The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 68

Egwene exchanged looks with Nynaeve. It seemed they really were on their own.
Nynaeve stalked off the ship with grim determination on her face, but Egwene made her way dejectedly down the gangplank and through the tarry smell that hung over the wharf. All that talk about wanting us here, and now they don't seem to care.
Broad stairs led up from the dock to a wide arch of dark redstone. On reaching it, Egwene and Nynaeve stopped to stare.
Every building seemed a palace, though most of those close to the arch seemed to contain inns or shops, from the signs over the doors. Fanciful stonework was everywhere, and the lines of one structure seemed designed to complement and set off the next, leading the eye along as if everything were part of one vast design. Some structures did not look like buildings at all, but like gigantic waves breaking, or huge shells, or fanciful, windsculpted cliffs. Right in front of the arch lay a broad square, with a fountain and trees, and Egwene could see another square further on. Above everything rose the towers, tall and graceful, some with sweeping bridges between them, high in the sky. And over all rose one tower, higher and wider than all the rest, as white as the Shining Walls themselves.
"Fair takes the breath at first sight," said a woman's voice behind them. "At tenth sight, for that. And at hundredth."
Egwene turned. The woman was Aes Sedai; Egwene was sure of it, though she wore no shawl. No one else had that ageless look; and she held herself with an assurance, a confidence that seemed to confirm it. A glance at her hand showed the golden ring, the serpent biting its own tail. The Aes Sedai was a little plump, with a warm smile, and one of the oddestappearing women Egwene had ever seen. Her plumpness could not hide high cheekbones, her eyes had a tilt to them and were the clearest, palest green, and her hair was almost the color of fire. Egwene barely stopped herself from goggling at that hair, those slightly slanted eyes.
"Ogier built, of course," the Aes Sedai went on, "and their best work ever, some say. One of the first cities built after the Breaking. There weren't half a thousand people here altogether then - no more than twenty sisters - but they built for what would be needed."
"It is a lovely city," Nynaeve said. "We are supposed to go to the White Tower. We came here for training, but no one seems to care if we go or stay."
"They care," the woman said, smiling. "I came here to meet you, but I was delayed speaking with the Amyrlin. I am Sheriam, the Mistress of Novices."
"I am not to be a novice," Nynaeve said in a firm voice, but a little too quickly. "The Amyrlin herself said I was to be one of the Accepted."
"So I was told." Sheriam sounded amused. "I have never heard of it being done so before, but they say you are ... exceptional. Remember, though, even one of the Accepted can be called to my study. It requires more breaking of the rules than for a novice, but it has been known to happen." She turned to Egwene as if she had not seen Nynaeve frown. "And you are our new novice. It is always good to see a novice come. We have too few, these days. You will make forty ... Only forty. And no more than eight or nine of those will be raised to the Accepted. Though I don't think you will have to worry about that too much, if you work hard and apply yourself. The work is hard, and even for one with the potential they tell me you have, it will not be made any easier. If you cannot stick to it, no matter how hard it is, or if you will break under the strain, better we find it out now, and let you go on your way, than wait until you are a full sister and others are depending on you. An Aes Sedai's life is not easy. Here, we will prepare you for it, if you have in you what is required."
Egwene swallowed. Break under the strain? "I will try, Sheriam Sedai," she said faintly. And I will not break.
Nynaeve looked at her worriedly. "Sheriam ..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "Sheriam Sedai" - she seemed to force the honorific out - "does it have to be so hard on her? Flesh and blood can only take so much. I know ... something ... of what novices must go through. Surely there's no need to try to break her just to find out how strong she is."
"You mean what the Amyrlin did to you today?" Nynaeve's back stiffened; Sheriam looked as though she were trying to keep amusement from her face. "I told you I spoke with the Amyrlin. Rest your worries for your friend. Novice training is hard, but not that hard. That is for the first few weeks of being one of the Accepted." Nynaeve's mouth fell open; Egwene thought the Wisdom's eyes were going to come right out of her head. "To catch the few who might have slipped through novice training when they should not have. We cannot risk having one of our number - a full Aes Sedai - who will break under the stress of the world outside." The Aes Sedai gathered them both up, an arm around the shoulders of each. Nynaeve hardly seemed to realize where she was going. "Come," Sheriam said, "I will see you settled in your rooms. The

(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 19
Beneath the Dagger
Night on the edge of Kinslayer's Dagger was cold, as nights in the mountains are always cold. The wind whipped down from the high peaks carrying the iciness of the snowcaps. Rand shifted on the hard ground, tugging at his cloak and blanket, and only half asleep. His hand went to his sword, lying beside him. One more day, he thought drowsily. Just one more, and then we go. If no one comes tomorrow, Ingtar or Darkfriends one, I'll take Selene to Cairhien.
He had told himself that before. Every day they had been there on the mountainside, watching the place where Hurin said the trail had been, in that other world - where Selene said the Darkfriends would surely appear in this world - he told himself it was time to leave. And Selene talked of the Horn of Valere, and touched his arm, and looked into his eyes, and before he knew it he had agreed to yet another day before they went on.
He shrugged against the chill of the wind, thinking of Selene touching his arm and looking into his eyes. If Egwene saw that, she'd shear me for a sheep, and Selene, too. Egwene could already be in Tar Valon by now, learning to be an Aes Sedai. The next time she sees me, she'll probably try to gentle me.
As he shifted over, his hand slid past the sword and touched the bundle holding Thom Merrilin's harp and flute. Unconsciously, his fingers tightened on the gleeman's cloak. I was happy then, I think, even running for my life. Playing the flute for my supper. I was too ignorant to know what was going on.
There's no turning back.
Shivering, he opened his eyes. The only light came from the waning moon, not far past full and low in the sky. A fire would give them away to those for whom they watched. Loial muttered in his sleep, a low rumble. One of the horses stamped a hoof. Hurin had the first watch, from a stone outcrop a little way up the mountain; he would be coming to wake Rand for his turn, soon.
Rand rolled over ... and stopped. In the moonlight he could see the shape of Selene, bending over his saddlebags, her hands on the buckles. Her white dress gathered the faint light. "Do you need something?"
She gave a jump, and stared toward him. "You - you startled me."
He rolled to his feet, shedding the blanket and wrapping the cloak around himself, and went to her. He was sure he had left the saddlebags right by his side when he lay down; he always kept them close. He took them from her. All the buckles were fastened, even those on the side that held the damning banner. How can my life depend on keeping it? If anybody sees it and knows what it is, I'll die for having it. He peered at her suspiciously.
Selene stayed where she was, looking up at him. The moon glistened in her dark eyes. "It came to me," she said, "that I've been wearing this dress too long. I could brush it, at least, if I had something else to wear while I did. One of your shirts, perhaps."
Rand nodded, feeling a sudden relief. Her dress looked as clean to him as when he first saw her, but he knew that if a spot appeared on Egwene's dress, nothing would do but that she cleaned it immediately. "Of course." He opened the capacious pocket into which he had stuffed everything except the banner and pulled out one of the white silk shirts.
"Thank you." Her hands went behind her back. To the buttons, he realized.
Eyes wide, he spun away from her.
"If you could help me with these, it would be much easier."
Rand cleared his throat. "It would not be proper. It isn't as if we were promised, or ..." Stop thinking about that! You can never marry anyone. "It just wouldn't be proper."
Her soft laugh sent a shiver down his back, as if she had run a finger along his spine. He tried not to listen to the rustlings behind him. He said, "Ah ... tomorrow ... tomorrow, we'll leave for Cairhien."
"And what of the Horn of Valere?"
"Maybe we were wrong.

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