Welcome back to the Wheel of Time on Prime Book Club read-a-long! Relive the glory or get started on the Wheel of Time series for the first time starting with book 1, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan.
Out of the Woods
Gray first light came while Rand still trudged through the forest. At first he did not really see. When he finally did, he stared at the fading darkness in surprise. No matter what his eyes told him, he could hardly believe he had spent all night trying to travel the distance from the farm to Emond’s Field. Of course, the Quarry Road by day, rocks and all, was a far cry from the woods by night. On the other hand, it seemed days since he had seen the black-cloaked rider on the road, weeks since he and Tam had gone in for their supper. He no longer felt the strip of cloth digging into his shoulders, but then he felt nothing in his shoulders except numbness, nor in his feet, for that matter. In between, it was another matter. His breath came in labored pants that had long since set his throat and lungs to burning, and hunger twisted his stomach into queasy sickness.
Tam had fallen silent some time before. Rand was not sure how long it had been since the murmurs ceased, but he did not dare halt now to check on Tam. If he stopped he would never be able to force himself to start out again. Anyway, Whatever Tam’s condition, he could do nothing beyond what he was doing. The only hope lay ahead, in the village. He tried wearily to increase his pace, but his wooden legs continued their slow plod. He barely even noticed the cold, or the wind.
Vaguely he caught the smell of woodsmoke. At least he was almost there if he could smell the village chimneys. A tired smile had only begun on his face, though, when it turned to a frown. Smoke lay heavy in the air—too heavy. With the weather, a fire might well be blazing on every hearth in the village, but the smoke was still too strong. In his mind he saw again the Trollocs on the road. Trollocs coming from the east, from the direction of Emond’s Field. He peered ahead, trying to make out the first houses, and ready to shout for help at the first sight of anyone, even Cenn Buie or one of the Coplins. A small voice in the back of his head told him to hope someone there could still give help.
Suddenly a house became visible through the last bare-branched trees, and it was all he could do to keep his feet moving. Hope turning to sharp despair, he staggered into the village.
Charred piles of rubble stood in the places of half the houses of Emond’s Field. Soot-coated brick chimneys thrust like dirty fingers from heaps of blackened timbers. Thin wisps of smoke still rose from the ruins. Grimy-faced villagers, some yet in their night clothes, poked through the ashes, here pulling free a cookpot, there simply prodding forlornly at the wreckage with a stick. What little had been rescued from the flames dotted the streets; tall mirrors and polished sideboards and highchests stood in the dust among chairs and tables buried under bedding, cooking utensils, and meager piles of clothing and personal belongings.
The destruction seemed scattered at random through the village. Five houses marched untouched in one row, while in another place a lone survivor stood surrounded by desolation.
On the far side of the Winespring Water, the three huge Bel Tine bonfires roared, tended by a cluster of men. Thick columns of black smoke bent northward with the wind, flecked by careless sparks. One of Master al’Vere’s Dhurran stallions was dragging something Rand could not make out over the ground toward the Wagon Bridge, and the flames.
Before he was well out of the trees, a sooty-faced Haral Luhhan hurried to him, clutching a woodsman’s axe in one thick-fingered hand. The burly blacksmith’s ash-smeared nightshirt hung to his boots, the angry red welt of a burn across his chest showing through a ragged tear. He dropped to one knee beside the litter. Tam’s eyes were closed, and his breathing came low and hard.
“Trollocs, boy?” Master Luhhan asked in a smoke-hoarse voice. “Here, too. Here, too. Well, we may have been luckier than anyone has a right to be, if you can credit it. He needs the Wisdom. Now where in the Light is she? Egwene!”
Egwene, running by with her arms full of bedsheets torn into bandages, looked around at them without slowing. Her eyes stared at something in the far distance; dark circles made them appear even larger than they actually were. Then she saw Rand and stopped, drawing a shuddering breath. “Oh, no, Rand, not your father? Is he . . . ? Come, I’ll take you to Nynaeve.”
Rand was too tired, too stunned, to speak. All through the night Emond’s Field had been a haven, where he and Tam would be safe. Now all he could seem to do was stare in dismay at her smoke-stained dress. He noticed odd details as if they were very important. The buttons down the back of her dress were done up crookedly. And her hands were clean. He wondered why her hands were clean when smudges of soot marked her cheeks.
Master Luhhan seemed to understand what had come over him. Laying his axe across the shafts, the blacksmith picked up the rear of the litter and gave it a gentle push, prodding him to follow Egwene. He stumbled after her as if walking in his sleep. Briefly he wondered how Master Luhhan knew the creatures were Trollocs, but it was a fleeting thought. If Tam could recognize them, there was no reason why Haral Luhhan could not.
“All the stories are real,” he muttered.
“So it seems, lad,” the blacksmith said. “So it seems.”
Rand only half heard. He was concentrating on following Egwene’s slender shape. He had pulled himself together just enough to wish she would hurry, though in truth she was keeping her pace to what the two men could manage with their burden. She led them halfway down the Green, to the Calder house. Char blackened the edges of its thatch, and smut stained the whitewashed walls. Of the houses on either side only the foundation stones were left, and two piles of ash and burned timbers. One had been the house of Berin Thane, one of the miller’s brothers. The other had been Abell Cauthon’s. Mat’s father. Even the chimneys had toppled.
“Wait here,” Egwene said, and gave them a look as if expecting an answer. When they only stood there, she muttered something under her breath, then dashed inside.
“Mat,” Rand said. “Is he . . . ?”
“He’s alive,” the blacksmith said. He set down his end of the litter and straightened slowly. “I saw him a little while ago. It’s a wonder any of us are alive. The way they came after my house, and the forge, you’d have thought I had gold and jewels in there. Alsbet cracked one’s skull with a frying pan. She took one look at the ashes of our house this morning and set out hunting around the village with the biggest hammer she could dig out of what’s left of the forge, just in case any of them hid instead of running away. I could almost pity the thing if she finds one.” He nodded to the Calder house. “Mistress Calder and a few others took in some of those who were hurt, the ones with no home of their own still standing. When the Wisdom’s seen Tam, we’ll find him a bed. The inn, maybe. The Mayor offered it already, but Nynaeve said the hurt folk would heal better if there weren’t so many of them together.”
Rand sank to his knees. Shrugging out of his blanket harness, he wearily busied himself with checking Tam’s covers. Tam never moved or made a sound, even when Rand’s wooden hands jostled him. But he was still breathing, at least. My father. The other was just the fever talking. “What if they come back?” he said dully.
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” Master Luhhan said uneasily. “If they come back. . . . Well, they’re gone, now. So we pick up the pieces, build up what’s been torn down.” He sighed, his face going slack as he knuckled the small of his back. For the first time Rand realized that the heavyset man was as tired as he was himself, if not more so. The blacksmith looked at the village, shaking his head. “I don’t suppose today will be much of a Bel Tine. But we’ll make it through. We always have.” Abruptly he took up his axe, and his face firmed. “There’s work waiting for me. Don’t you worry, lad. The Wisdom will take good care of him, and the Light will take care of us all. And if the Light doesn’t, well, we’ll just take care of ourselves. Remember, we’re Two Rivers folk.”
