The Shadow Rising Page 105

And eventually she had gone to Tar Valon with the Maidens, to die on the slopes of Dragonmount. Half an answer, and leaving new questions. If he could only have seen her face.

“You have something of her in your features,” Seana said as though reading his thoughts. She had settled herself crosslegged with a small silver cup of wine. “Less of Janduin.”

“Janduin? My father?”

“Yes,” Seana said. “He was clan chief of the Taardad, then, the youngest in memory. Yet he had a way to him, a power. People listened to him, and would follow him, even those not of his clan. He ended the blood feud between Taardad and Nakai after two hundred years, and made alliance not only with the Nakai, but the Reyn, and the Reyn were not far short of blood feud. He very nearly ended the feud between Shaarad and Goshien, as well, and might have had Laman not cut down the Tree. Young as he was, it was he who led the Taardad and Nakai, the Reyn and Shaarad, to seek Laman's bloodprice.”

Was. So he was dead now, too. Egwene wore sympathy on her face. Rand ignored it; he did not want sympathy. How could he feel loss, for people he had never known? Yet he did. “How did Janduin die?”

The Wise Ones exchanged hesitant glances. At last Amys said, “It was the beginning of the third year of the search for Laman when Shaiel found herself with child. By the laws, she should have returned to the Threefold Land. A Maiden is forbidden to carry the spear while she carries a child. But Janduin could forbid her nothing; had she asked the moon on a necklace, he would have tried to give it to her. So she stayed, and in the last fight, before Tar Valon, she was lost, and the child was lost. Janduin could not forgive himself for not making her obey the law.”

“He gave up his place as clan chief,” Bair said. “No one had ever done that before. He was told it could not be done, but he simply walked away. He went north with the young men, to hunt Trollocs and Myrddraal in the Blight. It is a thing wild young men do, and Maidens with less sense than goats. Those who returned said he was killed by a man, though. They said Janduin claimed this man looked like Shaiel, and he would not raise his spear when the man ran him through.”

Dead, then. Both dead. He would never lose his love for Tam, never stop thinking of him as father, but he wished he could have seen Janduin and Shaiel, just once.

Egwene tried to comfort him, of course, the way women did. There was no use trying to make her understand that what he had lost was something he had never had. For memories of parents he had Tam al'Thor's quiet laugh, and dimmer remembrance of Kari al'Thor's gentle hands. That was as much as any man could want or need. She seemed disappointed, even a little upset with him, and the Wise Ones appeared to share the feeling to one degree or another, from Bair's openly disapproving frown to Melaine's sniff and ostentatious shifting of her shawl. Women never understood. Rhuarc and Lan and Mat did; they left him alone, as he wanted.

For some reason he did not feel like eating when Melaine had food brought, so he went to lie at the edge of the tent, with one of the cushions under his elbow, where he could watch the slope, and the fogshrouded city. The sun blasted the valley and the surrounding mountains, burning the shadows. The air that eddied into the tent seemed to come from an open oven.

After a time Mat came over, wearing a clean shirt. He sat beside Rand without speaking, peering into the valley below, the strange spear propped on his knee. Now and again he felt at the cursive script carved into the black haft.

“How is your head?” Rand asked, and Mat jumped.

“It... doesn't hurt anymore. ” He jerked his fingers away from the carving, folded his hands deliberately in his lap. “Not as much, anyway. Whatever that was they mixed up, it did the trick.”

He fell silent again, and Rand let him. He did not want to talk, either. He could almost feel time passing, grains of sand in an hourglass dropping one by one, ever so slowly. But everything seemed to tremble, too, the sands ready to explode in a torrent. Foolish. He was just being affected by the shimmering heat haze rising from the mountain's bare rock. The clan chiefs could not reach Alcair Dal one day sooner if Moiraine appeared before him that instant. They were only a part anyway, and maybe the least important part. A little while later he noticed Lan squatting easily atop the same granite outcrop Couladin had used, paying no mind to the sun. The Warder was watching the valley, too. Another man who did not want to talk.

Rand refused a midday meal, too, though Egwene and the Wise Ones took turns trying to make him eat. They seemed to take his refusal calmly enough, but when he suggested returning to Rhuidean to look for Moiraine — and Aviendha, for that matter — Melaine exploded.

“You fool man! No man can go twice to Rhuidean. Even you would not come back alive! Oh, starve if you want to!” She threw half a round loaf of bread at his head. Mat caught it out of the air and calmly began eating.

“Why do you want me to live?” Rand asked her. “You know what that Aes Sedai said in front of Rhuidean. I will destroy you. Why aren't you plotting with Couladin to kill me?” Mat choked, and Egwene planted her fists on her hips, ready to lecture, but Rand kept his attention on Melaine. Instead of answering, she glared at him and left the tent.

It was Bair who spoke. “Everyone thinks they know the Prophecy of Rhuidean, but what they know is what Wise Ones and clan chiefs have told them for generations. Not lies, but not the whole truth. The truth might break the strongest man.”

“What is the whole truth?” Rand insisted.

