That Which Wasn’t, and Won’t Ever Be

Milandra had, prior to coming to the Tower, considered herself a patient person. She could wait the extra week the seamstress needed to make her dress, she could just manage to not berate her few suitors for being (in her mind late), and never harangued her maids for being slow with her things. But once her former room mate, Kate, had been called to the Arches, well… she found herself growing even less patient than that!

“I was always better in my studies than her,” Milla reflected, putting her quill down beside her notes momentarily. She stretched; the long hours of researching points in the Library were getting to her. In some ways, the long years were getting to her. Even if she had made a fundamental acceptance of the fact that her time in the Tower as a student was going to be longer than she expected, this was usually well balanced against all that she was learning in the Power, in self-control, in that which had shaped the world. Still, in moments like this…

As if almost by magic, a presence – “Come child, you are to be tested.” She stood jerkily, feeling all of a sudden that it was too soon, that she wasn’t ready to face… whatever it was… nevermind that she was lamenting being left behind only moments before! And so, abandoning her papers, she proceeded to follow the Mistress of Novices in, out, and down. Down and down they went, lower than Milla had ever been before; she shivered slightly. And then suddenly, a set of doors bigger than the rest, a set fit in size for a palace. It was through these massive doors that, on silent glide, the pair entered.

Inside this cavernous room, a curious structure stood. It was a series of gleaming silver arches connected to a ring at their bottom; at the base of each ring sat an Aes Sedai. All were wearing their shawls, though she suspected it was scant comfort whilst being sat upon bare, cold floor. Another stood by a table which stood supporting three silver chalices; she remember this being mentioned on their way down from the Library. Still, she knew she was stalling at looking at the flicking light that stood in those rounded arches…

Her attention was blessedly diverted as the Mistress of Novices began to speak, “Now that you are here, I will tell you the two things that no woman hears until she stands where you are. Firstly, once you begin the test, you must continue to the end. If you refuse to go on, no matter your potential, you will be put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you for a year; you will never be allowed back. Second, to seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they – were – not – there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Faltering leads to a failure.”

“This is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, and you will have only mark against you. Twice more will you be allowed to come here, and only at the third refusal will you be put out of the Tower. It is no shame to refuse. Many cannot do it their first time here. Now, you may speak.”

Milandra gulped; she could be freed here, free to go home and marry whomever her parents had in mind for her. But then, she’d never know what she was missing out on. She knew that leaving now would be the worst possible choice to make; why did she spend so many years here to throw it away now? “I accept; I will not refuse,” she said shakily, and upon instruction, began to strip down for the test.

Her skin pebbled quickly in the frigid air as she allowed the Mistress of Novices to guide her forward. The Sister at the table began, “Whom do you bring with you, Sister?” The Mistress of Novices replied, “One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.”

“Is she ready?”

“She is ready to leave behind what was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”

“Does she know her fears?”

“She has never faced them, but now is willing.”

“Then let her face what she fears.”

Nudging her forward by the elbow, the Mistress of Novices herded her the remaining distance to the first arch. “The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

‘Be steadfast’

“Did.. did you say something, Mother?” Milandra queried, rubbing her head. She had thought that she had heard something, but…

“I know it’s difficult to hear, little Milla, but I need you to pay attention. We’re broke, we’re out of money. Your father made the mistake of backing the wrong shipping firms, and… all we have left is the house, and we can’t even afford that!” She broke down sobbing, looking the most pained and bewildered that Milandra had ever seen. Awkwardly, she put an arm around her mother’s shoulders, and was drawn into a tight embrace for her efforts. After her mother’s sobs subsided, the girl stepped back and asked quietly, “What.. is.. is there anything I can do, Mother?” Red-rimmed eyes began to water again, and a horrid realization hit home. Light, she felt like crying if it were true…

“Is.. did.. did he, he ask…” She couldn’t even finish the sentence, the prospect was too horrible.

A curt nod was all the answer her mother managed before subsiding into tears again. Milla bit her lip to avoid joining in the sobbing; she had always dreamed of marrying a handsome lordling, but not this one. Jaim Tobai was comely to look upon even at his advanced age of 28, but he was reputed to have a dark temper. His first two wives had died under questionable circumstances, but there was no proof he was behind their deaths either. He had been coming around often to attempt to gets his parents to take him on as an accountancy client, and it had only been the last time that she had realized he was taking a special interest in her…

Milandra shuddered, and took a step backwards. She caught her shoulder on the doorframe, and quickly caught it as she spun around before she could fall to the floor. As her mother’s tortured sobs began to rise louder behind her, she spotted, standing in the middle of the next room, a silver arch. ‘The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.’ a disembodied voice chided her, reminding her of the deadly importance of… something. But what could be more important than her parents; never had she seen her mother more needy, more vulnerable. How could she leave her to that?! Still, she made herself move forward towards the arch, forward and onward…

She stepped out of the same arch she had entered, and was greeted with a cascade of freezing water. “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.”

