The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 122



I can feel it, but it might as well be on the moon as far as touching it. And even if it does work, what if I take us someplace we can't breathe? What good will that do Mat? Or the Horn?"
"You are the Dragon Reborn," she said quietly. "Oh, you can die, but I don't think the Pattern will let you die until it is done with you. Then again, the Shadow lies on the Pattern, now, and who can say how that affects the weaving? All you can do is follow your destiny."
"I am Rand al'Thor," he growled. "I am not the Dragon Reborn. I won't be a false Dragon."
"You are what you are. Will you choose, or will you stand here until your friend dies?"
Rand heard his teeth grinding and forced himself to unclench his jaw. The symbols could all have been exactly alike, for all they meant to him. The script could as well have been a chicken's scratchings. At last he settled on one, with an arrow pointing left because it pointed toward Toman Head, an arrow that pierced the circle because it had broken free, as he wanted to. He wanted to laugh. Such small things on which

"Come closer," Verin ordered the others. "It will be best if you are near." They obeyed, with only a little hesitation.
"It is time to begin," she said as they gathered round.
She threw back her cloak and put her hands on the column, but Rand saw her watching him from the corner of her eye. He was aware of nervous coughing and throatclearing from the men around the Stone, a curse from Uno at someone hanging back, a weak joke from Mat, a loud gulp from Loial. He took the void.
It was so easy, now. The flame consumed fear and passion and was gone almost before he thought to form it. Gone, leaving only emptiness, and shining saidin, sickening, tantalizing, stomachturning, seductive. He... reached for it... and it filled him, made him alive. He did not move a muscle, but he felt as if he were quivering with the rush of the One Power into him. The symbol formed itself, an arrow piercing a circle, floating just beyond the void, as hard as the stuff it was carved on. He let the One Power flow through him to the symbol.
The symbol shimmered, flickered.
"Something is happening," Verin said. "Something ..."
The world flickered.
The iron lock spun across the farmhouse floor, and Rand dropped the hot teakettle as a huge figure with ram's horns on its head loomed in the doorway with the darkness of Winternight behind it.
"Run!" Tam shouted. His sword flashed, and the Trolloc toppled, but it grappled with Tam as it fell, pulling him down.
More crowded in at the door, blackmailed shapes with human faces distorted with muzzles and beaks and horns, oddly curved swords stabbing at Tam as he tried to struggle to his feet, spiked axes swinging, red blood on steel.
"Father!" Rand screamed. Clawing his belt knife from its sheath, he threw himself over the table to help his father, and screamed again as the first sword ran through his chest.
Blood bubbled up into his mouth, and a voice whispered inside his head, I have won again, Lews Therin.
Flicker.
Rand struggled to hold the symbol, dimly aware of Verin's voice. "... is not..."
The Power flooded.
Flicker.
Rand was happy after he married Egwene, and tried to not let the moods take him, the times when he thought there should have been something more, something different. News of the world outside came into the Two Rivers with peddlers, and merchants come to buy wool and tabac, always news of fresh troubles, of wars and false Dragons everywhere. There was a year when neither merchants nor peddlers came, and when they returned the next they brought word that Artur Hawkwing's armies had come back, or their descendants, at least. The old nations were broken, it was said, and the world's new masters, who used chained Aes Sedai in their battles, had torn down the White Tower and salted the ground where Tar Valon had stood. There were no more Aes Sedai.
It all made little difference in the Two Rivers. Crops still had to be planted, sheep sheared, lambs tended. Tam had grandsons and granddaughters to dandle on his knee before he was laid to rest beside his wife, and the old farmhouse grew new rooms. Egwene became Wisdom, and most thought she was even better than the old Wisdom, Nynaeve al'Maera, had been. It was as well she was, for her cures that worked so miraculously on others were only just able to keep Rand alive from the sickness that constantly seemed to threaten him. His moods grew worse, blacker, and he raged that this was not what was meant to be. Egwene grew frightened when the moods were on him, for strange things sometimes happened when he was at his bleakest - lightning storms she had not heard listening to the wind, wildfires in the forest - but she loved him and cared for him and kept him sane, though some muttered that Rand al'Thor was crazy and dangerous.
When she died, he sat alone for long hours by her grave, tears soaking his grayflecked beard. His sickness came back, and he wasted; he lost the last two fingers on his right hand and one on his left, his ears looked like scars, and men muttered that he smelled of decay. His blackness deepened.
Yet when the dire news came, none refused to accept him at their side. Trollocs and Fades and things undreamed of had burst out of the Blight, and the world's new masters were being thrown back, for all the powers they wielded. So Rand took up the bow he had just fingers enough left to shoot and limped with those who marched north to the River Taren, men from every village, farm, and corner of the Two Rivers, with their bows, and axes, and boarspears, and swords that had lain rusting in attics. Rand wore a sword, too, with a heron on the blade, that he had found after Tam died, though he knew nothing of how to use it. Women came, too, shouldering what weapons they could find, marching alongside the men. Some laughed, saying that they had the strange feeling they had done this before.
And at the Taren the people of the Two Rivers met the invaders, endless ranks of Trollocs led by nightmare Fades beneath a dead black banner that seemed to eat the light. Rand saw that banner and thought the madness had taken him again, for it seemed that this was what he had been born for, to fight that banner. He sent every arrow at it, straight as his skill and the void would serve, never worrying about the Trollocs forcing their way across the river, or the men and women dying to either side of him. It was one of those Trollocs that ran him through, before it loped howling for blood deeper into the Two Rivers. And as he lay on the bank of the Taren, watching the sky seem to grow dark at noon, breath coming ever slower, he heard a voice say, I have won again, Lews Therin.
Flicker.
The arrowandcircle contorted into parallel wavy lines, and he fought it back again.
Verin's voice. " ... right. Something ..."
ged.
Flicker.
Tam tried to console Rand when Egwene took sick and died just a week before their wedding. Nynaeve tried, too, but she was shaken herself, since for all her skill she had no idea what it was that had killed the girl. Rand had sat outside Egwene's house while she died, and there seemed to be nowhere in Emond's Field he could go that he did not still hear her screaming. He knew he could not stay. Tam gave him a sword with a heronmark blade, and though he explained little of how a shepherd in the Two Rivers had come by such a thing, he taught Rand how to use it. On the day Rand left, Tam gave him a letter he said might get Rand taken into the army of Illian, and hugged him, and said, "I've never had another son, or wanted another. Come back with a wife like I did, if you can, boy, but come back in any case."
Rand had his money stolen in Baerlon, though, and his letter of introduction, and almost his sword, and he met a woman called Min who told him such crazy things about himself that he finally left the city to get away from her. Eventually his wanderings brought him to Caemlyn, and there his skill with the sword earned him a place in the Queen's Guards. Sometimes he found himself looking at the DaughterHeir, Elayne, and at such times he was filled with odd thoughts that this was not the way things were supposed to be, that there should be something more to his life. Elayne did not look at him, of course; she married a Tairen prince, though she did not seem happy in it. Rand was just a soldier, once a shepherd from a small village so far toward the western border that only lines on a map any longer truly connected it to Andor. Besides, he had a dark reputation,

Some said he was mad, and in ordinary times perhaps not even his skill with the sword would have kept him in the Guard, but these were not ordinary times. False Dragons sprang up like weeds. Every time one was taken down, two more proclaimed themselves, or three, till every nation was torn by war. And Rand's star rose, for he had learned the secret of his madness, a secret he knew he had to keep and did. He could channel.

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