The Great Hunt: Page 130
She was grateful when the toe of Liandrin's riding boot dug into her ribs to waken her; she felt as if she had not slept at all.
Liandrin pushed them hard through the next day, or what passed for day, with only their lanterns for a sun, not letting them stop for sleep until they were swaying in their saddles. Stone made a hard bed, but Liandrin roused them ruthlessly after a few hours, hardly waiting for them to mount before riding on. Ramps and bridges, Islands and Guidings. Egwene saw so many of them in that pitchdark that she lost count. She had long since lost any count of hours or of days. Liandrin allowed only brief halts to eat and rest the horses, and the darkness weighed down on their shoulders. They slumped in their saddles like sacks of grain, except for Liandrin. The Aes Sedai seemed unaffected by tiredness, or the dark. She was as fresh as she had been back in the White Tower, and as cold. She would not let anyone glimpse the parchment she compared to the Guidings, stuffing it away with a curt, "It is nothing you would understand," when Nynaeve asked.
And then, while Egwene blinked wearily, Liandrin was riding away from a Guiding, not toward another bridge or ramp, but down a pitted white line that led off into the darkness. Egwene stared at her friends, and then they all hurried to follow. Ahead, by the light of her lantern, the Aes Sedai was already removing the Avendesora leaf from the carvings on a Waygate.
"We are here," Liandrin said, smiling. "I have brought you at last to where you must go."
(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 40
Egwene dismounted as the Waygate opened, and when Liandrin motioned them through, she led the shaggy mare carefully out. Even so, she and Bela both stumbled in brush flattened by the opening Waygate as they suddenly seemed to be moving even more slowly. A screen of dense shrubs had surrounded and hidden the Waygate. There were only a few trees close by, and a morning breeze ruffled foliage with a little more color than the leaves had had in Tar Valon.
Watching her friends emerge after her, she had been standing there a good minute before she became aware that others were already there, just out of sight on the other side of the gates. When she did notice them she stared uncertainly; they were as odd a group as she had ever seen, and she had heard too many rumors
Armored men, at least fifty of them, with overlapping steel plates down their chests and dull black helmets shaped like insects' heads, sat their saddles or stood beside their horses, staring at her and the emerging women, staring at the Waygate, muttering among themselves. The only bareheaded man among them, a tall, darkfaced, hooknosed fellow standing with a gildedandpainted helmet on his hip, looked astonished at what he was seeing. There were women with the soldiers, too. Two wore plain, dark gray dresses and wide silver collars, and stood staring intently at those coming out of the Waygate, each with another woman close behind her as if ready to speak into her ear. Two other women, standing a little apart, wore wide, divided skirts that came well short of their ankles, and panels embroidered with forked lightning bolts on their bosoms and skirts. Oddest of all was the last woman, reclining on a palanquin borne by eight muscular, barechested men in baggy black trousers. The sides of her scalp were shaved so that only a wide crest of black hair remained to fall down her back. A long, creamcolored robe worked in flowers and birds on blue ovals was carefully arranged to show her skirts of pleated white, and her fingernails were a good inch long, the first two on each hand lacquered blue.
"Liandrin Sedai," Egwene asked uneasily, "do you know who these people are?" Her friends fingered their reins as if wondering whether to mount and run, but Liandrin replaced the Avendesora leaf and stepped forward confidently as the Waygate began to close.
"The High Lady Suroth?" Liandrin said, making it halfway between a question and statement.
The women on the palanquin nodded fractionally. "You are Liandrin." Her speech was slurred, and it took Egwene a moment to understand. "Aes Sedai," Suroth added with a twist to her lips, and a murmur rose among the soldiers. "We must be done here quickly, Liandrin. There are patrols, and it would not do to be found. You would enjoy the attentions of the Seekers for Truth no more than I. I mean to be back in Falme before Turak knows I am gone."
"What are you talking about?" Nynaeve demanded. "What is she talking about, Liandrin?"
