The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 132




"You were honored," Renna said after a time, "having the High Lady speak to you. Another time, I would let you wear a ribbon to mark the honor. But since you brought her attention on yourself ..."
Egwene cried out as a switch seemed to lash across her back, then another across her leg, her arm. From every direction they seemed to come; she knew there was nothing to block, but she could not help throwing her arms about as if to stop the blows. She bit her lip to stifle her moans, but tears still rolled down her cheeks. Bela whinnied and danced, but Renna's grip on the silver leash kept her from carrying Egwene away. None of the soldiers even looked back.
"What are you doing to her?" Min shouted. "Egwene? Stop it!"
"You live on sufferance ... Min, is it?" Renna said mildly. "Let this be a lesson for you as well. So long as you try to interfere, it will not stop."

Min raised a fist, then let it fall. "I won't interfere. Only, please, stop it. Egwene, I'm sorry."
The unseen blows went on for a few moments more, as if to show Min her intervention had done nothing, then ceased, but Egwene could not stop shuddering. The pain did not go away this time. She pushed back the sleeve of her dress, thinking to see weals; her skin was unmarked, but the feel of them was still there. She swallowed. "It was not your fault, Min." Bela tossed her head, eyes rolling, and Egwene patted the mare's shaggy neck. "It wasn't yours, either."
"It was your fault, Egwene," Renna said. She sounded so patient, dealing so kindly with someone who was too dense to see the right, that Egwene wanted to scream. "When a damane is punished, it is always her fault, even if she does not know why. A damane must anticipate what her sul'dam wants. But this time, you do know why. Damane are like furniture, or tools, always there ready to be used, but never pushing themselves forward for attention. Especially not for the attention of one of the Blood."
Egwene bit her lip until she tasted blood. This is a nightmare. It can't be real. Why did Liandrin do this? Why it this happening? "May ... may I ask a question?"
"Of me, you may." Renna smiled. "Many sul'dam will wear your bracelet over the years - there are always many more sul'dam than damane - and some would have your hide in strips if you took your eyes off the floor or opened your mouth without permission, but I see no reason not to let you speak, so long as you are careful in what you say." One of the other sul'dam snorted loudly; she was linked to a pretty, darkhaired woman in her middle years who kept her eyes on her hands.
"Liandrin" - Egwene would not give her the honorific, not ever again - "and the High Lady spoke of a master they both serve." The thought came into her head of a man with almost healed burns marring his face, and eyes and mouth that sometimes turned to fire, but even if he was only a figure in her dreams that seemed too horrible to contemplate. "Who is he? What does he want with me and - and Min?" She knew it was silly to avoid naming Nynaeve - she did not think any of these people would forget her just because her name was not mentioned, especially the blueeyed sul'dam stroking her empty leash - but it was the only way she could think of fighting back at the moment.
"The affairs of the Blood," Renna said, "are not for me to take notice of, and certainly not for you. The High Lady will tell me what she wishes me to know, and I will tell you what I wish you to know. Anything else that you hear or see must be to you as if it never was said, as if it never happened. This way lies safety, most especially for a damane. Damane are too valuable to be killed out of hand, but you might find yourself not only soundly punished, but absent a tongue to speak or hands to write. Damane can do what they must without these things."
Egwene shivered, though the air was not very cold. Pulling her cloak up onto her shoulders, her hand brushed the leash, and she jerked at it fitfully. "This is a horrible thing. How can you do this to anyone? What diseased mind ever thought of it?"
The blueeyed sul'dam with the empty leash growled, "This one could do without her tongue already, Renna."
Renna only smiled patiently. "How is it horrible? Could we allow anyone to run loose who can do what a damane can? Sometimes men are born who would be marath'damane if they were women - it is so here also, I have heard - and they must be killed, of course, but the women do not go mad. Better for them to become damane than make trouble contending for power. As for the mind that first thought of the a'dam, it was the mind of a woman who called

Egwene knew incredulity must be painting her face, because Renna laughed openly. "When Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, son of the Hawkwing, first faced the Armies of the Night, he found many among them who called themselves Aes Sedai. They contended for power among themselves and used the One Power on the field of battle. One such, a woman named Deain, who thought she could do better serving the Emperor - he was not Emperor then, of course - since he had no Aes Sedai in his armies, came to him with a device she had made, the first a'dam, fastened to the neck of one of her sisters. Though that woman did not want to serve Luthair, the a'dam required her to serve. Deain made more a'dam, the first sul'dam were found, and women captured who called themselves Aes Sedai discovered that they were in fact only marath'damane, Those Who Must Be Leashed. It is said that when she herself was leashed, Deain's screams shook the Towers of Midnight, but of course she, too, was a marath'damane, and marath'damane cannot be allowed to run free. Perhaps you will be one of those who has the ability to make a'dam. If so, you will be pampered, you may rest assured."
Egwene looked yearningly at the countryside through which they rode. The land was beginning to rise in low hills, and the thin forest had dwindled to scattered thickets, but she was sure she could lose herself in them. "Am I supposed to look forward to being pampered like a pet dog?" she said bitterly. "A lifetime of being chained to men and women who think I am some kind of animal?"
"Not men." Renna chuckled. "All sul'dam are women. If a man put on this bracelet, most of the time it would be no different than if it were hanging on a peg on the wall."
"And sometimes," the blueeyed sul'dam put in harshly, "you and he would both die screaming." The woman had sharp features and a tight, thinlipped mouth, and Egwene realized that anger was apparently her permanent expression. "From time to time the Empress plays with lords by linking them to a damane. It makes the lords sweat and entertains the Court of the Nine Moons. The lord never knows until it is done whether he will live or die, and neither does the damane. " Her laugh was vicious.
"Only the Empress can afford to waste damane in such a way, Alwhin," Renna snapped, "and I do not mean to train this damane only to have her thrown away."
"I have not seen any training at all so far, Renna. Only a great deal of chatter, as if you and this damane were girlhood friends."
"Perhaps it is time to see what she can do," Renna said, studying Egwene. "Do you have enough control yet to channel at that distance?" She pointed to a tall oak standing alone on a hilltop.
Egwene frowned at the tree, perhaps half a mile from the line followed by the soldiers and Suroth's palanquin. She had never tried anything much beyond arm's reach, but she thought it might be possible. "I don't know," she said.
"Try," Renna told her. "Feel the tree. Feel the sap in the tree. I want you to make it all not only hot, but so hot that every drop of sap in every branch flashes to steam in an instant. Do it."
Egwene was shocked to discover an urge to do as Renna commanded. She had not channeled, or even touched saidar, in two days; the desire to fill herself with the One Power made her shiver. "I" - in half a heartbeat she discarded "will not"; the weals that were not there still burned too sharply for her to be quite that foolish - "cannot," she finished instead. "It is too far, and I've never done anything like that before."
One of the sul'dam laughed raucously, and Alwhin said, "She never even tried."
Renna shook her head almost sadly. "When one has been a sul'dam long enough," she told Egwene, "one learns to tell many things about damane even without the bracelet, but with the bracelet one can always tell whether a damane has tried to channel. You must never lie to me, or to any sul'dam, not even by a hair."
Suddenly the invisible switches were back, striking at her everywhere. Yelling, she tried to hit Renna, but the sul'dam casually knocked her fist away, and Egwene felt as if Renna had hit her arm with a stick. She dug her heels into Bela's flanks, but the sul'dam's grip on the leash nearly pulled her out of her saddle. Frantically she reached for saidar, meaning to hurt Renna enough to make her stop, just the kind of hurt she herself had been given.

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