The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 153



Riding across the water. Min's mouth fell open. Silver glittered as the figure raised a bow; a streak of silver lanced to the boxy ship, a gleaming line connecting bow and ship. With a roar she could hear even at that distance, fire engulfed the foretower anew, and sailors rushed about the deck.
Min blinked, and when she looked again, the mounted figure was gone. The ship still slowly made way toward the ocean, the crew fighting the flames.
She gave herself a shake and started to climb the street again. She had seen too much that day for someone riding a horse across water to be more than a momentary distraction. Even if it really was Birgitte and her bow. And Artur Hawkwing. I did see him. I did.
In front of one of the tall stone buildings, she stopped uncertainly, ignoring the people who brushed past her as if stunned. It was in there, somewhere, that she had to go. She rushed up the stairs and pushed open the door.
No one tried to stop her. As far as she could tell, there was no one in the house. Most of Falme was out in the streets, trying to decide whether they had all gone mad together. She went on through the house, into the garden behind, and there he was.
Rand lay sprawled on his back under an oak, face pale and eyes closed, left hand gripping a hilt that ended in a foot of blade that appeared to have been melted at the end. His chest rose and fell too slowly, and not with the regular rhythm of someone breathing normally.
p breath to calm herself, she went to see what she could do for him. First was to get rid of that stub of a blade; he could hurt himself, or her, if he started thrashing. She pried his hand open, and winced when the hilt stuck to his palm. She tossed it aside with a grimace. The heron on the hilt had branded itself into his hand. But it was obvious to her that that was not what had him lying there unconscious. How did he come by that? Nynaeve can put a salve on it later.
A hasty examination showed that most of his cuts and bruises were not new - at least, the blood had had time to dry in a crust, and the bruises had started to turn yellow at the edges - but there was a hole burned through his coat on the left side. Opening his coat, she pulled up his shirt. Breath whistled through her teeth. There was a wound burned into his side, but it had cauterized itself.
What shook her was the feel of his flesh. It had a touch of ice in it;

