The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 31

Now remember, you kneel when you go before her. One knee only, mind," he added sharply.
"You're not some merchant caught giving short weight. Maybe you had better practice it."
"I know how, I think. I saw how the Queen's Guards knelt to Queen Morgase."
The ghost of a smile touched the Warder's lips. "Yes, you do it just as they did. That will give them something to think about."
Rand frowned. "Why are you telling me this, Lan? You're a Warder. You're acting as if you are on my side."
"I am on your side, sheepherder. A little. Enough to help you a bit." The Warder's face was stone, and sympathetic words sounded strange in that rough voice. "What training you've had, I gave you, and I'll not have you groveling and sniveling. The Wheel weaves us all into the Pattern as it wills. You have less freedom about it than most, but by the Light, you can still face it on your feet. You remember who the Amyrlin Seat is, sheepherder, and you show her proper respect, but you do what I tell you, and you look her in the eye. Well, don't stand there gaping. Tuck in your shirt."
Rand shut his mouth and tucked in his shirt. Remember who she is? Burn me, what I wouldn't give to forget who she is!
Lan kept up a running flow of instructions while Rand shrugged into the red coat and buckled on his sword. What to say and to whom, and what not to say. What to do, and what not. How to move, even. He was not sure he could remember it all - most of it sounded odd, and easy to forget - and he was sure whatever he forgot would be just the thing to make the Aes Sedai angry with him. If they aren't already. If Moiraine told the Amyrlin Seat, who else did she tell?
"Lan, why can't I just leave the way I planned? By the time she knew I was not coming, I'd be a league outside the walls and galloping."
"And she'd have trackers after you before you had gone two. What the Amyrlin wants, sheepherder, she gets." He adjusted Rand's sword belt so the heavy buckle was centered. "What I do is the best I can for you. Believe it."
"But why all this? What does it mean? Why do I put my hand over my heart if the Amyrlin Seat stands up? Why refuse anything but water - not that I want to eat a meal with her - then dribble some on the floor and say 'The land thirsts' ? And if she asks how old I am, why tell her how long it is since I was given the sword? I don't understand half of what you've told me."
"Three drops, sheepherder, don't pour it. You sprinkle three drops only. You can understand later so long as you remember now. Think of it as upholding custom. The Amyrlin will do with you as she must. If you believe you can avoid it, then you believe you can fly to the moon like Lenn. You can't escape, but maybe you can hold your own for a while, and perhaps you can keep your pride, at least. The Light burn me, I am probably wasting my time, but I've nothing better to do. Hold still." From his pocket the Warder produced a long length of wide, fringed golden cord and tied it around Rand's left arm in a complicated knot. On the knot he fastened a redenameled pin, an eagle with its wings spread. "I had that made to give you, and now is as good a time as any. That will make them think." There was no doubt about it, now. The Warder was smiling.
Rand looked down at the pin worriedly. Caldazar. The Red Eagle of Manetheren. "A thorn to the Dark One's foot," he murmured, "and a bramble to his hand." He looked at the Warder. "Manetheren's long dead and forgotten, Lan. It's just a name in a book, now. There is only the Two Rivers. Whatever else I am, I'm a shepherd and a farmer. That's all."
"Well, the sword that could not be broken was shattered in the end, sheepherder, but it fought the Shadow to the last. There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. Now, are you ready? The Amyrlin Seat waits."
With a cold knot in the pit of his belly, Rand followed the Warder into the hall.

