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Chapter Four: The Keeper

 

Reflections – Chapter 3 – A Betrayal

Authors Note: Well. Every time I write a new chapter, I tend to get further and further away from the main idea. I have got an idea for a fourth chapter, probably the last one.

The Tower is a lonely place. When you are a Novice, you deal well with it. You are excited to be in the White Tower. The glow of saidar and friends are enough to take the edge off the loneliness.

But, when you are Accepted, I think it begins to wear thin. You realise you are desperate for closeness when you are lying in bed with a close friend, talking softly and exchanging secrets, as so often is the case with young women, and you suddenly notice the touch of their thighs and the curve of their breasts.

I have seen these kinds of relationships form in the Accepted’s Quarters – something that the Novices would scoff at. Novices still dream of the Warders’ yard.

It is not unusual to sit and listen to the giggles coming from the next room or spot a quick kiss in the corridors.

I began having these...longings...in the fourth year of my time as an Accepted. I could not help it. I had never been attracted to my own gender before – in fact, before I discovered I could channel, I was quite happy to be married to whichever fellow caught my eye – and these new feelings disturbed me greatly.

It did not seem right to notice the shape of someone’s lips or the shape of their body. Or even to notice your teachers – to notice and savour whenever they smiled at you or gently touched your forearm.

I met Eirana Sedai when it was discovered my philosophy was lacking. Why, exactly, an Aes Sedai must be able to philosophise is beyond me. In preparation if you ever choose the White Shawl, Merean told me primly. I tried to tell her that I had no intention of choosing the White – those coolly logical, unflappable women unnerved me – but she merely raised one eyebrow and gave me Eirana’s name.

Half an hour later, I tentatively tapped her doors in the Red Quarters. The Red Ajah Quarters are somewhat the strangest of all the Quarters. It is a curious thing. In the other Ajahs, sisters are relaxed but none so much as in the Red. In the main hall, there are various seats sprawled about and I had seen two women – both dark haired, though one was tawny where the other was pale – lolling together on a seat. The pale one was sitting on the others knee and seemed at be enjoying gently stroking the others cheek, while the other was reading a book, though her eyes were not moving.

“Come,” A voice called from inside.

I pushed open the door and laid eyes on Eirana for the first time. She was leaning against her desk, swirling a cup of wine in her hand, frowning. She was dark-haired and pale-skinned, with dark eyes and full lips. My breath caught. “Eirana Sedai?”

“I am her,” Eirana replied, using her soft, sultry tone. She studied me calmly. “What is it, child?”

“Merean Sedai sent me,” I replied. “She wanted you to...tutor me...I am lacking in philosophy,”

Eirana raised an eyebrow. “Can a White Sister not do this?” Her tone had become snappish.

“She recommended you,” I replied rather meekly.

Eirana closed her eyes for a moment in what I assume was frustration and then replied, her voice laced with annoyance: “Very well,” I stood awkwardly, waiting for her to go on. “Tomorrow afternoon – do you have to teach any Novice classes?”

“No, Aes Sedai,”

“Good. Come to me tomorrow, after the second sitting for lunch,”

“As you say, Aes Sedai,” I gave a quick curtsey and left the room. At the sight of Eirana, another of those feelings had been aroused. I was shocked. Eirana Sedai had been cold and remote, yet she was still capable of arousing these feelings stronger than anyone I had met before.

The next afternoon, I met her for my first lesson. She gave me the barest flicker of a smile when I entered and immediately set about moulding my perception of philosophy to a standard she deemed passable. With every lesson, she grew warmer and more approachable and I noticed strange things; she touched me more frequently, smiled at me more often than frowned.

She had taken to sitting beside me, book spread over both our laps – it was a huge, leather bound affair and she complained that it must have been Fedegat’s heaviest publishing. I enjoyed these studying sessions and even the slightest brushing of our legs would thrill me.

It was a juvenile fantasy.

She had been tutoring me for about eight months before I worked up the courage to do something to make my fantasies reality. “Do you see Fedegat’s point?” She asked me, eyeing the manuscript on our knees.

I would never be able to kiss her when she was looking at me. Her eyes would never let me do that. It was now or never. “Oh, yes, I do,” I murmured, leaned forward and kissed her jaw.

Her eyes sprung to mine. Her face was shocked, though her eyes did not conform to it. They looked mildly satisfied. She touched the place where I had kissed her with one finger. “What...?”

“I shouldn’t have done that, Eirana Sedai,” I said miserably, cheeks colouring, twisting my hands in my lap. I had never been more humiliated. “I’m sorry to have...imposed myself on you,”

“Child,” She whispered and reached out to touch my cheek. The touch of her hand on my skin, pressed there intentionally, was electrifying. I blinked in surprise. It seemed almost impossible...did she...want me? I leaned forward towards her and slowly exhaled over her lips. I would not kiss her unless she wanted me to.

