The Missing Link

“Marry me, lovely lady. I’ll bring you the moon to wear in your hair and the stars to string for a necklace.” Terion picked her up and swung her around, to the delight of the watching novices. “What do you say, Kimmie?”
“Put me down, you lug! Of course I’ll marry you. I’ve been waiting for you to ask me for the last four years.” She kissed him solidly, accompanied by cheers from the gathering crowd of novices. “But what do I care about the moon and stars? All that I want is you.”
They were married at dawn, in the great square in front of the Tower. It seemed all of Tar Valon had turned out to watch.
“Under the Light and in the eyes of the Creator, you are wed,” the Amyrlin announced solemnly - just before Terion, accompanying his actions with a most unWarderly whoop of glee, snatched her into his arms and carried her, laughing too hard to struggle, up the marble steps into the Tower...

Kimena blinked back tears as she returned from her reverie into the real world. Terion, ah, Terion. In all the world there couldn’t be two like you.
Shaking her head, she looked down at the young woman sleeping on the bed beside her chair, pale hair spread out on the pillow. Her face, too, was worryingly pale. Kimena reached out to touch her forehead, and winced. She was burning up again.
Embracing saidar, she wove Air and Water and Spirit through the girl’s body. It was one of those rare illnesses that Healing could not fully cure, only ease. What she wouldn’t have given to have been around in the Age of Legends, when, it was said, Aes Sedai could Heal anything short of death... The weaves took hold, and Kimena relaxed as the fever began to decline. Light, let her get through this.
Leaning back in her chair, she felt suddenly weary. It must be a day since I slept last... Her eyes drifted shut.

“Do you know what the biggest difference is between the Red and Green Ajahs?” Terion quipped. The wicked grin on his face should have warned her.
“I give up. What?”
“Why, Kimmie,” that grin broadened, “it’s quite easy. The Red Ajah make it their duty to hunt men. The Greens merely do it for fun.”
She choked on her drink, spluttering. The disapproving look from a passing sister only triggered another fit of giggles. “You’ve been polishing that one for ages, haven’t you?” she demanded when she managed to stop laughing.
“Guilty as charged. After all, it’s a Warder’s duty to keep his Aes Sedai in good spirits.”
She laughed again, throwing her arms around his neck. “Oh, Terion, I love you.”

Remembering. Dreaming...

“I have to go to Amador,” he told her another time.
She froze. “What?”
“I have friends there,” he said quietly. “They may be in trouble with the Whitecloaks. I have to get them out.”
“Then I’m coming with you.”
“No.” He turned to look directly at her. “Don’t be foolish, Kimmie. Who knows how many people in Amador might recognise an Aes Sedai?”
“And you? How safe do you suppose you’ll be? If any Whitecloak so much as suspects you as a Warder...”
“That’s a risk I have to take. But I won’t risk you too.”

It wasn’t even the Whitecloaks that killed him. It was the weather...

The ship lurched and heaved, tossed by the storm. The men on deck slid this way and that. Clinging tightly to the rails as the icy waves battered at him - and his hands slipped -
“No, Terion,” Kimena cried, terrified as she knew his struggle. “No!”
So cold, so rough, the water. Only a few words, right before the bond snapped, that might have been as easily her imagination as anything else. “Kimmie, my Kimmie, I love you.”
And then he was gone.

She was awake now. But the memories continued.

“The ship sank,” she was told. “There were no survivors.”
The words had little meaning for her. She listened, pale and cold. She was always cold now.
“We grieve with you,” her sisters told her. “We share your sorrow.”
“When were you married? How can you know what it is to lose a husband?” she asked them. “Go, please. Leave me to grieve alone.”
And when they were gone, she curled up and wept.

“Sleep,” the eldest of the Yellow sisters, white-haired Taladra, told her. “Sleep is the greatest healer.”
So she slept.

She woke in the mornings. Every morning she was ill.
“It can’t be. I can’t be.”
Her body swelled. She looked in the mirror with disbelief.
“I can’t be!”
She was.
“I can’t!” she cried. “I can’t cope with a child - not alone!”

