/ Language: English / Genre:sf_heroic, sf_fantasy / Series: Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time • 3 • The Dragon Reborn

Robert Jordan

Book Three

by Robert Jordan

Dedicated to
James Oliver Rigney, Sr.

He taught me always to follow the dream,
and when I caught it, to live it.

ePub: https://is.gd/Wl5gez

And his paths shall be many, and who shall know his name, for he shall be born among us many times, in many guises, as he has been and ever will be, time without end. His coming shall be like the sharp edge of the plow, turning our lives in furrows from out of the places where we lie in our silence. The breaker of bonds; the forger of chains. The maker of futures; the unshaper of destiny.

—from Commentaries on the Prophecies of the Dragon,
by Jurith Dorine, Right Hand to the
Queen of Almoren, 742 AB, the Third Age

Fortress of the Light

Pedron Niall’s aged gaze wandered about his private audience chamber, but dark eyes hazed with thought saw nothing. Tattered wall hangings, once battle banners of the enemies of his youth, faded into dark wood paneling laid over stone walls, thick even here in the heart of the Fortress of the Light. The single chair in the room—heavy, high-backed, and almost a throne—was as invisible to him as the few scattered tables that completed the furnishings. Even the white-cloaked man kneeling with barely restrained eagerness on the great sunburst set in the wide planks of the floor had vanished from Niall’s mind for the moment, though few would have dismissed him so lightly.

Jaret Byar had been given time to wash before being brought to Niall, but both his helmet and his breastplate were dulled from travel and battered from use. Dark, deep-set eyes shone with a feverish, urgent light in a face that seemed to have had every spare scrap of flesh boiled away. He wore no sword—none was allowed in Niall’s presence—but he seemed poised on the edge of violence, like a hound awaiting the loosing of the leash.

Twin fires on long hearths at either end of the room held off the late winter cold. It was a plain, soldier’s room, really, everything well made but nothing extravagant—except for the sunburst. Furnishings came to the audience chamber of the Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light with the man who rose to the office; the flaring sun of coin gold had been worn smooth by generations of petitioners, replaced and worn smooth again. Gold enough to buy any estate in Amadicia, and the patent of nobility to go with it. For ten years Niall had walked across that gold and never thought of it twice, any more than he thought of the sunburst embroidered across the chest of his white tunic. Gold held little interest for Pedron Niall.

Eventually his eyes went back to the table next to him, covered with maps and scattered letters and reports. Three loosely rolled drawings lay among the jumble. He took one up reluctantly. It did not matter which; all depicted the same scene, though by different hands.

Niall’s skin was as thin as scraped parchment, drawn tight by age over a body that seemed all bone and sinew, but there was nothing of frailty about him. No man held Niall’s office before his hair was white, nor did any man softer than the stones of the Dome of Truth. Still, he was suddenly aware of the tendon-ridged back of the hand holding the drawing, aware of the need for haste. Time was growing short. His time was growing short. It had to be enough. He had to make it enough.

He made himself unroll the thick parchment halfway, just enough to see the face that interested him. The chalks were a little smudged from travel in saddlebags, but the face was clear. A gray-eyed youth with reddish hair. He looked tall, but it was hard to say for certain. Aside from the hair and the eyes, he could have been set down in any town without exciting comment.

“This... this boy has proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn?” Niall muttered.

The Dragon. The name made him feel the chills of winter and age. The name borne by Lews Therin Telamon when he doomed every man who could channel the One Power, then or ever after, to insanity and death, himself among them. It was more than three thousand years since Aes Sedai pride and the War of the Shadow had brought an end to the Age of Legends. Three thousand years, but prophecy and legend helped men remember—the heart of it, at least, if the details were gone. Lews Therin Kinslayer. The man who had begun the Breaking of the World, when madmen who could tap the power that drove the universe leveled mountains and sank ancient lands beneath the seas, when the whole face of the earth had been changed and all who survived fled like beasts before a wildfire. It had not ended until the last male Aes Sedai lay dead, and a scattered human race could begin trying to rebuild from the rubble—where even rubble remained. It was burned into memory by the stories mothers told children. And prophecy said the Dragon would be born again.

Niall had not really meant it for a question, but Byar took it for one. “Yes, my Lord Captain Commander, he has. It is a worse madness than any false Dragon I’ve ever heard of. Thousands have declared for him already. Tarabon and Arad Doman are in civil war, as well as at war with each other. There is fighting all across Almoth Plain and Toman Head, Taraboner against Domani against Darkfriends crying for the Dragon—or there was fighting until winter chilled most of it. I’ve never seen it spread so quickly, my Lord Captain Commander. Like throwing a lantern into a hay barn. The snow may have damped it down, but come spring, the flames will burst out hotter than before.”

Niall cut him off with a raised finger. Twice already Niall had let him tell his story through, his voice burning with anger and hate. Parts of it Niall knew from other sources, and in some areas he knew more than Byar, but each time he heard it, it goaded him anew. “Geofram Bornhald and a thousand of the Children dead. And Aes Sedai did it. You have no doubts, Child Byar?”

“None, my Lord Captain Commander. After a skirmish on the way to Falme, I saw two of the Tar Valon witches. They cost us more than fifty dead before we stuck them full of arrows.”

“You are sure—sure they were Aes Sedai?”

“The ground erupted under our feet.” Byar’s voice was firm and full of belief. He had little imagination, did Jaret Byar; death was part of a soldier’s life, however it came. “Lightnings struck our ranks out of a clear sky. My Lord Captain Commander, what else could they have been?”

Niall nodded grimly. There had been no male Aes Sedai since the Breaking of the World, but the women who still claimed that title were bad enough. They prated of their Three Oaths: to speak no word that was not true, to make no weapon for one man to kill another, to use the One Power as a weapon only against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn. But now they had showed those oaths for the lies they were. He had always known no one could want the power they wielded except to challenge the Creator, and that meant to serve the Dark One.

“And you know nothing of those who took Falme and killed half of one of my legions?”

“Lord Captain Bornhald said they called themselves Seanchan, my Lord Captain Commander,” Byar said stolidly. “He said they were Darkfriends. And his charge broke them, even if they killed him.” His voice gained intensity. “There were many refugees from the city. Everyone I spoke to agreed the strangers had broken and fled. Lord Captain Bornhald did that.”

Niall sighed softly. They were almost the same words Byar had used the first two times about the army that had seemingly come out of nowhere to take Falme. A good soldier, Niall thought, so Geofram Bornhald always said, but not a man to think for himself.

“My Lord Captain Commander,” Byar said suddenly, “Lord Captain Bornhald did command me to stand aside from the battle. I was to watch, and report to you. And tell his son, Lord Dain, how he died.”

“Yes, yes,” Niall said impatiently. For a moment he studied Byar’s hollow-cheeked face, then added, “No one doubts your honesty or courage. It is exactly the sort of thing Geofram Bornhald would do, facing a battle in which he feared his entire command might die.” And not the sort of thing you have imagination enough to think up.

There was nothing more to learn from the man. “You have done well, Child Byar. You have my leave to carry word of Geofram Bornhald’s death to his son. Dain Bornhald is with Eamon Valda—near Tar Valon at last report. You may join them.”

“Thank you, my Lord Captain Commander. Thank you.” Byar rose to his feet and bowed deeply. Yet as he straightened, he hesitated. “My Lord Captain Commander, we were betrayed.” Hatred gave his voice a saw-toothed edge.

“By this one Darkfriend you spoke of, Child Byar?” He could not keep an edge out of his own voice. A year’s planning lay in ruins amid the corpses of a thousand of the Children, and Byar wanted to talk only of this one man. “This young blacksmith you’ve only seen twice, this Perrin from the Two Rivers?”

“Yes, my Lord Captain Commander. I do not know how, but I know he is to blame. I know it.”

“I will see what can be done about him, Child Byar.” Byar opened his mouth again, but Niall raised a thin hand to forestall him. “You may leave me now.” The gaunt-faced man had no choice but to bow again and leave.

As the door closed behind him, Niall lowered himself into his high-backed chair. What had brought on Byar’s hatred of this Perrin? There were far too many Darkfriends to waste energy on hating any particular one. Too many Darkfriends, high and low, hiding behind glib tongues and open smiles, serving the Dark One. Still, one more name added to the lists would do no harm.

He shifted on the hard chair, trying to find comfort for his old bones. Not for the first time he thought vaguely that perhaps a cushion would not be too much luxury. And not for the first time, he pushed the thought away. The world tumbled toward chaos, and he had no time to give in to age.

He let all the signs that foretold disaster swirl through his mind. War gripped Tarabon and Arad Doman, civil war ripped at Cairhien, and war fever was rising in Tear and Illian, old enemies as they were. Perhaps these wars meant nothing in themselves—men fought wars—but they usually came one at a time. And aside from the false Dragon somewhere on Almoth Plain, another tore at Saldaea, and a third plagued Tear. Three at once. They must all be false Dragons. They must be!

A dozen small things besides, some perhaps only baseless rumors, but taken together with the rest.... Sightings of Aiel reported as far west as Murandy, and Kandor. Only two or three in one place, but one or a thousand, Aiel had come out of the Waste just once in all the years since the Breaking. Only in the Aiel War had they ever left that desolate wilderness. The Atha’an Miere, the Sea Folk, were said to be ignoring trade to seek signs and portents—of what, exactly, they did not say—sailing with ships half full or even empty. Illian had called the Great Hunt of the Horn for the first time in almost four hundred years, had sent out the Hunters to seek the fabled Horn of Valere, which prophecy said would summon dead heroes from the grave to fight in Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle against the Shadow. Rumor said the Ogier, always so reclusive that most common people thought them only legend, had called meetings between their far-flung stedding.

Most telling of all, to Niall, the Aes Sedai had apparently come into the open. It was said they had sent some of their sisters to Saldaea to confront the false Dragon Mazrim Taim. Rare as it was in men, Taim could channel the One Power. That was a thing to fear and despise in itself, and few thought a man like that could be defeated except with the aid of Aes Sedai. Better to allow Aes Sedai help than to face the inevitable horrors when he went mad, as such men inevitably did. But Tar Valon had apparently sent other Aes Sedai to support the other false Dragon at Falme. Nothing else fit the facts.

The pattern chilled the marrow in his bones. Chaos multiplied; what was unheard of, happening again and again. The whole world seemed to be milling, stirring near the boil. It was clear to him. The Last Battle really was coming.

All his plans were destroyed, the plans that would have secured his name among the Children of the Light for a hundred generations. But turmoil meant opportunity, and he had new plans, with new objectives. If he could keep the strength and will to carry them out. Light, let me hold on to life long enough.

A deferential tap on the door brought him out of his dark thoughts. “Come!” he snapped.

A servant in coat and breeches of white-and-gold bowed his way in. Eyes to the floor, he announced that Jaichim Carridin, Anointed of the Light, Inquisitor of the Hand of the Light, came at the command of the Lord Captain Commander. Carridin appeared on the man’s heels, not waiting for Niall to speak. Niall gestured the servant to leave.

Before the door was fully closed again, Carridin dropped to one knee with a flourish of his snowy cloak. Behind the sunburst on the cloak’s breast lay the scarlet shepherd’s crook of the Hand of the Light, called the Questioners by many, though seldom to their faces. “As you have commanded my presence, my Lord Captain Commander,” he said in a strong voice, “so have I returned from Tarabon.”

Niall examined him for a moment. Carridin was tall, well into his middle years, with a touch of gray in his hair, yet fit and hard. His dark, deep-set eyes had a knowing look about them, as always. And he did not blink under the silent study of the Lord Captain Commander. Few men had consciences so clear or nerves so steady. Carridin knelt there, waiting as calmly as if it were an everyday matter to be ordered curtly to leave his command and return to Amador without delay, no reasons given. But then, it was said Jaichim Carridin could outwait a stone.

“Rise, Child Carridin.” As the other man straightened, Niall added, “I have had disturbing news from Falme.”

Carridin straightened the folds of his cloak as he answered. His voice rode the edge of suitable respect, almost as if he spoke to an equal rather than to the man he had sworn to obey to the death. “My Lord Captain Commander refers to the news brought by Child Jaret Byar, late second to Lord Captain Bornhald.”

The corner of Niall’s left eye fluttered, an old presage of anger. Supposedly only three men knew Byar was in Amador, and none besides Niall knew from where he came. “Do not be too clever, Carridin. Your desire to know everything may one day lead you into the hands of your own Questioners.”

Carridin showed no reaction beyond a slight tightening of his mouth at the name. “My Lord Captain Commander, the Hand seeks out truth everywhere, to serve the Light.”

To serve the Light. Not to serve the Children of the Light. All the Children served the Light, but Pedron Niall often wondered if the Questioners really considered themselves part of the Children at all. “And what truth do you have for me about what occurred in Falme?”

“Darkfriends, my Lord Captain Commander.”

“Darkfriends?” Niall’s chuckle held no amusement. “A few weeks gone I was receiving reports from you that Geofram Bornhald was a servant of the Dark One because he moved soldiers onto Toman Head against your orders.” His voice became dangerously soft. “Do you now mean me to believe that Bornhald, as a Darkfriend, led a thousand of the Children to their deaths fighting other Darkfriends?”

“Whether or not he was a Darkfriend will never be known,” Carridin said blandly, “since he died before he could be put to the question. The Shadow’s plots are murky, and often seem mad to those who walk in the Light. But that those who seized Falme were Darkfriends, I have no doubt. Darkfriends and Aes Sedai, in support of a false Dragon. It was the One Power that destroyed Bornhald and his men, of that I am sure, my Lord Captain Commander, just as it destroyed the armies that Tarabon and Arad Doman sent against the Darkfriends in Falme.”

“And what of the stories that those who took Falme came from across the Aryth Ocean?”

Carridin shook his head. “My Lord Captain Commander, the people are full of rumors. Some claim they were the armies Artur Hawkwing sent across the ocean a thousand years ago, come back to claim the land. Why, some even claim to have seen Hawkwing himself in Falme. And half the heroes of legend besides. The west is boiling from Tarabon to Saldaea, and a hundred new rumors bubble to the surface every day, each more outrageous than the last. These so-called Seanchan were no more than another rabble of Darkfriends gathered to support a false Dragon, only this time with open Aes Sedai support.”

“What proof have you?” Niall made his voice sound as if he doubted the point. “You have prisoners?”

“No, my Lord Captain Commander. As Child Byar no doubt told you, Bornhald managed to hurt them badly enough that they dispersed. And certainly no one we’ve questioned would admit to supporting a false Dragon. As for proof... it lies in two parts. If my Lord Captain Commander will permit me?”

Niall gestured impatiently.

“The first part is negative. Few ships have tried to cross the Aryth Ocean, and most never returned. Those that did, turned back before they ran out of food and water. Even the Sea Folk will not cross the Aryth, and they sail wherever there is trade, even to the lands beyond the Aiel Waste. My Lord Captain Commander, if there are any lands across the ocean, they are too far to reach, the ocean too wide. To carry an army across it would be as impossible as flying.”

“Perhaps,” Niall said slowly. “It is certainly indicative. What is your second part?”

“My Lord Captain Commander, many of those we questioned spoke of monsters fighting for the Darkfriends, and held to their claims even under the last degree of the question. What could they be but Trollocs and other Shadowspawn, in some way brought down from the Blight?” Carridin spread his hands as if that were conclusive. “Most people think Trollocs are only travelers’ tales and lies, and most of the rest think they were all killed in the Trolloc Wars. What other name would they put to a Trolloc but monster?”

“Yes. Yes, you may be right, Child Carridin. May be, I say.” He would not give Carridin the satisfaction of knowing he agreed. Let him work awhile. “But what of him?” He indicated the rolled drawings. If he knew Carridin, the Inquisitor had copies in his own chambers. “How dangerous is he? Can he channel the One Power?”

The Inquisitor merely shrugged. “Perhaps he can channel, perhaps not. Aes Sedai could no doubt make people believe a cat could channel, if they wanted to. As to how dangerous he is.... Any false Dragon is dangerous until he is put down, and one with Tar Valon openly behind him is ten times dangerous. But he is less dangerous now than he will be in half a year, unchecked. The captives I questioned had never seen him, had no idea where he is now. His forces are fragmented. I doubt there are more than two hundred gathered in any one place. The Taraboners or the Domani, either one, could sweep them away if they weren’t so busy fighting each other.”

“Even a false Dragon,” Niall said dryly, “is not enough to make them forget four hundred years of squabbling over possession of Almoth Plain. As if either of them ever had the strength to hold it.” Carridin’s face did not change, and Niall wondered how he could keep so calm. You will not be calm much longer, Questioner.

“It is of no import, my Lord Captain Commander. Winter keeps them all in their camps, except for scattered skirmishes and raids. When the weather warms enough for troops to move.... Bornhald took only half his legion to their deaths on Toman Head. With the other half, I will hunt this false Dragon to his death. A corpse is not dangerous to anyone.”

“And if you face what it seems Bornhald faced? Aes Sedai channeling the Power to kill?”

“Their witchery doesn’t protect them from arrows, or a knife in the dark. They die as quickly as anyone else.” Carridin smiled. “I promise you, I will be successful before summer.”

Niall nodded. The man was confident, now. Sure the dangerous questions would already have come, if they were coming. You should have remembered, Carridin, I was accounted a fine tactician. “Why,” he said quietly, “did you not take your own forces to Falme? With Darkfriends on Toman Head, an army of them holding Falme, why did you try to stop Bornhald?”

Carridin blinked, but his voice remained steady. “At first they were only rumors, my Lord Captain Commander. Rumors so wild, no one could believe. By the time I learned the truth, Bornhald had joined battle. He was dead, and the Darkfriends scattered. Besides, my task was to bring the Light to Almoth Plain. I could not disobey my orders to chase after rumors.”

“Your task?” Niall said, his voice rising as he stood. Carridin topped him by a head, but the Inquisitor stepped back. “Your task? Your task was to seize Almoth Plain! An empty bucket that no one holds except by words and claims, and all you had to do was fill it. The nation of Almoth would have lived again, ruled by the Children of the Light, with no need to pay lip service to a fool of a king. Amadicia and Almoth, a vise gripping Tarabon. In five years we would have held sway there as much as here in Amadicia. And you made a dog’s dinner of it!”

The smile went at last. “My Lord Captain Commander,” Carridin protested. “How could I foresee what happened? Yet another false Dragon. Tarabon and Arad Doman finally going to war after so long merely growling at each other. And Aes Sedai revealing their true selves after three thousand years of dissembling! Even with that, though, all is not lost. I can find and destroy this false Dragon before his followers unite. And once the Taraboners and Domani have weakened themselves, they can be cleared from the plain without—”

“No!” Niall snapped. “Your plans are done with, Carridin. Perhaps I should hand you over to your own Questioners right now. The High Inquisitor would not object. He is gnashing his teeth to find someone to blame for what happened. He would never put forward one of his own, but I doubt he’d quibble if I named you. A few days under the question, and you would confess to anything. Name yourself Darkfriend, even. You would go under the headsman’s axe inside a week.”

There was sweat beading on Carridin’s forehead. “My Lord Captain Commander....” He stopped to swallow. “My Lord Captain Commander seems to be saying there is another way. If he will but speak it, I am sworn to obey.”

Now, Niall thought. Now to toss the dice. Prickles ran across his skin, as if he were in battle and had suddenly realized that every man for a hundred paces around him was an enemy. Lord Captain Commanders did not go to the headsman, but more than one had been known to die suddenly and unexpectedly, swiftly mourned and swiftly replaced by men with less dangerous ideas.

“Child Carridin,” he said firmly, “you will make certain that this false Dragon does not die. And if any Aes Sedai come to oppose rather than support him, you will make use of your ‘knives in the dark.’ ”

The Inquisitor’s jaw dropped. Yet he recovered quickly, eyeing Niall in a speculative fashion. “To kill Aes Sedai is a duty, but.... To allow a false Dragon to roam free? That... that would be... treason. And blasphemy.”

Niall drew a deep breath. He could sense the unseen knives waiting in the shadows. But he was committed, now. “It is no treason to do what must be done. And even blasphemy can be tolerated for a cause.” Those two sentences alone were enough to kill him. “Do you know how to unite people behind you, Child Carridin? The quickest way? No? Loose a lion—a rabid lion—in the streets. And when panic grips the people, once it has turned their bowels to water, calmly tell them you will deal with it. Then you kill it, and order them to hang the carcass up where everyone can see. Before they have time to think, you give another order, and it will be obeyed. And if you continue to give orders, they will continue to obey, for you will be the one who saved them, and who better to lead?”

Carridin moved his head uncertainly. “Do you mean to... take it all, my Lord Captain Commander? Not just Almoth Plain, but Tarabon and Arad Doman as well?”

“What I mean is for me to know. It is for you to obey as you are sworn to do. I expect to hear of messengers on fast horses leaving for the plain by tonight. I am certain you know how to word the orders so no one suspects what they should not. If you must harry someone, let it be the Taraboners and Domani. It would not do to have them kill my lion. No, under the Light, we shall force peace between them.”

“As my Lord Captain Commander commands,” Carridin said smoothly. “I hear and obey.” Too smoothly.

Niall smiled a cold smile. “In case your oath is not strong enough, know this. If this false Dragon dies before I command his death, or if he is taken by the Tar Valon witches, you will be found one morning with a dagger in your heart. And should any... accident... befall me—even if I should die of old age—you will not survive me the month.”

“My Lord Captain Commander, I have sworn to obey—”

“So you have.” Niall cut him off. “See that you remember it. Now, go!”

“As my Lord Captain Commander commands.” This time Carridin’s voice was not so steady.

The door closed behind the Inquisitor. Niall rubbed his hands together. He felt cold. The dice were spinning, with no way of telling what pips would show when they stopped. The Last Battle truly was coming. Not the Tarmon Gai’don of legend, with the Dark One breaking free to be faced by the Dragon Reborn. Not that, he was sure. The Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends might have made a hole in the Dark One’s prison at Shayol Ghul, but Lews Therin Kinslayer and his Hundred Companions had sealed it up again. The counterstroke had tainted the male half of the True Source forever and driven them mad, and so begun the Breaking, but one of those ancient Aes Sedai could do what ten of the Tar Valon witches of today could not. The seals they had made would hold.

Pedron Niall was a man of cold logic, and he had reasoned out how Tarmon Gai’don would be. Bestial Trolloc hordes rolling south out of the Great Blight as they had in the Trolloc Wars, two thousand years before, with the Myrddraal—the Halfmen—leading, and perhaps even new human Dreadlords from among the Darkfriends. Humankind, split into nations squabbling among themselves, could not stand against that. But he, Pedron Niall, would unite humankind behind the banners of the Children of the Light. There would be new legends, to tell how Pedron Niall had fought Tarmon Gai’don, and won.

“First,” he murmured, “loose a rabid lion in the streets.”

“A rabid lion?”

Niall spun on his heel as a bony little man with a huge beak of a nose slipped from behind one of the hanging banners. There was just a glimpse of a panel swinging shut as the banner fell back against the wall.

“I showed you that passage, Ordeith,” Niall snapped, “so you could come when I summoned you without half the fortress knowing, not so you could listen to my private conversation.”

Ordeith made a smooth bow as he crossed the room. “Listen, Great Lord? I would never do such a thing. I only just arrived and could not avoid hearing your final words. No more than that.” He wore a half-mocking smile, but it never left his face that Niall had ever seen, even when the fellow had no reason to know anyone was watching.

A month before, in the dead of winter, the gangly little man had arrived in Amadicia, ragged and half-frozen, and somehow managed to talk his way through all the layers of guards to Pedron Niall himself. He seemed to know things about events on Toman Head that were not in Carridin’s voluminous if obscure reports, or in Byar’s tale, or in any other report or rumor that had come to Niall. His name was a lie, of course. In the Old Tongue, Ordeith meant “wormwood.” When Niall challenged him on it, though, all he said was, “Who we were is lost to all men, and life is bitter.” But he was clever. It had been he who helped Niall see the pattern emerging in events.

Ordeith moved to the table and took up one of the drawings. As he unrolled it enough to reveal the young man’s face, his smile deepened to nearly a grimace.

Niall was still irritated that the man had come unsummoned. “You find a false Dragon funny, Ordeith. Or does he frighten you?”

“A false Dragon?” Ordeith said softly. “Yes. Yes, of course, it must be. Who else could it be.” And he barked a shrill laugh that grated on Niall’s nerves. Sometimes Niall thought Ordeith was at least half-mad.

But he is clever, mad or not. “What do you mean, Ordeith? You sound as if you know him.”

Ordeith gave a start, as though he had forgotten the Lord Captain Commander was there. “Know him? Oh, yes, I know him. His name is Rand al’Thor. He comes from the Two Rivers, in the backcountry of Andor, and he is a Darkfriend so deep in the Shadow it would make your soul cringe to know the half.”

“The Two Rivers,” Niall mused. “Someone else mentioned another Darkfriend from there, another youth. Strange to think of Darkfriends coming from a place like that. But truly they are everywhere.”

“Another, Great Lord?” Ordeith said. “From the Two Rivers? Would that be Matrim Cauthon or Perrin Aybara? They are of an age with him, and close behind in evil.”

“His name was given as Perrin,” Niall said, frowning. “Three of them, you say? Nothing comes out of the Two Rivers but wool and tabac. I doubt if there is another place men live that is more isolated from the rest of the world.”

“In a city, Darkfriends must hide their nature to one extent or another. They must associate with others, with strangers come from other places and leaving to take word of what they have seen. But in quiet villages, cut off from the world, where few outsiders ever go.... What better places for all to be Darkfriends?”

“How is it you know the names of three Darkfriends, Ordeith? Three Darkfriends from the far end of forever. You keep too many secrets, Wormwood, and pull more surprises from your sleeve than a gleeman.”

“How can any man tell all that he knows, Great Lord,” the little man said smoothly. “It would be only prattle, until it becomes useful. I will tell you this, Great Lord. This Rand al’Thor, this Dragon, has deep roots in the Two Rivers.”

“False Dragon!” Niall said sharply, and the other man bowed.

“Of course, Great Lord. I misspoke myself.”

Suddenly Niall became aware of the drawing crumpled and torn in Ordeith’s hands. Even while the man’s face remained smooth except for that sardonic smile, his hands twitched convulsively around the parchment.

“Stop that!” Niall commanded. He snatched the drawing away from Ordeith and smoothed it as best he could. “I do not have so many likenesses of this man that I can allow them to be destroyed.” Much of the drawing was only a smudge, and a rip ran across the young man’s breast, but miraculously the face was untouched.

“Forgive me, Great Lord.” Ordeith made a deep bow, his smile never slipping. “I hate Darkfriends.”

Niall studied the face in chalks. Rand al’Thor, of the Two Rivers. “Perhaps I must make plans for the Two Rivers. When the snows clear. Perhaps.”

“As the Great Lord wishes,” Ordeith said blandly.

The grimace on Carridin’s face as he strode through the halls of the Fortress made other men avoid him, though in truth few sought the company of Questioners. Servants, hurrying about their tasks, tried to fade into the stone walls, and even men with golden knots of rank on their white cloaks took side corridors when they saw his face.

He flung open the door to his rooms and slammed it behind him, feeling none of the usual satisfaction at the fine carpets from Tarabon and Tear in lush reds and golds and blues, the beveled mirrors from Illian, the gold-leaf work on the long, intricately carved table in the middle of the floor. A master craftsman from Lugard had worked nearly a year on that. This time he barely saw it.

“Sharbon!” For once his body servant did not appear. The man was supposed to be readying the rooms. “The Light burn you, Sharbon! Where are you?”

A movement caught the corner of his eye, and he turned ready to shrivel Sharbon with his curses. The curses themselves shriveled as a Myrddraal took another step toward him with the sinuous grace of a serpent.

It was a man in form, no larger than most, but there the resemblance ended. Dead black clothes and cloak, hardly seeming to stir as it moved, made its maggot-white skin appear ever paler. And it had no eyes. That eyeless gaze filled Carridin with fear, as it had filled thousands before.

“Wha....” Carridin stopped to work moisture back into his mouth, to try bringing his voice back down to its normal register. “What are you doing here?” It still sounded shrill.

The Halfman’s bloodless lips quirked in a smile. “Where there is shadow, there may I go.” Its voice sounded like a snake rustling through dead leaves. “I like to keep a watch on all those who serve me.”

“I ser....”

It was no use. With an effort Carridin jerked his eyes away from that smooth expanse of pale, pasty face and turned his back. A shiver ran down his spine, having his back to a Myrddraal. Everything was sharp in the mirror on the wall in front of him. Everything but the Halfman. The Myrddraal was an indistinct blur. Hardly soothing to look at, but better than meeting that stare. A little strength returned to Carridin’s voice.

“I serve the....” He cut off, suddenly aware of where he was. In the heart of the Fortress of the Light. The rumor of a whisper of the words he was about to say would have him given to the Hand of the Light. The lowest of the Children would strike him down on the spot if he heard. He was alone except for the Myrddraal, and perhaps Sharbon—Where is that cursed man? It would be good to have someone to share the Halfman’s stare, even if the other would have to be disposed of afterwards—but still he lowered his voice. “I serve the Great Lord of the Dark, as you do. We both serve.”

“If you wish to see it so.” The Myrddraal laughed, a sound that made Carridin’s bones shiver. “Still, I will know why you are here instead of on Almoth Plain.”

“I... I was commanded here by word of the Lord Captain Commander.”

The Myrddraal grated, “Your Lord Captain Commander’s words are dung! You were commanded to find the human called Rand al’Thor and kill him. That before all else. Above all else! Why are you not obeying?”

Carridin took a deep breath. That gaze on his back felt like a knife blade grating along his spine. “Things... have changed. Some matters are not as much in my control as they were.” A harsh, scraping noise jerked his head around.

The Myrddraal was drawing a hand across the tabletop, and thin tendrils of wood curled away from its fingernails. “Nothing has changed, human. You forswore your oaths to the Light and swore new oaths, and those oaths you will obey.”

Carridin started at the gouges marring the polished wood and swallowed hard. “I don’t understand. Why is it suddenly so important to kill him? I thought the Great Lord of the Dark meant to use him.”

“You question me? I should take your tongue. It is not your part to question. Or to understand. It is your part to obey! You will give dogs lessons in obedience. Do you understand that? Heel, dog, and obey your master.”

Anger wormed its way through the fear, and Carridin’s hand groped at his side, but his sword was not there. It lay in the next room now, where he had left it on going to attend Pedron Niall.

The Myrddraal moved faster than a striking viper. Carridin opened his mouth to scream as its hand closed on his wrist in a crushing grip; bones grated together, sending jolts of agony up his arm. The scream never left his mouth, though, for the Halfman’s other hand gripped his chin and forced his jaws shut. His heels rose up, and then his toes left the floor. Grunting and gurgling, he dangled in the Myrddraal’s grasp.

“Hear me, human. You will find this youth and kill him as quickly as possible. Do not think you can dissemble. There are others of your children who will tell me if you turn aside in your purpose. But I will give you this to encourage you. If this Rand al’Thor is not dead in a month, I will take one of your blood. A son, a daughter, a sister, an uncle. You will not know who until the chosen has died screaming. If he lives another month, I will take another. And then another, and another. And when there is no one of your blood living except yourself, if he still lives, I will take you to Shayol Ghul itself.” It smiled. “You will be years in the dying, human. Do you understand me, now?”

Carridin made a sound, half groan, half whimper. He thought his neck was going to break.

With a snarl, the Myrddraal hurled him across the room. Carridin slammed against the far wall and slid to the rug, stunned. Facedown, he lay fighting for breath.

“Do you understand me, human?”

“I... I hear and obey,” Carridin managed into the carpet. There was no answer.

He turned his head, wincing at the pain in his neck. The room was empty except for him. Halfmen rode shadows like horses, so the legends said, and when they turned sideways, they disappeared. No wall could keep them out. Carridin wanted to weep. He levered himself up, cursing the jolt of pain from his wrist.

The door opened, and Sharbon hurried in, a plump man with a basket in his arms. He stopped to stare at Carridin. “Master, are you all right? Forgive me for not being here, master, but I went to buy fruits for your—”

With his good hand Carridin struck the basket from Sharbon’s hands, sending withered winter apples rolling across the carpets, and backhanded the man across the face.

“Forgive me, master,” Sharbon whispered.

“Fetch me paper and pen and ink,” Carridin snarled. “Hurry, fool! I must send orders.” But which? Which? As Sharbon scurried to obey, Carridin stared at the gouges in the tabletop and shivered.


The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Down long valleys the wind swept, valleys blue with morning mist hanging in the air, some forested with evergreens, some bare where grasses and wildflowers would soon spring up. It howled across half-buried ruins and broken monuments, all as forgotten as those who had built them. It moaned in the passes, weatherworn cuts between peaks capped with snow that never melted. Thick clouds clung to the mountaintops so that snow and white billows seemed one.

In the lowlands winter was going or gone, yet here in the heights it held awhile, quilting the mountainsides with broad, white patches. Only evergreens clung to leaf or needle; all other branches stood bare, brown or gray against the rock and not yet quickened ground. There was no sound but the crisp rush of wind over snow and stone. The land seemed to be waiting. Waiting for something to burst.

Sitting his horse just inside a thicket of leatherleaf and pine, Perrin Aybara shivered and tugged his fur-lined cloak closer, as close as he could with a longbow in one hand and a great, half-moon axe at his belt. It was a good axe of cold steel; Perrin had pumped the bellows the day master Luhhan had made it. The wind jerked at his cloak, pulling the hood back from his shaggy curls, and cut through his coat; he wiggled his toes in his boots for warmth and shifted on his high-cantled saddle, but his mind was not really on the cold. Eyeing his five companions, he wondered if they, too, felt it. Not the waiting they had been sent there for, but something more.

Stepper, his horse, shifted and tossed his head. He had named the dun stallion for his quick feet, but now Stepper seemed to feel his rider’s irritation and impatience. I am tired of all this waiting, all this sitting while Moiraine holds us as tight as tongs. Burn the Aes Sedai! When will it end?

He sniffed the wind without thinking. The smell of horse predominated, and of men and men’s sweat. A rabbit had gone through those trees not long since, fear powering its run, but the fox on its trail had not killed there. He realized what he was doing, and stopped it. You’d think I would get a stuffed nose with all this wind. He almost wished he did have one. And I wouldn’t let Moiraine do anything about it, either.

Something tickled the back of his mind. He refused to acknowledge it. He did not mention his feeling to his companions.

The other five men sat their saddles, short horsebows at the ready, eyes searching the sky above as well as the thinly treed slopes below. They seemed unperturbed by the wind flaring their cloaks out like banners. A two-handed sword hilt stuck up above each man’s shoulder through a slit in his cloak. The sight of their bare heads, shaven except for topknots, made Perrin feel colder. For them, this weather was already well into spring. All softness had been hammered out of them at a harder forge than he had ever known. They were Shienarans, from the Borderlands up along the Great Blight, where Trolloc raids could come in any night, and even a merchant or a farmer might well have to take up sword or bow. And these men were no farmers, but soldiers almost from birth.

He sometimes wondered at the way they deferred to him and followed his lead. It was as if they thought he had some special right, some knowledge hidden from them. Or maybe it’s just my friends, he thought wryly. They were not as tall as he, nor as big—years as a blacksmith’s apprentice had given him arms and shoulders to make two of most men’s—but he had begun shaving every day to stop their jokes about his youth. Friendly jokes, but still jokes. He would not have them start again because he spoke of a feeling.

With a start, Perrin reminded himself that he was supposed to be keeping watch, too. Checking the arrow nocked to his longbow, he peered down the valley running off to the west, widening as it fell away, the ground streaked with broad, twisted ribbons of snow, remnants of winter. Most of the scattered trees down there still clawed the sky with stark winter branches, but enough evergreens—pine and leatherleaf, fir and mountain holly, even a few towering greenwoods—stood on the slopes and the valley floor to give cover for anyone who knew how to use it. But no one would be there without a special purpose. The mines were all far to the south or even further north; most people thought there was ill luck in the Mountains of Mist, and few entered them who could avoid it. Perrin’s eyes glittered like burnished gold.

The tickling became an itch. No!

He could push the itch aside, but the expectation would not go. As if he teetered on a brink. As if everything teetered. He wondered whether something unpleasant lay in the mountains around them. There was a way to know, perhaps. In places like this, where men seldom came, there were almost always wolves. He crushed the thought before it had a chance to firm. Better to wonder. Better than that. Their numbers were not many, but they had scouts. If there was anything out there, the outriders would find it. This is my forge; I’ll tend it, and let them tend theirs.

He could see further than the others, so he was first to spot the rider coming from the direction of Tarabon. Even to him the rider was only a spot of bright colors on horseback winding its way through the trees in the distance, now seen, now hidden. A piebald horse, he thought. And not before time! He opened his mouth to announce her—it would be a woman; each rider before had been—when Masema suddenly muttered, “Raven!” like a curse.

Perrin jerked his head up. A big black bird was quartering over the treetops no more than a hundred paces away. Its quarry might have been carrion dead in the snow or some small animal, yet Perrin could not take the chance. It did not seem to have seen them, but the oncoming rider would soon be in its sight. Even as he spotted the raven, his bow came up, and he drew—fletchings to cheek, to ear—and loosed, all in one smooth motion. He was dimly aware of the slap of bowstrings beside him, but his attention was all on the black bird.

Of a sudden it cartwheeled in a shower of midnight feathers as his arrow found it, and tumbled from the sky as two more arrows streaked through the place where it had been. Bows half-drawn, the other Shienarans searched the sky to see if it had a companion.

“Does it have to report,” Perrin asked softly, “or does... he... see what it sees?” He had not meant anyone to hear, but Ragan, the youngest of the Shienarans, less than ten years his elder, answered as he fitted another arrow to his short bow.

“It has to report. To a Halfman, usually.” In the Borderlands there was a bounty on ravens; no one there ever dared assume any raven was just a bird. “Light, if Heartsbane saw what the ravens saw, we would all have been dead before we reached the mountains.” Ragan’s voice was easy; it was a matter of every day to a Shienaran soldier.

Perrin shivered, not from the cold, and in the back of his head something snarled a challenge to the death. Heartsbane. Different names in different lands—Soulsbane and Heartfang, Lord of the Grave and Lord of the Twilight—and everywhere Father of Lies and the Dark One, all to avoid giving him his true name and drawing his attention. The Dark One often used ravens and crows, rats in the cities. Perrin drew another broadhead arrow from the quiver on his hip that balanced the axe on the other side.

“That may be as big as a club,” Ragan said admiringly, with a glance at Perrin’s bow, “but it can shoot. I would hate to see what it could do to a man in armor.” The Shienarans wore only light mail, now, under their plain coats, but usually they fought in armor, man and horse alike.

“Too long for horseback,” Masema sneered. The triangular scar on his dark cheek twisted his contemptuous grin even more. “A good breastplate will stop even a pile arrow except at close range, and if your first shot fails, the man you’re shooting at will carve your guts out.”

“That is just it, Masema.” Ragan relaxed a bit as the sky remained empty. The raven must have been alone. “With this Two Rivers bow, I’ll wager you don’t have to be so close.” Masema opened his mouth.

“You two stop flapping your bloody tongues!” Uno snapped. With a long scar down the left side of his face and that eye gone, his features were hard, even for a Shienaran. He had acquired a painted eyepatch on their way into the mountains during the autumn; a permanently frowning eye in a fiery red did nothing to make his stare easier to face. “If you can’t keep your bloody minds on the bloody task at hand, I’ll see if extra flaming guard duty tonight will bloody settle you.” Ragan and Masema subsided under his stare. He gave them a last scowl that faded as he turned to Perrin. “Do you see anything yet?” His tone was a little gruffer than he might have used with a commander put over him by the King of Shienar, or the Lord of Fal Dara, yet there was something in it of readiness to do whatever Perrin suggested.

The Shienarans knew how far he could see, but they seemed to take it as a matter of course, that and the color of his eyes, as well. They did not know everything, not by half, but they accepted him as he was. As they thought he was. They seemed to accept everything and anything. The world was changing, they said. Everything spun on the wheels of chance and change. If a man had eyes a color no man’s eyes had ever been, what did it matter, now?

“She’s coming,” Perrin said. “You should just see her now. There.” He pointed, and Uno strained forward, his one real eye squinting, then finally nodded doubtfully.

“There’s bloody something moving down there.” Some of the others nodded and murmured, too. Uno glared at them, and they went back to studying the sky and the mountains.

Suddenly Perrin realized what the bright colors on the distant rider meant. A vivid green skirt peeking out beneath a bright red cloak. “She’s one of the Traveling People,” he said, startled. No one else he had ever heard of dressed in such brilliant colors and odd combinations, not by choice.

The women they had sometimes met and guided even deeper into the mountains included every sort: a beggar woman in rags struggling afoot through a snowstorm; a merchant by herself leading a string of laden packhorses; a lady in silks and fine furs, with red-tasseled reins on her palfrey and gold worked on her saddle. The beggar departed with a purse of silver—more than Perrin thought they could afford to give, until the lady left an even fatter purse of gold. Women from every station in life, all alone, from Tarabon, and Ghealdan, and even Amadicia. But he had never expected to see one of the Tuatha’an.

“A bloody Tinker?” Uno exclaimed. The others echoed his surprise.

Ragan’s topknot waved as he shook his head. “A Tinker wouldn’t be mixed in this. Either she’s not a Tinker, or she is not the one we are supposed to meet.”

“Tinkers,” Masema growled. “Useless cowards.”

Uno’s eye narrowed until it looked like the pritchel hole of an anvil; with the red painted eye on his patch, it gave him a villainous look. “Cowards, Masema?” he said softly. “If you were a woman, would you have the flaming nerve to ride up here, alone and bloody unarmed?” There was no doubt she would be unarmed if she was of the Tuatha’an. Masema kept his mouth shut, but the scar on his cheek stood out tight and pale.

