|Sisters: Living Light
“Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty...”
Kerena moved as silently through the woods as she could, trying not to crack any twigs or rustle the leaves beneath her feet. Kianna had sharp ears.
“Eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six...”
Where to hide? The pile of leaves looked deep enough, but she’d never get them out of her hair afterwards - The bushes were too low to hide her - The cave under the bank was the first place her sister would look -
“Eighty nine, ninety...”
The oak tree! Perfect. She reached for a handhold, slipped, then got a firmer hold and scrambled up to the lowest branches. Crouching silently in the fork between two sturdy boughs, Kerena listened to the count.
“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred - Coming, ready or not!” Kerena heard the leaves rustling as Kianna made her way through the woods. She was going the wrong way. Kerena giggled.
You’ll never find me, sister mine.
Picking up on the mirth, if not the words, Kianna sent a mental image of a girl poking out her tongue. Images were easy enough to send, though they had to make a deliberate effort. Words were harder, much harder. Feelings came naturally. Right now, Kerena knew, her sister was puzzled. She was coming toward her now, though.
Kerena leaned over precariously, nearly dislodging herself from her perch, as Kianna came into view. She was a slim girl, tall for fourteen - they both were - with creamy skin and hair somewhere between copper and auburn, the exact colour of the leaves on the oak tree. She glanced at the low bushes, shook her head, then bent to rustle through the pile of leaves.
Not there either, Kianna.
Kianna straightened up and looked around. She was looking straight at the tree where Kerena was hidden, but the fork where she was perched appeared from the ground to be too high to reach, and the lower branches were bare of leaves to hide in. “I give up,” her sister announced aloud. “I know you’re here somewhere, Ker. Either that or you’ve disappeared into thin air. Where are you?”
“Right here, Ki.” Catching hold of a sturdy branch, Kerena swung herself down to the ground, shaking out her own copper-red hair. “See? It isn’t as hard to climb as it looks, once you get a handhold. Your turn.”
But before they could start the game again, their mother’s voice floated up the hill to them. “Girls! Hurry down. We have to go in five minutes!”
“Coming!” Kerena yelled back down, and sighed. “Dinner at Fluttery Flarin’s house - what joy. C’mon. At least we can wear our new dresses.”
“Race you down the hill!” With a sudden laugh, Kianna darted off. “I’ll beat you this time!” she called over her shoulder.
“No fair!” Kerena set off in pursuit. But as it happened, Kianna did reach the house first, a second ahead of Kerena. The sisters collapsed on the porch laughing, red-cheeked from running and the cool autumn air.
“Go and clean up - right away!” their mother scolded. Rowena Madai was a slim, stately woman, with the fair skin they had inherited and the dark hair and eyes of most Shienarans. Kianna had her eyes, but Kerena’s were vivid green, presumably from their unknown father. “And for Light’s sake brush your hair. You look a mess, the pair of you. Have you been climbing trees again?”
“No, mamma,” Kianna replied innocently. She hadn’t been climbing, after all. Kerena refrained from saying anything.
In the room they shared, Kerena looked in the tiny mirror. “We do look a mess, don’t we?” She tugged a brush through her hair. “This’ll never untangle! Why isn’t yours like mine?”
“Because I wasn’t climbing trees.” Kianna grinned. “Here, pass me the comb. I’ll do it.” She shook out her own hair and went to work on Kerena’s. “I wish mine was your colour.”
“I like yours.” It was a longstanding argument neither of them took seriously. “Ouch! Do you have to pull so hard?”
“Yes.” Kianna untangled one last knot and put the comb down. Kerena’s hair now fell in soft coppery-gold waves around her face. Kianna’s, glinting with red-bronze lights, was much the same. “In about a second, Mamma’s going to say -”
“I told you.” Hurriedly stripping out of their shirts and breeches, the girls pulled their new dresses on, fastening the buttons for each other. The dresses were silk, their first ever, pale cream with morningstars embroidered in gold around the hem. They even had slippers to match. “Ready?”
Gathering up their skirts, Kianna and Kerena left the room and followed their mother sedately down the path to the Flarins’ house in town. “There you are!” Lili Flarin - the aptly nicknamed ‘Fluttery’ - trilled. “My, haven’t you two grown!” Did she expect us to shrink? “My, don’t you look pretty!”
