The Great Hunt: Page 83
Memory lurched and tilted, shifting fragments like broken ice on a flooding river. She clawed for the pieces, clawed for something to hang on to.
ou well, my love?" Lan asked worriedly.
"Do not call me that! I am not your love! I cannot marry you!"
He startled her by throwing back his head and roaring with laughter. "Your implication that we are not married might upset our children, wife. And how are you not my love? I have no other, and will have no other."
"I must go back." Desperately she looked for the arch, found only meadow and sky. Harder than steel and more deadly than poison. Lan. Lan's babies. Light, help me! "I must go back now."
"Go back? Where? To Emond's Field? If you wish it. I'll send letters to Morgase, and command an escort."
"Alone," she muttered, still searching. Where is it? I have to go. "I won't be tangled up in this. I couldn't bear it. Not this. I have to go now!"
"Tangled up in what, Nynaeve? What is it you couldn't bear? No, Nynaeve. You can ride alone here if you wish it, but if the Queen of the Malkieri came to Andor without a proper escort, Morgase would be scandalized, if not offended. You don't want to offend her, do you? I thought you two were friends."
Nynaeve felt as if she had been hit in the head, blow after dazing blow. "Queen?" she said hesitantly. "We have babies?"
"Are you certain you're well? I think I had better take you to Sharina Sedai."
"No." She backed away from him again. "No Aes Sedai." It isn't real. I won't be pulled into it this time. I won't!
"Very well," he said slowly. "As my wife, how could you not be Queen? We are Malkieri here, not southlanders. You were crowned in the Seven Towers at the same time we exchanged rings." Unconsciously he moved his left hand; a plain gold band encircled his forefinger. She glanced at her own hand, at the ring she knew would be there; she clasped her other hand over it, but whether to deny its presence by hiding it or to hold it, she could not have said. "Do you remember, now?" he went on. He stretched out a hand as if to brush her cheek, and she went back another six steps. He sighed. "As you wish, my love. We have three children, though only one can properly be called a baby. Maric is almost to your shoulder and can't decide if he likes horses or books better.
Elnore has already begun practicing how to turn boys' heads, when she is not pestering Sharina about when she'll be old enough to go
"Elnore was my mother's name," she said softly.
"So you said when you chose it. Nynaeve - "
"No. I will not be pulled into it this time. Not this. I won't!" Beyond him, among the trees beside the meadow, she saw the silver arch. The trees had hidden it before. The way back will come but once. She turned toward it. "I must go." He caught her hand, and it was as if her feet had become rooted in stone; she could not make herself pull away.
"I do not know what is troubling you, wife, but whatever it is, tell me and I will make it right. I know I am not the best of husbands. I was all hard edges when I found you, but you've smoothed some of them away, at least."
"You are the very best of husbands," she murmured. To her horror, she found herself remembering him as her husband, remembering laughter and tears, bitter arguments and sweet making up. They were dim memories, but she could feel them growing stronger, warmer. "I cannot." The arch stood there, only a few steps away. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
"I do not know what is happening, Nynaeve, but I feel as if I were losing you. I could not bear that." He put a hand in her hair; closing her eyes, she pressed her cheek against his fingers. "Stay with me, always."
"I want to stay," she said softly. "I want to stay with you." When she opened her eyes, the arch was gone ... come but once. "No. No!"
Lan turned her to face him. "What troubles you? You must tell me if I'm to help."
"This is not real."
"Not real? Before I met you, I thought nothing except the sword was real. Look around you, Nynaeve. It is real. Whatever you want to be real, we can make real together, you and I."
Wonderingly, she did look around. The meadow was still there. The Seven Towers still stood over the Thousand Lakes. The arch was gone, but nothing else had changed. I could stay here. With Lan. Nothing has changed. Her thoughts turned. Nothing has changed. Egwene is alone in the White Tower. Rand will channel the Power and go mad. And what of Mat and Perrin? Can they take back any shred of their lives? And Moiraine, who tore all our lives apart, still walks free.