Still on his knees, Rand looked at the village as the blacksmith walked away, really looked for the first time. Master Luhhan was right, he thought, and was surprised that he was not surprised by what he saw. People still dug in the ruins of their homes, but even in the short time he had been there more of them had begun to move with a sense of purpose. He could almost feel the growing determination. But he wondered. They had seen Trollocs; had they seen the black-cloaked rider? Had they felt his hatred?
Nynaeve and Egwene appeared from the Calder house, and he sprang to his feet. Or rather, he tried to spring to his feet; it was more of a stumbling lurch that almost put him on his face in the dust.
The Wisdom dropped to her knees beside the litter without giving him so much as a glance. Her face and dress were even dirtier than Egwene’s, and the same dark circles lined her eyes, though her hands, too, were clean. She felt Tam’s face and thumbed open his eyelids. With a frown she pulled down the coverings and eased the bandage aside to look at the wound. Before Rand could see what lay underneath she had replaced the wadded cloth. Sighing, she smoothed the blanket and cloak back up to Tam’s neck with a gentle touch, as if tucking a child in for the night.
“There’s nothing I can do,” she said. She had to put her hands on her knees to straighten up. “I’m sorry, Rand.”
For a moment he stood, not understanding, as she started back to the house, then he scrambled after her and pulled her around to face him. “He’s dying,” he cried.
“I know,” she said simply, and he sagged with the matter-of-factness of it.
“You have to do something. You have to. You’re the Wisdom.”
Pain twisted her face, but only for an instant, then she was all hollow-eyed resolve again, her voice emotionless and firm. “Yes, I am. I know what I can do with my medicines, and I know when it’s too late. Don’t you think I would do something if I could? But I can’t. I can’t, Rand. And there are others who need me. People I can help.”
“I brought him to you as quickly as I could,” he mumbled. Even with the village in ruins, there had been the Wisdom for hope. With that gone, he was empty.
“I know you did,” she said gently. She touched his cheek with her hand. “It isn’t your fault. You did the best anyone could. I am sorry, Rand, but I have others to tend to. Our troubles are just beginning, I’m afraid.”
Vacantly he stared after her until the door of the house closed behind her. He could not make any thought come except that she would not help.
Suddenly he was knocked back a step as Egwene cannoned into him, throwing her arms around him. Her hug was hard enough to bring a grunt from him any other time; now he only looked silently at the door behind which his hopes had vanished.
“I’m so sorry, Rand,” she said against his chest. “Light, I wish there was something I could do.”
Numbly he put his arms around her. “I know. I . . . I have to do something, Egwene. I don’t know what, but I can’t just let him. . . .” His voice broke, and she hugged him harder.
“Egwene!” At Nynaeve’s shout from the house, Egwene jumped. “Egwene, I need you! And wash your hands again!”
She pushed herself free from Rand’s arms. “She needs my help, Rand.”
He thought he heard a sob as she spun away from him. Then she was gone, and he was left alone beside the litter. For a moment he looked down at Tam, feeling nothing but hollow helplessness. Suddenly his face hardened. “The Mayor will know what to do,” he said, lifting the shafts once more. “The Mayor will know.” Bran al’Vere always knew what to do. With weary obstinacy he set out for the Winespring Inn.
Another of the Dhurran stallions passed him, its harness straps tied around the ankles of a big shape draped with a dirty blanket. Arms covered with coarse hair dragged in the dirt behind the blanket, and one corner was pushed up to reveal a goat’s horn. The Two Rivers was no place for stories to become horribly real. If Trollocs belonged anywhere it was in the world outside, for places where they had Aes Sedai and false Dragons and the Light alone knew what else come to life out of the tales of gleemen. Not the Two Rivers. Not Emond’s Field.
As he made his way down the Green, people called to him, some from the ruins of their homes, asking if they could help. He heard them only as murmurs in the background, even when they walked alongside him for a distance as they spoke. Without really thinking about it he managed words that said he needed no help, that everything was being taken care of. When they left him, with worried looks, and sometimes a comment about sending Nynaeve to him, he noticed that just as little. All he let himself be aware of was the purpose he had fixed in his head. Bran al’Vere could do something to help Tam. What that could be he tried not to dwell on. But the Mayor would be able to do something, to think of something.
The inn had almost completely escaped the destruction that had taken half the village. A few scorch marks marred its walls, but the red roof tiles glittered in the sunlight as brightly as ever. All that was left of the peddler’s wagon, though, were blackened iron wheel-rims leaning against the charred wagon box, now on the ground. The big round hoops that had held up the canvas cover slanted crazily, each at a different angle.
Thom Merrilin sat cross-legged on the old foundation stones, carefully snipping singed edges from the patches on his cloak with a pair of small scissors. He set down cloak and scissors when Rand drew near. Without asking if Rand needed or wanted help, he hopped down and picked up the back of the litter.
“Inside? Of course, of course. Don’t you worry, boy. Your Wisdom will take care of him. I’ve watched her work, since last night, and she has a deft touch and a sure skill. It could be a lot worse. Some died last night. Not many, perhaps, but any at all are too many for me. Old Fain just disappeared, and that’s the worst of all. Trollocs will eat anything. You should thank the Light your father’s still here, and alive for the Wisdom to heal.”
Rand blotted out the words—He is my father!—reducing the voice to meaningless sound that he noticed no more than a fly’s buzzing. He could not bear any more sympathy, any more attempts to boost his spirits. Not now. Not until Bran al’Vere told him how to help Tam.
Suddenly he found himself facing something scrawled on the inn door, a curving line scratched with a charred stick, a charcoal teardrop balanced on its point. So much had happened that it hardly surprised him to find the Dragon’s Fang marked on the door of the Winespring Inn. Why anyone would want to accuse the innkeeper or his family of evil, or bring the inn bad luck, was beyond him, but the night had convinced him of one thing. Anything was possible. Anything at all.
At a push from the gleeman he lifted the latch, and went in.
The common room was empty except for Bran al’Vere, and cold, too, for no one had found time to lay a fire. The Mayor sat at one of the tables, dipping his pen in an inkwell with a frown of concentration on his face and his gray-fringed head bent over a sheet of parchment. Nightshirt tucked hastily into his trousers and bagging around his considerable waist, he absently scratched at one bare foot with the toes of the other. His feet were dirty, as if he had been outside more than once without bothering about boots, despite the cold. “What’s your trouble?” he demanded without looking up. “Be quick with it. I have two dozen things to do right this minute, and more that should have been done an hour ago. So I have little time or patience. Well? Out with it!”
“Master al’Vere?” Rand said. “It’s my father.”