(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 8
(Dragon's Fang)
The Dragon Reborn
Rand walked stifflegged and nervous at first, beside the Warder. Face it on your feet. It was easy for Lan to say. He had not been summoned by the Amyrlin Seat. He was not wondering if he would be gentled before the day was done, or worse. Rand felt as if he had something caught in his throat; he could not swallow, and he wanted to, badly.
The corridors bustled with people, servants going about their morning chores, warriors wearing swords over lounging robes. A few young boys carrying small practice swords stayed near their elders, imitating the way they walked. No sign remained of the fighting, but an air of alertness clung even to the children. Grown men looked like cats waiting for a pack of rats.
Ingtar gave Rand and Lan a peculiar look, almost troubled, opening his mouth, then saying nothing as they passed him. Kajin, tall and lean and sallow, pumped his fists over his head and shouted, "Tai'shar Malkier! Tai'shar Manetheren!" True blood of Malkier. True blood of Manetheren.
Light, why did he say that? Don't be a fool, he told himself. They all know about Manetheren here. They know every old story, if it has fighting in it. Burn me, I have to take a rein on myself.
Lan raised his fists in reply. "Tai'shar Shienar!"
If he made a run for it, could he lose himself in the crowd long enough to reach his horse? If she sends trackers after me ... With ever

As they approached the women's apartments, Lan suddenly snapped, "Cat Crosses the Courtyard!"
Startled, Rand instinctively assumed the walking stance as he had been taught, back straight but every muscle loose, as if he hung from a wire at the top of his head. It was a relaxed, almost arrogant, saunter. Relaxed on the outside; he certainly did not feel it inside. He had no time to wonder what he was doing. They rounded the last corridor in step with each other.
The women at the entrance to the women's apartments looked up calmly as they came closer. Some sat behind slanted tables, checking large ledgers and sometimes making an entry. Others were knitting, or working with needle and embroidery hoop. Ladies in silks kept this watch, as well as women in livery. The arched doors stood open, unguarded except for the women. No more was needed. No Shienaran man would enter uninvited, but any Shienaran man stood ready to defend that door if needed, and he would be aghast at the need.
Rand's stomach churned, harsh and acid. They'll take one look at our swords and turn us away. Well, that's what I want, isn't it? If they turn us back, maybe I can still get away. If they don't call the guards down on us. He clung to the stance Lan had given him as he would have to a floating branch in a flood; holding it was the only thing that kept him from turning tail and running.
One of the Lady Amalisa's attendants, Nisura, a roundfaced woman, put aside her embroidery and stood as they came to a stop. Her eyes flickered across their swords, and her mouth tightened, but she did not mention them. All the women stopped what they were doing to watch, silent and intent.
"Honor to you both," Nisura said, bowing her head slightly. She glanced at Rand, so quickly he was almost not sure he had seen it; it reminded him of what Perrin had said. "The Amyrlin Seat awaits you." She motioned, and two other ladies - not servants; they were being honored - stepped forward for escorts. The women bowed, a hair more than Nisura had, and motioned them through the archway. They both gave Rand a sidelong glance, then did not look at him again.
Were they looking for all of us, or just me? Why all of us?
Inside, they got the looks Rand expected - two men in the women's apartments where men were rare - and their swords caused more than one raised eyebrow, but none of the women spoke. The two men left knots of conversation in their path, soft murmurs too low for Rand to make out. Lan strode along as if he did not even notice. Rand kept pace behind their escorts and wished he could hear.
And then they reached the Amyrlin Seat's chambers, with three Aes Sedai in the hall outside the door. The tall Aes Sedai, Leane, held her goldenflamed staff. Rand did not know the other two, one of the White Ajah and one Yellow by their fringe. He remembered their faces, though, staring at him as he had run through these same halls. Smooth Aes Sedai faces, with knowing eyes. They studied him with arched eyebrows and pursed lips. The women who had brought Lan and Rand curtsied, handing them over to the Aes Sedai.
Leane looked Rand over with a slight smile. Despite the smile, her voice had a snap to it. "What have you brought the Amyrlin Seat today, Lan Gaidin? A young lion? Better you don't let any Greens see this one, or one of them will bond him before he can take a breath. Greens like to bond them young."
Rand wondered if it was really possible to sweat inside your skin. He felt as if he was. He wanted to look at Lan, but he remembered this part of the Warder's instructions. "I am Rand al'Thor, son of Tam al'Thor, of the Two Rivers, which once was Manetheren.

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