“For a moment,” Elayne said as they finally stepped apart, “I thought you were. . . . Do you know where they are? There were two men following me. Another few minutes and they would have caught me, but a horn sounded and they turned their horses and galloped off. They could see me, Nynaeve, and they just left.”
“I heard it, too, and I haven’t seen any of them since. Have you seen Egwene, or Min?”
Elayne shook her head, slumping to sit on the ground. “Not since. . . . That man hit Min, knocked her down. And one of those women was trying to put something around Egwene’s neck. I saw that much before I ran. I don’t think they got away, Nynaeve. I should have done something. Min cut the hand that was holding me, and Egwene. . . . I just ran, Nynaeve. I realized I was free, and I ran. Mother had better marry Gareth Bryne and have another daughter as soon as she can. I am not fit to take the throne.”
“Don’t be a goose,” Nynaeve said sharply. “Remember, I have a packet of sheepstongue root among my herbs.” Elayne had her head in her hands; the gibe did not even produce a murmur. “Listen to me, girl. Did you see me stay to fight twenty or thirty armed men, not to mention the Aes Sedai? If you had waited, the most li
kely thing by far is that you would be a prisoner, too. If they didn’t just kill you. They seemed to be interested in Egwene and me for some reason. They might not have cared whether you remained alive or not.” Why are they interested in Egwene and me? Why us in particular? Why did Liandrin do this? Why? She had no more answers now than she had had the first time she asked herself these questions.
“If I had died trying to help them—” Elayne began.
“—you’d be dead. And little good you’d be then, to yourself or them. Now get on your feet and brush off your dress.” Nynaeve rummaged in her saddlebags for a hairbrush. “And fix your hair.”
Elayne got up slowly, and took the brush with a small laugh. “You sound like Lini, my old nurse.” She began to run the brush through her hair, wincing as tangles pulled. “But how are we going to help them, Nynaeve? You may be as strong as a full sister when you are angry, but they have women who can channel, too. I cannot think they’re Aes Sedai, but they might as well be. We do not even know in which direction they took them.”
“West,” Nynaeve said. “That creature Suroth mentioned Falme, and that’s as far west on Toman Head as you can go. We will go to Falme. I hope Liandrin is there. I will make her curse the day her mother laid eyes on her father. But first I think we had better find some clothes of the country. I’ve seen Taraboner and Domani women in the Tower, and what they wear is nothing like what we have on. We would stand out in Falme as strangers.”
“I would not mind a Domani dress—though Mother would surely have a fit if she ever found out I’d worn one, and Lini would never let me hear the end of it—but even if we find a village, can we afford new dresses? I have no idea how much money you have, but I have only ten gold marks and perhaps twice that in silver. That will keep us two or three weeks, but I don’t know what we will do after that.”
“A few months as a novice in Tar Valon,” Nynaeve said, laughing, “has not stopped you thinking like the heir to a throne. I don’t have a tenth what you do, but altogether it will keep us two or three months, in comfort. Longer, if we are careful. I have no intention of buying us dresses, and they won’t be new in any case. My gray silk dress will do us some good, with all those pearls and that gold thread. If I can’t find a woman who will trade us each two or three sturdy changes for that, I will give you this ring, and I will be the novice.” She swung up into her saddle and reached a hand down to pull Elayne up behind her.
“What are we going to do when we reach Falme?” Elayne asked as she settled on the mare’s rump.
“I won’t know that until we are there.” Nynaeve paused, letting the horse stand. “Are you sure you want to do this? It will be dangerous.”
“More dangerous than it is for Egwene and Min? They would come after us if our circumstances were reversed; I know they would. Are we going to stay here all day?” Elayne dug her heels in, and the mare started off.
Nynaeve turned the horse until the sun, still short of its noonday crest, shone at their backs. “We are going to have to be cautious. The Aes Sedai we know can recognize a woman who can channel just by being within arm’s length of her. These Aes Sedai may be able to pick us out of a crowd if they are looking for us, and we had better assume they are.” They were certainly looking for Egwene and me. But why?
