The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 137

It did not help that she thought Elayne was at least partly right. At first she had thought some of the Falmen submission, at least, must be a pose, but she had found no evidence of any resistance at all. She had looked at first, hoping to find help in freeing Egwene and Min, but everyone took fright at the merest hint that they might oppose the Seanchan, and she stopped asking before she drew the wrong sort of attention. In truth, she could not imagine how the people could fight. Monsters and Aes Sedai. How can you fight monsters and Aes Sedai?
Ahead stood five tall stone houses, among the largest in the town, all together making up a block. One street short of them, Nynaeve found an alleyway beside a tailor shop, where they could keep an eye on some of the tall houses' entrances, at least. It was not possible to see every door at once-she did not want to risk letting Elayne go off on her own to watch more-but it was not wise to go any closer. Above the rooftops, on the next street, the golden hawk banner of the High Lord Turak flapped in the wind.
Only women went in or out of those houses, and most of those were sul'dam, alone or with damane in tow. The buildings had been taken over by the Seanchan to house the damane. Egwene had to be in there, and likely Min; they had found no sign of Min so far, though it was possible she was as hidden by the crowds as they. Nynaeve had heard many tales of women and girls being seized on the streets or brought in from the villages; they all went into those houses, and if they were seen again, they wore a collar.
Settling herself on a crate beside Elayne, she dug into the other woman's coat for a handful of the small apples. There were fewer local folk in the streets here. Everyone knew what the houses were, and everyone avoided them, just as they avoided the stables where the Seanchan kept their beasts. It was not difficult to keep an eye on the doors through spaces between the passersby. Just two women stopping for a bite; just two more people who could not afford to eat at an inn. Nothing to attract more than a passing glance.
Eating mechanically, Nynaeve tried once more to plan. Being able to open the collar - if she really could - did no good at all unless she could reach Egwene. The apples did not taste so sweet anymore.
From the narrow window of her tiny room under the eaves, one of a number roughly walled together from whatever had been there before, Egwene could see the garden where damane were being walked by their sul'dam. It had been several gardens before the Seanchan knocked down the walls that separated them and took the big houses to keep their damane. The trees were all but leafless, but the damane were still taken out for air, whether they wanted it or not. Egwene watched the garden because Renna was down there, talking with another sul'dam, and as long as she could see Renna, then Renna was not going to enter and surprise her.
Some other sul'dam might come - there were many more sul'dam than damane, and every sul'dam wanted her turn wearing a bracelet; they called it being complete - but Renna still had charge of her training, and it was Renna who wore her bracelet four times out of five. If anyone came, they would find no impediment to entering. There were no locks on the doors of damane's rooms. Egwene's room held only a hard, narrow bed, a washstand with a chipped pitcher and bowl, one chair and a small table, but it had no room for more. Damane had no need of comfort, or privacy, or possessions. Damane were possessions. Min had a room just like this, in another house, but Min could come and go as she would, or almost as she would. Seanchan were great ones for rules; they had more, for everyone, than the White Tower did for novices.
Egwene stood far back from the window. She did not want any of the women below to look up and see the glow that she knew surrounded her as she channeled the One Power, probing delicately at the collar around her neck, searching futilely; she could not even tell whether the band was woven or made of links - sometimes it seemed one, sometimes the other - but it seemed all of a piece all the time. It was only a tiny trickle of the Power, the merest drip that she could imagine, but it still beaded sweat on her face and made her stomach clench. That was one of the properties of the a'dam; if a damane tried to channel without a sul'dam wearing her bracelet, she felt sick, and the more of the Power she channeled, the sicker she became. Lighting a candle beyond the reach of her arm would have made Egwene vomit. Once Renna had ordered her to juggle her tiny balls of light with the bracelet lying on the table. Remembering still made her shudder.
Now, the silver leash snaked across the bare floor and up the unpainted wooden wall to where the bracelet hung on a peg. The sight of it hanging there made her jaws clench with fury. A dog leashed so carelessly could have run away. If a damane moved her bracelet as much as a foot from where it had last been touched by a sul'dam ... Renna had made her do that, too - had made her carry her own bracelet across the room. Or try to. She was sure it had only been minutes before the sul'dam snapped the bracelet firmly on her own wrist, but to Egwene the screaming and the cramps that had had her writhing on the floor had seemed to go on for hours.
Someone tapped at the door, and Egwene jumped, before she realized it could not be a sul'dam. None of them would knock first. She let saidar go, anyway; she was beginning to feel decidedly ill. "Min?"
"Here I am for my weekly visit," Min announced as she slipped inside and shut the door. Her cheeriness sounded a little forced, but she always did what she could to keep Egwene's spirits up. "How do you like it?" She spun in a little circle, showing off her dark green wool dress of Seanchan cut. A heavy, matching cloak hung over her arm. There was even a green ribbon catching up her dark hair, though her hair was hardly long enough for it. Her knife was still in its sheath at her waist, though. Egwene had been surprised when Min first showed up wearing it, but it seemed the Seanchan trusted everyone.
Until they broke a rule.
"It's pretty," Egwene said cautiously. "But, why?"
"I haven't gone over to the enemy, if that is what you are thinking. It was this, or else find someplace to stay out in the town, and maybe not be able to visit you again." She started to straddle the chair as she would have in breeches, gave a wry shake of her head, and turned it around to sit. "'Everyone has a place in the Pattern,'" she mimicked, "'and the place of everyone must be readily apparent.' That old hag Mulaen apparently got tired of not knowing what my place was on sight and decided I ranked with the serving girls. She gave me the choice. You should see some of the things Seanchan serving girls wear, the ones who serve the lords. It might be fun, but not unless I was betrothed, or, better yet, married. Well, there's no going back. Not yet, anyway. Mulaen burned my coat and breeches." Grimacing to show what she thought of that, she picked up a rock from a small pile on the table and bounced it from hand to hand. "It isn't so bad," she said with a laugh, "except that it has been so long since I wore skirts that I keep

Egwene had had to watch her clothes being burned, too, including that lovely green silk. It had made her glad she had not brought more of the clothes the Lady Amalisa had given her, though she might never see any of them, or the White Tower, again. What she had on now was the same dark gray all damane wore. Damane have no possessions, it had been explained to her. The dress a damane wears, the food she eats, the bed she sleeps in, are all gifts from her sul'dam. If a sul'dam chooses that a damane sleep on the floor instead of in a bed, or in a stall in a stable, it is purely the choice of the sul'dam. Mulaen, who had charge of the damane quarters, had a droning nasal voice, but she was sharp with any damane who did not remember every word of her boring lectures.
"I don't think there will be any going back for me ever," Egwene said, sighing, sinking down on her bed. She gestured to the rocks on the table. "Renna gave me a test, yesterday. I picked out the piece of iron ore, and the copper ore, blindfolded, every time she mixed them up. She left them all here to remind me of my success. She seemed to think it was some kind of reward to be reminded."
"It doesn't seem any worse than the rest - not nearly as bad as making things explode like fireworks - but couldn't you have lied? Told her you didn't know which was which?"
"You still do not know what this is like." Egwene tugged at the collar; pulling did no more good than channeling had. "When Renna is wearing that bracelet, she knows what I am doing with the Power, and what I am not. Sometimes she even seems to know when she isn't wearing it; she says sul'dam develop - an affinity, she calls it - after a while." She sighed.

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