The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 24



He hoped she did not know he was aware of her feelings for the Warder.
After a moment her gaze softened as it fell on the sleeve of her dress. "The Lady Amalisa gave me this," she said so softly he wondered if she was speaking to herself. She stroked the silk with her fingers, outlining the embroidered flowers, smiling, lost in thought.
"It's very pretty on you, Nynaeve. You're pretty tonight." He winced as soon as he said it. Any Wisdom was touchy about her authority, but Nynaeve was touchier than most. The Women's Circle back home had always looked over her shoulder because she was young, and maybe because she was pretty, and her fights with the Mayor and the Village Council had been the stuff of stories.
She jerked her hand away from the embroidery and glared at him, brows lowering. He spoke quickly to forestall her.
"They can't keep the gates barred forever. Once they are opened, I will be gone, and the Aes Sedai will never find me. Perrin says there are places in the Black Hills and the Caralain Grass you can go for days without seeing a soul. Maybe–maybe I can figure out what to do about ..." He shrugged uncomfortably. There was no need to say it, not to her. "And if I can't, there'll be no one to hurt."
Nynaeve was silent for a moment, then she said slowly, "I am not so sure, Rand. I can't say you look like more than another village boy to me, but Moiraine insists you are ta'veren, and I don't think she believes the Wheel is finished with you. The Dark One seems -"
"Shai'tan is dead," he said harshly, and abruptly the room seemed to lurch. He grabbed his head as waves of dizziness sloshed through him.
"You fool! You pure, blind, idiotic fool! Naming the Dark One, bringing his attention down on you! Don't you have enough trouble?"
"He's dead," Rand muttered, rubbing his head. He swallowed. The dizziness was already fading. "All right, all right. Ba'alzamon, if you want. But he's dead; I saw him die, saw him burn."
"And I wasn't watching you when the Dark One's eye fell on you just now? Don't tell me you felt nothing, or I'll box your ears; I saw your face."
"He's dead," Rand insisted. The unseen watcher flashed through his head, and the wind on the tower top. He shivered. "Strange things happen this close to the Blight."
"You are a fool, Rand al'Thor." She shook a fist at him. "I would box your ears for you if I thought it would knock any sense -"
The rest of her words were swallowed as bells crashed out ringing all over the keep.
He bounded to his feet. "That's an alarm! They're searching ... " Name the Dark One, and his evil comes down on you.
d more slowly, shaking her head uneasily. "No, I don't think so. If they are searching for you, all the bells do is warn you. No, if it's an alarm, it is not for you."
"Then what?" He hurried to the nearest arrowslit and peered out.
Lights darted through the nightcloaked keep like fireflies, lamps and torches dashing here and there. Some went to the outer walls and towers, but most of those that he could see milled through the garden below and the one courtyard he could just glimpse part of. Whatever had caused the alarm was inside the keep.
The bells fell silent, unmasking the shouts of men, but he could not make o