“Burn me, if I would,” Ragan said. “And burn me if you would either, Masema.” Masema hitched at his cloak and ostentatiously searched the sky.

Uno snorted. “The Light send that flaming carrion eater was flaming alone,” he muttered.

Slowly the shaggy brown-and-white mare meandered closer, picking a way along the clear ground between broad snowbanks. Once the brightly clad woman stopped to peer at something on the ground, then tugged the cowl of her cloak further over her head and heeled her mount forward in a slow walk. The raven, Perrin thought. Stop looking at that bird and come on, woman. Maybe you’ve brought the word that finally takes us out of here. If Moiraine means to let us leave before spring. Burn her! For a moment he was not sure whether he meant the Aes Sedai, or the Tinker woman who seemed to be taking her own time.

If she kept on as she was, the woman would pass a good thirty paces to one side of the thicket. With her eyes fixed on where her piebald stepped, she gave no sign that she had seen them among the trees.

Perrin nudged the stallion’s flanks with his heels, and the dun leaped ahead, sending up sprays of snow with his hooves. Behind him, Uno quietly gave the command, “Forward!”

Stepper was halfway to her before she seemed to become aware of them, and then she jerked her mare to a halt with a start. She watched as they formed an arc centered on her. Embroidery of eye-wrenching blue, in the pattern called a Tairen maze, made her red cloak even more garish. She was not young—gray showed thick in her hair where it was not hidden by her cowl—but her face had few lines, other than the disapproving frown she ran over their weapons. If she was alarmed at meeting armed men in the heart of mountain wilderness, though, she gave no sign. Her hands rested easily on the high pommel of her worn but well-kept saddle. And she did not smell afraid.

Stop that! Perrin told himself. He made his voice soft so as not to frighten her. “My name is Perrin, good mistress. If you need help, I will do what I can. If not, go with the Light. But unless the Tuatha’an have changed their ways, you are far from your wagons.”

She studied them a moment more before speaking. There was a gentleness in her dark eyes, not surprising in one of the Traveling People. “I seek an... a woman.”

The skip was small, but it was there. She sought not any woman, but an Aes Sedai. “Does she have a name, good mistress?” Perrin asked. He had done this too many times in the last few months to need her reply, but iron was spoiled for want of care.

“She is called.... Sometimes, she is called Moiraine. My name is Leya.”

Perrin nodded. “We will take you to her, Mistress Leya. We have warm fires, and with luck something hot to eat.” But he did not lift his reins immediately. “How did you find us?” He had asked before, each time Moiraine sent him out to wait at a spot she named, for a woman she knew would come. The answer would be the same as it always was, but he had to ask.

Leya shrugged and answered hesitantly. “I... knew that if I came this way, someone would find me and take me to her. I... just... knew. I have news for her.”

Perrin did not ask what news. The women gave the information they brought only to Moiraine.

And the Aes Sedai tells us what she chooses. He thought. Aes Sedai never lied, but it was said that the truth an Aes Sedai told you was not always the truth you thought it was. Too late for qualms, now. Isn’t it?

“This way, Mistress Leya,” he said, gesturing up the mountain. The Shienarans, with Uno at their head, fell in behind Perrin and Leya as they began to climb. The Borderlanders still studied the sky as much as the land, and the last two kept a special watch on their backtrail.

For a time they rode in silence except for the sounds the horses’ hooves made, sometimes crunching through old snowcrust, sometimes sending rocks clattering as they crossed bare stretches. Now and again Leya cast glances at Perrin, at his bow, his axe, his face, but she did not speak. He shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny, and avoided looking at her. He always tried to give strangers as little chance to notice his eyes as he could manage.

Finally he said, “I was surprised to see one of the Traveling People, believing as you do.”

“It is possible to oppose evil without doing violence.” Her voice held the simplicity of someone stating an obvious truth.

Perrin grunted sourly, then immediately muttered an apology. “Would it were as you say, Mistress Leya.”

“Violence harms the doer as much as the victim,” Leya said placidly. “That is why we flee those who harm us, to save them from harm to themselves as much for our own safety. If we do violence to oppose evil, soon we would be no different from what we struggle against. It is with the strength of our belief that we fight the Shadow.”

Perrin could not help snorting. “Mistress, I hope you never have to face Trollocs with the strength of your belief. The strength of their swords will cut you down where you stand.”

“It is better to die than to—” she began, but anger made him speak right over her. Anger that she just would not see. Anger that she really would die rather than harm anyone, no matter how evil.

“If you run, they will hunt you, and kill you, and eat your corpse. Or they might not wait till it is a corpse. Either way, you are dead, and it’s evil that has won. And there are men just as cruel. Darkfriends and others. More others than I would have believed even a year ago. Let the White-cloaks decide you Tinkers don’t walk in the Light and see how many of you the strength of your belief can keep alive.”

She gave him a penetrating look. “And yet you are not happy with your weapons.”

How did she know that? He shook his head irritably, shaggy hair swaying. “The Creator made the world,” he muttered, “not I. I must live the best I can in the world the way it is.”

“So sad for one so young,” she said softly. “Why so sad?”

“I should be watching, not talking,” he said curtly. “You won’t thank me if I get you lost.” He heeled Stepper forward enough to cut off any further conversation, but he could feel her looking at him. Sad? I’m not sad, just.... Light, I don’t know. There ought to be a better way, that’s all. The itching tickle came again at the back of his head, but absorbed in ignoring Leya’s eyes on his back, he ignored that, too.

Over the slope of the mountain and down they rode, across a forested valley with a broad stream running cold along its bottom, knee-deep on the horses. In the distance, the side of a mountain had been carved into the semblance of two towering forms. A man and a woman, Perrin thought they might be, though wind and rain had long since made that uncertain. Even Moiraine claimed to be unsure who they were supposed to be, or when the granite had been cut.

Pricklebacks and small trout darted away from the horses’ hooves, silver flashes in the clear water. A deer raised its head from browsing, hesitated as the party rode up out of the stream, then bounded off into the trees, and a large mountain cat, gray striped and spotted with black, seemed to rise out of the ground, frustrated in its stalk. It eyed the horses a moment, and with a lash of its tail vanished after the deer. But there was little life visible in the mountains yet. Only a handful of birds perched on limbs or pecked at the ground where the snow had melted. More would return to the heights in a few weeks, but not yet. They saw no other ravens.

It was late afternoon by the time Perrin led them between two steep-sloped mountains, snowy peaks as ever wrapped in cloud, and turned up a smaller stream that splashed downward over gray stones in a series of tiny waterfalls. A bird called in the trees, and another answered it from ahead.

Perrin smiled. Bluefinch calls. A Borderland bird. No one rode this way without being seen. He rubbed his nose, and did not look at the tree the first “bird” had called from.

Their path narrowed as they rode up through scrubby leatherleaf and a few gnarled mountain oaks. The ground level enough to ride beside the stream became barely wider than a man on horseback, and the stream itself no more than a tall man could step across.

Perrin heard Leya behind him, murmuring to herself. When he looked over his shoulder, she was casting worried glances up the steep slopes to either side. Scattered trees perched precariously above them. It appeared impossible they would not fall. The Shienarans rode easily, at last beginning to relax.

Abruptly a deep, oval bowl between the mountains opened out before them, its sides steep but not nearly so precipitous as the narrow passage. The stream rose from a small spring at its far end. Perrin’s sharp eyes picked out a man with the topknot of a Shienaran, up in the limbs of an oak to his left. Had a redwinged jay called instead of a bluefinch, he would not have been alone, and the way in would not have been so easy. A handful of men could hold that passage against an army. If an army came, a handful would have to.

Among the trees around the bowl stood log huts, not readily visible, so that those gathered around the cook fires at the bottom of the bowl seemed at first to be without shelter. There were fewer than a dozen in sight. And not many more out of sight, Perrin knew. Most of them looked around at the sound of horses, and some waved. The bowl seemed filled with the smells of men and horses, of cooking and burning wood. A long white banner hung limply from a tall pole near them. One form, at least half again as tall as anyone else, sat on a log engrossed in a book that was small in his huge hands. That one’s attention never wavered, even when the only other person without a topknot shouted, “So you found her, did you? I thought you’d be gone the night, this time.” It was a young woman’s voice, but she wore a boy’s coat and breeches and had her hair cut short.

A burst of wind swirled into the bowl, making cloaks flap and rippling the banner out to its full length. For a moment the creature on it seemed to ride the wind. A four-legged serpent scaled in gold and scarlet, golden maned like a lion, and its feet each tipped with five golden claws. A banner of legend. A banner most men would not know if they saw it, but would fear when they learned its name.

Perrin waved a hand that took it all in as he led the way down into the bowl. “Welcome to the camp of the Dragon Reborn, Leya.”


Face expressionless, the Tuatha’an woman stared at the banner as it drooped again, then turned her attention to those around the fire. Especially the one reading, the one half again as tall as Perrin and twice as big. “You have an Ogier with you. I would not have thought....”She shook her head. “Where is Moiraine Sedai?” It seemed the Dragon banner might as well not exist as far as she was concerned.

Perrin gestured toward the rough hut that stood furthest up the slope, at the far end of the bowl. With walls and sloping roof of unpeeled logs, it was the largest, though not very big at that. Perhaps just barely large enough to be called a cabin rather than a hut. “That one is hers. Hers and Lan’s. He is her Warder. When you have had something hot to drink—”

“No. I must speak to Moiraine.”

He was not surprised. All the women who came insisted on speaking to Moiraine immediately, and alone. The news that Moiraine chose to share with the rest of them did not always seem very important, but the women held the intensity of a hunter stalking the last rabbit in the world for his starving family. The half-frozen old beggar woman had refused blankets and a plate of hot stew and tramped up to Moiraine’s hut, barefoot in still-falling snow.

Leya slid from her saddle and handed the reins up to Perrin. “Will you see that she is fed?” She patted the piebald mare’s nose. “Piesa is not used to carrying me over such rugged country.”

“Fodder is scarce, still,” Perrin told her, “but she’ll have what we can give her.”

Leya nodded, and went hurrying away up the slope without another word, holding her bright green skirts up, the blue-embroidered red cloak swaying behind her.

Perrin swung down from his saddle, exchanging a few words with the men who came from the fires to take the horses. He gave his bow to the one who took Stepper. No, except for one raven, they had seen nothing but the mountains and the Tuatha’an woman. Yes, the raven was dead. No, she had told them nothing of what was happening outside the mountains. No, he had no idea whether they would be leaving soon.

Or ever, he added to himself. Moiraine had kept them there all winter. The Shienarans did not think she gave the orders, not here, but Perrin knew that Aes Sedai somehow always seemed to get their way. Especially Moiraine.

Once the horses were led away to the rude log stable, the riders went to warm themselves. Perrin tossed his cloak back over his shoulders and held his hands out to the flames gratefully. The big kettle, Baerlon work by the look of it, gave off smells that had been making his mouth water for some time already. Someone had been lucky hunting today, it seemed, and lumpy roots circled another fire close by, giving off an aroma faintly like turnips as they roasted. He wrinkled his nose and concentrated on the stew. More and more he wanted meat above anything else.

The woman in men’s clothes was peering toward Leya, who was just disappearing into Moiraine’s hut.

“What do you see, Min?” he asked.

She came to stand beside him, her dark eyes troubled. He did not understand why she insisted on breeches instead of skirts. Perhaps it was because he knew her, but he could not see how anyone could look at her and see a too-handsome youth instead of a pretty young woman.

“The Tinker woman is going to die,” she said softly, eyeing the others near the fires. None was close enough to hear.

He was still, thinking of Leya’s gentle face. Ah, Light! Tinkers never harm anyone! He felt cold despite the warmth of the fire. Burn me, I wish I’d never asked. Even the few Aes Sedai who knew of it did not understand what Min did. Sometimes she saw images and auras surrounding people, and sometimes she even knew what they meant.

Masuto came to stir the stew with a long wood spoon. The Shienaran eyed them, then laid a finger alongside his long nose and grinned widely before he left.

“Blood and ashes!” Min muttered. “He’s probably decided we are sweethearts murmuring to each other by the fire.”

“Are you sure?” Perrin asked. She raised her eyebrows at him, and he hastily added, “About Leya.”

“Is that her name? I wish I didn’t know. It always makes it worse, knowing and not being able to.... Perrin, I saw her own face floating over her shoulder, covered in blood, eyes staring. It’s never any clearer than that.” She shivered and rubbed her hands together briskly. “Light, but I wish I saw more happy things. All the happy things seem to have gone away.”

He opened his mouth to suggest warning Leya, then closed it again. There was never any doubt about what Min saw and knew, for good or bad. If she was certain, it happened.

“Blood on her face,” he muttered. “Does that mean she’ll die by violence?” He winced that he said it so easily. But what can I do? If I tell Leya, if I make her believe somehow, she’ll live her last days in fear, and it will change nothing.

Min gave a short nod.

If she’s going to die by violence, it could mean an attack on the camp. But there were scouts out every day, and guards set day and night. And Moiraine had the camp warded, so she said; no creature of the Dark One would see it unless he walked right into it. He thought of the wolves. No! The scouts would find anyone or anything trying to approach the camp. “It’s a long way back to her people,” he said half to himself. “Tinkers wouldn’t have brought their wagons any further than the foothills. Anything could happen between here and there.”

Min nodded sadly. “And there aren’t enough of us to spare even one guard for her. Even if it would do any good.”

She had told him; she had tried warning people about bad things when, at six or seven, she had first realized not everyone could see what she saw. She would not say more, but he had the impression that her warnings had only made matters worse, when they were believed at all. It took some doing to believe in Min’s viewings until you had proof.

“When?” he said. The word was cold in his ears, and hard as tool steel. I can’t do anything about Leya, but maybe I can figure out whether we’re going to be attacked.

As soon as the word was out of his mouth, she threw up her hands. She kept her voice down, though. “It isn’t like that. I can never tell when something is going to happen. I only know it will, if I even know what I see means. You don’t understand. The seeing doesn’t come when I want it to, and neither does knowing. It just happens, and sometimes I know. Something. A little bit. It just happens.” He tried to get a soothing word in, but she was letting it all out in a flood he could not stem. “I can see things around a man one day and not the next, or the other way ’round. Most of the time, I don’t see anything around anyone. Aes Sedai always have images around them, of course, and Warders, though it’s always harder to say what it means with them than with anyone else.” She gave Perrin a searching look, half squinting. “A few others always do, too.”

“Don’t tell me what you see when you look at me,” he said harshly, then shrugged his heavy shoulders. Even as a child he had been bigger than most of the others, and he had quickly learned how easy it was to hurt people by accident when you were bigger than they. It had made him cautious and careful, and regretful of his anger when he let it show. “I am sorry, Min. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I did not mean to hurt you.”

She gave him a surprised look. “You didn’t hurt me. Blessed few people want to know what I see. The Light knows, I would not, if it were someone else who could do it.” Even the Aes Sedai had never heard of anyone else who had her gift. “Gift” was how they saw it, even if she did not.

“It’s just that I wish there were something I could do about Leya. I couldn’t stand it the way you do, knowing and not able to do anything.”

“Strange,” she said softly, “how you seem to care so much about the Tuatha’an. They are utterly peaceful, and I always see violence around—”

He turned his head away, and she cut off abruptly.

“Tuatha’an?” came a rumbling voice, like a huge bumblebee. “What about the Tuatha’an?” The Ogier came to join them at the fire, marking his place in his book with a finger the size of a large sausage. A thin streamer of tabac smoke rose from the pipe in his other hand. His high-necked coat of dark brown wool buttoned up to the neck, and flared at the knee over turned-down boot tops. Perrin stood hardly as high as his chest.

Loial’s face had frightened more than one person, with his nose broad enough almost to be called a snout and his too-wide mouth. His eyes were the size of saucers, with thick eyebrows that dangled like mustaches almost to his cheeks, and his ears poked up through long hair in tufted points. Some who had never seen an Ogier took him for a Trolloc, though Trollocs were as much legend to most of them as Ogier.

Loial’s wide smile wavered and his eyes blinked as he became aware of having interrupted them. Perrin wondered how anyone could be frightened of the Ogier for long. Yet some of the old stories call them fierce, and implacable as enemies. He could not believe it. Ogier were enemies to no one.

Min told Loial of Leya’s arrival, but not of what she had seen. She was usually closemouthed about those seeings, especially when they were bad. Instead, she added, “You should know how I feel, Loial, suddenly caught up by Aes Sedai and these Two Rivers folk.”

Loial made a noncommittal sound, but Min seemed to take it for agreement.

“Yes,” she said emphatically. “There I was, living my life in Baerlon as I liked it, when suddenly I was grabbed up by the scruff of the neck and jerked off to the Light knows where. Well, I might as well have been. My life has not been my own since I met Moiraine. And these Two Rivers farmboys.” She rolled her eyes at Perrin, a wry twist to her mouth. “All I wanted was to live as I pleased, fall in love with a man I chose....” Her cheeks reddened suddenly, and she cleared her throat. “I mean to say, what is wrong with wanting to live your life without all this upheaval?”

“Ta’veren,” Loial began. Perrin waved at him to stop, but the Ogier could seldom be slowed, much less stopped, when one of his enthusiasms had him in its grip. He was accounted extremely hasty, by the Ogier way of looking at things. Loial pushed his book into a coat pocket and went on, gesturing with his pipe. “All of us, all of our lives, affect the lives of others, Min. As the Wheel of Time weaves us into the Pattern, the life-thread of each of us pulls and tugs at the life-threads around us. Ta’veren are the same, only much, much more so. They tug at the entire Pattern—for a time, at least—forcing it to shape around them. The closer you are to them, the more you are affected personally. It’s said that if you were in the same room with Artur Hawkwing, you could feel the Pattern rearranging itself. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve read that it was. But it doesn’t only work one way. Ta’veren themselves are woven to a tighter line than the rest of us, with fewer choices.”

Perrin grimaced. Bloody few of the ones that matter.

Min tossed her head. “I just wish they didn’t have to be so... so bloody ta’veren all the time. Ta’veren tugging on one side, and Aes Sedai meddling on the other. What chance does a woman have?”

Loial shrugged. “Very little, I suppose, as long as she stays close to ta’veren.

“As if I had a choice,” Min growled.

“It was your good fortune—or misfortune, if you see it that way—to fall in with not one, but three ta’veren. Rand, Mat, and Perrin. I myself count it very good fortune, and would even if they weren’t my friends. I think I might even....” The Ogier looked at them, suddenly shy, his ears twitching. “Promise you will not laugh? I think I might write a book about it. I have been taking notes.”

Min smiled, a friendly smile, and Loial’s ears pricked back up again. “That’s wonderful,” she told him. “But some of us feel as if we’re being danced about like puppets by these ta’veren.

“I didn’t ask for it,” Perrin burst out. “I did not ask for it.”

She ignored him. “Is that what happened to you, Loial? Is that why you travel with Moiraine? I know you Ogier almost never leave your stedding. Did one of these ta’veren tug you along with him?”

Loial became engrossed in a study of his pipe. “I just wanted to see the groves the Ogier planted,” he muttered. “Just to see the groves.” He glanced at Perrin as if asking for help, but Perrin only grinned.

Let’s see how the shoe nails onto your hoof. He did not know all of it, but he did know Loial had run away. He was ninety years old, but not yet old enough by Ogier standards to leave the stedding—going Outside, they called it—without the permission of the Elders. Ogier lived a very long time, as humans saw things. Loial said the Elders would not be best pleased when they put their hands on him again. He seemed intent on putting that moment off as long as possible.

There was a stir among the Shienarans, men getting to their feet. Rand was coming out of Moiraine’s hut.

Even at that distance Perrin could make him out clearly, a young man with reddish hair and gray eyes. He was of an age with Perrin, and would stand half a head taller if they were side by side, though Rand was more slender, if still broad across the shoulders. Embroidered golden thorns ran up the sleeves of his high-collared, red coat, and on the breast of his dark cloak stood the same creature as on the banner, the four-legged serpent with the golden mane. Rand and he had grown up together as friends. Are we still friends? Can we be? Now?

The Shienarans bowed as one, heads held up but hands to knees. “Lord Dragon,” Uno called, “we stand ready. Honor to serve.”

Uno, who could hardly say a sentence without a curse, spoke now with the deepest respect. The others echoed him. “Honor to serve.” Masema, who saw ill in everything, and whose eyes now shone with utter devotion; Ragan; all of them, awaiting a command if it were Rand’s pleasure to give one.

From the slope Rand stared down at them a moment, then turned and disappeared into the trees.

“He has been arguing with Moiraine again,” Min said quietly. “All day, this time.”

Perrin was not surprised, yet he still felt a small shock. Arguing with an Aes Sedai. All the childhood tales came back to him. Aes Sedai, who made thrones and nations dance to their hidden strings. Aes Sedai, whose gift always had a hook in it, whose price was always smaller than you could believe, yet always turned out to be greater than you could imagine. Aes Sedai, whose anger could break the ground and summon lightning. Some of the stories were untrue, he knew now. And at the same time, they did not tell the half.

“I had better go to him,” he said. “After they argue, he always needs someone to talk to.” And aside from Moiraine and Lan, there were only the three of them—Min, Loial, and him—who did not stare at Rand as if he stood above kings. And of the three only Perrin knew him from before.

He strode up the slope, pausing only to glance at the closed door of Moiraine’s hut. Leya would be in there, and Lan. The Warder seldom let himself get far from the Aes Sedai’s side.

Rand’s much smaller hut was a little lower down, well hidden in the trees, away from all the rest. He had tried living down among the other men, but their constant awe drove him off. He kept to himself, now. Too much to himself, to Perrin’s thinking. But he knew Rand was not headed to his hut now.

Perrin hurried on to where one side of the bowl-shaped valley suddenly became sheer cliff, fifty paces high and smooth except for tough brush clinging tenaciously here and there. He knew exactly where a crack in the gray rock wall lay, an opening hardly wider than his shoulders. With only a ribbon of late-afternoon light overhead, it was like walking down a tunnel.

Half a mile the crack ran, abruptly opening out into a narrow vale, less than a mile long, its floor covered with rocks and boulders, and even the steep slopes were thickly forested with tall leatherleaf and pine and fir. Long shadows stretched away from the sun sitting on the mountaintops. The walls of this place were unbroken save for the crack, and as steep as if a giant axe had buried itself in the mountains. It could be even more easily defended by a few than the bowl, but it had neither stream nor spring. No one went there. Except Rand, after he argued with Moiraine.

Rand stood not far from the entrance, leaning against the rough trunk of a leatherleaf, staring at the palms of his hands. Perrin knew that on each there was a heron, branded into the flesh. Rand did not move when Perrin’s boot scraped on stone.

Suddenly Rand began to recite softly, never looking up from his hands.

“Twice and twice shall he be marked,twice to live, and twice to die.Once the heron, to set his path.Twice the heron, to name him true.Once the Dragon, for remembrance lost.Twice the Dragon, for the price he must pay.”With a shudder he tucked his hands under his arms. “But no Dragons, yet.” He chuckled roughly. “Not yet.”

For a moment Perrin simply looked at him. A man who could channel the One Power. A man doomed to go mad from the taint on saidin, the male half of the True Source, and certain to destroy everything around him in his madness. A man—a thing!—everyone was taught to loathe and fear from childhood. Only... it was hard to stop seeing the boy he had grown up with. How do you just stop being somebody’s friend? Perrin chose a small boulder with a flat top, and sat, waiting.

After a while Rand turned his head to look at him. “Do you think Mat is all right? He looked so sick, the last I saw him.”

“He must be all right by now.” He should be in Tar Valon, by now. They’ll Heal him, there. And Nynaeve and Egwene will keep him out of trouble. Egwene and Nynaeve, Rand and Mat and Perrin. All five from Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers. Few people had come into the Two Rivers from outside, except for occasional peddlers, and merchants once a year to buy wool and tabac. Almost no one had ever left. Until the Wheel chose out its ta’veren, and five simple country folk could stay where they were no longer. Could be what they had been no longer.

Rand nodded and was silent.

“Lately,” Perrin said, “I find myself wishing I was still a blacksmith. Do you.... Do you wish you were still just a shepherd?”

“Duty,” Rand muttered. “Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain. That’s what they say in Shienar. ‘The Dark One is stirring. The Last Battle is coming. And the Dragon Reborn has to face the Dark One in the Last Battle, or the Shadow will cover everything. The Wheel of Time broken. Every Age remade in the Dark One’s image.’ There’s only me.” He began to laugh mirthlessly, his shoulders shaking. “I have the duty, because there isn’t anybody else, now is there?”

Perrin shifted uneasily. The laughter had a raw edge that made his skin crawl. “I understand you were arguing with Moiraine again. The same thing?”

Rand drew a deep, ragged breath. “Don’t we always argue about the same thing? They’re down there, on Almoth Plain, and the Light alone knows where else. Hundreds of them. Thousands. They declared for the Dragon Reborn because I raised that banner. Because I let myself be called the Dragon. Because I could see no other choice. And they’re dying. Fighting, searching, and praying for the man who is supposed to lead them. Dying. And I sit here safe in the mountains all winter. I... I owe them... something.”

“You think I like it?” Perrin swung his head in irritation.

“You take whatever she says to you,” Rand grated. “You never stand up to her.”

“Much good it has done you, standing up to her. You have argued all winter, and we have sat here like lumps all winter.”

“Because she is right.” Rand laughed again, that chilling laugh. “The Light burn me, she is right. They are all split up into little groups all over the plain, all across Tarabon and Arad Doman. If I join any one of them, the Whitecloaks and the Domani army and the Taraboners will be on top of them like a duck on a beetle.”

Perrin almost laughed himself, in confusion. “If you agree with her, why in the Light do you argue all the time?”

“Because I have to do something. Or I’ll... I’ll—burst like a rotted melon!”

“Do what? If you listen to what she says—”

Rand gave him no chance to say they would sit there forever. “Moiraine says! Moiraine says!” Rand jerked erect, squeezing his head between his hands. “Moiraine has something to say about everything! Moiraine says I mustn’t go to the men who are dying in my name. Moiraine says I’ll know what to do next because the Pattern will force me to it. Moiraine says! But she never says how I’ll know. Oh, no! She doesn’t know that.” His hands fell to his sides, and he turned toward Perrin, head tilted and eyes narrowed. “Sometimes I feel as if Moiraine is putting me through my paces like a fancy Tairen stallion doing his steps. Do you ever feel that?”

Perrin scrubbed a hand through his shaggy hair. “I.... Whatever is pushing us, or pulling us, I know who the enemy is, Rand.”

“Ba’alzamon,” Rand said softly. An ancient name for the Dark One. In the Trolloc tongue, it meant Heart of the Dark. “And I must face him, Perrin.” His eyes closed in a grimace, half smile, half pain. “Light help me, half the time I want it to happen now, to be over and done with, and the other half.... How many times can I manage to.... Light, it pulls at me so. What if I can’t.... What if I....” The ground trembled.

“Rand?” Perrin said worriedly.

Rand shivered; despite the chill, there was sweat on his face. His eyes were still shut tight. “Oh, Light,” he groaned, “it pulls so.”

Suddenly the ground heaved beneath Perrin, and the valley echoed with a vast rumble. It seemed as if the ground was jerked out from under his feet. He fell—or the earth leaped up to meet him. The valley shook as though a vast hand had reached down from the sky to wrench it out of the land. He clung to the ground while it tried to bounce him like a ball. Pebbles in front of his eyes leaped and tumbled, and dust rose in waves.

“Rand!” His bellow was lost in the grumbling roar.

Rand stood with his head thrown back, his eyes still shut tight. He did not seem to feel the thrashing of the ground that had him now at one angle, now at another. His balance never shifted, no matter how he was tossed. Perrin could not be certain, being shaken as he was, but he thought Rand wore a sad smile. The trees flailed about, and the leatherleaf suddenly cracked in two, the greater part of its trunk crashing down not three paces from Rand. He noticed it no more than he noticed any of the rest.

Perrin struggled to fill his lungs. “Rand! For the love of the Light, Rand! Stop it!”

As abruptly as it had begun, it was done. A weakened branch cracked off of a stunted oak with a loud snap. Perrin got to his feet slowly, coughing. Dust hung in the air, sparkling motes in the rays of the setting sun.

Rand was staring at nothing, now, chest heaving as if he had run ten miles. This had never happened before, nor anything remotely like it.

“Rand,” Perrin said carefully, “what—?”

Rand still seemed to be looking into a far distance. “It is always there. Calling to me. Pulling at me. Saidin. The male half of the True Source. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from reaching out for it.” He made a motion of plucking something out of the air, and transferred his stare to his closed fist. “I can feel the taint even before I touch it. The Dark One’s taint, like a thin coat of vileness trying to hide the Light. It turns my stomach, but I cannot help myself. I cannot! Only sometimes, I reach out, and it’s like trying to catch air.” His empty hand sprang open, and he gave a bitter laugh. “What if that happens when the Last Battle comes? What if I reach out and catch nothing?”

“Well, you caught something that time,” Perrin said hoarsely. “What were you doing?”

Rand looked around as if seeing things for the first time. The fallen leatherleaf, and the broken branches. There was, Perrin realized, surprisingly little damage. He had expected gaping rents in the earth. The wall of trees looked almost whole.

“I did not mean to do this. It was as if I tried to open a tap, and instead pulled the whole tap out of the barrel. It... filled me. I had to send it somewhere before it burned me up, but I... I did not mean this.”

Perrin shook his head. What use to tell him to try not to do it again? He barely knows more about what he’s doing than I do. He contented himself with, “There are enough who want you dead—and the rest of us—without you doing the job for them.” Rand did not seem to be listening. “We had best get on back to the camp. It will be dark soon, and I don’t know about you, but I am hungry.”

“What? Oh. You go on, Perrin. I will be along. I want to be alone again a while.”

Perrin hesitated, then turned reluctantly toward the crack in the valley wall. He stopped when Rand spoke again.

“Do you have dreams when you sleep? Good dreams?”

“Sometimes,” Perrin said warily. “I don’t remember much of what I dream.” He had learned to set guards on his dreaming.

“They’re always there, dreams,” Rand said, so softly Perrin barely heard. “Maybe they tell us things. True things.” He fell silent, brooding.

“Supper’s waiting,” Perrin said, but Rand was deep in his own thoughts. Finally Perrin turned and left him standing there.

News from the Plain

Darkness shrouded part of the crack, for in one place the tremors had collapsed a part of the wall against the other side, high up. He stared up at the blackness warily before hurrying underneath, but the slab of stone seemed to be solidly wedged in place. The itch had returned to the back of his head, stronger than before. No, burn me! No! It went away.

When he came out above the camp, the bowl was filled with odd shadows from the sinking sun. Moiraine was standing outside her hut, peering up at the crack. He stopped short. She was a slender, dark-haired woman no taller than his shoulder, and pretty, with the ageless quality of all Aes Sedai who had worked with the One Power for a time. He could not put any age at all to her, with her face too smooth for many years and her dark eyes too wise for youth. Her dress of deep blue silk was disarrayed and dusty, and wisps stuck out in her usually well-ordered hair. A smudge of dust lay across her face.

He dropped his eyes. She knew about him—she and Lan alone, of those in the camp—and he did not like the knowing in her face when she looked into his eyes. Yellow eyes. Someday, perhaps, he could bring himself to ask her what she knew. An Aes Sedai must know more of it than he did. But this was not the time. There never seemed to be a time. “He.... He didn’t mean.... It was an accident.”

“An accident,” she said in a flat voice, then shook her head and vanished back inside the hut. The door banged shut a little loudly.

Perrin drew a deep breath and continued on down toward the cook fires. There would be another argument between Rand and the Aes Sedai, in the morning if not tonight.

Half a dozen trees lay toppled on the slopes of the bowl, roots ripped out of the earth in arcs of soil. A trail of scrapes and churned ground led down to the streamside and a boulder that had not been there before. One of the huts up the opposite slope had collapsed in the tremors, and most of the Shienarans were gathered around it, rebuilding it. Loial was with them. The Ogier could pick up a log it would take four men to lift. Uno’s curses occasionally drifted down.

Min stood by the fires, stirring a kettle with a disgruntled expression. There was a small bruise on her cheek, and a faint smell of burned stew hung in the air. “I hate cooking,” she announced, and peered doubtfully into the kettle. “If something goes wrong with it, it isn’t my fault. Rand spilled half of it on the fire with his.... What right does he have to bounce us around like sacks of grain?” She rubbed the seat of her breeches and winced. “When I get my hands on him, I’ll thump him so he never forgets.” She waved the wooden spoon at Perrin as if she intended to start the thumping with him.

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Only if you count bruises,” Min said grimly. “They were upset, all right, at first. Then they saw Moiraine staring off toward Rand’s hidey-hole, and decided it was his work. If the Dragon wants to shake the mountain down on our heads, then the Dragon must have a good reason for it. If he decided to make them take off their skins and dance in their bones, they would think it all right.” She snorted and rapped the spoon on the edge of the kettle.

He looked back toward Moiraine’s hut. If Leya had been hurt—if she were dead—the Aes Sedai would not simply have gone back inside. The sense of waiting was still there. Whatever it is, it hasn’t happened yet. “Min, maybe you had better go. First thing in the morning. I have some silver I can let you have, and I’m sure Moiraine would give you enough to take passage with a merchant’s train out of Ghealdan. You could be back in Baerlon before you know it.”

She looked at him until he began to wonder if he had said something wrong. Finally, she said, “That is very sweet of you, Perrin. But, no.”

“I thought you wanted to go. You’re always carrying on about having to stay here.”

“I knew an old Illianer woman; once,” she said slowly. “When she was young, her mother arranged a marriage for her with a man she had never even met. They do that down in Illian, sometimes. She said she spent the first five years raging against him, and the next five scheming to make his life miserable without his knowing who was to blame. It was only years later, she said, when he died, that she realized he really had been the love of her life.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with this.”

Her look said he obviously was not trying to understand, and her voice became overly patient. “Just because fate has chosen something for you instead of you choosing it for yourself doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Even if it’s something you are sure you would never have chosen in a hundred years. ‘Better ten days of love than years of regretting,’ ” she quoted.

“I understand that even less,” he told her. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

She hung the spoon on a tall forked stick stuck in the ground, then surprised him by rising on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “You are a very nice man, Perrin Aybara. Even if you don’t understand anything.”

Perrin blinked at her uncertainly. He wished that he could be certain Rand was in his right mind, or that Mat were there. He was never sure of his ground with girls, but Rand always seemed to know his way. So did Mat; most of the girls back home in Emond’s Field had sniffed that Mat would never grow up, but he had seemed to have a way with them.

“What about you, Perrin? Don’t you ever want to go home?”

“All the time,” he said fervently. “But I... I do not think I can. Not yet.” He looked off toward Rand’s vale. We are tied together, it seems, aren’t we, Rand? “Maybe not ever.” He thought he had said that too softly for her to hear, but the look she gave him was full of sympathy. And agreement.

His ears caught faint footsteps behind him, and he looked back up toward Moiraine’s hut. Two shapes were making their way down through the deepening twilight, one a woman, slender and graceful even on the rough, slanting ground. The man, head and shoulders taller than his companion, turned off toward where the Shienarans were working. Even to Perrin’s eyes he was indistinct, sometimes seeming to vanish altogether, then reappear in midstride, parts of him fading into the night and fading back as the wind gusted. Only a Warder’s shifting cloak could do that, which made the larger figure Lan, just as the smaller was certainly Moiraine.

Well behind them, another shape, even dimmer, slipped between the trees. Rand, Perrin thought, going back to his hut. Another night when he won’t eat because he can’t stand the way everybody looks at him.

“You must have eyes in the back of your head,” Min said, frowning toward the approaching woman. “Or else the sharpest ears I have ever heard of. Is that Moiraine?”

Careless. He had grown so used to the Shienarans knowing how well he could see—in daylight at least; they did not know about the night—that he was beginning to slip about other things. Carelessness might kill me yet.

“Is the Tuatha’an woman all right?” Min asked as Moiraine came to the fire.

“She is resting.” The Aes Sedai’s low voice had its usual musical quality, as if speaking were halfway to singing, and her hair and clothes were back in perfect order again. She rubbed her hands over the fire. There was a golden ring on her left hand, a serpent biting its own tail. The Great Serpent, an even older symbol for eternity than the Wheel of Time. Every woman trained in Tar Valon wore such a ring.

For a moment Moiraine’s gaze rested on Perrin, and seemed to penetrate too deeply. “She fell and split her scalp when Rand....” Her mouth tightened, but in the next instant her face was utter calm again. “I Healed her, and she is sleeping. There is always a good deal of blood with even a minor scalp wound, but it was not serious. Did you see anything about her, Min?”

Min looked uncertain. “I saw.... I thought I saw her death. Her own face, all over blood. I was sure I knew what it meant, but if she split her scalp.... Are you sure she is all right?” It was a measure of her discomfort that she asked. An Aes Sedai did not Heal and leave anything wrong that could be Healed. And Moiraine’s Talents were particularly strong in that area.

Min sounded so troubled that Perrin was surprised for a moment. Then he nodded to himself. She did not really like doing what she did, but it was a part of her; she thought she knew how it worked, or some of it, at least. If she was wrong, it would almost be like finding out she did not know how to use her own hands.

Moiraine considered her for a moment, serene and dispassionate. “You have never been wrong in any reading for me, not one about which I had any way of knowing. Perhaps this is the first time.”

“When I know, I know,” Min whispered obstinately. “Light help me, I do.”

“Or perhaps it is yet to come. She has a long way yet to travel, to return to her wagons, and she must ride through unsettled lands.”

The Aes Sedai’s voice was a cool song, uncaring. Perrin made an involuntary sound in his throat. Light, did I sound like that? I won’t let a death matter that little to me.

As if he had spoken aloud, Moiraine looked at him. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, Perrin. I told you long ago that we were in a war. We cannot stop just because some of us may die. Any of us may die before it is done. Leya’s weapons may not be the same as yours, but she knew that when she became part of it.”

Perrin dropped his eyes. That’s as may be, Aes Sedai, but I will never accept it the way you do.

Lan joined them across the fire, with Uno and Loial. The flames cast flickering shadows across the Warder’s face, making it seem more carved from stone even than it normally did, all hard planes and angles. His cloak was not much easier to look at in the firelight. Sometimes it seemed only a dark gray cloak, or black, but the gray and black appeared to crawl and change if you looked too closely, shades and shadows sliding across it, soaking into it. Other times, it looked as if Lan had somehow made a hole in the night and pulled darkness ’round his shoulders. Not at all an easy thing to watch, and not made any easier by the man who wore it.

Lan was tall and hard, broad-shouldered, with blue eyes like frozen mountain lakes, and he moved with a deadly grace that made the sword on his hip seem a part of him. It was not that he seemed merely capable of violence and death; this man had tamed violence and death and kept them in his pocket, ready to be loosed in a heartbeat, or embraced, should Moiraine give the word. Beside Lan, even Uno appeared less dangerous. There was a touch of gray in the Warder’s long hair, held back by a woven leather cord around his forehead, but younger men stepped back from confronting Lan—if they were wise.

“Mistress Leya has the usual news from Almoth Plain,” Moiraine said. “Everyone fighting everyone else. Villages burned. People fleeing in every direction. And Hunters have appeared on the plain, searching for the Horn of Valere.” Perrin shifted—the Horn was where no Hunter on Almoth Plain would find it; where he hoped no Hunter ever would find it—and she gave him a cool look before continuing. She did not like any of them to speak of the Horn. Except when she chose to, of course.

“She brought different news, as well. The Whitecloaks have perhaps five thousand men on Almoth Plain.”

Uno grunted. “That’s flamin’—uh, pardon, Aes Sedai. That must be half their strength. They’ve never committed so much to one place before.”

“Then I suppose all those who declared for Rand are dead or scattered,” Perrin muttered. “Or they soon will be. You were right, Moiraine.” He did not like the thought of Whitecloaks. He did not like the Children of the Light at all.

“That is what is odd,” Moiraine said. “Or the first part of it. The Children have announced that their purpose is to bring peace, which is not unusual for them. What is unusual is that while they are trying to force the Taraboners and the Domani back across their respective borders, they have not moved in any force against those who have declared for the Dragon.”

Min gave an exclamation of surprise. “Is she certain? That does not sound like any Whitecloaks I ever heard of.”

“There can’t be many blood—uh—many Tinkers left on the plain,” Uno said. His voice creaked from the strain of watching his language in front of an Aes Sedai. His real eye matched the frown of the painted one. “They don’t like to stay where there’s any kind of trouble, especially fighting. There can’t be enough of them to see everywhere.”

“There are enough for my purposes,” Moiraine said firmly. “Most have gone, but some few remained because I asked them to. And Leya is quite certain. Oh, the Children have snapped up some of the Dragonsworn, where there were only a handful gathered. But though they proclaim they will bring down this false Dragon, though they have a thousand men supposedly doing nothing but hunting him, they avoid contact with any party of as many as fifty Dragonsworn. Not openly, you understand, but there is always some delay, something that allows those they chase to slip away.”

“Then Rand can go down to them as he wants.” Loial blinked uncertainly at the Aes Sedai. The whole camp knew of her arguments with Rand. “The Wheel weaves a way for him.”

Uno and Lan opened their mouths at the same time, but the Shienaran gave way with a small bow. “More likely,” the Warder said, “it is some Whitecloak plot, though the Light burn me if I can see what it is. But when the Whitecloaks give me a gift, I search for the poisoned needle hidden in it.” Uno nodded grimly. “Besides which,” Lan added, “the Domani and the Taraboners are still trying as hard to kill the Dragonsworn as they are to kill each other.”