Grabbing his shoulders, she began to drag him toward the house. He hung limp, a dead weight. "Great lummox," she grunted. "You couldn't be short, and light, could you? You have to have all that leg and shoulder. I ought to let you lie out here."
But she struggled up the steps, careful not to bump him any more than she could avoid, and pulled him inside. Leaving him just within the door, she knuckled the small of her back, muttering to herself about the Pattern, and made a hasty search. There was a small bedroom in the back of the house, perhaps a servant's room, with a bed piled high with blankets, and logs already laid on the hearth. In moments, she had the blankets thrown back and the fire lit, as well as a lamp on the bedside table. Then she went back for Rand.
It was no small task getting him to the room, or up onto the bed, but she managed it with only a little hard breathing, and covered him up. After a moment, she stuck a hand under the blankets; she winced and shook her head. The sheets were icy cold; he had no body warmth for the blankets to hold. With a putupon sigh, she wriggled under the covers beside him. Finally, she put his head on her arm. His eyes were still closed, his breathing ragged, but she thought he would be dead by the time she came back if she left to find Nynaeve. He needs an Aes Sedai, she thought. All I can do is try to give him a little warmth.
For a time she studied his face. It was only his face she saw; she could never read anyone who was not conscious. "I like older men," she told him. "I like men with education, and wit. I have no interest in farms, or sheep, or shepherds. Especially boy shepherds." With a sigh, she smoothed back the hair from his face; he had silky hair. "But then, you aren't a shepherd, are you? Not anymore. Light, why did the Pattern have to catch me up with you? Why couldn't I have something safe and simple, like being shipwrecked with no food and a dozen hungry Aielmen?"
There was a sound in the hall, and she raised her head as the door opened. Egwene stood there, staring at them by the light of the fire and the lamp. "Oh," was all she said.
Min's cheeks colored. Why am I behaving like I'm done something wrong? Fool! "I ... I'm keeping him warm. He is unconscious, and he's as cold as ice."
Egwene did not come any further into the room. "I - I felt him pulling at me. Needing me. Elayne felt it, too. I thought it must be something to do with - with what he is, but Nynaeve didn't feel anything." She drew a deep, unsteady breath. "Elayne and Nynaeve are getting the horses. We found Bela. The Seanchan left most of their horses behind. Nynaeve says we should go as soon as we can, and - and ... Min, you know what he is, don't you, now?"
"I know." Min wanted to take her arm from under Rand's head, but she could not make herself move. "I think I do, anyway. Whatever he is, he is hurt. I can do nothing for him except keep him warm. Maybe Nynaeve can."
"Min, you know ... you do know that he cannot marry. He isn't ... safe ... for any of us, Min."
"Speak for yourself," Min said. She pulled Rand's face against her breast. "It's like Elayne said. You tossed him aside for the White Tower. What should you care if I pick him up?"
Egwene looked at her for what seemed a long time. Not at Rand, not at all, only at her. She felt her face growing hotter and wanted to look away, but she could not.
"I will bring Nynaeve," Egwene said finally, and walked out of the room with her back straight and her head high.
Min wanted to call out, to go after her, but she lay there as if frozen. Frustrated tears stung her eyes. It's what has to be. I know it. I read it in all of them. Light, I don't want to be part of this. "It's all your fault," she told Rand's still shape. "No, it isn't. But you will pay for it, I think. We're all caught like flies in a spiderweb. What if I told her there's another woman yet to come, one she doesn't even know? For that matter, what would you think of that, my fine Lord Shepherd? You aren't badlooking at all, but ... Light, I don't even know if I am the one you'll choose. I don't know if I want you to choose me. Or will you try to dandle all three of us on your knee? It may not be your fault, Rand al'Thor, but it isn't fair."
"Not Rand al'Thor," said a musical voice from the door. "Lews Therin Telamon. The Dragon Reborn."
Min stared. She was the most beautiful woman Min had ever seen, with pale, smooth skin, and long, black hair, and eyes as dark as night. Her dress was a white that would make snow seem dingy, belted in silver. All her jewelry was silver. Min felt herself bristle. "What do you mean? Who are you?"
The woman came to stand over the bed - her movements were so graceful, Min felt a stab of envy, though she had never before envied any woman anything - and smoothed Rand's hair as if Min were not there. "He doesn't believe yet, I think. He knows, but he does not believe. I have guided his steps, pushed him, pulled him, enticed him. He was always stubborn, but this time I will shape him. Ishamael thinks he controls events, but I do." Her finger brushed Rand's forehead as if drawing a mark; Min thought uneasily that it looked like the Dragon's Fang. Rand stirred, murmuring, the first sound or movement he had made since she found him.
"Who are you?" Min demanded. The woman looked at her, only looked, but she found herself shrinking back into the pillows, clutching Rand to her fiercely."I am called Lanfear, girl."
Min's mouth was abruptly so dry she could not have spoken if her life depended on it. One of the Forsaken! No! Light, no! All she could do was shake her head. The denial made Lanfear smile.
"Lews Therin was and is mine, girl. Tend him well for me until I come for him." And she was gone.
Min gaped. One moment she was there, then she was gone. Min discovered she was hugging Rand's unconscious form tightly. She wished she did not feel as if she wanted him to protect her.
Gaunt face set with grim purpose, Byar galloped with the sinking sun behind him and never looked back. He had seen all he needed to, all he could with that accursed fog. The legion was dead, Lord Captain Geofram Bornhald was dead, and there was only one explanation for that; Darkfriends had betrayed them, Darkfriends like that Perrin of the Two Rivers. That word he had to carry to Dain Bornhald, the Lord Captain's son, with the Children of the Light watching Tar Valon. But he had worse to tell, and to none less than Pedron Niall himself. He had to tell what he had seen in the sky above Falme. He flogged his horse with his re


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