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The Test for the Shawl

The Raising of Soutrik Sedai

Madeline Sedai's Pre-Raising Post

Madeline paused in the Novice and Accepted courtyard, tilting her head slightly to take in the spiraling corridors above her. A few women clad in white ghosted down the halls, some coming down the ramp, curtsying at Madeline as they passed. A familiar sight, but it never failed to give her a sense of satisfaction and contentment. New novices were coming by the truckload, it seemed, and the Accepted’s Halls were nearly filled to capacity.

Well, there will be one less after this day, she thought with a smile, hiking up her shawl as she ascended the ramp. Soutrik would make a fine Sister, and Madeline hoped that she would choose the Green. But she would also make a splendid Yellow, considering her skill with Healing. And Zhareen would certainly be pleased.

Madeline paused before Soutrik’s door, taking a moment to smooth her shawl over her shoulders. Svenson Goldswan had best not be in here, she thought with a moment of irritation. Well, things would change between the two of them when Soutrik bore the shawl. They always did.

“Just a moment,” came a voice when Maddy rapped on the door. She heard some shuffling, and then the door swung open. Soutrik was one of the few women with less height than Madeline, but not by much. The Accepted smiled, her multi-colored bracelets clinking together as she curtsied.

“Good morning, Madeline Sedai,” she said warmly. “Won’t you come in?”

Instead of smiling in return, Madeline lifted her chin, and said in a cool voice, “Soutrik, Accepted of the White Tower, you are hereby summoned. Ask no questions, and delay not in your coming. It is time.”

She turned about abruptly, and gestured for Soutrik to follow. The Accepted nodded calmly, and fell in step with Madeline, following wordlessly as the Green led her from the Accepted’s Quarters. Wise, that. Had she disregarded Maddy’s warning about questions, her raising would have delayed by at least three months.

They walked in silence, taking a series of winding stairs and dimly-lit passageways, carving their way deeper into the Tower where few ever dared to venture. They passed a series of basements, all lined with heavily locked wooden doors, lit only by the occasional torch.

Finally, Madeline stopped before a pair of doors that loomed before them at the end of a narrow corridor. They were cut from the same pale white stone seen throughout the Tower, and the image of the Great Serpent was chiseled into both doors. They swung open easily at Madeline’s touch, even they were each half a pace thick.

All eyes turned on them as Madeline and Soutrik entered the room. A soft light came from a circle of torches, spilling onto the single arch that stood in the center of the room. Unlike the silver arches, it was a deep brown, nearly black, and carved with odd, twisting symbols. A Sister from each Ajah was seated around it, and the glow of saidar surrounded all.

The Amyrlin Seat stood to greet them, flanked by the Keeper, as well as Ava and Zhareen. Zhareen and Ava wore their Ajah colors and their fringed shawls, Aeilla’s brown stole was looped over her shoulders, and Ariana was resplendent in her striped stole. All bore expressions of deepest solemnity.

There was a moment of deep silence, broken only by the faint hum of the ter’angreal. Finally, Madeline spoke.

“Accepted Soutrik, today you will be tested for the shawl. You must pass through this ter’angreal, and if you come back to us, you will be known as Soutrik Sedai, Aes Sedai of the White Tower. You will know danger in this Testing, and you must rely on your heart and wits to see you through. You must use all that you know of saidar if you hope to return to us, and you must not refuse the test.” She paused, regarded Soutrik calmly.

“Knowing the nature of this Test, do you wish to continue?”

Soutrik nodded. “Yes, Aes Sedai. I am ready.”

Madeline turned to the row of Sisters watching them. Aeilla stepped forward, holding her staff of the Keeper before her.

“Who comes before us?” she said in a clear voice.

“One who seeks to be Aes Sedai,” Madeline replied. “She has been deemed worthy, and will stand to be Tested.”

“Has she completed her training in full?”

“She has, and stands ready. She is ready in mind, body and spirit. She wields the One Power with skill, and she seeks to lend her strength to the White Tower.”

Aeilla Sedai, Keeper of the Chronicles, shifted her gaze to Soutrik. “Do you seek to serve the Light, daughter? Do you seek to be Servant of All? Do you seek to be Aes Sedai?”

“I will serve, as it pleases the Light, Aes Sedai,” Soutrik replied.

Aeilla nodded. “As one who serves the Light, you must be clad in the Light.”

Soutrik quickly doffed her dress and shift, leaving them in a neat pile on the floor. Without another word, Madeline led her towards the Arch.

“May the Creator guide and protect you,” she said. “Come back to us, daughter.”

Soutrik took a deep breath, and stepped forward into the Arch. There was a flash of brightest, pale white light, and then she was gone.

Soutrik blinked and looked around her quarters as if seeing them for the first time. It had been months since her Raising yet she felt the Three Oaths upon her as if they were spoken hours not months ago. Finally, she had been able to start unpacking the chests that she had brought back with her from Tremalking. Her quarters were resplendent with objects declaring her love of her adopted Clan of Somarin and her pride in the House of Delphic, family of her birth in Shara. Fabulous Sharan picture rugs covered the floors. Tapestries displaying scenes of the terrain of her family estates hung on practically every wall. Each niche was crammed with Sea Folk porcelain, and breathtaking works of Sharan silver. The furniture in the main room was a truly eclectic mix of Aiel cushions and heavy Saldean oak with marvelous scrollwork, obviously crafted by a master woodworker. The cushions were gifts from her dear friends Zyriam and Bonaiv, the furniture newly given by Sven. Golden lamps of Amayar design, always attributed to the Atha’an Miere, hung from the ceiling and walls, wet wicks slick with the heavily scented oil the Sea Folk preferred. The room was alive with color and warmth, and Soutrik felt at ease and quite comfortable; as comfortable as she could be with her belly as huge as it was, heavy with the weight of her and Sven’s child.

Glancing about the room scanning it for general tidiness, Soutrik picked up one of Sven’s coats from off of an overstuffed ottoman. She had just finished mending a hole and replacing a button on his left sleeve. Ah my Svenson is tough on clothing, but this is his absolute favorite coat. Grabbing her sewing basket she walked to her bedchamber with a content smile on her face, for she had given him the coat long ago, and it pleased her greatly that he adored it so. Soutrik hung the coat inside a large Saldean designed armoire and placed her sewing basket beside it. Turning to the still unmade bed, she wove Flows of Air about the fluffy down feather quilt and aired it out, then straightened it and tucked it in. Maybe I should ask Madeline Sedai to have a Novice assigned to me, to help me keep house. Soutrik pondered the thought. I will need extra hands about when the baby arrives. Patting her belly with her hand and happy thoughts, the child within kicked merrily in response.

