Fanfic:My Life as a Drin'far'ji/Chapter Seven

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My Life as a Drin'far'ji/Chapter Seven
  • Amanda Huircan-Martinez
  • Janis Tearsin (player)
  • Kanamai Hukini (player)
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Only the original author(s) or Librarian(s) should make content changes to this page.

Chapter Seven - For a Year and a Day

Sighing, with the thought of freshly baked squirrel a distant memory, Miledha sat with the other Learning Ranks to eat her lunch. Her hands were always very clean these days, water-parched to wrinkly whiteness after her mornings in the kitchen. The next part of her day was always the best, despite the rigid schedule set for her by the Master of Training. It was the only time he allowed her out in the open air, unless brief trips from the stables to the Gardens could be counted. Miledha?s life was one long blur of very hard work, a punishment for her flagrant disobedience. In a few short weeks, the Drin?far?ji had broken more rules than any among the Learning Ranks could reasonably expect to get away with. Indeed, she had not. The Master of Training had her on such a short rope there was little time to think of mischief, let alone perform any.

Thick, chunky soup was on the menu today. The kitchens tried to provide nourishing meals to fuel the Warders in Training with sufficient energy for their afternoon in the Yards. Miledha had cut up the lamb and vegetables for several hours earlier in the day. Contrary to her fears, she was quickly becoming a favourite with the Mistress of the Kitchens. Committed to fulfill her time as gai?shain, the young woman was working off her toh to Caden Ives and this meant she was trying hard to do the best job she was capable of. Her speed with a kitchen knife came from years of training with knives in the Threefold land. Her hand coordination never failed, whether it was for stabbing a lizard or chopping meat. The girl was using it as training, to keep honing her skills. Slabs of grainy bread lay piled on plates at regular intervals down the table. These were for dipping into the soup. She was beginning to adjust to the food at last.

Miledha had already served in the Warder area. It was her daily duty to wait on the officers until they were finished. The Master of Training always had her attention first, and she had his. He never failed to inspect her uniform, even down to the way her boots were laced, commenting on the tiniest speck of dust or grease as though it was a breach of her agreement with him. She had quickly learnt to wear the aprons provided for kitchen helpers. Sometimes there was a comment on her performance in the Yards or a reminder not to be late for a class. Today she had kept a wary eye on his dagger - the one that had gone through her notebook when she failed to report as expected on a lesson in the Warfare Class.

Her duties over until the end of lunch, Miledha rested as much as she could. It was unarmed combat with Janis Tearsin, spear practice, bow practice, more of the Warfare class, and various training exercise designed to strengthen muscles and improve reactions. There were drin sitting on either side of Miledha, but she wasn?t going to talk - not unless one of them spoke first.

Miledha ran easily around the Gardens, being sure to give the pond a wide berth. It was as though the water came alive, reaching out to her with invisible arms and dragging her towards its murky depths. The area had two memories for her - one of them distantly sweet and tinged with both joy and sorrow. The other was a nightmare of fearful shame. She was still afraid of water and the threat of further swimming lessons drove her to compliance. Miledha knew she would have to face this fear long before she was raised to the fancloak. She would face it ? but not today.

Arriving back in the Training Yards without the slightest sweat, the Drin?far?ji began the other exercises her group had been asked to work on for their first hour of training. Throwing herself into it wholeheartedly, she tried to keep her mind from the worst part of her day - the one yet to come. Sentenced to muck out the stables from after dinner, till lights out, she came face to face with the dreaded creatures that had caused her to act so rashly. Caden had really liked the horse she had so rashly killed. Mistreaver was a faithful friend to him and anger filled his one green eye every time he reminded her of her crime. Putting these thoughts aside, Miledha made ready for her first lesson of the day.

It was amazing to Miledha that attacking a higher rank had the actual affect of tying her to that person, rather than driving them away. Janis Tearsin was one of the two she was now connected to through toh. Her spear attack on him had resulted in a short unarmed fight, with her the loser. In a moment of weakness, she had asked the man to train her in the skill. Their first lesson had been tense, with him demanding she follow strict conditions, even to her attitudes. From there on he had demanded her best and bruises were the usual hazardous result. Miledha walked towards her lesson.

If Miledha had a singular aversion to anything, it was horses. Her detest for these creatures was only rivaled by her avoidance of water. Of all the punishment Caden Ives had laid upon her, this was the worst. He had more in mind than punishment, in memory of his beloved Mistreaver, whose life Miledha had ended. The Master of Training expected the Drin to come out of her two months in the stables with a love of horses, or at least the absence of fear. After only a week spending her entire evenings in stable duty, little had changed. The fearsome beasts loomed over her like darkhounds slavering after her flesh. Right up until this evening, a stableboy had had to remove each horse from the stall before Miledha dared set foot inside the filthy stalls. Her fork sank only into dung filled straw these evenings though and the memory of the stallions blood soaking the stall played painfully through her mind. She was truly sorry she had killed him.

The other horse, it seemed, was a young one Kanamai Sedai had rejected as having the right temperament for a warhorse. He was to be trained as a packhorse instead. The Green had been furious with Miledha when she discovered the truth, offering Caden first choice of the best warhorses from her Saldaean estate and heartily concurring with the punishment Caden had already dealt to the Drin?far?ji. She had promised to personally attend Miledha at the stables some evenings and give her some proper instruction in how to handle a horse. She had made it plain the girl would not lack for her attention until she was riding as easily as a Saldaean noblewoman. Miledha dreaded her first appearance.

