The Shadow Rising Page 103

Rand stared at the Aiel in consternation, but he was more than glad to drink. The first gulps hurt his throat, it was so dry.

“What happened to you?” Egwene demanded. “Did Muradin attack you?”

“It is forbidden to speak of what occurs in Rhuidean,” Bair said sharply.

“Not Muradin,” Rand said. “Where's Moiraine? I expected her to be the first to meet us.” He rubbed his face; black flakes of dried blood came off on his hand. “For once, I won't care if she asks before she Heals me.”

“Me either,” Mat said hoarsely. He swayed, holding himself up with his spear, and pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead. “My brain is spinning.”

Egwene grimaced. “She is still in Rhuidean, I suppose. But if you have finally come out, maybe she will, as well. She left right after you. And Aviendha. You've all been gone so long. ”

“Moiraine went to Rhuidean?” Rand said incredulously. “And Aviendha? Why did —” Abruptly he registered what else she had said. “What do you mean, 'so long'?”

“This is the seventh day,” she said. “The seventh day since you all went down into the valley.”

The waterbag fell from his hands. Seana snatched it up again before more than a little of its contents, so precious in the Waste, could trickle away down the stony slope. Rand barely noticed. Seven days. Anything could have happened in seven days. They could be catching up to me, figuring out what I'm planning. I have to move. Fast. I have to keep ahead of them. I haven't come this far to fail.

They were all staring at him, even Rhuarc and Mat, concern writ large on their faces. And caution. No wonder in that. Who could say what he might do, or how sane he still was? Only Lan did not change his stony scowl.

“I told you that was Aviendha, Rand. Bare as she was born. ” Mat's voice had a painful rasp to it, and his legs looked none too steady.

“How long before Moiraine comes back?” Rand asked. If she had gone in at the same time, she should return soon.

“If she has not returned by the tenth day,” Bair replied, “she will not. No one has ever returned after ten days.”

Another three days, maybe. Three more days when he had already lost seven. Let them come, now. I will not fail! He barely kept a snarl from his face. “You can channel. One of you can, anyway. I saw how you flung Couladin about. Will you Heal Mat?”

Amys and Melaine exchanged looks he could only call rueful.

“Our paths have gone other ways,” Amys said regretfully. “There are Wise Ones who could do what you ask, after a fashion, but we are not among them.”

“What do you mean?” he snapped angrily. “You can channel like Aes Sedai. Why can't you Heal like them? You did not want him to go to Rhuidean in the first place. Do you think you can let him die from it?”

“I'll survive,” Mat said, but his eyes were tight with suffering.

Egwene put a hand on Rand's arm. “Not all Aes Sedai can Heal very well,” she said in a soothing voice. "The best Healers are all Yellow Ajah. Sheriam, the Mistress of Novices, cannot Heal anything much more serious than a bruise or a small cut. No two women can have exactly the same Talents or skills.

Her tone irritated him. He was not some pettish child to be smoothed down. He frowned at the Wise Ones. Could not or would not, Mat and he would have to wait for Moiraine. If she had not been killed by that bubble of evil, by those dust creatures. It must have dissipated by now; there had been an end to the one in Tear. They wouldn't have stopped her. She could channel her way through them. She knows what she's doing; she doesn't have to figure it out an inch at a time the way I do. But then why was she not back? Why had she gone in the first place, and why had he not seen her? Foolish question. A hundred people could have been in Rhuidean without being seen. Too many questions, and no answers until she did return, he suspected. If then.

“There are herbs and ointments,” Seana said. “Come out of the sun, and we will tend your injuries.”

“Out of the sun,” Rand muttered. “Yes.” He was being boorish but he did not care. Why had Moiraine gone into Rhuidean? He did not trust her to stop pushing him in the direction she thought best, and the Dark One take his opinions. If she was in there, could she have affected what he saw? Changed it some way? If she even suspected what he planned...

He started toward the Jindo tents — Couladin's people were not likely to offer him a resting place — but Amys turned him toward the flat farther up where the Wise Ones' tents stood. “They might not be comfortable with you among them just, yet,” she said, Rhuarc, failing in beside her, nodded agreement.

Melaine glanced at Lan. “This is no business of yours, Aan'allein. You and Rhuarc take Matrim and —”

“No,” Rand broke in. “I want them with me.” Partly it was because he wanted answers from the clan chief, and partly it was sheer stubbornness. These Wise Ones were all set to guide him around on a leash, just like Moiraine. He was not about to put up with it. They looked at one another, then nodded as if acceding to a request. If they thought he would be a good boy because they gave him a sweet, they were mistaken. “I'd have thought you would be with Moiraine,” he said to Lan, ignoring the Wise Ones and their nods.

