The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 129

Liandrin replaced the Avendesora leaf and rode through the closing Waygate leading the packhorse.
Liandrin did not wait for the gate to finish closing, but tossed the lead line of the packhorse to Min without a word and started along a white line, dimly made out by the light of her lantern, leading into the Ways. The floor seemed to be stone, eaten and pitted by acid. Egwene scrambled hurriedly onto Bela's back, but she was no quicker to follow the Aes Sedai than anyone else. There seemed to be nothing in the world except the rough floor under the horses' hooves.
Straight as an arrow the white line led through the dark to a large stone slab covered with Ogier script inlaid in silver. The same pocking that marked the floor also broke the script in places.
"A Guiding," Elayne murmured, twisting in her saddle to look around uneasily. "Elaida taught me a little about the Ways. She would not say much. Not enough," she added glumly. "Or maybe too much."
Calmly Liandrin compared the Guiding with a parchment, then stuffed it back into a pocket of her cloak before Egwene could get a look.
Their lanterns' light stopped abruptly rather than fading out at the edges, but it was enough for Egwene to see a thick stone balustrade, eaten away in places, as the Aes Sedai led them away from the Guiding. An Island, Elayne called it; the darkness made judging the Island's size difficult, but Egwene thought it might be a hundred paces across.
Stone bridges and ramps pierced the balustrade, each with a stone post beside it marked with a single line in Ogier script. The bridges seemed to arch out into nothing. The ramps led up or down. It was impossible to see more than the beginning of any of them, as they rode past.
Pausing only to eye the stone posts, Liandrin took a ramp that led down, and quickly there was nothing but the ramp and the darkness. A dampening silence hung over everything; Egwene had the feeling that even the clatter of the horses' hooves on the rough stone did not travel very far beyond the light.
Down and down the ramp ran, curving back on itself, until it reached another Island, with its broken balustrade between bridges and ramps, its Guiding that Liandrin compared with her parchment. The Island seemed like solid stone, just as the first one had. Egwene wished she was not sure that the first Island was directly over their heads.
Nynaeve spoke up suddenly, voicing Egwene's thoughts. Her voice sounded steady, but she paused to swallow in the middle of it.
"It - it might be," Elayne said faintly. Her eyes rolled upwards, and quickly dropped again. "Elaida says the rules of nature do not hold in the Ways. At least, not the way they do outside."
"Light!" Min muttered, then raised her voice. "How long do you mean us to stay in here?"
The Aes Sedai's honeycolored braids swung as she turned to regard them. "Until I take you out," she said flatly. "The more you bother me, the longer that will be." She bent back to studying the parchment and the Guiding.
Egwene and the others fell silent.
Liandrin pushed on from Guiding to Guiding, by ramps and bridges that seemed to run unsupported through the endless dark. The Aes Sedai paid very little heed to the rest of them, and Egwene found herself wondering whether Liandrin would turn back to search if one of them fell behind. The others perhaps had the same thought, for they all rode bunched tightly on the dark mare's heels.
Egwene was surprised to realize that she still felt the attraction of saidar, both the presence of the female half of the True Source and the desire to touch it, to channel its flow. Somehow, she had thought the Shadow's taint on the Ways would hide it from her. She could sense that taint, after a fashion. It was faint and had nothing to do with saidar, but she was sure that reaching for the True Source here would be like baring her arm to foul, greasy smoke in order to reach a clean cup. Whatever she did would be tainted. For the first time in weeks she had no trouble at all in resisting the attraction of saidar.
It was well into what would have been night in the world outside the Ways when, on an Island, Liandrin abruptly dismounted and announced that they would halt for supper and sleep, and that there was food on the packhorse.
"Parcel it out," she said, not bothering to assign the task. "It will take us the better part of two days to reach Toman Head. I would not have you arrive hungry if you were too foolish to bring food yourselves." Briskly she unsaddled and hobbled her mare, but then she sat down on her saddle and waited for one of them to b

