Actions

Work Header

After last bell

Chapter Text

The interlude between Last Bell and actual sleep used to be Moiraine’s favorite time of day. 

But that was before. Before she was summoned in the dead of night to be tested for Accepted, Before her deepest, most hidden fears were bared for all to see. Before she was made to face and conquer each and every one.

Things aren’t quite the same anymore. 

Now she dreads the quiet, silence descending over the halls outside her door as the last of the Accepted scurry off to their respective beds. They’re afforded privileges a Novice can only dream of, hope to share in one day, but dallying to chit-chat when they’re supposed to be asleep isn’t one of them. Accepted can be sent to the Mistress of Novices, still. Rare, but it happens. 

Now her nights are restless, the darkness oppressive. Her new sleeping quarters, a room that’s a good size and a half bigger than the one she’s occupied for the past three years feels tight. Uncomfortably so. A dress sewn right into her skin. The moment she shuts her eyes, the walls cave in and bury her alive. 

More than once in the last three weeks, Moiraine has woken up screaming. She has no certain memory of it, but it must be the case because Katerine who bunks two doors down from hers, has made sure to grumble about it within earshot.

Moiraine would apologize, and in all probability should too, but that means acknowledging the fact she’s having nightmares. And she’s an Accepted now — full Aes Sedai may call her daughter, but she’s a woman! — she can’t, won’t admit to anything. 

The living picture of serenity in the face of adversity, that’s what they are trained and taught to be. Moiraine can manage that. All she needs to do is avoid sleep.

All she needs is to not think of the friends she left behind.

That’s the main problem, really. In her years as Novice, she grew close with a handful of other young girls. Had a small tightly-knit group of friends she could rely on, that could in turn count on her when training became so hard it made them weep before sleep every night. None of them has been raised to Accepted, yet. Moiraine misses them all.

Most of all, she misses Siuan.

Tears of frustration build behind her eyes, itch to spill down her cheeks and she draws a deep breath to settle her nerves. It settles nothing. The room, already poorly illuminated by the cooling coals within the hearth, blurs further. 

It’s not fair

She and Siuan have advanced through their studies in lockstep. That Moiraine should be the first one to earn her ring feels like some kind of cosmic joke. An unseen knot in the Pattern, a thread missing. If anything, Siuan ought to have been raised first. Moiraine is smart, but Siuan’s memory, her knack for learning new things are unparalleled. 

That she is here, and Siuan is being held back…

It could be a matter of days before her friend is called to be tested. After all, Merean had let it slip that she was close.

Or — always possible —- Moiraine is deceiving herself. It could be weeks. Months. Years, the Light forbid.

Clasping her hands together, Moiraine toys with the one serpent ring on her left hand, twisting it around her finger until the cold band of gold leaves a mark on her flesh. Winter is at the door; already they’ve had a first dusting of snow, a taste of what’s to come, and with the fire nearly snuffed out, her room is an icebox.

With a sigh, she wraps the woolen blanket she’s been huddled under around her shoulders and crosses the room to throw another piece of wood into the small hearth. Accepted aren’t required to cut their own firewood, but they’re expected to lug it up to their rooms, and it’s a long slog from the gardens. The wicker basket Moiraine uses for such task is almost empty; what’s there — pine and shavings, mostly — will get her through the night, but she’ll have to find time on the morrow to replenish it, or there won’t be any more fires.

Fed to a new life, merry flames fill the room with light if not much in the way of warmth, but Moiraine’s spirits aren’t lifted. 

Above the wobbly desk she sits at to write and study, she’s hung a mirror. A warped piece of silvered glass, really, which she got from another Accepted, and cost her a pair of sturdy woolen socks she will likely end up missing once the true cold season starts. It’s silly, perhaps, a concession to the vanity she should have left behind, back in Cairhien’s Royal Palace, but Moiraine couldn’t help herself.

Moved by morbid fascination she peers at her reflection, notices how bruised the skin is around her eyes and regrets getting the blasted thing at all.

It isn’t long before Moiraine is back in bed, under her nest of blankets. What warmth was there has dissipated, and it takes some time for her to stop shivering. She tosses and turns, fluffs up her pillow, then turns her back to the hearth. Faces the wall with a frown, as if the rest of the world, of her existence could be that easily ignored.

The walls that separate each room from the next are made of plaster, and someone long before Moiraine’s time, took great pains to carve a small hole at pillow height. A hard thing to replicate as novices, as each young woman’s room was routinely inspected, but the familiar sight — she’s tampered with the hole every night she’s been here, foolishly hoping for a different result — sours her mood further. She doesn’t need to press her eye to it to know that the room beyond is vacant. Dark and cold and empty in the same way her chest is.

