The Great Hunt: Page 96
Verin handed her reins to one of the soldiers. She studied the Aiel as she came closer. "Why do you call me that? Do you take me for an Aiel?"
"No, Wise One. But you have the look of those who have made the journey to Rhuidean and survived. The years do not touch the Wise Ones in the same way as other women, or as they touch men."
An excited look appeared on the Aes Sedai's face, but Ingtar spoke impatiently. "We are following Darkfriends and Trollocs, Urien. Have you seen any sign of them?"
"Trollocs? Here?" Urien's eyes brightened. "It is one of the signs the prophecies speak of. When the Trollocs come out of the Blight again, we will leave the Threefold Land and take back our places of old." There was muttering from the mounted Shienarans. Urien eyed them with a pride that made him seem to be looking down from a height.
"The Threefold Land?" Mat said.
Perrin thought he looked still paler; not sick, exactly, but as if he had been out of the sun too long.
"You call it the Waste," Urien said. "To us it is the Threefold Land. A shaping stone, to make, us; a testing ground, to prove our worth; and a punishment for the sin."
sin?" Mat asked. Perrin caught his breath, waiting for the spears in Urien's hand to flash.
The Aiel shrugged. "So long ago it was, that none remember. Except the Wise Ones and the clan chiefs, and they will not speak of it. It must have been a very great sin if they cannot bring themselves to tell us, but the Creator punishes us well."
"Trollocs," Ingtar persisted. "Have you seen Trollocs?"
Urien shook his head. "I would have killed them if I had, but I have seen nothing but the rocks and the sky."
Ingtar shook his head, losing interest, but Verin spoke, sharp concentration in her voice. "This Rhuidean. What is it? Where is it? How are the girls chosen to go?"
Urien's face went flat, his eyes hooded. "I cannot speak of it, Wise One."
In spite of himself Perrin's hand gripped his axe. There was that in Urien's voice. Ingtar had also set himself, ready to reach for his sword, and there was a stir among the mounted men. But Verin stepped up to the Aiel, until she was almost touching his chest, and looked up into his face.
"I am not a Wise One as you know them, Urien," she said insistently. "I am Aes Sedai. Tell me what you can say of Rhuidean."
The man who had been ready to face twenty men now looked as if he wished for an escape from this one plump woman with graying hair. "I ... can tell you only what is known to all. Rhuidean lies in the lands of the Jenn Aiel, the thirteenth clan. I cannot speak of them except to name them. None may go there save women who wish to become Wise Ones, or men who wish to be clan chiefs. Perhaps the Jenn Aiel choose among them; I do not know. Many go; few return, and those are marked as what they are - Wise Ones, or clan chiefs. No more can I say,
Verin continued to look up at him, pursing her lips.
Urien looked at the sky as though he was trying to remember it. "Will you slay me now, Aes Sedai?"
She blinked. "What?"
"Will you slay me now? One of the old prophecies says that if ever we fail the Aes Sedai again, they will slay us. I know your power is greater than that of the Wise Ones." The Aiel laughed suddenly, mirthlessly. There was a wild light in his eyes. "Bring your lightnings, Aes Sedai. I will dance with them."
The Aiel thought he was going to die, and he was not afraid. Perrin realized his mouth was open and closed it with a snap.
"What would I not give," Verin murmured, gazing up at Urien, "to have you in the White Tower. Or just willing to talk. Oh, be still, man. I won't harm you. Unless you mean to harm me, with your talk of dancing."
Urien seemed astounded. He looked at the Shienarans, sitting their horses all around, as if he suspected some trick. "You are not a Maiden of the Spear," he said slowly. "How could I strike at a woman who has not wedded the spear? It is forbidden except to save life, and then I would take wounds to avoid it."
"Why are you here, so far from your own lands?" she asked. "Why did you come to us? You could have remained in the rocks, and we would never have known you were there." The Aiel hesitated, and she added, "Tell only what you are willing to say. I do not know what your Wise Ones do, but I'll not harm you, or try to force you."
