A Memory of Light Page 12

"I don’t think that is the reason", Aviendha said. "I think he intends to make demands of those who attend, not grant them gifts".

"He did mention a price", Bair said. "A price he intends to make the others pay. No one has been able to pry the secret of this price from him.

He went through a gateway to Tear earlier this evening and returned with something", Melaine said. "The Maidens report it—he keeps his oath to bring them with him, now. When we have inquired after his price, he has said that it is something that the Aiel need not worry about".

Aviendha scowled. "He is making men pay him in order to do what we all know he must? Perhaps he has been spending too much time with that minder the Sea Folk sent him".

"No, this is well", Amys said. "These people demand much of the Car’a’carn. He has a right to demand something of them in return. They are soft; perhaps he intends to make them hard".

"And so he leaves us out", Bair said softly, "because he knows that we are already hard".

The tent fell silent. Amys, looking troubled, ladled some water onto the kettle’s heated stones. It hissed as the steam rose.

"That is it", Sorilea said. "He does not intend to insult us. He intends to do us honor, in his own eyes". She shook her head. "He should know better.

"Often", Kymer agreed, "the Car’a’carn gives insult by accident, as if he were a child. We are strong, so his demand—whatever it is—matters not. If it is a price the others can pay, so can we".

"He would not make these mistakes if he had been trained properly in our ways", Sorilea murmured.

Aviendha met their eyes evenly. No, she had not trained him as well as he could have been trained—but they knew that Rand al’Thor was obstinate. Besides, she was their equal now. Although she had trouble feeling that way while facing Sorilea’s tight-lipped disapproval.

Perhaps it was spending so much time with wetlanders like Elayne, but suddenly, she did see things as Rand must. To give the Aiel an exemption from his price—if, indeed, that was what he intended—was an act of honor. If he had made a demand of them with the others, these very Wise Ones might have taken offense at being lumped with the wetlanders.

What was he planning? She saw hints of it in the visions, but increasingly, she was certain that the next day would start the Aiel on the road to their doom.

She must see that did not happen. This was her first task as a Wise One, and would likely be the most important she was ever given. She would not fail.

"Her task was not just to teach him", Amys said. "What I wouldn’t give to know that he was safely under the watchful eyes of a good woman". She looked at Aviendha, face laden with meaning.

"He will be mine", Aviendha said, firmly. But not for you, Amys, or for our people. She was shocked at the strength of that sentiment within her. She was Aiel. Her people meant everything to her.

But this choice was not their choice. This choice was hers.

"Be warned, Aviendha", Bair said, laying a hand on her wrist. "He has changed since you left. He has grown strong".

Aviendha frowned. "In what way?"

"He has embraced death", Amys said, sounding proud. "He may still carry a sword and wear the clothing of a wetlander, but he is ours now, finally and truly".

"I must see this", Aviendha said, standing. "I will discover what I can regarding his plans".

"There is not much time remaining", Kymer warned.

"One night remains", Aviendha said. "It will be enough".

The others nodded, and Aviendha started to dress. Unexpectedly, the others joined her, dressing as well. It appeared that they considered her news important enough that they would be going to share it with the other Wise Ones, rather than continuing to sit in conference.

Aviendha was the first to step out into the night; the cool air, away from the sweltering heat of the sweat tent, felt good on her skin. She took a deep breath. Her mind was heavy with fatigue, but sleep would need to wait.

The tent flaps rustled behind the other Wise Ones, Melaine and Amys speaking softly to one another as they hastened into the night. Kymer walked purposefully toward the Tomanelle section of the camp. Perhaps she would speak with her sister-father, Han, the Tomanelle chief.

Aviendha started to move off herself, but a bony hand took her arm. She glanced over her shoulder to see Bair standing behind her, dressed again in blouse and skirt.

"Wise One", Aviendha said by reflex.

"Wise One", Bair replied with a smile.

"Is there something . . ".

"I would go to Rhuidean", Bair said, glancing at the sky. "Would you kindly make a gateway for me?"

"You’re going through the glass columns".

"One of us needs to. Despite what Amys said, Elenar is not ready, particularly not to see . . . something of this nature. That girl spends half of her days squawking like a buzzard over the last scrap of a rotting carcass".

"But—"

"Oh, don’t you start, too. You’re one of us now, Aviendha, but I’m still old enough to have tended your greatmother when she was a child". Bair shook her head; her white hair almost seemed to glow in the filtered moonlight. "I am the best one to go", she continued. "Channelers must be preserved for the battle to come. I would not have some child walk into those columns now. I will do it. Now, that gateway? Will you grant my request, or do I need to bully Amys into doing so?"

Aviendha would have liked to see anyone bully Amys into anything. Maybe Sorilea could do it. She said nothing, however, and created the proper weave to open a gateway.

The thought of another seeing what she’d seen made her stomach twist. What would it mean if Bair returned with the exact same vision? Would that indicate the future was more likely?

"It was that terrible, was it?" Bair asked softly.

"Horrible. It would have made spears weep and stones crumble, Bair. I would rather have danced with Sightblinder himself".

"Then it is much better that I go than another. It should be the strongest of us who does this".

Aviendha stopped herself from raising an eyebrow. Bair was as tough as good leather, but the other Wise Ones weren’t exactly flower petals. "Bair", Aviendha said, a thought occurring to her. "Have you ever met a

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