The Great Hunt: Page 6
Rand surged angrily to his feet. "All right, it's Moiraine! I wouldn't even be here if not for her, and she won't as much as talk to me."
"You'd be dead if not for her, sheepherder," Lan said flatly, but Rand rushed on.
"She tells me ... tells me horrible things about myself" - his knuckles whitened on the sword. That I'm going to go mad and die!-"and then suddenly she won't even say two words to me. She acts as if I'm no different than the day she found me, and that smells wrong, too."
"You want her to treat you like what you are?"
"No! I don't mean that. Burn me, I don't know what I mean half the time. I don't want that, and I'm scared of the other. Now she's gone off somewhere, vanished..."
"I told you she needs to be alone sometimes. It isn't for you, or anyone else, to question her actions."
"... without telling anybody where she was going, or when she'd be back, or even if she would be back. She has to be able to tell me something to help me, Lan. Something. She has to. If she ever comes back."
"She's back, sheepherder. Last night. But I think she has told you all she can. Be satisfied. You've learned what you can from her." With a shake of his head, Lan's voice became brisk. "You certainly aren't learning anything standing there. Time for a little balance work. Go through Parting the Silk, beginning from Heron Wading in the Rushes. Remember that that Heron form is only for practicing balance. Anywhere but doing forms, it leaves you wide open; you can strike home from it, if you wait for the other man to move first, but you'll never avoid his blade."
"She has to be able to tell me something, Lan. That wind. It wasn't natural, and I don't care how close to the Blight we are."
"Heron Wading in the Rushes, sheepherder. And mind your wrists."
From the south came a faint peal of trumpets, a rolling fanfare slowly growing louder, accompanied by the steady thrumthrumTHRUMthrum of drums. For a moment Rand and Lan stared at each other, then the drums drew them to the tower wall to stare southward.
The city stood on high hills, the land around the city walls cleared to ankle height for a full mile in all directions, and the keep covered the highest hill of all. From the tower top, Rand had a clear view across the chimneys and roofs to the forest. The drummers appeared first from the trees, a dozen of them, drums lifting as they stepped to their own beat, mallets whirling. Next came trumpeters, long, shining horns raised, still calling the flourish. At that distance Rand could not make out the huge, square banner whipping in the wind behind them. Lan grunted, though; the Warder had eyes like a snow eagle.
Rand glanced at him, but the Warder said nothing, his eyes intent on the column emerging from the forest. Mounted men in armor rode out of the trees, and women on horseback, too. Then a palanquin borne by horses, one before and one behind, its curtains down, and more men on horseback. Ranks of men afoot, pikes rising above them like a bristle of long thorns, and archers with their bows held slanted across their chests, all stepping to the drums. The trumpets cried again. Like a singing serpent the column wound its way toward Fal Dara.
The wind flapped the banner, taller than a man, straight out to one side. As big as it was, it was close enough now for Rand to see clearly. A swirl of colors that meant nothing to him, but at the heart of it, a shape like a pure white teardrop. His breath froze in his throa
"Ingtar's with them." Lan sounded as if his thoughts were elsewhere. "Back from his hunting at last. Been gone long enough. I wonder if he had any luck?"
"Aes Sedai," Rand whispered when he finally could. All those women out there ... Moiraine was Aes Sedai, yes, but he had traveled with her, and if he did not entirely trust her, at least he knew her. Or thought he did. But she was only one. So many Aes Sedai together, and coming like this, was something else again. He cleared his throat; when he spoke, his voice grated. "Why so many, Lan? Why any at all? And with drums and trumpets and a banner to announce them."