“Eirana?” I half-whispered. She smiled affectionately at me. I took it as an invitation.

I leaned forward and kissed her again. I had kissed and been kissed before, of course, though I had never been quite kissed like this. Those had been chaste, quick kisses between I and village boys – who where mostly looking over their shoulder to see if the Wise Woman would appear and whup them with her broom. This was a...more intimate kiss.

Her mouth opened and her arms entwined about me. When we broke apart, I was breathing heavily. She smiled again at me and gently took my hand in her own, stood up and pulled me up with her and finally led me to her bedchamber.

Oddly, the first thing I noticed was that her bed was much bigger and much more luxurious than mine. Strange what one observes. A part of me was excited. The other part – larger part, I might add – was terrified.

I stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do, as she removed the clip that held her hair in place. Smiling, she drew me towards the bed. “Eirana?” I began hesitantly.

“Mm?” She looked at me.

“I am...I am...inexperienced,”

She laughed softly, a husky sound in her throat. “I assure you, Ishtara; that is of no consequence,”

My first time with Eirana was memorable. She was tender and gentle and kissed me in places I had never been kissed in before. When she kissed my breast, it ignited a sharp cry of shock. Arousal, I noticed, heightened my awareness. Skin on skin was more thrilling than anything I had experienced before.

Later, when I was lying beside her, she said softly: “This must be kept between us,”

I propped myself up on my elbow and looked down at her. “Of course,”

“Merean would skin my hide,” She smiled rather wryly and I leaned down to kiss her, when she pushed me back and leaned atop me. I made an odd sound in my throat as her hands brushed my breasts, teasing the nipples, and then crept down further.

I loved Eirana. I loved her but I never told her. It was thrilling, those months. I had not been with anyone like Eirana before. I had not been with anyone before, come to think of it.

After that first time with her, we abandoned all attempts at formality. I never called her ‘Sedai’ again...except once. She bit my ear quite hard, I recall.

We did attempt to have lessons...but it was difficult, what with me sitting on her lap and her more often than not buried in a large, over stuffed chair, hand running up and down my thigh, usually undoing buttons with the other.

There is something remarkably distracting about having someone kissing your shoulder and touching your breast while channelling.

I fumbled the one hundred weaves more often than I got them right. I found myself sneaking off during the day to see her. My teachers berated me and, to be frank, I didn’t care that much.

I had Eirana and that was all that mattered. Who cared if I couldn’t manoeuvre in the Game of Houses? What did it matter if I didn’t know the in and outs of Tairen port trading?

A few girls in the Accepted Quarters smiled at me and said I must have some young man in the Warders Yard. They knew I wasn’t having an affair with any of the Accepted, as that would be known and dissected by now, and the thought of an Aes Sedai did not seem to occur to them. Their idea of an Aes Sedai was Merean.

And doing what I was doing with Eirana with Merean made me slightly queasy. Once, I remember, we came very close to being caught by the Mistress. Eirana explained that if we where caught, I could expect to wait a few decades for the shawl and she could spend those decades on a farm, digging up turnips.

The thought of Eirana, sweaty, digging up turnips, made me smile.

It was a warm day in the middle of summer when we where nearly discovered. The other Accepted had been given a free day and had been sent outside – to ‘take the good of the air’, Merean explained, and swim and whatnot.

Yet I was kept inside. Deana Sedai had found me lacking in economics. I had not studied Andor trade as I should have and so, as punishment, would be confined to the library to learn what I should have learned in winter.

I had not mentioned this to Eirana and so was more than surprised when I felt her arms encircle me from behind. I had not heard her come up behind me, in the near-silent library. “Eirana!” I gasped in shock, as only Eirana would have kissed my ear.

“I thought I would find you here,” She sounded deeply amused.

“How –?” I swivelled around to face her and she stopped my words with a soft finger on my lips.

“I have my ways,” Her eyes twinkled enigmatically.

I stood up and attempted to push her away. We where nearing the same height, though she was still a few inches taller. “You should not be here!” I said worriedly. “The Mistress –”

“Is outside enjoying the sunshine,” She supplied, catching my wrist and kissing it. “As you should be. Have you ever made love in the sun?”

I flushed. “No,”

“On a table?” She gently pushed me back until I banged up against the heavy, oaken desk I had spread my books out over. Very obviously, she meant that table. In the middle of the library. With Brown sisters nearby who had not been able to tear themselves from their books.

I wetted my lips – not the only things that where wet that at minute. “We can’t –” I began.

“Why not? There is no one but the Browns who would not notice if the Tower was crumbling about their ears,” She smiled beguilingly at me.

I hesitated and she wasted no time. She lifted me onto the desk and pushed me backwards, as she scrambled up herself, until she was on top of me, kissing me as her hand pushed up my dress.

