“She had breakbone fever.” She kept her head down and spoke to the ground. “I was still apprentice to Mistress Barran, and she set me to watch Egwene. I was young, and I didn't know the Wisdom had everything well in hand. It's terrible to watch, breakbone fever. The child was soaked with sweat, groaning and twisting until I could not understand why I didn't hear her bones snapping. Mistress Barran had told me the fever would break in another day, two at the most, but I thought she was doing me a kindness. I thought Egwene was dying. I used to look after her sometimes when she was a toddler — when her mother was busy — and I started crying because I was going to have to watch her die. When Mistress Barran came back an hour later, the fever had broken. She was surprised, but she made over me more than Egwene. I always thought she believed I had given the child something and was too frightened to admit it. I always thought she was trying to comfort me, to make sure I knew I hadn't hurt Egwene. A week later I fell on the floor in her sitting room, shaking and burning up by turns. She bundled me into bed, but by suppertime it was gone.”
She dropped her head in her hands as she finished speaking. The Aes Sedai chose a good example, she thought, Light burn her! Using the Power like an Aes Sedai. A filthy, Darkfriend Aes Sedai!
“You were very lucky,” Moiraine said, and Nynaeve sat erect. Lan stepped back as if what they talked about was none of his business, and busied himself with Mandarb's saddle, not even glancing at them.
“You have managed a crude control over the Power, even if touching the True Source still comes at random. If you had not, it would have killed you eventually. As it will, in all probability, kill Egwene if you manage to stop her from going to Tar Valon. ”
“If I learned to control it ...” Nynaeve swallowed hard. It was like admitting all over again that she could do what the Aes Sedai said. “If I learned to control it, so can she. There is no need for her to go to Tar Valon, and get mixed up in your intrigues.”
Moiraine shook her head slowly. “Aes Sedai search for girls who can touch the True Source unguided just as assiduously as we search for men who can do so. It is not a desire to increase our numbers — or at least, not only that — nor is it a fear that those women will misuse the Power. The rough control of the Power they may gain, if the Light shines on them, is rarely enough to do any great damage, especially since the actual touching of the Source is beyond their control without a teacher, and comes only randomly. And, of course, they do not suffer the madness that drives men to evil or twisted things. We want to save their lives. The lives of those who never do manage any control at all.”
“The fever and chills I had couldn't kill anyone,” Nynaeve insisted. “Not in three or four hours. I had the other things, too, and they couldn't kill anybody, either. And they stopped after a few months. What about that?”
“Those were only reactions,” Moiraine said patiently. “Each time, the reaction comes closer to the actual touching of the Source, until the two happen almost together. After that there are no more reactions that can be seen, but it is as if a clock has begun ticking. A year. Two years. I know one woman who lasted five years. Of four who have the inborn ability that you and Egwene have, three die if we do not find them and train them. It is not as horrible a death as the men die, but neither is it pretty, if any death can be called so. Convulsions. Screaming. It takes days, and once it begins there is nothing that can be done to stop it, not by all the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon together.”
“You're lying. All those questions you asked in Emond's Field. You found out about Egwene's fever breaking, about my fever and chills, all of it. You made all of this up.”
“You know I did not,” Moiraine said gently.
Reluctantly, more reluctantly than she had ever done anything in her life, Nynaeve nodded. It had been a last stubborn effort to deny what was plain, and there was never any good in that, however unpleasant it might be. Mistress Barran's first apprentice had died the way the Aes Sedai said when Nynaeve was still playing with dolls, and there had been a young woman in Deven Ride only a few years ago. She had been a Wisdom's apprentice, too, one who could listen to the wind.
“You have great potential, I think,” Moiraine continued. “With training you might become even more powerful than Egwene, and I believe she can become one of the most powerful Aes Sedai we have seen in centuries.”
Nynaeve pushed herself back from the Aes Sedai as she would have from a viper. “No! I'll have nothing to do with —” With what? Myself? She slumped, and her voice became hesitant. “I would ask you not to tell anyone about this. Please?” The word nearly stuck in her throat. She would rather Trollocs had appeared than she had been forced to say please to this woman. But Moiraine only nodded assent, and some of her spirit returned. “None of this explains what you want with Rand, and Mat, and Perrin.”