Trying to catch her breath, she stood there, fists balled. She was at a loss for words – had she just abandoned her mother? She thought of asking, but knew, just knew, that if she opened her mouth, she would start crying and not stop. Milandra felt more on edge than she ever had in her life, and she didn’t care that it showed.

Wisely, the Mistress of Novices opted to not comment. The Aes Sedai laid a hand on Milandra’s shoulder, and began guiding her towards the next arch. “The second arch is for what is. They way will come but once. Be steadfast.”

Taking a deep breath, she stepped through again…

‘They way will come but once.’

Setting aside the dress she was working on, Milla cracked her knuckles and stood. Her hands often ached since she had taken up this line of work, which was only fitting for an embroideress. She had broken under the pressure of training, and had made mistakes that had ended up with her being put out for life. She knew, knew, that Accepted and Novices were not to take up with Tower Guards, but she had been so distressed that seeking comfort was the only thing that had mattered to her. The unexpected pregnancy had ended her training.

Milandra had told herself that things would work out okay – Dailin loved her very much, and even if he wasn’t weathy, her parents would support her always. Dailin bolted when he found out about the impending child, and her parents disowned her; they thought it was a terrible scandal and reflected poorly upon themselves. It was only her old seamstress taking pity on her that enabled her to eke out a meagre living; she had an undeniable talent at embroidery, and a desperation to please, to survive.

She sighed, and settled back down to her work again. Nothing matter anymore, nothing but taking care of her daughter, Alera. Nobody wanted her or the girl, and where she had failed in everything else, she would not fail her only child, the last of her family. But before she could lean over and pick it back up…

“Momma!” her daughter cried as she ran into the room. Flinging herself at Milla’s legs, the small child wrapped grubby and scratched-up arms tightly around her.

She helped her child back to her feet, and stood up herself. No explanation was needed; there were bullies around who delighted in harassing and attacking her child to get at her, to mock her fall. Milla didn’t know what she was going to do, but she was determined to do something. She knelt, lifting Alera’s head up gently by the chin, “Can you show me where it happened this time?” A snot-laced nod was the reply. Frowning grimly, she stood up, and headed towards the site of the incident.

As she spotted the bullies hanging out down an alley, she spotted a curious sight between them and herself – a silver arch stood unsupported in the street, unconcerned about its locale. Alera yelped that they were coming, and tried to cling to her leg. Milandra gently disengaged her, staring at the arch. ‘The way will come but once,’ she heard from nowhere, reminding her of… something. Something she wanted more than anything, more than her only family. She started towards the arch in almost a trance, her daughter’s cries of distress slowing her steps. “This… this isn’t real,” Milandra told herself as she felt the tears start streaming down her face. As her daughter was slammed ruthlessly to the ground by her tormenters, Milla whispered, “Forgive me,” and stepped through…

The cold water that was dumped over her person did nothing to wash away the feeling of filth upon her. Abandoning her daughter, her daughter, the daughter she would never have should she stay this course… “You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.” She shuddered; it was the only response she could muster.

As the Sister turned to place the now-emptied chalice back upon the table, the Mistress of Novices took her elbow once more, guiding her towards the last Arch. “Horrible, isn’t it? And it only gets worse. But that’s the point – you have to want to be Aes Sedai so badly that it draws you back to safety.” The older woman smiled sadly; her face showed the merest flash of empathy, of shared suffering. It was… something, something enough to know that she could do it… but… but…

“The final arch is for what will be. The way will come but once. Be steadfast.”

She took a deep breath to still her violent shaking, and stepped through…

‘The way will come but once. Be steadfast.’

Be steadfast


…crawling towards the light…

The Light…

On hands and knees, Milla stumbled out onto the hard, frigid floor. Blinking, the Amyrlin waited a moment for her to right herself, before uprighting the remaining chalice over her head, “You are washed clean of Milandra Basene of Tar Valon. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean in heart and soul. You are Milandra Basene, Accepted of the White Tower. You are sealed to us, now.”