“And there is another thing,” Moiraine said. “Three young men have died in villages Mistress Leya’s wagons passed near.” Perrin noticed a flicker of Lan’s eyelid; for the Warder, it was as much a sign of surprise as a shout from another man. Lan had not expected her to tell this. Moiraine went on. “One died by poison, two by the knife. Each in circumstances where no one should have been able to come close unseen, but that is how it happened.” She peered into the flames. “All three young men were taller than most, and had light-colored eyes. Light eyes are uncommon on Almoth Plain, but I think it is very unlucky right now to be a tall young man with light eyes there.”

“How?” Perrin asked. “How could they be killed if no one could get close to them?”

“The Dark One has killers you don’t notice until it is too late,” Lan said quietly.

Uno gave a shiver. “The Soulless. I never heard of one south of the Borderlands before.”

“Enough of such talk,” Moiraine said firmly.

Perrin had questions—What in the Light are the Soulless? Are they like a Trolloc, or a Fade? What?—but he left them unasked. When Moiraine decided enough had been said about something, she would not talk of it anymore. And when she shut her mouth, you could not pry Lan’s open with an iron bar. The Shienarans followed her lead, too. No one wanted to anger an Aes Sedai.

“Light!” Min muttered, uneasily eyeing the deepening darkness around them. “You don’t notice them? Light!”

“So nothing has changed,” Perrin said glumly. “Not really. We cannot go down to the plain, and the Dark One wants us dead.”

“Everything changes,” Moiraine said calmly, “and the Pattern takes it all in. We must ride on the Pattern, not on the changes of a moment.” She looked at them each in turn, then said, “Uno, are you certain your scouts missed nothing suspicious? Even something small?”

“The Lord Dragon’s Rebirth has loosed the bonds of certainty, Moiraine Sedai, and there is never certainty if you fight Myrddraal, but I will stake my life that the scouts did as good a job as any Warder.” It was one of the longest speeches Perrin had ever heard out of Uno without any curses. There was sweat on the man’s forehead from the effort.

“We all may,” Moiraine said. “What Rand did might as well have been a fire on the mountaintop for any Myrddraal within ten miles.”

“Maybe...” Min began hesitantly. “Maybe you ought to set wards that will keep them out.” Lan gave her a hard stare. He sometimes questioned Moiraine’s decisions himself, though he seldom did so where anyone could overhear, but he did not approve of others doing the same. Min frowned right back at him. “Well, Myrddraal and Trollocs are bad enough, but at least I can see them. I don’t like the idea that one of these... these Soulless might sneak in here and slit my throat before I even noticed him.”

“The wards I set will hide us from the Soulless as well as from any other Shadowspawn,” Moiraine said. “When you are weak, as we are, the best choice is often to hide. If there is a Halfman close enough to have.... Well, to set wards that would kill them if they tried to enter camp is beyond my abilities, and even if I could, such a warding would only pen us here. Since it is not possible to set two kinds of warding at once, I leave the scouts and the guards—and Lan—to defend us, and use the one warding that may do some good.”

“I could make a circuit around the camp,” Lan said. “If there is anything out there that the scouts missed, I will find it.” It was not a boast, just a statement of fact. Uno even nodded agreement.

Moiraine shook her head. “If you are needed tonight, my Gaidin, it will be here.” Her gaze rose toward the dark mountains around them. “There is a feeling in the air.”

“Waiting.” The word left Perrin’s tongue before he could stop it. When Moiraine looked at him—into him—he wished he had it back.

“Yes,” she said. “Waiting. Make sure your guards are especially alert tonight, Uno.” There was no need to suggest that the men sleep with their weapons close at hand; Shienarans always did that. “Sleep well,” she added to them all, as if there were any chance of that now, and started back for her hut. Lan stayed long enough to spoon up three dishes of stew, then hurried after her, quickly swallowed by the night.

Perrin’s eyes shone golden as they followed the Warder through the darkness. “Sleep well,” he muttered. The smell of cooked meat suddenly made him queasy. “I have the third watch, Uno?” The Shienaran nodded. “Then I will try to take her advice.” Others were coming to the fires, and murmurs of conversation followed him up the slope.

He had a hut to himself, a small thing of logs barely tall enough to stand in, the chinks filled with dried mud. A rough bed, padded with pine boughs beneath a blanket, took up nearly half of it. Whoever had unsaddled his horse had also propped his bow just inside the door. He hung up his belt, with axe and quiver, on a peg, then stripped down to his smallclothes, shivering. The nights were cold still, but cold kept him from sleeping too deeply. In deep sleep, dreams came that he could not shake off.

For a time, with a single blanket over him, he lay staring at the log roof, shivering. Then sleep came, and with it, dreams.

Shadows Sleeping

Cold filled the common room of the inn despite the fire blazing on the long, stone hearth. Perrin rubbed his hands before the flames, but he could get no warmth in them. There was an odd comfort in the cold, though, as if it were a shield. A shield against what, he could not think. Something murmured in the back of his mind, a dim sound only vaguely heard, scratching to get in.

“So you will give it up, then. It is the best thing for you. Come. Sit, and we will talk.”

Perrin turned to look at the speaker. The round tables scattered about the room were empty except for the lone man seated in a corner, in the shadows. The rest of the room seemed in some way hazy, almost an impression rather than a place, especially anything he was not looking at directly. He glanced back at the fire; it burned on a brick hearth, now. Somehow, none of it bothered him. It should. But he could not have said why.

The man beckoned, and Perrin walked closer to his table. A square table. The tables were square. Frowning, he reached out to finger the tabletop, but pulled his hand back. There were no lamps in that corner of the room, and despite the light elsewhere, the man and his table were almost hidden, nearly blended with the dimness.

Perrin had a feeling that he knew the man, but it was as vague as what he saw out of the corner of his eye. The fellow was in his middle years, handsome and too well dressed for a country inn, in dark, nearly black, velvets with white lace falls at his collar and cuffs. He sat stiffly, sometimes pressing a hand to his chest, as if moving hurt him. His dark eyes were fixed on Perrin’s face; they appeared like glistening points in the shadows.

“Give up what?” Perrin asked.

“That, of course.” The man nodded to the axe at Perrin’s waist. He sounded surprised, as if it were a conversation they had had before, an old argument taken up again.

Perrin had not realized the axe was there, had not felt the weight of it pulling at his belt. He ran a hand over the half-moon blade and the thick spike that balanced it. The steel felt—solid. More solid than anything else there. Maybe even more solid than he was himself. He kept his hand there, to hold onto something real.

“I have thought of it,” he said, “but I do not think I can. Not yet.” Not yet? The inn seemed to flicker, and the murmur sounded again in his head. No! The murmur faded.

“No?” The man smiled, a cold smile. “You are a blacksmith, boy. And a good one, from what I hear. Your hands were made for a hammer, not an axe. Made to make things, not to kill. Go back to that before it is too late.”

Perrin found himself nodding. “Yes. But I’m ta’veren.” He had never said that out loud before. But he knows it already. He was sure of that, though he could not say why.

For an instant the man’s smile became a grimace, but then it returned in more strength than before. A cold strength. “There are ways to change things, boy. Ways to avoid even fate. Sit, and we will talk of them.” The shadows appeared to shift and thicken, to reach out.

Perrin took a step back, keeping well in the light. “I don’t think so.”

“At least have a drink with me. To years past and years to come. Here, you will see things more clearly after.” The cup the man pushed across the table had not been there a moment before. It shone bright silver, and dark, blood-red wine filled it to the brim.

Perrin peered at the man’s face. Even to his sharp eyes, the shadows seemed to shroud the other man’s features like a Warder’s cloak. Darkness molded the man like a caress. There was something about the man’s eyes, something he thought he could remember if he tried hard enough. The murmur returned.

“No,” he said. He spoke to the soft sound inside his head, but when the man’s mouth tightened in anger, a flash of rage suppressed as soon as begun, he decided it would do for the wine as well. “I am not thirsty.”

He turned and started for the door. The fireplace was rounded river stones; a few long tables lined by benches filled the room. He suddenly wanted to be outside, anywhere away from this man.

“You will not have many chances,” the man said behind him in a hard voice. “Three threads woven together share one another’s doom. When one is cut, all are. Fate can kill you, if it does not do worse.”

Perrin felt a sudden heat against his back, rising then fading just as quickly, as if the doors of a huge smelting furnace had swung open and closed again. Startled, he turned back to the room. It was empty.

Only a dream, he thought, shivering from the cold, and with that everything shifted.

He stared into the mirror, a part of him not comprehending what he saw, another part accepting. A gilded helmet, worked like a lion’s head, sat on his head as if it belonged there. Gold leaf covered his ornately hammered breastplate, and gold-work embellished the plate and mail on his arms and legs. Only the axe at his side was plain. A voice—his own—whispered in his mind that he would take it over any other weapon, had carried it a thousand times, in a hundred battles. No! He wanted to take it off, throw it away. I can’t! There was a sound in his head, louder than a murmur, almost at the level of understanding.

“A man destined for glory.”

He spun away from the mirror and found himself staring at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He noticed nothing else about the room, cared to see nothing but her. Her eyes were pools of midnight, her skin creamy pale and surely softer, more smooth than her dress of white silk. When she moved toward him, his mouth went dry. He realized that every other woman he had ever seen was clumsy and ill-shaped. He shivered, and wondered why he felt cold.

“A man should grasp his destiny with both hands,” she said, smiling. It was almost enough to warm him, that smile. She was tall, less than a hand short of being able to look him in the eyes. Silver combs held hair darker than a raven’s wing. A broad belt of silver links banded a waist he could have encircled with his hands.

“Yes,” he whispered. Inside him, startlement fought with acceptance. He had no use for glory. But when she said it, he wanted nothing else. “I mean....” The murmuring sound dug at his skull. “No!” It was gone, and for a moment, so was acceptance. Almost. He put a hand to his head, touched the golden helmet, took it off. “I... I don’t think I want this. It is not mine.”

“Don’t want it?” She laughed. “What man with blood in his veins would not want glory? As much glory as if you had sounded the Horn of Valere.”

“I don’t,” he said, though a piece of him shouted that he lied. The Horn of Valere. The Horn rang out, and the wild charge began. Death rode at his shoulder, and yet she waited ahead, too. His lover. His destroyer. “No! I am a blacksmith.”

Her smile was pitying. “Such a little thing to want. You must not listen to those who would try to turn you from your destiny. They would demean you, debase you. Destroy you. Fighting fate can only bring pain. Why choose pain, when you can have glory? When your name can be remembered alongside all the heroes of legend?”

“I am no hero.”

“You don’t know the half of what you are. Of what you can be. Come, share a cup with me, to destiny and glory.” There was a shining silver cup in her hand, filled with blood-red wine. “Drink.”

He stared at the cup, frowning. There was something... familiar about it. A growling chewed at his brain. “No!” He fought away from it, refusing to listen. “No!”

She held out the golden cup to him. “Drink.”

Golden? I thought the cup was.... It was.... The rest of the thought would not come. But in his confusion the sound came again, inside, gnawing, demanding to be heard. “No,” he said. “No!” He looked at the golden helmet in his hands and threw it aside. “I am a blacksmith. I am....” The sound within his head fought him, struggling toward being heard. He wrapped his arms around his head to shut it out, and only shut it in. “I—am—a—man!” he shouted.

Darkness enfolded him, but her voice followed, whispering. “The night is always there, and dreams come to all men. Especially you, my wildling. And I will always be in your dreams.”


He lowered his arms. He was back in his own coat and breeches again, sturdy and well made, if plain. Suitable garb for a blacksmith, or any country man. Yet he barely noticed them.

He stood on a low-railed bridge of stone, arching from one wide, flat-topped stone spire to another, spires that rose from depths too far for even his eyes to penetrate. The light would have been dim to any other eyes, and he could not make out from where it came. It just was. Everywhere he looked, left and right, up or down, were more bridges, more spires, and railless ramps. There seemed no end to them, no pattern. Worse, some of those ramps climbed to spire tops that had to be directly above the ones they had left. Splashing water echoed, the sound seeming to come from everywhere at once. He shivered with cold.

Suddenly, from the corner of his eye, he caught a motion, and without thinking, he crouched behind the stone railing. There was danger in being seen. He did not know why, but he knew it was true. He just knew.

Cautiously peering over the top of the rail, he sought what he had seen moving. A flash of white flickered on a distant ramp. A woman, he was sure, though he could not quite make her out. A woman in a white dress, hurrying somewhere.

On a bridge slightly below him, and much closer than the ramp where the woman had been, a man suddenly appeared, tall and dark and slender, the silver in his black hair giving him a distinguished look, his dark green coat thickly embroidered with golden leaves. Gold-work covered his belt and pouch, and gems sparkled on his dagger sheath, and golden fringe encircled his boot tops. Where had he come from?

Another man started across the bridge from the other side, his appearance as sudden as the first man’s. Black stripes ran down the puffy sleeves of his red coat, and pale lace hung thick at his collar and cuffs. His boots were so worked with silver that it was hard to see the leather. He was shorter than the man he went to meet, more stocky, with close-cropped hair as white as his lace. Age did not make him frail, though. He strode with the same arrogant strength the other man showed.

The two of them approached each other warily. Like two horse traders who know the other fellow has a spavined mare to sell, Perrin thought.

The men began to talk. Perrin strained his ears, but he could not hear so much as a murmur above the splashing echoes. Frowns, and glares, and sharp motions as if half on the point of striking. They did not trust one another. He thought they might even hate each other.

He glanced up, searching for the woman, but she was gone. When he looked back down, another man had joined the first two. And somehow, from somewhere, Perrin knew him with the vagueness of an old memory. A handsome man in his middle years, wearing nearly black velvet and white lace. An inn, Perrin thought. And something before that. Something.... Something a long time ago, it seemed. But the memory would not come.

The first two men stood side by side, now, made uncomfortable allies by the presence of the newcomer. He shouted at them and shook his fist, while they shifted uneasily, refusing to meet his glares. If the two hated each other, they feared him more.

His eyes, Perrin thought. What is strange about his eyes?

The tall, dark man began to argue back, slowly at first, then with increasing fervor. The white-haired man joined in, and suddenly their temporary alliance broke. All three shouted at once, each at both of the others in turn. Abruptly the man in dark velvets threw his arms wide, as if demanding an end to it. And an expanding ball of fire enveloped them, hid them, spreading out and out.

Perrin threw his arms around his head and dropped behind the stone railing, huddling there as wind buffeted him and tore at his clothes, a wind as hot as fire. A wind that was fire. Even with his eyes shut, he could see it, flame billowing across everything, flame blowing through everything. The fiery gale roared through him, too; he could feel it, burning, tugging, trying to consume him and scatter the ashes. He yelled, trying to hang onto himself, knowing it was not enough.

And between one heartbeat and the next, the wind was gone. There was no diminishing. One instant a storm of flame pummeled him; the next, utter stillness. The echoes of falling water were the only sound.

Slowly, Perrin sat up, examining himself. His clothes were unsinged and whole, his exposed skin unburned. Only the memory of heat made him believe it had happened. A memory in the mind alone; his body felt no memory of it.

Cautiously he peeked over the railing. Only a few paces of half-melted footing at either end remained of the bridge where the men had been standing. Of them, there was no sign.

A prickling in the hair on the back of his neck made him look up. On a ramp above him and to the right, a shaggy gray wolf stood looking at him.

“No!” He scrambled to his feet and ran. “This is a dream! A nightmare! I want to wake up!” He ran, and his vision blurred. The blurs shifted. A buzzing filled his ears, then faded, and as it went, the shimmering in his eyes steadied.

He shivered with the cold and knew this for a dream, certain and sure, from the first moment. He was dimly aware of some shadowy memory of dreams preceding this, but this one he knew. He had been in this place before, on previous nights, and if he understood nothing of it, he still knew it for a dream. For once, knowing changed nothing.

Huge columns of polished redstone surrounded the open space where he stood, beneath a domed ceiling fifty paces or more above his head. He and another man as big could not have encircled one of those columns with their arms. The floor was paved with great slabs of pale gray stone, hard yet worn by countless generations of feet.

And centered beneath the dome was the reason why all those feet had come to this chamber. A sword, hanging hilt down in the air, apparently without support, seemingly where anyone could reach out and take it. It revolved slowly, as if some breath of air caught it. Yet it was not really a sword. It seemed made of glass, or perhaps crystal, blade and hilt and crossguard, catching such light as there was and shattering it into a thousand glitters and flashes.

He walked toward it and put out his hand, as he had done each time before. He clearly remembered doing it. The hilt hung there in front of his face, within easy reach. A foot from the shining sword, his hand splayed out against empty air as if it had touched stone. As he had known it would. He pushed harder, but he might as well have been shoving against a wall. The sword turned and sparkled, a foot away and as far out of reach as if on the other side of an ocean.

Callandor. He was not certain whether the whisper came inside his head or out; it seemed to echo ’round the columns, as soft as the wind, everywhere at once, insistent. Callandor. Who wields me wields destiny. Take me, and begin the final journey.

He took a step back, suddenly frightened. That whisper had never come before. Four times before he had had this dream—he could remember that even now; four nights, one after the other—and this was the first time anything had changed in it.

The Twisted Ones come.

It was a different whisper, from a source he knew, and he jumped as if a Myrddraal had touched him. A wolf stood there among the columns, a mountain wolf, almost waist-high and shaggy white and gray. It stared at him intently with eyes as yellow as his own.

The Twisted Ones come.

“No,” Perrin rasped. “No! I will not let you in! I—will—not!”

He clawed his way awake and sat up in his hut, shaking with fear and cold and anger. “I will not,” he whispered hoarsely.

The Twisted Ones come.

The thought was clear in his head, but the thought was not his own.

The Twisted Ones come, brother.

Nightmares Walking

Leaping from his bed, Perrin snatched his axe and ran outside, barefoot and wearing nothing but thin linen, heedless of the cold. The moon bathed the clouds with pale white. More than enough light for his eyes, more than enough to see the shapes slipping through the trees from all sides, shapes almost as big as Loial, but with faces distorted by muzzles and beaks, half-human heads wearing horns and feathered crests, stealthy forms stalking on hooves or paws as often as booted feet.

He opened his mouth to shout warning, and suddenly the door of Moiraine’s hut burst open and Lan dashed out, sword in hand and shouting, “Trollocs! Wake, for your lives! Trollocs!” Shouts answered him as men began to tumble from their huts, garbed for sleep, which for most meant not at all, but with swords ready. With a bestial roar, the Trollocs rushed forward to be met with steel and cries of “Shienar!” and “The Dragon Reborn!”

Lan was fully clothed—Perrin would have bet the Warder had not slept—and he flung himself among the Trollocs as if his wool were armor. He seemed to dance from one to another, man and sword flowing like water or wind, and where the Warder danced, Trollocs screamed and died.

Moiraine was out in the night as well, dancing her own dance among the Trollocs. Her only apparent weapon was a switch, but where she slashed a Trolloc, a line of flame grew on its flesh. Her free hand threw fiery balls summoned from thin air, and Trollocs howled as flames consumed them, thrashing on the ground.

An entire tree burst into flame from root to crown, then another, and another. Trollocs shrieked at the sudden light, but they did not stop swinging their spiked axes and swords curved like scythes.

Abruptly Perrin saw Leya step hesitantly out of Moiraine’s cabin, halfway around the bowl from him, and all thought of anything else left him. The Tuatha’an woman pressed her back against the log wall, a hand to her throat. The light from the burning trees showed him the pain and horror, the loathing on her face as she watched the carnage.

“Hide!” Perrin shouted at her. “Get back inside and hide!” The swelling roar of fighting and dying swallowed his words. He ran toward her. “Hide, Leya! For the love of the Light, hide!”

A Trolloc loomed up over him, a cruelly hooked beak where its mouth and nose should have been. Black mail and spikes covered it from shoulders to knees, and it moved on a hawk’s talons as it swung one of those strangely curved swords. It smelled of sweat and dirt and blood.

Perrin crouched under the slash, shouting wordlessly as he struck out with his axe. He knew he should have been afraid, but urgency suppressed fear. All that mattered was that he had to reach Leya, had to get her to safety, and the Trolloc was in the way.

The Trolloc fell, roaring and kicking; Perrin did not know where he had hit it, or if it were dying or merely hurt. He leaped over it, where it lay thrashing, and ran scrambling up the slope.

Burning trees cast lurid shadows across the small valley. A flickering shadow beside Moiraine’s hut suddenly resolved into a Trolloc, goat-snouted and horned. Gripping a wildly spiked axe with both hands, it seemed on the point of rushing down into the fray when its eyes fell on Leya.

“No!” Perrin shouted. “Light, no!” Rocks skittered away under his bare feet; he did not feel the bruises. The Trolloc’s axe rose. “Leyaaaaaaaa!”

At the last instant the Trolloc spun, axe flashing toward Perrin. He threw himself down, yelling as steel scored his back. Desperately he flung out a hand, caught a goat hoof, and pulled with all his strength. The Trolloc’s feet came out from under it, and it fell with a crash, but as it slid down the slope, it seized Perrin in hands big enough to make two of his, pulling him along to roll over and over. The stink of it filled his nostrils, goat-stench and sour man-sweat. Massive arms snaked around his chest, squeezing the air out; his ribs creaked on the point of breaking. The Trolloc’s axe was gone in the fall, but blunt goat-teeth sank into Perrin’s shoulder, powerful jaws chewing. He groaned as pain jolted down his left arm. His lungs labored for breath, and blackness crept in on the edges of his vision, but dimly he was aware that his other arm was free, that somehow he had held on to his own axe. He held it short on the handle, like a hammer, with the spike foremost. With a roar that took the last of his air, he drove the spike into the Trolloc’s temple. Soundlessly it convulsed, limbs flinging wide, hurling him away. By instinct alone his hand tightened on the axe, ripping it loose as the Trolloc slid further down the slope, still twitching.

For a moment Perrin lay there, fighting for breath. The gash across his back burned, and he felt the wetness of blood. His shoulder protested as he pushed himself up. “Leya?”

She was still there, huddled in front of the hut, not more than ten paces upslope. And watching him with such a look on her face that he could barely meet her eyes.

“Don’t pity me!” he growled at her. “Don’t you—!”

The Myrddraal’s leap from the roof of the hut seemed to take too long, and its dead black cloak hung during the slow fall as if the Halfman were standing on the ground already. Its eyeless gaze was fixed on Perrin. It smelled like death.

Cold seeped through Perrin’s arms and legs as the Myrddraal stared at him. His chest felt like a lump of ice. “Leya,” he whispered. It was all he could do not to run. “Leya, please hide. Please.”

The Halfman started toward him, slowly, confident that fear held him in a snare. It moved like a snake, unlimbering a sword so black only the burning trees made it visible. “Cut one leg of the tripod,” it said softly, “and all fall down.” Its voice sounded like dry-rotted leather crumbling.

Suddenly Leya moved, throwing herself forward, attempting to wrap her arms around the Myrddraal’s legs. It gave an almost casual backwards swing of its dark sword, never even looking around, and she crumpled.

Tears started in the corners of Perrin’s eyes. I should have helped her... saved her. I should have done... something! But so long as the Myrddraal stared at him with its eyeless gaze, it was an effort even to think.

We come, brother. We come, Young Bull.

The words inside his mind made his head ring like a struck bell; the reverberations shivered through him. With the words came the wolves, scores of them, flooding into his mind as he was aware of them flooding into the bowl-shaped valley. Mountain wolves almost as tall as a man’s waist, all white and gray, coming out of the night at the run, aware of the two-legs’ surprise as they darted in to take on the Twisted Ones. Wolves filled him till he could barely remember being a man. His eyes gathered the light, shining golden yellow. And the Halfman stopped its advance as if suddenly uncertain.

“Fade,” Perrin said roughly, but then a different name came to him, from the wolves. Trollocs, the Twisted Ones, made during the War of the Shadow from melding men and animals, were bad enough, but the Myrddraal—. “Neverborn!” Young Bull spat. Lip curling back in a snarl, he threw himself at the Myrddraal.

It moved like a viper, sinuous and deadly, black sword quick as lightning, but he was Young Bull. That was what the wolves called him. Young Bull, with horns of steel that he wielded with his hands. He was one with the wolves. He was a wolf, and any wolf would die a hundred times over to see one of the Neverborn go down. The Fade fell back before him, its darting blade now trying to deflect his slashes.

Hamstring and throat, that was how wolves killed. Young Bull suddenly threw himself to one side and dropped to a knee, axe slicing across the back of the Halfman’s knee. It screamed—a bone-burrowing sound to raise his hair at any other time—and fell, catching itself with one hand. The Halfman—the Neverborn—still held its sword firmly, but before it could set itself, Young Bull’s axe struck again. Half severed, the Myrddraal’s head flopped over to hang down its back; yet still leaning there on one hand, the Neverborn slashed wildly with its sword. Neverborn were always long in dying.

From the wolves as much as his own eyes Young Bull received impressions of Trollocs thrashing on the ground, shrieking, untouched by wolf or man. Those would have been linked to this Myrddraal, and would die when it did—if no one killed them first.

The urge to rush down the slope and join his brothers, join in killing the Twisted Ones, in hunting the remaining Neverborn, was strong, but a buried fragment that was still man remembered. Leya.

He dropped his axe and turned her over gently. Blood covered her face, and her eyes stared up at him, glazed with death. An accusing stare, it seemed to him. “I tried,” he told her. “I tried to save you.” Her stare did not change. “What else could I have done? It would have killed you if I hadn’t killed it!”

Come, Young Bull. Come kill the Twisted Ones.

Wolf rolled over him, enveloped him. Letting Leya back down, Perrin took up his axe, blade gleaming wetly. His eyes shone as he raced down the rocky slope. He was Young Bull.

Trees scattered around the bowl-shaped valley burned like torches; a tall pine flared into flame as Young Bull joined the battle. The night air flashed actinic blue, like sheet lightning, as Lan engaged another Myrddraal, ancient Aes Sedai–made steel meeting black steel wrought in Thakan’dar, in the shadow of Shayol Ghul. Loial wielded a quarterstaff the size of a fence rail, the whirling timber marking a space no Trolloc entered without falling. Men fought desperately in the dancing shadows, but Young Bull—Perrin—noted in a distant way that too many of the Shienaran two-legs were down.

The brothers and sisters fought in small packs of three or four, dodging scythe-like swords and spiked axes, darting in with slashing teeth to sever hamstrings, lunging to bite out throats as their prey fell. There was no honor in the way they fought, no glory, no mercy. They had not come for battle, but to kill. Young Bull joined one of the small packs, the blade of his axe serving for teeth.

He no longer thought of the greater battle. There was only the Trolloc he and the wolves—the brothers—cut off from the rest and brought down. Then there would be another, and another, and another, until none were left. None here, none anywhere. He felt the urge to hurl the axe aside and use his teeth, to run on all fours as his brothers did. Run through the high mountain passes. Run belly-deep in powdery snow pursuing deer. Run, with the cold wind ruffling his fur. He snarled with his brothers, and Trollocs howled with fear at his yellow-eyed gaze even more than they did at the other wolves.

Abruptly he realized there were no more Trollocs standing anywhere in the bowl, though he could feel his brothers pursuing others as they fled. A pack of seven had a different prey, somewhere out there in the darkness. One of the Neverborn ran for its hard-footed four-legs—its horse, a distant part of him said—and his brothers followed, noses filled with its scent, its essence of death. Inside his head, he was with them, seeing with their eyes. As they closed in, the Neverborn turned, cursing, black blade and black-clad Neverborn like part of the night. But night was where his brothers and sisters hunted.

Young Bull snarled as the first brother died, its death pain lancing him, yet the others closed in and more brothers and sisters died, but snapping jaws dragged the Neverborn down. It fought back with its own teeth now, ripping out throats, slashing with fingernails that sliced skin and flesh like the hard claws the two-legs carried, but brothers savaged it even as they died. Finally a lone sister heaved herself out of the still-twitching pile and staggered to one side. Morning Mist, she was called, but as with all their names, it was more than that: a frosty morning with the bite of snows yet to come already in the air, and the mist curling thick across the valley, swirling with the sharp breeze that carried the promise of good hunting. Raising her head, Morning Mist howled to the cloud-hidden moon, mourning her dead.

Young Bull threw back his head and howled with her, mourned with her.

When he lowered his head, Min was staring at him. “Are you all right, Perrin?” she asked hesitantly. There was a bruise on her cheek, and a sleeve half torn from her coat. She had a cudgel in one hand and a dagger in the other, and there was blood and hair on both.

They were all staring at him, he saw, all those who were still on their feet. Loial, leaning wearily on his tall staff. Shienarans, who had been carrying their fallen down to where Moiraine crouched over one of their number with Lan standing at her side. Even the Aes Sedai was looking his way. The burning trees, like huge torches, cast a wavering light. Dead Trollocs lay everywhere. There were more Shienarans down than standing, and the bodies of his brothers were scattered among them. So many....

Perrin realized he wanted to howl again. Frantically he walled himself off from contact with the wolves. Images seeped through, emotions, as he tried to stop them. Finally, though, he could no longer feel them, feel their pain, or their anger, or the desire to hunt the Twisted Ones, or to run.... He gave himself a shake. The wound on his back burned like fire, and his torn shoulder felt as if it had been hammered on an anvil. His bare feet, scraped and bruised, throbbed with his pain. The smell of blood was everywhere. The smell of Trollocs, and death.

“I.... I’m all right, Min.”

“You fought well, blacksmith,” Lan said. The Warder raised his still-bloody sword above his head. “Tai’shar Manetheren! Tai’shar Andor!” True Blood of Manetheren. True Blood of Andor.

The Shienarans still standing—so few—lifted their blades and joined him. “Tai’shar Manetheren! Tai’shar Andor!”

Loial nodded. “Ta’veren,” he added.

Perrin lowered his eyes in embarrassment. Lan had saved him from the questions he did not want to answer, but had given him an honor he did not deserve. The others did not understand. He wondered what they would say if they knew the truth. Min moved closer, and he muttered, “Leya’s dead. I couldn’t.... I almost reached her in time.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference,” she said softly. “You know that.” She leaned to look at his back, and winced. “Moiraine will take care of that for you. She’s Healing those she can.”

Perrin nodded. His back felt sticky with drying blood all the way to his waist, but despite the pain he hardly noticed it. Light, I almost didn’t come back that time. I can’t let that happen again. I won’t. Never again!

But when he was with the wolves, it was all so different. He did not have to worry about strangers being afraid of him just because he was big, then. There was no one thinking he was slow-witted just because he tried to be careful. Wolves knew each other even if they had never met before, and with them he was just another wolf.

No! His hands tightened on the haft of his axe. No! He gave a start as Masema suddenly spoke up.

“It was a sign,” the Shienaran said, turning in a circle to address everyone. There was blood on his arms and his chest—he had fought in nothing but his breeches—and he moved with a limp, but the light in his eyes was as fervent as it had ever been. More fervent. “A sign to confirm our faith. Even wolves came to fight for the Dragon Reborn. In the Last Battle, the Lord Dragon will summon even the beasts of the forest to fight at our sides. It is a sign for us to go forth. Only Darkfriends will fail to join us.” Two of the Shienarans nodded.

“You shut your bloody mouth, Masema!” Uno snapped. He seemed untouched, but then Uno had been fighting Trollocs since before Perrin was born. Yet he sagged with weariness; only the painted eye on his eyepatch seemed fresh. “We’ll flaming go forth when the Lord Dragon bloody well tells us, and not before! You sheep-headed farmers flaming remember that!” The one-eyed man looked at the growing row of men being tended by Moiraine—few were able to as much as sit up, even after she was done with them—and shook his head. “At least we’ll have plenty of flaming wolf hides to keep the wounded warm.”

“No!” The Shienarans seemed surprised at the vehemence in Perrin’s voice. “They fought for us, and we’ll bury them with our dead.”

Uno frowned, and opened his mouth as if to argue, but Perrin fixed him with a steady, yellow-eyed stare. It was the Shienaran who dropped his gaze first, and nodded.

Perrin cleared his throat, embarrassed all over again as Uno gave orders for the Shienarans who were fit to gather the dead wolves. Min was squinting at him the way she did when she saw things. “Where’s Rand?” he asked her.

“Out there in the dark,” she said, nodding upslope without taking her eyes off him. “He will not talk to anyone. He just sits there, snapping at anyone who comes near him.”

“He will talk to me,” Perrin said. She followed him, protesting all the while that he ought to wait until Moiraine had seen to his injuries. Light, what does she see when she looks at me? I don’t want to know.

Rand was seated on the ground just beyond the light of the burning trees, with his back against the trunk of a stunted oak. Staring at nothing, he had his arms wrapped around himself, hands under his red coat, as if feeling the cold. He did not appear to notice their approach. Min sat down beside him, but he did not move even when she laid a hand on his arm. Even here Perrin smelled blood, and not only his own.

“Rand,” Perrin began, but Rand cut him off.

“Do you know what I did during the fight?” Still staring into the distance, Rand addressed the night. “Nothing! Nothing useful. At first, when I reached out for the True Source, I couldn’t touch it, couldn’t grasp it. It kept sliding away. Then, when I finally had hold of it, I was going to burn them all, burn all the Trollocs and Fades. And all I could do was set fire to some trees.” He shook with silent laughter, then stopped with a pained grimace. “Saidin filled me till I thought I’d explode like fireworks. I had to channel it somewhere, get rid of it before it burned me up, and I found myself thinking about pulling the mountain down and burying the Trollocs. I almost tried. That was my fight. Not against the Trollocs. Against myself. To keep from burying us all under the mountain.”

Min gave Perrin a pained look, as if asking for help.

“We... dealt with them, Rand,” Perrin said. He shivered, thinking of all the wounded men down below. And the dead. Better that than the mountain down on top of us. “We didn’t need you.”

Rand’s head fell back against the tree and his eyes closed. “I felt them coming,” he said, nearly whispering. “I didn’t know what it was, though. They feel like the taint on saidin. And saidin is always there, calling to me, singing to me. By the time I knew the difference, Lan was already shouting his warning. If I could only control it, I could have given warning before they were even close. But half the time when I actually manage to touch saidin, I don’t know what I am doing at all. The flow of it just sweeps me along. I could have given warning, though.”

Perrin shifted his bruised feet uncomfortably. “We had warning enough.” He knew he sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. I could have given warning, too, if I’d talked with the wolves. They knew there were Trollocs and Fades in the mountains. They were trying to tell me. But he wondered: If he did not keep the wolves out of his mind, might he not be running with them now? There had been a man, Elyas Machera, who also could talk to wolves. Elyas ran with the wolves all the time, yet seemed able to remember he was a man. But he had never told Perrin how he did it, and Perrin had not seen him in a long time.

The crunch of boots on rock announced two people coming, and a swirl of air carried their scents to Perrin. He was careful not to speak names, though, until Lan and Moiraine were close enough for even ordinary eyes to make them out.

The Warder had a hand under the Aes Sedai’s arm, as if trying to support her without letting her know it. Moiraine’s eyes were haggard, and she carried a small, age-dark ivory carving of a woman in one hand. Perrin knew it for an angreal, a remnant from the Age of Legends that allowed an Aes Sedai to safely channel more of the Power than she could alone. It was a measure of her tiredness that she was using it for Healing.

Min got to her feet to help Moiraine, but the Aes Sedai motioned her away. “Everyone else is seen to,” she told Min. “When I am done here, I can rest.” She shook off Lan as well, and a look of concentration appeared on her face as she traced a cool hand across Perrin’s bleeding shoulder, then along the wound on his back. Her touch made his skin tingle. “This is not too bad,” she said. “The bruising of your shoulder goes deep, but the gashes are shallow. Brace yourself. This will not hurt, but....”

He had never found it easy being near someone he knew was channeling the One Power, and still less if it actually involved him. Yet there had been one or two of those times, and he thought he had some idea what the channeling entailed, but those Healings had been minor, simply washing away tiredness when Moiraine could not afford to have him weary. They had been nothing like this.

The Aes Sedai’s eyes suddenly seemed to be seeing inside him, seeing through him. He gasped and almost dropped his axe. He could feel the skin on his back crawling, muscles writhing as they knit back together. His shoulder quivered uncontrollably, and everything blurred. Cold seared him to the bone, then deeper still. He had the impression of moving, falling, flying; he could not tell which, but he felt as if he were rushing—somewhere, somehow—at great speed, forever. After an eternity the world came into focus again. Moiraine was stepping back, half staggering until Lan caught her arm.

Gaping, Perrin looked down at his shoulder. The gashes and bruises were gone; not so much as a twinge remained. He twisted carefully, but the pain in his back had vanished as well. And his feet no longer hurt; he did not need to look to know all the bruises and scrapes were gone. His stomach rumbled loudly.

“You should eat as soon as you can,” Moiraine told him. “A good bit of the strength for that came from you. You need to replace it.”

Hunger—and images of food—were already filling Perrin’s head. Blood rare beef, and venison, and mutton, and.... With an effort he made himself stop thinking of meat. He would find some of those roots that smelled like turnips when they were roasted. His stomach growled in protest.

“There’s barely even a scar, blacksmith,” Lan said behind him.

“Most of the wolves who were hurt made their own way to the forest,” Moiraine said, knuckling her back and stretching, “but I Healed those I could find.” Perrin gave her a sharp look, yet she seemed to be just making conversation. “Perhaps they came for their own reasons, yet we would likely all be dead without them.” Perrin shifted uneasily and dropped his eyes.

The Aes Sedai reached toward the bruise on Min’s cheek, but Min stepped back, saying, “I’m not really hurt, and you’re tired. I’ve had worse falling over my own feet.”

Moiraine smiled and let her hand fall. Lan took her arm; she swayed in his grip. “Very well. And what of you, Rand? Did you take any hurt? Even a nick from a Myrddraal’s blade can be deadly, and some Trolloc blades are almost as bad.”

Perrin noticed something for the first time. “Rand, your coat is wet.”

Rand pulled his right hand from under his coat, a hand covered in blood. “Not a Myrddraal,” he said absently, peering at his hand. “Not even a Trolloc. The wound I took at Falme broke open.”

Moiraine hissed and jerked her arm free from Lan, half fell to her knees beside Rand. Pulling back the side of his coat, she studied his wound. Perrin could not see it, for her head was in the way, but the smell of blood was stronger, now. Moiraine’s hands moved, and Rand grimaced in pain. “ ‘The blood of the Dragon Reborn on the rocks of Shayol Ghul will free mankind from the Shadow.’ Isn’t that what the Prophecies of the Dragon say?”

“Who told you that?” Moiraine said sharply.

“If you could get me to Shayol Ghul now,” Rand said drowsily, “by Waygate or Portal Stone, there could be an end to it. No more dying. No more dreams. No more.”

“If it were as simple as that,” Moiraine said grimly, “I would, one way or another, but not all in The Karaethon Cycle can be taken at its face. For every thing it says straight out, there are ten that could mean a hundred different things. Do not think you know anything at all of what must be, even if someone has told you the whole of the Prophecies.” She paused, as if gathering strength. Her grip tightened on the angreal, and her free hand slid along Rand’s side as if it were not covered in blood. “Brace yourself.”

Suddenly Rand’s eyes opened wide, and he sat straight up, gasping and staring and shivering. Perrin had thought, when she Healed him, that it went on forever, but in moments she was easing Rand back against the oak.

“I have... done as much as I can,” she said faintly. “As much as I can. You must be careful. It could break open again if....” As her voice trailed off, she fell.

Rand caught her, but Lan was there in an instant to scoop her up. As the Warder did so, a look passed across his face, a look as close to tenderness as Perrin ever expected to see from Lan.

“Exhausted,” the Warder said. “She has cared for everyone else, but there’s no one to take her fatigue. I will put her to bed.”

“There’s Rand,” Min said slowly, but the Warder shook his head.

“It isn’t that I do not think you would try, sheepherder,” he said, “but you know so little you might as soon kill her as help her.”

“That’s right,” Rand said bitterly. “I’m not to be trusted. Lews Therin Kinslayer killed everyone close to him. Maybe I’ll do the same before I am done.”

“Pull yourself together, sheepherder,” Lan said harshly. “The whole world rides on your shoulders. Remember you’re a man, and do what needs to be done.”

Rand looked up at the Warder, and surprisingly, all of his bitterness seemed to be gone. “I will fight the best I can,” he said. “Because there’s no one else, and it has to be done, and the duty is mine. I’ll fight, but I do not have to like what I’ve become.” He closed his eyes as if going to sleep. “I will fight. Dreams....”

Lan stared down at him a moment, then nodded. He raised his head to look across Moiraine at Perrin and Min. “Get him to his bed, then see to some sleep yourselves. We have plans to make, and the Light alone knows what happens next.”

The Hunt Begins

Perrin did not expect to sleep, but a stomach stuffed with cold stew—his resolve about the roots had lasted until the smells of supper’s leftovers hit his nose—and bone weariness pulled him down on his bed. If he dreamed, he did not remember. He awoke to Lan shaking his shoulders, dawn through the open door turning the Warder to a shadow haloed with light.

“Rand is gone,” was all Lan said before he left at a run, but it was more than enough.

Perrin dragged himself up yawning and dressed quickly in the early chill. Outside, only a handful of Shienarans were in sight, using their horses to drag Trolloc bodies into the woods, and most of those moved as if they should be in a sickbed. A body took time to build back the strength that being Healed took.

Perrin’s stomach muttered at him, and his nose tested the breeze in the hope that someone had already started cooking. He was ready to eat those turnip-like roots, raw if need be. There were only the lingering stench of slain Myrddraal, the smells of dead Trollocs and men, alive and dead, of horses and the trees. And dead wolves.

Moiraine’s hut, high on the other side of the bowl, seemed a center of activity. Min hurried inside, and moments later Masema came out, then Uno. At a trot the one-eyed man vanished into the trees, toward the sheer rock wall beyond the hut, while the other Shienaran limped down the slope.

Perrin started toward the hut. As he splashed across the shallow stream, he met Masema. The Shienaran’s face was haggard, the scar on his cheek prominent, and his eyes even more sunken than usual. In the middle of the stream, he raised his head suddenly and caught Perrin’s coat sleeve.

