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Towers of midnight
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:27

Текст книги "Towers of midnight"


Автор книги: Robert Jordan






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Текущая страница: 24 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

She embraced the Source, and something seemed to try to stop her. Something like a shield. She pushed it aside with difficulty and Power flooded her. She began flinging fire at the monster, burning off a tentacle as it grabbed for Perrin.

Nynaeve continued throwing fire until she reached the six-pointed star. There, she wove the eighty-first weave, which created three rings of Fire in the air.

She worked furiously, attacking at the same time. She didn't know the point of creating this weave, but she knew she had to finish it. So she increased the strength of the weave, making the burning rings extremely large. Then she began hurling them at the creatures. Massive halos of flame crashed into the dark things, killing them.

There was a six-pointed star on the roof of Master al'Vere's inn. Had it been burned there? Nynaeve ignored it, venting her anger at the things with tentacles.

No. This is important. More important than the Two Rivers. I must go on.

Feeling like an utter coward—but knowing it was the right thing to do—she ran to the inn, passing through the doorway.

Nynaeve lay weeping on the ground beside a broken archway. She was on the last of the hundred weaves.

She could barely move. Her face was streaked with tears. She had hollow memories of fleeing battles, of leaving children to die. Of never being able to do enough.

Her shoulder bled. A wolf's bite. Her legs were flayed, as if she'd walked through a long patch of thorns. All across her body were burns and blisters. She was naked.

She rose to her knees, which were scraped and bleeding. Her braid ended in a smoldering stump about a handspan below her shoulders. She retched to the side, shivering.

So sick, so weak. How could she continue?

No. They will not beat me.

She slowly raised herself to her feet. She was in a small room, harsh sunlight leaking through cracks between the wallboards. A bundle of white cloth lay on the ground. She picked it up, unfolding it. It was a white dress with the colors of the Ajahs banded at the bottom. The clothing of an Accepted in the White Tower.

She dropped it. "I am Aes Sedai," she said, stepping over the robe and pushing open the door. Better to go naked than to give in to that lie.

Outside the door, she found another dress, this time yellow. That was more proper. She allowed herself the time to put it on, though she couldn't stop trembling, and her fingers were so tired she could barely make them work. Her blood stained the cloth.

Dress on, she inspected her surroundings. She was on a hillside in the Blight, the ground covered in weeds that bore the distinctive dark marks. Why was there a shack in the Blight, and why had she been inside of it?

She felt so tired. She wanted to go back into the shack and sleep.

No. She would continue. She trudged up the hill. At its top, she looked down on a land covered in broken rubble and pockets of darkness. Lakes, if they could be called that. The liquid looked thick and oily. Dark shapes moved within them. Malkier, she thought, stunned that she recognized the place. The Seven Towers, only rubble now. The Thousand Lakes corrupted. The place of Lan's heritage.

She stepped forward, but her toe hit something. A stone beneath her feet had been carved with a small symbol. The six-pointed star.

She sighed in relief. It was almost through. She began the final weave.

Below, a man stumbled out from behind a mound of rubble, swinging expertly with his sword. She knew him even at a distance. That strong figure, square face, color-shifting cloak and dangerous way of walking.

"Lan!" she screamed.

He was surrounded by beasts that looked like wolves, but too large. They had dark fur, and their teeth flashed as they lunged toward Lan. Darkhounds, an entire pack.

Nynaeve finished the hundredth weave with a start; she hadn't realized she'd continued it. A shower of colorful specks burst into the air around her. She watched them fall, feeling used. She heard a sound over her shoulder, but when she glanced, there was nothing there. Just the shack.

The six-pointed star hung over a door there, the symbol made of bits of gemstones. That door hadn't been there before. She took a step toward the shack, then looked back.

Lan swung about him with his sword, forcing the Darkhounds away. One bit of saliva from those beasts would kill him.

"Lan," she screamed. "Run!"

He didn't hear her. The six-pointed star. She needed to walk to it!

She blinked, then looked down at her hands. In the direct center of each palm was a tiny scar. Almost unnoticeable. Seeing them sparked a memory in her.

Nynaeve… I love you…

This was a test. She could remember that now. It was a test to force her to choose between him and the White Tower. She'd made that choice once, but she'd known it wasn't real.

This wasn't real either, was it? She raised a hand to her head, mind cloudy. That is my husband down there, she thought. No. I will not play this game!

