The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 154



obi) Chapter 49
(Serpent and Wheel)
What Was Meant To Be
Rand opened his eyes and found himself staring up at sunlight slanting through the branches of a leatherleaf, its broad, tough leaves still green despite the time of year. The wind stirring the leaves carried a hint of snow, come nightfall. He lay on his back, and he could feel blankets covering him under his hands. His coat and shirt seemed to be gone, but something was binding his chest, and his left side hurt. He turned his head, and Min was sitting there on the ground, watching him. He almost did not know her, wearing skirts. She smiled uncertainly.
"Min. It is you. Where did you come from? Where are we?" His memory came in flashes and patches. Old things he could remember, but the last few days seemed like bits of broken mirror, spinning through his mind, showing glimpses that were gone before he could see them clearly.
"From Falme," she said. "We're five days east of there, now, and you've been asleep all that time."
"Falme." More memory. Mat had blown the Horn of Valere. "Egwene! Is she ... ? Did they free her?" He held his breath.
"I don't know what 'they' you mean, but she's free. We freed her ourselves."
"We? I don't understand." She's free. At least she is -
"Nynaeve, and Elayne, and me."
"Nynaeve? Elayne? How? You were all in Falme?" He struggled to sit up, but she pushed him back down easily and stayed there, hands on his shoulders, eyes intent on his face. "Where is she?"
"Gone." Min's face colored. "They're all gone. Egwene, and Nynaeve, and Mat, and Hurin, and Verin. Hurin didn't want to leave you, really. They're on their way to Tar Valon. Egwene and Nynaeve back to their training in the Tower, and Mat for whatever the Aes Sedai have to do about that dagger. They took the Horn of Valere with them. I can't believe I actually saw it."
"Gone," he muttered. "She didn't even wait till I woke up." The red in Min's cheeks deepened, and she sat back, staring at her lap.
He raised his hands to run them over his face, and stopped, staring at his palms in shock. There was a heron branded across his left palm, too, now, to match the one on his right, every line clean and true. Once the heron to set his path; Twice the heron to name him true. "No!"
"They are gone," she said. "Saying 'no' won't change it."
He shook his head. Something told him the pain in his side was important. He could not remember being injured, but it was important. He started to lift his blankets to look, but she slapped his hands away.
"You can't do any good with that. It isn't healed all the way, yet. Verin tried Healing, but she said it didn't work the way it should." She hesitated, nibbling her lip. "Moiraine says Nynaeve must have done something, or you wouldn't have lived till we carried you to Verin, but Nynaeve says she was too frightened to light a candle. There is... something wrong with your wound. You will have to wait for it to heal naturally." She seemed troubled.
"Moiraine is here?" He barked a bitter laugh. "When you said Verin was gone, I thought I was free of Aes Sedai again."
"I am here," Moiraine said. She appeared, all in blue and as serene as if she stood in the White Tower, strolling up to stand over him. Min was frowning at the Aes Sedai. Rand had the odd feeling that she meant to protect him from Moiraine.