Soutrik, and many of her fellow Yellows, felt that the child would arrive any day now. Some were concerned that the child would be too large for Soutrik to birth it. She was much larger than the average woman with child, yet Soutrik disagreed. Many women in her family had large newborns. She was not looking forward to the pain by any means, but she was overjoyed with the thought of holding her child to her and sharing her life with Svenson; raising their child in the White Tower, with an educational opportunity denied to the majority of children in the world. Melanna Sedai, of the Brown Ajah, had offered to be the child’s personal teacher, and Soutrik was overjoyed that Melanna had gotten over her shock and anger at Soutrik making the choice of not telling the Aes Sedai she was pregnant until after she had held the Oath Rod.

Many of the Sisters had been truly upset, for none had ever taken the Three Oaths while carrying a child, and they knew not what it would do. Soutrik hummed under her breath and rubbed her belly to calm the kicking child within. A steady increase in the child’s movement had caused her much discomfort, but she eased her pain thinking on how healthy the child must be if it moved so within her.

Returning to the main chamber, she crossed her quarters to the windows. Soutrik’s mind lingered more on Sven than the child at the moment. She embraced saidar and channeled a tiny wisp of Fire into the incense hanger. It began to release heavenly Sea Folk scents. It always reminded her of her vessel and the time she and Sven had spent aboard it. Soutrik longed for his silky touch against her skin. Sven’s luscious lips hadn’t tasted her own for too long a time in her opinion, for she had not seen him in a few days and was a bit worried. Since he had begun his new life working within the crime syndicate that thrived in the back streets of Tar Valon, he was frequently absent from her life for days at a time. Their last extended period of time together had been wonderful and Soutrik was overjoyed that he had taken part in decorating the nursery. Items from his native Saldea made up a majority of the nursery’s decorations. She wasn’t so sure that the swords that hung over the bassinet was appropriate decoration for a nursery but Sven had placed them there, beaming with joy, and she recalled what he had said to her.

“My child will be a Blademaster if I have any say about it!”

Soutrik had snickered, and hoped that Sven would not force the child to do things they weren’t interested in, yet with the combination of both of their genes, Soutrik was sure they would have a little warrior on their hands even if it were a female. Her mind dwelt on the possibility that their child would most likely be a channeler as well. No place better to be than Tar Valon if that’s the case. Sighing, she left the sunshine of the window and strolled back to her chests still occupying much of the floor of the main chamber.

Lifting the lid on a large leather chest bearing her family crest, Soutrik gazed upon an object that she hadn’t seen since Sven had momentarily unpacked it aboard the Rusty Nail on the journey to Tremalking. The box was the very same that she and Brazzelle had found almost five years ago on an herbing trip with Mackenzie Sedai, not long after she had been raised Accepted. She knew that there was something special about this box, and she had never felt entirely comfortable about having it in her possession. Many times she had been tempted to open it, but didn’t for fear of what could be inside of it.

The box was obviously an object made of the One Power. She wasn’t sure what it was though. A box? A ter’angreal? What?She didn’t like it no matter what it was. It made her feel uneasy, anxious, and deceitful for not bringing it to Mackenzie Sedai or one of the Brown’s that studied objects made of the One Power. Every time she held it, an icy cold feeling moved over her skin. Normally composure to her toenails, Soutrik began to fidget while she held the box. Turning it over in her hands, she ran a long fingernail along the seams of the lid. Malevolence. The word floated across her mind and she wondered if she had actually thought of it. She stared at the box with a sad reverence for the maker of it, whom was most likely long dead, but had left such a masterpiece of craftsmanship as a calling card.

It was a simple box, somewhat like the black lacquered boxes made in Altara, particularly in Ebou Dar. Yet, it had a mysterious sheen about it. Soutrik walked to the windows again holding the box in her hands and examining it in the light. Its highly polished surface should have reflected the light, but it didn’t; it absorbed it. Soutrik pondered the possibilities. She had heard some of the Brown Ajah’s lectures on the Age of Legends, and she wondered if perhaps this box was a remnant of it.

A knock on the door drew her attention, and she placed the box on the table under the window. Waddling more than swishing to the door, Soutrik massaged her back as she grasped the doorknob and swung the door open. Melanna Sedai drew herself up and entered without being invited.

“By all means, come in Melanna.” Soutrik said with a slight hint of sarcasm as she smiled.

“Good morning, young one. And how is our mommy-to-be this morning? Still busy unpacking I see.” Melanna looked about the room. She had worn the Shawl all of five years, but was progressing rapidly through the inner ranks of her Ajah. Melanna had told Soutrik that her notes on the Tremalking and Shara journey had brought her much acclaim with her fellow Browns. That, and some mission she had accomplished for them. Melanna could not go into too much detail, and Soutrik was thankful, for her dear friends could be more boring than a White when spouting logic when she got off on a tangent of descriptions and details. “It seems you have most of your things out.” She paused then kicked the trunk next to her, “You still have three more full chests? By the Light woman, you are a true pack rat.” Melanna let a small smirk creep across her lips as she spun to face Soutrik.

Soutrik smiled and crossed her arms, resting them on her protruding belly. “Actually, those two trunks there are full of Sven’s things.” She plucked at her silver-slashed blue dress cut in the style of Andor, which had been specially made to accommodate her belly. “Sven has been bringing trunks to me, stuffed full of his things, and new items for the nursery and baby, as well as clothing for myself.” She indicated the dress she was wearing, spinning about in a circle to show it off to the Brown sister, bracelets and nose chain medallions clicking and tinkling with her movements, “He is determined to prove that he can take care of me, Melanna. Charming isn’t it?”

“And how pray tell is that wayward, youngster ‘providing’ for you? Like that scamp could ever provide for the tastes of a Sh’boan!” Melanna’s tone held every ounce of her suspicious nature and her contempt for Svenson. Most Sisters had a dislike for him for he spoke his mind and resisted the Law of the Tower. Truly, the few that had knowledge of Sven’s mischievous activities within the Tower thought that he should have been gentled, especially for some of the actions he had taken against the M’Hael. Madeline had punished him time and again but none of those punishments had changed him, or brought him under the White Tower’s control.