"I must go back," she whispered. Unable to bear the pain on his face, she pulled free of him. Deliberately she formed a flower bud in her mind, a white bud on a blackthorn branch. She made the thorns sharp and cruel, wishing they could pierce her flesh, feeling as if she already hung in the blackthorn's branches. Sheriam Sedai's voice danced just out of hearing, telling her it was dangerous to attempt to channel the Power. The bud opened, and saidar filled her with light.
"Nynaeve, tell me what is the matter."
Lan's voice slid across her concentration; she refused to let herself hear it. There had to be a way back still. Staring at where the silver arch had been, she tried to find some trace of it. There was nothing.
She tried to picture the arch in her mind, to shape it and form it to the last detail, curve of gleaming metal filled with a glow like snowy fire. It seemed to waver there, in front of her, first there between her and the trees, then not, then there ...
"... I love you ..."
She drew at saidar, drinking in the flow of the One Power till she thought she would burst. The radiance filling her, shining around her, hurt her own eyes. The heat seemed to consume her. The flickering arch firmed, steadied, stood whole before her. Fire and pain seemed to fill her; her bones felt as if they were burning; her skull seemed a roaring furnace.
"... with all my heart."
She ran toward the silver curve, not letting herself look back. She had been sure the bitterest thing she would ever hear was Marin al'Vere's cry for help as Nynaeve abandoned her, but that was honey beside the sound of Lan's anguished voice pursuing her. "Nynaeve, please don't leave me."
The white glow consumed her.
Naked, Nynaeve staggered through the arch and fell to her knees, slackmouthed and sobbing, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sheriam knelt beside her. She glared at the redhaired Aes Sedai. "I hate you!" she managed fiercely, gulping. "I hate all Aes Sedai!"
Sheriam gave a small sigh, then pulled Nynaeve to her feet. "Child, almost every woman who does this says much the same thing. It is no small thing to be made to face your fears. What is this?" she said sharply, turning Nynaeve's palms up.
s hands quivered with a sudden pain she had not felt before. Driven through the palm of each hand, right in the center, was a long black thorn. Sheriam drew them out carefully; Nynaeve felt the cool Healing of the Aes Sedai's touch. When each thorn came free, it left only a small scar on front and back of the hand.
Sheriam frowned. "There shouldn't be any scarring. And how did you only get two, and both placed so precisely? If you tangled yourself in a blackthorn bush, you should be covered with scratches and thorns."
"I should," Nynaeve agreed bitterly. "Maybe I thought I had already paid enough."
"There is always a price," the Aes Sedai agreed. "Come, now. You have paid the first price. Take what you have paid for." She gave Nynaeve a slight push forward.
Nynaeve realized there were more Aes Sedai in the chamber. The Amyrlin in her striped stole was there, with a shawled sister from each Ajah ranged to either side of her, all of them watching Nynaeve. Remembering Sheriam's instruction, Nynaeve tottered forward and knelt before the Amyrlin. It was she who held the last chalice, and she tipped it slowly over Nynaeve's head.
"You are washed clean of Nynaeve al'Maera from Emond's Field. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Nynaeve al'Maera, Accepted of the White Tower." Handing the chalice to one of the sisters, the Amyrlin drew Nynaeve to her feet. "You are sealed to us, now."
The Amyrlin's eyes seemed to hold a dark glow. Nynaeve's shiver had nothing to do with being naked and wet.
(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 24
(Flame of Tar Valon)
New Friends and Old Enemies
Egwene followed the Accepted through the halls of the White Tower. Tapestries and paintings covered walls as white as the outside of the tower; patterned tiles made the floor. The Accepted's white dress was exactly like hers, except for seven narrow bands of color at hem and cuffs. Egwene frowned, looking at that dress. Since yesterday Nynaeve had worn an Accepted's dress, and she seemed to have no joy of it, nor of the golden ring, a serpent eating its own tail, that marked her level. The few times Egwene had been able to see the Wisdom, Nynaeve's eyes had seemed shadowed, as if she had seen things she wished with all h
"In here," the Accepted said curtly, gesturing to a door.
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