Aes Sedai, Kanamai Hukini walked quickly, as she often did, a woman on a mission. She had just come from Miahala's office and had accepted a promotion to Second Sitter for the Green. Life in the Hall would be a new adventure, a challenge. It seemed to Kanamai that where life failed to provide its own challenges, which was seldom, she never lacked for ideas to create one for herself. This evening's plan was to begin breaking a new Drin'far'ji from her fear of horses. It shouldn't be too hard. If horses could yield to Kana's training, surely an Aiel Maiden would as well, no matter how wild she was to begin with. Leaving the child alone with creatures she was capable of killing on a whim was a quite unacceptable state of affairs. Caden would have the best her estate could provide. His horse would be legendary for it's courage, speed, and intelligence. Kanamai ran through the best possibilities in her mind. Her own Cuendillar, now four years of age and almost battle ready, had a full brother. Perhaps he would be the one. It would be interesting to see what choice the Master of Training made.

Lamplight already wavered inside the stables and pleasant horsy sounds met Kana as she looked for Miledha. The child was arguing with a stableboy. "I can't clean out the stall, you silly boy. It has a horse in it. If you would take the horse out, I could muck out the stall!"

"I'm busy grooming the horses that have just returned for the night. Attach a leadrope and take him out yourself. You can tie him to that post over there."

"I can't move the stupid horse. I don't know how," pouted Miledha, her anger beginning to rise.

"Then that is where we will begin," Kanamai said softly. "Watch me." The stableboy moved off to groom the horses and Miledha just stood there, an expression of horror decorating her face.

"Don't forget your manners, Dear," the Green reminded. She had heard the child knew little of proper behaviour and her education was scheduled to follow in the months after her stable and kitchen duties. Miledha made an awkward bow. "Now just pretend you are taking a guard stance for unarmed combat. Show me. Good. From there, move your right foot in behind and closer to your left heel. That's right. Bend your knees a little while keeping your back straight and bowing your head a little. Perfect! That is known as a curtsey. I will expect you to greet me with proper etiquette each time we meet. Now, let's begin lessons in horsemanship."

Miledha's jaw began to flap open and shut like a fish on dry land. She managed to avoid speaking, with uncharacteristic restraint. There was a lead rope hanging on a wall outside the mare's stall, which Kanamai took and clipped to her halter. Leading the animal to the front of the stall, without opening the gate, she called Miledha forward. "Step up closer. I am holding the horse. This one is a female and quite tame. It belongs to Marina Sedai of the Brown Ajah and has never bitten anyone, as far as I know." Miledha took a few faltering steps, looking ready to run at the least provocation.

"Now, take your hand and touch her on the neck." Miledha did so, seeming almost surprised that she didn't lose a hand. "Stroke your hand smoothly down her neck in the direction the hair lies. The horse will like it. Good. Blow very gently into her nostrils. She will like that too. That's right. Now, reach your hand up under her halter strap at the top and scratch behind her ears. That's right. You've made a good start. The horse likes you and we are ready to open the door."

By the end of the lesson, the young Aiel could take a horse out of the stall all by herself and tether it, to a hitching post with a quick release knot, while she mucked out the stable. Satisfied with her evening's work, Kanamai left the stables, with a promise to return at least every second evening until Miledha's time there was ended. She enjoyed the sound of birds settling in the trees for the night and ran through the events of the day, in her mind.

As Miledha's time on stable duty progressed, her fear of horses diminished. In fact, she was positively friendly with several of the animals. Kanamai's Cuendillar was one of these. Miledha was taking a short break from shovelling manure into her barrow and smelling at least as horsy as the stallion himself - not that she noticed that anymore. She sometimes wondered, on mornings there hadn't really been enough time to clean up properly before kitchen duty, if Caden Ives knew he was consuming stable germs along with his morning rolls.

Rubbing the beautiful chestnut warhorse on the neck, she offered him one of the undiscovered burnt ones from the previous morning. Well, it wasn't burnt, exactly - more like slightly overcooked, but definitely enough for the Mistress of the Kitchens to extract payment for with a stroke of her wooden spoon. Some of the Drin'far'ji had become rather adept at disposing of their burnt offerings before the smell of smoke entered the woman's nostrils. Miledha was one of the best. To this date she calculated avoiding thirty seven wallops from the spoon by wrapping them in a spare apron she kept at hand in case of cooking disasters.

Swallowing the breadroll, Cuendillar nosed roughly at her pockets for another. There were no more though. On the way to the stables that evening, Miledha had bribed the geese with them, still planning to lull the obnoxious birds into a false sense of security. The moment ..... the very moment she was out from the Master of Training's eye, one of those fat, honking creatures was going to be her dinner. Miledha felt they owed it to her for their laughter the day Caden threw her into the pond.

Turning again, to take up her shovel and continue scraping muck from the stall next door, Miledha's eye, accustomed to the dim evening light in the stables, saw a person entering before she heard the footfalls.

The sight of a twenty-some year-old girl skipping along like an Andoran Schoolgirl might have seemed odd to some, but not to those who knew Ellillae Tearsin. The Aiel girl had been a damane in Seanchan Ebou Dar for most of her adult life; as such, while her body was that of an adult, her mind was that of a young girl.

