Eluin Narmande dragged one slipper-clad toe through the dust at her feet, watching the toe of her shoe poke out beyond the seven colored bands at the hem of her dress. Somehow she thought being Accepted would be more exciting than it had turned out to be. She still loved the rush of holding Saidar, letting it fill and guide her; but she spent far too little time channeling and too much doing, well, chores. Before, her chores had included a lot more cleaning and physical work, and now it was more mental drudgery. Shepherding Novices – had she really been that empty headed as a Novice? – and running errands for the Aes Sedai. And what time she did spend channeling was never-ending practice of the hundred weaves. She was on weave number 19, which was good progress, considering how recently she’d been raised. Or so she was told.
But for now she sat in the gardens. She did have more free time than she’d had in Novice white. Not that she had anything fun to do to fill it. Another scrape of her toe in the dust. She let out a barely perceptible sigh. Then the butt end of a quarterstaff thumped down in the dust by her feet, kicking up a cloud that made her cough and sputter. “Something got you down, huh?” A young man’s voice, kind but somehow cheeky at the same time.
She looked up, surprised that someone had spoken to her. He was tallish and thin, graceful somehow, with sparkling brown eyes and messy brown hair. He wore travel-worn clothes and leaned on the staff a little more than she expected. He’d been recently ill, she thought. Pale around the eyes and lips. She’d been training a bit with the Yellows lately, and she could read the signs. Many people came to the Tower for healing, not that many stayed to talk to random Accepted in the gardens.
He quirked a grin at her. “Matrim Cauthon. You can call me Mat. Mind if I sit?” She shook her head and he sat, struggling to hide his heavy breathing from her. “So what’s got you out here looking so grim?” He asked her. “Isn’t this all sort of your … thing? All this,” his voice twisted with something akin to fear, “Aes Sedai… stuff.”
“Ha.” She snorted. “It is. It should be. It is.” she tipped her head sideways, “I’m just a little….”
“Bored.” He supplied. “It’s a lot of rules, isn’t it?” She nodded ruefully wondering what on earth had inspired him to sit down in the first place. She felt a little bit disloyal even to be thinking what he so easily spoke. “I don’t suppose you have any badgers around here?” He asked idly. A little twinkle shone in his eye.
Eluin sat upright. “BADGERS? No. No badgers.” She was forced to chuckle, imagining him carrying around a badger by the tail. “There’s a litter of new piglets in the sty though…” His grin broadened and she laughed despite herself.
“Piglets are good. Piglets and a little bit of grease are even better. Want to get this place hopping? You look like you could do with remembering how to have a little fun.”
She rolled her head back laughing. Piglets. Oh she wouldn’t dare, would she? That kind of prank was the sort of thing Novices did, it was beneath her dignity as an Accepted, wasn’t it? She snorted back giggles again. “Alright, let’s go then.” She said, abruptly standing and smoothing out her skirts.
“Now that’s the spirit!” Mat said, with his whole face laughing, “Even you White Tower people deserve to have a good time every now and then. We are going to need a sack, and some butter if you can get it.” Eluin thought for a moment, rubbing her temples as she formulated a plan.
“I can get those, from the kitchen, but I can’t take you in there. Can you meet me by the pigsty in half an hour?” He winked at her and stood, slipping away as quickly as he had arrived. She felt a little dizzy from the gales of laughter she was suppressing, but forced herself to proper calm as she walked to the kitchen. A plain burlap sack was easily found, and nobody much would notice if one went missing. The butter was a bit harder. An invented errand from a Brown sister – they likely wouldn’t even remember that they hadn’t sent her – got her into the kitchens. And when Laras was distracted she managed to pop a pound of butter and a small bag of flour into her sack and scurry out of sight before anybody noticed the theft. The flour was her own innovation. Slippery, wiggly, powdery pigs ought to be a sight to behold!
Matrim was waiting for her when she rounded the corner by the pig sties. He leaned nonchalantly against the wall, chewing a long piece of grass with his long legs crossed in front of him. Eluin slung the sack at his feet, gesturing to it with one hand. “I got a few extras while I was there.” Her face lit with a wide smile as she watched him pull out the butter and flour.
