The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 158

“That is better, Lews Therin.” Ba’alzamon tossed the banner to the floor and put his hands on the chair back; wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers. The shadow no longer encompassed him. “There is your banner, Kinslayer. Much good will it do you. A thousand strings laid over a thousand years have drawn you here. Ten thousand woven throughout the Ages tie you like a sheep for slaughter. The Wheel itself holds you prisoner to your fate Age after Age. But I can set you free. You cowering cur, I alone in the entire world can teach you how to wield the Power. I alone can stop it killing you before you have a chance to go mad. I alone can stop the madness. You have served me before. Serve me again, Lews Therin, or be destroyed forever!”

“My name,” Rand forced between chattering teeth, “is Rand al’Thor.” His shivering forced him to squeeze his eyes shut, and when he opened them again, he was alone.

Ba’alzamon was gone. The shadow was gone. His saddlebags stood against the chair with the buckles done up and one side bulging with the bulk of the Dragon’s banner, just as he had left it. But on the chair back, tendrils of smoke still rose from the charred impressions of fingers.




Nynaeve pressed Elayne back into the narrow alleyway between a cloth merchant’s shop and a potter’s works as the pair of women linked by a silvery leash passed by, heading down the cobblestone street toward Falme harbor. They did not dare allow that pair to come too close. The people in the street made way for those two even more quickly than they did for Seanchan soldiers, or the occasional noble’s palanquin, thickly curtained now that the days were cold. Even the street artists did not offer to draw them in chalks or pencils, although they pestered everyone else. Nynaeve’s mouth tightened as her eyes followed the sul’dam and the damane through the crowd. Even after weeks in the town, the sight sickened her. Perhaps it sickened her more, now. She could not imagine doing that to any woman, not even Moiraine or Liandrin.

Well, maybe Liandrin, she admitted sourly. Sometimes, at night, in the small, smelly room the two of them had rented above a fishmonger, she thought of what she would like to do to Liandrin when she got her hands on her. Liandrin even more than Suroth. More than once she had been shocked at her own cruelty, even while she was delighted at her inventiveness.

Still trying to keep the pair in sight, her eyes fell on a bony man, well down the street, before the shifting throng hid him again. She had only a flash of a big nose in a narrow face. He wore a rich bronze velvet robe of Seanchan cut over his clothes, but she thought that he was no Seanchan, though the servant following him was, and a servant of high degree, with one temple shaved. The local people had not taken to Seanchan fashions, particularly that one. That looked like Padan Fain, she thought incredulously. It couldn’t be. Not here.

“Nynaeve,” Elayne said softly, “could we move on, now? That fellow selling apples is looking at his table as if he’s thinking he had more a few moments ago, and I would not want him wondering what I have in my pockets.”

They both wore long coats made of sheepskin, with the fleece turned in and bright red spirals embroidered across the breast. It was country garb, but it passed well enough in Falme, where many people had come in from the farms and villages. Among so many strangers the two of them had been able to sink in unnoticed. Nynaeve had combed out her braid, and her gold ring, the serpent eating its own tail, now nestled under her dress beside Lan’s heavy ring on the leather cord around her neck.

The large pockets of Elayne’s coat bulged suspiciously.

“You stole those apples?” Nynaeve hissed quietly, pulling Elayne out into the crowded street. “Elayne, we don’t have to steal. Not yet, anyway.”

“No? How much money do we have left? You have been ‘not hungry’ very often at mealtimes the last few days.”

“Well, I am not hungry,” Nynaeve snapped, trying to ignore the hollow in her middle. Everything cost considerably more than she had expected; she had heard local people complaining about how prices had risen since the Seanchan came. “Give me one of those.” The apple Elayne dug out of her pocket was small and hard, bu

t it crunched with a delicious sweetness when Nynaeve bit into it. She licked the juice from her lips. “How did you manage to—” She jerked Elayne to a halt and peered into her face. “Did you . . . ? Did you . . . ?” She could not think of a way to say it with so many streaming by, but Elayne understood.