The girl was beaming as she skipped along, heading directly for the stable with a basket of carrots under her arm. She was so happy right now, Janny had given her permission to feed his horse, and she had figured that she might as well feed all the others while she was in there. Elli loved horses, especially the big raven stallion owned by her big brother, and getting to go in and feed them all was the closest thing to a dream-come-true as she could think of.

At the entrance of the stables, Elli stopped skipping but continued smiling. Her first carrot went to a big chestnut mare, who was very pleased to receive the treat. The girl continued on down the line, giving carrots to every horse she saw and giggling happily all the time. It was only when she reached Tar, who was in a stall right next to Cuendillar, that she realized she wasn't alone in the Stables.

"Oh, hello, the Aiel girl said cheerfully to Miledha. "I'm Elli, what's your name? Are you feeding the horses too? Hey, your hair is the same as mine, that's neat. Do you live here, or are you just working here? Where do you come from?" Ellillae was something of a chatterbox, as anyone who listened to her for three seconds would find out.

Miledha moved the straw with her shovel. She really would have to own up to the Mistress of the Kitchens before long. Thirty seven wallops with the wooden spoon weren't going to hurt nearly as much as the caning she had taken from Caden. He had a very hard hand with his rod of discipline and she still felt ashamed of the way she had cried. That was part of meeting her toh though. If he hadn't done it, she would still be guilty. And if it hadn't been hard enough to make her cry and cause her to feel shame, it wasn't hard enough. Miledha had thought on this frequently as the welts and bruises healed. It was only a week ago she had been certain the last little bruise was gone. Unfortunately, she hadn't been brave enough to tell the Mistress of the Kitchens the truth while she still hurt from Caden's rod. But now, she would have to own up. If only there hadn't been quite so many burnt rolls. And if only, the woman dealt with it herself instead of causing her another trip to his office. She wouldn't wish that punishment on anyone, especially not herself.

Miledha's heart missed a beat as what must surely be an Aiel woman, bounced happily up to her in the least Aiel manner imaginable. There was something about the girl that almost made her stare. Where have I seen that face before? She seems so familiar. "Hello, Elli," she answered. "What Sept are you from? I'm Miledha, and yes, I am feeding the horses, as well as cleaning out their stalls. If you really want to know, I'm a drin'far'jIi on stable duty." She glanced at the amount of daylight left. There was at least an hour. "Do you ever ride the horses?"

Miledha looked longingly at Cuendillar. Kanamai had been away from the Tower for a few days. It was said she was at her Estate helping Caden Ives choose a new Warhorse. But she hadn't taken Cuendillar and he was in need of exercise. So far, Miledha had been taught how to mount and walk the horse, usually with Kanamai Sedai at her side. Surely it couldn't hurt to take him out, and Kanamai need never know.

Elli positively beamed; "Oh yes," she smiled, "Janny lets me ride Tar all the time. But he says it's too dangerous for me to go outside the tower by myself, so he always goes with me. And what's a sept," She asked as a trace of childish confusion crossed her face. "I've never heard of something like that before, is it something good to eat?"

The mention of food reminded the girl that she had a pocketful of carrots for the beautiful animals around her, and she fished one out and gave it to Cuendillar. "There you go Cuey," she giggled as the stallion's lips tickled her hand when he took the carrot from her. "Here Miledha," the girl offered her new friend a carrot. "Do you want to feed Tar? He's right over here," she grabbed Miledha's hand and led her over to the big raven stallion. "Hello Tar," she nuzzled the big stallion's nose. "This is Miledha, she's my new friend so be nice, okay?"

"Go ahead, Miledha," the girl urged. "He won't bite, Janny made him stop that."

Miledha allowed Elli to help her feed Janis's stallion, proud of herself for progressing far enough to do that. Suddenly and unexplainably, a daring though surfaced in her mind. She pushed it down. How she dared to dream up such a foolish escapade, while she was still being punished, was beyond Miledha's understanding.

"A Sept is like a tribe. It's a group of similar people," she explained absently, trying valiantly to conquer the trouble that insisted on forcing itself back into her thinking. Then quite recklessly giving in to the temptation, she announced, "I'm going to take Cuendillar out for some exercise. You can join me if you like. I don't plan to leave the Tower. In fact, I might just ride him around the stableyard. Her expression must surely have been as startled as her mind by the words that sneaked through her lips. Why had she said that? She had never ridden a horse without Kana Sedai right beside her. It was too late though. The words had been spoken and she would do as she said.

Awkwardly, the young Aiel put a bridle on Cuendillar. It seemed wrong. The strap that ought to go across his forehead was behind his ears and the throatlatch wasn't long enough to do up. The bit was in place though, and the reins usable. Next, she lumped the saddle onto Cuendillar's back and did up the girth. Somehow the saddle looked a little too far back but Miledha wasn't willing to try again. She wanted Elli to think she was confident.

Surely a little ride couldn't hurt. Kanamai was away. At this very moment she was at her estate in Saldaea and not expected to return till the following morning. If she just stayed within the stableyard, Miledha was confident there would be no problem. The Aes Sedai never even needed to know.

"Are you coming, Elli?" she smiled, exuding far more self confidence than she felt.

Elli?s eyes widened as she watched the Aiel girl take Cuendillar out of his stall and clumsily saddle him. Elli had been taught by Janny as well as Kana how to properly saddle a horse, but Miledha obviously didn?t want help. Come to think of it, Elli was pretty sure she had heard her older brother speak of Miledha; ?stubborn? had been the word he used. Elli determined that she?d have to ask Janny what ?stubborn? meant when she was done riding with Miledha.