The Mayor’s head jerked up. “Rand? Tam!” He threw down the pen and knocked over his chair as he leaped up. “Perhaps the Light hasn’t abandoned us altogether. I was afraid you were both dead. Bela galloped into the village an hour after the Trollocs left, lathered and blowing as if she’d run all the way from the farm, and I thought. . . . No time for that, now. We’ll take him upstairs.” He seized the rear of the litter, shouldering the gleeman out of the way. “You go get the Wisdom, Master Merrilin. And tell her I said hurry, or I’ll know the reason why! Rest easy, Tam. We’ll soon have you in a good, soft bed. Go, gleeman, go!”
Thom Merrilin vanished through the doorway before Rand could speak. “Nynaeve wouldn’t do anything. She said she couldn’t help him. I knew . . . I hoped you’d think of something.”
Master al’Vere looked at Tam more sharply, then shook his head. “We will see, boy. We will see.” But he no longer sounded confident. “Let’s get him into a bed. He can rest easy, at least.”
Rand let himself be prodded toward the stairs at the back of the common room. He tried hard to keep his certainty that somehow Tam would be all right, but it had been thin to begin with, he realized, and the sudden doubt in the Mayor’s voice shook him.
On the second floor of the inn, at the front, were half a dozen snug, well-appointed rooms with windows overlooking the Green. Mostly they were used by the peddlers, or people down from Watch Hill or up from Deven Ride, but the merchants who came each year were often surprised to find such comfortable rooms. Three of them were taken now, and the Mayor hurried Rand to one of the unused ones.
Quickly the down comforter and blankets were stripped back on the wide bed, and Tam was transferred to the thick feather mattress, with goose-down pillows tucked under his head. He made no sound beyond hoarse breathing as he was moved, not even a groan, but the Mayor brushed away Rand’s concern, telling him to set a fire to take the chill off the room. While Rand dug wood and kindling from the woodbox next to the fireplace, Bran threw back the curtains on the window, letting in the morning light, then began to gently wash Tam’s face. By the time the gleeman returned, the blaze on the hearth was warming the room.
“She will not come,” Thom Merrilin announced as he stalked into the room. He glared at Rand, his bushy white brows drawing down sharply. “You didn’t tell me she had seen him already. She almost took my head off.”
“I thought . . . I don’t know . . . maybe the Mayor could do something, could make her see. . . .” Hands clenched in anxious fists, Rand turned from the fireplace to Bran. “Master al’Vere, what can I do?” The rotund man shook his head helplessly. He laid a freshly dampened cloth on Tam’s forehead and avoided meeting Rand’s eye. “I can’t just watch him die, Master al’Vere. I have to do something.” The gleeman shifted as if to speak. Rand rounded on him eagerly. “Do you have an idea? I’ll try anything.”
“I was just wondering,” Thom said, tamping his long-stemmed pipe with his thumb, “if the Mayor knew who scrawled the Dragon’s Fang on his door.” He peered into the bowl, then looked at Tam and replaced the unlit pipe between his teeth with a sigh. “Someone seems not to like him anymore. Or maybe it’s his guests they don’t like.”
Rand gave him a disgusted look and turned away to stare into the fire. His thoughts danced like the flames, and like the flames they concentrated fixedly on one thing. He would not give up. He could not just stand there and watch Tam die. My father, he thought fiercely. My father. Once the fever was gone, that could be cleared up as well. But the fever first. Only, how?
Bran al’Vere’s mouth tightened as he looked at Rand’s back, and the glare he directed at the gleeman would have given a bear pause, but Thom just waited expectantly as if he had not noticed it.
“It’s probably the work of one of the Congars, or a Coplin,” the Mayor said finally, “though the Light alone knows which. They’re a large brood, and if there’s ill to be said of someone, or even if there isn’t, they’ll say it. They make Cenn Buie sound honey-tongued.”
“That wagonload who came in just before dawn?” the gleeman asked. “They hadn’t so much as smelled a Trolloc, and all they wanted to know was when Festival was going to start, as if they couldn’t see half the village in ashes.”
Master al’Vere nodded grimly. “One branch of the family. But none of them are very different. That fool Darl Coplin spent half the night demanding I put Mistress Moiraine and Master Lan out of the inn, out of the village, as if there would be any village at all left without them.”
Rand had only half listened to the conversation, but this last tugged him to speak. “What did they do?”
“Why, she called ball lightning out of a clear night sky,” Master al’Vere replied. “Sent it darting straight at the Trollocs. You’ve seen trees shattered by it. The Trollocs stood it no better.”
“Moiraine?” Rand said incredulously, and the Mayor nodded.
“Mistress Moiraine. And Master Lan was a whirlwind with that sword of his. His sword? The man himself is a weapon, and in ten places at once, or so it seemed. Burn me, but I still wouldn’t believe it if I couldn’t step outside and see. . . .” He rubbed a hand over his bald head. “Winternight visits just beginning, our hands full of presents and honeycakes and our heads full of wine, then the dogs snarling, and suddenly the two of them burst out of the inn, running through the village, shouting about Trollocs. I thought they’d had too much wine. After all . . . Trollocs? Then, before anyone knew what was happening, those . . . those things were right in the streets with us, slashing at people with their swords, torching houses, howling to freeze a man’s blood.” He made a sound of disgust in his throat. “We just ran like chickens with a fox in the henyard till Master Lan put some backbone into us.”
“No need to be so hard,” Thom said. “You did as well as anyone could. Not every Trolloc lying out there fell to the two of them.”
“Umm . . . yes, well.” Master al’Vere gave himself a shake. “It’s still almost too much to believe. An Aes Sedai in Emond’s Field. And Master Lan is a Warder.”
“An Aes Sedai?” Rand whispered. “She can’t be. I talked to her. She isn’t. . . . She doesn’t. . . .”
“Did you think they wore signs?” the Mayor said wryly. “ ‘Aes Sedai’ painted across their backs, and maybe, ‘Danger, stay away’?” Suddenly he slapped his forehead. “Aes Sedai. I’m an old fool, and losing my wits. There’s a chance, Rand, if you’re willing to take it. I can’t tell you to do it, and I don’t know if I’d have the nerve, if it were me.”
“A chance?” Rand said. “I’ll take any chance, if it’ll help.”
“Aes Sedai can heal, Rand. Burn me, lad, you’ve heard the stories. They can cure where medicines fail. Gleeman, you should have remembered that better than I. Gleemen’s tales are full of Aes Sedai. Why didn’t you speak up, instead of letting me flail around?”
“I’m a stranger here,” Thom said, looking longingly at his unlit pipe, “and Goodman Coplin isn’t the only one who wants nothing to do with Aes Sedai. Best the idea came from you.”
“An Aes Sedai,” Rand muttered, trying to make the woman who had smiled at him fit the stories. Help from an Aes Sedai was sometimes worse than no help at all, so the stories said, like poison in a pie, and their gifts always had a hook in them, like fishbait. Suddenly the coin in his pocket, the coin Moiraine had given him, seemed like a burning coal. It was all he could do not to rip it out of his coat and throw it out the window.