She went to Terion’s family. She had never met them before. His parents welcomed her, most courteously. They did not resent her, they said.
“Death comes to us all,” his mother told her.
“Life, too, comes,” she answered. “For I carry his child.”
Their eyes fixed on her stomach, the swelling clearly visible beneath her gown. The expression on their faces was yearning, almost hungry.
“I cannot cope,” she said. “I cannot raise a child and carry out the Tower’s work at the same time - not without Terion. I ask you to take her, and to raise her as your own.”
It was the first time she had used the pronoun. Somehow, even then, she had known the child would be a girl.
“We have no children left,” his father said. His eyes softened for the first time since meeting Kimena. “She will be our beloved granddaughter.”

She gave birth to a girl, just as she had known she would. A girl with her silky fair hair and Terion’s tilted dark eyes.
“Little Ilona,” she crooned as she cradled her daughter in her arms, the name coming to her lips unbidden. “My Ilona.”
But then she gave the child over to her grandmother, and turned her face away, and wept again.
No more than a week later, she returned to the Tower.

Kimena opened her eyes. It was no surprise to feel the wetness of tears on her face.
“Fool woman,” she told herself, and reached out again to check her patient. The girl tossed restlessly in her sleep, dreaming fevered dreams. Once she cried out, in shock or terror, and Kimena’s heart caught. She gathered the girl into her arms, cradling her like a child.
“Sleep, Ilona,” she whispered.
And as Kimena held the daughter she had given away and who had somehow been returned to her, she wept for the lost years in between and prayed with all her heart for her child’s life.
Light, let her live through this. Sleep safely, my daughter. Sleep, Ilona.

***

Ilona slept, but restlessly, fever-dreams flashing past her as she tossed and turned. She was a child again, playing by the fire. She was a novice in the Tower. No, she was a child, and rows of portraits were staring down at her from the wall of her grandparents’ sitting room.

“Where is my mother?” she asked, staring back up at them. Her father’s portrait was there, a dark-haired man with laughter in his eyes and a mouth that struggled against a grin. But there was no woman’s picture beside his. “What did she look like?”
Her grandmother hesitated, looking troubled. “She had fair hair, like you. You take after her a little.”
“But why isn’t her picture here?” she insisted.
“We’ll tell you when you’re older,” her grandfather said, and firmly changed the subject.

They never had told her. She had learned soon enough that her mother was a topic to be avoided. Nor would they explain their dismay when she started channeling and was taken to the Tower.

“But why are you so upset?” she said. “You’re not losing me. I’ll still be your granddaughter.” Other Borderland families were delighted when their daughters were accepted for training. She didn’t understand why they were not.
“But others will have a claim on you,” her grandmother said, then stopped the sentence abruptly. “We’ll miss you.”
“I’ll write to you,” she promised.

She had written, when there had been time. More often she had simply collapsed into bed. Everybody said that being a novice was hard, but she was scarcely prepared for the constant rounds of work and classes and chores. Once or twice she had hidden in the library just to get a moment of rest.

“Child, shouldn’t you be at chores?” A voice interrupted her as she sat dozing at a table in the corner.
“I’m sorry, Aes Sedai,” she stammered, blushing. “I must have lost track of the time.” Hurriedly she got up, curtsying and turning to leave.
“Wait.” The slender woman took a step closer, studying her with eyes that were neither blue nor green but the colour of the ocean. “What is your name?”
“Ilona, Aes Sedai.”
Those eyes had widened in what had seemed shock or disbelief. Her face had for a moment gone absolutely blank. “Ilona. You are from Saldaea?”
“Yes -”
The sea-coloured eyes softened. “Stay where you are, Ilona. It will do no harm if you miss chores for once. Go back when the next bell rings.”
“My name,” she added after a moment, “is Kimena.”

Eventually she had made it through as a novice, and been told that she was ready to take the test to become Accepted. It was not, she was repeatedly warned, easy.

“The first time is for what was.” Kimena’s soft voice came from behind her as she stared into the glowing arch. “The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
She stepped into the light.

But she had passed it, had had the Great Serpent ring set on her finger - and had collapsed, burning up with fever, on the polished stone floor of the testing room.

In the throes of delirium, she called out. “Mother,” she cried. “Mother, where are you?”
There was no answer. She cried out again, panic mounting.
Then a cool hand touched her brow, a soft voice answered. “Hush, I’m here. Sleep, my Ilona.”
And the fever easing, she slept.