She finally noticed the other Sisters, one from each Ajah, as the Amyrlin Seat placed the gold ring upon her finger, “Welcome Daughter,” she said with some warmth, planting a kiss upon her cheek. Milandra smiled tremulously, and then allowed herself to be herded to where she could dry and dress. She very very carefully focused on these things; she knew that thinking about what she just went through would be… it would be too much for the moment. Better to reflect on these things when there weren’t a dozen other people watching… at least she could do something to prevent a future so bleak, so meaningless, so incomplete…

Home is Never Home, Dear Diary

Milandra was a furious young woman. Never in her life had she imagined that she was signing up for a life of torture, theft, and slave labour… and yet, here she was. And the worst part of it was that she was so ashamed of her lack of forethought that she couldn’t even bring herself to tell her family. Her family, that were so close, yet so far away; for all she had been born and raised in Tar Valon, she wasn’t that confident that she could find her parents’ estate on her own.

Still,” she thought to herself as she flung herself down in front of her desk in exhaustion, “They let me keep my most important possession.” She caressed its leather cover lovingly, taking a moment to pick it up and feel its comforting weight. It was one of many diaries she had filled over the years, and while she had left her old ones in her chambers at her parents’ estate, she had her current one to hand. She resisted the urge to torment herself with posts from happier days, and equipped herself with ink and quill to begin recording her trials.

Day One
Dear Diary,

I am obviously a very stupid person. I’ve, apparently, signed myself up to a life of servitude, as my strange little room-mate has so kindly pointed out.

She took a moment to glare at the other girl’s prone form before bending back to her scribbling.

I’ve been nearly vomited upon, forced into manual labor, and haven’t learned a thing yet. This seems like quite the scam, and I’m not sure I should put up with it. Still, it would never do for one of my stature to give up so easily… perhaps tomorrow will be a better day.

To her dismay, it was some time before she found a moment to write again. Between studies, and chores, she was too exhausted most nights to even consider jotting down anything. She was being broken to this new way of life, and while there was some good to it, so much of it was frightening and strange. And then, a Freeday…

Day 80 (I think)
Dear Diary,

Today is a so-called Freeday. While I don’t have to do any chores or attend any classes, I’m not permitted to leave this prison. I want so badly to see my parents, to tell them of the things I’m learning… but I’m not sure I could find my way to them from here. I’ve thought about trying to sneak into the Mistress of Novices’ storage to get some of my proper clothing and see if I can manage to hire a carriage back to their estate, but I have a feeling that my efforts would fail. These women have eyes in the back of their heads or something, because none of us seem to be able to get away with anything. I’m so tired of being tired, I’m so tired of crying, and I’m so afraid of dying. They go on about how we could kill ourselves on accident; why would any of us want to risk killing ourselves for this power, the Power?!

Grimly she marched, and oh so gingerly, Milandra lowered herself into her chair. She winced, taking a moment to dab at her face again before taking up her quill.

Day 81
Dear Diary,

I broke down and tried to walk out of here last night. I was right; they DO have eyes in the back of their heads. The Aes Sedai must if they saw me trying to leave; I was very clever about it. The Mistress of Novices beat me to within an inch of my life while prating on about how lucky I am to have this honor. What honor is there in getting beaten and forced to work?! Even servants get paid – we truly are slaves here. I’m apparently especially lucky to not be under guard, supposedly. Why would I be, though? I understand now that I’m a prisoner, and the only way out is to fail miserably, or to try and take all this misery with good grace. I don’t know if I’m capable of this… not right now, surely.

Time continued to pass, and Milandra continued to jot her complaints down in her diary. Most were your standard fare – she moaned about chores, she whined about punishments. Several pages were all but illedgible from tear streaking; she was even more indignant about being so upset as to ruin her own words. Many days were noted, at best, with:

Too tired to write. I’m so empty and miserable here. The suffering never ends.

Too tired to write. I’m so empty and miserable here. The suffering never ends.

Too tired to write. I’m so empty and miserable here. The suffering never ends.

Little did she know, it was her own pride and ego that was making the transition so difficult. Like so many of higher upbringing, it was hard to reconcile the noble existence of Aes Sedai with the menial suffering of the rudest servant. Coupled with the fact that, knowing her family were so near by, it made it harder for her to even begin contemplating letting go of the life she had known, to become the person that she must become. It was only in the depth of misery that she was able to surrender to it, much like one learned to surrender to Saidar. Without her even noticing, hints of optimism began to creep into her diary:

Day 200
Dear Diary,

I was at a seminar given by Carina Sedai today. Apparently, some of the Aes Sedai have recently figured out how to create new ter’angrael! It all seems very dangerous to me; so many sisters have died trying to figure out what some of the old ones were supposed to do. Still, it’s neat to see how things can progress so we can improve life. Or those who have the talent for it can, at least; I’m pretty sure I’ll never have enough strength in Earth to be of real use there.


