The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 88

“You Blues. Always so ready to save the world that you lose yourselves.”

After the white-haired Aes Sedai left, Moiraine gathered her cloak and, muttering to herself, went into the garden. There was something in what Vandene had said that tugged at her mind, but she could not remember what it was. An answer, or a hint to an answer, for a question she had not asked—but she could not bring the question to mind, either.

The garden was small, like the house, but neat even in moonlight aided by the yellow glow from the cottage windows, with sandy walks between careful beds of flowers. She settled her cloak loosely on her shoulders against the soft coolness of the night. What was the answer, and what was the question?

Sand crunched behind her, and she turned, thinking it was Lan.

A shadow loomed dimly only a few paces from her, a shadow that appeared to be a too-tall man wrapped in his cloak. But the face caught the moon, gaunt-cheeked, pale, with black eyes too big above a puckered, red-lipped mouth. The cloak opened, unfolding into great wings like a bat’s.

Knowing it was too late, she opened herself to saidar, but the Draghkar began to croon, and its soft hum filled her, fragmenting her will. Saidar slipped away. She felt only a vague sadness as she stepped toward the creature; the deep crooning that drew her closer suppressed feeling. White, white hands—like a man’s hands, but tipped with claws—reached for her, and lips the color of blood curved in a trave

sty of a smile, baring sharp teeth, but dimly, so dimly, she knew it would not bite or tear. Fear the Draghkar’s kiss. Once those lips touched her, she would be as good as dead, to be drained of soul, then of life. Whoever found her, even if they came as the Draghkar let her fall, would find a corpse without a mark and cold as if dead two days. And if they came before she was dead, what they found would be worse, and not really her at all any longer. The croon pulled her within reach of those pale hands, and the Draghkar’s head bent slowly toward her.

She felt only the smallest surprise when a sword blade flashed over her shoulder to pierce the Draghkar’s breast, and little more when a second crossed her other shoulder to strike beside the first.

Dazed, swaying, she watched as if from a great distance as the creature was pushed back, away from her. Lan came into her view, then Jaem, the gray-haired Warder’s bony arms holding his blade as straight and true as the younger man’s. The Draghkar’s pale hands bloodied as they tore at the sharp steel, wings buffeting the two men with thunderclaps. Suddenly, wounded and bleeding, it began to croon again. To the Warders.

With an effort, Moiraine gathered herself; she felt almost as drained as if the thing had managed its kiss. No time to be weak. In an instant she opened herself to saidar and, as the Power filled her, steeled herself to touch the Shadowspawn directly. The two men were too close; anything else would harm them, as well. Even using the One Power, she knew she would feel soiled by the Draghkar.

But even as she began, Lan cried out, “Embrace death!” Jaem echoed him firmly. “Embrace death!” And the two men stepped within reach of the Draghkar’s touch, drove home their blades to the hilt.

Throwing back its head, the Draghkar bellowed, a shriek that seemed to pierce Moiraine’s head with needles. Even wrapped in saidar she could feel it. Like a tree falling, the Draghkar toppled, one wing knocking Jaem to his knees. Lan sagged as if exhausted.

Lanterns hurried from the house, borne by Vandene and Adeleas.

“What was that noise?” Adeleas demanded. She was almost a mirror image of her sister. “Has Jaem gone and. . . .” The lantern light fell on the Draghkar; her voice trailed off.

Vandene took Moiraine’s hands. “It did not . . . ?” She left the question unfinished as, to Moiraine’s eyes, a nimbus surrounded her. Feeling strength flowing into her from the other woman, Moiraine wished, not for the first time, that Aes Sedai could do as much for themselves as they could for others.

“It did not,” she said gratefully. “See to the Gaidin.”

Lan looked at her, mouth tight. “If you had not made me so angry I had to go work forms with Jaem, so angry I gave it up to come back to the house. . . .”

“But I did,” she said. “The Pattern takes everything into the weaving.” Jaem was muttering, but still allowing Vandene to see to his shoulder. He was all bone and tendon, yet looked as hard as old roots.

“How,” Adeleas demanded, “could any creature of the Shadow come so close without us sensing it?”

“It was warded,” Moiraine said.

“Impossible,” Adeleas snapped. “Only a sister could—” She stopped, and Vandene turned from Jaem to look at Moiraine.

Moiraine said the words none of them wanted to hear. “The Black Ajah.” Shouts drifted from the village. “Best you hide this”—she gestured to the Draghkar, sprawled across a flower bed—“quickly. They will be coming to ask if you need help, but seeing this will start talk you will not like.”

“Yes, of course,” Adeleas said. “Jaem, go and meet them. Tell them you don’t know what made the noise, but all is well here. Slow them down.” The gray-haired Warder hurried into the night toward the sound of approaching villagers. Adeleas turned to study the Draghkar as if it were a puzzling passage in one of her books. “Whether Aes Sedai are involved or not, whatever could have brought it here?” Vandene regarded Moiraine silently.

“I fear I must leave you,” Moiraine said. “Lan, will you ready the horses?” As he left, she said, “I will leave letters with you to be sent on to the White Tower, if you will arrange it.” Adeleas nodded absently, her attention still on the thing on the ground.

“And will you find your answers where you are going?” Vandene asked.

“I may already have found one I did not know I sought. I only hope I am not too late. I will need pen and parchment.” She drew Vandene toward the house, leaving Adeleas to deal with the Draghkar.



The Testing

Nynaeve warily eyed the huge chamber, far beneath the White Tower, and eyed Sheriam, at her side, just as warily. The Mistress of Novices seemed expectant, perhaps even a little impatient. In her few days in Tar Valon, Nynaeve had seen only serenity in the Aes Sedai, and a smiling acceptance of events coming in their own time.

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
Source: Copyright 2016 - 2023