Sven was a strong individual unwilling to let any cast strings upon him or direct him down a path he did not wish to go. He often spoke of the commitment he felt, being Sealed to the Tower as an Accepted, but he had also told Soutrik that the constraints placed on his freedom were more than he could endure. She recalled the various complaints that he had about his lessons, and the Aes Sedai that taught them. He had found them boring and impractical. She found it amusing that she now belonged to the Tower, as a full Sister a Servant to All, which he had such disdain for. Many scoffed at Soutrik for continuing her relationship with him, but her love for him was eternal, and no amount of disapproval from envious women would obstruct it.

“Accepted Svenson is trouble simmering on a slow boil. It is dangerous for you to continue to allow him to influence your life.”

“He’s no longer an Accepted, Melanna. He is not a part of the White Tower anymore. You know that. He is free to go his own way in the world now. You heard what the Mother’s decree was.” Soutrik pressed her fists to her hips and tried not to get angry at Melanna for degrading Svenson in her presence.

Melanna’s tone took on a lecturing quality, and she rounded on Soutrik, “How do you think it appears to others that you wallow about your quarters in stolen merchandise?”

“Stolen!? Melanna, I think you better rethink what you are saying and whom you are saying it to. I have great respect for you Sister, but do not ask me to call into question Svenson’s honesty.” Soutrik turned her back on Melanna and dabbed a tear that was forming in her eye with a lace handkerchief she had stowed in her sleeve. Her emotions were raw and wild. Her ever-increasing struggle against her hormones did not help her keep the tears from flowing or her anger from exploding. “If you must know, I have arranged a trading business with my Clan, the Somarin, and Sven has been trading in Atha’an Miere and Sharan merchandise. His money derived from these arrangements is as clean and worthy as any coin in your purse.” Soutrik tried not to raise her voice at Melanna. She twisted her lips at the Brown, turned and held a steady eye waiting for some sort of apology. She spoke the truth about the coin derived from the trading operations, but from his ‘other’ work, she would not allow herself to think of it. She hoped that he had not returned to being the assassin she knew him to be. Soutrik pushed the thought from her mind.

The Brown Sister eyed tiny Soutrik’s back and pursed her lips in thought. “Shall we put aside our petty arguments over some tea?” Melanna spoke and crossed to the sideboard, and heated water in a kettle with small flows of Fire. Soutrik knew that this was as close to an apology as Melanna would get and thought better of holding a grudge against one of the Sisters she knew to be a true friend.

A light rapping on the door drew both women’s attention. “It seems I have many visitors today.” Soutrik walked to the door as Melanna stirred her tea. Swinging the door open on its squeaky hinges Soutrik laid eyes upon two very friendly faces. “Zyriam, Bonaiv, how wonderful for you to visit me.”

“You should have that oiled.” Bonaiv said as she pointed to the lock, then embraced Soutrik and kissed her on the cheek. Zyriam allowed a small smile to pass her usually stoic Wise One visage and pressed two fingertips to Soutrik’s check, the Aiel equivalent of the kiss that Bonaiv had so openly given.

“My Soutrik, it looks like you have claimed the fifth of all Tremalking and Shara’s wealth!” Zyriam slapped her thigh and let out a roar of laughter.

“You’ve always had an eye for opulent things, first-sister, and it appears Soutrik does as well.” Bonaiv meandered about the room looking at the gilded lamps, and heavy Saldean woodwork.

“Would you both, join us for tea?” Soutrik smiled at the Greens and motioned for Melanna to pour two more cups of tea.

“Thank you, Sister.” Zyriam sat on an Aiel cushion that she herself had gifted to Soutrik as a raising present. Zyriam flashed Soutrik a quick flurry of Maiden handtalk that she had entrusted to her over the years. You are as big as a house! Can’t call you Little One anymore! Bonaiv let out a chuckle as she caught the signals from Zyriam to Soutrik.

Soutrik glared at Zyriam and sniffed, then smiled and nodded to the Aiel woman. “Did I miss something?” Melanna stood with the tea tray in her hands looking back and forth between the three women, all of whom had slightly amused looks on their faces.

Bonaiv cleared her throat and changed the subject, “Soutrik, what is this?” Bonaiv’s hand rested upon the black box that Soutrik had set down under the window. Bonaiv picked it up and looked at it in the light.

“Please, Bonaiv, don’t open…” before Soutrik could finish her sentence, Bonaiv had opened the lid, and dropped the box as a small glowing object bounced from it. Each of the Sisters embraced saidar and wove shields of Spirit and Air to protect themselves from the unknown object.

“What in the Light is that?!” Bonaiv sputtered as she peered at the glowing and throbbing object as it began to unfold and grow before them. “Bonaiv, get away from that thing!” Melanna pulled at Bonaiv’s arm but the Green nary budged an inch. “Soutrik, what was that box? Where did you get it?”

“Brazzelle and I found it years ago. I have never opened it. It always scared me. I was planning on giving it to the Brown to study.” Soutrik clutched her skirts. “What do YOU think it is Melanna?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea, but certainly we can’t take this lightly.” Melanna looked to Zyriam and Soutrik, who were both gripping the hilts of their daggers so tightly their knuckles were white. “I doubt your weapons will have any effect on whatever this is.”

Melanna began to weave a small thread of Spirit directed at the object, and prodded the glowing unfolding sphere. It pulsed with a strange life of it’s own. “I don’t know what to make of it. It seems to be organic in nature. I don’t understand what could make it glow like it is.” Just as Melanna increased the size of the web of Spirit she was using, the object wiggled and unfolded again, revealing what appeared to be …an arm!

“Oh, Light! Everyone out quickly!” Melanna jumped as the hand on the arm began to open and the fingers moved. The sphere was glowing and unfolding into a human shape and the women stood frozen, unable to believe what they were seeing. “Out of here! Quickly now! Out! Out!” Melanna grabbed Bonaiv and ran towards Soutrik who was pulling up her skirts and grabbing Zyriam’s hand. The four Aes Sedai ran for the door in a great hurry.