If it isn't for me ..."Egwene," he said suddenly. If she's still alive, if there's any evil, it's supposed to come to me.
Nynaeve turned from looking through another arrowslit. "What?"
"Egwene." He crossed the room in quick strides and snatched his sword and scabbard free of the bundle. Light, it's supposed to hurt me, not her. "She's in the dungeon with Fain. What if he's loose somehow?"
She caught him at the door, grabbing his arm. She was not as tall as his shoulder, but she held on like iron. "Don't be a worse goatbrained fool than you've already been, Rand al'Thor. Even if this doesn't have anything to do with you, the women are looking for something! Light, man, this is the women's apartments. There will be Aes Sedai out there in the halls, likely as not. Egwene will be all right. She was going to take Mat and Perrin with her. Even if she met trouble, they would look after her."
"What if she couldn't find them, Nynaeve? Egwene would never let that stop her. She would go alone, the same as you, and you know it. Light, I told her Fain is dangerous! Burn me, I told her!" Pulling free, he jerked open the door and dashed out. Light burn me, it's supposed to hurt me!
A woman screamed at the sight of him, in a laborer's coarse shirt and jerkin with a sword in his hand. Even invited, men did not go armed in the women's apartments unless the keep was under attack. Women filled the corridor, serving women in the blackandgold, ladies of the keep in silks and laces, women in embroidered shawls with long fringes, all talking loudly at the same time, all demanding to know what was happening. Crying children clung to skirts everywhere. He plunged through them, dodging where he could, muttering apologies to those he shouldered aside, trying to ignore their startled stares.
One of the women in a shawl turned to go back into her room, and he saw the back of her shawl, saw the gleaming white teardrop in the middle of her back. Suddenly he recognized faces he had seen in the outer courtyard. Aes Sedai, staring at him in alarm, now.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Is the keep under attack? Answer me, man!"
"He's no soldier. Who is he? What's happening?"
"It's the young southland lord!"
"Someone stop him!"
Fear pushed his lips back, baring his teeth, but he kept moving, and tried to move faster.
Then a woman came out into the hall, facetoface with him, and he stopped in spite of himself. He recognized that face above the rest; he thought he would remember it if he lived forever. The Amyrlin Seat. Her eyes widened at the sight of him, and she started back. Another Aes Sedai, the tall woman he had seen with the staff, put herself between him and the Amyrlin, shouting something at him that he could not make out over the increasing babble.
She knows. Light help me, she knows. Moiraine told her. Snarling, he ran on. Light, just let me make sure Egwene's safe before they ... He heard shouting behind him, but he did not listen.
There was enough turmoil around him out in the keep. Men running for the courtyards with swords in hand, never looking at him. Over the clamor of alarm bells, he could make out other noises, now. Shouts. Screams. Metal ringing on metal. He had just time to realize they were the sounds of battle - Fighting? Inside Fal Dara? - when three Trollocs came dashing around a corner in front of him.
Hairy snouts distorted otherwise human faces, and one of them had ram's horns. They bared teeth, raising scythelike swords as they sped toward him.
The hallway that had been full of running men a moment before was empty now except for the three Trollocs and himself. Caught by surprise, he unsheathed his sword awkwardly, tried Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose. Shaken at finding Trollocs in the heart of Fal Dara keep, he did the form so badly Lan would have stalked off in disgust. A bearsnouted Trolloc evaded it easily, bumping the other two off stride for just an instant.
Suddenly there were a dozen Shienarans rushing past him at the Trollocs, men half dressed in finery for the feast, but swords at the ready. The bearsnouted Trolloc snarled as it died, and its companions ran, pursued by shouting men waving steel. Shouts and screams filled the air from everywhere.
Egwene!
Rand turned deeper into the keep, running down halls empty of life, though now and again a dead Trolloc lay on the floor. Or a dead man.
Then he came to a crossing of corridors, and to his left was the tail end of a fight. Six topknotted men lay bleeding and still, and a seventh was dying. The Myrddraal gave its sword an extra twist as it pulled the blade free of the man's belly, and the soldier screamed as he dropped his sword and fell. The Fade moved with viperous grace, the serpent illusion heightened by the armor of black, overlapping plates that covered its chest. It turned, and that pale, eyeless face studied Rand. It started toward him, smiling a bloodless smile, not hurrying. It had no need to hurry for one man alone.
He felt rooted where he stood; his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. The look of the Eyeless is fear. That was what they said along the Border. His hands shook as he raised his sword. He never even thought of assuming the void. Light, it just killed seven armed soldiers together. Light, what am I going to do! Light!
Myrddraal stopped, its smile gone.
"This one is mine, Rand." Rand gave a start as Ingtar stepped up beside him, dark and stocky in a yellow feastday coat, sword held in both hands. Ingtar's dark eyes never left the Fade's face; if the Shienaran felt the fear of that gaze, he gave no sign. "Try yourself on a Trolloc or two," he said softly, "before you face one of these."
"I was coming down to see if Egwene is safe. She was going to the dungeon to visit Fain, and-"
"Then go see to her."

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