Day 214
Dear Diary,

Apparently, I remember more of the Old Tongue than I thought! Pia Sedai said that I might even be permitted to teach the basic class… when I’m an Accepted. Light, that’s so far away, isn’t it?

And eventually, even a letter:

Dearest Mother,

I hope that this finds you well. I apologise for not writing sooner; life in the Tower is so busy! I am currently a Novice, which is the first step on the road to becoming an Aes Sedai. Apparently, the training takes many years, but I am working hard and trying to do my best. I was surprised at how much there is to learn, and I have a feeling that I’ve not more than scratched the surface. I hope to make you and Father proud. I miss you all very much, and while I do not know when I can see you all, I look forward to when I can.

With love,

It was hard, and would continue to be hard, but at least Milandra was firmly on the pathway now. That didn’t mean that she wouldn’t slip and scream and want to quit anymore, but she found that as the years past, the childish desires and misconceptions of ‘fair’ started to slide away. This, the White Tower, was her home now, and all those dwelling beneath its roof were her family too. She could take comfort and that, and did for years to come.

What’s It Between Roommates?

Milandra Basene was not impressed. She was not impressed with the horrid clothing they’d shoved her in, she was not impressed with the homely girl in stripes they’d passed her over to (“An Accepted”, the Mistress of Novices had offered by way of explanation), and she was not impressed by the theft of her cases. She still didn’t understand why, as a student, she had to dress so wretchedly. Oh, she had her theories about it bringing people down to the same level, or so they didn’t outshine the Aes Sedai, but none of it made her happy. “I bet this creature here thinks that she’s in a ballgown,” Milla thought bitterly as she plodded along behind the other girl.

She was not a unkind girl by nature, but she was finding the whole situation a shock to the system. Millandra didn’t like feeling naive, but realizing that she had been overly idealistic didn’t give any comfort to rags and the threat of beatings for not cooperating. “Really, how is any of this civilized?” she mused to herself as her cow guide opened a sun-framed door and dragged her through. “This is my room?!” she gasped as the Accepted explained the premises, “Why, there isn’t room for anything in here!” Two squalid little cots were thrust against the walls, faced off by some rickety desks and wardrobes. And then it dawned on her – two. Two sets of furniture, and one already had a few odds and ends on it.

“Wait, I have to share this tiny hole with someone else?!” she shouted hysterically, “There’s not room for once, much less two!”

She attempted to storm out to demand better accommodation, but was stopped by the Accepted just outside the door. Before the other woman could do more than draw her lips into a thin slash across her mundane face, another girl stumbled out of the blue. “Wait, this is my room,” the new girl growled, trying to stop her forward momentum by, apparently falling. Milla stepped back lest she be trampled, and was rewarded by not being fallen onto, or vomited upon. She turned to the Accepted and stomped her foot, “I hope you don’t expect me to clean that up!” she harumphed, wondering if her life could get any more tragic. Her righteous ire was met with silence, and she frowned; her eyes drifted to the creature shaking on the floor. “Shouldn’t we at least find someone to tend to her, then? I hope it isn’t catching…”

And that was how, on her very first day, Milandra Basene got to meet the Aes Sedai who work in the infirmary.


19 October 2010 (1:52 pm)

Kate found Milandra sitting in bed, glaring at her hands. Without looking up from said ruined hands, she began to speak to other girl, “I do so hope you’re not going to make a habit of falling over and vomiting on things, even if these dresses are ghastly. It’s not very proper of you, Kate.” She lowered her hands, sighed, and climbed off of her bed to walk over to the other girl. “I’m Milandra… Milla for short,” she offered to her roommate, along with her arm.

“Come on, you look dizzy; sit here.” Milla murmured, guiding the other girl to her bed. She wasn’t feeling particularly charitable, nor fond of the idea of sharing a room with someone potentially so useless, but she didn’t see the need to be antagonistic, either. “The Sisters in the infirmary are quite rude, if I do say so myself,” she grumbled as she backed herself onto a rudely-constructed stool, “I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but before I knew it, they were forcing me to sweep and scrub! I don’t care what they say, it can’t possibly have anything to do with being an Aes Sedai!” She glared down at her hands again, before saying in a confiding tone, “The only reason I’ve not taken my things and left already is because it would not do for a Basene to give up quite so easily. Though I’m not sure anyone else in my family would put up with this degree of torture, either.”

