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Sun Jun 4, 2006 11:18pm (XFF:

In the week and a half she had been here, she had progressed marginally in her prowess with the One Power; she could hold the sweet essence of saidar for more than ten seconds, for one thing, and she had learned to manipulate it to a small extent. A very small extent. At least the flows did what they were supposed to half as much as they snapped back at her, now. That was progress. But it wasn’t only dabbling herself with the True Source that she had been busying herself with in the days of recent past. While one-third of her time was spent doing that, as a novice she was required to spend the other two-thirds fulfilling other requirements: menial labor.

No, the phrasing did it injustice, she thought as she stared down at her fingers, at the current moment immersed in a basin of soapy duds. The White Tower was by no means a crude slave camp that forced its victims to work until their backs bent double, and broke, even—a horrible thought. The White Tower trained her, trained them all, into what it saw fit as an elite initiate of the world’s most prestigious institution in the known world. I am being shaped… Whenever she thought about it she felt a twinge of pride warming up her insides. Sometimes she was too preoccupied with what task lay before her to even consider the matter in those terms. Most of the times she was too tired.

Pruney fingers look so funny, she thought, reaching for yet another grubby porcelain vessel that had recently been eaten off by an Aes Sedai, As if I didn’t have unpleasant-looking fingers already. She ladled warm water over the dish, peered at a particular dirty spot, then attempted to scrub it off with a flat, blunt fingernail. At length it was rubbed off to expose the pristine white beneath, and she plunged the dish into the water once again. Better funny than unpleasant, I suppose. She shook out the plate and handed it to the novice standing to her immediate left, a girl with equally red hair except hers was a lovely looking length of smooth, silken strands, pulled back in a neat tail. Lilli glanced at her own amber ringlet that had fallen past her sights, frazzled and uncontrolled, and she pressed her lips in a compressed sigh.

Well, the Creator blessed some, and didn’t others. That was probably as close to complaining as it got, for her. She took in stride, her numerous defects. Such as herself being fat whereas others were slender and lithe. Such as her hair somehow unable to grow past her shoulders—she had to cut it each time it verged on it, otherwise it would be like carrying a mop on her head—, whereas other people took their waist-length, swishing, rippling hair for granted. Such as her personality being so uncontrollably poignant whereas others seemed to be able to control the flow of their tears. Well! She was Lilli Bloom, and she was who she was!

“Ugh,” the novice to her left let out a noise of disgust as Lilli’s plate accidentally splattered on her skirts a few droplets of gray water. She flicked her gaze up in a glare, and then whisked the dish away to her rinsing. Lilli cowered back, of course, timid apologies blubbering on her tongue. Silence reigned once more.

Between them, anyway. The kitchen was naturally full of bustle and sounds, of cookpots steaming, of maids chattering, of Laras barking. Not to mention the clatter of wooden spoons, the clunk of metal, the tinkling of glass against glass, and the thudding of knives against cutting boards. They were all sounds that were soothing to Lilli, if not at the particular moment. She liked the kitchen and working in it, in direct contrast of popular opinion. But then again, it wasn’t as if she disliked anything else, really. Even when scrubbing her white floor back in her room, or raking the garden pathways, or running errands—which really did tax her physique, or rather, the lack of—, she felt a sense of base contentment. She was in the White Tower. That counted for all.

“…I’m really sorry,” Lilli said, her face crumpling, “I really am. I—I can wash your dress for you if you’d like, Aiyda. I’m—I’m—”

“Oh, will you shut up?” the other novice said, twisting her face at her in incredulity, “Light, you can go on for hours, can’t you? Light! It’s only a few drops.” Lilli did shut up, but her face must have been a pitiful sight indeed, because presently the other girl softened. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted,” she said, plunking a spoon into her basin, “I just find that I get irritated over nothing these days. You know, people screaming at me, giving me orders left and right… I guess I took the first chance to scream out at someone myself, for a change.” Frowning for a moment, the girl lifted her gaze from the water to Lilli. “Sorry—what was your name again? I don’t think I know you.” Her frown deepened. “How did you know my name?”

“I’ve….I’ve heard others call you that,” Lilli said hesitantly, “In the hall. And in classes. I… It was a pretty name, so I remembered it.” That, and also because Aiyda seemed to be quite popular amongst the others, girls and boys alike. Lilli had been drawn with fascination.

“Why…thanks,” the girl said now, her face pleasantly surprised at the unexpected compliment. She paused, took out the spoon and placed it on the rack, and turned to Lilli again. “And you are—?”

She couldn’t help it; the heat climbed up the thick column of her neck and suffused her cheeks. In the length she had been here, she had not once experienced such a beginning of a friendship as this, if that was what this could possibly be called, but now she was placed in a situation in which she must ridicule herself—and that would repulse the pretty Aiyda away for sure. Lilli despaired for it, but there was naught to be done. “My name is….Lilli Bloom,” she said in little above a whisper, and shied away for the expected reaction. A smirk, a sneer, something.

The corners of Aiyda’s mouth curled in a smile, and Lilli crumbled inside. Dejected, she turned back to the dishes. “That’s kind of cute,” came the un-expected words, and she blinked up, uncertain, to face Aiyda’s small laugh. “Lilli Bloom? What an unusual, cute name.”