Ilona woke, dazed. “Where am I?” she murmured, and tried to sit up. Her head spun abruptly as a rush of dizziness overtook her.
“Just lie still.” Gentle hands eased her back down. “How do you feel, Ilona?”
“Hot. My head hurts.” The voice was familiar. “Kimena Sedai?”
“Yes?”
Ilona turned her head to see Kimena. Sunlight from the window gleamed on hair the exact same colour as hers. “I dreamed that I called out for my mother,” she said, “and you answered.”
“You dreamed many things, child. High fever will do that.” But the Yellow sister’s face had become suddenly wary.
“I never knew my mother,” Ilona said. “There was no portrait of her in our home. My grandparents let me think she was dead, but they never said so.”
Kimena was silent.
“And then when I came to the Tower, you were shocked when you saw me. And you always looked after me. Why did you do that, Kimena Sedai?”
“Ilona -”
“And you look like me.” Ilona couldn’t stop herself speaking. “Or rather I look like you. I don’t know why I never saw that before. If you and my father had a child that child would look just like me. But you did, didn’t you? You had me. Why did you leave me, Mother?”
There was silence after her outburst. She closed her eyes, feeling a tear trickle down her cheek. “I didn’t mean -”
“Ilona.” Kimena’s voice was very soft. “Child of mine - I left you because I was alone.”
Ilona opened her eyes as Kimena continued.
“Terion - your father - died before you were born. It felt as if all the light had been taken out of my life. I spent the first few months sleeping and crying. I thought there was no way that I could bring up a child on my own. It seemed best at the time.” Kimena stretched a hesitant hand toward her. “Ilona - I never stopped loving you.”
Ilona stared into pleading, sea-coloured eyes. “Mother -” she said softly. It sounded right. She reached out her own hand to touch Kimena’s. “Mother, will you tell me about my father?”

It seemed only a few minutes until Kimena broke off her story and left, telling her that she needed to rest, but Ilona could tell from the sun, low in the sky, that it had been more than an hour. She lay awake still, reconciling what she had learned with what she had thought she had known through childhood. And now, there was another memory flickering.

A child again, she sat by the fire, playing with her dolls. Soft voices came from somewhere above her, her grandparents, and one other, unfamiliar to her.
“She looks so like him.” It was a woman’s voice, with a strange quality to it. Ilona hadn’t recognised it then, but now she knew it for wistfulness. “Is she well? Healthy?”
“She’s as well and healthy as any child in the world.” Her grandmother’s voice sounded slightly indignant – another emotion that the child Ilona had not understood, but the grown one did. “We take good care of her.”
“I know you do. She’s beautiful.” Ilona could tell from her voice that the strange woman was smiling. “If there is anything you need…”
“Nothing,” her grandfather said shortly.
“Then goodbye.” Even the child Ilona recognised the sadness in the voice, and she wanted to run after the stranger and tell her not to cry. But she was gone.

“She cried for me,” Ilona whispered to herself. “She wanted me.” It made the seeming desertion less harsh. Kimena had cared.
And for her father, too. Ilona giggled, recalling what her mother – still so strange, thinking of her that way – had said about Terion Ezel. The trickster, the joker, the life of the party. A story of a man who lived life to the fullest, told by a woman who had clearly adored him. Still smiling, she drifted off to sleep.

Strange dreams flashed and darted through her sleep. A fair-haired woman and a dark-haired man dawdled hand-in-hand along the street, whispering and giggling like teenagers. A baby Ilona knew was herself lay asleep in a cradle, wrapped in a shawl embroidered with the Flame of Tar Valon and fringed in yellow. Framed in starlight-pale hair, a face with eyes like the ocean smiled down at her from the long row of portraits.
And then there was the sound of weeping, a sound that grew clearer and clearer until she woke.