“Nobody wants to get involved with Aes Sedai, lad,” the Mayor said slowly. “It is the only chance I can see, but it’s still no small decision. I cannot make it for you, but I have seen nothing but good from Mistress Moiraine . . . Moiraine Sedai, I should call her, I suppose. Sometimes”—he gave a meaningful look at Tam—“you have to take a chance, even if it’s a poor one.”
“Some of the stories are exaggerated, in a way,” Thom added, as if the words were being dragged from him. “Some of them. Besides, boy, what choice do you have?”
“None,” Rand sighed. Tam still had not moved a muscle; his eyes were sunken as if he had been sick a week. “I’ll . . . I’ll go find her.”
“The other side of the bridges,” the gleeman said, “where they are . . . disposing of the dead Trollocs. But be careful, boy. Aes Sedai do what they do for reasons of their own, and they aren’t always the reasons others think.”
The last was a shout that followed Rand through the door. He had to hold onto the sword hilt to keep the scabbard from tangling in his legs as he ran, but he would not take the time to remove it. He clattered down the stairs and dashed out of the inn, tiredness forgotten for the moment. A chance for Tam, however small, was enough to overcome a night without sleep, for a time at least. That the chance came from an Aes Sedai, or what the price of it might be, he did not want to consider. And as for actually facing an Aes Sedai. . . . He took a deep breath and tried to move faster.
The bonfires stood well beyond the last houses to the north, on the Westwood side of the road to Watch Hill. The wind still carried the oily black columns of smoke away from the village, but even so a sickly sweet stink filled the air, like a roast left hours too long on the spit. Rand gagged at the smell, then swallowed hard when he realized its source. A fine thing to do with Bel Tine fires. The men tending the fires had cloths tied over their noses and mouths, but their grimaces made it plain the vinegar dampening the cloths was not enough. Even if it did kill the stench, they still knew the stench was there, and they still knew what they were doing.
Two of the men were untying the harness straps of one of the big Dhurrans from a Trolloc’s ankles. Lan, squatting beside the body, had tossed back the blanket enough to reveal the Trolloc’s shoulders and goat-snouted head. As Rand trotted up the Warder unfastened a metal badge, a blood-red enameled trident, from one spiked shoulder of the Trolloc’s shirt of black mail.
“Ko’bal,” he announced. He bounced the badge on his palm and snatched it out of the air with a growl. “That makes seven bands so far.”
Moiraine, seated cross-legged on the ground a short distance off, shook her head tiredly. A walking staff, covered from end to end in carved vines and flowers, lay across her knees, and her dress had the rumpled look of having been worn too long. “Seven bands. Seven! That many have not acted together since the Trolloc Wars. Bad news piles on bad news. I am afraid, Lan. I thought we had gained a march, but we may be further behind than ever.”
Rand stared at her, unable to speak. An Aes Sedai. He had been trying to convince himself that she would not look any different now that he knew who . . . what he was looking at, and to his surprise she did not. She was no longer quite so pristine, not with wisps of her hair sticking out in all directions and a faint streak of soot across her nose, yet not really different, either. Surely there must be something about an Aes Sedai to mark her for what she was. On the other hand, if outward appearance reflected what was inside, and if the stories were true, then she should look closer to a Trolloc than to a more than handsome woman whose dignity was not dented by sitting in the dirt. And she could help Tam. Whatever the cost, there was that before anything else.
He took a deep breath. “Mistress Moiraine . . . I mean, Moiraine Sedai.” Both turned to look at him, and he froze under her gaze. Not the calm, smiling gaze he remembered from the Green. Her face was tired, but her dark eyes were a hawk’s eyes. Aes Sedai. Breakers of the world. Puppeteers who pulled strings and made thrones and nations dance in designs only the women from Tar Valon knew.
“A little more light in the darkness,” the Aes Sedai murmured. She raised her voice. “How are your dreams, Rand al’Thor?”
He stared at her. “My dreams?”
“A night like that can give a man bad dreams, Rand. If you have nightmares, you must tell me of it. I can help with bad dreams, sometimes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my. . . . It’s my father. He’s hurt. It’s not much more than a scratch, but the fever is burning him up. The Wisdom won’t help. She says she can’t. But the stories—” She raised an eyebrow, and he stopped and swallowed hard. Light, is there a story with an Aes Sedai where she isn’t a villain? He looked at the Warder, but Lan appeared more interested in the dead Trolloc than in anything Rand might say. Fumbling his way under her eyes, he went on. “I . . . ah . . . it’s said Aes Sedai can heal. If you can help him . . . anything you can do for him . . . Whatever the cost. . . . I mean. . . .” He took a deep breath and finished up in a rush. “I’ll pay any price in my power if you help him. Anything.”
“Any price,” Moiraine mused, half to herself. “We will speak of prices later, Rand, if at all. I can make no promises. Your Wisdom knows what she is about. I will do what I can, but it is beyond my power to stop the Wheel from turning.”
“Death comes sooner or later to everyone,” the Warder said grimly, “unless they serve the Dark One, and only fools are willing to pay that price.”
Moiraine made a clucking sound. “Do not be so gloomy, Lan. We have some reason to celebrate. A small one, but a reason.” She used the staff to pull herself to her feet. “Take me to your father, Rand. I will help him as much as I am able. Too many here have refused to let me help at all. They have heard the stories, too,” she added dryly.
“He’s at the inn,” Rand said. “This way. And thank you. Thank you!”
They followed, but his pace took him quickly ahead. He slowed impatiently for them to catch up, then darted ahead again and had to wait again.
“Please hurry,” he urged, so caught up in actually getting help for Tam that he never considered the temerity of prodding an Aes Sedai. “The fever is burning him up.”
Lan glared at him. “Can’t you see she’s tired? Even with an angreal, what she did last night was like running around the village with a sack of stones on her back. I don’t know that you are worth it, sheepherder, no matter what she says.”
Rand blinked and held his tongue.
“Gently, my friend,” Moiraine said. Without slowing her pace, she reached up to pat the Warder’s shoulder. He towered over her protectively, as if he could give her strength just by being close. “You think only of taking care of me. Why should he not think the same of his father?” Lan scowled, but fell silent. “I am coming as quickly as I can, Rand, I promise you.”
The fierceness of her eyes, or the calm of her voice—not gentle, exactly; more firmly in command—Rand did not know which to believe. Or perhaps they did go together. Aes Sedai. He was committed, now. He matched his stride to theirs, and tried not to think of what the price might be that they would talk about later.
A Place of Safety
While he was still coming through the door Rand’s eyes went to his father—his father no matter what anyone said. Tam had not moved an inch; his eyes were still shut, and his breath came in labored gasps, low and rasping. The white-haired gleeman cut off a conversation with the Mayor—who was bent over the bed again, tending Tam—and gave Moiraine an uneasy look. The Aes Sedai ignored him. Indeed, she ignored everyone except for Tam, but at him she stared with an intent frown.