The Aiel maiden nodded, ?okay Miledha, I?ll go riding with you. Just give me a minute to saddle Tar.? In fact, it took two minutes to saddle the big stallion, but just because he was feeling a little mischevious. But Tar actually liked Ellilae, she was one of the few people in the Tower he did not try to separate from their fingers whenever they got too close.

?Okay Miledha,? She swung up into the saddle just like she had been taught. ?Where do you want to go??

Miledha admired Elli's effortless style in mounting Tar. She tried to imitate it, stretching a foot into the stirrup, taking a careless hop and springing hopefully. The whole effect was rather marred by a slithering sound as the saddle made its way lopsidedly to the left of Cuendillar's spine. With a little scrambling, the drin'far'ji managed to get herself astride and jump with all her weight on the right stirrup to rebalance the saddle. She knew it was possible to tighten the girth from atop the horse, but she dare not let go of the reins to do so, for fear of losing control of the horse.

"Let's just ride around the stableyard for a few minutes to steady the horses," she suggested. What she really meant was to steady her nerves. Cuendillar was under no illusion as to who was in control. He snatched the bit in his teeth, snaked out his neck, and charged for the gate. Fortune seemed to be with Miledha, as the gate was firmly shut. This happy state of affairs lasted only long enough for the stallion to circle the stableyard twice. After that something rather unfortunate happened. Kanamai came home unexpectedly early, leading what appeared to be almost the twin of Cuendillar, though obviously younger and not as muscular. Thoroughly enjoying his spree, the stallion pivoted, making a beeline for the gate as Kana opened it.

Far to the west, purple tones began to tinge the thick black clouds. The sky above them was already turning greenish, promising hail. The wind, already stirring the treetops, began to gust, blowing dust around the stableyards. The stallions stamped uneasily in the yards, snorting and flicking their heads. These horses had been through many a storm, but this one promised to be fierce. All the women had now chosen their horses and Haran signalled to the boys to get the stallions under cover, before collecting the three gold coins from the Aes Sedai. "I think it is time to hurry for shelter," he said, quite unnecessarily.

Hot lightning forked across the sky, followed rapidly by a crackle of thunder, as if to add an exclamation mark to his words. The last of the stallions was herded into a large barnlike structure, safely out of harm's way. "Somehow, I don't think this is a day for enjoying the views of Saldaea," Kanamai sighed, with resignation. "Anyone who was thinking of staying for awhile, had better do it another time."

With that, she took the reins of the horse she had chosen for Miledha and opened a Gateway for their return. Waiting until the last of the women had gone through into the comparative warmth of the channeling yard, she threw a sympathetic shrug in Haran's direction. "I'll be back another day. I hope the storm isn't too rough on the property." Large spots of rain began to punctuate the gathering gloom, rattling on the roof and turning into small balls of ice. As Haran ran for cover, away from the hail, she stepped through into the Grey Tower channeling yard, leading the young stallion and closing the Gateway behind them. She led the chestnut in the direction of the stables, intent on finding him a stall. When Miledha was ready, she would have the girl take the horse through her Warhorse training class, but she would not tell her he was to be her own until the drin'far'ji proved herself by raising to ji'alantin.

Happy thoughts rolled lazily through Kanamai's mind as she sauntered towards the stableyards. It was already evening and Miledha would be working on the punishment Caden had set for her, mucking out the stables. She opened the yard gate and was just entering with the stallion when a flash of chestnut belted into view, a terror stricken young Aiel on her back and Ellilae... yes... it definitely was Elli, following behind. The chestnut stallion the girl was riding at such breakneck speed, shot through the open gate, scraping its rider off on the post as it did so, and almost trampling Kanamai in the process.

"Miledha!" she bellowed, furiously. "Please don't tell me that animal disappearing into the Gardens is my Cuendillar!"

Miledha picked herself out of the dust stiffly. There was a lumpy purple bruise developing along her shin, which she could feel, but not see, because it was still hidden by the leg of her breeches. Her worst injury was the rapidly swelling knee which had taken the full impact of the gatepost as Cuendillar gleefully scraped her off before scampering away to his favourite place of freedom - the Tower Gardens.

"Yes, Kanamai Sedai," the girl admitted sheepishly. "I'm afraid that was Cuendillar. He sort of got away from me."

"Sort of!" Kana snorted. "The horse was raging out of control, Girl. Oh well, how about you and Elli go and find him before he damages something. I suspect he's headed straight for his favourite goose pond. I've no idea why he enjoys puddling in that filthy muck with those squawking birds, but he does." Kanamai let out a slow sigh. It wasn't really Miledha's fault. She was a beginner and she didn't have the most placid of animals to learn on. "Oh, by the way, Miledha - this is one of my young stallions. His name is Tsorovanrei, the Storm King. From tomorrow, I expect you to bring him to lessons in my warhorse class, and I'll teach you how to train him as you learn to ride."

Miledha's jaw dropped open. She gaped at Kanamai. Was the woman mad! "Yes Kanamai Sedai," she stammered, her voice now as unsteady as her leg. "Er, would you mind healing me when I get back with the horse?"

"No trouble at all," Kanamai said agreeably. "But hurry, Miledha. I don't want some unwary Novice trampled by Cuendillar. He does so love a riderless romp in the Gardens."