She opened her eyes, but the sound persisted. Somewhere outside her door, a woman was crying. Why was she crying?
“Who is that?” she murmured, still dazed. “What’s happened?”
Kimena came in hurriedly, closing the door behind her. The sound of weeping was cut off. “Hello, Ilona. Did you sleep well?”
“Who was that crying?” she asked. Who would be down here? This was where the sick were cared for, the few who needed watching or didn’t respond to normal Healing. It was almost always empty.
Kimena bit her lip. “Rusele.”
“Rusele?” Ilona repeated blankly. Rusele was a Red sister; a Sitter. What could make an Aes Sedai cry? “Why?”
“She -” Her mother looked away, avoiding her eyes. Reluctantly she said, “Keilene died the last hour.”
“Died?” That was even stranger than an Aes Sedai weeping. Ilona knew little of Keilene save that she and Rusele were friends, but what could kill a sister in the White Tower? The answer came to her suddenly, shockingly. “The fever?” she whispered. “She died of this?” She had hardly thought of it as a serious illness beyond the resistance to Healing, but if an Aes Sedai could be killed –
- then what chance did she have?
“No, Ilona, don’t think that!” Kimena caught her into her arms. “You won’t die!”
“Keilene did. How many others?” Her lips trembled.
“Seven others,” Kimena said grimly. “Two Warders, a novice, and four of the servants. The fever hits everyone equally, it seems. But Ilona, some have recovered.”
She didn’t ask “How many?” this time. Kimena’s face told her that it was a fraction of the deaths. I don’t want to die! she cried inwardly.
“You will not die!” Kimena blazed. “Listen to me, Ilona. You are my daughter and I love you, and I will not let you die!” She took a deep breath, calming down. “You need to sleep. Sleep heals most things, I’ve found. If you wake and need me, I’ll be here.” Gently she touched Ilona’s forehead, embracing saidar to form the familiar weaves for Healing. As the fever eased, sleep claimed her instantly.

She was in a garden, a place she had never seen before. A tall man with dark curly hair was standing not far away. He turned, and she recognised him.
“Hello, Ilie,” he said. “Give my love to your mother.”
The garden dissolved into more chaotic dreams, but she remembered.

“I dreamed of my father,” she told Kimena the next time she woke. “He said to give you his love.”
The slender Yellow’s face was wistful. She said lightly, “Maybe you’re a Dreamer.”
“He called me Ilie.”
Kimena laughed, shakily. “He would!”

Hours passed, or minutes, she could not say. Time after time she felt the cool tingle of Healing running through her, and for moments the pain was eased. But the dreams came faster and more chaotic, and the fever burned higher.

She woke, or seemed to wake, lying in her bed. Kimena was asleep in the chair nearby. Ilona felt suddenly guilty. How long has she stayed awake watching me? She could see at a glance that her mother was exhausted. It was a wonder that she had remained conscious and able to channel for so long.
“Mother?” she murmured. “Mother…”
Then the door opened, and Ilona turned her head to see who was there.

She knew him at once, dark eyes glinting with mischief, dark hair curling unruly all over his head. He didn’t look at her at first, crossing the room, his boots making no sound on the floor. He stopped, kneeling by Kimena’s chair.
“Kimmie, my Kimmie. Beloved.” He stroked her hair gently, then rose to his feet and turned to her.
“C’mon, Ilie,” he said softly, holding out his hand. “It’s time.” She knew she ought to be surprised, even frightened, but somehow everything seemed completely natural and right.
Ilona reached out and took her father’s hand.

***

Kimena woke, and knew at once what had changed. The room was silent. The only breathing in it was hers.
“No!” she cried out. How could she have slept? She stared down at her daughter, face peaceful in the early morning light. “No – Ilona – no…”
A hand seemed to touch her shoulder, and she whirled around, but there was no one behind her. And then she thought she must be dreaming, for a girl’s sweet voice, so familiar to her, whispered in her ear.
Goodbye, Mother.
As she stood transfixed, another voice came, a voice she had thought never to hear again. Beloved Kimmie, Terion whispered, and invisible lips softly brushed hers. We’ll wait for you.
Kimena stood, wide-eyed, as the voices whispered around her. Then suddenly she laughed, a peal of pure, clear laughter. “Goodbye, Ilona!” She blew a kiss from her fingertips. “Goodbye, Terion!” she called, laughing. “I’ll see you again!”

Dedicated to my brother, who hates sappy romances.

Raina's Hold / Raina's Library / Raina's Library - Stories
 

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