The Shadow Rising Page 121

“Why did you go away?” she mumbled into his chest. “You made me laugh. I remember that. You made her laugh, too. And you rode me on your shoulder.”

“A long story.” He sighed painfully. “I will tell you another time. If you ask. With luck, you'll forget this by morning. It's time for you to go to bed, Elayne.”

He guided her to the door, and she took the opportunity to tug at his mustache again. “Like that,” she said with satisfaction. “I used to pull it just like that.”

“Yes, you did. Can you make it downstairs by yourself?”

“Of course I can.” She gave him her haughtiest stare, but he looked readier than ever to follow her into the hall. To prove there was no need, she walked — carefully — as far as the head of the stairs. He was still frowning at her worriedly from the doorway when she started down.

Luckily she did not stumble until she was out of his sight, but she did walk right by her door and had to come back. Something must have been wrong with that apple jelly; she knew she should not have eaten so much of it. Lini always said . . . She could not remember what it was Lini said, but something about eating too many sweets.

There were two lamps burning in the room, one on the small round table by the bed and the other on the whiteplastered mantel above the brick fireplace. Nynaeve lay stretched out on the bed atop the coverlet, fully dressed. With her elbows stuck out, Elayne noted.

She said the first thing that came into her head. “Rand must think I'm crazy, Thom is a bard, and Berelain isn't my mother after all.” Nynaeve gave her the oddest look. “I am a little dizzy for some reason. A nice boy with sweet brown eyes offered to help me upstairs.”

“I will wager he did,” Nynaeve said, biting off each word. Rising, she came to put an arm around Elayne's shoulders. “Come over here a moment. There's something I think you should see.” It appeared to be a bucket of extra water by the washstand. “Here. We'll both kneel down so you can look.”

Elayne did, but there was nothing in the bucket but her own reflection in the water, She wondered why she was grinning that way. Then Nynaeve's hand went to the back of her neck, and her head was in the water.

Flailing her hands, she tried to straighten up, but Nynaeve's arm was like an iron bar. You were supposed to hold your breath under water. Elayne knew you were. She just could not remember how. All she could do was flail and gurgle and choke.

Nynaeve hauled her up, water streaming down her face, and she filled her lungs. “How dare — you,” she gasped. “I am — the DaughterHeir of —” She managed to get out one wail before her head went back in with a splash. Seizing the bucket with both hands and pushing did no good. Drumming her feet on the floor did no good. She was going to drown. Nynaeve was going to drown her.

After an Age she was back out in the air again. Sodden strands of hair hung all across her face. “I think,” she said in the steadiest voice she could find, “that I am going to sick up.”

Nynaeve got the big whiteglazed basin down from the washstand just in time, and held Elayne's head while she brought up everything she had ever eaten in her life. A year later — well, hours anyway; it seemed that long — Nynaeve was washing her face and wiping her mouth, bathing her hands and wrists. There was nothing solicitous in her voice, though.

“How could you do this? Whatever possessed you? I might expect a fool man to drink until he can't stand, but you! And tonight.”

“I only had one cup,” Elayne muttered. Even with that young man refilling it, she could not have had more than two. Surely not.

“A cup the size of a pitcher.” Nynaeve sniffed, helping her to her feet. Hauling her, really. “Can you stay awake? I am going to look for Egwene, and I still don't trust myself to get out of Tel'aran'rhiod without someone to wake me.”

Elayne blinked at her. They had looked for Egwene, unsuccessfully, every night since she had disappeared so abruptly out of that meeting in the Heart of the Stone. “Stay awake? Nynaeve, it is my turn to look, and better it's me. You know you cannot channel unless you are angry, and...” She realized the other woman was surrounded by the glow of saidar. And had been for some time, she thought. Her own head felt stuffed full of wool; thought had to burrow through. She could barely sense the True Source. “Maybe you had better go. I will stay awake.”

Nynaeve frowned at her, but finally nodded. Elayne tried to help undress her, but her fingers did not seem to work very well when it came to those little buttons. Grumping under her breath, Nynaeve managed on her own. In only her shift, she threaded the twisted stone ring onto the leather cord she wore hanging around her neck, alongside a man's ring, heavy and golden. That was Lan's ring; Nynaeve always wore it between her breasts.

Elayne pulled a low wooden stool over beside the bed while Nynaeve stretched out again. She did feel rather sleepy, but she would not fall asleep sitting on that. The problem seemed to be not falling on the floor. “I will judge an hour and wake you.”

Nynaeve nodded, then closed her eyes, both hands clutched around the two rings. After a time her breathing deepened.

The Heart of the Stone was quite empty. Peering into the dimness among the great columns, Nynaeve had circled Callandor, sparkling out of the floorstones, completely before she realized she was still in her shift, the leather cord dangling about her neck with the two rings. She frowned, and after a moment she was wearing a Two Rivers dress of good brown wool, and stout shoes. Elayne and Egwene both seemed to find this sort of thing easy, but it was not easy for her. There had been embarrassing moments in earlier visits to Tel'aran'rhiod, mostly after stray thoughts of Lan, but changing her garb deliberately took concentration. Just that — remembering — and her dress was silk, and as transparent as Rendra's veil. Berelain would have blushed. So did Nynaeve, thinking of Lan seeing her in it. It took an effort to bring the brown wool back.