Soutrik turned to close the door behind them, just in time to see the thingy that was the glowing sphere stand on perfectly formed human legs. She screamed and slammed the door. “Run, Oh Light run!” Soutrik ran as fast as she could pulling the Sisters with her. “Everyone! Look out!” Soutrik waved her arms and used Flows of Spirit to enhance her voice. Yellow Sisters flew from their rooms glowing with saidar.

Sedore Sedai rounded the corner, “What is going on here?”

“There is what we suspect to be a gholam in Soutrik Sedai’s room. We must get everyone out of here.” Melanna’s voice barely escaped her constricting throat, her heart pounding.

“A what?” Sedore Sedai turned to look down the corridor from which they had been fleeing to see a figure suddenly appear, its elastic body squeezing under the doorway. Soutrik grabbed Sedore’s hand and the Sitter looked at her with eyes as large as Tar Valon marks.

“We must evacuate the Tower!” Soutrik sputtered and ran for the staircase. Sisters of her Ajah ran with her, along with Zyriam, Bonaiv, and Melanna. “Someone must alert the Mother!” The Aes Sedai herded wayward Novices and Accepted into the throng that was fleeing the Yellow Ajah’s pie shaped section of the White Tower.

A high piercing scream echoed behind them. Soutrik turned and looked over her shoulder and saw that one of her fellow Yellow sisters had come from her room, and had been set upon by the gholam. It feasted upon the Sister’s body in the middle of the corridor. Soutrik felt her stomach churn and her heart ached. Oh, Light, what have I unleashed upon the Tower? “Come on, Soutrik, hurry.” Bonaiv grabbed Soutrik’s arm and helped her down the staircase.

The vast amount of noise and clamor was heard throughout the Tower and Warders ran, swords ready towards the Yellow’s quarters.

“What’s going on?” A panting Gaidin in an eye wrenching color-shifting cloak stopped Soutrik.

“There is a…a…Shadowspawn…a gholam we can not fight.” She shook her head in despair.

“Come on!” the Gaidin waved his brother’s in battle forward and they poured into the Yellow’s quarters.

Sisters from all the Ajah’s were gathering in the main courtyard. Looks of worry broke through the usual Aes Sedai calm as word of what they faced spread through the crowd. Moments later the Gaidin reappeared.

“It is gone, but Entalie Sedai’s body is…well, we found what was left of her.” Sedore Sedai turned away from the crowd and began weeping openly, she and Entalie had been Novices together.

Soutrik panted to reclaim her breath and poise but suddenly a sharp pain struck her right across her belly. Liquid gushed down her legs and pooled around her slippered feet. “Oh, my…my water just broke!” Soutrik looked about at her Sisters, “Someone, please find Svenson!” her legs gave way and Zyriam Sedai caught her before her bottom hit the paving stones of the courtyard.

An escort of Gaidin walked before and after the small kernel of Aes Sedai that hovered around Soutrik who was yelping with the ever quickening and painful contractions. The infirmary was not too far from the main courtyard, but the Gaidin’s slow and wary pace did not allow for expediency. They searched every corridor, every niche for danger from the Shadowspawn that was loose in the Tower. Soutrik was grateful that they were taking such painstaking precautions, but more than her own safety, the safety of her child weighed heavy upon her mind. She pictured herself in the midst of bearing down in hard labor and the gholam appearing to take her child away from her. No, no, never again. I will NOT let my child die! Soutrik tried her breathing exercises but they did not help, and while waiting for the Gaidin to clear the next corridor, Soutrik collapsed to her knees in a heap, groaning in pain.

Gritting her teeth as the pain of her labor gripped her, Soutrik tried searching for calm, but it was not found within her. Memories from the past poured into her blocking all her sense and reason. She could hear Ayyad Teresa’s voice in her mind and picture the pain on Danaquin’s face as he watched her upon the birthing table. Not even two decades had caused those painful memories to dull. Soutrik shook her head and gripped Bonaiv’s hand.

“Breath, Sister.” Sedore Sedai stood over Soutrik with a few other Yellow Sisters, Mackenzie and Zhareen included among them.

“Where is Svenson? Where is my love?” Soutrik screamed out as another contraction pierced her. She increased her grip on Bonaiv’s hand until the Green Sister flinched from the pain.

“Calm yourself. Melanna and Zyriam are looking for him. Have faith, they will find him.” Bonaiv soothed Soutrik’s fears and patted her friend’s hand so that Soutrik would ease the death grip she had on her fingers.

Sedore Sedia fed Soutrik some ice chips and told her to breath, but there was little else that could be done for her. “Isn’t there something you could give her for the pain, Sedore?” Bonaiv asked wiping Soutrik’s sweaty brow with a cloth.

“Anything that I give her may very well affect the child. Women have birthed children for eons, and survived. She will as well, Bonaiv.”

“But Sedore…”

“Bonaiv, who is the Yellow here? Hmmm? Tell me what wisdom can you, a Sister of the Green, who has never born a child, provide me?” Sedore had lost all patience with Bonaiv.

“Arghhhh” Soutrik grunted as another contraction shook her. “Would you both please shut up!” Soutrik growled, “I am in pain here, and NEITHER of you is helping me right now. Ahhh, Sedore…” Soutrik reached out for aid and relief from anyone and Sedore took her hand comforting her, yet Sedore’s eyes blazed and she sniffed loudly at Bonaiv.

Bonaiv took a tight grip on her braid, back straight, head high, and her own eyes blazed. Under different circumstances Soutrik might have found some sympathy for the target of the tongue-lashing plainly about to erupt. Sedore Sedai’s tongue carried more spines than a hair-needle segade, and sharper ones. Yet, the Green Sister had intruded upon the Yellow Ajah’s territory, and Sedore Sedai was one of the more prickly Yellow’s when it came to interference from outsiders.

Sedore wove weaves of Spirit, Air and Water and cast a web over Soutrik refreshing her and relieving as much of the pain as she could. “My weaves will do what they can, but as the labor continues, she will feel pain anew. There is little I can do save setting a constant weave upon her, and what effect that will have on either of us, I am not certain, so I will NOT attempt it.” Sedore continued to lecture Bonaiv on propriety.

Soutrik’s pain was relieved momentarily but just as Sedore had said, another contraction undid any good the Yellow’s weaves had done. Soutrik groaned, “Where is Svenson?” She began to cry and muffed her screams of pain, turning her head and moaning into her shoulder.