“You’re from his village,” Masema said hoarsely. “You must know. Why did the Lord Dragon abandon us? What sin did we commit?”

“Sin? What are you talking about? Whyever Rand went, it was nothing you did or didn’t do.” Masema did not appear satisfied; he kept his grip on Perrin’s sleeve, peering into his face as if there were answers there. Icy water began to seep into Perrin’s left boot. “Masema,” he said carefully, “whatever the Lord Dragon did, it was according to his plan. The Lord Dragon would not abandon us.” Or would he? If I were in his place, would I?

Masema nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, I see that, now. He has gone out alone to spread the word of his coming. We must spread the word, too. Yes.” He limped on across the stream, muttering to himself.

Squelching at every other step, Perrin climbed to Moiraine’s hut and knocked. There was no answer. He hesitated a moment, then went in.

The outer room, where Lan slept, was as stark and simple as Perrin’s own hut, with a rough bed built against one wall, a few pegs for hanging possessions, and a single shelf. Not much light entered through the open door, and the only other illumination came from crude lamps on the shelf, slivers of oily fat-wood wedged into cracks in pieces of rock. They gave off thin streamers of smoke that made a layer of haze under the roof. Perrin’s nose wrinkled at the smell.

The low roof was only a little higher than his head. Loial’s head actually brushed it, even seated as he was on one end of Lan’s bed, with his knees drawn up to make himself small. The Ogier’s tufted ears twitched uneasily. Min sat cross-legged on the dirt floor beside the door that led to Moiraine’s room, while the Aes Sedai paced back and forth in thought. Dark thoughts, they must have been. Three paces each way was all she had, but she made vigorous use of the space, the calm on her face belied by the quickness of her step.

“I think Masema is going crazy,” Perrin said.

Min sniffed. “With him, how can you tell?”

Moiraine rounded on him, a tightness to her mouth. Her voice was soft. Too soft. “Is Masema the most important thing in your mind this morning, Perrin Aybara?”

“No. I’d like to know when Rand left, and why. Did anyone see him go? Does anyone know where he went?” He made himself meet her look with one just as level and firm. It was not easy. He loomed over her, but she was Aes Sedai. “Is this of your making, Moiraine? Did you rein him in until he was so impatient he’d go anywhere, do anything, just to stop sitting still?” Loial’s ears went stiff, and he motioned a surreptitious warning with one thick-fingered hand.

Moiraine studied Perrin with her head tilted to one side, and it was all he could do not to drop his eyes. “This is none of my doing,” she said. “He left sometime during the night. When and how and why, I yet hope to learn.”

Loial’s shoulders heaved in a quiet sigh of relief. Quiet for an Ogier, it sounded like steam rushing out from quenching red-hot iron. “Never anger an Aes Sedai,” he said in a whisper obviously meant just for himself, but audible to everyone. “ ‘Better to embrace the sun than to anger an Aes Sedai.’ ”

Min reached up enough to hand Perrin a folded piece of paper. “Loial went to see him after we got him to bed last night, and Rand asked to borrow pen and paper and ink.”

The Ogier’s ears jerked, and he frowned worriedly until his long eyebrows hung down on his cheeks. “I did not know what he was planning. I didn’t.”

“We know that,” Min said. “No one is accusing you of anything, Loial.”

Moiraine frowned at the paper, but she did not try to stop Perrin from reading. It was in Rand’s hand.

What I do, I do because there is no other way. He is hunting me again, and this time one of us has to die, I think. There is no need for those around me to die, also. Too many have died for me already. I do not want to die either, and will not, if I can manage it. There are lies in dreams, and death, but dreams hold truth, too.That was all, with no signature. There was no need for Perrin to wonder who Rand meant by “he.” For Rand, for all of them, there could be only one. Ba’alzamon.

“He left that tucked under the door there,” Min said in a tight voice. “He took some old clothes the Shienarans had hanging out to dry, and his flute, and a horse. Nothing else but a little food, as far as we can tell. None of the guards saw him go, and last night they would have seen a mouse creeping.”

“And would it have done any good if they had?” Moiraine said calmly. “Would any of them have stopped the Lord Dragon, or even challenged him? Some of them—Masema for one—would slit their own throats if the Lord Dragon told them to.”

It was Perrin’s turn to study her. “Did you expect anything else? They swore to follow him. Light, Moiraine, he’d never have named himself Dragon if not for you. What did you expect of them?” She did not speak, and he went on more quietly. “Do you believe, Moiraine? That he’s really the Dragon Reborn? Or do you just think he’s someone you can use before the One Power kills him or drives him mad?”

“Go easy, Perrin,” Loial said. “Not so angry.”

“I’ll go easy when she answers me. Well, Moiraine?”

“He is what he is,” she said sharply.

“You said the Pattern would force him to the right path eventually. Is that what this is, or is he just trying to get away from you?” For a moment he thought he had gone too far—her dark eyes sparkled with anger—but he refused to back down. “Well?”

Moiraine took a deep breath. “This may well be what the Pattern has chosen, yet I did not mean for him to go off alone. For all his power, he is as defenseless as a babe in many ways, and as ignorant of the world. He channels, but he has no control over whether or not the One Power comes when he reaches for it and almost as little over what he does with it if it does come. The power itself will kill him before he has a chance to go mad if he does not learn that control. There is so much he must learn, yet. He wants to run before he has learned to walk.”

“You split hairs and lay false trails, Moiraine.” Perrin snorted. “If he is what you say he is, did it never occur to you that he might know what he has to do better than you?”

“He is what he is,” she repeated firmly, “but I must keep him alive if he is to do anything. He will fulfill no prophecies dead, and even if he manages to avoid Darkfriends and Shadowspawn, there are a thousand other hands ready to slay him. All it will take is a hint of the hundredth part of what he is. Yet if that were all he might face, I would not worry half so much as I do. There are the Forsaken to be accounted for.”

Perrin gave a start; from the corner, Loial moaned. “ ‘The Dark One and all the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul,’ ” Perrin began by rote, but she gave him no time to finish.

“The seals are weakening, Perrin. Some are broken, though the world does not know that. Must not know that. The Father of Lies is not free. Yet. But as the seals weaken, more and more, which of the Forsaken may be loosed already? Lanfear? Sammael? Asmodean, or Be’lal, or Ravhin? Ishamael himself, the Betrayer of Hope? They were thirteen altogether, Perrin, and bound in the sealing, not in the prison that holds the Dark One. Thirteen of the most powerful Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends, the weakest of them stronger than the ten strongest Aes Sedai living today, the most ignorant with all the knowledge of the Age of Legends. And every man and woman of them gave up the Light and dedicated their souls to the Shadow. What if they are free, and out there waiting for him? I will not let them have him.”

Perrin shivered, partly from the icy iron in her last words, and partly from thought of the Forsaken. He did not want to think of even one of the Forsaken loose in the world. His mother had frightened him with those names when he was little. Ishamael comes for boys who do not tell their mothers the truth. Lanfear waits in the night for boys who do not go to bed when they are supposed to. Being older did not help, not when he knew now they were all real. Not when Moiraine said they might be free.

“Bound in Shayol Ghul,” he whispered, and wished he still believed it. Troubled, he studied Rand’s letter again. “Dreams. He was talking about dreams yesterday, too.”

Moiraine stepped closer, and peered up into his face. “Dreams?” Lan and Uno came in, but she waved them to silence. The small room was more than crowded now, with five people in it besides the Ogier. “What dreams have you had the last few days, Perrin?” She ignored his protest that there was nothing wrong with his dreams. “Tell me,” she insisted. “What dream have you had that was not ordinary? Tell me.” Her gaze seized him like smithy tongs, willing him to speak.

He looked at the others—they were all watching him fixedly, even Min—then hesitantly told of the one dream that seemed unusual to him, the dream that came every night. The dream of the sword he could not touch. He did not mention the wolf that had appeared in the last.

“Callandor,” Lan breathed when he was done. Rock-hard face or no, he looked stunned.

“Yes,” Moiraine said, “but we must be absolutely certain. Speak to the others.” As Lan hurried out, she turned to Uno. “And what of your dreams? Did you dream of a sword, too?”

The Shienaran shifted his feet. The red eye painted on his patch stared straight at Moiraine, but his real eye blinked and wavered. “I dream about flam—uh, about swords all the time, Moiraine Sedai,” he said stiffly. “I suppose I’ve dreamed about a sword the last few nights. I don’t remember my dreams the way Lord Perrin here does.”

Moiraine said, “Loial?”

“My dreams are always the same, Moiraine Sedai. The groves, and the Great Trees, and the stedding. We Ogier always dream of the stedding when we are away from them.”

The Aes Sedai turned back to Perrin.

“It was just a dream,” he said. “Nothing but a dream.”

“I doubt it,” she said. “You describe the hall called the Heart of the Stone, in the fortress called the Stone of Tear, as if you had stood in it. And the shining sword is Callandor, the Sword That Is Not a Sword, the Sword That Cannot Be Touched.”

Loial sat up straight, bumping his head on the roof. He did not seem to notice. “The Prophecies of the Dragon say the Stone of Tear will never fall till Callandor is wielded by the Dragon’s hand. The fall of the Stone of Tear will be one of the greatest signs of the Dragon’s Rebirth. If Rand holds Callandor, the whole world must acknowledge him as the Dragon.”

“Perhaps.” The word floated from the Aes Sedai’s lips like a shard of ice on still water.

“Perhaps?” Perrin said. “Perhaps? I thought that was the final sign, the last thing to fulfill your Prophecies.”

“Neither the first nor the last,” Moiraine said. “Callandor will be but one fulfillment of The Karaethon Cycle, as his birth on the slopes of Dragonmount was the first. He has yet to break the nations, or shatter the world. Even scholars who have studied the Prophecies for their entire lives do not know how to interpret them all. What does it mean that he ‘shall slay his people with the sword of peace, and destroy them with the leaf’? What does it meant that he ‘shall bind the nine moons to serve him’? Yet these are given equal weight with Callandor in the Cycle. There are others. What ‘wounds of madness and cutting of hope’ has he healed? What chains has he broken, and who put into chains? And some are so obscure that he may already have fulfilled them, although I am not aware of it. But, no. Callandor is far from the end of it.”

Perrin shrugged uneasily. He knew only bits and pieces of the Prophecies; he had liked hearing them even less since Rand had let Moiraine put that banner in his hands. No, it had been before that, even. Since a journey by Portal Stone had convinced him his life was bound to Rand’s.

Moiraine was continuing. “If you think he has simply to put out his hand, Loial son of Arent son of Halan, you are a fool, as is he if he thinks it. Even if he lives to reach Tear, he may never attain the Stone.

“Tairens have no love for the One Power, and less for any man claiming to be the Dragon. Channeling is outlawed, and Aes Sedai are tolerated at best, so long as they do not channel. Telling the Prophecies of the Dragon, or even possessing a copy of them, is enough to put you in prison, in Tear. And no one enters the Stone of Tear without permission of the High Lords; none but the High Lords themselves enter the Heart of the Stone. He is not ready for this. Not ready.”

Perrin grunted softly. The Stone would never fall till the Dragon Reborn held Callandor. How in the Light is he supposed to reach it—inside a bloody fortress!—before the fortress falls? It is madness!

“Why are we just sitting here?” Min burst out. “If Rand is going to Tear, why aren’t we following him? He could be killed, or... or.... Why are we sitting here?”

Moiraine put a hand on Min’s head. “Because I must be sure,” she said gently. “It is not comfortable being chosen by the Wheel, to be great or to be near greatness. The chosen of the Wheel can only take what comes.”

“I am tired of taking what comes.” Min scrubbed a hand across her eyes. Perrin thought he saw tears. “Rand could be dying while we wait.” Moiraine smoothed Min’s hair; there was a look almost of pity on the Aes Sedai’s face.

Perrin sat down on the end of Lan’s bed opposite Loial. The smell of people was thick in the room—people and worry and fear; Loial smelled of books and trees as well as worry. It felt like a trap, with the walls around them, and all so close. The burning slivers stank. “How can my dream tell where Rand is going?” he asked. “It was my dream.”

“Those who can channel the One Power,” Moiraine said quietly, “those who are particularly strong in Spirit, can sometimes force their dreams on others.” She did not stop her soothing of Min. “Especially on those who are—susceptible. I do not believe Rand did it on purpose, but the dreams of those touching the True Source can be powerful. For one as strong as he, they could possibly seize an entire village, or perhaps even a city. He knows little of what he does, and even less of how to control it.”

“Then why didn’t you have it, too?” he demanded. “Or Lan.” Uno stared straight ahead, looking as if he would rather be anywhere else, and Loial’s ears wilted. Perrin was too tired and too hungry to care whether he showed proper respect for an Aes Sedai. And too angry, as well, he realized. “Why?”

Moiraine answered calmly. “Aes Sedai learn to shield their dreams. I do it without thinking, when I sleep. Warders are given something much the same in the bonding. The Gaidin could not do what they must if the Shadow could steal into their dreams. We are all vulnerable when we sleep, and the Shadow is strong in the night.”

“There’s always something new from you,” Perrin growled. “Can’t you tell us what to expect once in a while, instead of explaining after it happens?” Uno looked as though he was trying to think of a reason to leave.

Moiraine gave Perrin a flat look. “You want me to share a lifetime of knowledge with you in a single afternoon? Or even a single year? I will tell you this. Be wary of dreams, Perrin Aybara. Be very wary of dreams.”

He pulled his eyes away from hers. “I am,” he murmured. “I am.”

After that, silence, and no one seemed to want to break it. Min sat staring at her crossed ankles, but apparently taking some comfort from Moiraine’s presence. Uno stood against the wall, not looking at anyone. Loial forgot himself enough to pull a book from his coat pocket and try to read in the dim light. The wait was long, and far from easy for Perrin. It’s not the Shadow in my dreams I’m afraid of. It’s wolves. I will not let them in. I won’t!

Lan returned, and Moiraine straightened eagerly. The Warder answered the question in her eyes. “Half of them remember dreaming of swords the last four nights running. Some remember a place with great columns, and five say the sword was crystal, or glass. Masema says he saw Rand holding it last night.”

“That one would,” Moiraine said. She rubbed her hands together briskly; she seemed suddenly full of energy. “Now I am certain. Though I still wish I knew how he left here unseen. If he has rediscovered some Talent from the Age of Legends....”

Lan looked at Uno, and the one-eyed man shrugged in dismay. “I bloody forgot, with all this flaming talk about bloo—” He cleared his throat, shooting a glance at Moiraine. She looked back expectantly, and he went on. “I mean... uh... that is, I followed the Lord Dragon’s tracks. There’s another way into that closed valley, now. The... the earthquake brought down the far wall. It’s a hard climb, but you can get a horse up it. I found more tracks at the top, and there’s an easy way from there around the mountain.” He let out a long breath when he was done.

“Good,” Moiraine said. “At least he has not rediscovered how to fly, or make himself invisible, or something else out of legend. We must follow him without delay. Uno, I will give you enough gold to take you and the others as far as Jehannah, and the name of someone there who will see that you get more. The Ghealdanin are wary of strangers, but if you keep to yourselves, they should not trouble you. Wait there until I send word.”

“But we will go with you,” he protested. “We have all sworn to follow the Dragon Reborn. I do not see how the few of us can take a fortress that has never fallen, but with the Lord Dragon’s aid, we will do what must be done.”

“So we are ‘the People of the Dragon,’ now.” Perrin laughed mirthlessly. “ ‘The Stone of Tear will never fall till the People of the Dragon come.’ Have you given us a new name, Moiraine?”

“Watch your tongue, blacksmith,” Lan growled, all ice and stone.

Moiraine gave them both sharp looks, and they fell silent. “Forgive me, Uno,” she said, “but we must travel quickly if we are to have a hope of overtaking him. You are the only Shienaran fit enough for a hard ride, and we cannot afford the days the others will need to regain full strength. I will send for you when I can.”

Uno grimaced, but he bowed in acquiescence. At her dismissal, he squared his shoulders and left to tell the others.

“Well, I am going along, whatever you say,” Min put in firmly.

“You are going to Tar Valon,” Moiraine told her.

“I am no such thing!”

The Aes Sedai went on smoothly as if the other woman had not spoken. “The Amyrlin Seat must be told what has happened, and I cannot count on finding one I can trust who has messenger pigeons. Or that the Amyrlin will see any message I send by pigeon. It is a long journey, and hard. I would not send you alone if there were anyone to send with you, but I will see you have money, and letters to those who might help you on your way. You must ride quickly, though. When your horse tires, buy another—or steal one, if you must—but ride quickly.”

“Let Uno take your message. He’s fit; you said so. I am going after Rand.”

“Uno has his duties, Min. And do you think a man could simply walk up to the gates of the White Tower and demand an audience with the Amyrlin Seat? Even a king would be made to wait days if he arrived unannounced, and I fear any of the Shienarans would be left kicking their heels for weeks, if not forever. Not to mention that something so unusual would be known to everyone in Tar Valon before the first sunset. Few women seek audiences with the Amyrlin herself, but it does happen, and it should occasion no great comment. No one must learn even as much as that the Amyrlin Seat has received a message from me. Her life—and ours—could depend on it. You are the one who must go.”

Min sat there opening and closing her mouth, obviously searching for another argument, but Moiraine had already gone on. “Lan, I very much fear we will find more evidence of his passing than I would like, but I will rely on your tracking.” The Warder nodded. “Perrin? Loial? Will you come with me after Rand?” From her place against the wall, Min gave an indignant squawk, but the Aes Sedai ignored it.

“I will come,” Loial said quickly. “Rand is my friend. And I will admit it; I would not miss anything. For my book, you see.”

Perrin was slower to answer. Rand was his friend, whatever he had become in the forging. And there was that near certainty of their futures being linked, though he would have avoided that part of it if he could. “It has to be done, doesn’t it?” he said finally. “I will come.”

“Good.” Moiraine rubbed her hands together again, with the air of someone settling to work. “You must all ready yourselves at once. Rand has hours on us. I mean to be well along his trail before midday.”

Slender as she was, the force of her presence herded all of them but Lan toward the door, Loial walking stooped over until he was through the doorway. Perrin thought of a goodwife herding geese.

Once outside, Min hung back for a moment to address Lan with a too-sweet smile. “And is there any message you want carried? To Nynaeve, perhaps?”

The Warder blinked as if caught off guard, like a horse on three legs. “Does everyone know—?” He regained his balance almost immediately. “If there is anything else she needs to hear from me, I will tell her myself.” He closed the door nearly in her face.

“Men!” Min muttered at the door. “Too blind to see what a stone could see, and too stubborn to be trusted to think for themselves.”

Perrin inhaled deeply. Faint smells of death still hung in the valley air, but it was better than the closeness inside. Some better.

“Clean air,” Loial sighed. “The smoke was beginning to bother me a little.”

They started down the slope together. Beside the stream below, the Shienarans who could stand were gathered around Uno. From his gestures the one-eyed man was making up for lost time with his cursing.

“How did you two become privileged?” Min demanded abruptly. “She asked you. She didn’t do me the courtesy of asking.”

Loial shook his head. “I think she asked because she knew what we would answer, Min. Moiraine seems able to read Perrin and me; she knows what we’ll do. But you are a closed book to her.”

Min appeared only a little mollified. She looked up at them, Perrin head and shoulders taller on one side and Loial towering even higher on the other. “Much good it does me. I am still going where she wants as easily as you two little lambs. You were doing well for a while, Perrin. Standing up to her like she’d sold you a coat and the seams were popping open.”

“I did stand up to her, didn’t I,” Perrin said wonderingly. He had not really realized he had done that. “It was not so bad as I’d have thought it would be.”

“You were lucky,” Loial rumbled. “ ‘To anger an Aes Sedai is to put your head in a hornet’s nest.’ ”

“Loial,” Min said, “I need to speak to Perrin. Alone. Would you mind?”

“Oh. Of course not.” He lengthened his stride to its normal span and quickly moved ahead of them, pulling his pipe and tabac pouch from a coat pocket.

Perrin eyed her warily. She was biting her lip, as if considering what to say. “Do you ever see things about him?” he asked, nodding after the Ogier.

She shook her head. “I think it only works with humans. But I’ve seen things around you that you ought to know about.”

“I’ve told you—”

“Don’t be more thickheaded than you have to be, Perrin. Back there, right after you said you’d go. They were not there before. They must have to do with this journey. Or at least with you deciding to go.”

After a moment he said reluctantly, “What did you see?”

“An Aielman in a cage,” she said promptly. “A Tuatha’an with a sword. A falcon and a hawk, perching on your shoulders. Both female, I think. And all the rest, of course. What is always there. Darkness swirling ’round you, and—”

“None of that!” he said quickly. When he was sure she had stopped, he scratched his head, thinking. None of it made any sense to him. “Do you have any idea what it all means? The new things, I mean.”

“No, but they’re important. The things I see always are. Turning points in people’s lives, or what’s fated. It’s always important.” She hesitated for a moment, glancing at him. “One more thing,” she said slowly. “If you meet a woman—the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen—run!”

Perrin blinked. “You saw a beautiful woman? Why should I run from a beautiful woman?”

“Can’t you just take advice?” she said irritably. She kicked at a stone and watched it roll down the slope.

Perrin did not like jumping to conclusions—it was one of the reasons some people thought him slow-witted—but he totaled up a number of things Min had said in the last few days and came to a startling conclusion. He stopped dead, hunting for words. “Uh... Min, you know I like you. I like you, but.... Uh... you sort of remind me of my sisters. I mean, you....” The flow stumbled to a halt as she raised her head to look at him, eyebrows arched. She wore a small smile.

“Why, Perrin, you must know that I love you.” She stood there, watching his mouth work, then spoke slowly and carefully. “Like a brother, you great wooden-headed lummox! The arrogance of men never ceases to amaze me. You all think everything has to do with you, and every woman has to desire you.”

Perrin felt his face growing hot. “I never.... I didn’t....” He cleared his throat. “What did you see about a woman?”

“Just take my advice,” she said, and started down toward the stream again, walking fast. “If you forget all the rest,” she called over her shoulder, “heed that!”

He frowned after her—for once his thoughts seemed to arrange themselves quickly—then caught up in two strides. “It’s Rand, isn’t it?”

She made a sound in her throat and gave him a sidelong look. She did not slow down, though. “Maybe you aren’t so boneheaded after all,” she muttered. After a moment she added, as if to herself, “I’m bound to him as surely as a stave is bound to the barrel. But I can’t see if he’ll ever love me in return. And I am not the only one.”

“Does Egwene know?” he asked. Rand and Egwene had been all but promised since childhood. Everything but kneeling in front of the Women’s Circle of the village to speak the betrothal. He was not sure how far they had drifted from that, if at all.

“She knows,” Min said curtly. “Much good it does either of us.”

“What about Rand? Does he know?”

“Oh, of course,” she said bitterly. “I told him, didn’t I? ‘Rand, I did a viewing of you, and it seems I have to fall in love with you. I have to share you, too, and I don’t much like that, but there it is.’ You’re a wooden-headed wonder after all, Perrin Aybara.” She dashed a hand across her eyes angrily. “If I could be with him, I know I could help. Somehow. Light, if he dies, I don’t know if I can stand it.”

Perrin shrugged uncomfortably. “Listen, Min. I’ll do what I can to help him.” However much that is. “I promise you that. It really is best for you to go to Tar Valon. You’ll be safe there.”

“Safe?” She tasted the word as if wondering what it meant. “You think Tar Valon is safe?”

“If there’s no safety in Tar Valon, there’s no safety anywhere.”

She sniffed loudly, and in silence they went to join those preparing to leave.

The Way Out of the Mountains

The way down out of the mountains was hard, but the lower they went, the less Perrin needed his fur-lined cloak. Hour by hour, they rode out of the tailings of winter and into the first days of spring. The last remnants of snow vanished, and grasses and wildflowers—white maiden’s hope and pink jump up—began to cover the high meadows they crossed. Trees appeared more often, with more leaves, and grasslarks and robins sang in the branches. And there were wolves. Never in sight—not even Lan mentioned seeing one—but Perrin knew. He kept his mind firmly closed to them, yet now and again a feather-light tickle at the back of his mind reminded him they were there.

Lan spent most of his time scouting their path on his black warhorse, Mandarb, following Rand’s tracks as the rest of them followed the signs the Warder left for them. An arrow of stones laid out on the ground, or one lightly scratched in the rock wall of a forking pass. Turn this way. Cross that saddlepass. Take this switchback, this deer trail, this way through the trees and down along a narrow stream, even though there is nothing to indicate anyone has ever gone that way before. Nothing but Lan’s signs. A tuft of grass or weeds tied one way to say bear left, another for bear right. A bent branch. A pile of pebbles for a rough climb ahead, two leaves caught on a thorn for a steep descent. The Warder had a hundred signs, it seemed to Perrin, and Moiraine knew them all. Lan rarely came back except when they made camp, to confer with Moiraine quietly, away from the fire. When the sun rose, most often he was hours gone already.

Moiraine was always first into the saddle after him, while the eastern sky was just turning pink. The Aes Sedai would not have climbed down from Aldieb, her white mare, until full dark or later, except that Lan refused to track further once the light began to fail.

“We’ll go even slower if a horse breaks a leg,” the Warder would tell Moiraine when she complained.

Her reply was always very much the same. “If you cannot move any faster than this, perhaps I should send you off to Myrelle before you get any older. Well, perhaps that can wait, but you must move us faster.”

She half sounded as if the threat were irritated truth, half as if she were making a joke. There was something of a threat in it, or maybe a warning, Perrin was sure, from the way Lan’s mouth tightened even when she smiled afterwards and reached up to pat his shoulder soothingly.

“Who is Myrelle?” Perrin asked suspiciously, the first time it happened. Loial shook his head, murmuring something about unpleasant things happening to those who pried into Aes Sedai affairs. The Ogier’s hairy-fetlocked horse was as tall and heavy as a Dhurran stallion, but with Loial’s long legs dangling to either side, the animal looked undersized, like a large pony.

Moiraine gave an amused, secretive smile. “Just a Green sister. Someone to whom Lan must one day deliver a package for safekeeping.”

“No day soon,” Lan said, and surprisingly, there was open anger in his voice. “Never, if I can help it. You will outlive me long, Moiraine Aes Sedai!”

She has too many secrets, Perrin thought, but asked no more about a subject that could crack the Warder’s iron self-control.

The Aes Sedai had a blanket-wrapped bundle tied behind her saddle: the Dragon banner. Perrin was uneasy about having it with them, but Moiraine had neither asked his opinion nor listened when he offered it. Not that anyone was likely to recognize it if he saw it, yet he hoped she was as good at keeping secrets from other people as she was at keeping them from him.

In the beginning, at least, it was a boring journey. One cloud-capped mountain was very much like another, one pass little different from the next. Supper was usually rabbit, dropped by stones from Perrin’s sling. He did not have so many arrows as to risk shooting at rabbits in that rocky country. Breakfast was cold rabbit, more often than not, and the midday meal the same, eaten in the saddle.

Sometimes when they camped near a stream and there was still light enough to see, he and Loial caught mountain trout, lying on their bellies, hands elbow-deep in the cold water, tickling the green-backed fish out from under the rock ledges where they hid. Loial’s fingers, big as they were, were even more deft at it than Perrin’s.

Once, three days after setting out, Moiraine joined them, stretching herself out on the streamside and undoing rows of pearl buttons to roll up her sleeves as she asked how the thing was done. Perrin exchanged surprised looks with Loial. The Ogier shrugged.

“It is not that hard, really,” Perrin told her. “Just bring your hand up from behind the fish, and underneath, as if you’re trying to tickle its belly. Then you pull it out. It takes practice, though. You might not catch anything the first few times you try.”

“I tried for days before I ever caught anything,” Loial added. He was already easing his huge hands into the water, careful to keep his shadow from scaring the fish.

“As difficult as that?” Moiraine murmured. Her hands slipped into the water—and a moment later came out with a splash, holding a fat trout that thrashed the surface. She laughed with delight as she tossed it up onto the bank.

Perrin blinked at the big fish flopping in the fading sunlight. It must have weighed at least five pounds. “You were very lucky,” he said. “Trout that size don’t often shelter under a ledge this small. We’ll have to move upstream a bit. It will be dark before any of them settle under this ledge again.”

“Is that so?” Moiraine said. “You two go ahead. I think I will just try here again.”

Perrin hesitated a moment before moving up the bank to another overhang. She was up to something, but he could not imagine what. That troubled him. Belly down, and careful not to let his shadow fall on the water, he peered over the edge. Half a dozen slender shapes hung suspended in the water, barely moving a fin to hold their places. All of them together would not weigh as much as Moiraine’s fish, he decided with a sigh. If they were lucky, he and Loial might take two apiece, but the shadows of trees on the far bank already stretched across the water. Whatever they caught now would be it, and Loial’s appetite was big enough by itself to swallow those four and most of the bigger fish, too. Loial’s hands were already easing up behind one of the trout.

Before Perrin could even slide his hands into the water, Moiraine gave a shout. “Three should be enough, I think. The last two are bigger than the first.”

Perrin gave Loial a startled look. “She can’t have!”

The Ogier straightened, sending the small trout scattering. “She is Aes Sedai,” he said simply.

Sure enough, when they returned to Moiraine, three big trout lay on the bank. She was already buttoning her sleeves up again.

Perrin thought about reminding her that whoever took the fish was supposed to clean them, too, but just at that moment she caught his eye. There was no particular expression on her smooth face, but her dark eyes did not waver, and they appeared to know what he was going to say, and to have dismissed it out of hand already. When she turned away, it seemed somehow too late to say anything.

Muttering to himself, Perrin pulled out his beltknife and set to the gutting and heading. “All of a sudden she’s forgotten about sharing the chores, it seems. I suppose she’ll want us to do the cooking, as well, and the cleaning up after.”

“No doubt she will,” Loial said without pausing over the fish he was working on. “She is Aes Sedai.”

“I seem to remember hearing that somewhere.” Perrin’s knife ripped into the fish. “The Shienarans might have been willing to run around fetching and carrying for her, but there are only four of us now. We should keep on turn and turn about. It’s only fair.”

Loial gave a great snort of laughter. “I doubt she sees it that way. First she had to put up with Rand arguing with her all the time, and now you’re ready to take over for him. As a rule, Aes Sedai do not let anyone argue with them. I expect she means to have us back in the habit of doing what she says by the time we reach the first village.”

“A good habit to be in,” Lan said, throwing back his cloak. In the fading light he had appeared out of nowhere.

Perrin nearly fell over from surprise, and Loial’s ears went stiff with shock. Neither of them had heard the Warder’s step.

“A habit you should never have lost,” Lan added, then strode off toward Moiraine and the horses. His boots barely made a sound, even on that rocky ground, and once he was a few paces away the cloak hanging down his back gave him the uneasy appearance of a disembodied head and arms drifting up from the stream.

“We need her to find Rand,” Perrin said softly, “but I am not going to let her shape my life anymore.” He went back to his cleaning vigorously.

He meant to keep that promise—he really did—but during the days that followed, in some way he did not quite understand, he found that he and Loial were doing the cooking, and the cleaning up, and any other little chore that Moiraine thought of. He even discovered that somehow or other he had taken over tending Aldieb every night, unsaddling the mare and rubbing her down while Moiraine settled herself, apparently deep in thought.

Loial gave in to it as inevitable, but not Perrin. He tried refusing, resisting, but it was hard to resist when she made a reasonable suggestion, and a small one at that. Only there was always another suggestion behind it, as reasonable and small as the first, and then another. The simple force of her presence, the strength of her gaze, made it difficult to protest. Her dark eyes would catch his at the moment he opened his mouth. A lift of her eyebrow to suggest he was being rude, a surprised widening of her eyes that he could object to so small a request, a level stare that held in it everything that was Aes Sedai, all these things could make him hesitate, and once he hesitated there was never any recovering lost ground. He accused her of using the One Power on him, though he did not really think that was it, and she told him not to be a fool. He began to feel like a piece of iron trying to stop a smith from hammering it into a scythe.

The Mountains of Mist gave way abruptly to the forested foothills of Ghealdan, to land that seemed all up and down, but never very high. Deer, which in the mountains had often watched them warily, as if uncertain what a man was, began to bound away, white tails flickering, at the first sight of the horses. Even Perrin now caught only the faintest glimpses of the gray-striped mountain cats that seemed to fade away like smoke. They were coming into the lands of men.

Lan stopped wearing his color-shifting cloak and began riding back to the rest of them more often, telling them what lay ahead. In many places the trees had all been cut down. Soon, fields encircled by rough stone walls and farmers plowing ’round the sides of hills were common sights, if not exactly frequent, along with lines of people moving across the plowed ground, sowing seed from sacks slung from their shoulders. Scattered farmhouses and barns of gray stone sat on hilltops and ridges.

The wolves should not have been there. Wolves avoided places where men were, but Perrin could still sense them, an unseen screen and escort ringing the mounted party. Impatience filled him; impatience to reach a village or a town, any place where there were enough men to make the wolves go away.

A day after sighting the first field, just as the sun touched the horizon behind them, they came to the village of Jarra, not far north of the border with Amadicia.


Gray stone houses with slate roofs lay clustered along the few narrow streets of Jarra, clinging to a hillside above a little stream spanned by a low wooden bridge. The muddy streets were empty, and so was the sloping village green, except for one man sweeping the steps of the village’s only inn, standing beside its stone stable; but it looked as if there had been a good many people on the green not long before. Half a dozen arches, woven of green branches and dotted with such few flowers as could be found this early in the year, stood in a circle in the middle of the grass. The ground had a trampled look, and there were other signs of a gathering; a woman’s red scarf lying tangled at the foot of one of the arches, a child’s knitted cap, a pewter pitcher tumbled on its side, a few half-eaten scraps of food.

The aromas of sweet wine and spiced cakes clung about the green, mixed in with smoke from dozens of chimneys and evening meals cooking. For an instant Perrin’s nose caught another odor, one he could not identify, a faint trail that raised the hair on the back of his neck with its vileness. Then it was gone. But he was sure something had passed that way, something—wrong. He scrubbed at his nose as if to rub away the memory of it. That can’t be Rand. Light, even if he has gone mad, that can’t be him. Can it?

A painted sign hung above the inn door, a man standing on one foot with his arms thrown in the air: Harilin’s Leap. As they drew rein in front of the square stone building, the sweeper straightened, yawning fiercely. He gave a start at Perrin’s eyes, but his own already protruding eyes went wide when they fell on Loial. With his wide mouth and no chin to speak of, he looked something like a frog. There was an old smell of sour wine about him—to Perrin, at least. The fellow had certainly been part of the celebration.

The man gave himself a shake, and turned it into a bow with one hand resting on the double row of wooden buttons running down his coat. His eyes flickered from one to another of them, popping even more every time they rested on Loial. “Welcome, good mistress, and the Light illumine your way. Welcome, good masters. You wish food, rooms, baths? All to be had, here at the Leap. Master Harod, the innkeeper, keeps a good house. I am called Simion. If you wish anything, ask for Simion, and he will get it for you.” He yawned again, covering his mouth in embarrassment and bowing to hide it. “I beg your pardon, good mistress. You have come far? Have you word of the Great Hunt? The Hunt for the Horn of Valere? Or the false Dragon? It’s said there’s a false Dragon in Tarabon. Or maybe Arad Doman.”

“We have not come that far,” Lan said, swinging down from his saddle. “No doubt you know more than I.” They all began dismounting.

“You have had a wedding here?” Moiraine said.

“A wedding, good mistress? Why, we’ve had a lifetime of weddings. A plague of them. All in the last two days. There isn’t a woman old enough to speak the betrothal remains unmarried, not in the whole village, not for a mile in any direction. Why, even Widow Jorath dragged old Banas through the arches, and they’d both sworn they’d never marry again. It was like a whirlwind just snatched everybody up. Rilith, the weaver’s daughter, she started it, asking Jon the blacksmith to marry her, and him old enough to be her father and more. The old fool just took off his apron and said yes, and she demanded the arches be put up right then and there. Wouldn’t hear of a proper wait, and all the other women sided with her. Since then we’ve had marriages day and night. Why, nobody’s had any sleep at all hardly.”

“That’s very interesting,” Perrin said when Simion paused to yawn again, “but have you seen a young—”

“It is very interesting,” Moiraine said, cutting him off, “and I would hear more of it later, perhaps. For now, we would like rooms, and a meal.” Lan made a small gesture toward Perrin, down low, as if telling him to hold his tongue.

“Of course, good mistress. A meal. Rooms.” Simion hesitated, eyeing Loial. “We’ll have to push two beds together for—” He leaned closer to Moiraine and dropped his voice. “Pardon, good mistress, but—uh—what exactly—is he? Meaning no disrespect,” he added hastily.

He had not spoken softly enough, for Loial’s ears twitched irritably. “I am an Ogier! What did you think I was? A Trolloc?”

Simion took a step back at the booming voice. “Trolloc, good—uh—master? Why, I’m a grown man. I don’t believe in children’s tales. Uh, did you say Ogier? Why, Ogier are childr—I mean... that is....” In desperation, he turned to bellow toward the stable next to the inn. “Nico! Patrim! Visitors! Come see to their horses!” After a moment two boys with hay in their hair tumbled out of the stable, yawning and rubbing their eyes. Simion gestured to the steps, bowing, as the boys gathered reins.

Perrin slung his saddlebags and blanketroll over his shoulder and carried his bow as he followed Moiraine and Lan inside, with Simion bowing and bobbing ahead of them. Loial had to duck low under the lintel, and the ceiling inside only cleared his head by a foot. He kept rumbling to himself about not understanding why so few humans remembered the Ogier. His voice was like distant thunder. Even Perrin, right in front of him, could only understand half of his words.

The inn smelled of ale and wine, cheese and weariness, and the aroma of roasting mutton drifted from somewhere in the back. The few men in the common room sagged over their mugs as if they would really like to lie down on the benches and go to sleep. One plump serving woman was drawing a mug of ale from one of the barrels at the end of the room. The innkeeper himself, in a long white apron, sat on a tall stool in the corner, leaning against the wall. As the newcomers entered, he lifted his head, bleary-eyed. His jaw dropped at the sight of Loial.

“Visitors, Master Harod,” Simion announced. “They want rooms. Master Harod? He’s an Ogier, Master Harod.” The serving woman turned and saw Loial, and dropped the mug with a clatter. None of the weary men at the tables even looked up. One had put his head down on the table and was snoring.

Loial’s ears twitched violently.

Master Harod got to his feet slowly, eyes fastened on Loial, smoothing his apron all the while. “At least he isn’t a Whitecloak,” he said at last, then gave a start as if surprised he had spoken aloud. “That is to say, welcome, good mistress. Good masters. Forgive my lack of manners. I can only plead tiredness, good mistress.” He darted another glance at Loial, and mouthed “Ogier?” with a look of disbelief.

Loial opened his mouth, but Moiraine forestalled him. “As your man said, good innkeeper, I wish rooms for my party for the night, and a meal.”

“Oh! Of course, good mistress. Of course. Simion, show these good people to my best rooms, so they can put down their belongings. I’ll have a fine meal laid out for you when you return, good mistress. A fine meal.”

“If it pleases you to follow me, good mistress,” Simion said. “Good masters.” He bowed the way to stairs at one side of the common room.

Behind them, one of the men at the tables suddenly exclaimed, “What in the name of the Light is that?” Master Harod began explaining about Ogier, making it sound as if he were quite familiar with them. Most of what Perrin heard before they left the voices behind was wrong. Loial’s ears twitched without stop.

On the second floor, the Ogier’s head came near to brushing along the ceiling. The narrow corridor was growing dark, with only the sharp light of sunset through a window next to the door at the far end.

“Candles in the rooms, good mistress,” Simion said. “I should have brought a lamp, but my head is still spinning from all those weddings. I’ll send someone up to light the fire, if you wish. And you’ll want wash water, of course.” He pushed open a door. “Our best room, good mistress. We don’t have many—not many strangers, you see—but this is our best.”

“I’ll take the one next to it,” Lan said. He had Moiraine’s blanketroll and saddlebags on his shoulder as well as his own, and the bundle containing the Dragon banner, too.

“Oh, good master, that’s not a very good room at all. Narrow bed. Cramped. Meant for a servant, I suspect, as if we’d ever have anybody here who had a servant. Begging your pardon, good mistress.”

“I will take it anyway,” Lan said firmly.

“Simion,” Moiraine said, “does Master Harod dislike the Children of the Light?”

“Well, he does, good mistress. He didn’t, but he does. It isn’t good policy, disliking the Children, not so close to the border as we are. They come through Jarra all the time, like there wasn’t any border at all. But there was trouble, yesterday. A fistful of trouble. And with the weddings going on, and all.”

“What happened, Simion?”

The man looked at her sharply before answering. Perrin did not think anyone else saw how sharply, in the dimness. “There was about twenty of them, come day before yesterday. No trouble then. But yesterday.... Why, three of them up and announced they weren’t Children of the Light anymore. They took off their cloaks and just rode away.”

Lan grunted. “Whitecloaks swear for life. What did their commander do?”

“Why, he would have done something, you can be sure, good master, but another of them announced he was off to find the Horn of Valere. Anyway, still another said they should be hunting the Dragon. That one said he was going to Almoth Plain when he left. Then some of them started saying things to women in the streets, things they shouldn’t have, and grabbing at them. The women were screaming, and Children yelling at the ones bothering the women. I never saw such commotion.”

“Didn’t any of you try to stop them?” Perrin said.

“Good master, you carry that axe like you know how to use it, but it isn’t so easy to face up to men with swords and armor and all, when all you know how to use is a broom or a hoe. The rest of the Whitecloaks, those as hadn’t gone off, put an end to it. Almost came to drawing swords. And that wasn’t the worst. Two more just went mad—if the others weren’t. Those two started raving that Jarra was full of Darkfriends. They tried to burn the village down—said they would!—beginning with the Leap. You can see the burn marks out back, where they got it started. Fought the other Whitecloaks when they tried to stop them. The Whitecloaks that were left, they helped us put it out, tied those two up tight, and rode out of here, back toward Amadicia. Good riddance, I say, and if they never come back, it’ll be too soon.”

