“By any gauge,” Verin cut in, “you are a woman grown, Nynaeve. Usually, the younger a novice, the better she does. Not with the training necessarily, but because a novice is expected to do as she is told, when she is told and without question. It is really only of use once the actual training has reached a certain point—a hesitation in the wrong place then, or a doubt of what you have been told to do, can have tragic consequences—but it is better to follow the discipline all the time. The Accepted, on the other hand, are expected to question things, as it is felt they know enough to know what questions to ask and when. Which do you think you would prefer?”
Nynaeve’s hands tightened on her skirt, and she looked at the tent flap again, frowning. Finally she gave a short nod and settled back down on the floor. “I suppose I might as well,” she said.
“Good,” Verin said. “Now. You already know this part, Egwene, but for Nynaeve’s sake I will take you through it step by step. In time, it will become second nature—you will do it all faster than you can think of it—but now it is best to go slowly. Close your eyes, please. It goes better in the beginning if you have no distractions at all.” Egwene closed her eyes. There was a pause. “Nynaeve,” Verin said, “please close your eyes. It will really go better.” Another pause. “Thank you, child. Now, you must empty yourself. Empty your thoughts. There is only one thing in your mind. The bud of a flower. Only that. Only the bud. You can see it in every detail. You can smell it. You can feel it. Every vein of every leaf, every curve of every petal. You can feel the sap pulsing. Feel it. Know it. Be it. You and the bud are the same. You are one. You are the bud.”
Her voice droned on hypnotically, but Egwene no longer really heard; she had done this exercise before, with Moiraine. It was slow, but Moiraine had said it would come more quickly with practice. Inside herself, she was a rosebud, red petals curled tightly. Yet suddenly there was something else. Light. Light pressing on the petals. Slowly the petals unfolded, turning toward the light, absorbing the light. The rose and the light were one. Egwene and the light were one. She could feel the merest trickle of it seeping through her. She stretched for more, strained for more. . . .
In an instant it was all gone, rose and light. Moiraine had also said it could not be forced. With a sigh, she opened her eyes. Nynaeve had a grim look on her face. Verin was as calm as ever.
“You cannot make it happen,” the Aes Sedai was saying. “You must let it happen. You must surrender to the Power before you can control it.”
“This is complete foolishness,” Nynaeve muttered. “I don’t feel like a flower. If anything, I feel like a blackthorn bush. I think I will wait by the fire after all.”
“As you wish,” Verin said. “Did I mention that novices do chores? They wash dishes, scrub floors, do laundry, serve at table, all sorts of things. I myself think the servants do a better job of it by far, but it is generally felt that such labor builds character. Oh, you are staying? Good. Well, child, remember that even a blackthorn bush has flowers sometimes, beautiful and white among the thorns. We will try it one at a time. Now, from the beginning, Egwene. Close your eyes.”
Several times before Verin left, Egwene felt the flow of the Power through her, but it was never very strong, and the most she managed with it was to produce a stir in the air that made the tent flap stir slightly. She was sure a sneeze could have done as much. She had done better with Moiraine; sometimes, at least. She wished it was Moiraine doing the teaching.
Nynaeve never even felt a glimmer, or so she said. By the end her eyes were set and her mouth so tight that Egwene was afraid she was about to begin berating Verin as if the Aes Sedai were a village woman intruding on her privacy. But Verin simply told her to close her eyes once again, this time without Egwene.
Egwene was sitting, watching the other two between her yawns. The night had grown late, well past the time she would usually be asleep. Nynaeve wore a face like week-old death, her eyes clamped shut as if she never meant to open them and her hands white-knuckled fists in her lap. Egwene hoped the Wisdom’s temper did not break loose, not after she had held it this long.
“Feel the flow through you,” Verin was saying. Her voice did not change, but suddenly there was a gleam in her eyes. “Feel the flow. Flow of the Power. Flow like a breeze, a gentle stirring in the air.” Egwene sat up straight. This was how Verin had guided her each time she had actually had the Power flowing through her. “A soft breeze, the slightest movement of air. Soft.”
Abruptly the stacked blankets burst into flame like fatwood.
Nynaeve opened her eyes with a yell. Egwene was not sure if she screamed or not. All Egwene knew was that she was on her feet, trying to kick the burning blankets outside before they set the tent on fire. Before she managed a second kick, the flames vanished, leaving wispy smoke rising from a charred mass and the smell of burned wool.
“Well,” Verin said. “Well. I did not expect to have to douse a fire. Don’t faint on me, child. It’s all right now. I took care of it.”
“I—I was angry.” Nynaeve spoke through trembling lips in a bloodless face. “I heard you talking about a breeze, telling me what to do, and fire just popped into my head. I—I didn’t mean to burn anything. It was just a small fire, in—in my head.” She shuddered.
