The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 148

This was the one place in Falme where there was no chance of a sul'dam and damane coming to investigate if they sensed someone channeling, but they would certainly do so if a damane saw a woman she thought was a sul'dam with the glow of channeling around her. "I don't know why you aren't gone already. Alone here, even if you could not figure out how to get that thing off you, you could have just pi

As Min and Elayne hurriedly helped her change into Nynaeve's old dress, Egwene explained about moving the bracelet from where a sul'dam left it, and how channeling made her sick unless a sul'dam wore the bracelet. Just that morning she had discovered how the collar could be opened without the Power - and found that touching the catch with the intention of opening it made her hand knot into uselessness. She could touch it as much as she wanted so long as she did not think of undoing the catch; the merest hint of that, though, and ...Nynaeve felt sick herself. The bracelet on her wrist made her sick. It was too horrible. She wanted it off her wrist before she learned more about a'dam, before she perhaps learned something that would make her feel soiled forever for having worn it.
Unfastening the silver cuff, she pulled it loose, snapped it closed, and hung it on one of the pegs. "Don't think that means you can shout for help now." She shook a fist under Seta's nose. "I can still make you wish you were never born if you open your mouth, and I do not need that bloody ... thing."
"You - you do not mean to leave me here with it," Seta said in a whisper. "You cannot. Tie me. Gag me so I cannot give an alarm. Please!"
Egwene gave a mirthless laugh. "Leave it on her. She won't call for help even without a gag. You had better hope whoever finds you will remove the a'dam and keep your little secret, Seta. Your dirty secret, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about?" Elayne said.
"I have thought about it a great deal," Egwene said. "Thinking was all I could do when they left me alone up here. Sul'dam claim they develop an affinity after a few years. Most of them can tell when a woman is channeling whether they're leashed to her or not. I wasn't sure, but Seta proves it."
"Proves what?" Elayne demanded, and then her eyes widened in sudden realization, but Egwene went on.
"Nynaeve, a'dam only work on women who can channel. Don't you see? Sul'dam can channel the same as damane." Seta groaned through her teeth, shaking her head in violent denial. "A sul'dam would die before admitting she could channel, even if she knew, and they never train the ability, so they cannot do anything with it, but they can channel."
"I told you," Min said. "That collar shouldn't have worked on her." She was doing up the last buttons down Egwene's back. "Any woman who couldn't channel would be able to beat you silly while you tried to control her with it."
"How can that be?" Nynaeve said. "I thought the Seanchan put leashes on any woman who can channel."
"All of those they find," Egwene told her. "But those they can find are like you, and me, and Elayne. We were born with it, ready to channel whether anyone taught us or not. But what about Seanchan girls who aren't born with the ability, but who could be taught? Not just any woman can become a - a Leash Holder. Renna thought she was being friendly telling me about it. It is apparently a feastday in Seanchan villages when the sul'dam come to test the girls. They want to find any like you and me, and leash them, but they let all the others put on a bracelet to see if they can feel what the poor woman in the collar feels. Those who can are taken away to be trained as sul'dam. They are the women who could be taught."
Seta was moaning under her breath. "No. No. No." Over and over again.
"I know she is horrible," Elayne said, "but I feel as if I should help her somehow. She could be one of our sisters, only the Seanchan have twisted it all."
Nynaeve opened her mouth to say they had better worry about helping themselves, and the door opened.
"What is going on here?" Renna demanded, stepping into the room. "An audience?" She stared at Nynaeve, hands on hips. "I never gave permission for anyone else to link with my pet, Tuli. I do not even know who you - " Her eyes fell on Egwene - Egwene wearing Nynaeve's dress instead of damane gray. Egwene with no collar around her throat - and her eyes grew as big as saucers. She never had a chance to yell.
Before anyone else could move, Egwene snatched the pitcher from her washstand and smashed it into Renna's midriff. The pitcher shattered, and the sul'dam lost all her breath in a gurgling gasp and doubled over. As she fell, Egwene leaped on her with a snarl, shoving her flat, grabbing for the collar she had worn where it still lay on the floor, snapping it around the other woman's neck. With one jerk on the silver leash, Egwene pulled the bracelet from the peg and fitted it to her own wrist. Her lips were pulled back from her teeth, her eyes fixed on Renna's face with a terrible concentration. Kneeling on the sul'dam's shoulders, she pressed both hands over the woman's mouth. Renna gave a tremendous convulsion, and her eyes bulged in her face; hoarse sounds came from her throat, screams held back by Egwene's hands; her heels drummed on the floor.
"Stop it, Egwene!" Nynaeve grabbed Egwene's shoulders, pulling her off of the other woman. "Egwene, stop it! That isn't what you want!" Renna lay grayfaced and panting, staring wildly at the ceiling.
Suddenly Egwene threw herself against Nynaeve, sobbing raggedly at her breast. "She hurt me, Nynaeve. She hurt me. They all did. They hurt me, and hurt me, until I did what they wanted. I hate them. I hate them for hurting me, and I hate them because I couldn't stop them from making me do what they wanted."
"I know," Nynaeve said gently. She smoothed Egwene's hair. "It is all right to hate them, Egwene. It is. They deserve it. But it isn't all right to let them make you like they are."
Seta's hands were pressed to her face. Renna touched the collar at her throat disbelievingly, with a shaking hand.
Egwene straightened, brushing her tears away quickly. "I'm not. I am not like them." She almost clawed the bracelet off of her wrist and threw it down. "I'm not. But I wish I could kill them."
"They deserve it." Min was staring grimly at the two sul'dam.
"Rand would kill someone who did a thing like that," Elayne said. She seemed to be steeling herself. "I am sure he would."
ps they do," Nynaeve said, "and perhaps he would. But men often mistake revenge and killing for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice." She had often sat in judgment with the Women's Circle. Sometimes men came before them, thinking women might give them a better hearing than the men of the Village Council, but men always thought they could sway the decision with eloquence, or pleas for mercy. The Women's Circle gave mercy where it was deserved, but justice always, and it was the Wisdom who pronounced it. She picked up the bracelet Egwene had discarded and closed it. "I would free every woman here, if I could, and destroy every last one of these. But since I cannot..." She slipped the bracelet over the same peg that held the other one, then addressed herself to the sul'dam. Not Leash Holders any longer, she told herself.
"Perhaps, if you are very quiet, you will be left alone here long enough to manage to remove the collars. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and it may be that you've done enough good to counterbalance the evil you have done, enough that you will be allowed to remove them. If not, you will be found, eventually. And I think whoever finds you will ask a great many questions before they remove those collars. I think perhaps you will learn at first hand the life you have given to other women. That is justice,"

Renna wore a fixed stare of horror. Seta's shoulders shook as she sobbed into her hands. Nynaeve hardened her heart - It is justice, she told herself. It is - and herded the others out of the room.
No one paid any more attention to them going out than they had coming in. Nynaeve supposed she had the sul'dam dress to thank for that, but she could not wait to change into something else. Anything else. The dirtiest rag would feel cleaner on her skin.
The girls were silent, walking close behind her, until they were out on the cobblestone street again. She did not know if it was what she had done or the fear that someone might stop them. She scowled. Would they have felt better if she had let them work themselves up to cutting the women's throats?
"Horses," Egwene said. "We will need horses. I know the stable where they took Bela, but I don't think we can get to her."
"We have to leave Bela here," Nynaeve told her. "We are leaving by ship."
"Where is everybody?" Min said, and suddenly Nynaeve realized the street was empty.
The crowds were gone, not a sign of them to be seen; every shop and window along the street were shuttered tight.

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