The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 5



." Lan shrugged as if that explained everything. "How long before you leave, sheepherder? A month since you said you were going, and I thought you'd be three weeks gone by now."
Rand stared up at him in surprise. He's acting like nothing happened! Frowning, he set down the practice sword and lifted his real sword to his knees, fingers running along the long, leatherwrapped hilt inset with a bronze heron. Another bronze heron stood on the scabbard, and yet another was scribed on the sheathed blade. It was still a little strange to him that he had a sword. Any sword, much less one with a blademaster's mark. He was a farmer from the Two Rivers, so far away, now. Maybe far away forever, now. He was a shepherd like his father -I
was a shepherd. What am I now? - and his father had given him a heronmarked sword. Tam is my father, no matter what anybody says. He wished his own thoughts did not sound as if he was trying to convince himself.
Again Lan seemed to read his mind. "In the Borderlands, sheepherder, if a man has the raising of a child, that child is his, and none can say different."
Scowling, Rand ignored the Warder's words. It was no one's business but his own. "I want to learn how to use this. I need to." It had caused him problems, carrying a heronmarked sword. Not everybody knew what it meant, or even noticed it, but even so a heronmark blade, especially in the hands of a youth barely old enough to be called a man, still attracted the wrong sort of attention. "I've been able to bluff sometimes, when I could not run, and I've been lucky, besides. But what happens when I can't run, and I can't bluff, and my luck runs out?"
"You could sell it," Lan said carefully. "That blade is rare even among heronmark swords. It would fetch a pretty price."
"No!" It was an idea he had thought of more than once, but he rejected it now for the same reason he always had, and more fiercely for coming from someone else. As long as I keep it, I have the right to call Tam father. He gave it to me, and it gives me the right. "I thought any heronmark blade was rare."
Lan gave him a sidelong look. "Tam didn't tell you, then? He must know. Perhaps he didn't believe. Many do not." He snatched up his own sword, almost the twin of Rand's except for the lack of herons, and whipped off the scabbard. The blade, slightly curved and singleedged, glittered silvery in the sunlight.
It was the sword of the kings of Malkier. Lan did not speak of it- he did not even like others to speak of it - but al'Lan Mandragoran was Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, and uncrowned King of Malkier. The Seven Towers were broken now, and the Thousand Lakes the lair of unclean things. Malkier lay swallowed by the Great Blight, and of all the Malkieri lords, only one still lived.
Some said Lan had become a Warder, bonding himself to an Aes Sedai, so he could seek death in the Blight and join the rest of his blood. Rand had indeed seen Lan put himself in harm's way seemingly without regard for his own safety, but far beyond his own life and safety he held those of Moiraine, the Aes Sedai who held his bond. Rand did not think Lan would truly seek death while Moiraine lived.
Turning his blade in the light, Lan spoke. "In the War of the Shadow, the One Power itself was used as a weapon, and weapons were made with the One Power. Some weapons used the One Power, things that could destroy an entire city at one blow, lay waste to the land for leagues. Just as well those were all lost in the Breaking; just as well no one remembers the making of them. But there were simpler weapons, too, for those who would face Myrddraal, and worse things the Dreadlords made, blade to blade.
"With the One Power, Aes Sedai drew iron and other metals from the earth, smelted them, formed and wrought them. All with the Power. Swords, and other weapons, too. Many that survived the Breaking of the World were destroyed by men who feared and hated Aes Sedai work, and others have vanished with the years. Few remain, and few men truly know what they are. There have been legends of them, swollen tales of swords that seemed to have a power of their own.
You've heard the gleemen's tales. The reality is enough. Blades that will not shatter or break, and never lose their edge. I've seen men sharpening them-playing at sharpening, as it were-but only because they could not believe a sword did not need it after use. All they ever did was wear away their oilstones.
"Those weapons the Aes Sedai made, and there will never be others. When it was done, war and Age ended together, with the world shattered, with more dead unburied than there were alive and those alive fleeing, trying to find some place, any place, of safety, with every second woman weeping because she'd never see husband or sons again; when it was done, the Aes Sedai who still lived swore they would never again make a weapon for one man to kill another. Every Aes Sedai swore it, and every woman of them since has kept that oath. Even the Red Ajah, and they care little what happens to any male.
"One of those swords, a plain soldier's sword" - with a faint grimace, almost sad, if the Warder could be said to show emotion, he slid the blade back into its sheath - "became something more. On the other hand, those made for lordgenerals, with blades so hard no bladesmith could mark them, yet marked already with a heron, those blades became sought after."
Rand's hands jerked away from the sword propped on his knees. It toppled, and instinctively he grabbed it before it hit the floorstones. "You mean Aes Sedai made this? I thought you were talking about your sword."
"Not all heronmark blades are Aes Sedai work. Few men handle a sword with the skill to be named blademaster and be awarded a heronmark blade, but even so, not enough Aes Sedai blades remain for more than a handful to have one. Most come from master bladesmiths; the finest steel men can make, yet still wrought by a man's hands. But that one, sheepherder ... that one could tell a tale of three thous

"I can't get away from them," Rand said, "can I?" He balanced the sword in front of him on scabbard point; it looked no different than it had before he knew. "Aes Sedai work." But Tam gave it to me. My father gave it to me. He refused to think of how a Two Rivers shepherd had come by a heronmark blade. There were dangerous currents in such thoughts, deeps he did not want to explore.
"Do you really want to get away, sheepherder? I'll ask again. Why are you not gone, then? The sword? In five years I could make you worthy of it, make you a blademaster. You have quick wrists, good balance, and you don't make the same mistake twice. But I do not have five years to give over to teaching you, and you do not have five years for learning. You have not even one year, and you know it. As it is, you will not stab yourself in the foot. You hold yourself as if the sword belongs at your waist, sheepherder, and most village bullies will sense it. But you've had that much almost since the day you put it on. So why are you still here?"
"Mat and Perrin are still here," Rand mumbled. "I don't want to leave before they do. I won't ever - I might not see them again for - for years, maybe." His head dropped back against the wall. "Blood and ashes! At least they just think I'm crazy not to go home with them. Half the time Nynaeve looks at me like I'm six years old and I've skinned my knee, and she's going to make it better; the other half she looks like she's seeing a stranger. One she might offend if she looks too closely, at that. She's a Wisdom, and besides that, I don't think she's ever been afraid of anything, but she ..." He shook his head. "And Egwene. Burn me! She knows why I have to go, but every time I mention it she looks at me, and I knot up inside and ..." He closed his eyes, pressing the sword hilt against his forehead as if he could press what he was thinking out of existence. "I wish ... I wish ..."
"You wish everything could be the way it was, sheepherder? Or you wish the girl would go with you instead of to Tar Valon? You think she'll give up becoming an Aes Sedai for a life of wandering? With you? If you put it to her in the right way, she might. Love is an odd thing." Lan sounded suddenly weary. "As odd a thing as there is."
"No." It was what he had been wishing, that she would want to go with him. He opened his eyes and squared his back and made his voice firm. "No, I wouldn't let her come with me if she did ask." He could not do that to her. But Light, wouldn't it he sweet, just for a minute, if she said she wanted to? "She gets muley stubborn if she thinks I'm trying to tell her what to do, but I can still protect her from that." He wished she were back home in Emond's Field, but all hope of that had gone the day Moiraine came to the Two Rivers. "Even if it means she does become an Aes Sedai!" The corner of his eye caught Lan's raised eyebrow, and he flushed.
"And that is all the reason? You want to spend as much time as you can with your friends from home before they go? That's why you're dragging your feet? You know what's sniffing at your heels."

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