Liandrin laid a hand on Nynaeve's shoulder and one on Egwene's. "These are the two of whom you were told. And there is another." She nodded toward Elayne. "She is the DaughterHeir of Andor."
The two women with the lightning on their dresses were approaching the party in front of the Waygate - they carried coils of some silvery metal in their hands, Egwene noticed - and the bareheaded soldier came with them. He did not put a hand near the sword hilt sticking up above his shoulder, and he wore a casual smile, but Egwene still watched him narrowly. Liandrin gave no sign of agitation; otherwise Egwene would have jumped onto Bela right then.
"Liandrin Sedai," she said urgently, "who are these people? Are they here to help Rand and the others, too?"
The hooknosed man suddenly seized Min and Elayne by the scruffs of their necks, and in the next instant everything seemed to happen at once. The man yelled a curse, and a woman screamed, or perhaps more than one woman; Egwene could not be sure. Abruptly the breeze was a gale that whipped away Liandrin's angry shout in clouds of dirt and leaves and made the trees bend and groan. Horses reared and whinnied shrilly. And one of the women reached out and fastened something around Egwene's neck.
Cloak flapping like a sail, Egwene braced against the wind and tugged at what felt like a collar of smooth metal. It would not budge; under her frantic fingers, it felt all of one piece, though she knew it had to have some kind of clasp. The silvery coils the woman had carried now trailed over Egwene's shoulder, their other end joining a bright bracelet on the woman's left wrist. Balling her fist tightly, Egwene hit the woman as hard as she could, right in her eye - and staggered and fell to her knees herself, head ringing. It felt as if a large man had struck her in the face.
When she could see straight once more, the wind had died. A number of horses wandered loose, Bela and Elayne's mare among them, and some of the soldiers were cursing and picking themselves up off the ground. Liandrin was calmly brushing dust and leaves from her dress. Min knelt, supporting herself with her hands, groggily trying to rise further. The hooknosed man stood over her, his hand dripping blood. Min's knife lay just out of her reach, the blade stained red along one side. Nynaeve and Elayne were nowhere to be seen, and Nynaeve's mare was gone, too. So were some of the soldiers, and one of the pairs of women. The other two were still there, and Egwene could see now that they were linked by a silver cord just like the one that still joined her to the woman standing over her.
That woman was rubbing her cheek as she squatted beside Egwene; there was a bruise already coming up around her left eye. With long, dark hair and big brown eyes, she was pretty, and perhaps as much as ten years older than Nynaeve. "Your first lesson," she said emphatically. There was no animosity in her voice, but what almost sounded like friendliness. "I will not punish you further this time, since I should have been on guard with a newly caught damane. Know this. You are a damane, a Leashed One, and I am a sul'dam, a Holder of the Leash. When damane and sul'dam are joined, whatever hurt the sul'dam feels, the damane feels twice over. Even to death. So you must remember that you may never strike at a sul'dam in any way, and you must protect your sul'dam even more than yourself. I am Renna. How are you called?"
"I am not ... what you said," Egwene muttered. She pulled at the collar again; it gave no more than before. She thought of knocking the woman down and trying to pry the bracelet from her wrist, but rejected it. Even if the soldiers did not try to stop her - and so far they seemed to be ignoring her and Renna altogether - she had the sinking feeling the woman was telling the truth. Touching her left eye brought a wince; it did not feel puffy, so perhaps she was not actually growing a bruise to match Renna's, but it still hurt. Her left eye, and Renna's left eye. She raised her voice. "Liandrin Sedai? Why are you letting them do this?" Liandrin dusted her hands together, never looking in her direction.
"The very first thing you must learn," Renna said, "is to do exactly as you are told, and without delay."
Egwene gasped. Suddenly her skin burned and prickled as if she had rolled in stinging nettles, from the soles of her feet to her scalp.
She tossed her head as the burning sensation increased.
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