She glanced at Mat, then said, “In this case, the whole truth, the truth known only to Wise Ones and clan chiefs before this, is that you are our doom. Our doom, and our salvation. Without you, no one of our people will live beyond the Last Battle. Perhaps not even until the Last Battle. That is prophecy, and truth. With you... 'He shall spill out the blood of those who call themselves Aiel as water on sand, and he shall break them as dried twigs, yet the remnant of a remnant shall he save, and they shall live.' A hard prophecy, but this has never been a gentle land.” She met his gaze without flinching. A hard land, and a hard woman.

He rolled back over and returned to watching the valley. The others left, except for Mat.

In the midafternoon he finally spotted a figure climbing the mountain, scrambling up wearily. Aviendha. Mat had been right; she was bare as she was born. And showing some effects of the sun, too, Aiel or not; it was only her hands and face that were sundarkened, and the rest of her looked decidedly red. He was glad to see her. She disliked him, but only because she thought he had mistreated Elayne. The simplest of motives. Not for prophecy or doom, not for the Dragons on his arms or because he was the Dragon Reborn. For a simple human reason. He almost looked forward to those cool, challenging stares.

When she saw him, she froze, and there was nothing cool in her bluegreen eyes. Her gaze made the sun seem cold; he should have been burned to ash on the spot.

“Uh... Rand?” Mat said quietly. “I don't think I would turn my back on her if I were you.”

A tired sigh escaped him. Of course. If she had been into those glass columns, she knew. Bair, Melaine, the others they had all had years to grow used to it. For Aviendha, it was a fresh wound with no scab. No wonder she hates me now.

The Wise Ones scurried out to meet Aviendha, hurrying her away into another tent. The next time Rand saw her she wore a bulky brown skirt and loose white blouse, with a shawl looped around her arms. She did not look very happy about the clothes. She saw him watching, and the fury on her face — the sheer animal rage — was enough to make him turn away.

Shadows were beginning to stretch to the far mountains by the time Moiraine appeared, falling and staggering back to her feet as she climbed, as sunburned as Aviendha. He was startled to see she had no clothes on either. Women were crazy, that was all.

Lan leaped from the stone outcrop and ran down to her. Scooping her into his arms, he ran back upslope, perhaps faster than he had descended, cursing and shouting for the Wise Ones by turns. Moiraine's head lolled on his shoulder. The Wise Ones came out to take her, Melaine physically barring his way when he tried to follow them into the tent. Lan was left stalking up and down outside, pounding a fist into his hand.

Rand rolled onto his back and stared up at the low tent roof. Three days saved. He should have felt glad Moiraine and Aviendha were back and safe, but his relief was all for days saved. Time was everything. He had to be able to choose his own ground. Maybe he still could.

“What are you going to do now?” Mat asked.

“Something you should like. I am going to break the rules.”

“I meant are you going to get something to eat? Me, I'm hungry.”

In spite of himself, Rand laughed. Something to eat? He did not care if he ever ate again. Mat stared at him as if he were crazy, and that only made him laugh harder. Not crazy. For the first time somebody was going to learn what it meant that he was the Dragon Reborn. He was going to break the rules in a way no one expected.

Chapter 35

(Spears and Shield)

Sharp Lessons

The Heart of the Stone in Tel'aran'rhiod was as Egwene remembered it in the real world, huge polished redstone columns rising to a distant ceiling, and, beneath the great central dome, Callandor driven into the pale floorstones. Only people were missing. The golden lamps were not lit, yet there was a sort of light, somehow dim and sharp at the same time, that seemed to come from everywhere at once, or nowhere. It was often like that, indoors in Tel'aran'rhiod.

What she did not expect was the woman standing beyond the glittering crystal sword and peering off into the pallid shadows among the columns. The way she was dressed startled Egwene. Bare feet, and wide trousers of brocaded yellow silk. Above a darker yellow sash, she was quite bare except for golden chains hanging around her neck. Tiny gold rings decorated her ears in sparkling rows, and most startling of all, another pierced her nose, with a thin, medallionlined chain running from nose ring to one of the rings in her left ear.

“Elayne?” Egwene gasped, gathering her shawl around her as though she were the one with no blouse. She had garbed herself as a Wise One, this time, for no particular reason.

The DaughterHeir leaped, and when she came down facing Egwene she was wearing a demure gown of pale green with a high, embroidered neck and long sleeves that dangled points over her hands. No earrings. No nose ring. “It is how the Sea Folk women dress at sea,” she said hurriedly, with a furious blush. “I wanted to see how it felt, and this seemed the best place. I couldn't do it on the ship, after all.”

“How does it feel?” Egwene asked curiously.

“Cold, actually.” Elayne looked around at the surrounding columns. “And it makes you feel people are staring at you, even when there's no one there.” Abruptly she laughed. “Poor Thom and Juilin. They do not know where to look most of the time. Half the crew are women.”

Studying the columns herself, Egwene shrugged uncomfortably. It did feel as if they were being watched. No doubt it was just because they were the only people in the Stone. No one who had access to Tel'aran'rhiod could expect to find anyone to watch, here. “Thom? Thom Merrilin? And Juilin Sandar?

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