And yet, she pushes her face to the wall all the same, lips grazing against it and whispers the same words she’s said every night since her test.

“I miss you.” They ring hollow in her ears, and detestably watery. “I wish you were here, Siuan.”

When Moiraine wakes up the next morning, she doesn’t remember screaming overnight, but her pillowcase is damp with tears.

***

“Adelorna Sedai tells me you fell asleep halfway through this morning’s lecture.” Merean’s tone is even, her expression blank. Her entire body language reminds Moiraine of an indecipherable book. She sits with her hands joined on the desk in front of her, a steaming teapot at her elbow, the shawl in the color of her Ajah — Blue in Merean’s case —- draped over the back of her chair. Informal, and at a glance, she would seem motherily; she can be, especially to new Novices who cry themselves stupid on her shoulder, homesick and scared. But sleeping in the middle of a class doesn’t warrant kindness. 

Not being able to tell whether the woman is mad or not is downright upsetting. What Merean said, it was not framed as a question. She’s stating facts, something Moiraine already had to live through once. Instead of revisiting it, she’d rather be told whether she’ll be punished or not. Then again, the question may not be worth asking.

She was called here, wasn’t she?

Problem is, Merean didn’t merely send a Novice to her with a summons, she came to get Moiraine in person, and in front of half the rest of the Accepted. She doesn’t need imagination to know their quarters will be rife with speculation, and the more time she spends in Merean’s study, the wilder the gossip will be. 

“Well?” Merean shifts for the first time since sitting down, and Moiraine exhales. “Have you nothing to say for yourself, daughter?”

“I’m sorry, Merean Sedai.” Moiraine has to bunch her hands in the fabric of her dress to keep herself from fidgeting. Which is a first for her. Growing up among Cairhien’s nobles, she’s learned to never show emotion. Doing so is considered a weakness, and when playing the Game of Houses, the weak are often culled. “My mind was...drifting.”

“I’ve noticed.” Merean’s voice is bone-dry now, but she makes no move to stand and head to the cabinet Moiraine has done her best not to look at since entering her study.

Where the switch and the slipper are kept for when punishment is needed. Moiraine detests both, but she loathes the slipper more There’s just something deeply humiliating about being bent over the desk, bottom bared to be disciplined like… like a child . That the punishment is a private thing, not to be revisited after the infraction is dealt with is a small mercy, but not enough of a salve.

"I am sorry about falling asleep, too." She is ashamed of it more than anything else, but displaying contrition never hurt nobody. And she is in the wrong. “It will not happen again.”

“I do hope so.” 

Here it comes. The moment in which Merean decides how her misstep is to be corrected, the best way to drive the lesson home. 

A cup of tea is not the resolution she expected.

“Drink.” Merean lifts a matching cup to her own lips, takes a sip then stares with  raised eyebrows until Moiraine does the same. The tea is bitter from having steeped too long, but she doesn’t dare ask for honey. There’s a jar of it next to the teapot, but she’s sure that Merean’s goodwill is stretched thin as it is. 

And maybe tea so strong it’s nigh undrinkable is part of her penance.

“Now.” When both cups have been drained, Merean collects them and sets them aside. “I want you to listen to me very carefully, because I am only speaking of this once. I don’t relish it, and normally, I would not mention it at all, but.”

Moiraine blinks, heart thudding in her ears. She wrings her mind like a wet rag to try and remember whether there’s something else she’s done. Something that would call for such an introduction. She is known as somewhat of a troublemaker. Siuan too. As Novices they’ve often been called in for discipline because of their pranks, and over the years, they have acquired a reputation. Pranking the other initiates is a way to relieve pressure, and everyone has done it in their time as Novices. Besides, their pranks are not malicious. Funny, sometimes annoying, never cruel or dangerous.

But who’s got the time, nowadays? Every waking hour is filled with lectures and individual study, and when she’s not nose-deep in a book, Moiraine’s teaching beginner classes to the newer girls. Pranks are the furthest thing from her mind on any given basis. 

So, no. She has no clue what Merean could possibly be talking about.

“What you went through a few weeks ago…” Oh. That . “We will not speak of what you experienced inside the ter’angreal . Your memories are your own. But.” Merean pauses, mouth twisted around the unpleasantness of the topic. “Everyone reacts differently. For most life has a way to right itself after a few days. The mind… it knows how to protect itself. However, in a few the experience doesn’t fade so quickly. It can affect judgement. Mood. You are not the first, nor will you be the last who wakes up at night in a cold sweat. Who is afraid to sleep.”

Moiraine doesn’t bother asking how Merean knows about the nightmares. The Mistress of Novices has a way of knowing everything that happens to her wards. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be much of a mistress, would she.