Warmth spread through her, and they worked in silence for a time after; for her, a happy and entirely content silence. A little while later, Aiyda spoke, saying: “My full name is Aiyda Duranche, of House Duranche in Lugard. In Murandy,” she explained, which made Lilli check herself for a moment. It was general knowledge that Murandians didn’t get along with Andorans, of which she was one herself. She had personally thought that Aiyda was Andoran herself, with her fair skin and hair coloring, but Andorans and Murandians looked so similar that there was hardly a distinction to be spoken of. “You’re Andoran yourself, aren’t you?” Aiyda asked, as if reading her thoughts, one well-formed brow rising in skeptical inquiry.

Lilli nodded.

“Yes, I thought so. Father’s taught me mannerisms of your nation since I was young,” the girl said, taking her now fairly dirty basin in her hands and tipping it over to drain it, “No, well, for that matter, he’s taught me the mannerisms of the other twelve nations’ people as well. Not to mention politics and form of writing, but that’s besides the point. You know,” she said with another laugh, shaking her head, “had I been anywhere other than here, that is, the White Tower, we would be arch enemies.” She turned her face towards her with a wry smile. “But of course, the White Tower does a good job of making one forget their past identities, doesn’t it?”

Lilli was beginning to understand what Aiyda was going on about. The girl had mentioned herself as being from House Duranche, and herself being learned in politics and all those other things, and she couldn’t be all that if she weren’t nobility. Lilli was talking to nobility! “You’re….you’re a lady?” she asked tactlessly.

“My mother is a lady,” Aiyda said matter-of-factly, though in a sense sounding amused as well, “And my father is a lord. I suppose that makes me a lady.” Lilli was mute. Her first opportunity at making a friend, and it turned out that she was trying to befriend a lady! Well, she thought, a former lady, at least. “It seems though,” Aiyda continued, refilling her basin with clean water from a steaming bucket, “that titles carry no weight whatsoever here. I’m from a moderately large House, possibly in line to the throne, and here I am, sunk to the elbows with dishwater!” The former noblewoman laughed forlornly to herself. “Mother always told me that I was patient and flexible, hardly encased in pride at all, but sometimes I really get frustrated. Maybe someday I might be Aes Sedai,” she said, raising her hands from the water and holding them out before her as she observed the tiny ridges on her fingertips, “but until then I’m nothing. Nothing at all.”

Lilli lifted her own hands and held them out next to Aiyda’s. Though both pruney, a marked difference rested between them in that one pair was slender and perfectly proportioned, and the other short, squat, and meaty. “You won’t be alone on it, at least,” she said, and Aiyda laughed.

“I don’t know why you’re so comforting to talk to, Lilli, but you just are.”

Later on that day, Lilli edged herself into the Accepted domains with all the trepidation of a thief caught sneaking. She felt like a thief, being somewhere she didn’t belong, and each time she saw a swishing skirted of banded rainbow hem, she jumped and scurried away. What was she doing here, at the Accepted wells? To attend a lesson, that was what, the answer came swiftly, and she tried to compose herself as she approached where her presence was due. In good time she found the Studio marked ‘Number Eight’, and taking a deep breath to steady her breath and settle her nerves—though it did neither—, she entered.

There was another reason she felt so jumpy inside, she knew. The instructor, as she had made herself known on the notice on the lesson board, was Aiel. Again, she had gleaned this information from her habitual listening from her room while her door lay open to the traversing outside the hall, and when she had heard, she had trembled. Why would the White Tower ever allow Aiel to walk its grounds? There were many things she did not understand, but all those stories and rumors of black-veiled savages raking the ground to charred wasteland and gobbling children…

After curtsying and sitting down with aprons strapped around their girths—she wore a lilac-colored one that clashed horribly with her hair, but it had been the only one that was wide enough for her; being as short as she was, it came nearly to her ankles—, they were instructed to introduce themselves. When it came to Lilli’s turn, after Novice Sarina and Novice Moira, she swallowed and lifted her gaze to the male Aes Sedai only, hardly daring to even look at the frozen-eyed Aiel woman with the long blonde hair. “My….m—my name is Lilli Bloom, Aes Sedai,” she all but squeaked, then her voice plummeted to a whisper once more, “I am f—from Whitebridge, Andor, and I have been in the White Tower for eleven d—days.” What was the last question? The male Aes Sedai smiled kindly at her, his handsome face portraying encouragement, and Lilli tried to take a hold of her flurrying mind.

“Your strengths, child?” she was asked when the silence had dragged on in length, and Lilli unwillingly swerved her head around to the Aiel in alarm. The tone had not exactly been impatient, but not at leisure, either, she realized with horror. She perceived the Aes Sedai’s cool, tanned countenance currently wreathed with inquiry for just about a second before her gaze dropped to the ground.

“M—my strengths are Fire….Earth, Water…Air, and Spirit,” she said in a rush, breathless by the end.

OOC: Ramblerambleramble… I was in one of those moods. You know, deathly exhausted, circles under eyes, but the fingers have a mind to themselves.

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