The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 131




"Many sul'dam," Renna went on in that almost friendly tone, "do not believe damane should be allowed names, or at least only names they are given. But I am the one who took you, so I will be in charge of your training, and I will allow you to keep your own name. If you do not displease me too far. I am mildly upset with you now. Do you really wish to keep o

Quivering, Egwene gritted her teeth. Her nails dug into her palms with the effort of not scratching wildly. Idiot! It's only your name. "Egwene," she managed to get out. "I am Egwene al'Vere." Instantly the burning itch was gone. She let out a long, unsteady breath.
"Egwene," Renna said. "That is a good name." And to Egwene's horror, Renna patted her on the head as she would a dog.
That, she realized, was what she had detected in the woman's voice - a certain good will for a dog in training, not quite the friendliness one might have toward another human being.
Renna chuckled. "Now you are even angrier. If you intend to strike at me again, remember to make it a small blow, for you will feel it twice as hard as I. Do not attempt to channel; that you will never do without my express command."
Egwene's eye throbbed. She pushed herself to her feet and tried to ignore Renna, as much as it was possible to ignore someone who held a leash fastened to a collar around your neck. Her cheeks burned when the other woman chuckled again. She wanted to go to Min, but the amount of leash Renna had let out would not reach that far. She called softly, "Min, are you all right?"
Sitting slowly back on her heels, Min nodded, then put a hand to her head as if she wished she had not moved it.
Jagged lightning crackled across the clear sky, then struck among the trees some distance off. Egwene jumped, and suddenly smiled. Nynaeve was still free, and Elayne. If anyone could free her and Min, Nynaeve could. Her smile faded into a glare for Liandrin. For whatever the reason the Aes Sedai had betrayed them, there would be a reckoning. Someday. Somehow. The glare did no good; Liandrin did not look away from the palanquin.
The barechested men knelt, lowering the palanquin to the ground, and Suroth stepped down, carefully arranging her robe, then picked her way to Liandrin on softslippered feet. The two women were much of a size. Brown eyes stared levelly into black.
"You were to bring me two," Suroth said. "Instead, I have only one, while two run loose, one of them more powerful by far than I had been led to believe. She will attract every patrol of ours within two leagues."
"I brought you three," Liandrin said calmly. "If you cannot manage to hold them, perhaps our master should find another among you to serve him. You take fright at trifles. If patrols come, kill them."
Lightning flashed again in the near distance, and moments later something roared like thunder not far from where it struck; a cloud of dust rose into the air. Neither Liandrin nor Suroth took any notice.
"I could still return to Falme with two new damane," Suroth said. "It grieves me to allow an ... Aes Sedai" - she twisted the words like a curse - "to walk free."
Liandrin's face did not change, but Egwene saw a nimbus abruptly glow around her.
"Beware, High Lady," Renna called. "She stands ready!"
There was a stir among the soldiers, a reaching for swords and lances, but Suroth only steepled her hands, smiling at Liandrin over her long nails. "You will make no move against me, Liandrin. Our master would disapprove, as I am surely needed here more than you, and you fear him more than you fear being made damane."
Liandrin smiled, though white spots marked her cheeks with anger. "And you, Suroth, fear him more than you fear me burning you to a cinder where you stand."
"Just so. We both fear him. Yet even our master's needs will change with time. All marath'damane will be leashed eventually. Perhaps I will be the one who places the collar around your lovely throat."
"As you say, Suroth. Our master's needs will change. I will remind you of it on the day when you kneel to me."
A tall leatherleaf perhaps a mile away suddenly became a roaring torch.
"This grows tiresome," Suroth said. "Elbar, recall them." The hooknosed man produced a horn no bigger than his fist; it made a hoarse, piercing cry.
"You must find the woman Nynaeve," Liandrin said sharply. "Elayne is of no importance, but both the woman and this girl here must be taken with you on your ships when you sail."
"I know very well what has been commanded, marath'damane, though I would give much to know why."
"However much you were told, child," Liandrin sneered, "that is how much you are allowed to know. Remember that you serve and obey. These two must be removed to the other side of the Aryth Ocean and kept there."
ed. "I will not remain here to find this Nynaeve. My usefulness to our master will be at an end if Turak hands me over to the Seekers for Truth." Liandrin opened her mouth angrily, but Suroth refused to allow her a word. "The woman will not remain free for long. Neither of them will. When we sail again, we will take with us every woman on this miserable spit of land who can channel even slightly, leashed and collared. If you wish to remain and search for her, do so. Patrols will be here soon, thinking to engage the rabble that still hides in the countryside. Some patrols take damane with them, and they will not care what master you serve. Should you survive the encounter, the leash and collar will teach you a new life, and I do not believe our master will trouble to deliver one foolish enough to let herself be taken."
"If either is allowed to remain here," Liandrin said tightly, "our master will trouble himself with you, Suroth. Take them both, or pay the price." She strode to the Waygate, clutching the reins of her mare. Soon it was closing behind her.
The soldiers who had gone after Nynaeve and Elayne came galloping back with the two women linked by leash, collar, and bracelet, the damane and the sul'dam riding side by side. Three men led horses with bodies across the saddles. Egwene felt a surge of hope when she realized the bodies all wore armor. They had not caught Nynaeve or Elayne, either one.
Min started to rise to her feet, but the hooknosed man planted a boot between her shoulder blades and drove her to the ground. Gasping for breath, she twitched there weakly. "I beg permission to speak, High Lady," he said. Suroth made a small motion with her hand, and he went on. "This peasant cut me, High Lady. If the High Lady has no use for her...?" Suroth motioned slightly again, already turning away, and he reached over his shoulder for the hilt of his sword.
"No!" Egwene shouted. She heard Renna curse softly, and suddenly the burning itch covered her skin again, worse than before, but she did not stop. "Please! High Lady, please! She is my friend!" Pain such as she had never known wracked her through the burning. Every muscle knotted and cramped; she pitched on her face in the dirt, mewling, but she could still see Elbar's heavy, curved blade come free of its sheath, see him raise it with both hands. &ldq

