The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 128

Egwene gave no attention to the fabulous towers with their skyborne bridges or the buildings that looked more like breaking waves, or windsculpted cliffs, or fanciful shells, than anything made from stone. Aes Sedai often went into the city, and in that crowd they could come facetoface with one before they knew it. After a time she realized the other women were keeping as close a watch as she, but she still felt more than a glimmer of relief when the O

The Great Trees were now visible beyond the rooftops, their spreading tops a hundred spans and more in the air. Towering oaks and elms, leatherleafs and firs, were dwarfed beneath them. A wall of sorts encompassed the grove, which was a good two miles across, but it was only an endless series of spiraling stone arches, each five spans high and twice as wide. By the outer side of the wall, carriages, carts, and people bustled along a street, while inside lay a wilderness of sorts. The grove had neither the tame look of a park nor the complete haphazardness of the forest depths. Rather, it seemed to be the ideal of nature, as if this were the perfect woods, the most beautiful forest that could be. Some of the leaves had already begun to turn, and even the small swathes of orange and yellow and red among the green seemed to Egwene to be exactly the way autumn foliage should look.
A few people strolled just inside the open arches, and no one looked twice when the four women rode in under the trees. The city was quickly lost to view, even the sounds of it softened, then blocked, by the grove. In the space of ten strides they seemed to be miles from the nearest town.
"The north edge of the grove, she said," Nynaeve muttered, peering around. "There isn't any point of it further north than -" She cut off as two horses burst from a copse of black elder, a dark, glossy mare with a rider and a lightly laden packhorse.
The dark mare reared, pawing the air, as Liandrin reined her harshly. The Aes Sedai's face wore fury like a mask. "I told you not to tell anyone of this! Not anyone!" Egwene noticed polelanterns on the packhorse, and thought it odd.
"These are friends," Nynaeve began, her back stiffening, but Elayne broke in on her.
"Forgive us, Liandrin Sedai. They did not tell us; we overheard. We did not mean to listen to anything we should not have, but we did overhear. And we want to help Rand al'Thor, too. And the other boys, of course," she added quickly.
Liandrin peered at Elayne and Min. The late afternoon sunlight, slanting through the branches, shadowed their faces beneath the hoods of their cloaks. "So," she said finally, still watching those two. "I had made arrangements for you to be taken care of, but as you are here, you are here. Four can make this journey as well as two."
"Taken care of, Liandrin Sedai?" Elayne said. "I do not understand."
"Child, you and that other are known as friends of these two. Do you not think there are those who would question you when they are found to be gone? Do you believe the Black Ajah would be gentle with you just because you are heir to a throne? Had you remained in the White Tower, you might not have lived the night." That silenced them all for a moment, but Liandrin wheeled her horse and called, "Follow me!"
The Aes Sedai led them deeper into the grove, until they came to a tall fence of stout ironwork topped with a hedge of razorsharp spikes. Curving slightly, as if it enclosed a large area, the fence ran out of sight among the trees to left and right. There was a gate in the fence, secured with a big lock. Liandrin unfastened this with a large key she produced from her cloak, motioned them through, then relocked it behind them and rode on ahead immediately. A squirrel chittered at them from a branch overhead, and from somewhere came the sharp drumming of a woodpecker.
"Where are we going?" Nynaeve demanded. Liandrin did not answer, and Nynaeve looked angrily at the others. "Why are we just riding deeper into these woods? We have to cross a bridge, or else take ship, if we're going to leave Tar Valon, and there isn't any bridge or ship in-"
"There is this," Liandrin announced. "The fence, it keeps away those who might harm themselves, but we have a need this day." What she gestured to was a tall, thick slab of what seemed to be stone, standing on edge, one side carved intricately in vines and leaves.
Egwene's throat tightened; suddenly she knew why Liandrin had brought lanterns, and she did not like what she knew. She heard Nynaeve whisper, "A Waygate." They both remembered the Ways all too well.
"We did it once," she told herself as much as Nynaeve. "We can do it again." If Rand and the others need us, we have to help them. That's all there is to it.
"Is that really ...?" Min began in a choked voice and could not finish.
"A Waygate," Elayne breathed. "I did not think the Ways could be used any longer. At least, I did not think their use was allowed."
Liandrin had already dismounted and plucked the trefoil Avendesora leaf out of the carving; like two huge doors woven of living vines, the gates were swinging open, revealing what appeared to be a dull, silvery mirror that gave their reflections back dimly.
"You do not have to come," Liandrin said. "You can wait here for me, safely enclosed by the fence until I come for you. Or perhaps the Black Ajah will find you before anyone else." Her smile was not pleasant. Behind her, the Waygate came open to its fullest and stopped.
"I did not say I wouldn't come," Elayne said, but she gave the shadowed woods a lingering look.
"If we are going to do this," Min said hoarsely, "then let's do it." She was staring at the Waygate, and Egwene thought she heard her mutter, "The Light burn you, Rand al'Thor."
"I must go last," Liandrin said. "All of you, in. I will follow." She was eyeing the woods now, too, as if she thought someone might be following them. "Quickly! Quickly!"
Egwene did not know what Liandrin expected to see, but if anyone at all came they would probably stop them from using the Waygate. Rand, you woolheaded idiot, she thought, why can't you just once get yourself into some kind of trouble that doesn't force me to act like the heroine in a story?
She dug her heels into Bela's flanks, and the shaggy mare, restive from too much time in a stable, leaped forward.
y!" Nynaeve shouted, but it was too late.
Egwene and Bela surged toward their own dull reflections; two shaggy horses touched noses, appeared to flow into each other. Then Egwene was merging into her own image with an icy shock. Time seemed to stretch out, as if the cold crept over her by the width of one hair at a time, and every hair took minutes.
Suddenly Bela was stumbling in pitchblackness, moving so fast the mare almost pitched over on her head. She caught herself and stood trembling as Egwene dismounted hurriedly, feeling the mare's legs in the dark to see if she had been hurt. She was almost glad of the dark, to hide her crimson face.
She knew that time as well as distance were different the other side of a Waygate; she