“I am here my love.” Svenson burst into the infirmary his buckler and sword rattling, Melanna and Zyriam not far behind him. He quickly strode to the bed, kneeling at Bonaiv’s side he took Soutrik’s hand in his own and kissed it, “I am here, as I should be, and I will never leave your side.” Soutrik gripped his hand and panted as he kissed her face trying to soothe her. The contractions became worse and Soutrik screamed out with a high pitch blood-curdling yelp. “Do something for her Sedore!” Sven barked at the Yellow Sister who stood gaping at him.

“You dare speak to me in such a manner. You…You…” Sedore Sedai’s eyes bulged.

“Ahhhh, the baby is coming.” Soutrik puffed and panted gritting her teeth.

“Push with the contractions, Sister. You, help her sit forward. Bring her head up and more towards her knees. Now, bear down Soutrik. Push with the contractions. Push.” Sedore quickly forgot the tongue-lashing she had prepared for Svenson and lifted Soutrik’s dress above her knees to prepare for the birth. “Push, Soutrik.”

Contractions and contractions, and contractions later and the high-pitched wail of the newborn child sent shouts of rejoicing through the infirmary.

“It’s a boy!” Sedore proclaimed as she began to clean the child with flows of Water and a stout cotton towel.

“A son! We have a son!” Sven kissed Soutrik and held her face in his hands, “You have given me the joy of my heart. What every man dreams for, a son!”

“Our son…our child…” Soutrik’s voice was weak and lifted her head slightly to look at the baby in Sedore’s arms. The Yellow Sister held the child out for Svenson to hold. Sven cradled the child in his arms, looking adoringly down at his son.

“What shall we name him, my love?” Sven stared in awe at his son in his arms then back at Soutrik who could barely keep her eyes open.

“Let’s name him…Cassidy Jerome GoldSwan din Delphic Two Lands.” Soutrik panted softly, her head rolling to one side in an attempt to look upon her son.

“Such a large name for such a small child.” Sedore Sedai said as brought Soutrik a cup of herbal tea that aided in blood coagulation.

“He will live up to it Sedore, you can count on that.” Sven said as his son gripped his index finger. The child had a dark color skin, not as dark as Soutrik’s, but certainly darker than Sven’s. Black hair, straight and thick, and a small pointed nose, marked the child definitely of Sven’s blood. “He’s our little Blademaster, isn’t he, Soutie?”

Sven looked down at Soutrik’s whose face was slack and eyes closed. “Soutrik?” Sven brushed her cheek but Soutrik did not move. “Sedore, what’s wrong with her?” Sven looked down upon Soutrik and his eyes could not discern her breathing.

“Svenson, take the child, give me room.” Sven got up and backed away from the bed as Sedore hovered over Soutrik laying hands upon her. Zyriam, Bonaiv and Melanna were at his side offering to hold young Cassidy.

Sven handed his son to Zyriam and returned to Soutrik’s side. “Sedore, is she alright?”

“Well, she has lost a great of blood, and is unconscious. She’s hardly breathing, but she is indeed breathing. There is nothing we can do for her at the moment. I fear she is too weak to take Healing.” Sedore stood and looked at Sven, “You may sit with her if you like.” With that Sedore crossed the room and took the child from Zyriam’s arms. “I will see to the child.” Zyriam grudging gave the child to Sedore and glared at the arrogant Yellow she had never liked.

Sven sat at Soutrik’s side and pressed her limp hand to his lips weeping silently.

“Our Sh’boan has returned to us! All honor and glory to the Sh’boan, thrive Shara!” A loud cry went out as Soutrik, Cassidy, and Sven stepped across the threshold. Casscading rose petals and streamers of paper and confetti filled the air and littered the ground as they entered. Free servants, the first in Shara’s long history of slavery, took the trunks and led the family to their quarters.

“Mistress, we have prepared your old rooms per your instructions. The Delphic Family has welcomed the Ruling Council. They arrived last night and await you for dinner.” Lid’jarta, the new palace Holder of the Keys spoke from her prostrated position before Soutrik.

“Excellent. Please send a messenger telling them that we have arrived, and will join them shortly.” Soutrik took Sven’s right arm in her left, carrying Cassidy on her right hip and led her family to the rooms she knew so well.

The magnificent rosewood paneled rooms were exactly as she remembered them. All was prepared as she had requested. A crib was on the right side of the bed. She smiled. That was the crib I had intended for my first child. Her heart skipped a beat. She closed her eyes and readied herself and her family for dinner.

A few hours later, introductions, dinner, and dessert a pleasant memory, Isaak, Soutrik, and Svenson along with the rest of the Ruling Council lounged in the family drawing room. Cassidy played on the floor before them and his playful nature helped ease the tension in the room.

Isaak sipped on his tea and cleared his throat, “Aloysha, since we began the return, and freed the slaves, a new prosperity has blossomed in Shara. Yet, the Ruling Council has decided that for continuity with our cherished past, that their should be an Empress Sh’boan and Emperor Sh’botay, as there was before. Except, instead of ruling for seven years, they would indeed, rule for life.” Soutrik looked at little perplexed. She hadn’t expected this news. “The Council has asked me to speak for them in this matter. It is unanimous. We would like you to be our Sh’boan. Your heroism, and love of our land and our people made the return possible. There would be no rebirth for Shara if not for your actions.” Rounds of ‘here here’ crossed the room and Soutrik held her teacup tightly, stunned.

She licked her lips trying to find saliva, for her mouth had suddenly gone dry. She looked at Svenson who was a blank visage, utterly unrevealing of his feelings. “Isaak, and my dear Council. Your offer is most generous. I must admit that I was ready to say yes immediately, but..”

“Please, don’t say No.” Isaak leaned forward and gripped his cup tightly, “Shara lives within you. You are the driving force behind our new advancement. You can not leave us with…”

“Isaak, I am not saying no.” Soutrik cut Isaak off before he went into another embarrassing speech.

Svenson sat up and shifted uncomfortably. They had discussed this possibility, but she had not thought that it would become a reality. “As I am an Aes Sedai of the White Tower, I feel that I must return and speak with the Amrilyn Seat regarding this situation. After I speak with the Amrilyn Seat I shall return…forever as your Sh’boan.”

