The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 23

Not shadowy enough, though. Rand could still make them out.
The windows, he thought desperately. He backed away from the door, clutching his sword before him in both hands. Even if the door holds, they can break in the windows. Why aren't they trying the windows?
With a deafening metallic screech, one of the brackets pulled partly away from the doorframe, hanging loose on nails ripped a finger's width out of the wood. The bar quivered from another blow, and the nails squealed again.
"We have to stop them!" Rand shouted. Only we can't. We can't stop them. He looked around for a way to run, but there was only the one door. The room was a box. Only one door, and so many windows. "We have to do something. Something!"
"It's too late," Mat said. "Don't you understand?" His grin looked odd on a bloodless pale face, and the hilt of a dagger stood out from his chest, the ruby that capped it blazing as if it held fire. The gem had more life than his face. "It's too late for us to change anything."
"I've finally gotten rid of them," Perrin said, laughing. Blood streamed down his face like a flood of tears from his empty sockets. He held out red hands, trying to make Rand look at what he held. "I'm free, now. It's over."
"It's never over, al'Thor," Padan Fain cried, capering in the middle of the floor. "The battle's never done."
The door exploded in splinters, and Rand ducked away from the flying shards of wood. Two redclad Aes Sedai stepped through, bowing their master in. A mask the color of dried blood covered Ba'alzamon's face, but Rand could see the flames of his eyes through the eyeslits; he could hear the roaring fires of Ba'alzamon's mouth.
"It is not yet done between us, al'Thor," Ba'alzamon said, and he and Fain spoke together as one, "For you, the battle is never done."
With a strangled gasp Rand sat up on the floor, clawing his way awake. It seemed he could still hear Fain's voice, as sharp as if the peddler were standing beside him. It's never over. The battle's never done.
Blearyeyed, he looked around to convince himself that he was still hidden away where Egwene had left him, bedded down on a pallet in a corner of her room.
The dim light of a single lamp suffused the room, and he was surprised to see Nynaeve, knitting in a rocking chair on the other side of the lone bed, its covers still in place. It was night outside.
Darkeyed and slender, Nynaeve wore her hair in a fat braid, pulled over one shoulder and hanging almost to her waist. She had not given up on home. Her face was calm, and she seemed aware of nothing except her knitting as she rocked gently. The steady clickclick of her knitting needles was the only sound. The rug silenced the rocking chair.
There had been nights of late when he had wished for a carpet on the cold stone floor of his room, but in Shienar men's rooms were always bare and stark. The walls here had two tapestries, mountain scenes with waterfalls, and flowerembroidered curtains alongside the arrowslits. Cut flowers, white morningstars, stood in a flat, round vase on the table by the bed, and more nodded in glazed white sconces on the walls. A tall mirror stood in a corner, and another hung over the washstand, with its bluestriped pitcher and bowl. He wondered why Egwene needed two mirrors; there was none in his room, and he did not miss it. There was only one lamp lit, but four more stood around the room, which was nearly as large as the one he shared with Mat and Perrin. Egwene had it alone.
Without looking up, Nynaeve said, "If you sleep in the afternoon, you can't expect to sleep at night."
He frowned, though she could not see it. At least, he thought she could not. She was only a few years older than he, but being Wisdom added fifty years of authority. "I needed a place to hide, and I was tired," he said, then quickly added, "I didn't just come here. Egwene invited me into the women's apartments."
Nynaeve lowered her knitting and gave him an amused smile. She was a pretty woman. That was something he would never have noticed back home; one just did not think of a Wisdom that way. "The Light help me, Rand, you are becoming more Shienaran every day. Invited into the women's apartments, indeed." She sniffed. "Any day now, you'll start talking about your honor, and asking peace to favor your sword." He colored, and hoped she did not notice in the dim light. She eyed his sword, its hilt sticking out of the long bundle beside him on the floor. He knew she did not approve of the sword, of any sword, but she said nothing about it for once. "Egwene told me why you need a place to hide. Don't worry. We will keep you hidden from the Amyrlin, or from any other Aes Sedai, if that is what you want."
eyes and jerked hers away, but not before he saw her uneasiness. Her doubt. That's right, I can channel the Power. A man wielding the One Power! You ought to be helping the Aes Sedai hunt me down and gentle me.
Scowling, he straightened the leather jerkin Egwene had found for him and twisted around so he could lean back against the wall. "As soon as I can, I will hide in a cart, or sneak out. You won't have to hide me long." Nynaeve did not say anything; she fixed on her knitting, making an angry sound when she dropped a stitch. "Where is Egwene?"
She let the knitting fall onto her lap. "I don't know why I am even trying tonight. I can't keep track of my stitches for some reason. She has gone down to see Padan Fain. She thinks seeing faces he knows might help him."
"Mine certainly did not. She ought to stay away from him.