“Here.” She’s starting to get used to things being slid across the desk in her direction, but the vial is another surprise to add to the tally. It’s glass so delicate a hard squeeze of the fist would doubtlessly shatter it, and inside a swirl of umber waits.

“Take three drops diluted in water every night until the vial is empty and you can return it to me.” Merean instructs. “If the issue isn’t resolved by then, I will have to send you to one of the Yellows.” 

Inwardly, Moiraine winces. Bad enough that she’ll have to deal with the whispers and the rumors once back in the Accepted quarters, but that’ll go away on its own. When the next Accepted gets in trouble, or a Novice does something so outrageous it’ll set tongues wagging for weeks. 

But if she’s sent to the healers? No matter how discreet the Aes Sedai involved, people will take notice. Of her absence, of her comings and goings. In their time as Accepted, young women strengthen the friendships they picked up along the way, but the enmities have a way of deepening as well. Some of the women who’d ascended in the months before she did, don’t like her very much.

And her closest friends are Novices, still. Moiraine is at her weakest, and she’s alone.

“I understand, Merean Sedai.” She pockets the vial without further prompting, then waits to see whether there is more. 

There is not, and she’s dismissed with a reminder that Accepted too can come to Merean’s study and unburden if they have need.

It’s then, on the doorstep that the Aes Sedai’s motherly side shines through the coolness but, even though Moiraine makes sure to thank Merean profusely, she won’t take her up on the offer.

Misfortune has a way of manifesting, when it’s given substance.

***

One day becomes two, becomes five, becomes a fortnight. The liquid inside the vial dwindles. Moiraine takes her three drops every night and there are no more dreams. 

Daytime is another matter. It is not the herbs she’s taking, or Merean wouldn’t have given them to her in the first place, but her mind plays tricks. Her brain is a vessel, overflowing, and if the nightmares were an out before, having them removed causes lucid dreams. Hallucinations. Figures glimpsed out of the corner of her eye that disappear if she whips around to look. 

She rounds a corner on the way to supper and sees her father, ashen-faced and terrified. Climbs a set of stairs to her next lecture and finds one of her uncles at the top, hands bloody, the butt of a spear sticking out from the middle of his chest. Glances out a window and the sky is black with smoke, only to be blue a moment later.

They are ghosts, her dreams transported to the waking word. No weight to them, no tactile presence. Moiraine knows, because the first time her father appeared at the foot of her bed, mouth hanging open in a silent scream, she reached out and tried to touch him. 

Her hand had gone right through the place where his arm ought to have been.

Before long — three weeks after her visit to Merean — the visions start to impair her. Oh, Moiraine masks it well, but when her condition begins to affect her ability to channel it gets harder to conceal. 

It isn’t that she can’t feel the True Source, but her concentration often slips, and sometimes, her mind is so perturbed she cannot hold the One Power at all. 

It slows her down, and as the weaving she’s required to learn grows in complexity, her tutors start to notice.

“I’m beginning to think you were raised too soon.” Kerene Sedai is a demanding teacher at the best of times, but for the most part kind. Today, she comes as close to exasperated as Moiraine ever heard her. “Are you going to prove me wrong before we’re through, daughter?”

“Yes, Aes Sedai.” Moiraine says through gritted teeth. She’s tired. Sweaty despite having stood in a draft for the better part of an hour. Under any other circumstance she’d be trying to take in as much of Kerene Sedai’s rooms as possible, but between the task at hand and general malaise she lacks the capacity for it. The world, except for the weaves of power glimmering mid-air in front of her eyes, is a tired blur. 

“You almost have it.” Karene’s voice shatters the quiet, and Moiraine fumbles so badly the half-formed weave nearly collapses. “Steady, now. Add Water, then Fire. Like so.” A second weave forms next to hers, and when she takes her eyes off of it for a second, Moiraine sees that a golden aura now surrounds the Aes Sedai. She can feel her too, three times as strong as she currently is, but weaker than she’ll be one day. 

No, she can’t think about that. Shouldn’t. It’s impolite — skirting taboo. And it costs her dearly. The different weaves she’s so desperately done her best to coax into the one required snap back into her body. The hit winds her, a punch to the solar plexus, but the Fire one goes on to do additional damage. Fire is the most dangerous element to handle, the last one an initiate in training is allowed to touch. Its energy should never be absorbed back into a body, but safely discharged into the ground. Except that Moiraine can’t. She’s overwhelmed, and in a last ditch effort to control the errant weave, she reels it back into herself. 

The right sleeve of her white dress catches fire, and underneath it her skin burns too.

“Moiraine!” Kerene Sedai is out of her chair in a flash, the nimbus of power around her intensifying. Blindingly white light wraps around Moiraine, and the flames die out.