“Maybe we should call her ‘Mistress My,’” Kianna whispered. Kerena choked back giggles. Kori Flarin, fifteen, leered at the twins in their tight-bodiced dresses. Until, at least, Kerena trod hard on his foot. “Oh, I am sorry!” she said sweetly as he hopped.
Rodren Flarin, Lili’s husband, merely nodded to them. He was a taciturn man, who in their opinion didn’t deserve his family. The only other guest Lili had introduced as Masune Terios, ‘a visitor to our little town.’ Rowena had looked somewhat startled at seeing her, but recovered and curtsied briefly. There was something odd about Masune, though Kerena wasn’t sure why. She tried to guess the woman’s age and couldn’t. She could have been anywhere from twenty to forty. It was something else that was odd, though - almost familiar. Kianna, she could tell, was equally unsure.
If Rowena had been startled at meeting Masune, though, Masune was equally surprised at seeing Kerena and Kianna. She watched them all through dinner, though talking only to the adults.
“Why is she staring at us?” Kianna whispered later, when they had moved into the drawing room. Kerena shrugged. “I don’t know. But -” she glanced at Masune again and frowned - “can you see something strange around her? Almost like a glow?”
“Just for a moment -” Kianna scowled. “Who is she?”
“I want to try something.” Kerena concentrated, and thought she could see what Masune was doing. “If I - Oh!” She steadied herself. For a second she had felt something - she didn’t know what - flowing through her. Like living light.
“You glowed,” Kianna murmured. “Just for a second. I felt something too - and look at Masune.” The woman’s face displayed shock. She smoothed it quickly and continued talking to Lili, but the glow around her had vanished.
“Let me try.” Kianna concentrated in turn, looking straight at Masune. The pale light appeared around her, flickered, then grew brighter. “Am I glowing?”
“Yes.” Kerena could feel the flow of light, at a remove, through her twin. Masune was frowning. “And she’s upset, isn’t she? I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to do this.”
“Whatever it is.” Kianna let the glow disappear as Lili, fluttery as ever, stood up. “My, hasn’t it been a lovely night?” she trilled. “I’m so glad you all came. But it’s getting rather late, isn’t it? I’m sure you pretty girls need your sleep. Kori, dear boy, perhaps you’d better walk Rowena and her daughters to their house. It is rather dark out there.”
“We’ll be fine, Lili.” Rowena rose to her feet. “Thank you for inviting us. It was a very nice dinner. Goodbye, Rodren, Mistress Masune. Come on, girls.”
“Goodbye, everyone,” Kerena said sweetly, with a little curtsey.
“We had such a lovely time,” Kianna added in a near-perfect imitation of Lili’s fluting tones. “We’re so glad you invited us.” With a warning frown, their mother hurried them outside before both broke down in giggles.
Once the door closed behind them, Rowena shook her head, laughing. “You two! I’m glad Lili didn’t notice that. And Kerena, it was not nice to step on Kori’s foot, even if he was staring.”
“I thought about slapping him,” Kerena replied with a straight face, “but he wouldn’t have noticed. His head’s too hard.”
“And too empty,” Kianna added.
“That’s as may be,” but Rowena was smiling. “What I would like to know, though, is why Mistress Masune was staring at you both all night.” She frowned briefly, and Kerena remembered her expression on being introduced to Masune.
“I don’t know,” she said, not completely untruthfully. They didn’t know what it was they’d been doing. Not exactly.
“What about you, Kianna?”
Kianna shrugged. “I don’t know either.”
“Well, no matter.” But Rowena still looked concerned. They had reached the front door of their house. “Lili’s right about one thing, you do need your sleep. Go straight to bed; it’s nearly midnight. Sleep well.”
“Do you think she saw?” Kianna whispered when they were in bed.
“I think -” Kerena stopped to yawn - she was sleepy - “I think no one else could see it. Just us and Masune. But Mamma knows something about Masune we don’t. Did you see her face before?”
“Um.” Kianna snuggled into the blankets. “I’m tired. I wonder if -” She was asleep before she could finish her sentence.