Worse, her anger had faded — that fool girl; did she not realize what happened when you drank too much wine? Had she never been alone in a common room before? Well, possibly she had not — and the True Source might as well not exist so far as she was concerned. Perhaps it would not matter. Uneasy, she stared into the forest of huge redstone columns, turning in one spot. What had made Egwene leave here abruptly?

The Stone was silent, with a hollow emptiness. She could hear the blood rushing in her own ears. Yet the skin between her shoulder blades prickled as if someone were watching her.

“Egwene?” Her shout echoed in the silence among the columns. “Egwene?” Nothing.

Rubbing her hands on her skirt, she found she was holding a gnarled stick with a thick knob on the end. A fat lot of good that would do. But she tightened her grip on it. A sword might be more use — for an instant the stick flickered, half a sword — but she did not know how to use a sword. She laughed to herself ruefully. A cudgel was as good as a sword here; both practically useless. Channeling was the only real defense, that and running. Which left her only one choice at the moment.

She wanted to run now, with that feel of eyes on her, but she would not give up so quickly. Only what was she to do? Egwene was not here. She was somewhere in the Waste. Rhuidean, Elayne said. Wherever that was.

Between one step and the next she was suddenly on a mountainside, with a harsh sun rising over more jagged mountains beyond the valley below, baking the dry air. The Waste. She was in the Waste. For a moment the sun startled her, but the Waste was far enough east for sunrise there to still be night in Tanchico. In Tel'aran'rhiod it made no difference anyway. Sunlight or darkness there seemed to bear no relation to what was in the real world as far as she could determine.

Long, pale shadows still covered almost half the valley, but strangely a mass of fog billowed down there, not seeming to grow less for the sun beating on it. Great towers rose out of the fog, some appearing unfinished. A city. In the Waste?

Squinting, she could make out a person down in the valley, too. A man, though all she could see at this distance was someone who seemed to be wearing breeches and a bright blue coat. Certainly not an Aiel. He was walking along the edge of the fog, every now and again stopping to poke at it. She could not be sure, but she thought his hand stopped short each time. Maybe it was not fog at all.

“You must get away from here,” a woman's voice said urgently. “If that one sees you, you are dead, or worse.”

Nynaeve jumped, spinning with her club raised, nearly losing her footing on the slope.

The woman standing a little above her wore a short white coat and voluminous, pale yellow trousers gathered above short boots. Her cloak billowed on an arid gust of wind. It was her long golden hair, intricately braided, and the silver bow in her hands that made a name pop incredulously into Nynaeve's mouth.

“Birgitte?” Birgitte, hero of a hundred tales, and her silver bow with which she never missed. Birgitte, one of the dead heroes the Horn of Valere would call back from the grave to fight in the Last Battle. “It's impossible. Who are you?”

“There is no time, woman. You must go before he sees.” In one smooth motion she pulled a silver arrow from the quiver at her waist, nocked it and drew fletching to ear. The silver arrowhead pointed straight at Nynaeve's heart. “Go!”

Nynaeve fled.

She was not sure how, but she was standing on the Green in Emond's Field, looking at the Winespring Inn with its chimneys and red tile roof. Thatched roofs surrounded the Green, where the Winespring gushed out of a stone outcrop. The sun stood high here, though the Two Rivers lay far west of the Waste. Yet despite a cloudless sky, a deep shadow lay across the village.

She had only a moment to wonder how they were doing without her. A flicker of movement caught her eye, a flash of silver and a woman, ducking behind the corner of Ailys Candwin's neat house beyond the Winespring Water. Birgitte.Nynaeve did not hesitate. She ran for one of the footbridges across the narrow rushing stream. Her shoes pounded on the wooden planks. “Come back here,” she shouted. “You come back here and answer me! Who was that? You come back here, or I'll hero you! I'll thump you so you think you've had an adventure!”

Rounding the corner of Ailys's house, she really only halfexpected to see Birgitte. What she did not expect at all was a man in a dark coat trotting toward her less than a hundred paces down the hardpacked dirt street. Her breath caught. Lan. No, but he had the same shape to his face, the same eyes. Halting, he raised his bow and shot. At her. Screaming, she threw herself aside trying to claw her way awake.

Elayne jumped to her feet, toppling the stool over backward, as Nynaeve screamed and sat up on the bed, eyes wide.

“What happened, Nynaeve? What happened?”

Nynaeve shuddered. “He looked like Lan. He looked like Lan, and he tried to kill me.” She put a trembling hand to her left arm, where a shallow slash oozed blood a few inches below her shoulder. “If I hadn't jumped, it would have gon

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