But Moiraine doesn’t see it. Sees nothing as she collapses, the smell of cooking flesh thick in her nostrils. Doesn’t know Kerene Sedai is kneeling next to her, doing what she can to heal her even as she calls out for help to nearby sisters.

Moiraine’s falling, and it doesn’t stop.

***

Moiraine regains consciousness with the certainty there are people around her. It’s the voices giving it away, obviously. Words pitched low, whispered conversations, remarks hissed back and forth by no less than three someones hovering nearby. 

At first she can’t quite hear what they are saying. There’s an insistent ringing in her ears preventing her from it. It’s like listening to a conversation being had three doors away, or hearing her name called whilst underwater. But then, the voices drift closer, grow more heated, and the words start to make sense.

“How did you let this happen?” Siuan . She’d recognize her in a crowd, but rarely has Moiraine heard her voice — her Tairen accent thicker when she’s angry —- quiver with so much repressed rage. “How could you?”

Accepted .” Kerene, cool and collected once more, swiftly shuts her up. “I advise you to measure your words more carefully next time you open your mouth.”

“I just—”

Accepted? Siuan underwent her test? Moiraine claws for wakefulness, but her body will not work the way she wants it to. Her eyes refuse to open, and her limbs feel heavy. As though made of lead. A weariness she’s never before experienced weighs her down, and her mind spirals toward sleep. It takes everything she has to keep on listening.

“Lower your voices, the both of you.” Merean Sedai has barely finished speaking that Siuan and Kerene fall over one another in their haste to apologize. “The poor child needs sleep, and should someone be foolish enough to wake her, they’ll answer to me.”

“I’m sorry Aes Sedai.” Worry has replaced the animosity in Siuan’s tone, and Moiraine wishes she could speak. Reach out, squeeze her best friend’s hand and tell her she’s alright. “I only—”

“We’re all concerned, daughter.” A hand — Merean’s, she assumes — rests briefly on her forehead, threads gently through her hair. “But that doesn’t mean we can set propriety aside.”

“I understand.” A beat, and then. “Can I stay with her?” 

Somewhere above Moiraine’s head, Merean sighs. 

“You should rest too, daughter. The test you just went through isn’t kind on the body, as you well know.”

“Please?” It’s strange and kind of unnerving to hear Siuan plead.

“If you wake her—”

“I will not, I promise.” Siuan’s fingers trace lightly over her knuckles, and Moiraine tries, tries, tries to move her hand. “I don’t think I could sleep in my own room with her like this, anyway.”

“I’ll have a pallet and blankets brought in, then.” There’s a shift, a rustling of skirts, and footsteps treading to the door. “I better find you both asleep when I check in on you later on.”

“I should stay too.” Kerene was so quiet throughout the exchange that Moiraine’d thought she actually had left. Her words are enough of a shock, Moiraine almost jolts upright. She can’t possibly mean… but there is guilt oozing from the woman as freely as blood from a deep wound.

“Don’t be a fool.” Merean snaps, then softens. “You can check back on her tomorrow. And she will require more healing, once her body is strong enough for it, in case you still feel responsible by then.”

More is said after that, and some of it is an argument, but the two Aes Sedai move out of earshot quickly — as if they just remembered Moiraine’s supposed to be recovering. 

Anyway Siuan’s holding her hand now, and that’s all that matters, really. 

If anything in her body was working right this minute, Moiraine would be smiling; Merean’s cautionary words, it seems, were tossed aside the moment the Aes Sedai’s back was turned. 

Not that she’s complaining.

“Finally, they’re gone.” Siuan grumbles, squeezing her hand once more before she begins to fuss with the blankets covering her. “Moiraine, what were you thinking? Absorbing Fire back into yourself? You know way better than— Fish-guts, you can’t even hear me right now, can you?”

Again Moiraine tries. To open her eyes, to speak, to do something other than lie in her sickbed, powerless and scared. 

She makes a sound, maybe, because Siuan’s lips are pressed to her forehead all of a sudden, and her heart nearly stops. All of a sudden she’s too hot, the blanket’s pulled around her frame too tight. All of a sudden she struggles to breathe, gulps down too much air yet not enough, and it has nothing to do with her injury. She thinks she whimpers again, but can’t be sure, because it feels that the bed beneath her is moving — spinning — and that she’s falling right through.

“Shh.” Siuan coos, hand sliding up Moiraine’s cheek so that her fingers can smooth the fine, sweat-stained hair at her temple. “It’s alright. You’re fine, Moiraine. I’ve got you.”

And Moiraine doesn’t doubt, not even for a moment, that Siuan means every word.