The young Aiel sighed and hobbled off toward the goose pond. "Do come and help me. Elli," she threw back over her shoulder. "I'll never catch him myself." Miledha held the gate wide for Tar to get through and fastened it behind them.

Cuendillar loved a good run. He also loved water, much to Miledha?s chagrin. By the time she found the mischievous creature, he was knee deep in the goose pond nibbling at duckweed. It was most exasperating. Miledha?s ?dinner? goose swam temptingly just out of reach. He would have to wait for another day - very shortly after she finished being gai?shain. It was just as well Ellilae was there to drag the reluctant horse out of the pond. Miledha just couldn?t bring herself to enter the water. It was a sad and muddy drin?far ?ji that finally dragged her feet over to Kanamai?s rooms to receive her long-awaited healing, and a tired and hungry Miledha that stopped at the kitchens for food on her way to bed that night.

The gentle Brown overseeing Miledha?s tuition had managed to find an entire shelf of helpful books along the lines of subjects Caden had chosen for his gai?shain. Her joy was unrestrained at the prospect of turning the fierce young Aiel into something that would grace a palace if some future bondmate needed her to take such a role. Today she laboured through ?The Traditions of Andoran Royalty: ancient and modern?; ?Court Etiquette For Young Ladies?; and ?Graceful Movements in the Dance?. Miledha noted, disdainfully, that the latter had nothing to do with spear fighting.

It seemed to Miledha that these were more trying requirements than her two months in the stables and kitchens had been. True to her word, Kanamai had taught the Drin?far?ji to ride. She had also become quite adept at everything to do with the kitchens, so much so that the Mistress of the Kitchens had tears in her eyes as her favourite helper turned in the apron for the last time. Miledha had maintained the tradition of serving Caden Ives his breakfast though. After all, she was still his gai?shain. It seemed the man had determined to train her into the most cultured Gaidar the Tower had ever produced. She couldn?t help reflecting on the effects his punishments were really having on her life. Taking a pen and dipping it into the ink, Miledha began making notes. She had always been an excellent reader with a good capacity to retain facts. This ability had so far kept her from the promised swimming lessons, though she almost wished she could fail the test occasionally. Having conquered the fear of horses, she was ready for another challenge. Miledha still longed for the open air. Being closeted in the library was far from her preferred lifestyle. Perhaps she could take her books and study in the Gardens for a change. She had been told she was to read in the Library, but perhaps this would be acceptable.

Tucking the three books carefully under an arm, Miledha carried her inkbottle, pen, and notebook in the other hand. While the librarian was helping an Accepted sign out books for an Aes Sedai, she slipped quietly around the door, down the corridor and over to the Gardens. The other Learning Ranks were all at chores, so no one noticed her slip soundlessly over to her favourite stand of oaks. Laying the books carefully on the grass, she rearranged the writing equipment and settled in for some quiet hours of study.

Deranih moved smoothly down the hall. She had two books tucked under her arms, and carried an inkwell and a pen under her other arm. Today she was free from any chores, classes, or teaching. However she still had to study, half the day she would spend reading and taking notes from the books, and the rest of the day she would sleep. But even there she would be studying. Her talent for Dreamwalking and increased greatly the past weeks due to all the time she spent training it.

Though it was beginning to show on Deranih how little she slept. Black rings framed her emerald eyes that always seemed half-sleeping. Her fire-coloured hair was tied up in a thick braid that very nearly reached her legs. Today, due to the lack of chores and the likes she had donned the white Accepted dress and had taken to wear a deep green dress that actually reached the floor and had dark green vines embroidered around the cleavage and long sleeves. Deranih did prefer shorter dresses that she could move more easily in, but she had to admit that she did kind of like these long ones.

With a content sigh she entered the gardens, her eyes were half-closed as she tried to adapt quickly to sudden change of light. The gardens were quite empty Deranih noticed as she gracefully searched a place to study. Her soft leather boots made little sound as she rounded a grove of trees. Her eyes fell on, Miledha.

What the?... And the girl was studying, and dressed like a Drin' on top of that. Deranih arched both eyebrows and stared at the former Far Dareis Mai before remembering herself and smoothing her face. For a few seconds she hesitated, then gracefully moved up next to the girl. "Good morning, Miledha." Deranih said with the edge of an Accepted.

What was the girl doing here? Why was she studying? And why in the name of the Light was she dressed like a Drin'far'ji was supposed to? Had she lost her edge? The questions bubbled up inside Deranih, but she remained poised, unconsciously stroking the golden rose on her necklace.

Miledha opened her copy of "The Traditions of Andoran Royalty: ancient and modern" and began to study the Andoran Noble Houses. This was an easy question to test and one she would certainly be required to know. "Anshar, the head of which is Karind," Miledha muttered to herself. "I wonder what Karind did to get herself into the position. She was probably just born there. Arawn, whose head is Naean...." At that point, she recognised a friend entering her study area. It isn't often you find a fellow Aiel maiden carrying books, as you are, in the middle of the Gardens, so Deranih was a welcome distraction.