Aes Sedai were respected in Shienar, at least by most people, and the rest respectfully feared them, but Rand had been in places where it was different, where there was only the fear, and often hate. Where he had grown up, some men, at least, spoke of "Tar Valon witches" as they would speak of the Dark One. He tried to count the women, but they kept no ranks or order, moving their horses around to converse with one another or with whoever was in the palanquin. Goose bumps covered him. He had traveled with Moiraine, and met another Aes Sedai, and he had begun to think of himself as worldly. Nobody ever left the Two Rivers, or almost nobody, but he had. He had seen things no one back in the Two Rivers had ever laid eyes on, done things they had only dreamed of, if they had dreamed so far. He had seen a queen and met the DaughterHeir of Andor, faced a Myrddraal and traveled the Ways, and none of it had prepared him for this moment.
"Why so many?" he whispered again.
"The Amyrlin Seat's come in person." Lan looked at him, his expression as hard and unreadable as a rock. "Your lessons are done, sheepherder." He paused then, and Rand almost thought there was sympathy on his face. That could not be, of course. "Better for you if you were a week gone." With that the Warder snatched up his shirt and disappeared down the ladder into the tower.
Rand worked his mouth, trying to get a little moisture. He stared at the column approaching Fal Dara as if it really were a snake, a deadly viper. The drums and trumpets sang, loud in his ears. The Amyrlin Seat, who ordered the Aes Sedai. She's come because of me. He could think of no other reason.
They knew things, had knowledge that could help him, he was sure. And he did not dare ask any of them. He was afraid they had come to gentle him. And afraid they haven't, too, he admitted reluctantly. Light, I don't know which scares me more.
"I didn't mean to channel the Power," he whispered. "It was an accident! Light, I don't want anything to do with it. I swear I'll never touch it again! I swear it!"
With a start, he realized that the Aes Sedai party was entering the city gates. The wind swirled up fiercely, chilling his sweat like droplets of ice, making the trumpets sound like sly laughter; he thought he could smell an opened grave, strong in the air. My grave, if I keep standing here.
Grabbing his shirt, he scrambled down the ladder and began to run.
(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 2
(Flame of Tar Valon)
The halls of Fal Dara keep, their smooth stone walls sparsely decorated with elegantly simple tapestries and painted screens, bustled with news of the Amyrlin Seat's imminent arrival. Servants in blackandgold darted about their tasks, running to prepare rooms or carry orders to the kitchens, moaning that they could not have everything ready for so great a personage when they had had no warning. Darkeyed warriors, their heads shaven except for a topknot bound with a leather cord, did not run, but haste filled their steps and their faces shone with an excitement normally reserved for battle. Some of the men spoke as Rand hurried past.
"Ah, there you are, Rand al'Thor. Peace favor your sword. On your way to clean up? You'll want to look your best when you are presented to the Amyrlin Seat. She'll want to see you and your two friends as well as the women, you can count on it."
He trotted toward the broad stairs, wide enough for twenty men abreast, that led up to the men's apartments.
"The Amyrlin herself, come with no more warning than a pack peddler. Must be because of Moiraine Sedai and you southerners, eh? What else?"
The wide, ironbound doors of the men's apartments stood open, and half jammed with topknotted men buzzing with the Amyrlin's arrival.
"Ho, southlander! The Amyrlin's here. Come for you and your friends, I suppose. Peace, what honor for you! She seldom leaves Tar Valon, and she's never come to the Borderlands in my memory."
He fended them all off with a few words. He had to wash. Find a clean shirt. No time to talk. They thought they understood, and let him go. Not a one of them knew a thing except that he and his friends traveled in company with an Aes Sedai, that two of his friends were women who were going to Tar Valon to train as Aes Sedai, but their words stabbed at him as if they knew everything. She's come for me.
He dashed through the men's apartments, darted into the room he shared with Mat and Perrin ... and froze, his jaw dropping in astonishment. The room was filled with women wearing the blackandgold, all working purposefully. It was not a big room, and its windows, a pair of tall, narrow arrowslits looking down on one of the inner courtyards, did nothing to make it seem larger. Three beds on blackandwhite tiled platforms, each with a chest at the foot, three plain chairs, a washstand by the door, and a tall, wide wardrobe crowded the room.
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