"I wish you weren't here," he told the Aes Sedai. "As far as I am concerned, you can go back to wherever you've been hiding and stay there."
"I have not been hiding," Moiraine said calmly. "I have been doing what I could, here on Toman Head, and in Falme. It was little enough, though I learned much. I failed to rescue two of my sisters before the Seanchan herded them onto the ships with the Leashed Ones, but I did what I could."
"What you could. You sent Verin to shepherd me, but I'm no sheep, Moiraine. You said I could go where I wanted, and I mean to go where you are not."
"I did not send Verin." Moiraine frowned. "She did that on her own. You are of interest to a great many people, Rand. Did Fain find you, or you him?"
hange of topic took him by surprise. "Fain? No. A fine hero I make. I tried to rescue Egwene, and Min did it before me. Fain said he would hurt Emond's Field if I didn't face him, and I never laid eyes on him. Did he go with the Seanchan, too?"
Moiraine shook her head. "I do not know. I wish I did. But it is as well you did not find him, not until you know what he is, at least."
"He's a Darkfriend."
"More than that. Worse than that. Padan Fain was the Dark One's creature to the depths of his soul, but I believe that in Shadar Logoth he fell afoul of Mordeth, who was as vile in fighting the Shadow as ever the Shadow itself was. Mordeth tried to consume Fain's soul, to have a human body again, but found a soul that had been touched directly by the Dark One, and what resulted ... What resulted was neither Padan Fain nor Mordeth, but something far more evil, a blend of the two. Fain - let us call him that - is more dangerous than you can believe. You might not have survived such a meeting, and if you had, you might have been worse than turned to the Shadow."
"If he is alive, if he did not go with the Seanchan, I have to-" He cut off as she produced his heronmark sword from under her cloak. The blade ended abruptly a foot from the hilt, as if it had been melted. Memory came crashing back. "I killed him," he said softly. "This time I killed him."
Moiraine put the ruined sword aside like the useless thing it now was, and wiped her hands together. "The Dark One is not slain so easily. The mere fact that he appeared in the sky above Falme is more than merely troubling. He should not be able to do that, if he is bound as we believe. And if he is not, why has he not destroyed us all?" Min stirred uneasily.
"In the sky?" Rand said in wonder.
"Both of you," Moiraine said. "Your battle took place across the sky, in full view of every soul in Falme. Perhaps in other towns on Toman Head, too, if half what I hear is to be believed."
"We - we saw it all," Min said in a faint voice. She put a hand over one of Rand's comfortingly.
Moiraine reached under her cloak again and came out with a rolled parchment, one of the large sheets such as the street artists in Falme used. The chalks were a little smudged when she unfurled it, but the picture was still clear enough. A man whose face was a solid flame fought with a staff against another with a sword among clouds where lightning danced, and behind them rippled the Dragon banner. Rand's fac

"How many have seen that?" he demanded. "Tear it up. Burn it."
The Aes Sedai let the parchment roll back up. "It would do no good, Rand. I bought that two days gone, in a village we passed through. There are hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, and the tale is being told everywhere of how the Dragon battled the Dark One in the skies above Falme."
Rand looked at Min. She nodded reluctantly, and squeezed his hand. She looked frightened, but she did not flinch away. I wonder if that's why Egwene left. She was right to leave.
"The Pattern weaves itself around you even more tightly," Moiraine said. "You need me now more than ever."
"I don't need you," he said harshly, "and I don't want you. I will not have anything to do with this." He remembered being called Lews Therin; not only by Ba'alzamon, but by Artur Hawkwing. "I won't. Light, the Dragon is supposed to Break the World again, to tear everything apart. I will not be the Dragon."
"You are what you are," Moiraine said. "Already you stir the world. The Black Ajah has revealed itself for the first time in two thousand years. Arad Doman and Tarabon were on the brink of war, and it will be worse when news of Falme reaches them. Cairhien is in civil war."
"I did nothing in Cairhien," he protested. "You can't blame that on me."
"Doing nothing was always a ploy in the Great Game," she said with a sigh, "and especially as they play it now. You were the spark, and Cairhien exploded like an Illuminator's firework. What do you think will happen when word of Falme reaches Arad Doman and Tarabon? There have always been men willing to proclaim for any man who called himself the Dragon, but they have never before had such signs as this. There is more. Here." She tossed a pouch on his chest.
He hesitated a moment before opening it. Within lay shards of what seemed to be blackandwhite glazed pottery. He had seen their like before. "Another seal on the Dark One's prison," he mumbled. Min gasped; her grip on his hand sought comfort, now, rather than offering it.
"Two," Moiraine said. "Three of the seven are broken now. The one I had, and two I found in the High Lord's dwelling in Falme. When all seven are broken, perhaps even before, the patch men put over the hole they drilled into the prison the Creator made will be torn asunder, and the Dark One will once more be able to put his hand through that hole and touch the world. And the only hope of the world is that the Dragon Reborn will be there to face him."

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