Thom stuck his unlit pipe between his teeth, then snatched it out again and glowered at it. “Man cannot even smoke in peace,” he muttered. “I had better make sure some farmer doesn’t steal my cloak to keep his cow warm. At least I can have my pipe out there.” He hurried out of the room.
Lan stared after him, his angular face as expressionless as a rock. “I do not like that man. There is something about him I don’t trust. I did not see a hair of him last night.”
“He was there,” Bran said, watching Moiraine uncertainly. “He must have been. His cloak did not get singed in front of the fireplace.”
Rand did not care if the gleeman had spent the night hiding in the stable. “My father?” he said to Moiraine pleadingly.
Bran opened his mouth, but before he could speak Moiraine said, “Leave me with him, Master al’Vere. There is nothing you can do here now except get in my way.”
For a minute Bran hesitated, torn between dislike of being ordered about in his own inn and reluctance to disobey an Aes Sedai. Finally, he straightened to clap Rand on the shoulder. “Come along, boy. Let us leave Moiraine Sedai to her . . . ah . . . her. . . . There’s plenty you can give me a hand with downstairs. Before you know it Tam will be shouting for his pipe and a mug of ale.”
“Can I stay?” Rand spoke to Moiraine, though she did not really seem to be aware of anyone besides Tam. Bran’s hand tightened, but Rand ignored him. “Please? I’ll keep out of your way. You won’t even know I am here. He’s my father,” he added with a fierceness that startled him and widened the Mayor’s eyes in surprise. Rand hoped the others put it down to tiredness, or the strain of dealing with an Aes Sedai.
“Yes, yes,” Moiraine said impatiently. She had tossed her cloak and staff carelessly across the only chair in the room, and now she pushed up the sleeves of her gown, baring her arms to her elbows. Her attention never really left Tam, even while she spoke. “Sit over there. And you, too, Lan.” She gestured vaguely in the direction of a long bench against the wall. Her eyes traveled slowly from Tam’s feet to his head, but Rand had the prickly feeling that she was looking beyond him in some fashion. “You may talk if you wish,” she went on absently, “but do it quietly. Now, you go, Master al’Vere. This is a sickroom, not a gathering hall. See that I am not disturbed.”
The Mayor grumbled under his breath, though not loudly enough to catch her attention, of course, squeezed Rand’s shoulder again, then obediently, if reluctantly, closed the door behind him.
Muttering to herself, the Aes Sedai knelt beside the bed and rested her hands lightly on Tam’s chest. She closed her eyes, and for a long time she neither moved nor made a sound.
In the stories Aes Sedai wonders were always accompanied by flashes and thunderclaps, or other signs to indicate mighty works and great powers. The Power. The One Power, drawn from the True Source that drove the Wheel of Time. That was not something Rand wanted to think about, the Power involved with Tam, himself in the same room where the Power might be used. In the same village was bad enough. For all he could tell, though, Moiraine might just as well have gone to sleep. But he thought Tam’s breathing sounded easier. She must be doing something. So intent was he that he jumped when Lan spoke softly.
“That is a fine weapon you wear. Is there by chance a heron on the blade, as well?”
For a moment Rand stared at the Warder, not grasping what it was he was talking about. He had completely forgotten Tam’s sword in the lather of dealing with an Aes Sedai. It did not seem so heavy anymore. “Yes, there is. What is she doing?”
“I’d not have thought to find a heron-mark sword in a place like this,” Lan said.
“It belongs to my father.” He glanced at Lan’s sword, the hilt just visible at the edge of his cloak; the two swords did look a good deal alike, except that no herons showed on the Warder’s. He swung his eyes back to the bed. Tam’s breathing did sound easier; the rasp was gone. He was sure of it. “He bought it a long time ago.”
“Strange thing for a sheepherder to buy.”
Rand spared a sidelong look for Lan. For a stranger to wonder about the sword was prying. For a Warder to do it. . . . Still, he felt he had to say something. “He never had any use for it, that I know of. He said it had no use. Until last night, anyway. I didn’t even know he had it till then.”
“He called it useless, did he? He must not always have thought so.” Lan touched the scabbard at Rand’s waist briefly with one finger. “There are places where the heron is a symbol of the master swordsman. That blade must have traveled a strange road to end up with a sheepherder in the Two Rivers.”
Rand ignored the unspoken question. Moiraine still had not moved. Was the Aes Sedai doing anything? He shivered and rubbed his arms, not sure he really wanted to know what she was doing. An Aes Sedai.
A question of his own popped into his head then, one he did not want to ask, one he needed an answer to. “The Mayor—” He cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. “The Mayor said the only reason there’s anything left of the village is because of you and her.” He made himself look at the Warder. “If you had been told about a man in the woods . . . a man who made people afraid just by looking at them . . . would that have warned you? A man whose horse doesn’t make any noise? And the wind doesn’t touch his cloak? Would you have known what was going to happen? Could you and Moiraine Sedai have stopped it if you’d known about him?”
“Not without half a dozen of my sisters,” Moiraine said, and Rand started. She still knelt by the bed, but she had taken her hands from Tam and half turned to face the two of them on the bench. Her voice never raised, but her eyes pinned Rand to the wall. “Had I known when I left Tar Valon that I would find Trollocs and Myrddraal here, I would have brought half a dozen of them, a dozen, if I had to drag them by the scruffs of their necks. By myself, a month’s warning would have made little difference. Perhaps none. There is only so much one person can do, even calling on the One Power, and there were probably well over a hundred Trollocs scattered around this district last night. An entire fist.”
“It would still have been good to know,” Lan said sharply, the sharpness directed at Rand. “When did you see him, exactly, and where?”
“That’s of no consequence now,” Moiraine said. “I will not have the boy thinking he is to blame for something when he is not. I am as much to blame. That accursed raven yesterday, the way it behaved, should have warned me. And you, too, my old friend.” Her tongue clicked angrily. “I was overconfident to the point of arrogance, sure that the Dark One’s touch could not have spread so far. Nor so heavily, not yet. So sure.”
Rand blinked. “The raven? I don’t understand.”
“Carrion eaters.” Lan’s mouth twisted in distaste. “The Dark One’s minions often find spies among creatures that feed on death. Ravens and crows, mainly. Rats, in the cities, sometimes.”
A quick shiver ran through Rand. Ravens and crows as spies of the Dark One? There were ravens and crows everywhere now. The Dark One’s touch, Moiraine had said. The Dark One was always there—he knew that—but if you tried to walk in the Light, tried to live a good life, and did not name him, he could not harm you. That was what everybody believed, what everybody learned with his mother’s milk. But Moiraine seemed to be saying. . . .
His glance fell on Tam, and everything else was pushed right out of his head. His father’s face was noticeably less flushed than it had been, and his breathing sounded almost normal. Rand would have leaped up if Lan had not caught his arm. “You’ve done it.”