“Rough behavior,” Lan said, “even for Whitecloaks.”

Simion bobbed his head in agreement. “As you say, good master. They never acted like that before. Swagger around, yes. Look at you like you were dirt, and poke their noses in where they hadn’t any business. But they never caused trouble before. Not like that, anyway.”

“They are gone now,” Moiraine said, “and troubles with them. I am sure we will pass a quiet night.”

Perrin kept his mouth shut, but he was not quiet inside. All these weddings and Whitecloaks are all very well, but I’d sooner know if Rand stopped here, and which way he went when he left. That smell couldn’t have been him.

He let Simion guide him on down the hall to another room, with two beds and a washstand, a pair of stools and not much else. Loial stooped to put his head through the doorway. Only a little light came in by the narrow windows. The beds were big enough, with blankets and comforters folded at the foot, but the mattresses looked lumpy. Simion fumbled on the mantel above the fireplace until he found a candle, and a tinderbox to get it alight.

“I’ll see about getting some beds put together for you, good—uh—Ogier. Yes, just a moment, now.” He showed no sign of hurry to be about it, though, fussing with the candlestick as if he had to place it just right. Perrin thought he looked uneasy.

Well, I’d be more than uneasy if Whitecloaks had been acting like that in Emond’s Field. “Simion, has another stranger passed through here in the last day or two? A young man, tall, with gray eyes and reddish hair? He might have played the flute for a meal or a bed.”

“I remember him, good master,” Simion said, still shifting the candlestick. “Came yesterday morning, early. Looked hungry, he did. He played the flute for all the weddings, yesterday. Good-looking young fellow. Some of the women eyed him, at first, but....” He paused, looking at Perrin sideways. “Is he a friend of yours, good master?”

“I know him,” Perrin said. “Why?”

Simion hesitated. “No reason, good master. He was an odd fellow, that’s all. He talked to himself, sometimes, and sometimes he laughed when nobody had said anything. Slept in this very room, last night, or part of it. Woke us all in the middle of the night, yelling. It was just a nightmare, but he wouldn’t stay any longer. Master Harod didn’t make much effort to talk him into it, after all that noise.” Simion paused again. “He said something strange when he left.”

“What?” Perrin demanded.

“He said somebody was after him. He said....” The chinless man swallowed and went on more slowly. “Said they’d kill him if he didn’t go. ‘One of us has to die, and I mean it to be him.’ His very words.”

“He did not mean us,” Loial rumbled. “We are his friends.”

“Of course, good—uh—good Ogier. Of course, he didn’t mean you. I—uh—I don’t mean to say anything about a friend of yours, but I—uh—I think he’s sick. In the head, you know.”

“We will take care of him,” Perrin said. “That’s why we’re following him. Which way did he go?”

“I knew it,” Simion said, bouncing on his toes. “I knew she could help as soon as I saw you. Which way? East, good master. East, like the Dark One himself was on his heels. Do you think she’ll help me? Help my brother, that is? Noam’s bad sick, and Mother Roon says she can’t do anything.”

Perrin kept his face expressionless, and bought a little time to think by propping his bow in the corner and setting his blanketroll and saddlebags on one of the beds. The problem was that thinking did not help much. He looked at Loial, but found no help there; consternation had the Ogier’s ears drooping and his long eyebrows hanging down on his cheeks. “What makes you think she can help your brother?” Stupid question! The right question is, what does he mean to do about it?

“Why, I traveled to Jehannah, once, good master, and I saw two... two women like her. I couldn’t mistake her after that.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “It’s said they can raise the dead, good master.”

“Who else knows this?” Perrin asked sharply, and at the same time Loial said, “If your brother is dead, there is nothing anyone can do.”

The frog-faced man looked from one to the other of them anxiously, and his words came in a babble. “No one knows but me, good master. Noam isn’t dead, good Ogier, only sick. I swear nobody else could recognize her. Even Master Harod’s never been more than twenty miles from here in his life. He’s so bad sick. I’d ask her myself, only my knees’d be shaking so hard she couldn’t hear me talk. What if she took offense and called down lightning on me? And what if I’d been wrong? It isn’t the kind of thing you accuse a woman of without.... I mean... uh....” He raised his hands, half in pleading, half as if to defend himself.

“I can make no promises,” Perrin said, “but I’ll speak to her. Loial, why don’t you keep Simion company till I’ve spoken to Moiraine?”

“Of course,” the Ogier boomed. Simion gave a start when Loial’s hand swallowed his shoulder. “He will show me my room, and we will talk. Tell me, Simion, what do you know of trees?”

“T-t-trees, g-good Ogier?”

Perrin did not wait any longer. He hurried back down the dark hall and knocked on Moiraine’s door, barely waiting for her peremptory “Come!” before pushing in.

Half a dozen candles showed that the Leap’s best room was none too good, though the one bed had four tall posts supporting a canopy, and the mattress looked less full of lumps than Perrin’s. There was a scrap of carpet on the floor, and two cushioned chairs instead of stools. Other than that, it looked no different from his room. Moiraine and Lan stood in front of the cold hearth as if they had been discussing something, and the Aes Sedai did not look pleased at being interrupted. The Warder’s face was as imperturbable as a carving.

“Rand’s been here, all right,” Perrin started off. “That fellow Simion remembers him.” Moiraine hissed through her teeth.

“You were told to keep your mouth shut,” Lan growled.

Perrin squared his feet to face the Warder. That was easier than facing Moiraine’s glare. “How could we find out whether he had been here without asking questions? Tell me that. He left last night, if you are interested, heading east. And he was carrying on about somebody following him, trying to kill him.”

“East.” Moiraine nodded. The utter calm of her voice was at odds with her disapproving eyes. “That is good to know, though it had to be so if he is going to Tear. But I was fairly certain he had been here even before I heard about the Whitecloaks, and they made it a certainty. Rand is almost surely right about one thing, Perrin. I cannot believe we are the only ones trying to find him. And if they find out about us, they may well try to stop us. We have enough to contend with trying to catch up to Rand without that. You must learn to hold your tongue until I tell you to speak.”

“The Whitecloaks?” Perrin said incredulously. Hold my tongue? Burn me, if I will! “How could they tell you—? Rand’s madness. It is catching?”

“Not his madness,” Moiraine said, “if he is far enough gone yet to be called mad. Perrin, he is more strongly ta’veren than anyone since the Age of Legends. Yesterday, in this village, the Pattern... moved, shaped itself around him like clay shaped on a mold. The weddings, the Whitecloaks, these were enough to say Rand had been here, for anyone who knew to listen.”

Perrin drew a long breath. “And this is what we’ll find everywhere he’s been? Light, if there are Shadowspawn after him, they can track him as easily as we can.”

“Perhaps,” Moiraine said. “Perhaps not. No one knows anything about ta’veren as strong as Rand.” For just a moment she sounded vexed at not knowing. “Artur Hawkwing was the most strongly ta’veren of whom any writings remain. And Hawkwing was in no way as strong as Rand.”

“It is said,” Lan put in, “that there were times when people in the same room with Hawkwing spoke truth when they meant to lie, made decisions they had not even known they were contemplating. Times when every toss of the dice, every turn of the cards, went his way. But only times.”

“You mean you don’t know,” Perrin said. “He could leave a trail of weddings and Whitecloaks gone mad all the way to Tear.”

“I mean I know as much as there is to know,” Moiraine said sharply. Her dark-eyed gaze chastised Perrin like a whip. “The Pattern weaves finely around ta’veren, and others can follow the shape of those threads if they know where to look. Be careful your tongue does not unravel more than you can know.”

In spite of himself Perrin hunched his shoulders as if she were delivering real blows. “Well, you had better be glad I opened my mouth this time. Simion knows you’re Aes Sedai. He wants you to Heal his brother Noam of some sickness. If I hadn’t talked to him, he would never have worked up nerve enough to ask, but he might have started talking among his friends.”

Lan caught Moiraine’s eye, and for a moment they stared at one another. The Warder had the air about him of a wolf about to leap. Finally, Moiraine shook her head. “No,” she said.

“As you wish. It is your decision.” Lan sounded as if he thought she had made the wrong one, but the tension left him.

Perrin stared at them. “You were thinking of.... Simion couldn’t tell anyone if he were dead, could he?”

“He will not die by my actions,” Moiraine said. “But I cannot, and will not, promise that it will always be so. We must find Rand, and I will not fail in that. Is that spoken plainly enough for you?” Caught in her gaze, Perrin could make no answer. She nodded as if his silence were answer enough. “Now take me to Simion.”

The door to Loial’s room stood open, spilling a pool of candlelight into the hall. The two beds inside had been pushed together, and Loial and Simion were seated on the edge of one. The chinless man was staring up at Loial with his mouth open and an expression of wonder on his face.

“Oh, yes, the stedding are wonderful,” Loial was saying. “There is such peace there, under the Great Trees. You humans may have your wars and strife, but nothing ever troubles the stedding. We tend the trees and live in harmony....” He trailed off when he saw Moiraine, with Lan and Perrin behind her.

Simion scrambled to his feet, bowing and backing away until he came up against the far wall. “Uh... good mistress.... Uh... uh....” Even then, he continued bobbing like a toy on a string.

“Show me to your brother,” Moiraine commanded, “and I will do what I can. Perrin, you will come, too, since this good man spoke to you first.” Lan lifted an eyebrow, and she shook her head. “If we all go, we might attract attention. Perrin can give me what protection I need.”

Lan nodded reluctantly, then gave Perrin a hard look. “See that you do, blacksmith. If any harm befalls her....” His cold blue eyes finished the promise.

Simion snatched one of the candles and scurried into the hallway, still bowing so the candlelight made their shadows dance. “This way—uh—good mistress. This way.”

Beyond the door at the end of the hall, outside stairs led down to a cramped alleyway, between inn and stable. Night shrank the candle to a flickering pinpoint. The half moon was up in a star-flecked sky, giving more than enough light for Perrin’s eyes. He wondered when Moiraine would tell Simion he did not have to keep bowing, but she never did. The Aes Sedai glided along, clutching her skirts to keep them out of the mud, as though the dark passage were a palace hall and she a queen. The air was already cooling; nights still carried echoes of winter.

“This way.” Simion led them back to a small shed behind the stable and hurriedly unbarred the door. “This way.” Simion pointed. “There, good mistress. There. My brother. Noam.”

The far end of the shed had been barred off with slats of wood; hastily, by the rough look of it. A stout iron lock in a hasp held shut a crude door of wooden slats. Behind those bars, a man lay sprawled on his stomach on the straw-covered floor. He was barefoot, his shirt and breeches ripped as if he had torn at them without knowing how to take them off. There was an odor of unwashed flesh that Perrin thought even Simion and Moiraine must smell.

Noam lifted his head and stared at them silently, without expression. There was nothing at all about him to suggest he was Simion’s brother—he had a chin, for one thing, and he was a big man, with heavy shoulders—but that was not what staggered Perrin. Noam stared at them with burnished golden eyes.

“He’d been talking crazy almost a year, good mistress, saying he could... could talk with wolves. And his eyes....” Simion darted a glance at Perrin. “Well, he’d talk about it when he’d drunk too much. Everybody laughed at him. Then a month or so ago, he didn’t come to town. I went out to see what was the matter, and I found him—like this.”

Cautiously, unwillingly, Perrin reached out toward Noam as he would have toward a wolf. Running through the woods with the cold wind in his nose. Quick dash from cover, teeth snapping at hamstrings. Taste of blood, rich on the tongue. Kill. Perrin jerked back as he would have from a fire, sealed himself off. They were not thoughts at all, really, just a chaotic jumble of desires and images, part memory, part yearning. But there was more wolf there than anything else. He put a hand to the wall to steady himself; his knees felt weak. Light help me!

Moiraine put a hand on the lock.

“Master Harod has the key, good mistress. I don’t know if he’ll—”

She gave a tug, and the lock sprang open. Simion gaped at her. She lifted the lock free of the hasp, and the chinless man turned to Perrin.

“Is that safe, good master? He’s my brother, but he bit Mother Roon when she tried to help, and he... he killed a cow. With his teeth,” he finished faintly.

“Moiraine,” Perrin said, “the man is dangerous.”

“All men are dangerous,” she replied in a cool voice. “Now be quiet.” She opened the door and went in. Perrin held his breath.

At her first step, Noam’s lips peeled back from his teeth, and he began to growl, a rumble that deepened till his whole body quivered. Moiraine ignored it. Still growling, Noam wriggled backwards in the straw as she came closer to him, until he had backed himself into a corner. Or she had backed him.

Slowly, calmly, the Aes Sedai knelt and took his head between her hands. Noam’s growl heightened to a snarl, then tailed off in a whimper before Perrin could move. For a long moment Moiraine held Noam’s head, then just as calmly released it and rose. Perrin’s throat tightened as she turned her back on Noam and walked out of the cage, but the man only stared after her. She pushed the slatted door to, slipped the lock back through the hasp, not bothering to snap it shut—and Noam hurled himself snarling against the wooden bars. He bit at them, and battered them with his shoulders, tried to force his head between them, all the while snarling and snapping.

Moiraine brushed straw from her skirt with a steady hand and no expression.

“You do take chances,” Perrin breathed. She looked at him—a steady, knowing gaze—and he dropped his eyes. His yellow eyes.

Simion was staring at his brother. “Can you help him, good mistress?” he asked hoarsely.

“I am sorry, Simion,” she said.

“Can’t you do anything, good mistress? Something? One of those”—his voice fell to a whisper—“Aes Sedai things?”

“Healing is not a simple matter, Simion, and it comes from within as much as from the Healer. There is nothing here that remembers being Noam, nothing that remembers being a man. There are no maps remaining to show him the path back, and nothing left to take that path. Noam is gone, Simion.”

“He—he just used to talk funny, good mistress, when he’d had too much to drink. He just....” Simion scrubbed a hand across his eyes and blinked. “Thank you, good mistress. I know you’d have done something if you could.” She put a hand on his shoulder, murmured comforting words, and then she was gone from the shed.

Perrin knew he should follow her, but the man—what had once been a man—snapping at the wooden bars, held him. He took a quick step and surprised himself by removing the dangling lock from the hasp. The lock was a good one, the work of a master smith.

“Good master?”

Perrin stared at the lock in his hand, at the man behind in the cage. Noam had stopped biting at the slats; he stared back at Perrin warily, panting. Some of his teeth had broken off jaggedly.

“You can leave him in here forever,” Perrin said, “but I—I don’t think he’ll ever get any better.”

“If he gets out, good master, he’ll die!”

“He will die in here or out there, Simion. Out there, at least he’ll be free, and as happy as he can be. He is not your brother anymore, but you’re the one who has to decide. You can leave him in here for people to stare at, leave him to stare at the bars of his cage until he pines away. You cannot cage a wolf, Simion, not and expect it to be happy. Or live long.”

“Yes,” Simion said slowly. “Yes, I see.” He hesitated, then nodded, and jerked his head toward the shed door.

That was all the answer Perrin needed. He swung back the slatted door and stood aside.

For a moment Noam stared at the opening. Abruptly he darted out of the cage, running on all fours, but with surprising agility. Out of the cage, out of the shed, and into the night. The Light help us both, Perrin thought.

“I suppose it’s better for him to be free.” Simion gave himself a shake. “But I don’t know what Master Harod will say when he finds that door standing open and Noam gone.”

Perrin shut the cage door; the big lock made a sharp click as he refastened it. “Let him puzzle that out.”

Simion barked a quick laugh, abruptly cut off. “He’ll make something out of it. They all will. Some of them say Noam turned into a wolf—fur and all!—when he bit Mother Roon. It’s not true, but they say it.”

Shivering, Perrin leaned his head against the cage door. He may not have fur, but he’s a wolf. He’s wolf, not man. Light, help me.

“We didn’t keep him here always,” Simion said suddenly. “He was at Mother Roon’s house, but she and I got Master Harod to move him here after the Whitecloaks came. They always have a list of names, Darkfriends they’re looking for. It was Noam’s eyes, you see. One of the names the Whitecloaks had was a fellow named Perrin Aybara, a blacksmith. They said he has yellow eyes, and runs with wolves. You can see why I didn’t want them to know about Noam.”

Perrin turned his head enough to look at Simion over his shoulder. “Do you think this Perrin Aybara is a Darkfriend?”

“A Darkfriend wouldn’t care if my brother died in a cage. I suppose she found you soon after it happened. In time to help. I wish she’d come to Jarra a few months ago.”

Perrin was ashamed that he had ever compared the man to a frog. “And I wish she could have done something for him.” Burn me, I wish she could. Suddenly it burst on him that the whole village must know about Noam. About his eyes. “Simion, would you bring me something to eat in my room?” Master Harod and the rest might have been too taken with staring at Loial to notice his eyes before, but they surely would if he ate in the common room.

“Of course. And in the morning, too. You don’t have to come down until you are ready to get on your horse.”

“You are a good man, Simion. A good man.” Simion looked so pleased that Perrin felt ashamed all over again.

Wolf Dreams

Perrin returned to his room by the back way, and after a time Simion came up with a covered tray. The cloth did not hold in the smells of roasted mutton, sweetbeans, turnips, and freshly baked bread, but Perrin lay on his bed, staring at the whitewashed ceiling, until the aromas grew cold. Images of Noam ran through his head over and over again. Noam chewing at the wooden slats. Noam running off into the darkness. He tried to think of lock-making, of the careful quenching and shaping of the steel, but it did not work.

Ignoring the tray, he rose and made his way down the hall to Moiraine’s room. She answered his rap on the door with, “Come in, Perrin.”

For an instant all the old stories about Aes Sedai stirred again, but he pushed them aside and opened the door.

Moiraine was alone—for which he was grateful—sitting with an ink bottle balanced on her knee, writing in a small, leather-bound book. She corked the bottle and wiped the steel nib of her pen on a small scrap of parchment without looking at him. There was a fire in the fireplace.

“I have been expecting you for some time,” she said. “I have not spoken about this before because it was obvious you did not want me to. After tonight, though.... What do you want to know?”

“Is that what I can expect?” he asked. “To end like that?”


He waited for more, but she only put pen and ink away in their small case of polished rosewood and blew on her writing to dry it. “Is that all? Moiraine, don’t give me slippery Aes Sedai answers. If you know something, tell me. Please.”

“I know very little, Perrin. While searching for other answers among the books and manuscripts two friends keep for their researches, I found a copied fragment of a book from the Age of Legends. It spoke of... situations like yours. That may be the only copy anywhere in the world, and it did not tell me much.”

“What did it tell you? Anything at all is more than I know now. Burn me, I’ve been worrying about Rand going mad, but I never thought I had to worry about myself!”

“Perrin, even in the Age of Legends, they knew little of this. Whoever wrote it seemed uncertain whether it was truth or legend. And I only saw a fragment, remember. She said that some who talked to wolves lost themselves, that what was human was swallowed up by wolf. Some. Whether she meant one in ten, or five, or nine, I do not know.”

“I can shut them out. I don’t know how I do it, but I can refuse to listen to them. I can refuse to hear them. Will that help?”

“It may.” She studied him, seeming to choose her words carefully. “Mostly, she wrote of dreams. Dreams can be dangerous for you, Perrin.”

“You said that once before. What do you mean?”

“According to her, wolves live partly in this world, and partly in a world of dreams.”

“A world of dreams?” he said disbelievingly.

Moiraine gave him a sharp look. “That is what I said, and that is what she wrote. The way wolves talk to one another, the way they talk to you, is in some way connected to this world of dreams. I do not claim to understand how.” She paused, frowning slightly. “From what I have read of Aes Sedai who had the Talent called Dreaming, Dreamers sometimes spoke of encountering wolves in their dreams, even wolves that acted as guides. I fear you must learn to be as careful sleeping as waking, if you intend to avoid wolves. If that is what you decide to do.”

“If that is what I decide? Moiraine, I will not end up like Noam. I won’t!”

She eyed him quizzically, shaking her head slowly. “You speak as if you can make all your own choices, Perrin. You are ta’veren, remember.” He turned his back on her, staring at the night-dark windows, but she continued: “Perhaps, knowing what Rand is, knowing how strongly ta’veren he is, I have paid too little attention to the other two ta’veren I found with him. Three ta’veren in the same village, all born within weeks of one another? That is unheard of. Perhaps you—and Mat—have larger purposes in the Pattern than you, or I, thought.”

“I do not want any purpose in the Pattern,” Perrin muttered. “I surely can’t have one if I forget I am a man. Will you help me, Moiraine?” It was hard to say that. What if it means her using the One Power? Would I rather forget I’m a man? “Help me keep from—losing myself?”

“If I can keep you whole, I will. I promise you that, Perrin. But I will not endanger the struggle against the Shadow. You must know that, too.”

When he turned to look at her, she was regarding him unblinkingly. And if your struggle means putting me in my grave tomorrow, will you do that, too? He was icily sure that she would. “What have you not told me?”

“Do not presume too far, Perrin,” she said coldly. “Do not press me further than I think proper.”

He hesitated before asking the next question. “Can you do for me what you did for Lan? Can you shield my dreams?”

“I already have a Warder, Perrin.” Her lips quirked almost into a smile. “And one is all I will have. I am of the Blue Ajah, not the Green.”

“You know what I mean. I don’t want to be a Warder.” Light, bound to an Aes Sedai the rest of my life? That’s as bad as the wolves.

“It would not aid you, Perrin. The shielding is for dreams from the outside. The danger in your dreams is within you.” She opened the small book again. “You should sleep,” she said in dismissal. “Be wary of your dreams, but you must sleep sometime.” She turned a page, and he left.

Back in his own room, he eased the hold he kept on himself, eased it just a trifle, let his senses spread. The wolves were out there still, beyond the edges of the village, ringing Jarra. Almost immediately he snapped back to rigid self-control. “What I need is a city,” he muttered. That would keep them at bay. After I find Rand. After I finish whatever has to be finished with him. He was not sure how sorry he was that Moiraine could not shield him. The One Power or the wolves; that was a choice no man should have to make.

He left the fire laid on the hearthstone unlit, and threw open both windows. Cold night air rushed in. Tossing blankets and comforter on the floor, he lay down fully clothed on the lumpy bed, not bothering to try to find a comfortable position. His last thought before sleep came was that if anything would keep him from deep sleep and dangerous dreams, that mattress would.

He was in a long hallway, its high stone ceiling and walls glistening with damp and streaked by odd shadows. They lay in contorted strips, stopping as abruptly as they began, too dark for the light between them. He had no idea where the light came from.

“No,” he said, then louder, “No! This is a dream. I need to wake up. Wake up!”

The hallway did not change.

Danger. It was a wolf’s thought, faint and distant.

“I will wake up. I will!” He pounded a fist against the wall. It hurt, but he did not wake. He thought one of the sinuous shadows shifted away from his blow.

Run, brother. Run.

“Hopper?” he said wonderingly. He was sure he knew the wolf whose thoughts he heard. Hopper, who had envied the eagles. “Hopper is dead!”


Perrin lurched into a run, one hand holding his axe to keep the haft from banging against his leg. He had no idea where he was running, or why, but the urgency of Hopper’s sending could not be ignored. Hopper’s dead, he thought. He’s dead! But Perrin ran.

Other hallways crossed the one he ran along, at odd angles, sometimes descending, sometimes climbing. None looked any different from the passage he was in, though. Damp stone walls unbroken by doors, and strips of darkness.

As he came on one of those crossing halls, he skidded to a halt. A man stood there, blinking at him uncertainly, in strangely cut coat and breeches, the coat flaring over his hips as the bottoms of the breeches flared over his boots. Both were bright yellow, and his boots were only a little paler.

“This is more than I can stand,” the man said, to himself, not Perrin. He had an odd accent, quick and sharp. “Not only do I dream of peasants, now, but foreign peasants, from those clothes. Begone from my dreams, fellow!”

“Who are you?” Perrin asked. The man’s eyebrows rose as if he were offended.

The strips of shadow around them writhed. One detached from the ceiling at one end and drifted down to touch the strange man’s head. It appeared to tangle in his hair. The man’s eyes widened, and everything seemed to happen at once. The shadow jerked back to the ceiling, ten feet overhead, trailing something pale. Wet drops splattered Perrin’s face. A bone-rattling shriek shattered the air.

Frozen, Perrin stared at the bloody shape wearing the man’s clothes, screaming and thrashing on the floor. Unbidden, his eyes rose to the pale thing like an empty sack that dangled from the ceiling. Part of it was already absorbed by the black strip, but he had no trouble recognizing a human skin, apparently whole and unbroken.

The shadows around him danced in agitation, and Perrin ran, pursued by dying screams. Ripples ran along the shadow strips, pacing him.

“Change, burn you!” he shouted. “I know it’s a dream! Light burn you, change!”

Colorful tapestries hung along the walls between tall golden stands holding dozens of candles that illuminated white floor tiles and a ceiling painted with fluffy clouds and fanciful birds in flight. Nothing moved but the flickering candle flames along the length of that hall, stretching as far as he could see, or in the pointed arches of white stone that occasionally broke the walls.

Danger. The sending was even fainter than before. And more urgent, if that were possible.

Axe in hand, Perrin started warily down the hall, muttering to himself. “Wake up. Wake up, Perrin. If you know it’s a dream, it changes or you wake up. Wake up, burn you!” The hallway stayed as solid as any he had ever walked.

He came abreast of the first of the pointed white archways. It let into a huge room, apparently windowless, but furnished as ornately as any palace, the furniture all carved and gilded and inlaid with ivory. A woman stood in the middle of the room, frowning at a tattered manuscript lying open on a table. A black-haired, black-eyed, beautiful woman clothed in white and silver.

Even as he recognized her, she lifted her head and looked straight at him. Her eyes widened, in shock, in anger. “You! What are you doing here? How did you—? You’ll ruin things you could not begin to imagine!”

Abruptly the space seemed to flatten, as if he were suddenly staring at a picture of a room. The flat image appeared to turn sideways, become only a bright vertical line down the middle of blackness. The line flashed white, and was gone, leaving only the dark, blacker than black.

Just in front of Perrin’s boots, the floor tiles came to an abrupt end. As he watched, the white edges dissolved into the black like sand washed away by water. He stepped back hastily.


Perrin turned, and Hopper was there, a big gray wolf, grizzled and scarred. “You are dead. I saw you die. I felt you die!” A sending flooded Perrin’s mind.

Run now! You must not be here now. Danger. Great danger. Worse than all the Neverborn. You must go. Go now! Now!

“How?” Perrin shouted. “I want to go, but how?”

Go! Teeth bared, Hopper leaped for Perrin’s throat.

With a strangled cry, Perrin sat up on the bed, hands going to his throat to hold in lifeblood. They met unbroken skin. He swallowed with relief, but the next moment his fingers touched a damp spot.

Almost falling in his haste, he scrambled off the bed, stumbled to the washstand and seized the pitcher, splashed water everywhere as he filled the basin. The water turned pink as he washed his face. Pink with the blood of that strangely dressed man.

More dark spots dotted his coat and breeches. He tore them off and tossed them into the furthest corner. He meant to leave them there. Simion could burn them.

A gust of wind whipped in the open window. Shivering in shirt and smallclothes, he sat on the floor and leaned back against the bed. This should be uncomfortable enough. Sourness tinged his thoughts, and worry, and fear. And determination. I won’t give in to this. I won’t!

He was still shivering when sleep finally came, a shallow half sleep filled with vague awareness of the room around him and thoughts of the cold. But the bad dreams that came were better than some others.

Rand huddled under the trees in the night, watching the heavy-shouldered black dog come nearer his hiding place. His side ached, the wound Moiraine could not quite Heal, but he ignored it. The moon gave barely enough light for him to make out the dog, waist-high, with its thick neck and massive head, and its teeth that seemed to shine like wet silver in the night. It sniffed the air and trotted toward him.

Closer, he thought. Come closer. No warning for your master this time. Closer. That’s it. The dog was only ten paces away, now, a deep growl rumbling in its chest as it suddenly bounded forward. Straight at Rand.

The Power filled him. Something leaped from his outstretched hands; he was not sure what it was. A bar of white light, solid as steel. Liquid fire. For an instant, in the middle of that something, the dog seemed to become transparent, and then it was gone.

The white light faded except for the afterimage burned across Rand’s vision. He sagged against the nearest tree trunk, the bark rough on his face. Relief and silent laughter shook him. It worked. Light save me, it worked this time. It had not always. There had been other dogs this night.

The One Power pulsed in him, and his stomach twisted with the Dark One’s taint on saidin, wanted to empty itself. Sweat beaded on his face despite the cold night wind, and his mouth tasted full of sickness. He wanted to lie down and die. He wanted Nynaeve to give him some of her medicines, or Moiraine to Heal him, or.... Something, anything, to stop the sick feeling that was suffocating him.

But saidin flooded him with life, too, life and energy and awareness larded through the illness. Life without saidin was a pale copy. Anything else was a wan imitation.

But they can find me if I hold on. Track me, find me. I have to reach Tear. I’ll find out there. If I am the Dragon, there’ll be an end to it. And if I am not.... If it’s all a lie, there will be an end to that, too. An end.

Reluctantly, with infinite slowness, he severed contact with saidin, gave up its embrace as if giving up life’s breath. The night seemed drab. The shadows lost their infinite sharp shadings and washed together.

In the distance, to the west, a dog howled, a shivering cry in the silent night.

Rand’s head came up. He peered in that direction as though he could see the dog if he tried hard enough.

A second dog answered the first, then another, and two more together, all spread out somewhere west of him.

“Hunt me,” Rand snarled. “Hunt me if you will. I’m no easy meat. No more!”

Pushing himself away from the tree, he waded a shallow, icy stream, then settled into a steady trot eastward. Cold water filled his boots, and his side hurt, but he ignored both. The night was quiet again behind him, but he ignored that, too. Hunt me. I can hunt, too. I am no easy meat.


Ignoring her companions for a moment, Egwene al’Vere stood in her stirrups hoping for a glimpse of Tar Valon in the distance, but all she could see was something indistinct, gleaming white in the morning sunlight. It had to be the city on the island, though. The lone, broken-topped mountain called Dragonmount, rising out of the rolling plain, had first appeared on the horizon late the afternoon before, and that lay just this side of the River Erinin from Tar Valon. It was a landmark, that mountain—one jagged fang sticking up out of rolling flatlands—easily seen for many miles, easy to avoid, as all did, even those who went to Tar Valon.

Dragonmount was where Lews Therin Kinslayer had died, so it was said; and other words had been spoken of the mountain, prophecy and warning. Rich reasons to stay away from its black slopes.

She had reason not to stay away, and more than one. Only in Tar Valon could she find the training she needed, the training she had to have. I will never be collared again! She pushed the thought away, but it came back turned end about. I will never lose my freedom again! In Tar Valon, Anaiya would resume testing her dreams; the Aes Sedai would have to, though she had found no real evidence that Egwene was a Dreamer, as Anaiya suspected. Egwene’s dreams had been troubling since leaving Almoth Plain. Aside from dreams of the Seanchan—and those still made her wake sweating—she dreamed more and more of Rand. Rand running. Running toward something, but running away from something, too.

She peered harder toward Tar Valon. Anaiya would be there. And Galad, too, perhaps. She blushed in spite of herself, and banished him from her mind entirely. Think about the weather. Think about anything else. Light, but it feels warm.

This early in the year, with winter only yesterday’s memory, white still capped Dragonmount, but here below, the snows were melted. Early shoots poked through the matted brown of last year’s grasses, and where trees topped a low hill here and there, the first red of new growth was showing. After a winter spent traveling, sometimes trapped in village or camp for days by storms, sometimes covering less ground between sunrise and sunset, with snowdrifts belly-deep on the horses, than she could have walked by noon in better weather, it was good to see signs of spring.

Sweeping her thick wool cloak back out of her way, Egwene let herself drop down in the high-cantled saddle, and smoothed her skirts in a gesture of impatience. Her dark eyes filled with distaste. She had worn the dress, divided for riding by her own skill with a needle, for far too long, but the only other she had was even more grubby. And the same color, the dark gray of the Leashed Ones. The choice all those weeks ago, on beginning their ride to Tar Valon, had been dark gray or nothing.

“I swear I will never wear gray again, Bela,” she told her shaggy mount, patting the mare’s neck. Not that I’ll have much choice once we’re back in the White Tower, she thought. In the Tower, all novices wore white.

“Are you talking to yourself again?” Nynaeve asked, pulling her bay gelding closer. The two women were of a height as well as dressed alike, but the difference in their horses put the former Wisdom of Emond’s Field a head taller. Nynaeve frowned now, and tugged at the thick braid of dark hair hanging over her shoulder, the way she did when worried or troubled, or sometimes when she was preparing to be particularly stubborn even for her. A Great Serpent ring on her finger marked her as one of the Accepted, not yet Aes Sedai, but a long step closer than Egwene. “Better you should be keeping watch.”

Egwene held her tongue on the retort that she had been watching for Tar Valon. Did she think I was standing in my stirrups because I do not like my saddle? Nynaeve seemed to forget too often that she was not the Wisdom of Emond’s Field any longer, and Egwene was no longer a child. But she wears the ring and I do not—yet!—and for her, that means nothing has changed!

“Do you wonder how Moiraine is treating Lan?” she asked sweetly, and had a moment of pleasure at the sharp jerk Nynaeve gave her braid. The pleasure faded quickly, though. Wounding remarks did not come naturally to her, and she knew Nynaeve’s emotions concerning the Warder were like skeins of yarn after a kitten had gotten into the knitting basket. But Lan was no kitten, and Nynaeve would have to do something about the man before his stubborn-stupid nobility made her mad enough to kill him.

They were six altogether, all plainly dressed enough not to stand out in the villages and small towns they had encountered, yet perhaps as odd a party as had crossed the Caralain Grass anytime recently, four of them women, and one of the men in a litter slung between two horses. The litter horses carried light packs, as well, with supplies for the long stretches between villages the way they had come.

Six people, Egwene thought, and how many secrets? They all shared more than one, secrets that would have to be kept, perhaps, even in the White Tower. Life was simpler back home.

“Nynaeve, do you think Rand is all right? And Perrin?” she added hastily. She could not afford to pretend any longer that one day she would marry Rand; pretending would be all it was, now. She did not like that—she was not entirely reconciled to it—but she knew it.

“Your dreams? Have they been troubling you again?” Nynaeve sounded concerned, but Egwene was in no mood to accept sympathy.

She made her voice sound as everyday as she could manage. “From the rumors we heard, I can’t tell what might be going on. They have everything I know about so twisted, so wrong.”

“Everything has been wrong since Moiraine came into our lives,” Nynaeve said brusquely. “Perrin and Rand....” She hesitated, grimacing. Egwene thought Nynaeve believed everything that Rand had become was Moiraine’s doing. “They will have to take care of themselves for now. I’m afraid we have something to worry about ourselves. Something is not right. I can... feel it.”

“Do you know what?” Egwene asked.

“It feels almost like a storm.” Nynaeve’s dark eyes studied the morning sky, clear and blue, with only a few scattered white clouds, and she shook her head again. “Like a storm coming.” Nynaeve had always been able to foretell the weather. Listening to the wind, it was called, and the Wisdom of every village was expected to do it, though many really could not. Yet since leaving Emond’s Field, Nynaeve’s ability had grown, or changed. The storms she felt sometimes had to do with men rather than wind, now.

Egwene bit her underlip, thinking. They could not afford to be stopped or slowed, not after coming so far, not so close to Tar Valon. For Mat’s sake, and for reasons that her mind might tell her were more important than the life of one village youth, one childhood friend, but that her heart could not rate so high. She looked at the others, wondering if any of them had noticed something.

Verin Sedai, short and plump and all in shades of brown, rode apparently lost in thought, the hood of her cloak pulled forward till it all but hid her face, in the lead but letting her horse amble at its own pace. She was of the Brown Ajah, and the Brown sisters usually cared more for seeking out knowledge than for anything in the world around them. Egwene was not so sure of Verin’s detachment, though. Verin had put herself hip-deep in the affairs of the world by being with them.

Elayne, of an age with Egwene and also a novice, but golden-haired and blue-eyed where Egwene was dark, rode back beside the litter where Mat lay unconscious. In the same gray as Egwene and Nynaeve, she was watching him with the worry they all felt. Mat had not roused in three days, now. The lean, long-haired man riding on the other side of the litter seemed to be trying to look everywhere without anyone noticing, and the lines of his face had deepened in concentration.

“Hurin,” Egwene said, and Nynaeve nodded. They slowed to let the litter catch up to them. Verin ambled on ahead.

“Do you sense something, Hurin?” Nynaeve asked. Elayne lifted her eyes, suddenly intent, from Mat’s litter.

With the three of them looking at him, the lean man shifted in his saddle and rubbed the side of his long nose. “Trouble,” he said, curt and reluctant at the same time. “I think maybe... trouble.”

A thief-taker for the King of Shienar, he did not wear a Shienaran warrior’s topknot, yet the short sword and notched sword-breaker at his belt were worn with use. Years of experience seemed to have given him some talent at sniffing out wrongdoers, especially those who had done violence.

Twice on the journey he had advised them to leave a village after being there less than an hour. The first time, they had all refused, saying they were too tired, but before the night was done the innkeeper and two other men of the village had tried to murder them in their beds. They were only simple thieves, not Darkfriends, just greedy for the horses and whatever they had in their saddlebags and bundles. But the rest of the village knew of it, and apparently considered strangers fair gleanings. They had been forced to flee a mob waving axe handles and pitchforks. The second time, Verin ordered them to ride on as soon as Hurin spoke.

But the thief-taker was always wary when talking to any of his companions. Except Mat, back when Mat could talk; the two of them had joked and played at dice, when the women were not too close at hand. Egwene thought he might be uneasy at being alone, for all practical purposes, with an Aes Sedai and three women in training for sisterhood. Some men found facing a fight easier than facing Aes Sedai.

“What kind of trouble?” Elayne said.

She spoke easily, but with such a clear note of expecting to be answered, immediately and in detail, that Hurin opened his mouth. “I smell—” He cut himself short and blinked as if surprised, eyes darting from one woman to another. “Just a feeling,” he said finally. “A... a hunch. I’ve seen some tracks, yesterday, and today. A lot of horses. Twenty or thirty going this way, twenty or thirty that. It makes me wonder. That’s all. A feeling. But I say it’s trouble.”

Tracks? Egwene had not noticed them. Nynaeve said sharply, “I did not see anything worrisome in them.” Nynaeve prided herself on being as good a tracker as any man. “They were days old. What makes you think they are trouble?”

“I just think they are,” Hurin said slowly, as if he wanted to say more. He dropped his eyes, rubbing at his nose and inhaling deeply. “It’s been a long time since we saw a village,” he muttered. “Who knows what news from Falme has come before us? We might not find so good a welcome as we expect. I’m thinking these men could be brigands, killers. We should be wary, I’m thinking. If Mat was on his feet, I’d scout ahead, but maybe it’s best I don’t leave you alone.”

Nynaeve’s eyebrows lifted. “Do you believe we cannot look after ourselves?”

“The One Power won’t do you much good if somebody kills you before you can use it,” Hurin said, addressing the tall pommel of his saddle. “Begging your pardon, but I think I.... I’ll just ride up with Verin Sedai for a time.” He dug in his heels and galloped forward before any of them could speak again.

“Now that is a surprise,” Elayne said as Hurin slowed a little distance from the Brown sister. Verin did not seem to notice him any more than she noticed anything else, and he appeared content to leave it so. “He has been staying as far from Verin as he could ever since we left Toman Head. He always looks at her as if he’s afraid of what she might say.”

“Respecting Aes Sedai doesn’t mean he is not afraid of them,” Nynaeve said, then added, reluctantly, “Of us.”

“If he thinks there might be trouble, we ought to send him out scouting.” Egwene took a deep breath and gave the other two women as level a look as she could manage. “If there is trouble, we can defend ourselves better than he could with a hundred soldiers to help him.”

“He doesn’t know that,” Nynaeve said flatly, “and I am not about to tell him. Or anyone else.”

“I can imagine what Verin would have to say about it.” Elayne sounded anxious. “I wish I had some idea how much she does know. Egwene, I don’t know if my mother could help me if the Amyrlin found out, much less help the pair of you. Or even whether she would try.” Elayne’s mother was Queen of Andor. “She was only able to learn a little of the Power before she left the White Tower, for all she has lived as if she had been raised to full sister.”

“We cannot hope to rely on Morgase,” Nynaeve said. “She is in Caemlyn, and we will be in Tar Valon. No, we may be in enough trouble already for going off as we did, no matter what we’ve brought back. It will be best if we stay low, behave humbly, and do nothing to attract more attention than we already have.”

Another time, Egwene would have laughed at the idea of Nynaeve pretending to be humble. Even Elayne managed a better job of it. But at present she did not feel like laughing. “And if Hurin is right? If we are attacked? He cannot defend us against twenty or thirty men, and we might be dead if we wait for Verin to do something. You said you sense a storm, Nynaeve.”

“You do?” Elayne said. Red-gold curls swung as she shook her head. “Verin will not like it if we....” She trailed off. “Whatever Verin likes or doesn’t like, we may have to.”

“I will do what must be done,” Nynaeve said sharply, “if there is anything to be done, and you two will run, if need be. The White Tower may be all abuzz with your potential, but don’t think they will not still you both if the Amyrlin Seat or the Hall of the Tower decides it is necessary.”

Elayne swallowed hard. “If they would still us for it,” she said in a faint voice, “they would still you, too. We should all run together; or act together. Hurin has been right before. If we want to live to be in trouble in the Tower, we may have to... to do what we must.”