“Only a little. I made that stack of old melons with the soft spots fall, and when he started putting them back. . . .” She did not even have the grace, as Nynaeve saw it, to blush or look embarrassed. Unconcernedly eating one of the apples, she shrugged. “There is no need to frown at me like that. I looked carefully to make sure there was no damane close.” She sniffed. “If I were being held prisoner, I would not help my captors find other women to enslave. Although, the way these Falmen behave, you would think they were lifelong servants of those who should be their enemies to the death.” She looked around, openly contemptuous, at the people hurrying by; it was possible to follow the path of any Seanchan, even common soldiers and even at a distance, by the ripples of bowing. “They should resist. They should fight back.”

“How? Against . . . that.”

They had to step to the side of the street along with everyone else as a Seanchan patrol neared, climbing from the direction of the harbor. Nynaeve managed the bow, hands on knees, with face schooled to a perfect smoothness; Elayne was slower, and made her bow with a distasteful twist of her mouth.

There were twenty armored men and women in the patrol, riding horses, for which Nynaeve was grateful. She could not become used to seeing people riding things that looked like bronze-scaled, tailless cats, and a rider on one of the flying beasts was always enough to make her feel dizzy; she was glad there were so few of them. Still, two leashed creatures trotted along with the patrol, like wingless birds with coarse leather skin, and sharp beaks higher above the cobblestones than the helmeted heads of the soldier. Their long, sinewy legs looked as if they could run faster than any horse.

She straightened slowly after the Seanchan were gone. Some of those who had bowed for the patrol came close to running; no one was comfortable at the sight of the Seanchan’s beasts except the Seanchan themselves. “Elayne,” she said softly as they resumed their climb, “if we are caught, I swear that before they kill us, or do whatever they do, I will beg them on bended knees to let me stripe you from top to bottom with the stoutest switch I can find! If you still can’t learn to be careful, maybe it’s time to think about sending you back to Tar Valon, or home to Caemlyn, or anywhere but here.”

“I am careful. At least I looked to be sure there was no damane close by. What about you? I have seen you channel with one in plain sight.”

“I made sure they weren’t looking at me,” Nynaeve muttered. She had had to ball up all her anger at women being chained like animals to manage it. “And I only did it once. And it was only a trickle.”

“A trickle? We had to spend three days hiding in our room breathing fish while they searched the town for whoever had done it. Do you call that being careful?”

“I had to know if there was a way to unfasten those collars.” She thought there was. She would have to test one more collar at least before she was certain, and she was not looking forward to it. She had thought, like Elayne, that the damane must all be prisoners eager to escape, but it had been the woman in the collar who raised the pry.

A man pushing a barrow that bumped over the cobblestones passed by them, crying his services to sharpen scissors and knives. “They should resist, somehow,” Elayne growled. “They act as if they do not see anything that happens around them if there’s a Seanchan in it.”

Nynaeve only sighed. It did not help that she thought Elayne was at least partly right. At first she had thought some of the Falmen submission, at least, must be a pose, but she had found no evidence of any resistance at all. She had looked at first, hoping to find help in freeing Egwene and Min, but everyone took fright at the merest hint that they might oppose the Seanchan, and she stopped asking before she drew the wrong sort of attention. In truth, she could not imagine how the people could fight. Monsters and Aes Sedai. How can you fight monsters and Aes Sedai?

Ahead stood five tall stone houses, among the largest in the town, all together making up a block. One street short of them, Nynaeve found an alleyway beside a tailor shop, where they could keep an eye on some of the tall houses’ entrances, at least. It was not possible to see every door at once—she did not want to risk letting Elayne go off on her own to watch more—but it was not wise to go any closer. Above the rooftops, on the next street, the golden hawk banner of the High Lord Turak flapped in the wind.

Only women went in or out of those houses, and most of those were sul’dam, alone or with damane in tow. The buildings had been taken over by the Seanchan to house the damane. Egwene had to be in there, and likely Min; they had found no sign of Min so far, though it was possible she was as hidden by the crowds as they. Nynaeve had heard many tales of women and girls being seized on the streets or brought in from the villages; they all went into those houses, and if they were seen again, they wore a collar.

Settling herself on a crate beside Elayne, she dug into the other woman’s coat for a handful of the small apples. There were fewer local folk in the streets here. Everyone knew what the houses were, and everyone avoided them, just as they avoided the stables where the Seanchan kept their beasts. It was not difficult to keep an eye on the doors through spaces between the passersby. Just two women stopping for a bite; just two more people who could not afford to eat at an inn. Nothing to attract more than a passing glance.

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