"So the Wise Ones say," Urien said dryly, "yet even a clan chief must have a strong belly to avoid doing as they want." He seemed to be picking his words carefully. "I search for ... someone. A man." His eye ran across Perrin, Mat, the Shienarans, dismissing them all. "He Who Comes With the Dawn. It is said there will be great signs and portents of his coming. I saw that you were from Shienar by your escort's armor, and you had the look of a Wise One, so I thought you might have word of great events, the events that might herald him."
"A man?" Verin's voice was soft, but her eyes were as sharp as daggers. "What are these signs?"
Urien shook his head. "It is said we will know them when we hear of them, as we will know him when we see him, for he will be marked. He will come from the west, beyond the Spine of the World, but be of our blood. He will go to Rhuidean, and lead us out of the Threefold Land." He took a spear in his right hand. Leather and metal creaked as soldiers reached for their swords, and Perrin realized he had taken hold of his axe again, but Verin waved them all to stillness with an irritated look.
In the dirt Urien scraped a circle with his spearpoint, then drew across it a sinuous line. "It is said that under this sign, he will conquer."
Ingtar frowned at the symbol, no recognition on his face, but Mat muttered something coarsely under his breath, and Perrin felt his mouth go dry. The ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai.
Verin scraped the marking away with her foot. "I cannot tell you where he is, Urien," she said, "and I have heard of no signs or portents to guide you to him."
"Then I will continue my search." It was not a question, yet Urien waited until she nodded before he eyed the Shienarans proudly, challengingly, then turned his back on them. He walked away smoothly, and vanished into the rocks without looking back.
Some of the soldiers began muttering. Uno said something about "crazy bloody Aiel," and Masema growled that they should have left the Aiel for the ravens.
"We have wasted valuable time," Ingtar announced loudly. "We will ride harder to make it up."
"Yes," Verin said, "we must ride harder."
Ingtar glanced at her, but the Aes Sedai was staring at the smudged ground, where her foot had obliterated the symbol. "Dismount," he ordered. "Armor on the packhorses. We're inside Cairhien, now. We do not want the Cairhienin thinking we have come to fight them. Be quick about it!"
Mat leaned close to Perrin. "Do you ... ? Do you think he was talking about Rand? It's crazy, I know, but even Ingtar thinks he's Aiel."
"I don't know," Perrin said. "Everything has been crazy since we got mixed up with Aes Sedai."
Softly, as to herself, Verin spoke, still staring at the ground. "It must be a part, and yet how? Does the Wheel of Time weave threads into the Pattern of which we know nothing? Or does the Dark One touch the Pattern again?"
Perrin felt a chill.
Verin looked up at the soldiers removing their armor. "Hurry!" she commanded with more snap than Ingtar and Uno combined. "We must hurry!"
>(InsectLike, Horned Helmet)
Geofram Bornhald ignored the smell of burning houses and the bodies that lay sprawled on the dirt of the street. Byar and a whitecloaked guard of a hundred rode into the village at his heels, half the men he had with him. His legion was too scattered for his liking, with Questioners having too many of the commands, but his orders had been explicit: Obey the Questioners.
There had been but slight resistance here; only half a dozen dwellings gave off columns of smoke. The inn was still standing, he saw, whiteplastered stone like almost every structure on Almoth Plain.
Reining up before the inn, his eyes went past the prisoners his soldiers held near the village well to the long gibbet marring the village green. It was hastily made, only a long pole on uprights, but it held thirty bodies, their clothes ruffled by the breeze. There were small bodies hanging among their elders. Even Byar stared at that in disbelief.
"Muadh!" he roared. A grizzled man trotted away from those holding the prisoners. Muadh had fallen into the hands of Darkfriends, once; his scarred face took even the strongest aback. "Is this your work, Muadh, or the Seanchan?"
"Neither, my Lord Captain." Muadh's voice was a hoarse, whispered growl, another leaving of the Darkfriends. He said no more.
Bornhald frowned. "Surely that lot did not do it," he said, gesturing to the prisoners. The Children did not look so neat as when he had brought them across Tarabon, but they seemed ready to parade compared with the rabble that crouched under their watchful eyes. Men in rags and bits of armor, with sullen faces.
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