Elayne took Liandrin her flatbread and cheese. The Aes Sedai made it obvious that she did not want their company, so the rest of them ate their bread and cheese a little apart from her, sitting on their saddles drawn close together. The darkness beyond their lanterns made a poor sauce.
After a time, Egwene said, "Liandrin Sedai, what if we encounter the Black Wind?" Min mouthed the word questioningly, but Elayne gave a squeak. "Moiraine Sedai said it could not be killed, or even hurt very much, and I can feel the taint on this place waiting to twist anything we do with the Power."
"You will not so much as think of the Source unless I tell you to," Liandrin said sharply. "Why, if one such as you tried to channel here, in the Ways, you might well go as mad as a man. You have not the training to deal with the taint of those men who made this. If the Black Wind appears, I will deal with it." She pursed her lips, studying a lump of white cheese. "Moiraine does not know so much as she thinks." She popped the cheese into her mouth with a smile.
"I do not like her," Egwene muttered, low enough to make sure the Aes Sedai could not hear.
"If Moiraine can work with her," Nynaeve said quietly, "so can we. Not that I like Moiraine any better than I do Liandrin, but if they're meddling with Rand and the others again ..." She fell silent, hitching her cloak up. The darkness was not cold, but it seemed as if it should be.
"What is this Black Wind?" Min asked. When Elayne had explained, with a great deal of what Elaida had said and what her mother had said, Min sighed. "The Pattern has a great deal to answer for. I don't know that any man is worth this."
"You did not have to come," Egwene reminded her. "You could have gone at any time. No one would have tried to stop you leaving the Tower."
"Oh, I could have wandered off," Min said wryly. "As easily as you, or Elayne. The Pattern doesn't much care what we want, Egwene, what if, after all you are going through for him, Rand doesn't marry you? What if he marries some woman you've never seen before, or Elayne, or me? What then?"
Elayne chortled. "Mother would never approve."
Egwene was silent for a time. Rand might not live to marry anyone. And if he did ... She could not imagine Rand hurting anyone. Not even after he's gone mad? There had to be some way to stop that, some way to change it; Aes Sedai knew so much, could do so much. If they could stop it, why don't they? The only answer was because they could not, and that was not the one she wanted.
She tried to put lightness in her voice. "I don't suppose I will marry him. Aes Sedai seldom do marry, you know. But I would not set my heart on him if were you. Or you, Elayne. I do not think ..." Her voice caught, and she coughed to cover it. "I do not think he will ever marry. But if he does, I wish well to whoever ends up with him, even one of you." She thought she sounded as if she meant it. "He is stubborn as a mule, and wrongheaded to a fault, but he is gentle." Her voice shook, but she managed to turn the quaver into a laugh.
"However much you say you do not care," Elayne said, "I think you'd approve less than Mother would. He is interesting, Egwene. More interesting than any man I've ever met, even if he is a shepherd.
If you are silly enough to throw him away, you will have only yourself to blame if I decide to face down you and Mother both. It would not be the first time the Prince of Andor had no title before he wed. But you won't be that silly, so don't try to pretend you will. No doubt you will choose the Green Ajah, and make him one of your Warders. The only Greens I know with only one Warder are married to them."
Egwene made herself go along with it, saying if she did become a Green she would have ten Warders.
Min watched her, frowning, and Nynaeve watched Min thoughtfully. They all fell silent by the time they changed into more suitable clothes for traveling, from their saddlebags. It was not easy, keeping spirits up in that place.
Sleep came slowly to Egwene, fitfully, and it was filled with bad dreams. She did not dream of Rand, but of the man whose eyes were fire. His face was not masked this time, and it was horrible with almost healed burns. He only looked at her and laughed, but that was worse than the dreams that followed, the dreams of being lost in the Ways forever, the ones where the Black Wind was chasing her.

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