The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 93

The silver arch pulled Nynaeve’s eyes. The way back. . . . She shook her head, trying to remember. It is not real. She looked at Marin; stark terror twisted the woman’s face. You must be steadfast to survive.

“Please, Nynaeve. She’s seen me with you. She—has—seen—me! Please, Nynaeve!”

Malena came closer, implacable. My people. The arch shone. The way back. It is not real.

With a sob, Nynaeve tore her arm out of Marin’s grasp and plunged toward the silvery glow.

Marin’s shriek hounded her. “For the love of the Light, Nynaeve, help me! HELP ME!”

The glow enveloped her.

* * *

Staring, Nynaeve staggered out of the arch, barely aware of the chamber or the Aes Sedai. Marin’s last cry still rang in her ears. She did not flinch when cold water was suddenly poured over her head.

“You are washed clean of false pride. You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.” As the Red Aes Sedai stepped back, Sheriam came to take Nynaeve’s arm.

Nynaeve gave a start, then realized who it was. She seized the collar of Sheriam’s dress in both hands. “Tell me it was not real. Tell me!”

“Bad?” Sheriam pried her hands loose as if she were used to this reaction. “It is always worse, and the third is the worst of all.”

“I left my friend . . . I left my people . . . in the Pit of Doom to come back.” Please, Light, it was not real. I didn’t really. . . . I have to make Moiraine pay. I have to!

“There is always some reason not to return, something to prevent you, or distract you. This ter’angreal weaves traps for you from your own mind, weaves them tight and strong, harder than steel and more deadly than poison. That is why we use it as a test. You must want to be Aes Sedai more than anything else in the whole world, enough to face anything, fight free of anything, to achieve it. The White Tower cannot accept less. We demand it of you.”

“You demand a great deal.” Nynaeve stared at the third arch as the red-haired Aes Sedai took her toward it. The third is the worst. “I’m afraid,” she whispered. What could be worse than what I just did?

“Good,” Sheriam said. “You seek to be Aes Sedai, to channel the One Power. No one should approach that without fear and awe. Fear will keep you cautious; caution will keep you alive.” She turned Nynaeve to face the arch, but she did not step

back immediately. “No one will force you to enter a third time, child.”

Nynaeve licked her lips. “If I refuse, you’ll put me out of the Tower and never let me come back.” Sheriam nodded. “And this is the worst.” Sheriam nodded again. Nynaeve drew breath. “I am ready.”

“The third time,” Sheriam intoned formally, “is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

Nynaeve threw herself at the arch in a run.

Laughing, she ran through swirling clouds of butterflies rising from wild-flowers that covered the hilltop meadow with a knee-deep blanket of color. Her gray mare danced nervously, reins dangling, at the edge of the meadow, and Nynaeve stopped running so as not to frighten the animal more. Some of the butterflies settled on her dress, on flowers of embroidery and seed pearls, or flittered around the sapphires and moonstones in her hair, hanging loose about her shoulders.

Below the hill, the necklace of the Thousand Lakes spread through the city of Malkier, reflecting the cloud-brushing Seven Towers, with Golden Crane banners flying at their heights in the mists. The city had a thousand gardens, but she preferred this wild garden on the hilltop. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

The sound of hooves made her turn.

Al’Lan Mandragoran, King of Malkier, leaped from the back of his charger and strolled toward her through the butterflies, laughing. His face had the look of a hard man, but the smiles he wore for her softened the stony planes.

She gaped at him, taken by surprise when he gathered her into his arms and kissed her. For a moment she clung to him, lost, kissing him back. Her feet dangled a foot in the air, and she did not care.

Suddenly she pushed at him, pulled her face back. “No.” She pushed harder. “Let me go. Put me down.” Puzzled, he lowered her until her feet touched ground; she backed away from him. “Not this,” she said. “I cannot face this. Anything but this.” Please, let me face Aginor again. Memory swirled. Aginor? She did not know where that thought had come from. 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.

“Are you 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.”

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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