Egwene shivered. Stilled. Cut off from saidar, the female half of the True Source. Few Aes Sedai had ever incurred that penalty, yet there were deeds for which the Tower demanded stilling. Novices were required to learn the names of every Aes Sedai who had ever been stilled, and their crimes.

She could always feel the Source there, now, just out of sight, like the sun at noon over her shoulder. If she often caught nothing when she tried to touch saidar, she still wanted to touch it. The more she touched it, the more she wanted to, all the time, no matter what Sheriam Sedai, the Mistress of Novices, said about the dangers of growing too fond of the feel of the One Power. To be cut off from it; still able to sense saidar, but never to touch it again....

Neither of the others seemed to want to talk, either.

To cover her shaking, she bent from her saddle to the gently swaying litter. Mat’s blankets had become disarrayed, exposing a curved dagger in a golden sheath clutched in one hand, a ruby the size of a pigeon’s egg capping the hilt. Careful not to touch the dagger, she eased the blankets back over his hand. He was only a few years older than she, but gaunt cheeks and sallow skin had aged him. His chest barely moved as he breathed hoarsely. A lumpy leather sack lay at his feet. She shifted the blanket to cover that, too. We have to get Mat to the Tower, she thought. And the sack.

Nynaeve leaned down as well, and felt Mat’s forehead. “His fever is worse.” She sounded worried. “If only I had some worrynot root or feverbane.”

“Perhaps if Verin tried Healing again,” Elayne said.

Nynaeve shook her head. She smoothed Mat’s hair back and sighed, then straightened before speaking. “She says it is all she can do to keep him alive, now, and I believe her. I—I tried Healing last night myself, but nothing happened.”

Elayne gasped. “Sheriam Sedai says we mustn’t try to Heal until we’ve been guided step by step a hundred times.”

“You could have killed him,” Egwene said sharply.

Nynaeve sniffed loudly. “I was Healing before I ever thought of going to Tar Valon, even if I didn’t know I was. But it seems I need my medicines to make it work for me. If I only had some feverbane. I do not think he has much time left. Hours, maybe.”

Egwene thought she sounded almost as unhappy about knowing, about how she knew, as she did about Mat. She wondered again why Nynaeve had chosen to go to Tar Valon for training at all. She had learned to channel unknowingly, even if she could not always control the act, and had passed the crisis that killed three out of four women who learned without Aes Sedai guidance. Nynaeve said she wanted to learn more, but often she was as reluctant about it as a child being dosed with sheepstongue root.

“We will have him in the White Tower soon,” Egwene said. “They can Heal him there. The Amyrlin will take care of him. She will take care of everything.” She did not look at where Mat’s blanket covered the sack at his feet. The other two women were studiously not looking at it, either. There were some secrets they would all be relieved to shed.

“Riders,” Nynaeve said suddenly, but Egwene had already seen them. Two dozen men appearing over a low rise ahead, white cloaks flapping as they galloped, angling toward them.

“Children of the Light,” Elayne said, like a curse. “I think we have found your storm, and Hurin’s trouble.”

Verin had pulled up, a hand on Hurin’s arm to stop him drawing his sword. Egwene touched the lead litter horse to stop it just behind the plump Aes Sedai.

“Let me do all the talking, children,” the Aes Sedai said placidly, pushing her cowl back to reveal gray in her hair. Egwene was not sure how old Verin was; she thought old enough to be a grandmother, but the gray streaks were the Aes Sedai’s only signs of age. “And whatever you do, do not allow them to make you angry.”

Verin’s face was as calm as her voice, but Egwene thought she saw the Aes Sedai measuring the distance to Tar Valon. The tops of the towers were visible now, and a high bridge arching over the river to the island, tall enough for the trading ships that plied the river to sail beneath.

Close enough to see, Egwene thought, but too far to do any good.

For a moment she was sure the oncoming Whitecloaks meant to charge them, but their leader raised a hand and they abruptly drew rein a scant forty paces off, scattering dust and dirt ahead of them.

Nynaeve muttered angrily under her breath, and Elayne sat straight and full of pride, appearing likely to berate the Whitecloaks for ill manners. Hurin still had a grip on his sword hilt; he looked ready to put himself between the women and the Whitecloaks no matter what Verin said. Verin mildly waved a hand in front of her face to dispel the dust. The white-cloaked riders spread out in an arc, blocking the way firmly.

Their breastplates and conical helmets shone from polishing, and even the mail on their arms gleamed brightly. Each man had the flaring, golden sun on his breast. Some fitted arrows to bows, which they did not raise, but held ready. Their leader was a young man, yet he wore two golden knots of rank beneath the sunburst on his cloak.

“Two Tar Valon witches, unless I miss my guess, yes?” he said with a tight smile that pinched his narrow face. Arrogance brightened his eyes, as if he knew some truth others were too stupid to see. “And two nits, and a pair of lapdogs, one sick and one old.” Hurin bristled, but Verin’s hand restrained him. “Where do you come from?” the Whitecloak demanded.

“We come from the west,” Verin said placidly. “Move out of our way, and let us continue. The Children of the Light have no authority here.”

“The Children have authority wherever the Light is, witch, and where the Light is not, we bring it. Answer my questions! Or must I take you to our camp and let the Questioners ask?”

Mat could not afford any more delay in reaching help in the White Tower. And more importantly—Egwene winced to think of it that way—more importantly, they could not let the contents of that sack fall into Whitecloak hands.

“I have answered you,” Verin said, still calm, “and more politely than you deserve. Do you really believe you can stop us?” Some of the White-cloaks raised their bows as if she had uttered a threat, but she went on, her voice never rising. “In some lands you may hold sway by your threats, but not here, in sight of Tar Valon. Can you truly believe that in this place, you will be allowed to carry off Aes Sedai?”

The officer shifted uneasily in his saddle, as though suddenly doubting whether he could back up his words. Then he glanced back at his men—either to remind himself of their support or because he had remembered they were watching—and with that he took himself in hand. “I have no fear of your Darkfriend ways, witch. Answer me, or answer the Questioners.” He did not sound as forceful as he had.

Verin opened her mouth as if for idle conversation, but before she could speak, Elayne jumped in, voice ringing with command. “I am Elayne, Daughter-Heir of Andor. If you do not move aside at once, you will have Queen Morgase to answer to, Whitecloak!” Verin hissed with vexation.

The Whitecloak looked taken aback for an instant, but then he laughed. “You think it so, yes? Perhaps you will discover Morgase no longer has so much love for witches, girl. If I take you from them and return you to her side, she will thank me for it. Lord Captain Eamon Valda would like very much to speak to you, Daughter-Heir of Andor.” He raised a hand, whether to gesture or signal his men, Egwene could not say. Some of the White-cloaks gathered their reins.

There’s no more time to wait, Egwene thought. I will not be chained again! She opened herself to the One Power. It was a simple exercise, and after long practice, it went much more swiftly than the first time she had tried. In a heartbeat her mind emptied of everything, everything but a single rosebud, floating in emptiness. She was the rosebud, opening to the light, opening to saidar, the female half of the True Source. The Power flooded her, threatening to sweep her away. It was like being filled with light, with the Light, like being one with the Light, a glorious ecstasy. She fought to keep from being overwhelmed, and focused on the ground in front of the Whitecloak officer’s horse. A small patch of ground; she did not want to kill anyone. You will not take me!

The man’s hand was still going up. With a roar the ground in front of him erupted in a narrow fountain of dirt and rocks higher than his head. Screaming, his horse reared, and he rolled out of his saddle like a sack.

Before he hit the ground, Egwene shifted her focus closer to the other Whitecloaks, and the ground threw up another small explosion. Bela danced sideways, but she controlled the mare with reins and knees without even thinking of it. Wrapped inside emptiness, she was still surprised at a third eruption, not of her making, and a fourth. Distantly, she was aware of Nynaeve and Elayne, both enveloped in the glow that said they, too, had embraced saidar, had been embraced by it. That aura would not be visible to any but another woman who could channel, but the results were visible to all. Explosions harried the Whitecloaks on every side, showering them with dirt, shaking them with noise, sending their horses plunging wildly.

Hurin stared around him, mouth open and obviously as frightened as the Whitecloaks, as he tried to keep the litter horses and his own mount from bolting. Verin was wide-eyed with astonishment and anger. Her mouth worked furiously, but whatever she might be saying was lost in the thunder.

And then the Whitecloaks were running away, some dropping their bows in panic, galloping as if the Dark One himself were at their backs. All but the young officer, who was picking himself up off the ground. Shoulders hunched, he stared at Verin, the whites of his eyes showing all the way ’round. Dust stained his fine white cloak, and his face, but he did not seem to notice. “Kill me, then, witch,” he said shakily. “Go ahead. Kill me, as you killed my father!”

The Aes Sedai ignored him. Her attention was all on her companions. As if they, too, had forgotten their officer, the fleeing Whitecloaks vanished over the same rise where they had first appeared, all in a body and none looking back. The officer’s horse ran with them.

Under Verin’s furious gaze, Egwene let go of saidar, slowly, unwillingly. It was always hard, letting go. Even more slowly, the glow around Nynaeve vanished. Nynaeve was frowning hard at the pinch-faced Whitecloak before them, as if he might still be capable of some sort of trickery. Elayne looked shocked by what she had done.

“What you have done,” Verin began, then stopped to take a deep breath. Her stare took in all three of the younger women. “What you have done is an abomination. An abomination! An Aes Sedai does not use the Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme to defend her life. The Three Oaths—”

“They were ready to kill us,” Nynaeve broke in heatedly. “Kill us, or carry us off to be tortured. He was giving the order.”

“It... it was not really using the Power as a weapon, Verin Sedai.” Elayne held her chin high, but her voice shook. “We did not hurt anyone, or even try to hurt anyone. Surely—”

“Do not split hairs with me!” Verin snapped. “When you become full Aes Sedai—if you ever become full Aes Sedai!—you will be bound to obey the Three Oaths, but even novices are expected to do their best to live as if already bound.”

“What about him?” Nynaeve gestured to the Whitecloak officer, still standing there and looking stunned. Her face was as tight as a drum; she seemed almost as angry as the Aes Sedai. “He was about to take us prisoner. Mat will die if he doesn’t reach the Tower soon, and... and....”

Egwene knew what Nynaeve was struggling not to say aloud. And we can’t let that sack fall into any hands but the Amyrlin’s.

Verin regarded the Whitecloak wearily. “He was only trying to bully us, child. He knew very well he could not make us go where we did not want, not without more trouble than he was willing to accept. Not here, not in sight of Tar Valon. I could have talked us past him, with a little time and a little patience. Oh, he might well have tried to kill us if he could have done it from hiding, but no Whitecloak with the brains of a goat will try harming an Aes Sedai who knows he is there. See what you have done! What stories will those men tell, and what harm will it do?”

The officer’s face had reddened when she mentioned hiding. “It is no cowardice not to charge the powers that Broke the World,” he burst out. “You witches want to Break the World again, in the service of the Dark One!” Verin shook her head in tired disbelief.

Egwene wished she could mend some of the damage she had done. “I am very sorry for what I did,” she told the officer. She was glad she was not bound to speak no word that was not true, as full Aes Sedai were, because what she had said was only half true at best. “I should not have, and I apologize. I am sure Verin Sedai will Heal your bruises.” He stepped back as if she had offered to have him skinned alive, and Verin sniffed loudly. “We have come a long way,” Egwene went on, “all the way from Toman Head, and if I weren’t so tired, I would never have—”

“Be quiet, girl!” Verin shouted at the same time the Whitecloak snarled, “Toman Head? Falme! You were at Falme!” He stumbled back another step and half drew his sword. From the look on his face, Egwene did not know whether he meant to attack, or to defend himself. Hurin moved his horse closer to the Whitecloak, a hand on his sword-breaker, but the narrow-faced man went on in a rant, spittle flying with his fury. “My father died at Falme! Byar told me! You witches killed him for your false Dragon! I’ll see you dead for it! I will see you burn!”

“Impetuous children,” Verin sighed. “Almost as bad as boys for letting your mouths run away with you. Go with the Light, my son,” she told the Whitecloak.

Without another word, she guided them around the man, but his shouts followed after. “My name is Dain Bornhald! Remember it, Darkfriends! I will make you fear my name! Remember my name!”

As Bornhald’s shouts faded behind them, they rode in silence for a time. Finally, Egwene said to no one in particular, “I was only trying to make things better.”

“Better!” Verin muttered. “You must learn there is a time to speak all of the truth, and a time to govern your tongue. The least of the lessons you must learn, but important, if you mean to live long enough to wear the shawl of a full sister. Did it never occur to you that word of Falme might have come ahead of us?”

“Why should it have occurred to her?” Nynaeve asked. “No one we’ve met before this had heard more than rumors, if that, and we have outrun even rumor in the last month.”

“And all word has to come along the same roads we used?” Verin replied. “We have moved slowly. Rumor takes wing along a hundred paths. Always plan for the worst, child; that way, all your surprises will be pleasant ones.”

“What did he mean about my mother?” Elayne said suddenly. “He must have been lying. She would never turn against Tar Valon.”

“The Queens of Andor have always been friends to Tar Valon, but all things change.” Verin’s face was calm again, yet there was a tightness in her voice. She turned in her saddle to look over them, the three young women, Hurin, Mat in the litter. “The world is strange, and all things change.” They capped the ridge; a village was in sight ahead of them now, yellow tile roofs clustered around the great bridge that led to Tar Valon. “Now you must truly be on your guard,” Verin told them. “Now the real danger begins.”

Tar Valon

The small village of Darein had lain beside the River Erinin almost as long as Tar Valon had occupied its island. Darein’s small, red and brown brick houses and shops, its stone-paved streets, gave a feel of permanence, but the village had been burned in the Trolloc Wars, sacked when Artur Hawkwing’s armies besieged Tar Valon, looted more than once during the War of the Hundred Years, and put to the torch again in the Aiel War, not quite twenty years before. An unquiet history for a little village, but Darein’s place, at the foot of one of the bridges leading out to Tar Valon, ensured it would always be rebuilt, however many times it was destroyed. So long as Tar Valon stood, at least.

At first it seemed to Egwene that Darein was expecting war again. A square of pikemen marched along the streets, ranks and files bristling like a carding comb, followed by bowmen in flat, rimmed helmets, with filled quivers riding at their hips and bows slanted across their chests. A squadron of armored horsemen, faces hidden behind the steel bars of their helmets, gave way to Verin and her party at a wave of their officer’s gauntleted hand. All wore the White Flame of Tar Valon, like a snowy teardrop, on their breasts.

Yet townspeople went about their business with apparent unconcern, the market throng dividing around the soldiers as if marching men were obstructions they were long used to. A few men and women carrying trays of fruit kept pace with the soldiers, trying to interest them in wrinkled apples and pears pulled from winter cellars, but aside from those few, shopkeepers and hawkers alike paid the soldiers no mind. Verin seemingly ignored them, too, as she led Egwene and the others through the village to the great bridge, arching over half a mile or more of water like lace woven from stone.

At the foot of the bridge more soldiers stood guard, a dozen pikemen and half that many archers, checking everyone who wanted to cross. Their officer, a balding man with his helmet hanging on his sword hilt, looked harassed by the waiting line of people afoot and on horseback, people with carts drawn by oxen or horses or the owner. The line was only a hundred paces long, but every time one was let onto the bridge, another joined the far end. Just the same, the balding man seemed to be taking his time about making sure each one had a right to enter Tar Valon before he let them go.

He opened his mouth angrily when Verin led her party to the head of the line, then caught a good look at her face and hurriedly stuffed his helmet onto his head. No one who really knew them needed a Great Serpent ring to identify Aes Sedai. “Good morrow to you, Aes Sedai,” he said, bowing with a hand to his heart. “Good morrow. Go right across, if it please you.”

Verin reined in beside him. A murmur rose from the waiting line, but no one voiced a complaint aloud. “Trouble from the Whitecloaks, guardsman?”

Why are we stopping? Egwene wondered urgently. “Has she forgotten about Mat?”

“Not really, Aes Sedai,” the officer said. “No fighting. They tried to move into Eldone Market, the other side of the river, but we showed them better. The Amyrlin means to make sure they don’t try again.”

“Verin Sedai,” Egwene began carefully, “Mat—”

“In a moment, child,” the Aes Sedai said, sounding only halfway absentminded. “I have not forgotten him.” Her attention went right back to the officer. “And the outlying villages?”

The man shrugged uncomfortably. “We can’t keep the Whitecloaks out, Aes Sedai, but they move off when our patrols ride in. They seem to be trying to goad us.” Verin nodded, and would have ridden on, but the officer spoke again. “Pardon, Aes Sedai, but you’ve obviously come from a distance. Have you any news? Fresh rumors come upriver with every trading vessel. They say there’s a new false Dragon out west somewhere. Why, they even say he has Artur Hawkwing’s armies, back from the dead, following him, and that he killed a lot of Whitecloaks and destroyed a city—Falme, they call it—in Tarabon, some say.”

“They say Aes Sedai helped him!” a man’s voice shouted from the waiting line. Hurin breathed deeply, and shifted himself as if he expected violence.

Egwene looked ’round, but there was no sign of whoever had shouted. Everyone appeared to be concerned only with waiting, patiently or impatiently, for his turn to cross. Things had changed, and not for the better. When she had left Tar Valon, any man who spoke against Aes Sedai would have been lucky to escape with a punch in the nose from whoever overheard. Red in the face, the officer was glaring down the line.

“Rumors are seldom true,” Verin told him. “I can tell you that Falme still stands. It isn’t even in Tarabon, guardsman. Listen less to rumor, and more to the Amyrlin Seat. The Light shine on you.” She lifted her reins, and he bowed as she led the others past him.

The bridge struck Egwene with wonder, as the bridges of Tar Valon always did. The openwork walls looked intricate enough to tax the best craftswoman at her lace-frame. It hardly seemed that such could have been done with stone, or that it could stand even its own weight. The river rolled, strong and steady, fifty paces or more below, and for all that half mile the bridge flowed unsupported from riverbank to island.

Even more wondrous, in its own way, was the feeling that the bridge was taking her home. More wondrous, and shocking. Emond’s Field is my home. But it was in Tar Valon that she would learn what she must to keep her alive, to keep her free. It was in Tar Valon that she would learn—must learn—why her dreams disturbed her so, and why they sometimes seemed to have meanings she could not puzzle out. Tar Valon was where her life was tied, now. If she ever returned to Emond’s Field—the “if” hurt, but she had to be honest—if she returned, it would be to visit, to see her parents. She had already gone beyond being an innkeeper’s daughter. Those bonds would not hold her again, either, not because she hated them, but because she had outgrown them.

The bridge was only the beginning. It arched straight to the walls that surrounded the island, high walls of gleaming white, silver-streaked stone, whose tops looked down on the bridge’s height. At intervals, guard towers interrupted the walls, of the same white stone, their massive footings washed by the river. But above the walls and beyond rose the true towers of Tar Valon, the towers of story, pointed spires and flutes and spirals, some connected by airy bridges a good hundred paces or more above the ground. And still only the beginning.

There were no guards on the bronze-clad gates, and they stood wide enough for twenty abreast to ride through, opening onto one of the broad avenues that crisscrossed the island. Spring might barely have come, but the air already smelled of flowers and perfumes and spices.

The city took Egwene’s breath as if she had never seen it before. Every square and street crossing had its fountain, or its monument or statue, some atop great columns as high as towers, but it was the city itself that dazzled the eye. What was plain in form might have so many ornaments and carvings that it seemed an ornament itself, or, lacking decoration, used its form alone for grandeur. Great buildings and small, in stone of every color, looking like shells, or waves, or wind-sculpted cliffs, flowing and fanciful, captured from nature or the flights of men’s minds. The dwellings, the inns, the very stables—even the most insignificant buildings in Tar Valon had been made for beauty. Ogier stonemasons had built most of the city in the long years after the Breaking of the World, and they maintained it had been their finest work.

Men and women of every nation thronged the streets. They were dark of skin, and pale, and everything in between, their garments in bright colors and patterns, or drab, but decked with fringes and braids and shining buttons, or stark and severe; showing more skin than Egwene thought proper, or revealing nothing but eyes and fingertips. Sedan chairs and litters wove through the crowds, the trotting bearers crying “Give way!” Closed carriages inched along, liveried coachmen shouting “Hiya!” and “Ho!” as if they believed they might achieve more than a walk. Street musicians played flute or harp or pipes, sometimes accompanying a juggler or an acrobat, always with a cap set out for coins. Wandering hawkers cried their wares, and shopkeepers standing in front of their shops shouted the excellence of their goods. A hum filled the city like the song of a thing alive.

Verin had pulled her cowl back up, hiding her face. No one seemed to be paying them any mind in these crowds, Egwene thought. Not even Mat in his horse litter drew a second glance, though some folk did edge away from it as they hurried past. People sometimes brought their sick to the White Tower for Healing, and whatever he had might be catching.

Egwene rode up beside Verin and leaned close. “Do you really expect trouble now? We are in the city. We are almost there.” The White Tower stood in plain sight now, the great building gleaming broad and tall above the rooftops.

“I always expect trouble,” Verin replied placidly, “and so should you. In the Tower most of all. You must all of you be more careful than ever, now. Your... tricks”—her mouth tightened for an instant before serenity returned—“frightened away the Whitecloaks, but inside the Tower they may well bring you death or stilling.”

“I would not do that in the Tower,” Egwene protested. “None of us would.” Nynaeve and Elayne had joined them, leaving Hurin to mind the litter horses. They nodded, Elayne fervently, and Nynaeve, it seemed to Egwene, as if she had reservations.

“You should not do it ever again, child. You must not! Ever!” Verin eyed them sideways ’round the edge of her cowl, and shook her head. “And I truly hope you have learned the folly of speaking when you should be silent.” Elayne’s face went crimson, and Egwene’s cheeks grew hot. “Once we enter the Tower grounds, hold your tongues and accept whatever happens. Whatever happens! You know nothing of what awaits us in the Tower, and if you did, you would not know how to handle it. So be silent.”

“I will do as you say, Verin Sedai,” Egwene said, and Elayne echoed her. Nynaeve sniffed. The Aes Sedai stared at her, and she nodded reluctantly.

The street opened into a vast square, centered in the city, and in the middle of the square stood the White Tower, shining in the sun, rising until it seemed to touch the sky from a palace of domes and delicate spires and other shapes surrounded by the Tower grounds. There were surprisingly few people in the square. No one intruded on the Tower unless he had business there, Egwene reminded herself uneasily.

Hurin led the horse litter forward as they entered the square. “Verin Sedai, I must leave you now.” He eyed the Tower once, then managed not to look at it again, though it was hard to look at anything else. Hurin came from a land where Aes Sedai were respected, but it was one thing to respect them and quite another to be surrounded by them.

“You have been a great help on our journey, Hurin,” Verin told him, “and a long journey it has been. There will be a place in the Tower for you to rest before you travel on.”

Hurin shook his head emphatically. “I cannot waste a day, Verin Sedai. Not another hour. I must return to Shienar, to tell King Easar, and Lord Agelmar, the truth of what happened at Falme. I must tell them about—” He cut off abruptly and looked around. There was no one close enough to overhear, but he still lowered his voice and said only, “About Rand. That the Dragon is Reborn. There must be trading ships heading upriver, and I mean to be on the next to sail.”

“Go in the Light, then, Hurin of Shienar,” Verin said.

“The Light illumine all of you,” he replied, gathering his reins. Yet he hesitated a moment, then added, “If you need me—ever—send word to Fal Dara, and I’ll find a way to come.” Clearing his throat as if embarrassed, he turned his horse and trotted away, heading beyond the Tower. All too soon he was lost to sight.

Nynaeve gave an exasperated shake of her head. “Men! They always say to send for them if you need them, but when you do need one, you need him right then.”

“No man can help where we are going now,” Verin said dryly. “Remember. Be silent.”

Egwene felt a sense of loss with Hurin’s going. He would barely talk to any of them, except Mat, and Verin was right. He was only a man, and helpless as a babe when it came to facing whatever might await them in the Tower. Yet his leaving made their number one less, and she could never help thinking that a man with a sword was useful to have around. And he had been a link to Rand, and Perrin. I have my own troubles to worry about. Rand and Perrin would have to make do with Moiraine to look after them. And Min will certainly look after Rand, she thought with a flash of jealousy that she tried to suppress. She almost succeeded.

With a sigh, she took up the lead of the horse litter. Mat lay bundled to his chin; his breathing was a dry rasp. Soon, she thought. You’ll be Healed soon, now. And we’ll find out what’s waiting for us. She wished Verin would stop trying to frighten them. She wished she did not think Verin had reason to frighten them.

Verin took them around the Tower grounds to a small side gate that stood open, with two guards. Pausing, the Aes Sedai pushed back her cowl and leaned from her saddle to speak softly to one of the men. He gave a start, and a surprised look at Egwene and the others. With a quick, “As you command, Aes Sedai,” he took off into the grounds at a run. Verin was already riding through the gates as he spoke. She rode as if there were no hurry.

Egwene followed with the litter, exchanging glances with Nynaeve and Elayne, wondering what Verin had told the man.

A gray stone guardhouse stood just inside the gate, shaped like a six-pointed star lying on its side. A small knot of guards lounged in the doorway; they left off talking and bowed as Verin rode past.

This part of the Tower grounds could have been some lord’s park, with trees and pruned shrubs and wide graveled paths. Other buildings were visible through the trees, and the Tower itself loomed over everything.

The path led them to a stableyard among the trees, where grooms in leather vests came running to take their horses. At the Aes Sedai’s direction, some of the grooms unfastened the litter and set it gently off to one side. As the horses were led away into the stable, Verin took the leather sack from Mat’s feet and tucked it carelessly under one arm.

Nynaeve paused in knuckling her back and frowned at the Aes Sedai. “You said he has hours, perhaps. Are you just going to—”

Verin held up a hand, but whether it was the gesture that stopped Nynaeve or the crunch of feet approaching on gravel, Egwene could not say.

In a moment Sheriam Sedai appeared, followed by three of the Accepted, their white dresses ringed at the hem with the colors of all seven Ajahs from Blue to Red, and two husky men in rough, laborer’s coats. The Mistress of Novices was a slightly plump woman, with the high cheekbones that were common in Saldaea. Flame-red hair and clear, tilted green eyes made her smooth Aes Sedai features striking. She eyed Egwene and the others calmly, but her mouth was tight.

“So you have brought back our three runaways, Verin. With everything that happened, I could almost wish you had not.”

“We did not—” Egwene began, but Verin cut her off with a sharp, “BE SILENT!” Verin stared at her—at each of the three of them—as if the intensity of her look could hold their mouths shut.

Egwene was sure that, for her part, it could. She had never seen Verin angry before. Nynaeve crossed her arms beneath her breasts and muttered under her breath, but she said nothing. The three Accepted behind Sheriam kept their silence, of course, but Egwene thought she could see their ears grow from listening.

When she was certain Egwene and the others would remain still, Verin turned back to Sheriam. “The boy must be taken somewhere away from everyone. He is ill, dangerously so. Dangerous to others as well as to himself.”

“I was told you had a litter to be carried.” Sheriam motioned the two men to the litter, spoke a quiet word to one, and as quickly as that Mat was whisked away.

Egwene opened her mouth to say he needed help now, but at Verin’s stare, quick and furious, she closed it again. Nynaeve was tugging her braid nearly hard enough to pull it out of her head.

“I suppose,” Verin said, “that the whole Tower knows we have returned by now?”

“Those who do not know,” Sheriam told her, “will know before much longer. Comings and goings have become the first topic of conversation and gossip. Even before Falme, and far ahead of the war in Cairhien. Did you think to keep it secret?”

Verin gathered the leather sack in both arms. “I must see the Amyrlin. Immediately.”

“And what of these three?”

Verin considered Egwene and her friends, frowning. “They must be closely held until the Amyrlin wishes to see them. If she does wish to. Closely held, mind. Their own rooms will do, I think. No need for cells. Not a word to anyone.”

Verin was still speaking to Sheriam, but Egwene knew the last had been meant as a reminder to her and the others. Nynaeve’s brows were drawn down, and she jerked at her braid as if she wanted to hit something. Elayne’s blue eyes were open wide, and her face was even paler than usual. Egwene was not sure which feelings she shared, anger or fear or worry. Some of all three, she thought.

With a last, searching glance at her three traveling companions, Verin hurried off, clutching the sack to her chest, cloak flapping behind her. Sheriam put her fists on her hips and studied Egwene and the other two. For a moment Egwene felt a lessening of tension. The Mistress of Novices always kept a steady temper and a sympathetic sense of humor even when she was giving you extra chores for breaking the rules.

But Sheriam’s voice was grim when she spoke. “Not a word, Verin Sedai said, and not a word shall it be. If one of you speaks—except to answer an Aes Sedai, of course—I’ll make you wish you had nothing but a switching and a few hours scrubbing floors to worry about. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Aes Sedai,” Egwene said, and heard the other two say the same, although Nynaeve pronounced the words like a challenge.

Sheriam made a disgusted sound in her throat, almost a growl. “Fewer girls now come to the Tower to be trained than once did, but they still come. Most leave never having learned to sense the True Source, much less touch it. A few learn enough not to harm themselves before they go. A bare handful can aspire to be raised to the Accepted, and fewer still to wear the shawl. It is a hard life, a hard discipline, yet every novice fights to hold on, to attain the ring and the shawl. Even when they are so afraid they cry themselves to sleep every night, they struggle to hold on. And you three, who have more ability born in you than I ever hoped to see in my lifetime, left the Tower without permission, ran away not even half-trained, like irresponsible children, stayed away for months. And now you ride back in as if nothing has happened, as if you can take up your training again on the morrow.” She let out a long breath as if she might explode otherwise. “Faolain!”

The three Accepted jumped as if they had been caught eavesdropping, and one, a dark, curly-haired woman, stepped forward. They were all young women, but still older than Nynaeve. Nynaeve’s rapid Acceptance had been extraordinary. In the normal course of things, it took years as a novice to earn the Great Serpent rings they wore, and would take years more before they could hope to be raised to full Aes Sedai.

“Take them to their rooms,” Sheriam commanded, “and keep them there. They may have bread, cold broth, and water until the Amyrlin Seat says otherwise. And if one of them speaks even a word, you may take her to the kitchens and set her to scrubbing pots.” She whirled and stalked away, even her back expressing anger.

Faolain eyed Egwene and the others with almost a hopeful air, especially Nynaeve, who wore a glower like a mask. Faolain’s round face held no love for those who broke the rules so extravagantly, and less for one like Nynaeve, a wilder who had earned her ring without ever being a novice, who had channeled power before she ever entered Tar Valon. When it became obvious that Nynaeve meant to keep her anger to herself, Faolain shrugged. “When the Amyrlin sends for you, you’ll probably be stilled.”

“Give over, Faolain,” another of the Accepted said. The oldest of the three, she had a willowy neck and coppery skin, and a graceful way of moving. “I will take you,” she told Nynaeve. “I am called Theodrin, and I, too, am a wilder. I will hold you to Sheriam Sedai’s order, but I will not bait you. Come.”

Nynaeve gave Egwene and Elayne a worried look, then sighed and let Theodrin lead her away.

“Wilders,” Faolain muttered. On her tongue, it sounded like a curse. She turned her stare to Egwene.

The third Accepted, a pretty, apple-cheeked young woman, stationed herself beside Elayne. Her mouth was turned up at the corners as if she liked to smile, but the stern look she gave Elayne said she would brook no nonsense now.

Egwene returned Faolain’s stare with as much calm as she could manage, and, she hoped, a measure of the haughty, silent contempt that Elayne had adopted. Red Ajah, she thought. This one will definitely choose the Reds. But it was hard not to think of her own troubles. Light, what are they going to do to us? She meant the Aes Sedai, the Tower, not these women.

“Well, come along,” Faolain snapped. “It’s bad enough I have to stand guard on your door without standing here all day. Come along.”

Taking a deep breath, Egwene gripped Elayne’s hand and followed. Light, let them be Healing Mat.

The Amyrlin Seat

Siuan Sanche paced the length of her study, pausing now and again to glance, with a blue-eyed gaze that had made rulers stammer, at a carved nightwood box on a long table centered in the room. She hoped she would not have to use any of the carefully drawn documents within it. They had been prepared and sealed in secret, by her own hand, to cover a dozen possible eventualities. She had laid a warding on the box so that if any hand but hers opened it, the contents would flash to ash in an instant; very likely the box itself would burst into flame.

“And burn the thieving fisher-bird, whoever she might be, so she never forgets it, I hope,” she muttered. For the hundredth time since being told that Verin had returned, she readjusted her stole on her shoulders without realizing what she was doing. It hung below her waist, broad and striped with the colors of the seven Ajahs. The Amyrlin Seat was of all Ajahs and of none, no matter from which she had been raised.

The room was ornate, for it had belonged to generations of women who had worn the stole. The tall fireplace and broad, cold hearth were all carved golden marble from Kandor, and the diamond-shaped floor tiles, polished redstone from the Mountains of Mist. The walls were panels of some pale striped wood, hard as iron and carved in fantastic beasts and birds of unbelievable plumage, panels brought from the lands beyond the Aiel Waste by the Sea Folk before Artur Hawkwing was born. Tall, arched windows, open now to let in the new, green smells, let onto a balcony overlooking her small private garden, where she seldom had time to walk.

All that grandeur was in stark contrast to the furnishings Siuan Sanche had brought to the room. The one table and the stout chair behind it were plain, if well polished with age and beeswax, as was the only other chair in the room. That stood off to one side, close enough to be drawn up if she wished a visitor to sit. A small Tairen rug lay in front of the table, woven in simple patterns of blue and brown and gold. A single drawing, tiny fishing boats among reeds, hung above the fireplace. Half a dozen stands held open books about the floor. That was all. Even the lamps would not have been out of place in a farmer’s house.

Siuan Sanche had been born poor in Tear, and had worked on her father’s fishing boat, one just like the boats in the drawing, in the delta called the Fingers of the Dragon, before ever she dreamed of coming to Tar Valon. Even the nearly ten years since she had been raised to the Seat had not made her comfortable with too much luxury. Her bedchamber was more simple still.

Ten years with the stole, she thought. Nearly twenty since I decided to sail these dangerous waters. And if I slip now, I’ll wish I were back hauling nets.

She spun at a sound. Another Aes Sedai had slipped into the room, a copper-skinned woman with dark hair cut short. She caught herself in time to keep her voice steady and say only what was expected. “Yes, Leane?”

The Keeper of the Chronicles bowed, just as deeply as she would had others been present. The tall Aes Sedai, as tall as most men, was second only to the Amyrlin in the White Tower, and though Siuan had known her since they were novices together, sometimes Leane’s insistence on upholding the dignity of the Amyrlin Seat was enough to make Siuan want to scream.

“Verin is here, Mother, asking leave to speak with you. I have told her you are busy, but she asks—”

“Not too busy to speak to her,” Siuan said. Too quickly, she knew, but she did not care. “Send her in. There’s no need for you to remain, Leane. I will speak to her alone.”

A twitch of her eyebrows was the Keeper’s only sign of surprise. The Amyrlin seldom saw anyone, even a queen, without the Keeper present. But the Amyrlin was the Amyrlin. Leane bowed her way out, and in moments Verin took her place, kneeling to kiss the Great Serpent ring on Siuan’s finger. The Brown sister had a good-sized leather sack under her arm.

“Thank you for seeing me, Mother,” Verin said as she straightened. “I have urgent news from Falme. And more. I scarcely know where to begin.”

“Begin where you will,” Siuan said. “These rooms are warded, in case anyone thinks to use childhood tricks of eavesdropping.” Verin’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, and the Amyrlin added, “Much has changed since you left. Speak.”

“Most importantly, then, Rand al’Thor has proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn.”

Siuan felt a tightness loosen in her chest. “I hoped it was he,” she said softly. “I have had reports from women who could only tell what they had heard, and rumors by the score come with every trader’s boat and merchant’s wagon, but I could not be sure.” She took a deep breath. “Yet I think I can name the day it happened. Did you know the two false Dragons no longer trouble the world?”

“I had not heard, Mother. That is good news.”

“Yes. Mazrim Taim is in the hands of our sisters in Saldaea, and the poor fellow in Haddon Mirk, the Light have pity on his soul, was taken by the Tairens and executed on the spot. No one even seems to know what his name was. Both were taken on the same day and, according to rumor, under the same circumstances. They were in battle, and winning, when suddenly a great light flashed in the sky, and a vision appeared, just for an instant. There are a dozen different versions of what it was, but in both cases the result was exactly the same. The false Dragon’s horse reared up and threw him. He was knocked unconscious, and his followers cried out that he was dead, and fled the field, and he was taken. Some of my reports speak of visions in the sky at Falme. I’ll wager a gold mark to a week-old delta perch that was the instant Rand al’Thor proclaimed himself.”

“The true Dragon has been Reborn,” Verin said almost to herself, “and so the Pattern has no room for false Dragons anymore. We have loosed the Dragon Reborn on the world. The Light have mercy on us.”

The Amyrlin shook her head irritably. “We have done what must be done.” And if even the newest novice learns of it, I will be stilled before the next sunrise, if I’m not torn to pieces first. Me, and Moiraine, and Verin, and likely anyone thought to be a friend of ours, as well. It was not easy to carry on so great a conspiracy when only three women knew of it, when even a close friend would betray them and consider it a duty well done. Light, but I wish I could be sure they would not be right to do it. “At least he is safely in Moiraine’s hands. She will guide him, and do what must be done. What else have you to tell me, Daughter?”

For answer, Verin placed the leather sack on the table and took out a curled, gold horn, with silver script inlaid around its flaring bell mouth. She laid the horn on the table, then looked to the Amyrlin with quiet expectation.

Siuan did not have to be close enough to read the script to know what it said. Tia mi aven Moridin isainde vadin. “The grave is no bar to my call.” “The Horn of Valere?” she gasped. “You brought that all the way here, across hundreds of leagues, with the Hunters looking everywhere for it? Light, woman, it was to be left with Rand al’Thor.”

“I know, Mother,” Verin said calmly, “but the Hunters all expect to find the Horn in some great adventure, not in a sack with four women escorting a sick youth. And it would do Rand no good.”

“What do you mean? He is to fight Tarmon Gai’don. The Horn is to summon dead heroes from the grave to fight in the Last Battle. Has Moiraine once again made some new plan without consulting me?”

“This is none of Moiraine’s doing, Mother. We plan, but the Wheel weaves the Pattern as it wills. Rand was not first to sound the Horn. Matrim Cauthon did that. And Mat now lies below, dying of his ties to the Shadar Logoth dagger. Unless he can be Healed here.”

Siuan shivered. Shadar Logoth, that dead city so tainted that even Trollocs feared to enter, and with reason. By chance, a dagger from that place had come into young Mat’s hands, twisting and tainting him with the evil that had killed the city long ago. Killing him. By chance? Or by the Pattern? He is ta’veren, too, after all. But... Mat sounded the Horn. Then—

“So long as Mat lives,” Verin went on, “the Horn of Valere is no more than a horn to anyone else. If he dies, of course, another can sound it and forge a new link between man and Horn.” Her gaze was steady and untroubled by what she seemed to be suggesting.

“Many will die before we are done, Daughter.” And who else could I use to sound it again? I’ll not take the risk of trying to return it to Moiraine, now. One of the Gaidin, perhaps. Perhaps. “The Pattern has yet to make his fate clear.”

“Yes, Mother. And the Horn?”

“For the moment,” the Amyrlin said finally, “we will find some place to hide this where no one but we two know. I will consider what to do after that.”

Verin nodded. “As you say, Mother. Of course, a few hours will make one decision for you.”

“Is that all you have for me?” Siuan snapped. “If it is, I have those three runaways to deal with.”

“There is the matter of the Seanchan, Mother.”

“What of them? All my reports say they have fled back across the ocean, or to wherever they came from.”

“It seems so, Mother. But I fear we may have to deal with them again.” Verin pulled a small leather notebook from behind her belt and began leafing through it. “They spoke of themselves as the Forerunners, or Those Who Come Before, and talked of the Return, and of reclaiming this land as theirs. I’ve taken notes on everything I heard of them. Only from those who actually saw them, of course, or had dealings with them.”

“Verin, you are worrying about a lionfish out in the Sea of Storms, while here and now the silverpike are chewing our nets to shreds.”

The Brown sister continued turning pages. “An apt metaphor, Mother, the lionfish. Once I saw a large shark that a lionfish had chased into the shallows, where it died.” She tapped one page with a finger. “Yes. This is the worst. Mother, the Seanchan use the One Power in battle. They use it as a weapon.”

Siuan clasped her hands tightly at her waist. The reports the pigeons had brought spoke of that, too. Most had only secondhand knowledge, but a few women wrote of seeing for themselves. The Power used as a weapon. Even dry ink on paper carried an edge of hysteria when they wrote of that. “That is already causing us trouble, Verin, and will cause more as the stories spread, and grow with the spreading. But I can do nothing about that. I am told these people are gone, Daughter. Do you have any evidence otherwise?”

“Well, no, Mother, but—”

“Until you do, let us deal with getting the silverpike out of our nets before they start chewing holes in the boat, too.”

With reluctance, Verin closed the notebook and tucked it back behind her belt. “As you say, Mother. If I might ask, what do you intend to do to Nynaeve and the other two girls?”

The Amyrlin hesitated, considering. “Before I am done with them, they will wish they could go down to the river and sell themselves for fishbait.” It was the simple truth, but it could be taken in more than one way. “Now. Seat yourself, and tell me everything those three have said and done in the time they were with you. Everything.”


Lying on her narrow bed, Egwene frowned up at the flickering shadows cast on the ceiling by her single lamp. She wished she could form some plan of action, or reason out what to expect next. Nothing came. The shadows had more pattern than her thoughts. She could hardly even make herself worry about Mat, yet the shame she felt at that was small, crushed by the walls around her.

