The Great Hunt: Page 133
The sul'dam shook her head wryly; Egwene howled as her own skin was suddenly scalded. Not until she fled from saidar completely did the burn begin to fade, and the unseen blows never ceased or slowed. She tried to shout that she would try, if only Renna would stop, but all she could manage was to scream and writhe.
Dimly, she was aware of Min shouting angrily and trying to ride to her side, of Alwhin tearing Min's reins from her hands, of another sul'dam speaking sharply to her damane, who looked at Min. And then Min was yelling, too, arms flapping as if trying to ward off blows or beat away stinging insects. In her own pain, Min's seemed distant.
Their cries together were enough to make some of the soldiers twist in their saddles. After one look, they laughed and turned back. How sul'dam dealt with damane was no affair of theirs.
To Egwene it seemed to go on forever, but at last there was an end. She lay sprawled weakly across the cantle of her saddle, cheeks wet with tears, sobbing into Bela's mane. The mare whickered uneasily.
"It is good that you have spirit," Renna said calmly. "The best damane are those who have spirit to be shaped and molded."
Egwene squeezed her eyes shut. She wished she could close her ears, too, to shut out Renna's voice. I have to get away. I have to, but how? Nynaeve, help me. Light, somebody help me.
"You will be one of the best," Renna said in tones of satisfaction. Her hand stroked Egwene's hair, a mistress soothing her dog.
Nynaeve leaned out of her saddle to peer around the screen of prickly leafed shrubs. Scattered trees met her eyes, some with leaves turning color. The expanses of grass and brush between seemed empty. Nothing moved that she could see except the thinning column of smoke, wavering in a breeze, from the leatherleaf.
That had been her work, the leatherleaf, and once the lightning called from a clear sky, and a few other things she had not thought to try until those two women tried them on her.
She thought they must work together in some way, though she could not understand their relation to each other, apparently leashed as they were. One wore a collar, but the other was chained as surely as she. What Nynaeve was sure of was that one or both were Aes Sedai. She had never had a clear enough sight of them to see the glow of cha
I'll certainly take pleasure in telling Sheriam about them, she thought dryly. Aes Sedai don't use the Power as a weapon, do they?
She certainly had. She had at least knocked the two women down with that lightning strike, and she had seen one of the soldiers, or his body rather, burn from the ball of fire she made and hurled at them. But she had not seen any of the strangers at all in some time now.
Sweat beaded on her forehead, and it was not all from exertion. Her contact with saidar was gone, and she could not bring it back. In that first fury of knowing that Liandrin had betrayed them, saidar had been there almost before she knew it, the One Power flooding her. It had seemed she could do anything. And as long as they had chased her, rage at being hunted like an animal had fueled her. Now the chase had vanished. The longer she had gone without seeing an enemy at whom she could strike, the more she had begun to worry that they might be sneaking up on her somehow, and the more she had had time to worry about what was happening to Egwene, and Elayne, and Min. Now she was forced to admit that what she felt most was fear. Fear for them, fear for herself. It was anger she needed.
Something stirred behind a tree.
Her breath caught, and she fumbled for saidar, but all the exercises Sheriam and the others had taught her, all the blossoms unfolding in her mind, all the imagined streams that she held like riverbanks, did no good. She could feel it, sense the Source, but she could not touch it.
Elayne stepped from behind the tree in a wary crouch, and Nynaeve sagged with relief. The DaughterHeir's dress was dirty and torn, her golden hair was a tangle of snarls and leaves, and her searching eyes were as wide as those of a frightened fawn, but she held her shortbladed dagger in a steady hand. Nynaeve picked up her reins and rode into the open.
Elayne gave a convulsive jump, then her hand went to her throat and she drew a deep breath. Nynaeve dismounted, and the two women hugged, taking comfort in having found each other.
"For a moment," Elayne said as they finally stepped apart, "I thought you were... Do you know where they are? There were two men following me. Another few minutes and they would have caught me, but a horn sounded and they turned their horses and galloped off. They could see me, Nynaeve, and they just left."
"I heard it, too, and I haven't seen any of them since. Have you seen Egwene, or Min?"
Elayne shook her head, slumping to sit on the ground. "Not since... That man hit Min, knocked her down. And one of those women was trying to put something around Egwene's neck. I saw that much before I ran. I don't think they got away, Nynaeve. I should have done something. Min cut the hand that was holding me, and Egwene ... I just ran, Nynaeve. I realized I was free, and I ran. Mother had better marry Gareth Bryne and have another daughter as soon as she can. I am not fit to take the throne."
"Don't be a goose," Nynaeve said sharply. "Remember, I have a packet of sheepstongue root among my herbs." Elayne had her head in her hands; the gibe did not even produce a murmur. "Listen to me, girl. Did you see me stay to fight twenty or thirty armed men, not to mention the Aes Sedai? If you had waited, the most likely thing by far is that you would be a prisoner, too. If they didn't just kill you. They seemed to be interested in Egwene and me for some reason. They might not have cared whether you remained alive or not." Why are they interested in Egwene and me? Why us in particular? Why did Liandrin do this? Why? She had no more answers now than she had had the first time she asked herself these questions.
"If I had died trying to help them -" Elayne began.
"- you'd be dead. And little good you'd be then, to yourself or them. Now get on your feet and brush off your dress." Nynaeve rummaged in her saddlebags for a hairbrush. "And fix your hair."
Elayne got up slowly, and took the brush with a small laugh. "You sound like Lini, my old nurse." She began to run the brush through her hair, wincing as tangles pulled. "But how are we going to help them, Nynaeve? You may be as strong as a full sister when you are angry, but they have women who can channel, too. I cannot think they're Aes Sedai, but they might as well be. We do not even know in which direction they took them."
"West," Nynaeve said. "That creature Suroth mentioned Falme, and that's as far west on Toman Head as you can go. We will go to Falme. I hope Liandrin is there. I will make her curse the day her mother laid eyes on her father. But first I think we had better find some clothes of the country. I've seen Taraboner and Domani women in the Tower, and what they wear is nothing like what we have on. We would stand out in Falme as strangers."
"I would not mind a Domani dress - though Mother would surely have a fit if she ever found out I'd worn one, and Lini would never let me hear the end of it - but even if we find a village, can we afford new dresses? I have no idea how much money you have, but I have only ten gold marks and perhaps twice that in silver. That will keep us two or three weeks, but I don't know what we will do after that."
"A few months as a novice in Tar Valon," Nynaeve said, laughing, "has not stopped you thinking like the heir to a throne. I don't have a tenth what you do, but altogether it will keep us two or three months, in comfort. Longer, if we are careful. I have no intention of buying us dresses, and they won't be new in any case. My gray silk dress will do us some good, with all those pearls and that gold thread. If I can't find a woman who will trade us each two or three sturdy changes for that, I will give you this ring, and I will be the novice." She swung up into her saddle and reached a hand down to pull Elayne up behind her.
"What are we going to do when we reach Falme?" Elayne asked as she settled on the mare's rump.
"I won't know that until we are there." Nynaeve paused, letting the horse stand. "Are you sure you want to do this? It will be dangerous."
"More dangerous than it is for Egwene and Min? They would come after us if our circumstances were reversed; I know they would. Are we going to stay here all day?" Elayne dug her heels in, and the mare started off.
Nynaeve turned the horse until the sun, still short of its noonday crest, shone at their backs. "We are going to have to be cautious. The Aes Sedai we know can recognize a woman who can channel just by being within arm's length of her. These Aes Sedai may be able to pick us out of a crowd if they are looking for us, and we had better assume they are." They were certainly looking f
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