"Welcome to my roof, er... tree," she invited. "Please take shade with me." Deranih's quizzical look had not escaped the Drin. "Oh, the books? Well ..." she began, feeling some explanation was in order. "As you may have heard, I had a little run in with the master of training three months ago. The end result of the incident left me mucking out the stables and doing kitchen duty for two months. Now I am into the next stage of the punishments and training he prescribed for me. I have to study the cultures of nations this side of the Spine and be educated well enough to pass for a Lady to grace the royal court." She sighed, pausing for dramatic effect. "I am to be tested on all the knowledge Caden Ives has prescribed for me and if I fail on any of the tests..." she shuddered. "The Master of Training threatens to give me swimming lessons. I think that means he intends to throw me in the pond again." Miledha unconsciously edged a little further from the offensive body of water. She could almost taste the foul goose dropping flavoured water and a choking sensation passed over her in memory.

"Oh, the clothes? I am Caden Ives' gai'shain. Instead of dressing me in white, he insisted I wear this uniform. I may not wear any other clothes and this state of affairs has to continue for at least a year and a day, after which, I intend to let them meet with a nasty accident." At this, Miledha smiled wickedly. For a few moments her attitude was anything but gai'shain humility.

"Anyway, would you mind testing me on this page of Andoran Noble Houses?" Miledha passed the book to the Accepted.

Deranih gave a small sigh then released her "Acceptedness" and sat down next to Miledha with a small smile on her lips. She had heard of what had happened with Caden Ives, it made her frown a little. Sure, Miledha had done many things wrong, especially when she tried to escape the tower -a small Drin' had told her that- but somehow Deranih thought the whole situation reeked of mistreat. She would very much like to talk to Caden Ives, but knew she shouldn't.

When Deranih first found out what had happened to her spear-sister she had broken a chair in anger. Gray told her she was too tempestuous for her own good, and Deranih sourly knew he was right -as usual. Gai'shain? Deranih felt compassion for the girl but she showed only friendliness. Miledha was having trouble accustoming, Caden had asked for too a great thing from the Maiden and that was what made Deranih angry. Nevertheless Deranih could not judge Miledha for having trouble accustoming to the Wetlander ways.

Deranih had travelled for three months with a group of them. The Aes Sedai and Warders had taught her a lot, and the rest of Deranih had "calmed" when she met Maric. After meeting him she -as sad as it was to admit- had forced herself to become more of a "Wetlander" in an attempt to impress her Noble Cairhienin Promised.

"Yes, I have heard of that." Deranih said without any hint of dislike in her tone. She gladly accepted the book Miledha handed her and shot her a friendly smile before running her finger down the page and reading. "Ah yes," Deranih had never been especially good with these kinds of things but she knew enough to satisfy herself. "Lady Elenia is of what house?" A simple question Miledha should be able to answer it if she had read the things properly.

"Oh and how is your training going?" Deranih added cheerfully in an attempt to not sound so lecturing, a bad habit that came too often nowadays when she had begun to teach students herself.

"House Sarand," Miledha answered triumphantly, "and her son, Jarid is next in line. I think I know all of them, Deranih. Test me. Dyelin is head of House Taravin; Ellorian is head of Traemane; and Morgase, if she still lives, is head of what is presently the Royal line - House Trakand. The Daughter Heir, Elayne, has succeeded her and next after her is Gawyn. Am I right?"

Miledha had no need of Deranih's nod. She knew she was right. Her memory held the pages so completely that she could see them like pictures inside her mind. All she had to do was visualise a page and read it off from what she saw. She had not failed any of the Librarian's tests yet, and she would not. When Caden checked the tests, he must surely be pleased with the marks. Some of the practical side was still seriously lagging though. How was she supposed to study dancing without a partner? I wonder if I could sneak over to the Band of Brothers without getting caught.

Miledha's mind was in a whirl. She still had a month of study in the library - two if her skills lacked finesse. It took a moment to register that Deranih had changed the subject. Blinking a little tiredly, she pushed aside the mountain of cultural knowledge growing in her head and cleared space to talk about her favourite subject.

"Well, no one could ever say my training has been neglected," she smiled. This was perfectly true. Her schedules were fuller than those of anyone else in the Yards. This was due to the fact that she had had to make up missed time from her days of hiding in the Gardens, as well as catching up on everything missed while she was serving in the kitchens.

Dreaming lazily, she let her thoughts waft back through pleasant memories in the Training Yards. "I have already reached Veteran level in Aiel spear," she said happily. "I'm the only Drin who has reached this level, in any weapon, as far as I know, and it was because of a good Evaluation. Janis Tearsin is working with me in Unarmed Combat. Sometimes he acts as if I'm still ready to kill him." A broad smile sparkled over her face. He's a good teacher though."

Miledha didn't mind her rigid training schedule at all. She held no grudge towards the Master of Training. Respect, certainly, perhaps even fear. But the truth was, deep down inside, she was even beginning to like the man. He was bringing out the best in her and she didn't think a softer method would have done it.

"You know, Deranih .... I still want to return home. I still miss the Maidens, and especially my family, but the more I stay here, the more I am taken by another purpose. I want to fight the Shadow that is trying to take over the world. I want to reach the fancloak, I think. Besides, whether I want to or not, Caden Ives will not release me from my toh to him until I do, or perhaps die trying." This time she smiled on the inside. Did she really like being around him and having his attention?

"Now, that's enough about me. What are you studying and how are your travels towards Aes Sedai?"

Deranih was impressed by the girl?s ability to remember things, especially the messy houses of the Andor noblefolk. She smiled kindly at Miledha and listened to her as she spoke. Speaking of home felt like a stab through the chest. Deranih felt her smile be wiped of her face as she too thought of the Three-fold land. Unlike Miledha Deranih had nothing.