She screamed, weaving Fire and throwing it toward one of the Darkhounds. The creature burst into flames, but the fire didn't seem to hurt it. Nynaeve stepped forward, throwing more fire. Useless! The hounds just kept attacking.

She refused to give in to her exhaustion. She banished it, growing calm controlled. Ice. They wanted to push her, see what she could do? Well, let it be. She reached out, drawing in an immense amount of the One Power.

Then she wove balefire.

The line of pure light sprang from her fingers, warping the air around it. She hit one of the Darkhounds and seemed to puncture it, the light continuing on into the ground. The entire landscape rumbled, and Nynaeve stumbled. Lan fell to the ground. The Darkhounds leaped at him.

NO! Nynaeve thought, righting herself, weaving balefire again. She blasted another hound, then another. More of the monsters leaped from behind rock formations. Where were they all coming from? Nynaeve strode forward, blasting with the forbidden weave.

Each strike made the ground tremble, as if in pain. The balefire shouldn't puncture the ground like that. Something was wrong.

She reached Lan's side. He had broken his leg. "Nynaeve!" he said. "You must go!"

She ignored his words, kneeling down and weaving balefire as another hound rounded the rubble. Their number was increasing, and she was so tired. Each time she channeled, she felt it would surely be her last.

But it could not be. Not with Lan in danger. She wove a complex Healing, putting every bit of strength she had left into it, mending his leg. He scrambled up and grabbed his sword, turning to fend off a Darkhound.

They fought together, her with balefire, him with steel. But his swings were lethargic, and it took her a few heartbeats longer each time she made the balefire. The ground was shaking and rumbling, ruins crashing to the ground.

"Lan!" she said. "Be ready to run!"

"What?"

With her last ounce of strength, she wove balefire and aimed it directly downward in front of them. The ground undulated in agony, almost like a living thing. The earth split nearby, Darkhounds tumbling in. Nynaeve collapsed, the One Power slipping from her. She was too tired to channel.

Lan grabbed her arm. "We must go!"

She hauled herself to her feet, taking his hand. Together, they ran up the rumbling hillside. Darkhounds howled behind, some of the pack leaping the rift.

Nynaeve ran for all she was worth, clinging to Lan's hand. They crested the hill. The ground was shaking so terribly, she couldn't believe the shack still standing. She stumbled down the hill toward it, Lan with her.

He tripped, crying out in pain. His hand slipped from her fingers.

She spun. Behind them, a flood of Darkhounds crested the hilltop, snarling, teeth flashing and spittle flying from their mouths. Lan waved for her to go, his eyes wide.

"No." She grabbed him by the arm and, heaving, hauled him down the slope. Together, they tumbled through the doorway, and… and gasping, Nynaeve fell from the ter'angreal. She collapsed alone on the cold floor, naked, shaking. In a flood, she remembered it all. Each and every horrible moment of the test. Each betrayal, each frustrating weave. The impotence, the screams of the children, the deaths of people she knew and loved. She wept against the floor, curling up.

Her entire body was afire with pain. Her shoulder, legs, arms and back still bled. She was burned to blisters in swaths across her body, and the greater part of her braid was gone. Her unraveled hair fell across her face as she tried to banish the memories of what she had done.

She heard groans from nearby, and through bleary eyes she saw the Aes Sedai in the circle break off their weaves and slump. She hated them. She hated each and every one of them.

"Light!" Saerin's voice. "Someone Heal her!"

Everything was growing blurry. Voices grew muddled. Like sounds under water. Peaceful sounds…

Something cold washed over her. She gasped, her eyes opening wide at the icy shock of the Healing. Rosil knelt beside her. The woman looked worried.

The pain left Nynaeve's body, but her exhaustion increased tenfold. And the pain inside… it remained. Oh, Light. She could hear the children screaming.

"Well," Saerin said from nearby, "seems that she'll live. Now, would someone please tell me what in the name of creation itself that was?" She sounded furious. "I've been a part of many a raising, even one where the woman didn't survive. But I have never, in all of my days, seen a woman put through what this one just suffered."

"She had to be tested properly," Rubinde said.

"Properly?" Saerin demanded, livid.

Nynaeve didn't have the strength to look at them. She lay, breathing in and out.