“Wonderful. The Light be praised. We knew you would not desert your people.” Isaak and the Council all smiled and toasted her choice.

Soutrik cleared her throat, “And Svenson, shall return with me, as your Sh’botay.” A murmur passed through the Council, but with Isaak’s nod, Soutrik knew the decision had been made. She looked at Svenson who had not changed his expression, except for the tiniest curl to the outmost edges of his lips.

“Your husband will be most honored, Mistress Aloysha.” Isaak smiled and nodded to Sven who blinked at the word ‘husband’. Soutrik smiled back. Sven had not asked her, but with her pronouncement, she left him little choice. If he wanted to be Emperor at her side, he would have to marry her. She would not say another word about the matter. She didn’t expect him to ask her anytime soon, for as far as the Sharan’s were concerned, they were married already. She thought about the situation more, and her heart sank slightly. He might not marry me at all. They will accept him and I will say nothing. She looked over at Sven who gave her an icy stare, then returned his gaze to little Cassidy.

“We will stay with you for a few days for Cassidy’s blessing ceremony, but then we must return to the White Tower. The Amrilyn Seat has prepared a special celebration for his first naming day.” Soutrik bid Cassidy to come to her, and he stumbled with his unsure steps across the carpets to his mother’s side.

“He certainly will be one blessed child.” Isaak looked longingly at the child.

“Isaak, would you be Cassidy’s second-father?” Sven used the term that Soutrik and Zyriam had spoken of and Isaak seemed shocked.

“I would be honored, my liege.” Isaak nodded, tears coming to his eyes, “He will be the grandson I never had.” He looked at Soutrik who lowered her gaze knowing full well to what he referred.

The Amrilyn’s ceremonial chamber was filled with people, ranging from Novices, Accepted and Aes Sedai, to Lords and Ladies of Saldea, and the upper esculent of the Tar Valon merchant class, each dressed in their most regal attire. All the Aes Sedai present wore their Shawls, and the room was a sea of shimmering fringe, mostly of the Yellow and Brown varieties.

Soutrik was pleased that so many hand turned up for the naming ceremony. Cassidy had reached his first naming day, and was an adorable pudgy toddler, taking his first steps as he clung to his Mother’s gown. A cacophony of voices filled the room along with pleasant melodies provided by Elise and Hesper on harp and flute, respectively. Soutrik smiled at various people in the crowd waving to this person and that, but two voices caught her ear. She looked about to see if she could identify where they were coming from…

“Looks like the child is fairly large.”

“Hopefully he has more of Sven’s qualities than hers. Who’d want to marry a midget of a man?”

“And those freaky eyes, and hair!”

“Is Sven blind?”

“Blinded by love I suppose. Or the rumor of the crown that awaits him in Shara is true. Would you bind yourself to someone like that for a throne?”

“No. Not with the way she looks. Such a pity that she is so frightfully…exotic.”

“Ugly…u…g…l…y…ugly, dear, not exotic. I don’t care what you think, that nose chain only highlights that fact that her nose is wide. What’s with the tattoos on her face and her hands?”

“I hope she doesn’t try to do that to the child.” “Can you imagine growing up with a mother that was as freakish as her? That poor child will be a laughing stock of his peers. Aes Sedai or not, she is just horrid to look at.”

Giggles arose and Soutrik could not pinpoint the owners of the voices, but that did not matter, so much as the fact that there were people present who clearly did not like her. Sven’s friends. Her high spirits were dashed to the rocks of despair, and she barely contained the tears that welled in her eyes.

Seeing Soutrik standing alone with the child across the room, Sven crossed to her and smiled. He grasped her hand and looked down at her. “Why are you crying, my love?”

“Oh, it’s…it’s nothing…forget it.”

“No, tell me what’s the matter.”

Soutrik reluctantly related what she had overheard and Sven became furious. His nostrils flared and he looked about the room glaring at various women. He knew not who had said what they did, but he knew what he was going to do about it.

“I will be right back.” Sven leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, then left the chambers.

The naming ceremony was slated to begin in under an hour, and the receiving line was not yet half completed. Soutrik sighed shaking hands with various people as they came through the line to pay their respects and share their congratulations.

Sven entered the chambers with a determined look on his face and sauntered over to the Mother and bowed. Soutrik nearly fell over as she strained to see across the chamber as Sven and Ariana were engaged in conversation. The Mother and Svenson strolled across the large chamber to Soutrik and little Cassidy.

“I am so pleased, daughter.” Ariana kissed Soutrik on the cheek and stepped forward on to the raised platform at the end of the chamber.

“What’s with her?” Soutrik questioned Sven who merely smiled.

Ariana Sedai clapped her hands and raised them above her head calling the chamber to attention and quiet. “Greetings and welcome dear friends. We have gathered here today to welcome a new life to the world, a new thread to the Pattern. Yet, more than that, we are here to witness the union of Svenson and Soutrik, who have decided to share their vows of commitment with us here today.”

Soutrik’s eyes nearly popped from her head and she turned to look at Svenson who was all smiles. I love you. he mouthed at her and pressed his fist to his heart. Soutrik’s own heart pounded and she felt her knees begin to weaken. She lifted Cassidy up and cradled him on her hip, then held his head close to her chest. I love you she mouthed back to Sven.

Ariana bid the bride and bridegroom forward and they knelt before her.

Soutrik handed Cassidy to Bonaiv. Sven grasped Soutrik’s hands in his and stared deeply into her eyes. Ariana began her speech that she normally gave when presiding over weddings but the words were lost to Soutrik who saw nothing, heard nothing. She was lost in overwhelming emotion staring into Sven’s jade jewels of eyes. He really loves me! Her heart beat in a wild rhythm, and she licked her lips lightly, as her mouth was drying out, and her vows were fast approaching. Ariana’s next words caught Soutrik and she smiled at Sven.

“The men that women marry, and why they marry them, will always be a marvel and a mystery to the world.” A light flutter of laughter filtered through the crowd of onlookers. The Mother had a unique sense of humor often appreciated by Soutrik and Ariana was in rare form today. “There is no fear in love; for perfect love casts out fear. Both Svenson and Soutrik have met their fears and have passed through into the Acceptance of their true selves, and in doing so, are ready to share their lives together. Soutrik?” Ariana paused and looked to Soutrik who bit her lip lightly and then smiled at Svenson, radiating love in every look.