Moiraine shook her head and sighed. “Not yet. I hope it is only not yet. Trolloc weapons are made at forges in the valley called Thakan’dar, on the very slopes of Shayol Ghul itself. Some of them take a taint from that place, a stain of evil in the metal. Those tainted blades make wounds that will not heal unaided, or cause deadly fevers, strange sicknesses that medicines cannot touch. I have soothed your father’s pain, but the mark, the taint, is still in him. Left alone, it will grow again, and consume him.”
“But you won’t leave it alone.” Rand’s words were half plea, half command. He was shocked to realize he had spoken to an Aes Sedai like that, but she seemed not to notice his tone.
“I will not,” she agreed simply. “I am very tired, Rand, and I have had no chance to rest since last night. Ordinarily it would not matter, but for this kind of hurt. . . . This”—she took a small bundle of white silk from her pouch—“is an angreal.” She saw his expression. “You know of angreal, then. Good.”
Unconsciously he leaned back, further away from her and what she held. A few stories mentioned angreal, those relics of the Age of Legends that Aes Sedai used to perform their greatest wonders. He was startled to see her unwrap a smooth ivory figurine, age-darkened to deep brown. No longer than her hand, it was a woman in flowing robes, with long hair falling about her shoulders.
“We have lost the making of these,” she said. “So much is lost, perhaps never to be found again. So few remain, the Amyrlin Seat almost did not allow me to take this one. It is well for Emond’s Field, and for your father, that she did give her permission. But you must not hope too much. Now, even with it, I can do little more than I could have without it yesterday, and the taint is strong. It has had time to fester.”
“You can help him,” Rand said fervently. “I know you can.”
Moiraine smiled, a bare curving of her lips. “We shall see.” Then she turned back to Tam. One hand she laid on his forehead; the other cupped the ivory figure. Eyes closed, her face took on a look of concentration. She scarcely seemed to breathe.
“That rider you spoke of,” Lan said quietly, “the one who made you afraid—that was surely a Myrddraal.”
“A Myrddraal!” Rand exclaimed. “But Fades are twenty feet tall and. . . .” The words faded away under the Warder’s mirthless grin.
“Sometimes, sheepherder, stories make things larger than truth. Believe me, the truth is big enough with a Halfman. Halfman, Lurk, Fade, Shadowman; the name depends on the land you’re in, but they all mean Myrddraal. Fades are Trolloc spawn, throwbacks almost to the human stock the Dreadlords used to make the Trollocs. Almost. But if the human strain is made stronger, so is the taint that twists the Trollocs. Halfmen have powers of a kind, the sort that stem from the Dark One. Only the weakest Aes Sedai would fail to be a match for a Fade, one against one, but many a good man and true has fallen to them. Since the wars that ended the Age of Legends, since the Forsaken were bound, they have been the brain that tells the Trolloc fists where to strike. In the days of the Trolloc Wars, Halfmen led the Trollocs in battle, under the Dreadlords.”
“He scared me,” Rand said faintly. “He just looked at me, and. . . .” He shivered.
“No need for shame, sheepherder. They scare me, too. I’ve seen men who have been soldiers all their lives freeze like a bird facing a snake when they confronted a Halfman. In the north, in the Borderlands along the Great Blight, there is a saying. The look of the Eyeless is fear.”
“The Eyeless?” Rand said, and Lan nodded.
“Myrddraal see like eagles, in darkness or in light, but they have no eyes. I can think of few things more dangerous than facing a Myrddraal. Moiraine Sedai and I both tried to kill the one that was here last night, and we failed every time. Halfmen have the Dark One’s own luck.”
Rand swallowed. “A Trolloc said the Myrddraal wanted to talk to me. I didn’t know what it meant.”
Lan’s head jerked up; his eyes were blue stones. “You talked to a Trolloc?”
“Not exactly,” Rand stammered. The Warder’s gaze held him like a trap. “It talked to me. It said it wouldn’t hurt me, that the Myrddraal wanted to talk to me. Then it tried to kill me.” He licked his lips and rubbed his hand along the nobby leather of the sword hilt. In short, choppy sentences he explained about returning to the farmhouse. “I killed it, instead,” he finished. “By accident, really. It jumped at me, and I had the sword in my hand.”
Lan’s face softened slightly, if rock could be said to soften. “Even so, that is something to speak of, sheepherder. Until last night there were few men south of the Borderlands who could say they had seen a Trolloc, much less killed one.”
“And fewer still who have slain a Trolloc alone and unaided,” Moiraine said wearily. “It is done, Rand. Lan, help me up.”
The Warder sprang to her side, but he was no quicker than Rand darting to the bed. Tam’s skin was cool to the touch, though his face had a pale, washed-out look, as if he had spent far too long out of the sun. His eyes were still closed, but he drew the deep breaths of normal sleep.
“He will be all right now?” Rand asked anxiously.
“With rest, yes,” Moiraine said. “A few weeks in bed, and he will be as good as ever.” She walked unsteadily, despite holding Lan’s arm. He swept her cloak and staff from the chair cushion for her to sit, and she eased herself down with a sigh. With a slow care she rewrapped the angreal and returned it to her pouch.
Rand’s shoulders shook; he bit his lip to keep from laughing. At the same time he had to scrub a hand across his eyes to clear away tears. “Thank you.”
“In the Age of Legends,” Moiraine went on, “some Aes Sedai could fan life and health to flame if only the smallest spark remained. Those days are gone, though—perhaps forever. So much was lost; not just the making of angreal. So much that could be done which we dare not even dream of, if we remember it at all. There are far fewer of us now. Some talents are all but gone, and many that remain seem weaker. Now there must be both will and strength for the body to draw on, or even the strongest of us can do nothing in the way of Healing. It is fortunate that your father is a strong man, both in body and spirit. As it is, he used up much of his strength in the fight for life, but all that is left now is for him to recuperate. That will take time, but the taint is gone.”
“I can never repay you,” he told her without taking his eyes from Tam, “but anything I can do for you, I will. Anything at all.” He remembered the talk of prices, then, and his promise. Kneeling beside Tam he meant it even more than before, but it still was not easy to look at her. “Anything. As long as it does not hurt the village, or my friends.”
Moiraine raised a hand dismissively. “If you think it is necessary. I would like to talk with you, anyway. You will no doubt leave at the same time we do, and we can speak at length then.”
“Leave!” he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. “Is it really that bad? Everyone looked to me as if they were ready to start rebuilding. We are pretty settled folk in the Two Rivers. Nobody ever leaves.”
“And where would we go? Padan Fain said the weather is just as bad everywhere else. He’s . . . he was . . . the peddler. The Trollocs. . . .” Rand swallowed, wishing Thom Merrilin had not told him what Trollocs ate. “The best I can see to do is stay right here where we belong, in the Two Rivers, and put things back together. We have crops in the ground, and it has to warm enough for the shearing, soon. I don’t know who started this talk about leaving—one of the Coplins, I’ll bet—but whoever it was—”
“Sheepherder,” Lan broke in, “you talk when you should be listening.”