"Properly?" Saerin repeated. "That wasn't proper. That was downright, vengeful, Rubinde! Almost any one of those tests was beyond what I've seen demanded of other women. You should be ashamed. All of you. Light, look what you've done to the girl!"

"It is unimportant," Barasine the Red said in a cold voice. "She failed the test."

"What?" Nynaeve croaked, finally looking up. The ter'angreal had fallen dim, and Rosil had fetched a blanket and Nynaeve's clothing. Egwene stood to the side, arms clasped before her. Her face was serene as she listened to the others. She would not have a vote, but the others would, regarding whether Nynaeve had passed the test or not.

"You failed, child," Barasine said, regarding Nynaeve with an emotionless stare. "You did not show proper decorum."

Lelaine of the Blue nodded, looking annoyed to be agreeing with a Red. "This was to test your ability to be calm as an Aes Sedai. You did not show that."

The others looked uncomfortable. You weren't supposed to speak of the specifics of a testing. Nynaeve knew that much. She also knew that most of the time, failing and dying were the same thing. Though she wasn't terribly surprised to hear claims that she'd failed, now that she thought about it.

She had broken the rules of the test. She'd run in order to save Perrin and others. She'd channeled before she should have. She had trouble summoning regret. Every other emotion was, for the moment, consumed by the hollow loss she felt.

"Barasine does have a point," Seaine said, reluctant. "By the end, you were openly furious, and you ran to reach many of the markers. And then there is the matter of the forbidden weave. Most troubling. I do not say you should fail, but there are irregularities."

Nynaeve tried to climb to her feet. Rosil placed a hand on her shoulder to forbid her, but Nynaeve took the arm and used it as support, pulling herself up on unsteady legs. She took the blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders, holding it closed at the front.

She felt so drained. "I did what I had to. Who among you would not run if you saw people in danger? Who among you would forbid herself to channel if she saw Shadowspawn attacking? I acted as an Aes Sedai should.

"This test," Barasine said, "is meant to ensure that a woman is capable of dedicating herself to a greater task. To see that she can ignore the distractions of the moment and seek a higher good."

Nynaeve sniffed. "I completed the weaves I needed to. I maintained my focus. Yes, I broke my calm—but I kept a cool enough head to complete my tasks. One should not demand calmness for the mere sake of calmness, and a prohibition on running when there are people you need to save is foolish.

"My goal in this test was to prove that I deserve to be Aes Sedai. Well, then I could argue that the lives of the people I saw were more important than gaining that title. If losing my title is what would be required to save someone's life—and if there were no other consequences—I'd do it. Every time. Not saving them wouldn't be serving a higher good; it would just be selfish."

Barasine's eyes opened wide with anger. Nynaeve turned to walk—with some difficulty—to the side of the room, where she could sit on a bench and rest. The women gathered together to speak softly, and Egwene walked—still serene—over to Nynaeve. The Amyrlin sat down beside her. Though she had been allowed to participate in the test, and create some of the experiences that tested Nynaeve, the choice of the raising would be up to the others.

"You've angered them," Egwene said. "And confused them."

"I spoke the truth," Nynaeve grumbled.

"Perhaps," Egwene said. "But I wasn't speaking of your outburst. During the test, you flouted the orders you were given."

"I couldn't flout them. I didn't remember that I'd been given them. I… well, actually I could remember what I was supposed to do, but not the reasons." Nynaeve grimaced. "That's why I broke the rules. I thought they were just arbitrary. I couldn't remember why I wasn't supposed to run, so in the face of seeing people die, it seemed silly to walk."

"The rules are supposed to hold strongly, even though you don't remember them," Egwene said. "And you should not have been able to channel before reaching the marker. That is in the very nature of the test."

Nynaeve frowned. "Then how—"

"You've spent too much time in Tel'aran'rhiod. This test… it seems to function much in the same way as the World of Dreams. What we create in our minds became your surroundings." Egwene clicked her tongue, shaking her head. "I warned them that this might be a danger. Your practice in the World of Dreams made you innately able to break the test."

Nynaeve didn't reply to that, feeling sick. What if she did fail? Being cast out of the Tower now, after getting so close?

"I think your infractions might help you, however," Egwene said softly.

"What?"

"You're too experienced to have been given this test," Egwene explained. "In a way, what happened is proof that you deserved the shawl when I granted it to you. You performed each of the weaves expertly, with speed and skill. I particularly liked the way you used 'useless' weaves, on occasion, to attack the things you saw."