Kerena lay awake for a few more minutes, wondering exactly what it was that had happened. She, too, was about to doze off when a voice in the room outside caught her attention. Suddenly she was wide awake. “Kianna!” she hissed, shaking her sister by the shoulder. “Wake up!”
Kianna groaned, rolling over. “It can’t be morning already!”
“Shh! Masune’s here!”
“What!?” Kianna sat up. “Where?”
“In the kitchen talking to Mamma. C’mon!”
Tugging the quilt around their shoulders, the twins scrambled out of bed to listen at the door, which stood slightly ajar.
“ - so young!” Rowena was protesting. “They’re just fourteen!”
“However young they are, they need to be trained.” Masune’s voice was firm. “They will be company for each other.”
“So far away - cannot they wait a year to go?”
Kerena was confused. Go where? What were they talking about?
“I do not think you fully understand.” Understand what? “Time is critical. They have already learned to touch the True Source, merely by watching me do so. If they learn that fast, Mistress Madai, waiting a year to teach them control might kill them.”
The True Source? The One Power? Kerena’s eyes were wide. Is that what we were doing? Channeling?
It could kill us?
She reached for Kianna’s hand and held it tightly. Her sister’s thoughts, she could feel, were in the same tumult as her own. We have to go to Tar Valon? We can become Aes Sedai? But this is home - we don’t know anyone outside - but we’ll still be together, won’t we? She said we would. So that’s what we saw odd about Masune! She’s Aes Sedai. How did Mamma know?
How could what we were doing kill us?
“Both of them are strong,” Masune continued. “With proper training, they could be two of the most powerful sisters in many years.”
After a long moment, their mother sighed. “Very well. I shall miss them, though. I assume I can visit them?”
“If you wish.” Then Masune turned to look straight at the two girls, though neither had made a sound. “Since you two appear to have heard everything, I do not need to explain it again. Start packing. We will leave the day after tomorrow.” The Aes Sedai swept out of the room, the door closing behind her.
“How did she know we were there?” Kerena exclaimed.
“Aes Sedai can do that, I’ve heard.” Rowena looked at them, raising an eyebrow. “And what are you doing up?”
“Listening.” There was no point in denying it.
“Then you did hear everything?” Rowena sighed. “You’re both so young. The other girls at the White Tower will all be older than you.”
“How do you know?” Kerena asked.
“And how did you know Masune was an Aes Sedai?” Kianna added.
“I went to the Tower once, when I was younger. But I didn’t have the gift.” Their mother smiled, rather sadly. “I wanted to be Yellow Ajah. My mother taught me herblore when I was a girl. I liked helping heal people.”
“I remember her,” Kianna said. “Vaguely.” Their grandmother, Kiriya, had died when they were young. Kerena remembered a gentle voice and the scent of herbs. “You’d have made a good Healer, Mamma. But then you wouldn’t have met our father, would you?”
“No,” Rowena agreed, “I wouldn’t have.”
“What was he like?” Kerena asked. Their mother had never spoken much about their father. “Did you love him?”
“Madly - for a while.” Rowena’s smile turned dreamy. “Everyone fell in love with him - he was like that, but he never stayed long with any one woman. He was a wanderer by nature. He would never have made a good husband - that was why I never told him I was carrying you. He left a few months before you were born.”
“Do we look like him?”
“A little.” Rowena studied her daughters. “You both have his smile - he used to smile like that, as if he knew a wonderful secret that he wasn’t telling anyone.” She laughed as Kianna reached up to touch her mouth. “You may not see it, but it’s there. And you have his colouring, Keren, although his hair was even brighter than yours. You look more like me than him, though.”
“Was he a twin?” Kianna said curiously. “I read somewhere that twinning runs in families. Or was it in yours?”
“He wasn’t as far as I know. My grandmother, your great-grandmother Libiya, was a twin. Her sister, Linia, died when my mother was twelve.” A shadow passed over Rowena’s face. “Libiya died of grief only a week later.”
“But that won’t happen to us,” Kerena said. She linked her arm through Kianna’s, smiling. “After all, we’re going to the Tower. And Aes Sedai live practically forever, don’t they? We’ll always be together.”
“I do hope so.” But the shadow still lay over Rowena’s eyes.