It was a stark, windowless room, like all those in the novices’ quarters, small and square and painted white, with pegs on one wall for hanging her belongings, the bed built against a second, and a tiny shelf on a third, where in other days she had kept a few books borrowed from the Tower library. A washstand and a three-legged stool completed the furnishings. The floorboards were almost white from scrubbing. She had done that task, on hands and knees, every day she had lived there, in addition to her other chores and lessons. Novices lived simply, whether they were innkeepers’ daughters or the Daughter-Heir of Andor.

She wore the plain white dress of a novice again—even her belt and pouch were white—but she felt no joy at having rid herself of the hated gray. Her room had become too much of a prison cell. What if they mean to keep me here. In this room. Like a cell. Like a collar and....

She glanced at the door—the dark Accepted would still be standing guard on the other side, she knew—and rolled close to the white plastered wall. Just above the mattress was a small hole, almost invisible unless you knew where to look, drilled through into the next room by novices long ago. Egwene kept her voice to a whisper.

“Elayne?” There was no answer. “Elayne? Are you asleep?”

“How could I sleep?” came Elayne’s reply, a reedy whisper through the hole. “I thought we might be in some trouble, but I did not expect this. Egwene, what are they going to do to us?”

Egwene had no answer, and her guesses were not of the sort she wanted to voice aloud. She did not even want to think of them. “I actually thought we might be heroes, Elayne. We brought back the Horn of Valere safely. We discovered Liandrin is Black Ajah.” Her voice skipped on that. Aes Sedai had always denied the existence of a Black Ajah, an Ajah that served the Dark One, and were known to become angry with anyone who even suggested it was real. But we know it’s real. “We should be heroes, Elayne.”

“ ‘Should and would build no bridges,’ ” Elayne said. “Light, I used to hate it when Mother said that to me, but it’s true. Verin said we mustn’t speak of the Horn, or Liandrin, to anyone but her or the Amyrlin Seat. I do not think any of this will work out the way we thought. It is not fair. We’ve been through so much; you’ve been through so much. It just is not fair.”

“Verin says. Moiraine says. I know why people think Aes Sedai are puppetmasters. I can almost feel the strings on my arms and legs. Whatever they do, it will be what they decide is good for the White Tower, not what is good or fair for us.”

“But you still want to be Aes Sedai. Don’t you?”

Egwene hesitated, but there was never any real question as to her answer. “Yes,” she said. “I still do. It is the only way we will ever be safe. But I will tell you this. I’ll not let myself be stilled.” That was a new thought, voiced as soon as it came to her, but she realized she did not want to take it back. Give up touching the True Source? She could sense it there, even now, the glow just over her shoulder, the shining just out of sight. She resisted the desire to reach out to it. Give up being filled with the One Power, feeling more alive than I ever have before? I won’t! “Not without a fight.”

There was a long silence from the other side of the wall. “How could you stop it? You may be as strong as any of them, now, but neither one of us knows enough yet to stop even one Aes Sedai from shielding us from the Source, and there are dozens of them here.”

Egwene considered. Finally she said, “I could run away. Really run away, this time.”

“They would come after us, Egwene. I’m sure they would. Once you show any ability at all, they don’t let you go until you’ve learned enough not to kill yourself. Or just die from it.”

“I am not a simple village girl anymore. I have seen something of the world. I can keep out of Aes Sedai hands if I want to.” She was trying to convince herself as much as Elayne. And what if I don’t know enough, yet? Enough about the world, enough about the Power? What if just channeling can still kill me? She refused to think of that. So much I have to learn yet. I won’t let them stop me.

“My mother might protect us,” Elayne said, “if what that Whitecloak said is true. I never thought I would hope something like that was the truth. But if it isn’t, Mother is just as likely to send us both back in chains. Will you teach me how to live in a village?”

Egwene blinked at the wall. “You will come with me? If it comes to that, I mean?”

There was another long silence, then a faint whisper. “I do not want to be stilled, Egwene. I will not be. I will not be!”

The door swung open, crashing against the wall, and Egwene sat up with a start. She heard the bang of a door from the other side of the wall. Faolain stepped into Egwene’s room, smiling as her eyes went to the tiny hole. Similar holes joined most of the novice rooms; any woman who had been a novice knew of them.

“Whispering with your friend, eh?” the curly-haired Accepted said with surprising warmth. “Well, it grows lonely, waiting by yourself. Did you have a nice chat?”

Egwene opened her mouth, then closed it again hastily. She could answer Aes Sedai, Sheriam had said. No one else. She regarded the Accepted with a level expression and waited.

The false sympathy slid off Faolain’s face like water running off a roof. “On your feet. The Amyrlin’s not to be kept waiting by the likes of you. You are lucky I did not come in in time to hear you. Move!”

Novices were supposed to obey the Accepted almost as quickly as they obeyed Aes Sedai, but Egwene got to her feet slowly, and took as much time as she dared in smoothing her dress. She gave Faolain a small curtsy and a tiny smile. The scowl that rolled across the Accepted’s face made Egwene’s smile grow before she remembered to rein it in; there was no point in pushing Faolain too far. Holding herself straight, pretending her knees were not shaking, she preceded the Accepted out of the room.

Elayne was already waiting outside with the apple-cheeked Accepted, looking fiercely determined to be brave. Somehow, she managed to give the impression that the Accepted was a handmaid carrying her gloves. Egwene hoped that she herself was doing half so well.

The railed galleries of the novices’ quarters rose tier on tier above, in a hollow column, and fell as many below, to the Novices’ Court. There were no other women in sight. Even if every novice in the Tower had been there, though, less than a quarter of the rooms would have been filled. The four of them walked ’round the empty galleries and down the spiraling ramps in silence; none could bear to have the sounds of voices emphasize the emptiness.

Egwene had never before been into the part of the Tower where the Amyrlin had her rooms. The corridors there were wide enough for a wagon to pass down easily, and taller than they were wide. Colorful tapestries hung on the walls, tapestries in a dozen styles, of floral designs and forest scenes, of heroic deeds and intricate patterns, some so old they looked as if they might break if handled. Their shoes made loud clicks on diamond-shaped floor tiles that repeated the colors of the seven Ajahs.

There were few other women in evidence—an Aes Sedai now and then, sweeping majestically along with no time to notice Accepted or novices; five or six Accepted hurrying self-importantly about their tasks or studies; a sprinkling of serving women with trays, or mops, or armfuls of sheets or towels; a few novices moving on errands even more quickly than the servants.

Nynaeve and her slim-necked escort, Theodrin, joined them. Neither spoke. Nynaeve wore an Accepted’s dress, now, white with the seven colored bands at the hem, but her belt and pouch were her own. She gave Egwene and Elayne each a reassuring smile and a hug—Egwene was so relieved to see another friendly face that she returned the hug with barely a thought that Nynaeve was behaving as if she were comforting children—but as they walked on, Nynaeve gave her thick braid a sharp tug from time to time, too.

Very few men came into that part of the Tower, and Egwene saw only two: Warders walking side by side in conversation, one with his sword on his hip, the other with his on his back. One was short and slender, even slight, the other almost as wide as he was tall, yet both moved with a dangerous grace. The color-shifting Warder cloaks made them queasy-making to watch for long, parts of them sometimes seeming to fade into the walls beyond. She saw Nynaeve looking at them, and shook her head. She has to do something about Lan. If any of us can do anything about anyone after today.

The antechamber of the Amyrlin Seat’s study was grand enough for any palace, though the chairs scattered about for those who might wait were plain, but Egwene had eyes only for Leane Sedai. The Keeper wore her narrow stole of office, blue to show she had been raised from the Blue Ajah, and her face could have been carved from smooth, brownish stone. There was no one else there.

“Did they give any trouble?” The Keeper’s clipped way of talking gave no hint now of either anger or sympathy.

“No, Aes Sedai,” Theodrin and the apple-cheeked Accepted said together.

“This one had to be pulled by the scruff of her neck, Aes Sedai,” Faolain said, indicating Egwene. The Accepted sounded indignant. “She balks as if she has forgotten what the discipline of the White Tower is.”

“To lead,” Leane said, “is neither to push nor to pull. Go to Marris Sedai, Faolain, and ask her to allow you to contemplate on this while raking the paths in the Spring Garden.” She dismissed Faolain and the other two Accepted, and they dropped deep curtsies. From the depth of hers, Faolain shot a furious look at Egwene.

The Keeper paid no attention to the Accepted’s leaving. Instead, she studied the remaining women, tapping a forefinger against her lips, till Egwene had the feeling they had all been measured to the inch and weighed to the ounce. Nynaeve’s eyes took on a dangerous sparkle, and she had a tight grip on her braid.

Finally Leane raised a hand toward the doors to the Amyrlin’s study. The Great Serpent bit its own tail, a pace across, on the dark wood of each. “Enter,” she said.

Nynaeve stepped forward promptly and opened one of the doors. That was enough to get Egwene moving. Elayne held her hand tightly, and she gripped Elayne’s just as hard. Leane followed them in and took a place to one side, halfway between the three of them and the table in the center of the room.

The Amyrlin Seat sat behind the table, examining papers. She did not look up. Once Nynaeve opened her mouth, but closed it again, at a sharp look from the Keeper. The three of them stood in a line in front of the Amyrlin’s table and waited. Egwene tried not to fidget. Long minutes went by—it seemed like hours—before the Amyrlin raised her head, but when those blue eyes fixed them each in turn, Egwene decided she could have waited longer. The Amyrlin’s gaze was like two icicles boring into her heart. The room was cool, but a trickle of sweat began to run down her back.

“So!” the Amyrlin said finally. “Our runaways return.”

“We did not run away, Mother.” Nynaeve was obviously straining for calm, but her voice shook with emotion. Anger, Egwene knew. That strong will was all too often accompanied by anger. “Liandrin told us we were to go with her, and—” The loud crack of the Amyrlin’s hand slapping the table cut her off.

“Do not invoke Liandrin’s name here, child!” the Amyrlin snapped. Leane watched them with a stern serenity.

“Mother, Liandrin is Black Ajah,” Elayne burst out.

“That is known, child. Suspected, at least, and as good as known. Liandrin left the Tower some months ago, and twelve other—women—went with her. None has been seen since. Before they left, they tried to break into the storeroom where the angreal and sa’angreal are kept, and did manage to enter that where the smaller ter’angreal are stored. They stole a number of those, including several we do not know the use of.”

Nynaeve stared at the Amyrlin in horror, and Elayne suddenly rubbed her arms as if she were cold. Egwene knew she was shivering, too. Many times she had imagined returning to confront Liandrin and accuse her, to see her condemned to some punishment—except that she had never managed to imagine any punishment strong enough to suit that doll-faced Aes Sedai’s crimes. She had even pictured returning to find Liandrin already fled—in terror of her return, it was usually. But she had never imagined anything like this. If Liandrin and the others—she had not really wanted to believe there were others—had stolen those remnants of the Age of Legends, there was no telling what they could do with them. Thank the Light they did not get any sa’angreal, she thought. The other was bad enough.

Sa’angreal were like angreal, allowing an Aes Sedai to channel more of the Power than she safely could unaided, but far more powerful than angreal, and rare. Ter’angreal were something different. Existing in greater numbers than either angreal or sa’angreal, though still not common, they used the One Power rather than helping to channel it, and no one truly understood them. Many would work only for someone who could channel, needing the actual channeling of the Power, while others did what they did for anyone. Where all the angreal and sa’angreal Egwene had ever heard of were small, ter’angreal could seemingly be any size. Each had apparently been made for a specific purpose by those Aes Sedai of three thousand years ago, to do a certain thing, and Aes Sedai since had died trying to learn what; died, or had the ability to channel burned out of them. There were sisters of the Brown Ajah who had made ter’angreal their life’s study.

Some were in use, if likely not for the purposes they had been made. The stout white rod that the Accepted held while taking the Three Oaths on being raised to Aes Sedai was a ter’angreal, binding them to the oaths as surely as if they had been bred in the bone. Another ter’angreal was the site of the final test before a novice was raised to the Accepted. There were others, including many no one could make work at all, and many others that seemed to have no practical use.

Why did they take things no one knows how to use? Egwene wondered. Or maybe the Black Ajah does know. That possibility made her stomach churn. That might be as bad as sa’angreal in Darkfriend hands.

“Theft,” the Amyrlin went on in tones as cold as her eyes, “was the least of what they did. Three sisters died that night, as well as two Warders, seven guards, and nine of the servants. Murder, done to hide their thieving and their flight. It may not be proof that they were—Black Ajah”—the words grated from her mouth—“but I cannot believe otherwise. When there are fish heads and blood in the water, you don’t need to see the silverpike to know they are there.”

“Then why are we being treated as criminals?” Nynaeve demanded. “We were tricked by a woman of the—of the Black Ajah. That should be enough to clear us of any wrongdoing.”

The Amyrlin barked a mirthless laugh. “You think so, do you, child? It may be your salvation that no one in the Tower but Verin, Leane, and I even suspects you had anything to do with Liandrin. If that were known, much less the little demonstration you put on for the Whitecloaks—no need to look so surprised; Verin told me everything—if it were known you had gone off with Liandrin, the Hall might very well vote for stilling the three of you before you could take a breath.”

“That is not fair!” Nynaeve said. Leane stirred, but Nynaeve went on. “It is not right! It—!”

The Amyrlin stood up. That was all, but it cut Nynaeve short.

Egwene thought she was wise to keep quiet. She had always believed Nynaeve was as strong, as strong-willed, as anyone could be. Until she met the woman wearing the striped stole. Please keep your temper, Nynaeve. We might as well be children—babes—facing our mother, and this Mother can do far worse than beat us.

It seemed to her a way out was being offered in what the Amyrlin had said, but she was not sure what way. “Mother, forgive me for speaking, but what do you intend to do to us?”

“Do to you, child? I intend to punish you and Elayne for leaving the Tower without permission, and Nynaeve for leaving the city without permission. First, you will each be called to Sheriam Sedai’s study, where I’ve told her to switch you till you wish you had a cushion to sit on for the next week. I have already had this announced to the novices and the Accepted.”

Egwene blinked in surprise. Elayne gave an audible grunt, stiffened her back, and muttered something under her breath. Nynaeve was the only one who seemed to take it without shock. Punishment, whether extra labors or something else, was always between the Mistress of Novices and whoever was called to her. Those were usually novices, but included the Accepted who stepped far enough beyond the bounds. Sheriam always keeps it between you and her, Egwene thought bleakly. She can’t have told everyone. But better than being imprisoned. Better than being stilled.

“The announcement is part of the punishment, of course,” the Amyrlin went on, as if she had read Egwene’s mind. “I have also had it announced that you are all three assigned to the kitchens, to work with the scullions, until further notice. And I have let it be whispered about that ‘further notice’ might just mean the rest of your natural lives. Do I hear objections to any of this?”

“No, Mother,” Egwene said quickly. Nynaeve would hate scrubbing pots even more than the other. It could be worse, Nynaeve. Light, it could be so much worse. Nynaeve’s nostrils had flared, but she gave her head a tight shake.

“And you, Elayne?” the Amyrlin said. “The Daughter-Heir of Andor is used to gentler treatment.”

“I want to be Aes Sedai, Mother,” Elayne said in a firm voice.

The Amyrlin fingered a paper in front of her on the table and seemed to study it for a moment. When she raised her head, her smile was not at all pleasant. “If any of you had been silly enough to answer otherwise, I had something to add to your tally that would have had you cursing your mother for ever letting your father steal that first kiss. Letting yourselves be winkled out of the Tower like thoughtless children. Even an infant would never have fallen into that trap. I will teach you to think before you act, or else I’ll use you to chink cracks in the water gates!”

Egwene found herself offering silent thanks. A prickle ran over her skin as the Amyrlin continued.

“Now, as to what else I intend to do with you. It seems you have all increased your ability to channel remarkably since you left the Tower. You have learned much. Including some things,” she added sharply, “that I intend to see you unlearn!”

Nynaeve surprised Egwene by saying, “I know we have done... things... we should not have, Mother. I assure you, we will do our best to live as if we had taken the Three Oaths.”

The Amyrlin grunted. “See that you do,” she said dryly. “If I could, I’d put the Oath Rod in your hands tonight, but as that is reserved for being raised to Aes Sedai, I must trust to your good sense—if you have any—to keep you whole. As it is, you, Egwene, and you, Elayne, are to be raised to the Accepted.”

Elayne gasped, and Egwene stammered a shocked, “Thank you, Mother.” Leane shifted where she stood. Egwene did not think the Keeper looked best pleased. Not surprised—she had obviously known it was coming—but not pleased, either.

“Do not thank me. Your abilities have gone too far for you to remain novices. Some will think you should not have the ring, not after what you’ve done, but the sight of you up to your elbows in greasy pots should mute the criticism. And lest you start thinking it’s some sort of reward, remember that the first few weeks as one of the Accepted are used to pick the rotting fish out of the basket of good ones. Your worst day as a novice will seem a fond dream compared to the least of your studies over the next weeks. I suspect that some of the sisters who teach you will make your trials even worse than they strictly must be, but I don’t believe you will complain. Will you?”

I can learn, Egwene thought. Choose my own studies. I can learn about the dreams, learn now to...

The Amyrlin’s smile cut off her train of thought. That smile said nothing the sisters could do to them would be worse than it needed to be, if it left them alive. Nynaeve’s face was a mixture of deep sympathy and horrified remembrance of her own first weeks as one of the Accepted. The combination was enough to make Egwene swallow hard. “No, Mother,” she said faintly. Elayne’s reply was a hoarse whisper.

“Then that’s done. Your mother was not at all pleased by your disappearance, Elayne.”

“She knows?” Elayne squeaked.

Leane sniffed, and the Amyrlin arched an eyebrow, saying, “I could hardly keep it from her. You missed her by less than a month, which may be as well for you. You might not have survived that meeting. She was mad enough to chew through an oar, at you, at me, at the White Tower.”

“I can imagine, Mother,” Elayne said faintly.

“I don’t think you can, child. You may have ended a tradition that began before there was an Andor. A custom stronger than most laws. Morgase refused to take Elaida back with her. For the first time ever, the Queen of Andor does not have an Aes Sedai advisor. She demanded your immediate return to Caemlyn as soon as you were found. I convinced her it would be safer for you to train here a little longer. She was ready to remove your two brothers from their training with the Warders, too. They talked their way out of that themselves. I still do not know how.”

Elayne seemed to be looking inward, perhaps seeing Morgase in all her anger. She shivered. “Gawyn is my brother,” she said absently. “Galad is not.”

“Do not be childish,” the Amyrlin told her. “Sharing the same father makes Galad your brother, too, whether or not you like him. I will not allow childishness out of you, girl. A measure of stupidity can be tolerated in a novice; it is not allowed in one of the Accepted.”

“Yes, Mother,” Elayne said glumly.

“The Queen left a letter for you with Sheriam. Aside from giving you the rough side of her tongue, I believe she states her intention of bringing you home as soon as it is safe for you. She is sure that in a few more months at most you will be able to channel without risking killing yourself.”

“But I want to learn, Mother.” The iron had returned to Elayne’s voice. “I want to be Aes Sedai.”

The Amyrlin’s smile was even grimmer than her last. “As well that you do, child, because I have no intention of letting Morgase have you. You have the potential to be stronger than any Aes Sedai in a thousand years, and I will not let you go until you achieve the shawl as well as the ring. Not if I have to grind you into sausage to do it. I will not let you go. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Mother.” Elayne sounded uneasy, and Egwene did not blame her. Caught between Morgase and the White Tower like a towel between two dogs, caught between the Queen of Andor and the Amyrlin Seat. If Egwene had ever envied Elayne her wealth and the throne she would one day occupy, at that moment she surely did not.

The Amyrlin said briskly, “Leane, take Elayne down to Sheriam’s study. I have a few words yet to say to these other two. Words I do not think they will enjoy hearing.”

Egwene exchanged startled looks with Nynaeve; for a moment, worry dissolved the tension between them. What does she have to say to us and not to Elayne? she wondered. I do not care, so long as she does not try to stop me learning. But why not Elayne, too?

Elayne grimaced at the mention of the Mistress of Novices’s study, but she drew herself up as Leane came to her side. “As you command, Mother,” she said formally, lowering herself in a perfect curtsy, skirts sweeping wide, “so shall I obey.” She followed Leane out with her head held high.

The Bite of the Thorns

The Amyrlin Seat did not speak at once—she walked to the tall, arched windows and looked out across the balcony at the garden below, hands clasped tightly behind her. Minutes went by before she spoke, still with her back to the two of them.

“I have kept the worst of it from getting out, but how long will that last? The servants do not know of the stolen ter’angreal, and they do not connect the deaths with Liandrin and the others leaving. It was not easy to manage that, gossip being what it is. They believe the deaths were the work of Darkfriends. And so they were. Rumors are reaching the city, too. That Darkfriends got into the Tower, that they did murder. There was no way to stop that. It does our reputation no good, but at least it is better than the truth. At least none outside the Tower, and few inside, know Aes Sedai were killed. Darkfriends in the White Tower. Faugh! I’ve spent my life denying that. I will not let them be here. I will hook them, and gut them, and hang them out in the sun to dry.”

Nynaeve gave Egwene an uncertain look—half as uncertain as Egwene felt—then took a deep breath. “Mother, are we to be punished more? Beyond what you’ve already sentenced us to?”

The Amyrlin looked over her shoulder at them; her eyes were lost in shadow. “Punished more? You might well say that. Some will say I’ve given you a gift, raising you. Now feel the real bite of that rose’s thorns.” She strode briskly back to her chair and sat down, then seemed to lose her urgency again. Or to gain uncertainty.

To see the Amyrlin look uncertain made Egwene’s stomach clench. The Amyrlin Seat was always sure, always serenely centered on her path. The Amyrlin was strength personified. For all her own raw power, the woman on the other side of the table had the knowledge and experience to wind her around a spindle. To see her suddenly wavering—like a girl who knew she had to dive head first into a pond without any idea of how deep it was or whether there were rocks or mud on the bottom—to see that, chilled Egwene right to her core. What does she mean, the real bite of the thorns? Light, what does she mean to do to us?

Fingering a carved black box on the table in front of her, the Amyrlin peered at it as if looking at something beyond. “It is a question of who I can trust,” she said softly. “I should be able to trust Leane and Sheriam, at least. But do I dare? Verin?” Her shoulders shook with a quick, silent laugh. “I already trust Verin with more than my life, but how far can I take it? Moiraine?” She was silent for a moment. “I have always believed I could trust Moiraine.”

Egwene shifted uneasily. How much did the Amyrlin know? It was not the kind of thing she could ask, not of the Amyrlin Seat. Do you know that a young man from my village, a man I used to think I’d marry one day, is the Dragon Reborn? Do you know two of your Aes Sedai are helping him? At least she was sure the Amyrlin did not know she had dreamed of him last night, running from Moiraine. She thought she was sure. She kept silent.

“What are you talking about?” Nynaeve demanded. The Amyrlin looked up at her, and she moderated her tone as she added, “Forgive me, Mother, but are we to be punished more? I do not understand this talk of trust. If you want my opinion, Moiraine is not to be trusted.”

“That is your opinion, is it?” the Amyrlin said. “A year out of your village, and you think you know enough of the world to choose which Aes Sedai to trust, and which not? A master sailor who’s barely learned to hoist a sail!”

“She did not mean anything, Mother,” Egwene said, but she knew Nynaeve meant exactly what she had said. She shot a warning glance at Nynaeve. Nynaeve gave her braid a sharp tug, but she kept her mouth shut.

“Well, who is to say,” the Amyrlin mused. “Trust is as slippery as a basket of eels, sometimes. The point is, you two are what I have to work with, thin reeds though you may be.”

Nynaeve’s mouth tightened, though her voice stayed level. “Thin reeds, Mother?”

The Amyrlin went on as if she had not spoken. “Liandrin tried to stuff you headfirst into a weir, and it may well be she left because she learned you were returning, and could unmask her, so I have to believe you aren’t—Black Ajah. I would rather eat scales and entrails,” she muttered, “but I suppose I’ll have to get used to saying that name.”

Egwene gaped in shock—Black Ajah? Us? Light!—but Nynaeve barked, “We certainly are not! How dare you say such a thing? How dare you even suggest it?”

“If you doubt me, child, go ahead!” the Amyrlin said in a hard voice. “You may have an Aes Sedai’s power sometimes, but you are not yet Aes Sedai, not by miles. Well? Speak, if you have more to say. I promise to leave you weeping for forgiveness! ‘Thin reed’? I’ll break you like a reed! I’ve no patience left.”

Nynaeve’s mouth worked. Finally, though, she gave herself a shake, and drew a calming breath. When she spoke her voice still had an edge, but a small one. “Forgive me, Mother. But you should not—We are not—We would not do such a thing.”

With a compressed smile, the Amyrlin leaned back in her chair. “So you can keep your temper, when you want to. I had to know that.” Egwene wondered how much of it had been a test; there was a tightness around the Amyrlin’s eyes that suggested her patience might well be exhausted. “I wish I could have found a way to raise you to the shawl, Daughter. Verin says you are already as strong as any woman in the Tower.”

“The shawl!” Nynaeve gasped. “Aes Sedai? Me?”

The Amyrlin gestured slightly as if tossing something away, but she looked regretful to lose it. “No point wishing for what can’t be. I could hardly raise you to full sister and send you to scrub pots at the same time. And Verin also says you still cannot channel consciously unless you are furious. I was ready to sever you from the True Source if you even looked like embracing saidar. The final tests for the shawl require you to channel while maintaining utter calm under pressure. Extreme pressure. Even I cannot—and would not—set that requirement aside.”

Nynaeve seemed stunned. She was staring at the Amyrlin with her mouth hanging open.

“I don’t understand, Mother,” Egwene said after a moment.

“I suppose you don’t, at that. You are the only two in the Tower I can be absolutely sure are not Black Ajah.” The Amyrlin’s mouth still twisted around those words. “Liandrin and her twelve went, but did all of them go? Or did they leave some of their number behind, like a stub in shallow water that you don’t see till it puts a hole in your boat? It may be I’ll not find that out until it is too late, but I will not let Liandrin and the others get away with what they did. Not the theft, and especially not the murders. No one kills my people and walks away unscathed. And I’ll not let thirteen trained Aes Sedai serve the Shadow. I mean to find them, and still them!”

“I don’t see what that has to do with us,” Nynaeve said slowly. She did not look as if she liked what she was thinking.

“Just this, child. You two are to be my hounds, hunting the Black Ajah. No one will believe it of you, not a pair of half-trained Accepted I humiliated publicly.”

“That is crazy!” Nynaeve’s eyes had opened wide by the time the Amyrlin reached the words “Black Ajah,” and her knuckles were white from her grip on her braid. She bit her words off and spat them: “They are all full Aes Sedai. Egwene hasn’t even been raised to Accepted yet, and you know I cannot channel enough to light a candle unless I am angry, not of my own free will. What chance would we have?”

Egwene nodded agreement. Her tongue had stuck to the roof of her mouth. Hunt the Black Ajah? I’d rather hunt a bear with a switch! She’s just trying to scare us, to punish us more. She has to be! If that was what the Amyrlin was trying, she was succeeding all too well.

The Amyrlin was nodding, too. “Every word you say is true. But each of you is more than a match for Liandrin in sheer power, and she is the strongest of them. Yet they are trained, and you are not, and you, Nynaeve, do have limitations, as yet. But when you don’t have an oar, child, any plank will do to paddle the boat ashore.”

“But I would be useless,” Egwene blurted. Her voice came out as a squeak, but she was too afraid to be ashamed. She means it! Oh, Light, she means it! Liandrin gave me to the Seanchan, and now she wants me to hunt thirteen like her? “My studies, my lessons, working in the kitchens. Anaiya Sedai will surely want to continue testing me to see if I am a Dreamer. I’ll barely have time left over to sleep and eat. How can I hunt anything?”

“You will have to find the time,” the Amyrlin said, cool and serene once more, as if hunting the Black Ajah were no more than sweeping a floor. “As one of the Accepted, you choose your own studies, within limits, and the times for them. And the rules are a little easier for Accepted. A little easier. They must be found, child.”

Egwene looked to Nynaeve, but what Nynaeve said was, “Why is Elayne not part of this? It can’t be because you think she is Black Ajah. Is it because she is Daughter-Heir of Andor?”

“A full net on the first cast, child. I would make her one of you if I could, but at the moment Morgase gives me enough problems as it is. When I have her combed and curried and prodded back on the proper path, perhaps Elayne will join you. Perhaps then.”

“Then leave Egwene out, too,” Nynaeve said. “She is barely old enough to be a woman. I will do your hunting for you.” Egwene made a sound of protest—I am a woman!—but the Amyrlin spoke before her.

“I am not setting you out as bait, child. If I had a hundred of you, I would still not be happy, but there are only you two, so two I will have.”

“Nynaeve,” Egwene said, “I do not understand you. Do you mean you want to do this?”

“It isn’t that I want to,” Nynaeve said wearily, “but I’d rather hunt them than sit wondering if the Aes Sedai teaching me is really a Darkfriend. And whatever they are up to, I do not want to wait until they’re ready to find out what it is.”

The decision Egwene came to twisted her stomach. “Then I will do it, too. I don’t want to sit wondering and waiting any more than you do.” Nynaeve opened her mouth, and Egwene felt a flash of anger; it was such a relief after fear. “And don’t you dare say I’m too young again. At least I can channel when I want to. Most of the time. I am not a little girl anymore, Nynaeve.”

Nynaeve stood there, jerking on her braid and not saying a word. Finally the stiffness drained out of her. “You are not, are you? I have said myself you are a woman, but I suppose I did not really believe it, inside. Girl, I—No, woman. Woman, I hope you realize you’ve climbed into a pickling cauldron with me, and the fire may be lit.”

“I know it.” Egwene was proud that her voice hardly shook at all.

The Amyrlin smiled as if pleased, but there was something in her blue eyes that made Egwene suspect she had known what their decisions would be all along. For an instant, she felt those puppeteer’s strings on her arms and legs again.

“Verin....” The Amyrlin hesitated, then muttered half to herself. “If I must trust someone, it might as well be her. She knows as much as I already, and maybe more.” Her voice strengthened. “Verin will give you all that is known of Liandrin and the others, and also a list of the ter’angreal that were taken, and what they will do. Those that we know. As for any of the Black Ajah still in the Tower.... Listen, watch, and be careful of your questions. Be like mice. If you have even a suspicion, report it to me. I will keep an eye on you myself. No one will think that strange, given what you’re being punished for. You can make your reports when I look in on you. Remember, they have killed before. They could easily kill again.”

“That’s all very well,” Nynaeve said, “but we will still be Accepted, and it is Aes Sedai we’re after. Any full sister can tell us to go about our business, or send us off to do her laundry, and we will have no choice but to obey. There are places Accepted are not supposed to go, things we’re not supposed to do. Light, if we were sure a sister was Black Ajah, she could tell the guards to lock us in our rooms and keep us there, and they would do it. They certainly would not take the word of an Accepted over that of an Aes Sedai.”

“For the most part,” the Amyrlin said, “you must work within the limitations of the Accepted. The idea is for no one to suspect you. But....”She opened the black box on her table, hesitated and looked at the other two women as if still unsure she wanted to do this, then took out a number of stiff, folded papers. Sorting through them carefully, she hesitated again, then chose out two. The remainder she shoved back into the box, and handed those two to Egwene and Nynaeve. “Keep these well hidden. They are for an emergency only.”

Egwene unfolded her thick paper. It held writing in a neat, round hand, and was sealed at the bottom with the White Flame of Tar Valon.

What the bearer does is done at my order and by my authority. Obey, and keep silent, at my command.
Siuan Sanche
Watcher of the Seals
Flame of Tar Valon
The Amyrlin Seat

“I could do anything with this,” Nynaeve said in a wondering voice. “Order the guards to march. Command the Warders.” She gave a little laugh. “I could make a Warder dance, with this.”

“Until I found out about it,” the Amyrlin agreed dryly. “Unless you had a very convincing reason, I’d make you wish Liandrin had caught you.”

“I didn’t mean to do any of that,” Nynaeve said hastily. “I just meant that it gives more authority than I had imagined.”

“You may need every shred of it. But just you remember, child. A Darkfriend won’t heed that any more than a Whitecloak would. They would both likely kill you just for having it. If that paper is a shield... well, paper shields are flimsy, and this one may have a target painted on it.”

“Yes, Mother,” Egwene and Nynaeve said together. Egwene folded her paper up and tucked it into her belt pouch, resolving not to take it out again unless she absolutely had to. And how will I know when that is?

“What about Mat?” Nynaeve asked. “He’s very sick, Mother, and he does not have much time left.”

“I will send word to you,” the Amyrlin said curtly.

“But, Mother—”

“I will send word to you! Now, off with you, children. The hope of the Tower rests in your hands. Go to your rooms and get some rest. Remember, you have appointments with Sheriam, and with the pots.”

The Gray Man

Outside the Amyrlin Seat’s study, Egwene and Nynaeve found the corridors empty except for an occasional serving woman, hurrying about her duties on soft-slippered feet. Egwene was grateful for their presence. The halls suddenly seemed like caverns, for all the tapestries and stonework. Dangerous caverns.

Nynaeve strode along purposefully, tugging at her braid fitfully again, and Egwene hurried to keep up. She did not want to be left alone.

“If the Black Ajah is still here, Nynaeve, and if they even suspect what we’re doing.... I hope you didn’t mean what you said about acting as if we are already bound by the Three Oaths. I don’t intend to let them kill me, not if I can stop it by channeling.”

“If any of them are still here, Egwene, they will know what we are doing as soon as they see us.” Despite what she was saying, Nynaeve sounded preoccupied. “Or at least they will see us as a threat, and that’s much the same thing as far as what they will do.”

“How will they see us as a threat? Nobody is threatened by someone they can order about. Nobody is threatened by someone who has to scrub pots and turn the spits three times a day. That’s why the Amyrlin is putting us to work in the kitchens. Part of the reason, anyway.”

“Perhaps the Amyrlin did not think it through,” Nynaeve said absently. “Or perhaps she did, and means something different for us than what she claims. Think, Egwene. Liandrin would not have tried to put us out of the way unless she thought we were a threat to her. I can’t imagine how, or to what, but I cannot see how it could have changed, either. If there are any Black Ajah still here, they will surely see us the same way, whether they suspect what we’re doing or not.”

Egwene swallowed. “I hadn’t thought of that. Light, I wish I were invisible. Nynaeve, if they are still after us, I will risk being stilled before I let Darkfriends kill me, or maybe worse. And I won’t believe you will let them take you, either, no matter what you told the Amyrlin.”

“I meant it.” For a moment Nynaeve seemed to rouse from her thoughts. Her steps slowed. A pale-haired novice carrying a tray rushed past. “I meant every word, Egwene.” Nynaeve went on when the novice was out of hearing. “There are other ways to defend ourselves. If there were not, Aes Sedai would be killed every time they left the Tower. We just have to reason those ways out, and use them.”

“I know several ways already, and so do you.”

“They are dangerous.” Egwene opened her mouth to say they were only dangerous to whoever attacked her, but Nynaeve plowed on over her. “You can come to like them too much. When I let out all my anger at those Whitecloaks this morning.... It felt too good. It is too dangerous.” She shivered and quickened her pace again, and Egwene had to step lively to catch up.

“You sound like Sheriam. You never have before. You have pushed every limit they’ve put on you. Why would you accept limits now, when we might have to ignore them to stay alive?”

“What good if it ends with us being put out of the Tower? Stilled or not, what good then?” Nynaeve’s voice dropped as if she were speaking to herself. “I can do it. I must, if I’m to stay here long enough to learn, and I must learn if I’m to—” Suddenly she seemed to realize she was speaking aloud. She shot a hard look at Egwene, and her voice firmed. “Let me think. Please, be quiet and let me think.”

Egwene held her tongue, but inside she bubbled with unasked questions. What special reason did Nynaeve have for wanting to learn more of what the White Tower could teach? What was it she wanted to do? Why was Nynaeve keeping it secret from her? Secrets. We’ve learned to keep too many secrets since coming to the Tower. The Amyrlin is keeping secrets from us, too. Light, what is she going to do about Mat?

Nynaeve accompanied her all the way back to the novices’ quarters, not turning aside to the Accepted’s quarters. The galleries were still empty, and they met no one as they climbed the spiraling ramps.

As they came up on Elayne’s room, Nynaeve stopped, knocked once, and immediately opened the door and put her head inside. Then she was letting the white door swing shut and striding toward the next, Egwene’s room. “She isn’t here yet,” she said. “I need to talk to both of you.”

Egwene caught her shoulders and pulled her to an abrupt halt. “What—?” Something tugged at her hair, stung her ear. A black blur streaked in front of her face to clang against the wall, and in the next breath Nynaeve was bearing her to the gallery floor, behind the railing.

Wide-eyed and sprawling, Egwene stared at what lay on the stone in front of her door, where it had fallen. A bolt from a crossbow. A few dark strands from her hair were tangled in the four heavy prongs, meant for punching through armor. She raised a trembling hand to touch her ear, to touch the tiniest nick, damp with a bead of blood. If I had not stopped just then.... If I hadn’t.... The quarrel would have gone right through her head, and would probably have killed Nynaeve, too. “Blood and ashes!” she gasped. “Blood and bloody ashes!”

“Watch your language,” Nynaeve admonished, but her heart was not in it. She lay peering between the white stone balusters toward the far side of the galleries. A glow surrounded her, to Egwene’s eyes. She had embraced saidar.

Hastily, Egwene tried to reach out for the One Power, too, but at first haste defeated her. Haste, and images that kept intruding on the emptiness, images of her head being ripped apart like a rotten melon by a heavy quarrel that went on to bury itself in Nynaeve. She took a deep breath and tried again, and finally the rose floated in nothingness, opened to the True Source, and the Power filled her.

She rolled onto her stomach to peer through the railing beside Nynaeve. “Do you see anything? Do you see him? I’ll put a lightning bolt through him!” She could feel it building, pressing on her to loose it. “It is a man, isn’t it?” She could not imagine a man coming into the novices’ quarters, but it was impossible to picture a woman carrying a crossbow through the Tower.

“I don’t know.” Quiet anger filled Nynaeve’s voice; her anger was always at its worst when she grew quiet with it. “I thought I saw—Yes! There!” Egwene felt the Power pulse in the other woman, and then Nynaeve was unhurriedly getting to her feet, brushing at her dress as if there were nothing more to worry about.

Egwene stared at her. “What? What did you do? Nynaeve?”

“ ‘Of the Five Powers,’ ” Nynaeve said in a lecturing tone, faintly mocking, “ ‘Air, sometimes called Wind, is thought by many to be of the least use. This is far from true.’ ” She finished with a tight laugh. “I told you there were other ways to defend ourselves. I used Air, to hold him with air. If it is a he; I could not see him clearly. A trick the Amyrlin showed me once, though I doubt she expected me to see how it was done. Well, are you going to lie there all day?”

Egwene scrambled up to hurry after her around the gallery. Before long a man did come into sight around the curve, dressed in plain brown breeches and coat. He stood facing the other way, balanced on the ball of one foot, with the other hanging in midair as if he had been caught in the middle of running. The man would feel as if he were buried in thick jelly, yet it was nothing but air stiffened around him. Egwene remembered the Amyrlin’s trick, too, but she did not think she could duplicate it. Nynaeve only had to see a thing done once to know how to do it herself. When she could manage to channel at all, of course.

They came closer, and Egwene’s melding with the Power vanished in shock. The hilt of a dagger stood out from the man’s chest. His face sagged, and death had already filmed his half-closed eyes. He crumpled to the gallery floor as Nynaeve loosed the trap that had held him.

He was an average-appearing man, of average height and average build, with features so ordinary Egwene did not think she would have noticed him in a group of three. She only studied him a moment, though, before realizing that something was missing. A crossbow.

She gave a start and looked about wildly. “There had to be another one, Nynaeve. Somebody took the crossbow. And somebody stabbed him. He could be out there ready to shoot at us again.”

“Calm yourself,” Nynaeve said, but she peered both ways along the gallery, jerking at her braid. “Just be calm, and we will figure out what to—” Her words cut off at the sound of steps on the ramp leading up to their level.

Egwene’s heart pounded, seemingly in her throat. Eyes fastened on the head of the ramp, she desperately strove to touch saidar again, but for her that required calm, and her heartbeats shattered calm.

Sheriam Sedai stopped at the top of the ramp, frowning at what she saw. “What in the name of the Light has happened here?” She hurried forward, her serenity gone for once.

“We found him,” Nynaeve said as the Mistress of Novices knelt beside the corpse.

Sheriam put a hand to the man’s chest, and jerked it back twice as fast, hissing. Steeling herself visibly, she touched him again, and maintained the Touch longer. “Dead,” she muttered. “As dead as it is possible to be, and more.” When she straightened, she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her fingers. “You found him? Here? Like this?”

Egwene nodded, sure that if she spoke, Sheriam would hear the lie in her voice.

“We did,” Nynaeve said firmly.

Sheriam shook her head. “A man—a dead man, at that!—in the novices’ quarters would be scandal enough, but this... !”

“What makes him different?” Nynaeve asked. “And how could he be more than dead?”

Sheriam took a deep breath, and gave them each a searching look. “He is one of the Soulless. A Gray Man.” Absently, she wiped her fingers again, her eyes going back to the body. Worried eyes.

“The Soulless?” Egwene said, a tremor in her voice, at the same time that Nynaeve said, “A Gray Man?”

Sheriam glanced at them, a look as penetrating as it was brief. “Not a part of your studies, yet, but you seem to have gone beyond the rules in a great many ways. And considering you found this....” She gestured to the corpse. “The Soulless, the Gray Men, give up their souls to serve the Dark One as assassins. They are not really alive, after that. Not quite dead, but not truly alive. And despite the name, some Gray Men are women. A very few. Even among Darkfriends, only a handful of women are stupid enough to make that sacrifice. You can look right at them and hardly notice them, until it is too late. He was as much as dead while he walked. Now, only my eyes tell me that what is lying there ever lived at all.” She gave them another long look. “No Gray Man has dared enter Tar Valon since the Trolloc Wars.”

