The Shadow Rising Page 102

“Perrin,” Wil called, leaning forward on the neck of his horse, “what do we do now? What do we do next?”

“We hunt Trollocs! ” Perrin shouted over his shoulder. From the way the laughter redoubled, he did not think they believed him. But he could feel Verin's eyes drilling into his back. She knew. Thunder in the night sky echoed the horses' hooves.

Chapter 34

(Dragon)

He Who Comes With the Dawn

The dawn shadows shortened and paled as Rand and Mat jogged across the barren, stilldark valley floor, leaving fogshrouded Rhuidean behind. The dry air hinted at heat to come, but the slight breeze actually felt cool to Rand, with no coat. That would not last; full blistering daylight would be on them soon enough; They hurried as best they could in the hope of beating it, but he did not think they would. Their best was not very fast.

Mat trotted in a pained shamble; a dark smear fanned across half his face, and his coat hung open, revealing his unlaced shirt stuck to his chest by more drying blood. Sometimes he gingerly touched the thick weal around his throat, nearly black now, growling under his breath, and he stumbled often, catching himself with the odd, blackhafted spear and clutching at his head. He did not complain, though, which was a bad sign. Mat was a great complainer at small discomforts; if he was silent now, it meant he was in real pain.

The old, halfhealed wound in Rand's side felt as though something were boring into it, and the gashes on his face and head burned, yet lumbering along, halfhunched over his aching side, he hardly thought of his own hurts. He was all too conscious of the sun rising behind him and the Aiel waiting on the bare mountainside ahead. There was water and shade up there, and help for Mat. The rising sun behind, and the Aiel ahead. Dawn and the Aiel.

He Who Comes With the Dawn. That Aes Sedai he had seen, or dreamed he had seen, before Rhuidean — she had spoken as if she had the Foretelling. He will bind you together. He will take you back, and destroy you. Words delivered like prophecy. Destroy them. Prophecy said he would Break the World again. The idea horrified him. Perhaps he could escape that part, at least, but war, death and destruction already welled up in his footsteps. Tear was the first place in what seemed a very long time where he had not left chaos behind, men dying and villages burning.

He found himself wishing he could climb on Jeade'en and run as fast as the stallion could carry him. It was not the first time. But I can't run, he thought. I have it to do because there isn't anybody else who can. I do it, or the Dark One wins. A hard bargain, but the only one there was. But why would I destroy the Aiel? How?

That last thought chilled him. It was too much like accepting that he would, that he should. He did not want to harm the Aiel. “Light,” he said harshly, “I don't want to destroy anybody.” His mouth felt lined with dust again.

Mat glanced at him silently. A wary look.

I am not mad yet, Rand thought grimly.

Upslope the Aiel were stirring in the three camps. The cold fact was, he needed them. That was why he had begun to contemplate this, back when he first discovered that the Dragon Reborn and He Who Comes With the Dawn might well be one and the same. He needed people he could trust, people who followed from something besides fear of him, or greed for power. People who did not mean to use him for their own ends. He had done what was required, and now he would use them. Because he had to. He was not mad yet — he did not think he was — but many would think so before he was done.

Full, glaring sunlight overtook them before they began to scramble up Chaendaer, heat like a club. Rand climbed the uneven slope as fast as he could manage, with its dips and rises and rough outcrops; his throat had forgotten its last drink, and the sun dried his shirt as fast as sweat could moisten it. Mat needed no urging, either. There was water up there. Bair stood in front of the Wise One's low tents, a waterbag in her hands, glistening with condensation. Licking cracked lips, Rand was sure he could see the glisten.

“Where is he? What have you done to him?”

The roar stopped Rand in his tracks. The flamehaired man, Couladin, stood atop a thick thumb of granite jutting out from the mountain. Others of the Shaido clan clustered around its base, all looking at Rand and Mat. Some were veiled.

“Who are you talking about?” Rand called back. His voice croaked with thirst.

Couladin's eyes bulged in outrage. “Muradin, wetlander! He entered two days before you, yet you come out first. He could not fail where you survive! You must have murdered him!”

Rand thought he heard a shout from the Wise One's tents, but before he could even blink, Couladin uncoiled like a snake, casting a spear straight at him. Two more streaked behind it from the Aiel at the base of the granite thumb.

Instinctively Rand snatched for saidin and the flamecarved sword. The blade whirled in his hands — Whirlwind on the Mountain; aptly named — slicing a pair of spear shafts in two. Mat's spinning black spear just barely knocked the third aside.

“Proof!” Couladin howled. “They entered Rhuidean armed! It is forbidden! Look at the blood on them! They have murdered Muradin! ” Even as he spoke he hurled another spear, and this time it was one of a dozen.

Rand flung himself aside, just conscious of Mat leaping the other way, yet even before they hit the ground the spears came together where Rand had been standing, bouncing off each other. Rolling to his feet, he found the spears all stuck into the stony ground. In a perfect circle surrounding the spot he had jumped from. For a moment even Couladin seemed stunned to stillness.