“The Dark One wants them,” Moiraine replied. “If the Dark One wants a thing, I oppose it. Can there be a simpler reason, or a better?” She finished her tea, watching Nynaeve over the rim of her cup. “Lan, we must be going. South, I think. I fear the Wisdom will not be accompanying us.”
Nynaeve's mouth tightened at the way the Aes Sedai said “Wisdom”; it seemed to suggest she was turning her back on great things in favor of something petty. She doesn't want me along. She's trying to put my back up so I'll go back home and leave them alone with her. “Oh, yes, I will be going with you. You cannot keep me from it.”
“No one will try to keep you from it,” Lan said as he rejoined them. He emptied the tea kettle over the fire and stirred the ashes with a stick. “A part of the Pattern?” he said to Moiraine.
“Perhaps so,” she replied thoughtfully. “I should have spoken to Min again.”
“You see, Nynaeve, you are welcome to come.” There was a hesitation in the way Lan said her name, a hint of an unspoken “Sedai” after it.
Nynaeve bristled, taking it for mockery, and bristled, too, at the way they spoke of things in front of her — things she knew nothing about — without the courtesy of an explanation, but she would not give them the satisfaction of asking.
The Warder went on preparing for departure, his economical motions so sure and swift that he was quickly done, saddlebags, blankets, and all fastened behind the saddles of Mandarb and Aldieb.
“I will fetch your horse,” he told Nynaeve as he finished with the last saddle tie.
He started up the riverbank, and she allowed herself a small smile. After the way she had watched him undiscovered, he was going to try to find her horse unaided. He would learn that she left little in the way of tracks when she was stalking. It would be a pleasure when he came back emptyhanded.
“Why south?” she asked Moiraine. “I heard you say one of the boys is across the river. And how do you know?”
“I gave each of the boys a token. It created a bond of sorts between them and me. So long as they are alive and have those coins in their possession, I will be able to find them.” Nynaeve's eyes turned in the direction the Warder had gone, and Moiraine shook her head. “Not like that. It only allows me to discover if they still live, and find them should we become separated. Prudent, do you not think, under the circumstances?”
“I don't like anything that connects you with anyone from Emond's Field,” Nynaeve said stubbornly. “But if it will help us find them...”
“It will. I would gather the young man across the river first, if I could.” For a moment frustration tinged the Aes Sedai's voice. “He is only a few miles from us. But I cannot afford to take the time. He should make his way down to Whitebridge safely now that the Trollocs have gone. The two who went downriver may need me more. They have lost their coins, and Myrddraal are either pursuing them or else trying to intercept us all at Whitebridge.” She sighed. “I must take care of the greatest need first.”
“The Myrddraal could have ... could have killed them,” Nynaeve said.
Moiraine shook her head slightly, denying the suggestion as if it were too trivial to be considered. Nynaeve's mouth tightened. “Where is Egwene, then? You haven't even mentioned her.”
“I do not know,” Moiraine admitted, “but I hope that she is safe.”
“You don't know? You hope? All that talk about saving her life by taking her to Tar Valon, and she could be dead for all you know!”
“I could look for her and allow the Myrddraal more time before I arrive to help the two young men who went south. It is them the Dark One wants, not her. They would not bother with Egwene, so long as their true quarry remains uncaught.”
Nynaeve remembered her own encounter, but she refused to admit the sense of what Moiraine said. “So the best you have to offer is that she may be alive, if she was lucky. Alive, maybe alone, frightened, even hurt, days from the nearest village or help except for us. And you intend to leave her. ”
“She may just as easily be safe with the boy across the river. Or on her way to Whitebridge with the other two. In any case, there are no longer Trollocs here to threaten her, and she is strong, intelligent, and quite capable of finding her way to Whitebridge alone, if need be. Would you rather stay on the chance that she may need help, or do you want to try to help those we know are in need? Would you have me search for her and let the boys — and the Myrddraal who are surely pursuing them — go? As much as I hope for Egwene's safety, Nynaeve, I fight against the Dark One, and for now