He blinked at both of them. He had been half babbling, he realized, and he had rambled on while she tried to talk. While an Aes Sedai tried to talk. He wondered what to say, how to apologize, but Moiraine smiled while he was still thinking.
“I understand how you feel, Rand,” she said, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that she really did. “Think no more of it.” Her mouth tightened, and she shook her head. “I have handled this badly, I see. I should have rested, first, I suppose. It is you who will be leaving, Rand. You who must leave, for the sake of your village.”
“Me?” He cleared his throat and tried again. “Me?” It sounded a little better this time. “Why do I have to go? I don’t understand any of this. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
Moiraine looked at Lan, and the Warder unfolded his arms. He looked at Rand from under his leather headband, and Rand had the feeling of being weighed on invisible scales again. “Did you know,” Lan said suddenly, “that some homes were not attacked?”
“Half the village is in ashes,” he protested, but the Warder waved it away.
“Some houses were only torched to create confusion. The Trollocs ignored them afterwards, and the people who fled from them as well, unless they actually got in the way of the true attack. Most of the people who’ve come in from the outlying farms never saw a hair of a Trolloc, and that only at a distance. Most never knew there was any trouble until they saw the village.”
“I did hear about Darl Coplin,” Rand said slowly. “I suppose it just didn’t sink in.”
“Two farms were attacked,” Lan went on. “Yours and one other. Because of Bel Tine everyone who lived at the second farm was already in the village. Many people were saved because the Myrddraal was ignorant of Two Rivers customs. Festival and Winternight made its task all but impossible, but it did not know that.”
Rand looked at Moiraine, leaning back in the chair, but she said nothing, only watched him, a finger laid across her lips. “Our farm, and who else’s?” he asked finally.
“The Aybara farm,” Lan replied. “Here in Emond’s Field, they struck first at the forge, and the blacksmith’s house, and Master Cauthon’s house.”
Rand’s mouth was suddenly dry. “That’s crazy,” he managed to get out, then jumped as Moiraine straightened.
“Not crazy, Rand,” she said. “Purposeful. The Trollocs did not come to Emond’s Field by happenstance, and they did not do what they did for the pleasure of killing and burning, however much that delighted them. They knew what, or rather who, they were after. The Trollocs came to kill or capture young men of a certain age who live near Emond’s Field.”
“My age?” Rand’s voice shook, and he did not care. “Light! Mat. What about Perrin?”
“Alive and well,” Moiraine assured him, “if a trifle sooty.”
“Ban Crawe and Lem Thane?”
“Were never in any danger,” Lan said. “At least, no more than anyone else.”
“But they saw the rider, the Fade, too, and they’re the same age as I am.”
“Master Crawe’s house was not even damaged,” Moiraine said, “and the miller and his family slept through half the attack before the noise woke them. Ban is ten months older than you, and Lem eight months younger.” She smiled dryly at his surprise. “I told you I asked questions. And I also said young men of a certain age. You and your two friends are within weeks of one another. It was you three the Myrddraal sought, and none others.”
Rand shifted uneasily, wishing she would not look at him like that, as if her eyes could pierce his brain and read what lay in every corner of it. “What would they want with us? We’re just farmers, shepherds.”
“That is a question that has no answer in the Two Rivers,” Moiraine said quietly, “but the answer is important. Trollocs where they have not been seen in almost two thousand years tells us that much.”
“Lots of stories tell about Trolloc raids,” Rand said stubbornly. “We just never had one here before. Warders fight Trollocs all the time.”
Lan snorted. “Boy, I expect to fight Trollocs along the Great Blight, but not here, nearly six hundred leagues to the south. That was as hot a raid last night as I’d expect to see in Shienar, or any of the Borderlands.”
“In one of you,” Moiraine said, “or all three, there is something the Dark One fears.”
“That . . . that’s impossible.” Rand stumbled to the window and stared out at the village, at the people working among the ruins. “I don’t care what’s happened, that is just impossible.” Something on the Green caught his eye. He stared, then realized it was the blackened stump of the Spring Pole. A fine Bel Tine, with a peddler, and a gleeman, and strangers. He shivered, and shook his head violently. “No. No, I’m a shepherd. The Dark One can’t be interested in me.”
“It took a great deal of effort,” Lan said grimly, “to bring so many Trollocs so far without raising a hue and cry from the Borderlands to Caemlyn and beyond. I wish I knew how they did it. Do you really believe they went to all that bother just to burn a few houses?”
“They will be back,” Moiraine added.
Rand had his mouth open to argue with Lan, but that brought him up short. He spun to face her. “Back? Can’t you stop them? You did last night, and you were surprised, then. Now you know they are here.”
“Perhaps,” Moiraine replied. “I could send to Tar Valon for some of my sisters; they might have time to make the journey before we need them. The Myrddraal knows I am here, too, and it probably will not attack—not openly, at least—lacking reinforcements, more Myrddraal and more Trollocs. >With enough Aes Sedai and enough Warders, the Trollocs can be beaten off, though I cannot say how many battles it will take.”
A vision danced in his head, of Emond’s Field all in ashes. All the farms burned. And Watch Hill, and Deven Ride, and Taren Ferry. All ashes and blood. “No,” he said, and felt a wrenching inside as if he had lost his grip on something. “That’s why I have to leave, isn’t it? The Trollocs won’t come back if I am not here.” A last trace of obstinacy made him add, “If they really are after me.”
Moiraine’s eyebrows raised as if she were surprised that he was not convinced, but Lan said, “Are you willing to bet your village on it, sheepherder? Your whole Two Rivers?”
Rand’s stubbornness faded. “No,” he said again, and felt that emptiness inside again, too. “Perrin and Mat have to go, too, don’t they?” Leaving the Two Rivers. Leaving his home and his father. At least Tam would get better. At least he would be able to hear him say all that on the Quarry Road had been nonsense. “We could go to Baerlon, I suppose, or even Caemlyn. I’ve heard there are more people in Caemlyn than in the whole Two Rivers. We’d be safe there.” He tried out a laugh that sounded hollow. “I used to daydream about seeing Caemlyn. I never thought it would come about like this.”
There was a long silence, then Lan said, “I would not count on Caemlyn for safety. If the Myrddraal want you badly enough, they will find a way. Walls are a poor bar to a Halfman. And you would be a fool not to believe they want you very badly indeed.”
Rand thought his spirits had sunk as low as they possibly could, but at that they slid deeper.
“There is a place of safety,” Moiraine said softly, and Rand’s ears pricked up to listen. “In Tar Valon you would be among Aes Sedai and Warders. Even during the Trolloc Wars the forces of the Dark One feared to attack the Shining Walls. The one attempt was their greatest defeat until the very end. And Tar Valon holds all the knowledge we Aes Sedai have gathered since the Time of Madness. Some fragments even date from the Age of Legends. In Tar Valon, if anywhere, you will be able to learn why the Myrddraal want you. Why the Father of Lies wants you. That I can promise.”