A flash of embarrassment crossed the Warder's face. “The Wise Ones managed to hide her going until nearly sunset,” he said stiffly. “Then they... convinced me following would serve no purpose. They said even if I did, I could not find her until she was already on her way out, and she would not need me, then. I am no longer certain I should have listened.”“Listened!” Melaine snorted. Her gold and ivory bracelets clattered as she adjusted her shawl irritably. “Trust a man to make himself sound reasonable. You would almost certainly have died, and very likely killed her, too. ”

“Melaine and I had to hold him down half the night before he would listen,” Amys said. Her small smile was a touch amused, a touch wry.

Lan's face might as well have been carved from thunderclouds. Small wonder, if the Wise Ones had used the Power on him. What was Moiraine doing in there?

“Rhuarc,” Rand said, “how am I supposed to unite the Aiel? They don't even want to look at me.” He raised his bare forearms for a moment; the Dragons' scales glittered in the harsh sunlight. “These say I'm He Who Comes With the Dawn, but everybody practically melted away as soon as I showed the things.”

“It is one thing to know prophecy will be fulfilled, eventually,” the clan chief said slowly, “another to see that fulfillment begun before your eyes. It is said you will make the clans one people again, as long ago, but we have fought one another almost as long as we have fought the rest of the world. And there is more, for some of us.”

He will bind you together, and destroy you. Rhuarc must have heard that, too. And the other clan chiefs, and the Wise Ones, if they also had entered that forest of shining glass columns. If Moiraine had not arranged a special vision for him. “Does everyone see the same things inside those columns, Rhuarc?”

“No!” Melaine snapped, eyes like green steel. “Be silent, or send Aan'allein and Matrim away. You must go, too, Egwene.”

“It is not permitted,” Amys said in a just slightly softer voice, “to speak of what occurs within Rhuidean except with those who have been there.” A fraction softer, maybe. “Even then, few speak of it, and seldom.”

“I mean to change what is permitted and what isn't,” Rand told them levelly. “Become used to it.” He caught Egwene muttering about him needing his ears boxed, and grinned at her. “Egwene can stay, too, since she asked so nicely.” She stuck her tongue out at him, then blushed when she realized what she had done.

“Change,” Rhuarc said. “You know he brings change, Amys. It is wondering what change, and how, that makes us like children alone in the dark. Since it must be, let it begin now. No two clan chiefs I have spoken with have seen through the exactly same eyes, Rand, or exactly the same things, until the sharing of water, and the meeting where the Agreement of Rhuidean was made. Whether it is the same for Wise Ones, I do not know, but I suspect it is. I think it is a matter of bloodlines. I believe I saw through the eyes of my ancestors, and you yours.”

Amys and the other Wise Ones glowered in grimly sullen silence. Mat and Egwene wore equally confused stares. Lan alone seemed not to be listening at all; his eyes looked inward, no doubt in worry over Moiraine.

Rand felt a little strange himself. Seeing through his ancestors' eyes. He had known for some time that Tam al'Thor was not his real father, that he had been found as a newborn on the slopes of Dragonmount after the last major battle of the Aiel War. A newborn with his dead mother, a Maiden of the Spear. He had claimed Aiel blood in demanding admittance to Rhuidean, but the fact of it was just now being driven home. His ancestors. Aiel.

“Then you saw Rhuidean just begun building, too,” he said. “And the two Aes Sedai. You... heard what the one of them said.” He will destroy you.

“I heard.” Rhuarc looked resigned, like a man who had learned his leg had to be cut off. “I know.”

Rand changed the subject. “What was 'the sharing of water'?”

The clan chief's eyebrows lifted in surprise. “You did not recognize it? But then, I do not see why you should; you have not grown up with the histories. According the oldest stories, from the day the Breaking of the World began until the day we first entered the Threefold Land, only one people did not attack us. One people allowed us water freely when it was needed. It took us long to discover who they were. That is done with, now. The pledge of peace was destroyed; the treekillers spat in our faces.”

“Cairhien,” Rand said. “You're talking about Cairhien, and Avendoraldera, and Laman cutting down the Tree. ”

“Laman is dead for his punishment,” Rhuarc, said in a flat voice. “The oathbreakers are done with.” He looked at Rand sideways. “Some, such as Couladin, take it for proof we can trust no one who is not Aiel. That is a part of why he hates you. A part of it. He will take your face and blood for lies. Or claim he does.”

Rand shook his head. Moiraine sometimes talked of the complexity of Age Lace, the Pattern of an Age, woven by the Wheel of Time from the thread of human lives. If the ancestors of the Cairhienin had not allowed the Aiel to have water three thousand years ago, then Cairhien would never have been given the right to use the Silk Path across the Waste, with a cutting from Avendesora for a pledge. No pledge, and King Laman would have had no Tree to cut down; there would have been no Aiel War; and he could not have been born on the side of Dragonmount to be carried off and raised in the Two Rivers. How many more points like that had there been, where a single decision one way or another affected the weave of the Pattern for thousands of years? A thousand times a thousand tiny branching points, a thousand times that many, all twitching the Pattern into a different design. He himself was a walking branching point, and maybe Mat and Perrin, too. What they did or did not do would send ripples ahead through th

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