“Stop!” Bair shouted, running down into the motionless instant. Her long bulky skirt impeded her no more than her age; she bounded down the slope like a girl for all her. white hair, and a girl in a fury at that. “The peace of Rhuidean, Couladin!” Her thin voice was an iron rod. “Twice you have tried to break it now. Once more, and you are outlawed! My word on it! You, and anyone else who lifts a hand!” She skidded to a halt in front of Rand, facing the Shaido with the water bag raised as if she meant to bludgeon them with it. “'Let who doubts me, raise a weapon! That one will be deprived of shade according to the Agreement of Rhuidean, denied hold or stand or tent. His own sept will hunt him as a wild beast.”

Some of the Shaido hastily unveiled their faces — some of them— but Couladin was not dissuaded. “They are armed, Bair! They went armed to Rhuidean! That is —!”

“Silence!” Bair shook a fist at him. “You dare speak of weapons? You who would break the Peace of Rhuidean, and kill with your face bare to the world? They took no weapon with them; I attest to it. ” Deliberately she turned her back, but the gaze she swept across Rand and Mat was hardly softer than what she had given Couladin. She grimaced at Mat's strange swordbladed spear, muttering, “Did you find that in Rhuidean, boy?”

“I was given it, old woman,” Mat growled back hoarsely. “I paid for it, and I mean to keep it.”

She sniffed. “You both look as if you had rolled in knifegrass. What —? No, you can tell me later.” Eyeing Rand's Powerwrought sword, she shivered. “Rid yourself of that. And show them the signs before that fool Couladin tries to whip them up again. With this temper on him, he would take his whole clan into outlawry without blinking. Quickly!”

For a moment he gaped at her. Signs? Then he remembered what Rhuarc had shown him once, the mark of a man who had survived Rhuidean. Letting the sword vanish, he unlaced his left shirt cuff and pushed the sleeve back to his elbow.

Around his forearm wound a shape like that on the Dragon banner, a sinuous goldenmaned form scaled in scarlet and gold. He expected it, of course, but it was still a shock. The thing looked like a part of his skin, as though that nonexistent creature itself had settled into him. His arm felt no different, yet the scales sparkled in the sunlight like polished metal; it seemed if he touched that golden mane atop his wrist, he would surely feel each hair.

He thrust his arm into the air as soon as it was bare, high so Couladin and his people could see. Mutters rose among the Shaido, and Couladin snarled wordlessly. The numbers around the granite outcrop were swelling as more Shaido came running from their tents. Rhuarc stood with Heirn and his Jindo a little upslope; they watched the Shaido warily, and Rand with an air of expectation his uplifted arm did not lessen. Lan stood halfway between the two groups, hands resting on his sword hilt, face a thunderhead.

Just as Rand began to realize the Aiel wanted something more, Egwene and the other three Wise Women reached him, scrambling down the mountain. The Aiel women looked out of countenance at having to hurry and every bit as angry as Bair had been. Amys directed her glares at Couladin, while sunhaired Melaine stared blazingly at Rand. Seana just seemed ready to chew rocks. Egwene, with a scarf wrapped around her hair and spreadover her shoulders, stared at Mat and him half in consternation and half as though she had expected never to see them again.

“Fool man,” Bair muttered. “All of the signs.” Tossing the waterbag to Mat, she seized Rand's right arm and stripped back his sleeve, exposing a mirror twin of the creature on his left forearm. Her breath caught, then came out in a long sigh. She seemed balanced on a razor edge between relief and apprehension. There was no mistaking it; she had hoped for the second marking, yet it made her afraid. Amys and the other two Wise Women echoed her sign almost exactly. It was odd to see Aiel fearful.

Rand almost laughed. Not that he was amused. “Twice and twice shall he be marked.” That was what the Prophecies of the Dragon said. A heron branded into each palm, and now these. One of the peculiar creatures — Dragons, the Prophecy called them — was supposed to be “for remembrance lost.” Rhuidean had certainly supplied that, the lost history of the Aiel's origins. And the other was for “the price he must pay.” How soon must I pay it? he wondered. And how many have to pay with me? Others always had to, even when he tried to pay alone.

Apprehensive or not, Bair did not pause before shoving that arm above his head, too, and proclaiming loudly, “Behold what has never been seen before. A Car'a'carn has been chosen, a chief of chiefs. Born of a Maiden, he has come with the dawn from Rhuidean, according to prophecy, to unite the Aiel! The fulfillment of prophecy has begun!”

The reactions of the other Aiel were nothing like what Rand envisioned. Couladin stared down at him, even more hatefully than before if that was possible, then leaped from the outcrop and stalked up the slope to vanish into the Shaido tents. The Shaido themselves began to disperse, glancing at Rand with unreadable faces before drifting back to their tents. Heirn and the warriors of the Jindo sept, hardly hesitating, did the same. In moments only Rhuarc remained, his eyes troubled. Lan went over to the clan chief; from his face, the Warder would just as soon not have seen Rand at all. Rand was not sure what he had expected, but surely something other than this.

“Burn me!” Mat muttered. He seemed to realize for the first time that he had the waterbag in his hands. Jerking the plug free, he held the hide bag high, letting nearly as much splash over his face as into his mouth. When he finally lowered it, he looked at the markings on Rand's arms again and shook his head, repeating, “Burn me!” as he pushe

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