“Under the Light,” she said looking up him adoringly, holding his hands in hers, “I, Soutrik Aloysha Delphic, pledge my love and undying devotion to Svenson GoldenSwan of Saldea, now and for all time, save that he chooses to release me of his own will. My lands and throne are his, and I yield them to his hand. So I do swear.” Soutrik paused, and then continued her vows. “He is the light of my life, the guiding beacon through the fog. He brings me to my center, and comforts me in my need. He is a friend, and my companion…and a loving and nurturing father to our son.” Soutrik began to speak in the High Language of the Ayyad, “L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stele.” Meaning, ‘The love that moves the sun and the other stars’.

Sven smiled down at Soutrik, “Under the Light, I do accept your pledge and will defend and protect you and yours through battle’s wrack and winter’s blast and all that time may bring. The lands and throne of yours in Shara, I give to you as my faithful vassal. Under the Light, I do swear to love, honor, and cherish your very soul until the last breath is ripped from my being.” Svenson paused and looked out into the crowd, then back at Soutrik, “She is my angel of hope, the mother of my son. She is the most beautiful creature these eyes have been blessed to behold. She reminds me that life is an adventure, every day, and in every hour. She is Passion’s own teacher, the Mistress of my own heart’s desire. She is my equal and my companion through this lifetime and beyond. Where she is, there must I be also.” Sven lifted Soutrik’s hands to his lips and kissed both her Golden Serpent ring and the inside of her wrist, then pulled her hand flat and pressed it to his chest. “My heart is my lady’s.”

“As is mine, my lord’s.” Soutrik took Sven’s hand and kissed his palm and placed it over her heart.

“By the vows you each have given and accepted you have publicly declared that you wish to be as one. Husband, love your wife, and be not bitter against her. Wife, bring honor to your husband, and you will be blessed by the Light for your longsuffering and temperance. The Day Star arise in both your hearts.” Soutrik smiled at Ariana’s last words, An Atha’an Miere blessing. How appropriate.

A large cry went up among the crowd and Sven, still kneeling before Soutrik, grabbed her in his arms kissing her deeply, with much passion. Soutrik swooned as he released her. Reaching into his coat, Sven fished out a ring. It was a brilliant blue three-karat topaz cut in a heptagonal shape, each side surrounded by two round cut diamonds in a platinum setting on a brilliant gold band. Sven slipped it on her fourth finger of her left hand. Bonaiv, still holding little Cassidy, walked to the couple as they knelt before the Amrilyn. Melanna Sedai approached with a silver bowl. Handing Cassidy to Svenson Bonaiv smiled, “Good show, young man. It’s about time you made her an honest woman.” Bonaiv winked. Melanna held the bowl out towards the Amrilyn. Ariana began to speak words of blessing over young Cassidy.

“Does the proud father have any blessings to lay upon his son?” Ariana’s question hushed the crowd, and Sven stood, holding his son in his arms.

“I have but this to say; families, when a child is born want it to be intelligent. I, through intelligence, having wrecked my whole life, only hope the baby will prove ignorant and stupid. Then he will crown a tranquil life.” Sven smiled down at little Cassidy who happily cooed in his arms. There was mild laughter throughout the crowd at Sven’s witty remarks. Sven handed Ariana the child. Ariana spoke again, drawing on traditions of Saldean and Antha’an Miere naming traditions.

“This child will from this day be known as Cassidy Jerome GoldSwan din Delphic.” Ariana dipped her hand into the bowl of water and dribbled the water on the child’s head. “And now may the blessing of the Light and the Creator be upon this child. May he seek only the truth, and walk a pathway of righteousness as both his parents before him.”

With Ariana’s last words, a crash shattered the tranquility of the naming ceremony. Glass fell from the ceiling; the skylights that illumined the Armilyn’s chamber dropped their panes in huge shards plummeting upon the crowd. Elise, Bonaiv and Melanna standing closest to Soutrik were all killed by falling glass before any of the three could shield themselves. A dark figure of humanoid shape clung upside down to the ceiling of the chamber; Sharp teeth in its mouth the only visible light component on its being. “And here I thought that an Aes Sedai could only speak truth.” The gholam’s voice echoed across the chamber and the many murmurs and crying around the room hushed. Every ear was turned to the creature.

“Svenson GoldSwan, your debt is not yet paid, your promises go unfulfilled. You have grown strong in the One Power, and you have gained much status as a business man. The ultimate gift of a throne has been granted, but it appears you forget who you truly serve.” The gholam moved with an odd motion down the walls of the room towards the platform.

“What?!” Soutrik gasped and looked back and forth between the creature and Svenson. “What is that thing saying?”

“It’s not true, Soutrik. I walk in the Light. Hand me the Oath Rod today and I will swear it if you do not believe me.” Sven pleaded with her, shaking his head dispelling the creatures words.

“Yes, believe him woman. He has left the Dark path after receiving its bounty, but he must pay his tab.” The creature jumped down and stood on the platform near Ariana and Svenson who still held Cassidy. “Your mentor is greatly displeased that she wasted her precious time with you. You have not heeded her teachings. You must still pay for your lesson.” It hissed and reared back before striking out at Sven and Ariana and little Cassidy.

“NO!” Soutrik yelled and lunged at the gholam throwing her entire weight at it. The creature stumbled backwards. Soutrik kicked and screamed Sharan battle cries. “Nemo me impune lacessit.” The meaning was ‘No one provokes me with impunity’. Soutrik kicked and screamed and pushed the creature towards the windows. She dug in with her nails and would not let go. It bit her right hand off and spit it out hitting the Amrilyn Seat. Soutrik screamed as the blood squirted from the stump of her hand. Her anger flared and she bit back pushing the creature and shouting more curses. They fell against the window and fell from the room, out of the top off the Tower.

Plunging towards her death below the gholam spoke to her. “This fall shall not kill me. I shall kill your husband and your child, and the Amrilyn for the shear enjoyment of it.” It came out in a rush and Soutrik screamed cold fury in the beasts face. Her mind whirled and in a split second she made her decision.

“My family, the Amrilyn, the White Tower, and the Light shall always prevail!” She embraced the source and pulled every last drop she could through her bracelets until she could pull no more, then redirected the huge flow out of the bracelets and solely through herself. She pulled more Power than needed to balefire a person, she imploded herself taking the gholam with her singeing her thread and its from the Pattern of Life.

