Winter's Heart Page 182

Dangerous, Lews Therin moaned. Madness. Rand ignored him. For the moment, only Cadsuane mattered.

Her bay flicked one black ear, and at that he seemed more excitable than his rider. “One of those sa’angreal is made for a woman,” she said coolly. “Who do you propose to use that? Or do these keys allow you to draw on both yourself?”

“Nynaeve will link with me.” He trusted Nynaeve, to link with, but no one else. She was Aes Sedai, but she had been the Wisdom of Emond’s Field; he had to trust her. She smiled at him and nodded firmly, her chin no longer trembling. “Don’t try to stop me, Cadsuane.” She said nothing, only studied him, dark eyes weighing and measuring.

“Forgive me, Cadsuane,” Kumira broke into the silence, heeling her dapple forward. “Young man, have you considered the possibility of failure? Have you considered the consequences of failure?”

“I must ask the same question,” Nesune said sharply. She sat very straight in her saddle, and her dark eyes met Rand’s gaze levelly. “By everything I have read, the attempt to use those sa’angreal may result in disaster. Together, they might be strong enough to crack the world like an egg.”

Like an egg! Lews Therin agreed. They were never tested, never tried. This is insane! he shrieked. You are mad! Mad!

“The last I heard,” Rand told the sisters, “one Asha’man in fifty had gone mad and had to be put down like a rabid dog. More will have, by now. There is a risk to doing this, but it’s all maybe and might. If I don’t try, the certainty is that more and more men will go mad, maybe scores, maybe all of us, and sooner or later it will be too many to be killed easily. Will you enjoy waiting for the Last Battle with a hundred rabid Asha’man wandering about, or two hundred, or five? And maybe me one of them? How long will the world survive that?” He spoke to the two Browns, but it was Cadsuane who he watched. Her almost black eyes never left him. He needed to keep her with him, but if she tried to talk him out of it, he would reject her advice no matter the consequences. If she tried to stop him . . .? Saidin raged inside him.

“Will you do the deed here?” she asked.

“In Shadar Logoth,” he told her, and she nodded.

“A fitting place,” she said, “if we are to risk destroying the world.”

Lews Therin screamed, a dwindling howl that echoed inside Rand’s skull as the voice fled into the dark depths. There was nowhere to hide, though. No safe place.

The gateway he wove did not open into the ruined city of Shadar Logoth itself, but to a thinly wooded, uneven hilltop a few miles to the north, where the horse hooves rang on sparse, stony soil that had stunted the leafless trees, and ragged patches of snow covered the ground. As Rand dismounted, his eye was caught by distant glimpses of the place once called Aridhol showing above the trees, towers that ended abruptly in jagged stone, and white onion-shaped domes that could have sheltered a village had they been whole. He did not look for long. Despite the clear morning sky, those pale domes failed to gleam as they should, as if something cast a shadow over the sprawling ruin. Even at this distance from the city, the second never-healing wound in his side had begun to throb faintly. The slash given by Padan Fain’s dagger, the dagger that had come from Shadar Logoth, did not beat together with the pulsing of the larger wound it cut across, but rather against it, alternating.

Cadsuane took charge, issuing brisk commands, as might have been expected. One way or another, Aes Sedai always did, given half a chance, and Rand did not try to stop her. Lan and Nethan and Bassane rode down into the forest to scout, and the other Warders hurried to fasten the horses to low branches out of the way. Min stood up in her stirrups and pulled Rand’s head to where she could kiss his eyes. Without speaking a word, she went to join the men with the horses. The bond surged with her love for him, with confidence and a trust so complete that he stared after her in amazement.

Eben came to take Rand’s mount, grinning from ear to ear. Together with his nose, those ears still seemed to make up half his face, but he was a slender youth rather than gawky, now. “It will be wonderful, channeling without the taint, my Lord Dragon,” he said excitedly. Rand thought Eben might be as much as seventeen, but he sounded younger. “That always makes me want to empty my belly, if I think on it.” He trotted away with the gray, still grinning.

The Power roared in Rand, and the filth tarnishing the pure life of saidin seeped into him, rank runnels that would bring madness and death.

Cadsuane gathered the Aes Sedai around her, and Alivia and the Sea Folk Windfinder, too. Harine grumbled loudly about being excluded, until a finger pointed by Cadsuane sent her stalking across the hilltop. Moad, in his odd blue quilted coat, sat Harine down on an outcrop, and talked soothingly, though sometimes his eyes went to the surrounding trees, and then he slid a hand along the long ivory hilt of his sword. Jahar appeared from the direction of the horses, stripping the cloth wrappings from Callandor. The crystal sword, with its long clear hilt and slightly curving blade, sparkled in the pale sunlight. At an imperious gesture from Merise, he quickened his step to join her. Damer was in that group, too, and Eben. Cadsuane had not asked to use Callandor. That could pass. For now, it could.

“That woman could try a stone’s patience!” Nynaeve muttered, striding up to Rand. With one hand, she held the scrip’s strap firmly on her shoulder, while the other was just as firmly around the thick braid hanging from her cowl. “To the Pit of Doom with her, that’s what I say! Are you sure Min couldn’t be wrong just this once? Well, I suppose not. But still . . .! Will you stop smiling like that? You’d make a cat nervous!”

“We might as well begin,” he told her, and she blinked.

“Shouldn’t we wait on Cadsuane?” No one would suspect she had been complaining about the Aes Sedai a moment earlier. If anything, she sounded anxious not to upset her.

“She will do what she will do, Nynaeve. With your help, I will do what I must.”

Still she hesitated, clutching the scrip to her chest and casting worried glances in the direction of the women gathered around Cadsuane. Alivia left that group and hurried toward them across the uneven ground holding her cloak closed with both hands.

“Cadsuane says I must have the ter’angreal, Nynaeve,” she said in that soft Seanchan drawl. “Now don’t argue; there isn’t time. Besides, they are no good to you if you’re going t

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