"She wants to help him," Nynaeve said calmly. "Remember, she was training to be my assistant, and being a Wisdom is not all predicting the weather. Healing is part of it, too. Egwene has the desire to heal, the need to. And if Padan Fain is so dangerous, Moiraine would have said something - "
He barked a laugh. "You didn't ask her. Egwene admitted it, and I can just see you asking permission for anything." Her raised eyebrow wiped the laugh off his face. He refused to apologize, though. They were a long way from home, and he did not see how she could go on being Wisdom of Emond's Field if she was going to Tar Valon. "Have they started to search for me, yet? Egwene is not sure they will, but Lan says the Amyrlin Seat is here because of me, and I think I'll take his opinion over hers."
For a moment Nynaeve did not answer. Instead she fussed with her skeins of yarn. Finally she said, "I am not sure. One of the serving women came a little while ago. To turn down the bed, she said. As if Egwene would be going to sleep already, with the feast for the Amyrlin tonight. I sent her away; she didn't see you."
"Nobody turns your bed down for you in the men's quarters." She gave him a level look, one that would have set him stammering a year ago. He shook his head. "They wouldn't use the maids to look for me, Nynaeve."
"When I went to the buttery for a cup of milk earlier, there were too many women in the halls. Those who are attending the feast should have been getting dressed, and the others should either have been helping them or getting ready to serve, or to ... " She frowned worriedly. "There's more than enough work for everybody with the Amyrlin here. And they were not just here in the women's apartments. I saw the Lady Amalisa herself coming out of a storeroom near the buttery with her face all over dust."
"That's ridiculous. Why would she be part of a search? Or any of the women, for that matter. They'd be using Lord Agelmar's soldiers, and the Warders. And the Aes Sedai. They must just be doing something for the feast. Burn me if I know what a Shienaran feast takes."
"You are a woolhead, sometimes, Rand. The men I saw didn't know what the women were doing either. I heard some of them complaining about having to do all the work by themselves. I know it makes no sense that they were looking for you. None of the Aes Sedai seemed to be taking any interest. But Amalisa was not readying herself for the feast by dirtying her dress in a storeroom. They were looking for something, something important. Even if she began right after I saw her, she would barely have time to bathe and change. Speaking of which, if Egwene doesn't come back soon, she'll have to choose between changing and being late."
For the first time, he realized that Nynaeve was not wearing the Two Rivers woolens he was used to. Her dress was pale blue silk, embroidered in snowdrop blossoms around the neck and down the sleeves. Each blossom centered on a small pearl, and her belt was tooled in silver, with a silver buckle set with pearls. He had never seen her in anything like that. Even feastday clothes back home might not match it.
"You're going to the feast?"
"Of course. Even if Moiraine had not said I should, I would never let her think I was ..." Her eyes lit up fiercely for a moment, and he knew what she meant. Nynaeve would never let anyone think she was afraid, even if she was. Certainly not Moiraine, and especially not Lan.

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