“I suppose it was a small fire, at that.” Verin barked a laugh that was gone with another look at Nynaeve’s face. “Are you all right, child? If you feel ill, I can. . . .” Nynaeve shook her head, and Verin nodded. “Rest is what you need. Both of you. I’ve worked you too hard. You must rest. The Amyrlin will have us all up and away before first light.” Standing, she toed the charred blankets. “I will have some more blankets brought to you. I hope this shows both of you how important control is. You must learn to do what you mean to do, and nothing more. Aside from harming someone else, if you draw more of the Power than you can safely handle—and you cannot handle much, yet; but it will grow—if you draw too much, you can destroy yourself. You can die. Or you can burn yourself out, destroy what ability you have.” As if she had not told them they were walking a knife edge, she added a cheerful “Sleep well.” With that, she was gone.
Egwene put her arms around Nynaeve and hugged her tight. “It is all right, Nynaeve. There is no need to be frightened. Once you learn to control—”
Nynaeve gave a croaking laugh. “I am not frightened.” She glanced sideways at the smoking blankets and twitched her eyes away. “It takes more than a little fire to frighten me.” But she did not look at the blankets again, even when a Warder came to take them away and leave new.
Verin did not come again, as she had said she would not. Indeed, as they journeyed on, south and west, day by day, as fast as the footmen could move, Verin paid the two women from Emond’s Field no more mind than Moiraine did, than did any of the Aes Sedai. They were not precisely unfriendly, the Aes Sedai, but rather distant and aloof, as if preoccupied. Their coolness heightened Egwene’s unease, and brought back all the tales she had heard as a child.
Her mother had always told her the tales about Aes Sedai were a lot of fool men’s nonsense, but neither her mother nor any other woman in Emond’s Field had ever met an Aes Sedai before Moiraine came there. She herself had spent a good deal of time with Moiraine, and Moiraine was proof to her that not all Aes Sedai were like the tales. Cold manipulators and mercile
ss destroyers. Breakers of the World. She knew now that those, at least—the Breakers of the World—had been male Aes Sedai, when there were such, in the Age of Legends, but it did not help a great deal. Not all Aes Sedai were like the tales, but how many, and which?
The Aes Sedai who came to the tent each night were so mixed that they did not help at all in clearing her thoughts. Alviarin was as cool and businesslike as a merchant come to buy wool and tabac, surprised that Nynaeve was part of the lesson but accepting, sharp in her criticisms but always ready to try again. Alanna Mosvani laughed and spent as much time talking about the world, and men, as she did teaching. Alanna showed too much interest in Rand and Perrin and Mat for Egwene’s comfort, though. Especially Rand. Worst of all was Liandrin, the only one who wore her shawl; the others had all packed them away before leaving Fal Dara. Liandrin sat fingering her red fringe and taught little, and reluctantly at that. She questioned Egwene and Nynaeve as if they had been accused of a crime, and her questions were all about the three boys. She kept it up until Nynaeve threw her out—Egwene was not sure why Nynaeve did so—and then she left with a warning.
“Watch yourselves, my daughters. You are in your village no longer. Now you dabble your toes where there are things to bite you.”
Finally the column reached the village of Medo, on the banks of the Mora, which ran along the border between Shienar and Arafel and so into the River Erinin.
Egwene was sure it was the Aes Sedai’s questions about Rand that had made her start dreaming of him, that and worrying about him, about whether he and the others had had to follow the Horn of Valere into the Blight. The dreams were always bad, but at first they were just the ordinary sort of nightmare. By the night they reached Medo, the dreams had changed, though.
“Pardon, Aes Sedai,” Egwene asked diffidently, “but have you seen Moiraine Sedai?” The slender Aes Sedai waved her away and hurried on down the crowded, torch-lit village street, calling for someone to be careful with her horse. The woman was of the Yellow Ajah, though not wearing her shawl now; Egwene knew no more of her than that, not even her name.
Medo was a small village—though Egwene was shocked to realize that what she now thought of as a “small village” was as big as Emond’s Field—and it was overwhelmed now with many more outsiders than there were inhabitants. Horses and people filled the narrow streets, jostling to the docks past villagers who knelt whenever an unseeing Aes Sedai sped by. Harsh torchlight lit everything. The two docks jutted out into the River Mora like stone fingers, and each hosted a pair of small, two-masted ships. There, horses were being hoisted on board by booms and cables and canvas cradles under their bellies. More of the ships—high-sided and stout, with lanterns topping their masts—crowded the moon-streaked river, already loaded or waiting their turn. Rowboats ferried out archers and pikemen, the raised pikes making the boats look like gigantic pricklebacks swimming on the surface.
On the left-hand dock Egwene found Anaiya, watching the loading and chivying those who were not moving fast enough. Though she had never said more than two words to Egwene, Anaiya seemed different from the others, more like a woman from home. Egwene could picture her baking in her kitchen; she could not see any of the others so. “Anaiya Sedai, have you seen Moiraine Sedai? I need to talk to her.”
The Aes Sedai looked around with an absent frown. “What? Oh, it’s you, child. Moiraine is gone. And your friend, Nynaeve, is already out on the River Queen. I had to bundle her onto a boat myself, shouting that she would not go without you. Light, what a scramble! You should be aboard, yourself. Find a boat going out to the River Queen. You two will be traveling with the Amyrlin Seat, so mind yourself once you’re on board. No scenes or tantrums.”