eyes, Sevanna could hear Sariar struggle against her attacker. Torn between returning and helping her friend, she took a step to help her Sailmistress. The arch behind her flickered slightly...
She turned and forced herself to go through the arch, tears falling down her face in shame for abandoning her honor and her friend.
* * *
As she stepped through the archway, her memories of being a novice came crashing back overwhelming her. Sobbing, Sevanna did not even notice Iris Sedai emptying the first chalice over her head, "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, in heart and soul."
Nimue walked up to Sevanna and began leading her towards the second arch. Sobbing, Sevanna asked, "Please, is it real? Did I really go through...." Tears from her crying cut off anything Sevanna finished saying.
"Every woman who has come out of these arches has asked the same thing, Sevanna. There is no answer, no one knows. It has been speculated that it may be real and that those who stay found a happier place to be. But no one knows for sure."
Coming to the second arch Nimue said, "The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast."
Calming herself with a deep breath to stop the tears Sevanna thought, It cannot be worse than abandoning my dream and honor of being Windfinder. She stepped into the opaque light letting it consume her once again.