There was only the blackness around her in every direction, except for the rectangle of the open Waygate, like a window of smoked glass when seen from this side. It let no light in - the black seemed to press right up against it - but through it Egwene could see the others, moving by the slowest increments, like figures in a nightmare. Nynaeve was insisting on handing around the polelanterns and lighting them; Liandrin was acceding with a bad grace, apparently insisting on speed.
When Nynaeve came though the Waygate - leading her gray mare slowly, ever so slowly - Egwene almost ran to hug her, and at least half of her feeling was for the lantern Nynaeve carried. The lantern made a smaller pool of light than it should have - the darkness pressed against the light, trying to force it back into the lantern - but Egwene had begun to feel that darkness pressing against her, as if it had weight. Instead, she contented herself with saying, "Bela's all right, and I did not break my neck the way I deserved to."
Once there had been light along the Ways, before the taint on the Power with which they had first been made, the taint of the Dark One on saidin, had begun to corrupt them.
Nynaeve thrust the pole of the lantern into her hands and turned to pull another from under her saddle girth. "As long as you know you deserved to," she murmured, "then you didn't deserve to." Suddenly she chuckled. "Sometimes I think it was sayings like that more than anything else that created the title of Wisdom. Well, here's another. You break your neck, and I'll see it mended just so I can break it again."
It was said lightly, and Egwene found herself laughing, too - until she recalled where she was. Nynaeve's amusement did not last long either.
Min and Elayne came though the Waygate hesitantly, leading their horses and carrying lanterns, obviously expecting to find monsters waiting at the least. They looked relieved, at first, to find nothing but darkness, but the oppressiveness of it soon had them shifting nervously from foot to foot.

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