Abruptly, the pain was gone as if it had never been; only the memory remained. Suroth's blue velvet slippers, dirtstained now, appeared in front of her face, but it was at Elbar that she stared. He stood there with his sword over his head and all his weight on the foot on Min's back ... and he did not move.
"This peasant is your friend?" Suroth said.
Egwene started to rise, but at a surprised arching of Suroth's eyebrow, she remained lying where she was and only raised her head. She had to save Min. If it means groveling ... She parted her lips and hoped her gritted teeth would pass for a smile. "Yes, High Lady."
"And if I spare her, if I allow her to visit you occasionally, you will work hard and learn as you are taught?"
"I will, High Lady." She would have promised much more to keep that sword from splitting Min's skull. I'll even keep it, she thought sourly, as long as I have to.
"Put the girl on her horse, Elbar," Suroth said. "Tie her on, if she cannot sit her saddle. If this damane proves a disappointment, perhaps then I will let you have the head of the girl." She was already moving toward her palanquin.
Renna pulled Egwene roughly to her feet and pushed her toward Bela, but Egwene had eyes only for Min. Elbar was no gentler with Min than Renna with her, but she thought Min was all right. At least Min shrugged off Elbar's attempt to tie her across her saddle and climbed onto her gelding with only a little help.
The odd party started off, westward, with Suroth leading and Elbar slightly to the rear of her palanquin, but close enough to heed any summons immediately. Renna and Egwene rode at the back with Min, and the other sul'dam and damane, behind the soldiers. The woman who had apparently meant to collar Nynaeve fondled the coiled silver leash she still carried and looked angry. Sparse forest covered the rolling land, and the smoke of the burning leatherleaf was soon only a smudge in the sky behind them.

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