The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 148

Elayne seemed taken aback, and interested, too. “I am? What part, Min?”

“I can’t see it clearly.” Min looked at the floor. “Sometimes I wish I couldn’t read people at all. Most people aren’t satisfied with what I see anyway.”

“If we are all going,” Nynaeve said, “then we had best be about making plans.” However much she might argue beforehand, once a course of action had been decided, Nynaeve always went right to the practicalities: what they had to take with them, and how cold it would be by the time they reached Toman Head, and how they could get their horses from the stables without being stopped.

Listening to her, Egwene could not help wondering what the danger was that Min saw for them, and what danger threatened Rand. She knew of only one danger that could threaten him, and it made her cold to think of it. Hold on, Rand. Hold on, you wool-headed idiot. I’ll help you somehow.



Flight from the White Tower

Egwene and Elayne inclined their heads briefly to each group of women they passed as they made their way through the Tower. It was a good thing there were so many women from outside in the Tower today, Egwene thought, too many for each to have an Aes Sedai or an Accepted for escort. Alone or in small groups, garbed richly or poorly, in dress from half a dozen different lands, some still dusty from their journey to Tar Valon, they kept to themselves and waited their turn to ask their questions of the Aes Sedai, or present their petitions. Some women—ladies or merchants or merchants’ wives—had female servants with them. Even a few men had come with petitions, standing by themselves, looking unsure about being in the White Tower, and eyeing everyone else uneasily.

In the lead, Nynaeve kept her eyes purposefully ahead, her cloak swirling behind her, walking as if she knew where they were going—which she did, as long as no one stopped them—and had a perfect right to go there—which was a different matter altogether, of course. Dressed now in the clothes they had brought to Tar Valon, they certainly did not look like residents of the Tower. Each had chosen her best dress that had a skirt divided for riding, and cloaks of fine wool rich with embroidery. As long as they kept away from all who might recognize them—they had already dodged several who knew their faces—Egwene thought they might make it.

“This would do better for a turn in some lord’s park than a ride to Toman Head,” Nynaeve had said dryly as Egwene helped her with the buttons of a gray silk with thread-of-gold work and pearled flowers across the bosom and down the sleeves, “but it may allow us to leave unnoticed.”

Now Egwene shifted her cloak and smoothed her own gold-embroidered, green silk dress and glanced at Elayne, in blue slashed with cream, hoping Nynaeve had been right. So far, everyone had taken them for petitioners, nobles, or at least women of wealth, but it seemed that they should stand out. She was surprised to realize why; she felt uncomfortable in the fine dress after wearing a novice’s plain white for the past few months.

A little cluster of village women in stout, dark woolens dropped curtsies as they passed. Egwene glanced back at Min as soon as they were beyond. Min had kept her breeches and baggy man’s shirt under a boy’s brown cloak and coat, with an old, wide-brimmed hat pulled down over her short hair. “One of us has to be the servant,” she had said, laughing. “Women dressed the way you are always have at least one. You’ll wish you had my breeches if we have to run.” She was burdened with four sets of saddlebags bulging with warm clothes, for it would surely be winter before they returned. There were also packets of food pilfered from the kitchens, enough to last until they could buy more.

“Are you sure I can’t carry some of those, Min?” Egwene asked softly.

“They’re just awkward,” Min said with a grin, “not heavy.” She seemed to think it was all a game, or else was pretending to think so. “And people would be sure to wonder why a fine lady such as yourself was carrying her own saddlebags. You can carry yours—and mine, too, if you want—once we—” Her grin vanished, and she whispered fiercely, “Aes Sedai!”

Egwene whipped her eyes forward. An Aes Sedai with long, smooth black hair and aged-ivory skin was coming toward them down the corridor, listening to a woman wearing rough farm clothes and a patched cloak. The Aes Sedai had not seen them yet, but Egwene recognized her; Takima, of the Brown Ajah, who taught the history of the White Tower and Aes Sedai, and who could recognize one of her pupils at a hundred paces.

Nynaeve turned down a side hall without breaking stride, but there one of the Accepted, a lanky woman with a permanent frown, hurried past them hauling a red-faced novice by the ear.

Egwene had to swallow before she could speak. “That was Irella, and Else. Did they notice us?” She could not make herself look back to see.

“No,” Min said after a moment. “All they saw was our clothes.” Egwene let out a long, relieved breath, and heard one from Nynaeve, too.

“My heart may burst before we reach the stables,” Elayne murmured. “Is this what an adventure is like all the time, Egwene? Your heart in your mouth, and your stomach in your feet?”

“I suppose it is,” Egwene said slowly. She f

ound it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories. Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness. She told Elayne as much.

“Still,” the Daughter-Heir said firmly, “I have never had any real excitement before, and never likely to as long as Mother has any say in it, which she will until I take the throne myself.”

“You two be quiet,” Nynaeve said. They were alone in the hall for a change, with no one in sight in either direction. She pointed to a narrow flight of stairs going down. “That should be what we want. If I haven’t gotten turned around completely, with all the twists and turns we’ve made.”

She took the stairs as if she were certain anyway, and the others followed. Surely enough, the small door at the bottom let out into the dusty yard of the South Stable, where novices’ horses were kept, for those who had them, until they had need of mounts again, which was generally not until they became Accepted or were sent home. The gleaming bulk of the Tower itself rose behind them; the Tower grounds spread over a good many hides of land, with its own walls higher than some city walls.

Nynaeve strode into the stable as if she owned it. It had a clean smell of hay and horse, and two long rows of stalls ran back into shadows barred with light from the vents above. For a wonder, shaggy Bela and Nynaeve’s gray mare stood in stalls near the doors. Bela put her nose over the stall door and whickered softly to Egwene. There was only one groom in evidence, a pleasant-looking fellow with gray in his beard, chewing a straw.

“We will have our horses saddled,” Nynaeve told him in her most commanding tone. “Those two. Min, find your horse and Elayne’s.” Min dropped the saddlebags and drew Elayne deeper into the stables.

The stableman frowned after them and slowly took the straw from his mouth. “There must be some mistake, my Lady. Those animals—”

“—are ours,” Nynaeve said firmly, folding her arms so that the Serpent ring was obvious. “You will saddle them now.”

Egwene held her breath; it was a last-ditch plan, that Nynaeve would try to pass as an Aes Sedai if they had difficulties with anyone who might actually accept her as one. No Aes Sedai or Accepted would, of course, and probably not even a novice, but a stableman. . . .

The man blinked at Nynaeve’s ring, then at her. “I was told two,” he said at last, sounding unimpressed. “One of the Accepted and a novice. Wasn’t nothing said about four of you.”

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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