The Shadow Rising Page 179

“We have gathered here to hear a great announcement,” Bael said, “when all the clans have come.” His dark reddish hair was graying, too; there were no young men among clan chiefs. His great height and deep voice drew eyes to him. “When all the clans have come. If all Sevanna wishes to speak of now is letting Couladin speak, I will go back to my tents and wait.”

Jheran, of the Shaarad, blood enemy of Bael's Goshien, was a slender man, gray streaked heavily through his light brown hair. Slender, as a steel blade is slender, he spoke to no one of the chiefs in particular. “I say we do not return to our tents. Since Sevanna has brought us in, let us discuss what is only somewhat less important than the announcement we await. Water. I wish to discuss the water at Chain Ridge Stand.” Bael turned toward him threateningly.

“Fools!” Sevanna snapped. “I will have done with waiting! I—”

It was then that those on the ledge became aware of the new arrivals. In utter silence they watched them approach, the clan chiefs frowning, Sevanna scowling. She was a pretty woman, well short of her middle years — and youngerlooking for standing among men well the other side of theirs — but with a greedy mouth. The clan chiefs were dignified, even Han in a sourmouthed fashion; her pale green eyes had a calculating look. Unlike any Aiel woman Rand had ever seen, she wore her loose white blouse undone low enough to show considerable tanned cleavage, framed by her many necklaces. He could have known the men for clan chiefs by their manner; if Sevanna was a roofmistress, she was surely nothing like Lian.

Rhuarc strode straight to the ledge, gave his spears and buckler, his bow and quiver, to his Red Shields, and climbed up. Rand handed his reins to Mat — who muttered, “Luck with us!” as he eyed the surrounding Aiel; Adelin nodded encouragingly to Rand — and stepped straight from his saddle to the ledge. A startled murmur rolled around the canyon.

“What do you do, Rhuarc,” Han demanded, scowling, “bringing this wetlander here? If you will not kill him, at least send him down from standing like a chief.”

“This man, Rand al'Thor, has come to speak to the chiefs of the clans. Did not the dreamwalkers tell you that he would come with me?” Rhuarc's words brought a louder murmur from the listeners.

“Melaine told me many things, Rhuarc,” Bael said slowly, frowning at Rand. “That He Who Comes With the Dawn had come out of Rhuidean. You cannot mean that this man...” He trailed off in disbelief.

“If this wetlander can speak,” Sevanna said quickly, “so may Couladin.” She lifted a smooth hand, and Couladin scrambled onto the ledge, face an angry red.

Han rounded on him. “Stand down, Couladin! It is bad enough that Rhuarc violates custom without you doing it as well!”

“It is time to be done with wornout customs!” the fieryhaired Shaido shouted, stripping off his grayandbrown coat. There was no need for shouting — his words echoed across the canyon — but he did not lower his voice. “I am He Who Comes With the Dawn!” Shoving shirtsleeves above his elbows, he thrust his fists into the air. Around each forearm wound a serpentine creature scaled in crimson and gold, glittering metallically feet each tipped with five golden claws, goldenmaned heads resting on the backs of his wrists. Two perfect Dragons. “I am the Car'a'carn!” The roar that came back was like thunder, Aiel leaping to their feet and shouting joyously. The sept chiefs were on their feet, too, the Taardad clustered worriedly, the others shouting as loudly as anyone.

The clan chiefs looked stunned, even Rhuarc. Adelin and her nine Maidens hefted their spears as if they expected to use them any moment. Eyeing the gap leading out, Mat pulled his hat low and guided the two horses close to the ledge, motioning surreptitiously for Rand to get back into his saddle.

Sevanna smiled smugly, adjusting her shawl, as Couladin strode to the front of the ledge with his arms high. “I bring change!” he shouted. “According to the prophecy, I bring new days! We will cross the Dragonwall again, and take back what was ours! The wetlanders are soft, but rich! You remember the wealth brought back when last we went into the Wetlands! This time, we will take it all! This time... !”

Rand let the man's tirade wash over him. Of things possible, he had never suspected this. How? The word kept sliding through his head, yet he could not believe how composed he was. Slowly he took off his coat, hesitating a moment before fishing the angreal from his pocket; sticking it into the waistband of his breeches, he dropped the coat and walked to the front of the ledge, calmly undoing the laces of his sleeves. They slid down as he raised his arms above his head.

It took a moment for the assembled Aiel to notice the Dragons wrapped around his arms, too, shining in the sunlight. Their hush came by increments, but it was total. Sevanna's mouth dropped open; she had not known of this. Obviously Couladin had not thought Rand would follow so quickly, had not told her another bore the markings, too. How? The man must have believed he would have time; once he had established himself, Rand could be dismissed as a fraud. Light, how? If the roofmistess of Comarda Hold was stunned now, so were the clan chiefs, save only Rhuarc. Two men marked as prophecy said only one could be.Couladin ranted on, waving his arms to make sure all saw. “...will not stop with the lands of the oathbreakers! We will take all the lands to the Aryth Ocean! The wetlanders cannot stand against —” Suddenly he became aware of the silence where eager cries had been. He knew what had caused it. Without turning to look at Rand, he shouted, “Wetlander! Look at his clothes! A wetlander!”