“Yes, cautious. You were right before, too. We will not do them any good letting ourselves be caught as well.” Elayne was silent for a moment. “Do you think it was all lies, Nynaeve? What Liandrin told us about Rand being in danger? And the others? Aes Sedai do not lie.”
It was Nynaeve’s turn to be silent, remembering Sheriam telling her of the oaths a woman took on being raised to full sisterhood, oaths spoken holding a ter’angreal that bound her to keep them. To speak no word that is not true. That was one, but everyone knew that the truth an Aes Sedai said might not be the truth you thought you heard. “I expect Rand is warming his feet in front of Lord Agelmar’s fire in Fal Dara this minute,” she said. I can’t worry about him, now. I have to think about Egwene and Min.
“I suppose he is,” Elayne said with a sigh. She shifted behind the saddle. “If it is very far to Falme, Nynaeve, I expect to ride in the saddle half the time. This is not a very comfortable seat. We will never reach Falme at all if you let this horse set her own pace the whole way.”
Nynaeve booted the mare to a quick trot, and Elayne yelped and caught at her cloak. Nynaeve told herself that she would take a turn riding behind and not complain if Elayne put the horse to a gallop, but for the most part she ignored the gasps of the woman bouncing behind her. She was too busy hoping that by the time they reached Falme, she could stop being afraid and start being angry.
The breeze freshened, cool and brisk with a hint of cold yet to come.
Thunder rumbled across the slate-dark afternoon sky. Rand pulled the hood of his cloak further up, hoping to keep at least some of the cold rain off. Red stepped through muddy puddles doggedly. The hood hung sodden around Rand’s head, as the rest of the cloak did around his shoulders, and his fine black coat was just as wet, and as cold. The temperature would not have far to drop before snow or sleet came down instead of rain. Snow would fall soon, again; the people in the village they had passed through said two snows had already come this year. Shivering, Rand almost wished it was snowing. Then, at least, he would not be soaked to the skin.
The column plodded along, keeping a wary eye on the rolling country. Ingtar’s Gray Owl hung heavily even when the wind gusted. Hurin sometimes pulled his cowl back to sniff the air; he said neither rain nor cold had any effect on a trail, certainly not on the kind of trail he was seeking, but so far the sniffer had found nothing. Behind him, Rand heard Uno mutter a curse. Loial kept checking his saddlebags; he did not seem to mind getting wet himself, but he worried continually about his books. Everyone was miserable except for Verin, who appeared too lost in thought to even notice that her hood had slid back, exposing her face to the rain.
“Can’t you do something about this?” Rand demanded of her. A small voice in the back of his head told him he could do it himself. All he need do was embrace saidin. So sweet, the call of saidin. To be filled with the One Power, to be one with the storm. Turn the skies to sunlight, or ride the storm as it raged, whip it to fury and scour Toman Head clean from the sea to the plain. Embrace saidin. He suppressed the longing ruthlessly.
The Aes Sedai gave a start. “What? Oh. I suppose. A little. I couldn’t stop a storm this big, not by myself—it covers too much area—but I could lessen it some. Where we are, at least.” She wiped rain from her face, seemed to realize for the first time that her hood had slipped, and pulled it back up absently.
“Then why don’t you?” Mat said. The shivering face peering out from under his hood looked at death’s door, but his voice was vigorous.
“Because if I used that much of the One Power, any Aes Sedai closer than ten miles would know someone had channeled. We don’t want to bring these Seanchan down on us with some of their damane.” Her mouth tightened angrily.
They had learned a little of the invaders in that village, called Atuan’s Mill, though most of what they had heard hatched more questions than it answered. The people had babbled one moment and clamped their mouths shut the next, trembling and looking over their shoulders. They all shook with fear that the Seanchan would return with their monsters and their damane. That women who should have been Aes Sedai were instead leashed like animals frightened the villagers even more than the strange creatures the Seanchan commanded, things the folk of Atuan’s Mill could only describe in whispers as coming from nightmares. And worst of all, the examples the Seanchan had made before leaving still chilled the people to their marrow. They had buried their dead, but they feared to clean away the large charred patch in the village square. None of them would say what had happened there, but Hurin had vomited as soon as they entered the village, and he would not go near the blackened ground.