A journey all the way to Tar Valon was almost beyond thinking. A journey to a place where he would be surrounded by Aes Sedai. Of course, Moiraine had healed Tam—or it looked as if she had, at least—but there were all those stories. It was uncomfortable enough to be in a room with one Aes Sedai, but to be in a city full of them. . . . And she still had not demanded her price. There was always a price, so the stories said.
“How long will my father sleep?” he asked at last. “I . . . I have to tell him. He shouldn’t just wake and find me gone.” He thought he heard Lan give a sigh of relief. He looked at the Warder curiously, but Lan’s face was as expressionless as ever.
“It is unlikely he will wake before we depart,” Moiraine said. “I mean to go soon after full dark. Even a single day of delay could be fatal. It will be best if you leave him a note.”
“In the night?” Rand said doubtfully, and Lan nodded.
“The Halfman will discover we are gone soon enough. There is no need to make things any easier for it than we must.”
Rand fussed with his father’s blankets. It was a very long way to Tar Valon. “In that case. . . . In that case, I had better go find Mat and Perrin.”
“I will attend to that.” Moiraine got to her feet briskly and donned her cloak with suddenly restored vigor. She put a hand on his shoulder, and he tried very hard not to flinch. She did not press hard, but it was an iron grip that held him as surely as a forked stick held a snake. “It will be best if we keep all of this just among us. Do you understand? The same ones who put the Dragon’s Fang on the inn door might make trouble if they knew.”
“I understand.” He drew a relieved breath when she took her hand away.
“I will have Mistress al’Vere bring you something to eat,” she went on just as if she had not noticed his reaction. “Then you need to sleep. It will be a hard journey tonight even if you are rested.”
The door closed behind them, and Rand stood looking down at Tam—looking at Tam, but seeing nothing. Not until that very minute had he realized that Emond’s Field was a part of him as much as he was a part of it. He realized it now because he knew that was what he had felt tearing loose. He was apart from the village, now. The Shepherd of the Night wanted him. It was impossible—he was only a farmer—but the Trollocs had come, and Lan was right about one thing. He could not risk the village on the chance Moiraine was wrong. He could not even tell anyone; the Coplins really would make trouble about something like that. He had to trust an Aes Sedai.
“Don’t wake him, now,” Mistress al’Vere said, as the Mayor shut the door behind his wife and himself. The cloth-covered tray she carried gave off delicious, warm smells. She set it on the chest against the wall, then firmly moved Rand away from the bed.
“Mistress Moiraine told me what he needs,” she said softly, “and it does not include you falling on top of him from exhaustion. I’ve brought you a bite to eat. Don’t let it get cold, now.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call her that,” Bran said peevishly. “Moiraine Sedai is proper. She might get mad.”
Mistress al’Vere gave him a pat on the cheek. “You just leave me to worry about that. She and I had a long talk. And keep your voice down. If you wake Tam, you’ll have to answer to me and Moiraine Sedai.” She put an emphasis on Moiraine’s title that made Bran’s insistence seem foolish. “The two of you keep out of my way.” With a fond smile for her husband, she turned to the bed and Tam.
Master al’Vere gave Rand a frustrated look. “She’s an Aes Sedai. Half the women in the village act as if she sits in the Women’s Circle, and the rest as if she were a Trolloc. Not a one of them seems to realize you have to be careful around Aes Sedai. The men may keep looking at her sideways, but at least they aren’t doing anything that might provoke her.”
Careful, Rand thought. It was not too late to start being careful. “Master al’Vere,” he said slowly, “do you know how many farms were attacked?”
“Only two that I’ve heard of so far, including your place.” The Mayor paused, frowning, then shrugged. “It doesn’t seem enough, with what happened here. I should be glad of it, but. . . . Well, we’ll probably hear of more before the day is out.”
Rand sighed. No need to ask which farms. “Here in the village, did they. . . . I mean, was there anything to show what they were after?”
“After, boy? I don’t know that they were after anything, except maybe killing us all. It was just the way I said. The dogs barking, and Moiraine Sedai and Lan running through the streets, then somebody shouted that Master Luhhan’s house and the forge were on fire. Abell Cauthon’s house flared up—odd that; it’s nearly in the middle of the village. Anyway, the next thing the Trollocs were all among us. No, I don’t think they were after anything.” He gave an abrupt bark of a laugh, and cut it short with a wary look at his wife. She did not look around from Tam. “To tell the truth,” he went on more quietly, “they seemed almost as confused as we were. I doubt they expected to find an Aes Sedai here, or a Warder.”
“I suppose not,” Rand said, grimacing.
If Moiraine had told the truth about that, she probably had told the truth about the rest, too. For a moment he thought about asking the >Mayor’s advice, but Master al’Vere obviously knew little more about Aes Sedai than anyone else in the village. Besides, he was reluctant to tell even the Mayor what was going on—what Moiraine said was going on. He was not sure if he was more afraid of being laughed at or being believed. He rubbed a thumb against the hilt of Tam’s sword. His father had been out into the world; he must know more about Aes Sedai than the Mayor did. But if Tam really had been out of the Two Rivers, then maybe what he had said in the Westwood. . . . He scrubbed both hands through his hair, scattering that line of thought.
“You need sleep, lad,” the Mayor said.
“Yes, you do,” Mistress al’Vere added. “You’re almost falling down where you stand.”
Rand blinked at her in surprise. He had not even realized she had left his father. He did need sleep; just the thought set off a yawn.
“You can take the bed in the next room,” the Mayor said. “There’s already a fire laid.”
Rand looked at his father; Tam was still deep in sleep, and that made him yawn again. “I’d rather stay in here, if you don’t mind. For when he wakes up.”
Sickroom matters were in Mistress al’Vere’s province, and the Mayor left it to her. She hesitated only a moment before nodding. “But you let him wake on his own. If you bother his sleep. . . .” He tried to say he would do as she ordered, but the words got tangled in yet another yawn. She shook her head with a smile. “You will be asleep yourself in no time at all. If you must stay, curl up next to the fire. And drink a little of that beef broth before you doze off.”
“I will,” Rand said. He would have agreed to anything that kept him in that room. “And I won’t wake him.”
“See that you do not,” Mistress al’Vere told him firmly, but not in an unkindly way. “I’ll bring you up a pillow and some blankets.”
When the door finally closed behind them, Rand dragged the lone chair in the room over beside the bed and sat down where he could watch Tam. It was all very well for Mistress al’Vere to talk about sleep—his jaws cracked as he stifled a yawn—but he could not sleep yet. Tam might wake at any time, and maybe only stay awake a short while. Rand had to be waiting when he did.
He grimaced and twisted in the chair, absently shifting the sword hilt out of his ribs. He still felt backward about telling anyone what Moiraine had said, but this was Tam, after all. This was. . . . Without realizing it he set his jaw determinedly. My father. I can tell my father anything.
He twisted a little more in the chair and put his head against the chairback. Tam was his father, and nobody could tell him what to say or not say to his father. He just had to stay awake until Tam woke up. He just had to. . . .
Copyright © 1990 by Robert Jordan
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