Through the moans, I barely heard it. The soft clicking of shoes on a marble floor. “Stop!” I gasped.

”What?” She demanded, looking up, mouth covered with liquid.

“Listen,”

We listened and I heard the footsteps again, louder now and soft humming. Eirana’s eyes suddenly became panicked and she rolled off me, sliding off the table, looking wildly about for a place to hide.

“Under the desk!” I hissed.

She nodded and scrambled under, safe in the shadows. I was not so lucky. I had not the time to get off the desk – or even pull down my dress. Merean rounded the bookcase and stared at me as though I was mad. Then her eyes narrowed. “Entertaining yourself, Accepted?” She said crisply.

I flushed and hopped down off the table, pulling down my skirts. Her eyes where flinty and she spoke coldly. “I have no concern what you do in your own time – in the privacy of your rooms – but I would prefer if that was where such activities where kept!” She scowled at the books Eirana and I had crushed under us. “I don’t expect Deana Sedai will be pleased at what you where using her books for,”

“I...I apologise,” I said humbly. This was better than Eirana being found out.

“I was coming here to tell you to take the rest of the day off. However, seeing you are incapable of studying for an hour on your own, I will return at the end of the day to quiz you personally on economics. I will know –” She stared hard at me. “If you have been doing other things,” Then she turned and strode off.

I wiped sweat from my brow as Eirana crawled out from under the table. She paused only to kiss me briefly and murmur a hasty apology, before she hurried off.

We laughed about it later, when we had both drank substantial amounts of wine. I conceded that I would have to study harder and so, within half a year, Merean told me I had ‘turned myself around and was almost ready for the shawl’.

I was thrilled at the prospect of being tested within a month and rushed off to tell Eirana. For some reason, she seemed subdued by the news, as I blustered on; talking about choosing the Red Ajah so, we could be together. I could think of nothing better than lolling in one of those chairs where the corridors intersected publicly with Eirana.

Yet she looked up sharply from her wine glass. “Don’t be stupid,” She said rather sharply. “Choose the one best suited to your personality. We can still see each other, even if we are in different Ajahs. I always thought you where rather apt at Healing,”

I blinked, but conceded her words. Before I had met Eirana, I had always wanted the Yellow Ajah.

That month she suggested we go out – something she never had before. I did not know where she was taking me, yet I went along. I would have followed Eirana to Shayol Ghul if she had wanted me to.

She drew me onwards, through the darkened Tower grounds, a small smile on her face, until we reached the small lake that I had visited rarely. Now it was lit up in the moonlight, glowing eerily silver in the moonlight.

“It’s beautiful,” I murmured.

“Isn’t it?” She muttered in reply, stepping up behind me, encircling me in her arms and breathily kissing my neck. “It is said that the Amyrlin regularly meets the Keeper here,”

“Why?” I asked, and then it clicked with me. I giggled at the thought of two old women doing what Eirana and I did. “I see,”

“Do you think Aes Sedai are devoid of such longings?” She muttered, again breathily. Her voice was always breathy when aroused. “You know I certainly am not,”

“Oh, I know you are unique, Eirana Sedai,” I muttered in reply, turning and kissing her.

Silently, she smiled. I noticed small pinpricks of sweat on her brow and wondered at them. Then she gently pressed me to the ground and began undoing the buttons of my Accepted’s dress. At first, I thought I would be cold, yet she trailed her mouth down my back as soon as it was bare and I moaned softly, body reacting by flushing under her administrations. I would not be cold tonight. “What if someone comes?” I whimpered softly, not wishing it to end.

“Let them come,” She responded, now pushing my dress away and kissing just above my breasts. “It is not a unique sight to see two Aes Sedai here...doing what we are doing,”

That made me laugh. We, as Novice and Accepted, had always assumed that Aes Sedai where celibate. Not so. “If any of the Accepted where to know this...”

“They’d be scandalised. Hush now,”

I fell silent and she kissed my nipples, trailing her mouth down so that her tongue flicked inside my navel. Then trailed further.

I always liked Eirana to kiss the inside of my thigh, just below my crotch, she did so now, and I moaned softly, enjoying the sensation.

Abruptly, Eirana made a guttural sound in her throat. I looked down at her, puzzled as she slowly shook her head as though to clear it. “Are you alright –”

She bit me. Hard. So hard I felt the skin tear and blood trickle down the inside of my thigh. I cried out. “What – Eirana!”

She ignored me. I stared at her in horror, as she seemed to push her face into my thigh, as though she liked the taste of my blood. Feeling disgusted, I began to push her away, yet suddenly she pounced atop me.

I had always thought Eirana’s strength a blessing. She could lift me against walls and push me atop tables. Now she could hold me down as a dagger appeared in her hand and she began to scratch at me, tearing my flesh, while biting at my neck.