Revhana her sister had died because Deranih set her on fire. Deranih's father Kaegel she had never known and Revhana had not wanted to speak of him, apparently he disappeared into the Blight or something, her family had been vague about the details. Deranih's mother Lidra, had died as a Gai?shain and her mother's near-sister had thrown down the spear and ran away a while ago. Many of the people Deranih had trusted had ran away, she had nothing to return to in the Waste -the Three-fold land. Yet she still wanted to see the land one last time before letting it become a thing of the past. One last time.

"I miss home as well." Deranih said out loud. She had not meant to say it really, but it had just slipped out. "I remember the nights with the Maidens. We just to have drinking competitions with oosquai. I always won, at least after Revhana's death." Deranih let her gaze travel across the gardens with a small sigh. She did miss the Three-fold land. Home.

"I have been studying geography for most of the time. I now know where all the countries are, I cannot wait to see them for myself." Deranih said dreamily and smiled at Miledha. "Oh," she thought over how close she had to be to become Aes Sedai. Close. "Well, I believe I may be ready to wear the shawl soon." She said with a wide smile and turned a page in her book.

There were so many cities in Cairhien. Deranih pressed her temples, and then met Miledha's gaze with a small smile on her lips. "Have you given any thoughts to bondmates?" She knew several drin's' that had already gotten Promised or had been Promised but were no longer. Deranih was Promised to two men herself, but Maric had been gone for so long. Oh, she had not told anyone of how she searched for him in Tel'aran'rhiod. She was so tired from it...

"Are you going to let yourself be bonded for one thing?" Deranih knew that Miledha might not get bonded to anyone, maybe she would return to the Waste -Three fold Land- at once after reaching the fancloak.

Miledha's eyes glazed over and she stared into nothing, seeing only the memories Deranih was painting on her mind. Nights with the Maidens. They were like a second family. "I'm sorry about Revhana," she said genuinely.

When Deranih asked her thoughts on the bond, Miledha's thinking returned abruptly to the Grey Tower. "You can't be in the Warder Yards for more than a day without giving thought to the subject. We hear about it constantly in our classes. The whole purpose of a Warder is to protect a channeler. It is why we train and why we exist. Yes, I've thought about it. The Greens are often in the Yards with one member of their teams or another. Sometimes I look at the most interesting of them and wonder if they have room for a Gaidar." Miledha burst into sudden laughter, picturing herself on equal terms with Gaidin and Gaidar who presently saw her as a child. "I've sometimes thought I may enjoy being part of a Green Ajah team."

"The other choice would be to bond an Asha'man. It would have to be someone who wanted to travel, though - someone who visited nations or went into battle, an adventurous type. There is no point doing all this training without a reason to use it. I don't think I would bond for love either, as many seem to do." For a brief moment the face of a young soldier, a beautiful face, with the voice of a prince, passed through her mind. "No, it's too confusing - not for love."

"Bonding is so permanent. If I promised to someone it would be like saying I had decided never to go home." Miledha felt a weight of something like disappointment; even a wave of grief at the thought. She pushed it aside. It was only imagination, though strong enough to warn her she was not ready yet. "I think I will reach the fancloak and see if there is anyone who wants me then. If I find an Asha'man who is adventurous enough, or a Green Ajah team who have a strong enough purpose for me to join, then I will be a Warder. If not, I will return to the Threefold Land."

"Oh!" An expression of alarm crossed the Drin'far'ji's face. Hastily grabbing the book entitled "Court Etiquette For Young Ladies," she shuffled through the pages until she found one of a labelled dinner setting. "Deranih!" she wailed, "I have to know which set of cutlery to use for which part of the meal. The Librarian is going to test me on this today. Suddenly a wicked grin parted her teeth. "Next time I serve Caden Ives his dinner, I'm going to put every set of cutlery the kitchen has in perfect order by his plate. I'm going to watch and see if he knows how to choose the right ones." Miledha laughed hilariously, anticipating the delicious moment.

"I think I have to get back to the Library though. Do you want to come or stay out here in the Garden?"

Deranih smiled at Miledha, she would never be the kind of warder that was bonded to a Yellow, spending her of his life in the infirmary. She tilted her head and let her gaze dreamily travel towards the clouds. Miledha would be a good warder. We shall see. Deranih nodded to herself and ran her finger absently down the page in her book.

"Oh!" Miledha called very suddenly. Deranih was mildly startled and winced, her gaze tried to be every where at once. Realizing that Miledha's slight panic was for one of the assignments Caden had given to her Deranih calmed and smiled faintly. She had as a novice forced herself to take Reina's class in Aes Sedai grace and composure, there she had learned table etiquette and so on. The memory of the time they practiced still brought tears to Deranih's eyes.

She had smashed her elbow into the head of another novice, dropped the food on the floor and dropped her knife and fork several times. In the end all she had wanted to do was disappear under the table, a thing which she had many chances for indeed. However she must admit it had been useful, Deranih had already walked smoothly, but now she walked gracefully and ate respectfully. She smiled at Miledha and laughed along with her as she told Deranih of the Caden-tease.

"Well, why not, I'll come with you. I need to find a book in the Library anyways." Deranih got smoothly up on her feet and waited patiently for Miledha before she begun to walk towards the Library.