Soutrik stepped through the door and stumbled, looking up at a smiling Ariana Sedai. "You have returned to us, Daughter, pure of heart and mind, strong in body and the Power."

Soutrik blinked. The entire experience; It was the Test. None of that actually happened. Soutrik slumped into an exhausted curtsey. “Thank you, Mother.”

Ariana Sedai strode forward with a reassuring smile on her face. "You have returned to us, Daughter, pure of heart and mind, strong in body and the Power." She dipped her thumb in a small dish of oil and anointed Soutrik's forehead with a circle. "So the Wheel weaves, you are now Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai of the White Tower." The Amrilyn took Soutrik's arm by the elbow and led her toward the dais where the Oath Rod was sitting. It as burning with a brilliant light, illuminated by weaves of Air and Water. As they stood at the dais, the other eleven Aes Sedai formed a half circle and embraced saidar through a link, focused by Madeline. The Amrilyn took the Oath Rod from its perch and handed the fluted wand to Soutrik and she took it with a confident grip. Most men and women feared that they might break the strong item.

Through Madeline, the eleven Aes Sedai and the Mother herself all channeled threads of Spirit into the Oath Rod. The burst of light that appeared from the rod was initially blinding, but when it softened, the swirls of colors that ran up and down the length of the rod were beautiful, such as a kaleidoscope. Small pieces of words that Soutrik did not recognize as even Old Tongue floated within the light. "Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai, do you swear to speak no word that is not true?"

"By the Light, I swear to speak no word that is not true." Soutrik replied. Shivers rang up and down her entire frame. She quaked within her own skin feeling the First Oath settle on her like a snare catching a rabbits foot in mid-flight as it scurried from the fox.

"Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai, do you swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another?" Ariana’s voice was formal and strong, urging Soutrik onward.

"By the Light, I swear to make no weapon with which one man may kill another." Soutrik felt the Second Oath grip her in ways she felt through every pour of her skin and back again as hot as lightening and as painful as the contractions she experienced with the Test for the Shawl. Her lower lip quivered and her grip on the Rod grew tighter as if trying to choke off its effect upon her.

"Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai, do you swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defense of her own life, or that of her Warder or another Aes Sedai?" The Mother asked for Soutrik make the third pledge, and Soutrik felt an eager anticipation to be done with this vile feeling of being suffocated, smothering a part of her mind into obeisance.

"By the Light, I swear to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of a defense of her own life, or that of her Warder or another Aes Sedai." Or my husband or my children. Soutrik mentally added that last part and wondered if the Oath would be affected.

"At this time, you have been given time to think upon the Ajah you believe you would most benefit. Which Ajah do you choose Daughter?"

"I choose the Yellow Ajah, if they will have me." Soutrik looked to Zhareen Sedai and saw the Assistant Mistress of Novices swell with pride. Madeline Sedai had what Soutrik perceived to be a disappointed gleam.

Zhareen had been involved in raising ceremonies for a good wohundred to two hundred fifty years in one fashion or another -- be it as a head of her Ajah, or as a member of the Mistress of Novices' offices. It was always a joyous occasion whenever one survived the arch to return to them... even more joyous still when they took the three oaths.

Zhareen seemed to hope even more hard for Soutrik... she lobbied hard to have the yellow accept her, and there had not been a new yellow in a long while. Here's to hoping.. thought the older sister as she was channeling into the oath rod -- watching Soutrik take her three oaths.

When all was said and done, the moment was there...

"At this time, you have been given time to think upon the Ajah you believe you would most benefit. Which Ajah do you choose Daughter?"

"I choose the Yellow Ajah, if they will have me." Soutrik looked to Zhareen, and the elder sister could not have been any happier to hear those words. She stepped forward, draping a yellow-fringed shawl across Soutrik's shoulders, replying formally as she had: "The Yellow Ajah finds her worthy and accepts her."

Soutrik tried to adjust to the weight of the new shawl around her shoulders. Zhareen could see her glow in golds and yellows -- as if her smile wouldn't be any indication on it's own. Ariana leaned forward and kissed Soutrik's cheeks, her pride also swelling in her. "You are now Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah. Represent the White Tower with pride, Daughter."

Like Zhareen, Ava had participated in ceremony after ceremony in the last two hundred and fifty years. She remembered raising Aes Sedai and Accepted—she had raised all except for a select few in this room—and each one was satisfying and unique in its own way. And another Sister… Ava was quite beaming with pride at the swelling numbers in the White Tower. About fifty Novices, over twenty Accepted, and five Aes Sedai recently raised, or about to be raised. It was a good omen—more women were choosing to come to the White Tower, or perhaps more men and women were being born with the ability to channel. Probably both…

But now it was the moment of truth… what Ajah would Soutrik choose? Like every other Aes Sedai who was currently channelling into the Oath Rod, Ava was fervently praying that Soutrik would choose the Blue, though she had a feeling that it would not be so.

“I choose the Yellow Ajah, if they will have me.” Soutrik looked over at Zhareen, and Ava’s long-time friend fairly swelled in pride.

Zhar stepped forward, draping a yellow-fringed shawl across Soutrik’s shoulders, replying formally: “The Yellow Ajah finds her worthy and accepts her.”

Soutrik touched the Yellow-fringed Shawl, and Ava had a sudden flashback of the young Novice who had come into the Tower bald and tattooed, and her own wonder at such a person. Now Soutie was a full-blown Aes Sedai, with all the responsibilities and respect that gained her. Ava sighed in relief as Ariana leaned forward and kissed Soutrik’s cheeks, her pride also swelling in her. “You are now Soutrik Aloysha Delphic Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah. Represent the White Tower with pride, Daughter.”

Soutrik smiled and curtsied. “Thank you, Mother, I will do the best that I can.”

Then there was a rush of Aes Sedai over to the newly-raised. Ava was the first to reach her (after Zhareen, Ari, and Aeilla, of course) and wrapped the new Yellow in a huge bear hug. “Congratulations, Soutie!” she whispered in her ear.

“Thank you… Ava S—ah, Ava.” Their grins were the same as Soutrik moved on to accept other congratulations.

Ava sighed with relief and exchanged glances with Zhareen, Madeline, and Ariana. A new Sister. Time to celebrate!