"The fight in the Two Rivers," Nynaeve said. "That one was you, wasn't it? The others don't know the place well enough to create it."

"You can sometimes create visions and situations based on the mind of the woman being tested," Egwene said. "It is an odd experience, using this ter'angreal. One that I am not certain I understand."

"But the Two Rivers was you."

"Yes," Egwene admitted.

"And the last one. With Lan?"

Egwene nodded. "I'm sorry. I thought that if I didn't do it, nobody would—"

"I am glad that you did," Nynaeve said. "It showed me something."

"It did?"

Nynaeve nodded, back against the wall, holding the blanket in place and closing her eyes. "I realized that if I had to choose between becoming an Aes Sedai and going with Lan, I'd choose Lan. What people call me doesn't change anything inside of me. Lan, however… he is more than a title. I can still channel—I can still be me—if I never become Aes Sedai. But I would never be myself again if I abandoned him. The world changed when I married him."

She felt… freed, somehow, realizing it and saying it.

"Pray the others don't realize that," Egwene said. "It would not be good for them to determine that you would place anything before the White Tower."

"I wonder if," Nynaeve said, "we sometimes put the White Tower—as an institution—before the people we serve. I wonder if we let it become a goal in itself, instead of a means to help us achieve greater goals."

"Devotion is important, Nynaeve. The White Tower protects and guides the world."

"And yet, so many of us do it without families," Nynaeve said. "Without love, without passion beyond our own particular interests. So even while we try to guide the world, we separate ourselves from it. We risk arrogance, Egwene. We always assume we know best, but risk making ourselves unable to fathom the people we claim to serve."

Egwene seemed troubled. "Don't voice those ideas too much, at least not today. They're already frustrated enough with you. But this testing was brutal, Nynaeve. I'm sorry. I couldn't be seen favoring you, but perhaps I should have put a stop to it. You did what you weren't supposed to, and that drove the others to be increasingly severe. They saw that sick children hurt you, so they put more and more of them into the test. Many seemed to consider your victories a personal affront, a contest of wills. That drove them to be harsh. Cruel, even."

"I survived," Nynaeve said, eyes closed. "And I learned a great deal. About me. And about us."

She wanted to be Aes Sedai, fully and truly embraced. She wanted it badly. But in the end, if these people chose to refuse her their approval, she knew she could continue on and do what she needed to do anyway.

Eventually, the Sitters—trailed by Rosil—walked up. Nynaeve hauled herself to her feet to be respectful.

"We must discuss the forbidden weave you used," Saerin said, stern.

"It is the only way I know to destroy Darkhounds," Nynaeve said. "It was needed."

"You do not have the right to decide that," Saerin said. "What you did destabilized the ter'angreal. You could have destroyed it, killing yourself and perhaps us. We want you to swear that you will never use that weave again."

"I won't do that," Nynaeve said tiredly.

"And if it means the difference between gaining the shawl or losing it forever?"

"Giving an oath like that would be foolish," Nynaeve said. "I could find myself in a situation where people would die if I didn't use it. Light! I'll be fighting in the Last Battle alongside Rand. What if I were to get to Shayol Ghul and discover that, without balefire, I could not help the Dragon stop the Dark One? Would you have me choose between a foolish oath and the fate of the world?"

"You think you're going to Shayol Ghul?" Rubinde asked, incredulous.

"I'm going to be there," Nynaeve said softly. "It is not a question. Rand has asked it of me, though I would have gone if he hadn't."

They shared a look, seeming troubled.

"If you're going to raise me," Nynaeve said, "then you'll just have to trust my judgment on balefire. If you don't trust me to know when to use a very dangerous weave and when not to, then I'd rather you not raise me."

"I would be careful," Egwene said to the women. "Refusing the shawl to the woman who helped cleanse the taint from saidin—the woman who defeated Moghedien herself in battle, the woman married to the King of Malkier—would set a very dangerous precedent."

Saerin looked at the others. Three nods. Yukiri, Seaine and—surprisingly—Romanda. Three shakes of the head. Rubinde, Barasine, Lelaine. That left only Saerin. The deciding vote.

The Brown turned back to her. "Nynaeve al'Meara, I declare that you have passed this test. Narrowly."