"When I am fully raised I am going to visit home." Deranih said absently and watched Miledha in the corner of her eye. She was going to bring Gray with her, and hopefully Rolnar if he was well. The more people coming along the lesser was the chance of something going wrong when meeting the Wise Ones.

Miledha, as she gathered her books, was not feeling completely at ease. There is something about sneaking back into the library that is calculated to strike terror into even the heart of an Aiel Maiden. Perhaps this was the cause of Miledha's silence on the book-laden journey back inside. She was registering that Deranih was saying important things and sort of filing them to the back of her mind for more intelligent reply once she knew the coast was clear.

"When I'm fully raised I am going to visit home," Deranih said. It wasn't so much what she said, but how she said it. Miledha determined to ask her about it the moment they were safely inside. Entirely missing the pleasantries of the walk back, Miledha's mind finally registered that they were walking towards the door from which she had escaped. Relying on the fact that Browns are often preoccupied with their study and might not even notice a captive under their charge has been missing for an hour, Miledha whispered to Deranih, "Distract her for a moment, if you can. I'm going to sneak inside."

While the other Aiel practised what they were so very good at, Miledha slipped around the door more easily than a shadow, took up her old position at the study table and innocently opened her book to the page about table settings. When her friend joined her at the table, she enquired nonchalently, "Tell me your thoughts about visiting home," and proceeded to act very studious towards the book, with her eyes, while listening with ears only for Deranih.

Deranih gave Miledha a small smile and went up to talk to the Brown, she asked about the book that she was in great need of, knowing that it was in the far end of the library. The Brown sighed and walked disappeared behind a few bookshelves, leaving her position "unguarded". Deranih whirled around and took seat next to Miledha. She flapped her book open and followed the river Erinin with mild interest as it flowed through Haddon Mirk and the city of Aringill. From there she let her finger travel of towards Caemlyn, a city she had dreamed of visiting.

Smiling she kept her eyes on the book but when she spoke it was for Miledha. "I have always held a fascination for other lands," her finger moved over to the Two Rivers and she gave a small wince at the memory of the Trollocs. "I intend to visit a few cities before I reach home." That was not what Miledha had asked but Deranih often forgot herself when she was reading maps. Clearing her throat she looked up from the book and met Miledha's powerfully blue eyes.

"I will not go alone, though I have yet to ask anyone." Deranih was about to rub her temples but let her hand travel of to rubbing her tired eyes instead. That reminded her of a second thing, she needed to ask Gray if he had some kind of herb that helped against tire. "I wish to have my Promised, Graetam with me," And Maric wherever he is. "My near-sister, Myshella, a Spear-sister of the Chareen," If I can find her someday. "Rolnar Asha'man, a good friend of mine and a former Sha?mad Conde (thunderwalker)," If he regains his sanity. "And I am considering a few more."

Deranih smiled faintly and gave Miledha a hinting look. "I would meet the Wise Ones that were the cause as to why I fled, and I would show them my abilities to channel and tell them of my talent for Dreamwalking. I just want to show them what I have learnt without giving up the spear." Deranih said the last bit a little stiffly. Her spear was broken, and Deranih was not a superstitious woman but it felt... peculiar. Don't be silly, Dan'ech gave you a new spear. And a good spear her friend had given her, Dan'ech had turned the blade into Cuendillar herself.

"I wish I could go now, but I need to decide a travelling course, I need to buy a horse and discuss the matter of who is coming along." Deranih let her gaze land on the pages of the book again and stared fervently at the map again, forcing herself to learn it by heart. With a small sound in her throat she returned her emerald gaze to meet Miledha's blue.

"Would you like to come with me?... well, us?" Deranih said lightly. She had thought over bringing Miledha with her ever since she came up with the idea to visit her home and plead for a cease-fire with the Wise Ones.

Miledha let her eyes take in the lesson for the day. She hoped she would only have to demonstrate, not remember explanations. The setting printed itself on the tapestry of her mind. Just to be sure, she took paper and pen, drawing it from her memory as she listened. The study she was doing had given her an appetite to see the world and she nodded agreement as Deranih described her intentions.

Excitement rising, as her spear sister planned the journey home, finishing with an invitation for her to come too, Miledha considered the options. "I'd love to come with you, Deranih. It would depend on the timing though." She rolled her mind over Caden's commands and the restrictions he had set for her.

"As you know, I am gai'shain. My brothers know that and have taken the news to my home. I have only served ninety six of my days so far. I will not be going anywhere before the time is up. In fact, from what Caden Ives told me, I am not allowed to leave here until I reach the fancloak." Miledha listened, as though the words were coming from someone else. Only a short time ago, she would have slipped away without a second thought. There were contradictory desires pulling for her choices.

"Though I want very much to see the Threefold Land again, I also want to become a good Gaidar. So the answer is yes, and it is no. Yes I will come with you if I have Caden Ives full permission to do so. If he will not let me, I will not disobey him."

"Drin'far'ji Miledha," a voice said quietly. "It is time for your test. Are you ready?" The Brown stood alongside with a test paper in one hand and a bag of table implements in the other. Miledha's heart sank and she looked at Deranih with horror. How much did she have to know to pass? Would getting half of it right be enough or did she have to get nearly all of it correct? She gulped nervously and looked at the Brown, saying nothing.

"Come, Child. We must begin." Miledha stood and moved to the testing area, shooting Deranih one last desperate glance as she did so. "Would you come and visit me in the yards tomorrow, if you have time? I'll tell you about it then."