I did not like my crotch being bitten and chewed. Her teeth tore and scratched like some sort of animal. Blood and liquid ran freely down my legs and finally, seizing an initiative, I embraced saidar and flung it at her. She reeled backwards, hit a tree and fell, crumpled naked beneath it. She was moaning, sweat breaking out over her back and forehead.

Staggering to my feet, I realised I should have taken more notice of that perspiration on her forehead and fevered gaze. I tentatively touched my crotch and was rewarded with blood over my fingers. Tear trickled down my face, yet I did not release saidar. I gripped my dress with numbed fingers and pulled it on quickly, as I heard Eirana began to sound more coherent. Furious, I spun and stared down at her. I had heard of rape before; it would have been easier if I had not known her.

She looked up blearily at me, curled up on the ground. “What?” She asked.

I could not believe she would ask me that. I kicked her, furiously, in the stomach, venting my rage.

“What?” She gasped again, biting her lip.

“You...you’re a monster...Light, Eirana, what where you thinking?” I demanded, pulling back my leg again.

“What did I do?” She asked me bleakly. She stared at my crotch in horror. “Oh light...did I hurt you?”

“Oh, yes,” I whispered. “You hurt me,”

I kicked her again.

Then Eirana did something I had never seen her do before. She burst into tears. She had held me when I wept numerous times, yet this was the first I had ever seen her. It occurred to me that I had only ever seen the pleasant side of Eirana – perhaps that first day when she had almost ignored me was the real Eirana. Maybe I had not, as I had thought, seen the real woman. I had fallen in love with a sham. “Why?” I asked her softly. “Why? I loved you,”

“I thought...I thought...you where...Elaida,” She choked.

“Elaida? Elaida Sedai?” I whispered, feeling unnaturally cold.

“Yes...I loved her...” She began to sob, shuddering gasps that shook her frail frame. She could not move; she was too ill for that. I released saidar, feeling empty, the lack of the source not the only reason. I knelt beside her, a small inkling of pity breaking through my revulsion. I loved her. I still did, as much as I hated to admit it. I could not so idly turn my back on it.

Slowly, I wove weaves of Healing. They had little effect. This was beyond my ability. Eirana cried out and convulsed in agony. “You must help me...please...” She muttered softly, clutching at my dress.

“I’ll get you your dress,” I said coldly. “But I’m not helping you,”

And I didn’t. Not for a while, at least. I watched her toil to put it on and then I watched her grim struggle to gain footing. She could not walk. Instead, she crawled towards the Tower, falling on her face and laying there twitching in the dirt. “I’m going to die out here,” She whispered in a flat sort of voice.

I hesitated briefly, and then pulled her up, helping her walk, and half carrying her. I couldn’t let her die.

“I am so sorry,” She whispered into my hair.

I didn’t acknowledge it. After a few moments of silent walking, I realised I was not making much progress. Eirana was heavy and it would take me all night to get her to the Tower. I sat her down. “I’m going to get the Yellows. I can’t carry you any further,”

Fresh tears welled up in her eyes. She thought I had left her to die. But I hadn’t. I went briefly to my room to make myself presentable, washed my crotch quickly and hoped I would not bleed while in the presence of the Yellow Sisters. It would not shame only Eirana if our involvement where to be found out. I ignored the sharp twinges whenever I walked.

I knocked the door of a woman name Guendain, who I knew asked little questions. I spun her a tale about how I had stumbled upon Eirana walking in the Tower grounds and she accepted it without many questions, even if it was well past Accepted curfew. In fact, once I had led them to a now unconscious Eirana, she told be to go to bed.

Sleeping was a painful experience. I dissolved into tears the minute the door shut behind me, crying in both emotional and physical pain. Eirana’s betrayal stung me even worse than my crotch and I moved stiffly the next day, suppressing wounds and agony by a complaint of the cold. I asked Merean briefly about Eirana and she told me, with worried eyes, that the Sisters feared for her life.

I tried to tell myself I did not care that much. But I did. I worried for her and longed to see her – longed for things to go back to the way they where. As much as she had hurt me, I did love her.

The next week I was called for my test for the shawl. Stripped naked, there was a shocked pause as Merean stared at the wounds that where not fully healed and the red marks. Yet the Test could not be stopped once it was started and she briefly wove weaves of healing to ease my pain, though she didn’t ask where I had come by the injuries.

I stepped through the Ter’Angreal and was confronted with my first test. I thought I would have been more nervous, yet all I could summon was numbed indifference. A depression, of sorts.

Two men, leering. A terror unlike any other filled me. All thoughts of the one hundred weaves vanished from my mind. It reminded me of Eirana. I flung my hand back and flung fire at them.

White light engulfed everything and I screamed.

To be continued...



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Chapter Five