She sighed, eying around the tiny crevice that was supposed to pass as accommodation. “How is one, much less two, supposed to ‘live’ in this space?” She eyed Kate pointedly, “I mean you no ill, but how is this even fit accommodation for the lowest of servants? You’d think Aes Sedai to be would be treated better.”


19 October 2010 (2:48 pm)

“Aes Sedai does mean Servant of All,” Kate said pointedly, and Milandra’s face fell in response. Even though she was familiar with the Old Tongue (her parents had made sure she learned some of it so she could hobnob with nobility), she hadn’t really thought about the meaning of the phrase ‘Aes Sedai’. She sighed, and muttered ruefully, “I guess this is what I get before leaping before I look.” She shook her head, and offered her hand to Kate, “Thank you. I really should have thought of that before getting into this mess. I just hope that doesn’t mean a lifetime of scrubbing floors; they can’t be doing that in fancy dresses, you would think.”

Kate then went on to explain about channeling sickness. Apparently, her contact with the One Power was what had made her sick. “Does that mean that I’ll get sick too?” she asked, horrified at the prospect. “Are you a wilder?” her roommate offered in reply. Milandra had no idea what one of those was, and upon further explanation, was satisfied that she was unlikely to join in the vomit brigade. “I’m here to learn to channel, so I guess as long as I do it right things will be okay, and I won’t get sick all over your gorgeous self” Kate added with nearly a leer, but Milla decided to let it slide. She wasn’t into girls herself, but that didn’t make it wrong by any stretch. “And besides,” she thought to herself, “She’s sick, so she might not be completely sure of what she’s saying right now.

As for sharing the room, she could agree with respecting each others’ respective spaces. She was also pleased to see that this girl thought that the dresses were also awful, but not quite why this fact was that hilarious. Prudently, Milla decided to also chalk this up to her illness; being sick did tend to put people out of sorts in many ways. And then she caught sight of her own maligned hands again and queried, “I take it you’re off the hook for chores for now, then? I’m only getting to avoid slave labour in the pots because those Aes Sedai in the Infirmary told the Mistress of Novices that I should keep an eye on you.” She paused thoughtfully, and asked, “Did you want something to eat? I should probably see about getting us something before the kitchens close until dinner. I don’t know much about healing the sick, but everyone knows the body needs food to help recover.”


19 October 2010 (4:47 pm)

Milandra’s eyes widened – twenty to thirty years?! Why, she’d be an old lady by then, and a grandmother by most normal standards! She shook off her amazement; no need to punish her sickly companion with more complaining about what should be seen as pure torture. Light, she figured the other girl’s lack of apparent shock was more to do with being sick rather than… could she have accepted such a dire thing? Impossible; how could anyone come to terms with giving away that much of their life to be treated like a child. And yet, people had, did, and would continue to; it was definitely something to contemplate.

She had to bite her lip when Kate insisted she was well enough to come down to get food, and almost drew blood trying to not laugh as the poor thing tried to lever herself out of bed. “There’s something to be said of her tenacity,” she thought admirably as the other girl attempted to feebly rise. Milla couldn’t really understand why something as simple as being brought food annoyed Kate, though; she was so used to having servants tend to her that it never occurred that people took pride in their self-reliance. Truth be told, she was slightly miffed that the other woman wasn’t grateful, but Milandra wasn’t going to let that bother her. Instead, she once again chalked it up to the sickness; Milla knew that she herself tended to be less than gracious to her servants when she was feeling under the weather.

The young woman started questioning the wisdom of her offer as she attempted to find her way to the dining room. She had been given the tour on the way to her room, but not much of it had stuck. “Down is probably a good place to start,” she decided firmly, working her way down towards ground level.

And then even finding her destination didn’t simplify this question; it was difficult to find someone to assist her. Or, to say, she tried to find assistance, but the most she got was a grunt and a gesture towards a pile of trays. She didn’t have the foggiest how to balance a tray so as to not spill broth, so it took her a few tries to just give up and grab some bread for the pair of them. “Bread is no fit meal,” she grumbled; her stomach made its protests known too as she attempted to find her way back to the room. But she did make it back eventually, and Light be praised, even found her roommate in her bed, NOT sprawled on the floor in a pile of vomit. She put the tray down and gestured apologetically to it, “It seems I don’t know how to carry broth, so it’ll just have to be bread… I hope that’s okay.”