“Oh, excellent,” he pronounced, straightening up with the assistance of his staff. “I suppose this next part is my job.” He rolled up his sleeves, eyeing the pigpen with a mix of anticipation and distaste. “You know they’re almost as hard to catch without the butter…” He hopped the fence with a smooth motion that bespoke many fences hopped in the past, and set to work catching the litter of piglets.
Eluin watched, shaking with gales of silent laughter, until tears streamed down her face. The piglets were as hard to catch as advertised, and Mat was, well, gawky. He slipped, slid, splashed, and tumbled through the pig wallow, every so often letting out a curse that would blister the ears of a Tairen sailor. But with each piglet he captured and deposited in the sack his smile grew. In the end they had fourteen piglets wiggling in the sack.
“Would you like to do the honors?” He asked, making a mocking bow in her direction.
“But of course!” she giggled back, curtseying elaborately, and then ceremoniously dumped the wedge of butter into the sack. A quick slit with her belt knife and the contents of the flour sack followed, with a little white puff rising up from the mouth of the sack. The piglets wiggled satisfyingly.
Mat gave the sack an approving poke with the butt end of his staff. “That should stir them up a bit. Get them good and well… buttery. Now where shall we deliver this package of ours?”
Eluin had given this some thought and had the perfect answer ready. “The Novices’ dining hall, of course. I can make sure you’re there to watch.” The Novices had their dinner only a short time from now, which made the timing perfect for their little prank.
Mat glowed with satisfaction. “Good! I have a friend who might be there too…” he cleared his throat, “enjoy the show.” He slung the sack over one shoulder and followed her as she led him quickly through the halls and passageways of the Tower to the unassuming Novices’ quarters. Their dining hall was wide and bare, with smooth scrubbed wooden tables and benches running the length of it. They deposited their bundle under one of the central tables and Mat crawled underneath. Eluin couldn’t quite see what he was doing, but he narrated as he worked. “This uh, will make sure that they get loose easily once they start trying to wiggle out of this bag, the cord holding it closed should just fall to pieces with a little bit of work.” There was a bump and a curse from under the table and he emerged, looking satisfied. “Nothing left to do but watch.”
She took him to an alcove on the far side of the hallway where they had an unobstructed view of the dining hall and waited. The Novices filed in shortly, carrying their trays from the kitchens and sat down in groups and clusters around the long tables. Mat seemed to watch a girl with long dark hair especially closely. Egwene al’Vere, Eluin thought her name was, a close friend of the Daughter Heir of Andor, Elayne Trakand. The two of them sat together near the end of the table where the pigs were. Mat let out an audible chuckle when they sat down and she silenced him with a glare.
Suddenly the quiet murmur of conversation was split by an ear shattering squeal. A shriek followed as a white clad Novice jumped to her feet. A dusty white piglet burst from under the hems of her skirt squealing at the top of its lungs, followed by another. And another. Chaos ensued. Novices screamed, Novices ran back and forth and stood on the tables, piglets squealed and dived under tables and skirts. Flour flew, coating the hands and faces of the Novices and hanging in the air like a cloud of chalk. One red-haired girl fainted. It was glorious. Eluin bit the back of her hand to smother her laughter. She glanced to the side and saw Mat was burying his face in his sleeve, but his eyes crinkled with mirth. Egwene, the dark haired Novice, stood calmly in the center of the chaos looking equal parts amused and exasperated. She scanned the doorways as if she knew who she was looking for and for a moment she locked eyes with Mat. A tiny shake of her head and the faintest imaginable scowl, before she looked away again.
“I think that’s our cue to go!” Mat whispered in her ear, as he slipped away, headed back toward the garden bench where they’d first met. She followed him. As they left they heard the raised voice of Sheriam Sedai the Mistress of Novices, beginning to quiet the chaos.
Safely away, they collapsed back on the bench. Mat looked completely winded, and Eluin felt a flash of remorse for letting him exert himself so much when she knew he’d been sick. But only a flash. He stood and made another of those slightly mocking bows to her. “It’s time for me to return to my rooms, before they notice how long I’ve been gone and send someone to look after me. But it has been a pleasure to remind you how to have fun, Eluin Narmande.”
She stuck out a hand to clasp his, “A very great pleasure indeed, Matrim Cauthon. And one I will never forget!”