The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 127



I'll help you somehow.

(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 39
(Leaf)
Flight From the White Tower
Egwene and Elayne inclined their heads briefly to each group of women they passed as they made their way through the Tower. It was a good thing, there were so many women from outside in the Tower today, Egwene thought, too many for each to have an Aes Sedai or an Accepted for escort. Alone or in small groups, garbed richly or poorly, in dress from half a dozen different lands, some still dusty from their journey to Tar Valon, they kept to themselves and waited their turn to ask their questions of the Aes Sedai, or present their petitions. Some women - ladies or merchants or merchants' wives - had female servants with them. Even a few men had come with petitions, standing by themselves, looking unsure about being in the White Tower, and eyeing everyone else uneasily.
In the lead, Nynaeve kept her eyes purposefully ahead, her cloak swirling behind her, walking as if she knew where they were going - which she did, as long as no one stopped them - and had a perfect right to go there - which was a different matter altogether, of course. Dressed now in the clothes they had brought to Tar Valon, they certainly did not look like residents of the Tower. Each had chosen her best dress that had a skirt divided for riding, and cloaks of fine wool rich with embroidery. As long as they kept away from all who might recognize them - they had already dodged several who knew their faces - Egwene thought they might make it.
"This would do better for a turn in some lord's park than a ride to Toman Head," Nynaeve had said dryly as Egwene helped her with the buttons of a gray silk with threadofgold work and pearled flowers across the bosom and down the sleeves, "but it may allow us to leave unnoticed."
hifted her cloak and smoothed her own goldembroidered, green silk dress and glanced at Elayne, in blue slashed with cream, hoping Nynaeve had been right. So far, everyone had taken them for petitioners, nobles, or at least women of wealth, but it seemed that they should stand out. She was surprised to realize why; she felt uncomfortable in the fine dress after wearing a novice's plain white for the past few months.
A little cluster of village women in stout, dark woolens dropped curtsies as they passed. Egwene glanced back at Min as soon as they were beyond. Min had kept her breeches and baggy man's shirt under a boy's brown cloak and coat, with an old, widebrimmed hat pulled down over her short hair. "One of us has to be the servant," she had said, laughing. "Women dressed the way you are always have at least one. You'll wish you had my breeches if we have to run." She was burdened with four sets of saddlebags bulging with warm clothes, for it would surely be winter before they returned. There were also packets of food pilfered from the kitchens, enough to last

"Are you sure I can't carry some of those, Min?" Egwene asked softly.
"They're just awkward," Min said with a grin, "not heavy." She seemed to think it was all a game, or else was pretending to think so. "And people would be sure to wonder why a fine lady such as yourself was carrying her own saddlebags. You can carry yours - and mine, too, if you want - once we - " Her grin vanished, and she whispered fiercely, "Aes Sedai!"
Egwene whipped her eyes forward. An Aes Sedai with long, smooth black hair and agedivory skin was coming toward them down the corridor, listening to a woman wearing rough farm clothes and a patched cloak. The Aes Sedai had not seen them yet, but Egwene recognized her; Takima, of the Brown Ajah, who taught the history of the White Tower and Aes Sedai, and who could recognize one of her pupils at a hundred paces.
Nynaeve turned down a side hall without breaking stride, but there one of the Accepted, a lanky woman with a permanent frown, hurried past them hauling a redfaced novice by the ear.
Egwene had to swallow before she could speak. "That was Irella, and Else. Did they notice us?" She could not make herself look back to see.
"No," Min said after a moment. "All they saw was our clothes." Egwene let out a long, relieved breath, and heard one from Nynaeve, too.
"My heart may burst before we reach the stables," Elayne murmured. "Is this what an adventure is like all the time, Egwene? Your heart in your mouth, and your stomach in your feet?"
"I suppose it is," Egwene said slowly. She found it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories. Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness. She told Elayne as much.
"Still," the DaughterHeir said firmly, "I have never had any real excitement before, and never likely to as long as Mother has any say in it, which she will until I take the throne myself."
"You two be quiet," Nynaeve said. They were alone in the hall for a change, with no one in sight in either direction. She pointed to a narrow flight of stairs going down. "That should be what we want. If I haven't gotten turned around completely, with all the twists and turns we've made."
She took the stairs as if she were certain anyway, and the others followed. Surely enough, the small door at the bottom let out into the dusty yard of the South Stable, where novices' horses were kept, for those who had them, until they had need of mounts again, which was generally not until they became Accepted or were sent home. The gleaming bulk of the Tower itself rose behind them; the Tower grounds spread over a good many hides of land, with its own walls higher than some city walls.
Nynaeve strode into the stable as if she owned it. It had a clean smell of hay and horse, and two long rows of stalls ran back into shadows barred with light from the vents above. For a wonder, shaggy Bela and Nynaeve's gray mare stood in stalls near the doors. Bela put her nose over the stall door and whickered softly to Egwene. There was only one groom in evidence, a pleasantlooking fellow with gray in his beard, chewing a straw.

"We will have our horses saddled," Nynaeve told him in her most commanding tone. "Those two. Min, find your horse. and Elayne's." Min dropped the saddlebags and drew Elayne deeper into the stables.
The stableman frowned after them and slowly took the straw from his mouth. "There must be some mistake, my Lady. Those animals -"
"- are ours," Nynaeve said firmly, folding her arms so that the Serpent ring was obvious. "You will saddle them now."
Egwene held her breath; it was a lastditch plan, that Nynaeve would try to pass as an Aes Sedai if they had difficulties with anyone who might actually accept her as one. No Aes Sedai or Accepted would, of course, and probably not even a novice, but a stableman ...
The man blinked at Nynaeve's ring, then at her. "I was told two," he said at last, sounding unimpressed. "One of the Accepted and a novice. Wasn't nothing said about four of you."
Egwene felt like laughing. Of course Liandrin would not have believed them able to get their horses by themselves.
Nynaeve looked disappointed, and her voice sharpened. "You trot those horses out and saddle them, or you'll have need of Liandrin's Healing, if she will give it to you."
The groom mouthed Liandrin's name, but one look at Nynaeve's face and he saw to the horses with no more than a mutter or two, not loud enough for any but himself to hear. Min and Elayne came back with their own mounts just as he finished tightening the second girth. Min's was a tall dustcolored gelding, Elayne's a bay mare with an arched neck.
When they were mounted, Nynaeve addressed herself to the stableman again. "No doubt you were told to keep this quiet, and that hasn't changed whether we are two or two hundred. If you think it has, think about what Liandrin will do if you talk what you were told to keep quiet."
As they were riding out, Elayne tossed him a coin and murmured, "For your trouble, goodman. You have done well." Outside, she caught Egwene's eye and smiled. "Mother says a stick and honey always work better than a stick alone."
"I hope we don't need either with the guards," Egwene said. "I hope Liandrin spoke to them, too."
#39;s Gate, though, piercing the tall south wall of the Tower grounds, there was no telling if anyone had spoken to the guards or not. They waved the four women through with no more than a glance and a cursory bow. Guards were meant to keep out those who were dangerous; apparently these had no orders about keeping anyone in.
A cool river breeze gave them an excuse to pull up the hoods of their cloaks as they rode slowly through the streets of the city. The ring of their horses' hooves on the paving stones was lost in the murmur of the crowds filling the streets and the music that came from some of the buildings they passed. People dressed in garments from every land, from the dark and somber mode of Cairhien to the bright, brilliant colors of the Traveling People, and every style in between, split around the horsewomen like a river around a rock, but they still could not move at more than a slow walk.

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