To the side, Egwene let out a soft—almost inaudible—sigh of relief. Nynaeve realized she'd been holding her own breath. "It is done!" Rosil said, clapping her hands together. "Let no one ever speak of what has passed here. It is for us to share in silence with she who experienced it. It is done."

The women nodded in agreement, even those who had voted against Nynaeve. Nobody would know that Nynaeve had nearly failed. They had probably confronted her about the balefire directly—rather than seeking formal punishment—because of the tradition of not speaking of what happened in the ter'angreal.

Rosil clapped again. "Nynaeve al'Meara, you will spend the night in prayer and contemplation of the burdens you will take up on the morrow, when you don the shawl of an Aes Sedai. It is done." She clapped a third and final time.

"Thank you," Nynaeve said. "But I already have my shawl and—"

She cut off as Egwene gave her a glare. A serene glare, but a glare nonetheless. Perhaps Nynaeve had pushed things far enough tonight already.

"—I will be happy to follow tradition," Nynaeve continued, discarding her objection. "So long as I am allowed to do one very important thing first. Then I will return and fulfill tradition."

Nynaeve needed a gateway to get where she was going. She hadn't specifically told the others she'd be leaving the Tower to see to her task. But she hadn't said she wouldn't, either.

She hustled through the dark camp of tents which sat just outside a partially built wall. The night sky was dim, with those clouds covering it, and fires burned at the perimeter of the camp. Perhaps too many fires. Those here were being extremely cautious. Fortunately, the guards had allowed her into the camp without comment; the Great Serpent ring worked wonders, when applied in the right locations. They'd even told her where to find the woman she sought.

In truth, Nynaeve had been surprised to find these tents outside, rather than inside, the walls of the Black Tower. These women had been sent to bond Asha'man, as Rand had offered. But according to the guards, Egwene's envoy had been made to wait. The Asha'man had said that "others had the first choice," whatever that meant. Egwene probably knew more; she'd sent messengers back and forth with the women here, particularly to warn them about Black sisters who might be among them. Those they'd known of had vanished before the first messengers arrived.

Nynaeve hadn't the mind to ask more details at the moment. She had another task. She stepped up to the proper tent, feeling so tired from the testing that she felt she would soon tumble to the ground in a flurry of yellow cloth. A few Warders passed through the camp nearby, watching her with calm expressions.

The tent before her was a simple gray thing. It was lit with a faint glow, and shadows moved inside. "Myrelle," Nynaeve said loudly. "I would speak with you." She was surprised at how strong her voice sounded. She didn't feel that she had much strength remaining.

The shadows paused, and then moved again. The tent flaps rustled, and a confused face peered out. Myrelle wore a blue nightgown that was almost translucent, and one of her Warders—a bear of a man with a thick black beard after the Illianer fashion—sat shirtless on the tent floor inside.

"Child?" Myrelle said, sounding surprised. "What are you doing here?" She was an olive-skinned beauty, with long black hair and rounded curves. Nynaeve had to stop herself from reaching for her braid. It was too short now to tug. That was going to take a lot of getting used to.

"You have something that belongs to me," Nynaeve said.

"Hmm… That depends on opinion, child." Myrelle frowned.

"I was raised today," Nynaeve said. "Formally. I passed the testing. We are equals now, Myrelle." She left the second part unsaid—that Nynaeve was the stronger of the two. Not truly equals, then.

"Return tomorrow," Myrelle said. "I am occupied." She moved to turn back into the tent.

Nynaeve caught the woman's arm. "I have never thanked you," she said, though she had to grit her teeth to get the words out. "I do so now. He lives because of you. I realize that. However, Myrelle, this is not a time to push me. Today, I have seen people I love slaughtered, I have been forced to consign children to living torment. I have been burned, scourged and harrowed. I swear to you, woman, if you do not pass me Lan's bond this very moment, I will step into that tent and teach you the meaning of obedience. Do not press me. In the morning, I swear the Three Oaths. I'm free of them for one more night."

Myrelle froze. Then she sighed and stepped back out of the tent. "So be it. She closed her eyes, weaving Spirit and sending the weaves into Nynaeve.

It felt like an object being shoved physically into her mind. Nynaeve gasped, her surroundings spinning. Myrelle turned and slipped back into her tent. Nynaeve slid down until she was sitting on the ground. Something was blossoming inside her mind. An awareness. Beautiful, wonderful.

It was him. And he was still alive.

Blessed Light, she thought, eyes closed. Thank you.


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