“A wetlander,” Rand agreed. He did not raise his voice, but the canyon carried it to everyone. The Shaido looked startled for a moment, then grinned triumphantly — until Rand went on. “What does the Prophecy of Rhuidean say? 'Born of the blood.' My mother was Shaiel, a Maiden of the Chumai Taardad.” Who was she really? Where did she come from? “My father was Janduin, of the Iron Mountain sept, clan chief of the Taardad.” My father is Tam al'Thor. He found me, raised me, loved me. I wish I could have known you, Janduin, but Tam is my father. “ 'Born of the blood, but raised by those not of the blood.' Where did the Wise Ones send to look for me? Into the holds of the Threefold Land? They sent across the Dragonwall, where I was raised. According to the prophecy.”

Bael and the other three nodded slowly, but reluctantly; there was still the matter of Couladin also bearing the Dragons, and doubtless they would rather have one of their own. Sevanna's face had firmed; no matter who bore the real markings, there was no doubt whom she supported.

Couladin's confidence never wavered; he sneered openly at Rand, the first time he had even looked at him. “How long since the Prophecy of Rhuidean was first spoken?” He still seemed to think he had to shout. “Who can say how much the words have changed? My mother was Far Dareis Mai before she gave up the spear. How much has the rest changed? Or been changed! It is said we once served the Aes Sedai. I say they mean to bind us to them once more! This wetlander was chosen because he resembles us! He is none of our blood! He came with Aes Sedai leading him on a leash! And the Wise Ones greeted them as they would firstsisters! You have all heard of Wise Ones who can do things beyond belief. The dreamwalkers used the One Power to keep me from this wetlander! They used the One Power, as Aes Sedai are said to do! The Aes Sedai have brought this wetlander here to bind us with fakery! And the dreamwalkers help them!”

“This is madness!” Rhuarc strode up beside Rand, staring out at the still silent gathering. “Couladin never went to Rhuidean, I heard the Wise Ones refuse him. Rand al'Thor did go. I saw him leave Chaendaer, and I saw him return, marked as you see.”

“And why did they refuse me?” Couladin snarled. “Because the Aes Sedai told them to! Rhuarc does not tell you that one of the Aes Sedai went down from Chaendaer with this wetlander! That is how he returned with the Dragons! By Aes Sedai witchery! My brother Muradin died below Chaendaer, murdered by this wetlander and the Aes Sedai Moiraine, and the Wise Ones, doing Aes Sedai bidding, let them walk free! When night came, I went to Rhuidean. I did not reveal myself until now because this is the proper place for the Car'a'carn to show himself! I am the Car'a'carn!”

Lies, touched with just enough flecks of truth. The man was all victorious confidence, sure he had an answer for anything.

“You say you went to Rhuidean without the permission of the Wise Ones?” Han demanded, frowning. Towering Bael looked just as disapproving with his arms folded, Erim and Jheran only slightly less so. The clan chiefs, at least, still wavered. Sevanna gripped her belt knife, glaring at Han as if she would like to drive it into his back.

Couladin had his answer, though. “Yes, without it! He Who Comes With the Dawn brings change! So says the prophecy! Useless ways must change, and I will change them! Did I not arrive here with the dawn?”

The clan chiefs stood balanced on the edge, and so did all the watching Aiel, all on their feet now, staring silently, waiting in their thousands. If Rand could not convince them, he likely would not leave Alcair Dal alive. Mat motioned again to Jeade'en's saddle. Rand did not even bother to shake his head.

There was a consideration beyond getting out alive; he needed these people, needed their loyalty. He had to have people who followed him because they believed, not to use him, or for what he could give them. He had to.

“Rhuidean,” he said. The word seemed to fill the canyon. “You claim you went to Rhuidean, Couladin. What did you see there?”

“All know Rhuidean is not to be spoken of,” Couladin shot back.

“We can go apart,” Erim said, “and speak in private so you can tell us —” The Shaido cut him off, face flushed angrily.

“I will speak of it with no one. Rhuidean is a holy place, and what I saw was holy. I am holy!” He raised his Dragon marked arms again. “These make me holy!”

“I walked among glass columns beside Avendesora.” Rand spoke quietly, but the words carried everywhere. “I saw the history of the Aiel through my ancestors' eyes. What did you see, Couladin? I am not afraid to speak. Are you?” The Shaido quivered with rage, face nearly the color of his fiery hair.

Uncertain looks passed between Bael and Erim, Jheran and Han. “We must go apart for this,” Han muttered.

Couladin did not seem to realize he had lost his advantage with the four, but Sevanna did. “Rhuarc has told him these things,” she spat. “One of Rhuarc's wives is a dreamwalker, one of those who aids the Aes Sedai! Rhuarc has told him!”

“Rhuarc would not,” Han snapped at her. “He is clan chief, and a man of honor. Do not speak of what you do not know, Sevanna!”

“I am not afraid!” Couladin shouted. “No man can call me afraid! I, too, saw with my ancestors' eyes! I saw our coming to the Threefold Land! I saw our glory! The glory I will bring back to us!”

“I saw the Age of Legends,” Rand announced, “and the beginning of the Aiel journey to the Threefold Land.” Rhuarc caught his arm, but he shook the clan chief off. This moment had been fated since the Aiel gathered before Rhuidean the first time. “I saw the Aiel when they were called the Da'shain Aiel, and followed t

Prev Next