“What will you do?” Egwene asked. Sheriam’s brows rose, and she quickly added, “If I may ask, Sheriam Sedai.”

The Aes Sedai hesitated. “I suppose you may, since you had the bad luck to find him. It will be up to the Amyrlin Seat, but with everything that has happened, I believe she will want to keep this as quiet as is possible. We do not need more rumors. You will speak of this to none but me, or to the Amyrlin, should she mention it first.”

“Yes, Aes Sedai,” Egwene said fervently. Nynaeve’s voice was cooler.

Sheriam appeared to take their obedience for granted. She gave no sign of having heard them. Her attention was all on the dead man. The Gray Man. The Soulless. “There will be no hiding the fact that a man was killed here.” The glow of the One Power suddenly surrounded her, and just as abruptly, a long, low dome covered the body on the floor, grayish and so opaque that it was hard to see there was a body under it. “But this will keep anyone else from touching him who can discover his nature. I must have this removed before the novices come back.”

Her tilted green eyes regarded them as if she had just remembered their presence. “You two go, now. To your room, I think, Nynaeve. Considering what you are already facing, if it became known you were involved in this, even on the edge of it.... Go.”

Egwene curtsied, and tugged at Nynaeve’s sleeve, but Nynaeve said, “Why did you come up here, Sheriam Sedai?”

For a moment Sheriam looked startled, but on the instant she frowned. Fists on her hips, she regarded Nynaeve with all the firmness of her office. “Does the Mistress of Novices now need an excuse for coming to the novices’ quarters, Accepted?” she said softly. “Do Accepted now question Aes Sedai? The Amyrlin means to make something of you two, but whether she does or not, I will teach you manners, at least. Now, the pair of you, go, before I haul you both down to my study, and not for the appointment the Amyrlin Seat has already set for you.”

A sudden thought came to Egwene. “Forgive me, Sheriam Sedai,” she said quickly, “but I must fetch my cloak. I feel cold.” She rushed away, around the gallery before the Aes Sedai could speak.

If Sheriam found that crossbow bolt in front of her door, there would be too many questions. No pretending they had only found the man, that he had no connection to her, then. But when she reached the door to her room, the heavy bolt was gone. Only the jagged chip in the stone beside the door said it had ever been there.

Egwene’s skin crawled. How could anyone take it without one of us seeing.... Another Gray Man! She had embraced saidar before she knew it, only the sweet flow of the Power inside her telling her what she had done. Even so, it was one of the hardest things she had ever done, opening that door and going into her room. There was no one there. She snatched the white cloak off its peg and ran out, anyway, and she did not release saidar until she was halfway back to the others.

Something more had passed between the women while she was gone. Nynaeve was attempting to appear meek, and succeeding only in looking as if she had a sour stomach. Sheriam had her fists on her hips and was tapping her foot irritably, and the stare she was giving Nynaeve, like green millstones ready to start grinding barley flour, took in Egwene equally.

“Forgive me, Sheriam Sedai,” she said hastily, dropping a curtsy and settling her cloak on her shoulders at the same time. “This... finding a dead man—a... a Gray Man!—it made me cold. If we may go now?”

At Sheriam’s tight nod of dismissal, Nynaeve made a bare curtsy. Egwene seized her arm and hustled her away.

“Are you trying to make more trouble for us?” she demanded when they were two levels down. And safely out of earshot of Sheriam, she hoped. “What else did you say to her, to make her glare like that? More questions, I suppose? I hope you learned something worth making her mad at us.”

“She would not say anything,” Nynaeve muttered. “We must ask questions if we are to do any good, Egwene. We will have to take a few chances, or we’ll never learn anything.”

Egwene sighed. “Well, be a little more circumspect.” From the set of Nynaeve’s face, the other woman had no intention of going easy or avoiding risks. Egwene sighed again. “The crossbow bolt was gone, Nynaeve. It must have been another Gray Man who took it.”

“So that is why you.... Light!” Nynaeve frowned and gave a sharp tug to her braid.

After a time Egwene said, “What was that she did to cover the... the body?” She did not want to think of it as a Gray Man; that reminded her there was another one out there. She did not want to think of anything at all, right then.

“Air,” Nynaeve replied. “She used Air. A neat trick, and I think I see how to make something useful with it.”

The use of the One Power was divided into the Five Powers: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Different Talents required different combinations of the Five Powers. “I don’t understand some of the ways the Five Powers are combined. Take Healing. I can see why it requires Spirit, and maybe Air, but why Water?”

Nynaeve rounded on her. “What are you babbling about? Have you forgotten what we’re doing?” She looked around. They had reached the Accepted’s quarters, a stack of galleries lower than the novices’ quarters, surrounding a garden rather than a court. There was no one in sight except for another Accepted, hurrying along on another level, but she lowered her voice. “Have you forgotten the Black Ajah?”

“I am trying to forget it,” Egwene said fiercely. “For a little while, anyway. I am trying to forget that we just left a dead man. I’m trying to forget that he almost killed me, and that he has a companion who might try it again.” She touched her ear; the drop of blood had dried, but the nick still hurt. “We are lucky we aren’t both dead right now.”

Nynaeve’s face softened, but when she spoke her voice held something of the time when she had been the Wisdom of Emond’s Field, saying words that had to be said for someone’s own good. “Remember that body, Egwene. Remember that he tried to kill you. Kill us. Remember the Black Ajah. Remember them all the time. Because if you forget, just once, the next time, it may be you lying dead.”

“I know,” Egwene sighed. “But I do not have to like it.”

“Did you notice what Sheriam did not mention?”

“No. What?”

“She never wondered who stabbed him. Now, come on. My room is just down here, and you can put your feet up while we talk.”

Hunters Three

Nynaeve’s room was considerably larger than the novice rooms. She had a real bed, not one built into the wall, two ladder-back armchairs instead of a stool, and a wardrobe for her clothes. The furnishings were all plain, suitable for a middling successful farmer’s house, but compared to the novices, the Accepted lived in luxury. There was even a small rug, woven with scrolls of yellow and red on blue. The room was not empty when Egwene and Nynaeve entered.

Elayne stood in front of the fireplace, arms crossed beneath her breasts and eyes red at least partly from anger. Two tall young men sprawled in the chairs, all arms and legs. One, with his dark green coat undone to show a snowy shirt, shared Elayne’s blue eyes and red-gold hair, and his grinning face marked him plainly as her brother. The other, Nynaeve’s age and with his gray coat neatly buttoned, was slender and dark of hair and eye. He rose, all sure confidence and lithely muscled grace, when Egwene and Nynaeve came in. He was, Egwene thought not for the first time, the most handsome man she had ever seen. His name was Galad.

“It is good to see you again,” he said, taking her hand. “I have worried much over you. We have worried much.”

Her pulse quickened, and she took back her hand before he should feel it. “Thank you, Galad,” she murmured. Light, but he’s beautiful. She told herself to stop thinking that way. It was not easy. She found herself smoothing her dress, wishing he were seeing her in silk instead of this plain white wool, perhaps even one of those Domani dresses Min had told her of, the ones that clung and seemed so thin you thought they must be transparent even though they were not. She flushed furiously and banished the image from her mind, willed him to look away from her face. It did not help that half the women in the Tower, from scullery maids to Aes Sedai themselves, looked at him as if they had the same thoughts. It did not help that his smile seemed for her alone. In fact, his smile made it worse. Light, if he even suspected what I was thinking, I’d die!

The golden-haired young man leaned forward in his chair. “The question is, where have you been? Elayne dodges my questions as if she has a pocket full of figs and doesn’t want me to have any.”

“I have told you, Gawyn,” Elayne said in a tight voice, “it is none of your affair. I came here,” she added to Nynaeve, “because I did not want to be alone. They saw me, and followed. They would not take no for an answer.”

“Wouldn’t they,” Nynaeve said flatly.

“But it is our affair, sister,” Galad said. “Your safety is very much our affair.” He looked at Egwene, and she felt her heart jump. “The safety of all of you is very important to me. To us.”

“I am not your sister,” Elayne snapped.

“If you want company,” Gawyn told Elayne with a smile, “we can do as well as any. And after what we went through just to be here, we deserve some explanation of where you’ve been. I would rather let Galad thump me all over the practice yard all day than face Mother again for a single minute. I’d rather have Coulin mad at me.” Coulin was Master of Arms, and kept a tight discipline among the young men who came to train at the White Tower whether they aspired to become Warders or just to learn from them.

“Deny the connection if you will,” Galad told Elayne gravely, “but it is still there. And Mother put your safety in our hands.”

Gawyn grimaced. “She’ll have our hides, Elayne, if anything happens to you. We had to talk fast, or she’d have hauled us back home with her. I have never heard of a queen sending her own sons to the headsman, but Mother sounded ready to make an exception if we don’t bring you home safely.”

“I am sure,” Elayne said, “that your fast talk was all for me. None of it was meant to let you stay here studying with the Warders.” Gawyn’s face reddened.

“Your safety was our first concern.” Galad sounded as if he meant it, and Egwene was sure he did. “We managed to convince Mother that if you did return here, you would need someone to look after you.”

“Look after me!” Elayne exclaimed, but Galad went on smoothly.

“The White Tower has become a dangerous place. There have been deaths—murders—with no real explanations. Even some Aes Sedai have been killed, though they have tried to keep that quiet. And I have heard rumors of the Black Ajah, spoken in the Tower itself. By Mother’s command, when it is safe for you to leave your training, we are to return you to Caemlyn.”

For answer, Elayne lifted her chin and half turned away from him.

Gawyn ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Light, Nynaeve, Galad and I are not villains. All we want to do is help. We would do it anyway, but Mother commanded it, so there’s no chance of you talking us out of it.”

“Morgase’s commands carry no weight in Tar Valon,” Nynaeve said in a level voice. “As for your offer of help, I will remember it. Should we need help, you will be among the first to hear of it. For now, I wish you to leave.” She gestured pointedly to the door, but he ignored her.

“That is all very well, but Mother will want to know Elayne has come back. And why she ran off without a word, and what she was doing these months. Light, Elayne! The whole Tower was in a turmoil. Mother was half-crazed with fear. I thought she’d tear the Tower down with her bare hands.” Elayne’s face took on a measure of guilt, and Gawyn pressed his advantage. “You owe her that much, Elayne. You owe me that much. Burn me, you’re being as stubborn as stone. You’ve been gone for months, and all I know about it is that you’ve run afoul of Sheriam. And the only reasons I know that much are because you’ve been crying and you won’t sit down.” Elayne’s indignant stare said he had squandered whatever momentary advantage he might have had.

“Enough,” Nynaeve said. Galad and Gawyn opened their mouths. She raised her voice. “I said enough!” She glared at them until it was clear their silence would hold, then went on. “Elayne owes the two of you nothing. Since she chooses to tell you nothing, that is that. Now, this is my room, not the common room of an inn, and I want you out of it.”

“But, Elayne—” Gawyn began at the same time that Galad said, “We only want—”

Nynaeve spoke loudly enough to drown them out. “I doubt you asked permission to enter the Accepted’s quarters.” They stared at her, looking surprised. “I thought not. You will be out of my room, out of my sight, before I count three, or I will write a note to the Master of Arms about this. Coulin Gaidin has a much stronger arm than Sheriam Sedai, and you may be assured that I will be there to see he makes a proper job of it.”

“Nynaeve, you wouldn’t—” Gawyn began worriedly, but Galad motioned him to silence and stepped closer to Nynaeve.

Her face kept its stern expression, but she unconsciously smoothed the front of her dress as he smiled down at her. Egwene was not surprised. She did not think she had met a woman outside the Red Ajah who would not be affected by Galad’s smile.

“I apologize, Nynaeve, for our forcing ourselves on you unwanted,” he said smoothly. “We will go, of course. But remember that we are here if you need us. And whatever caused you to run away, we can help with that, as well.”

Nynaeve returned his smile. “One,” she said.

Galad blinked, his smile fading. Calmly, he turned to Egwene. Gawyn got up and started for the door. “Egwene,” Galad said, “you know that you, especially, can call on me at any time, for anything. I hope you know that.”

“Two,” Nynaeve said.

Galad gave her an irritated look. “We will talk again,” he told Egwene, bowing over her hand. With a last smile, he took an unhurried step toward the door.

“Thrrrrrrrrr”—Gawyn darted through the door, and even Galad’s graceful stride quickened markedly—“ree,” Nynaeve finished as the door banged shut behind them.

Elayne clapped her hands delightedly. “Oh, well done,” she said. “Very well done. I did not even know men were forbidden the Accepted’s quarters, too.”

“They aren’t,” Nynaeve said dryly, “but those louts did not know it, either.” Elayne clapped her hands again and laughed. “I’d have let them just leave,” Nynaeve added, “if Galad had not made such a show of taking his time about it. That young man has too fair a face for his own good.” Egwene almost laughed at that; Galad was no more than a year younger that Nynaeve, if that, and Nynaeve was straightening her dress again.

“Galad!” Elayne sniffed. “He’ll bother us again, and I do not know whether your trick will work more than once. He does what he sees as right no matter who it hurts, even himself.”

“Then I will think of something else,” Nynaeve said. “We can’t afford to have them looking over our shoulders all the time. Elayne, if you wish, I can make a salve that will soothe you.”

Elayne shook her head, then lay down across the bed with her chin in her hands. “If Sheriam found out, we would no doubt both have yet another visit to her study to look forward to. You have not said very much, Egwene. Cat caught your tongue?” Her expression became grimmer. “Or perhaps Galad has?”

Egwene blushed in spite of herself. “I simply did not choose to argue with them,” she said in as dignified a tone as she could manage.

“Of course,” Elayne said grudgingly. “I will admit that Galad is good-looking. But he is horrid, too. He always does right, as he sees it I know that does not sound horrid, but it is. He has never disobeyed Mother, not in the smallest thing that I know of. He will not tell a lie, even a small one, or break a rule. If he turns you in for breaking one, there isn’t the slightest spite in it—he seems sad you could not live up to his standards, if anything—but that doesn’t change the fact that he will turn you in.”

“That sounds—uncomfortable,” Egwene said carefully, “but not horrid. I cannot imagine Galad doing anything horrid.”

Elayne shook her head, as if in disbelief that Egwene found it so hard to see what was clear to her. “If you want to pay attention to someone, try Gawyn. He is nice enough—most of the time—and he’s besotted with you.”

“Gawyn! He has never looked at me twice.”

“Of course not, you fool, the way you stare at Galad until your eyes look ready to fall out of your face.” Egwene’s cheeks felt hot, but she was afraid it might well be true. “Galad saved his life when Gawyn was a child,” Elayne went on. “Gawyn will never admit he is interested in a woman if Galad is interested in her, but I have heard him talk about you, and I know. He never could hide things from me.”

“That is nice to know,” Egwene said, then laughed at Elayne’s grin. “Perhaps I can get him to say some of those things to me instead of you.”

“You could choose Green Ajah, you know. Green sisters sometimes marry. Gawyn truly is besotted, and you would be good for him. Besides, I would like to have you for a sister.”

“If you two are finished with girlish chatter,” Nynaeve cut in, “there are important matters to talk about.”

“Yes,” Elayne said, “such as what the Amyrlin Seat had to say to you after I left.”

“I would rather not talk about that,” Egwene said awkwardly. She did not like lying to Elayne. “She did not say anything that was pleasant.”

Elayne gave a sniff of disbelief. “Most people think I get off easier than the others because I am Daughter-Heir of Andor. The truth is that if anything, I catch it harder than the rest because I’m Daughter-Heir. Neither of you did anything I did not, and if the Amyrlin had harsh words for you, she would have twice as harsh for me. Now, what did she say?”

“You must keep this just between us three,” Nynaeve said. “The Black Ajah—”

“Nynaeve!” Egwene exclaimed. “The Amyrlin said Elayne was to be left out of it!”

“The Black Ajah!” Elayne almost shouted, scrambling up to kneel in the middle of the bed. “You cannot leave me out after telling me this much. I won’t be left out.”

“I never meant for you to be,” Nynaeve assured her. Egwene could only stare at her in amazement. “Egwene, it was you and I who Liandrin saw as a threat. It was you and I who were just nearly killed—”

“Nearly killed?” Elayne whispered.

“—perhaps because we are still a threat, and perhaps because they already know that we were closeted alone with the Amyrlin, and even what she told us. We need someone with us who they do not know about, and if she isn’t known to the Amyrlin, either, so much the better. I am not sure we can trust the Amyrlin much further than the Black Ajah. She means to use us for her own ends. I mean to see she doesn’t use us up. Can you understand that?”

Egwene nodded reluctantly. Just the same, she said, “It will be dangerous, Elayne, as dangerous as anything we faced in Falme. Maybe more so. You do not have to be part of it, this time.”

“I know that,” Elayne said quietly. She paused, then went on. “When Andor goes to war, the First Prince of the Sword commands the army, but the Queen rides with them, too. Seven hundred years ago, at the Battle of Cuallin Dhen, the Andormen were being routed when Queen Modrellein rode, alone and unarmed, carrying the Lion banner into the midst of the Tairen army. The Andormen rallied and attacked once more, to save her, and won the battle. That is the kind of courage expected of the Queen of Andor. If I have not learned to control my fear yet, I must before I take my mother’s place on the Lion Throne.” Suddenly her somber mood vanished in a giggle. “Besides, do you think I would pass up an adventure so I could scrub pots?”

“You will do that anyway,” Nynaeve told her, “and hope that everyone thinks that is all you are doing. Now listen carefully.”

Elayne listened, and her mouth slowly dropped open as Nynaeve unfolded what the Amyrlin Seat had told them, and the task she had laid on them, and the attempt on their lives. She shivered over the Gray Man, and read the document the Amyrlin had given Nynaeve with a look of wonder, then returned it, murmuring, “I wish I could have that when I face Mother next.” By the time Nynaeve finished, though, her face was a picture of indignation.

“Why, that’s like being told to go up in the hills and find lions, only you do not know whether there are any lions, but if there are, they may be hunting you, and they may be disguised as bushes. Oh, and if you find any lions, try not to let them eat you before you can tell where they are.”

“If you are afraid,” Nynaeve said, “you can still stand aside. It will be too late, once you’ve begun.”

Elayne tossed her head back. “Of course I am afraid. I am not a fool. But not afraid enough to quit before I have even started.”

“There is something else, too,” Nynaeve said. “I am afraid the Amyrlin may mean to let Mat die.”

“But an Aes Sedai is supposed to Heal anyone who asks.” The Daughter-Heir seemed caught between indignation and disbelief. “Why would she let Mat die? I cannot believe it! I will not!”

“Nor can I!” Egwene gasped. She could not have meant that! The Amyrlin couldn’t let him die! “All the way here Verin said that the Amyrlin would see he was Healed.”

Nynaeve shook her head. “Verin said the Amyrlin would ‘see to him.’ That is not the same thing. And the Amyrlin avoided saying yes or no when I asked her. Maybe she has not made her mind up.”

“But why?” Elayne asked.

“Because the White Tower does what it does for its own reasons.” Nynaeve’s voice made Egwene shiver. “I do not know why. Whether they help Mat live or let him die depends on what serves their ends. None of the Three Oaths says they have to Heal him. Mat is just a tool, in the Amyrlin’s eyes. So are we. She will use us to hunt the Black Ajah, but if you break a tool so it cannot be fixed, you don’t weep over it. You just get another one. Both of you had best remember that.”

“What are we going to do about him?” Egwene asked. “What can we do?”

Nynaeve went to her wardrobe and rummaged in the back of it. When she came out, she had a striped cloth bag of herbs. “With my medicines—and luck—perhaps I can Heal him myself.”

“Verin could not,” Elayne said. “Moiraine and Verin together could not, and Moiraine had an angreal. Nynaeve, if you draw too much of the One Power, you could burn yourself to a cinder. Or just still yourself, if you are lucky. If you can call that luck.”

Nynaeve shrugged. “They keep telling me I have the potential to be the most powerful Aes Sedai in a thousand years. Perhaps it is time to find out whether they are right.” She gave a tug to her braid.

It was plain that however brave Nynaeve’s words, she was afraid. But she won’t let Mat die even if it means risking death herself. “They keep saying we’re all three so powerful—or will be. Maybe, if we all try together, we can divide the flow among us.”

“We have never tried working together,” Nynaeve said slowly. “I am not sure I know how to combine our abilities. Trying could be almost as dangerous as drawing too much of the Power.”

“Oh, if we are going to do it,” Elayne said, climbing off the bed, “let’s do it. The longer we talk of it, the more frightened I will become. Mat is in the guest rooms. I do not know which one, but Sheriam told me that much.”

As if to put period to her words, the door banged open, and an Aes Sedai entered as though it were her room, and they the interlopers.

Egwene made her curtsy deep, to hide the dismay on her face.

The Red Sister

Elaida was a handsome woman rather than beautiful, and the sternness on her face added maturity to her ageless Aes Sedai features. She did not look old, yet Egwene could never imagine Elaida as having been young. Except for the most formal occasions, few Aes Sedai wore the vine-embroidered shawl with the white teardrop Flame of Tar Valon large on the wearer’s back, but Elaida wore hers, the long red fringe announcing her Ajah. Red slashed her dress of cream-colored silk, too, and red slippers peeked under the edge of her skirts as she moved into the room. Her dark eyes watched them as a bird’s eyes watched worms.

“So all of you are together. Somehow, that does not surprise me.” Her voice made no more pretense than her bearing did; she was a woman of power, and ready to wield it if she decided it was necessary, a woman who knew more than those she spoke to. It was much the same for a queen as for a novice.

“Forgive me, Elaida Sedai,” Nynaeve said, dropping another curtsy, “but I was about to go out. I have much to catch up in my studies. If you will forgive—”

“Your studies can wait,” Elaida said. “They have waited long enough already, after all.” She plucked the cloth bag out of Nynaeve’s hands and undid the strings, but after one glance inside she tossed it on the floor. “Herbs. You are not a village Wisdom any longer, child. Trying to hold on to the past will only hold you back.”

“Elaida Sedai,” Elayne said, “I—”

“Be silent, novice.” Elaida’s voice was cold and soft, as silk wrapped around steel is soft. “You may have broken a bond between Tar Valon and Caemlyn that has lasted a thousand years. You will speak when spoken to.” Elayne’s eyes examined the floor in front of her toes. Spots of color burned in her cheeks. Guilt, or anger? Egwene was not sure.

Ignoring them all, Elaida sat down in one of the chairs, carefully arranging her skirts. She made no gesture for the rest of them to sit. Nynaeve’s face tightened, and she began giving sharp little tugs to her braid. Egwene hoped she would keep her temper well enough not to take the other chair without permission.

When Elaida had settled herself to her own satisfaction, she studied them for a time in silence, her face unreadable. At last she said, “Did you know that we have the Black Ajah among us?”

Egwene exchanged startled glances with Nynaeve and Elayne.

“We were told,” Nynaeve said cautiously. “Elaida Sedai,” she added after a pause.

Elaida arched an eyebrow. “Yes. I thought that you might know of it.” Egwene gave a start at her tone, implying so much more than it said, and Nynaeve opened her mouth angrily, but the Aes Sedai’s flat stare stilled tongues. “The two of you,” Elaida went on in a casual tone, “vanish, taking with you the Daughter-Heir of Andor—the girl who may become Queen of Andor one day, if I do not strip off her hide and sell it to a glove maker—vanish without permission, without a word, without a trace.”

“I was not carried off,” Elayne said to the floor. “I went of my own will.”

“Will you obey me, child?” A glow surrounded Elaida. The Aes Sedai’s glare was fixed on Elayne. “Must I teach you, here and now?”

Elayne raised her head, and there was no mistaking what was in her face. Anger. For a long moment she met Elaida’s stare.

Egwene’s fingernails dug into her palms. It was maddening. She, or Elayne, or Nynaeve, could destroy Elaida where she sat. If they caught Elaida by surprise, at least; she was fully trained, after all. And if we do anything but take whatever she wants to feed us, we throw away everything. Don’t throw it away now, Elayne.

Elayne’s head dropped. “Forgive me, Elaida Sedai,” she mumbled. “I—forgot myself.”

The glow winked out of existence, and Elaida sniffed audibly. “You have learned bad habits, wherever these two took you. You cannot afford bad habits, child. You will be the first Queen of Andor ever to be Aes Sedai. The first queen anywhere to be Aes Sedai in over a thousand years. You will be one of the strongest of us since the Breaking of the World, perhaps strong enough to be the first ruler since the Breaking to openly tell the world she is Aes Sedai. Do not risk all of that, child, because you can still lose it all. I have invested too much time to see that. Do you understand me?”

“I think so, Elaida Sedai,” Elayne said. She sounded as if she did not understand at all. No more did Egwene.

Elaida abandoned the subject. “You may be in grave danger. All three of you. You disappear and return, and in the interval, Liandrin and her... companions leave us. There will inevitably be comparisons. We are sure Liandrin and those who went with her are Darkfriends. Black Ajah. I would not see the same charge leveled at Elayne, and to protect her, it seems I must protect all of you. Tell me why you ran away, and what you have been doing these months, and I will do what I can for you.” Her eyes fastened on Egwene like grappling hooks.

Egwene floundered for an answer that the Aes Sedai would accept. It was said that Elaida could hear a lie, sometimes. “It... it was Mat. He is very sick.” She tried to choose her words carefully, to say nothing that was not true, yet give an impression far from truth. Aes Sedai do it all the time. “We went to.... We brought him back to be Healed. If we hadn’t, he would die. The Amyrlin is going to Heal him.” I hope. She made herself continue to meet the Red Aes Sedai’s gaze, willed herself not to shift her feet guiltily. From Elaida’s face, there was no way to tell whether she believed a word.

“That is enough, Egwene,” Nynaeve said. Elaida’s penetrating look shifted to her, but she gave no sign of being affected by it. She met the Aes Sedai’s eyes without blinking. “Forgive me for interrupting, Elaida Sedai,” she said smoothly, “but the Amyrlin Seat said our transgressions were to be put behind us and forgotten. As part of making a new beginning, we are not even to speak of them. The Amyrlin said it should be as if they never happened.”

“She said that, did she?” Still nothing in Elaida’s voice or on her face told whether she believed or not. “Interesting. You can hardly forget entirely when your punishment has been announced to the entire Tower. Unprecedented, that. Unheard of, for less than stilling. I can see why you are eager to put it all behind you. I understand you are to be raised to the Accepted, Elayne. And Egwene. That is hardly punishment.”

Elayne glanced at the Aes Sedai as though for permission to speak. “The Mother said we were ready,” she said. A touch of defiance entered her voice. “I have learned, Elaida Sedai, and grown. She would not have named me to be raised if I had not.”

“Learned,” Elaida said musingly. “And grown. Perhaps you have.” There was no hint in her tone whether she thought this was good. Her gaze shifted back to Egwene and Nynaeve, searching. “You returned with this Mat, a youth from your village. There was another young man from your village. Rand al’Thor.”

Egwene felt as if an icy hand had suddenly gripped her stomach.

“I hope he is well,” Nynaeve said levelly, but her hand was a fist gripping her braid. “We have not seen him in some time.”

“An interesting young man.” Elaida studied them as she spoke. “I met him only once, but I found him—most interesting. I believe he must be ta’veren. Yes. The answers to many questions may rest in him. This Emond’s Field of yours must be an unusual place to produce the two of you. And Rand al’Thor.”

“It is just a village,” Nynaeve said. “Just a village like any other.”

“Yes. Of course.” Elaida smiled, a cold quirk of her lips that twisted Egwene’s stomach. “Tell me about him. The Amyrlin has not commanded you to be silent about him also, has she?”

Nynaeve gave her braid a tug. Elayne studied the carpet as if something important were hidden in it, and Egwene racked her brain for an answer. She can hear lies, they say. Light, if she can really hear a lie.... The moment stretched on, until finally Nynaeve opened her mouth.

At that instant the door opened again. Sheriam regarded the room with a measure of surprise. “It is well I find you here, Elayne. I want all three of you. I had not expected you, Elaida.”

Elaida stood, arranging her shawl. “We are all curious about these girls. Why they ran away. What adventures they had while gone. They say the Mother has commanded them not to speak of it.”

“As well not to,” Sheriam said. “They are to be punished, and that should be an end to it. I have always felt that when punishment is done, the fault that caused it should be erased.”

For a long moment the two Aes Sedai stood looking at each other, no expression on either smooth face. Then Elaida said, “Of course. Perhaps I will speak to them another time. About other matters.” The look she gave to the three women in white seemed to Egwene to carry a warning, and then she was slipping past Sheriam.

Holding the door open, the Mistress of Novices watched the other Aes Sedai go down the gallery. Her face was still unreadable.

Egwene let out a long breath, and heard echoes from Nynaeve and Elayne.

“She threatened me,” Elayne said incredulously, and half to herself. “She threatened me with stilling, if I don’t stop being—willful!”

“You mistook her,” Sheriam said. “If being willful were a stilling offense, the list of the stilled would have more names on it than you could learn. Few meek women ever achieve the ring and the shawl. That is not to say, of course, that you must not learn to act meekly when it is required.”

“Yes, Sheriam Sedai,” they all three said almost as one, and Sheriam smiled.

“You see? You can give the appearance of meekness, at least. And you will have plenty of opportunity to practice before you earn your way back into the Amyrlin’s good graces. And mine. Mine will be harder to achieve.”

“Yes, Sheriam Sedai,” Egwene said, but this time only Elayne spoke with her.

Nynaeve said, “What of... the body, Sheriam Sedai? The... the Soulless? Have you discovered who killed him? Or why he entered the Tower?”

Sheriam’s mouth tightened. “You take one step forward, Nynaeve, and then a step back. Since from Elayne’s lack of surprise, you have obviously told her of it—after I told you not to speak of the matter!—then there are exactly seven people in the Tower who know a man was killed today in the novices’ quarters, and two of them are men who know no more than that. Except that they are to keep their mouths shut. If an order from the Mistress of Novices carries no weight with you—and if that is so, I will correct you—perhaps you will obey one from the Amyrlin Seat. You are to speak of this to no one except the Mother or me. The Amyrlin will not have more rumors piled on those we must already contend with. Do I make myself clear?”

The firmness of her voice produced a chorus of “Yes, Sheriam Sedai”—but Nynaeve refused to stop at that. “Seven, you said, Sheriam Sedai. Plus whoever killed him. And maybe they had help getting into the Tower.”

“That is no concern of yours.” Sheriam’s level gaze included them all. “I will ask whatever questions must be asked about this man. You will forget you know anything at all about a dead man. If I discover you are doing anything else.... Well, there are worse things than scrubbing pots to occupy your attention. And I will not accept any excuses. Do I hear any more questions?”

“No, Sheriam Sedai.” This time, Nynaeve joined in, to Egwene’s relief. Not that she felt very much relief. Sheriam’s watchful eye would make it doubly hard to carry out a search for the Black Ajah. For a moment she felt like laughing hysterically. If the Black Ajah doesn’t catch us, Sheriam will. The urge to laugh vanished. If Sheriam isn’t Black Ajah herself. She wished she could make that thought go away.

Sheriam nodded. “Very well, then. You will come with me.”

“To where?” Nynaeve asked, and added, “Sheriam Sedai,” only an instant before the Aes Sedai’s eyes narrowed.

“Have you forgotten,” Sheriam said in a tight voice, “that in the Tower, Healing is always done in the presence of those who bring their sick to us?”

Egwene thought that the Mistress of Novices’s stock of patience with them was about used up, but before she could stop herself, she burst out, “Then she is going to Heal him!”

“The Amyrlin Seat herself, among others, will see to him.” Sheriam’s face held no more expression than her voice. “Did you have reason to doubt it?” Egwene could only shake her head. “Then you waste your friend’s life standing here. The Amyrlin Seat is not to be kept waiting.” Yet despite her words, Egwene had the feeling the Aes Sedai was in no hurry at all.


Lamps on iron wall brackets lit the passages deep beneath the Tower, where Sheriam took them. The few doors they passed were shut tight, some locked, some so cunningly worked that they remained unseen until Egwene was right on top of them. Dark openings marked most of the crossing hallways, while down others she could only see the dim glow of distant lights spaced far apart. She saw no other people. These were not places even Aes Sedai often came. The air was neither cool nor warm, but she shivered anyway, and at the same time felt sweat trickling down her back.

It was down here, in the depths of the White Tower, that novices went through their last test before being raised to Accepted. Or put out of the Tower, if they failed. Down here, Accepted took the Three Oaths after passing their final test. No one, she realized, had ever told her what happened to an Accepted who failed. Down here, somewhere, was the room where the Tower’s few angreal and sa’angreal were kept, and the places where the ter’angreal were stored. The Black Ajah had struck at those storerooms. And if some of the Black Ajah were lying in wait in one of those dark side corridors, if Sheriam were leading them not to Mat, but to....

She gave a squeak when the Aes Sedai stopped suddenly, then colored when the others looked at her curiously. “I was thinking about the Black Ajah,” she said weakly.

“Do not think of it,” Sheriam said, and for once she sounded like the Sheriam of old, kindly if firm. “The Black Ajah will not be your worry for years to come. You have what the rest of us do not: time before you must deal with it. Much time, yet. When we enter, stay against the wall and keep silent. You are allowed here as a benevolence, to attend, not to distract or interfere.” She opened a door covered in gray metal worked to look like stone.

The square room within was spacious, its pale stone walls bare. The only furnishing was a long stone table draped with a white cloth, in the middle of the room. Mat lay on that table, fully clothed save for coat and boots, eyes closed and face so gaunt that Egwene wanted to cry. His labored breathing made a hoarse whistle. The Shadar Logoth dagger hung sheathed at his belt, the ruby capping its hilt seeming to gather light, so it glowed like some fierce red eye despite the illumination of a dozen lamps, magnified by the pale walls and white-tiled floor.

The Amyrlin Seat stood at Mat’s head, and Leane at his feet. Four Aes Sedai stood down one side of the table, and three down the other. Sheriam joined the three. One of them was Verin. Egwene recognized Serafelle, another Brown sister, and Alanna Mosvani, of the Green Ajah, and Anaiya, of the Blue, which was Moiraine’s Ajah.

Alanna and Anaiya had each taught her some of her lessons in opening herself to the True Source, in how to surrender to saidar in order to control it. And between her first arrival in the White Tower and her departure, Anaiya must have tested her fifty times to see if she was a Dreamer. The tests had shown nothing one way or the other, but plain-faced, kindly Anaiya, with that warm smile that was her only beauty, had kept calling her back for more tests, as implacable as a boulder rolling downhill.

The rest were unknown to her, except for one cool-eyed woman she thought was a White. The Amyrlin and the Keeper wore their stoles, of course, but none of the others had anything to mark them out except Great Serpent rings and ageless Aes Sedai faces. None of them acknowledged the presence of Egwene and the other two by so much as a glance.

Despite the outward calm of the women around the table, Egwene thought she saw signs of uncertainty. A tightness to Anaiya’s mouth. A slight frown on Alanna’s darkly beautiful face. The cool-eyed woman kept smoothing her pale blue dress over her thighs without seeming to realize what she was doing.

An Aes Sedai Egwene did not know set a plain, polished wooden box, long and narrow, on the table and opened it. From its nest in the red silk lining, the Amyrlin took out a white, fluted wand the length of her forearm. It could have been bone, or ivory, but was neither. No one alive knew what it was made of.

Egwene had never seen the wand before, but she recognized it from a lecture Anaiya had given the novices. One of the few sa’angreal, and perhaps the most powerful, that the Tower possessed. Sa’angreal had no power of their own, of course—they were merely devices for focusing and magnifying what an Aes Sedai could channel—but with that wand, a strong Aes Sedai might be able to crumple the walls of Tar Valon.

Egwene clutched Nynaeve’s hand on one side and Elayne’s on the other. Light! They’re not sure they can Heal him, even with a sa’angreal—with that sa’angreal! What chance would we have had? We’d probably have killed him, and ourselves, too. Light!

“I will meld the flows,” the Amyrlin said. “Be careful. The Power needed to break the bond with the dagger and Heal its damage is very close to what could kill him. I will focus. Attend.” She held the wand straight out in front of her in both hands, above Mat’s face. Still unconscious, he shook his head and tightened a fist on the dagger’s hilt, muttering something that sounded like a denial.

A glow appeared around each Aes Sedai, that soft, white light that only a woman who could channel could see. Slowly the lights spread, until that which seemed to emanate from one woman touched that which came from the woman beside her, merged with it, till there was only one light, a light that, to Egwene’s eyes, diminished the lamps to nothing. And in that brightness was a stronger light still. A bar of bone-white fire. The sa’angreal.

Egwene fought the urge to open herself to saidar and add her flow to the tide. It was a pull so strong she was about to be jerked off her feet. Elayne tightened her hold on her hand. Nynaeve took a step toward the table, then stopped with an angry shake of her head. Light, Egwene thought, I could do it. But she did not know what it was she could do. Light, it’s so strong. It’s so—wonderful. Elayne’s hand was trembling.

On the table, Mat thrashed in the middle of the glow, jerking this way, then that, muttering incomprehensibly. But he did not loosen his hold on the dagger, and his eyes remained closed. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to arch his back, muscles straining till he shook. Still he fought and bucked, until finally only his heels and his shoulders touched the table. His hand on the dagger sprang open and, quivering, crept back from the hilt; was forced, fighting, from the hilt. His lips skinned away from his teeth in a snarl, a grimace of pain, and his breath came in forced grunts.

“They are killing him,” Egwene whispered. “The Amyrlin is killing him! We have to do something.”

Just as softly, Nynaeve said, “If we stop them—if we could stop them—he’ll die. I do not think I could handle half that much of the Power.” She paused as if she had just heard her own words—that she could channel half of what ten full Aes Sedai did with a sa’angreal—and her voice grew even fainter. “Light help me, I want to.”

She fell silent abruptly. Did she mean that she wanted to help Mat, or that she wanted to channel that flow of Power? Egwene could feel that urge in herself, like a song that compelled her to dance.

“We must trust them,” Nynaeve said in an intense whisper, finally. “He has no other chance.”

Suddenly Mat shouted, loud and strong. “Muad’drin tia dar allende caba’drin rhadiem!” Arched and struggling, eyes squeezed shut, he bellowed the words clearly. “Los Valdar Cuebiyari! Los! Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar!”

Egwene frowned. She had learned enough to recognize the Old Tongue, if not to understand more than a few words. Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar! “For the honor of the Red Eagle! For the Red Eagle!” Ancient battle cries of Manetheren, a nation that had vanished during the Trolloc Wars. A nation that had stood where the Two Rivers was now. That much, she knew; but in some way it seemed for a moment that she should understand the rest, too, as if the meaning were just out of sight, and all she had to do was turn her head to know.

With a loud pop of tearing leather, the golden-sheathed dagger rose from Mat’s belt, hung a foot above his straining body. The ruby glittered, seemed to send off crimson sparks, as if it, too, fought the Healing.

Mat’s eyes opened, and he glared at the women standing around him. “Mia ayende, Aes Sedai! Caballein misain ye! Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye! Mia ayende!” And he began to scream, a roar of rage that went on and on, till Egwene wondered that he had breath left in him.

Hurriedly Anaiya bent to lift a dark metal box from under the table, moving as if it were heavy. When she set it beside Mat and opened the lid, only a small space was revealed within sides at least two inches thick. Anaiya bent again for a set of tongs such as a goodwife might use in her kitchen, and grasped the floating dagger in them as carefully as if it were a poisonous snake.

Mat’s scream grew frantic. The ruby shone furiously, flashing blood-red.

The Aes Sedai thrust the dagger into the box and snapped the lid down, letting out a loud sigh as it clicked shut. “A filthy thing,” she said.

As soon as the dagger was hidden, Mat’s shriek cut off, and he collapsed as if muscle and bone had turned to water. An instant later the glow surrounding Aes Sedai and table winked out.

“Done,” the Amyrlin said hoarsely, as if she had been the one screaming. “It is done.”

Some of the Aes Sedai sagged visibly, and sweat beaded on more than one brow. Anaiya pulled a plain linen handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her face openly. The cool-eyed White dabbed almost surreptitiously at her cheeks with a bit of Lugard lace.

“Fascinating,” Verin said. “That the Old Blood could flow so strongly in anyone today.” She and Serafelle put their heads together, talking softly, but with many gestures.

“Is he Healed?” Nynaeve said. “Will he... live?”

Mat lay as if sleeping, but his face still had that hollow-cheeked gauntness. Egwene had never heard of a Healing that did not cure everything. Unless just separating him from the dagger took all of the Power they used. Light!

“Brendas,” the Amyrlin said, “will you see that he is taken back to his room?”

“As you command, Mother,” the cool-eyed woman said, her curtsy as emotionless as she herself seemed. When she left to summon bearers, several of the other Aes Sedai left, too, including Anaiya. Verin and Serafelle followed, still talking to one another too quietly for Egwene to make out what they said.

“Is Mat all right?” Nynaeve demanded. Sheriam raised her eyebrows.

The Amyrlin Seat turned toward them. “He is as well as he can be,” she said coldly. “Only time will tell. Carrying something with Shadar Logoth’s taint for so long... who knows what effect it will have on him? Perhaps none, perhaps much. We will see. But the bond with the dagger is broken. Now he needs rest, and as much food as can be gotten into him. He should live.”

“What was that he was shouting, Mother?” Elayne asked, then hastily added, “If I may ask.”

“He was ordering soldiers.” The Amyrlin gave the young man lying on the table a quizzical look. He had not moved since collapsing, but Egwene thought his breathing seemed easier, the rise and fall of his chest more rhythmic. “In a battle two thousand years gone, I would say. The Old Blood comes again.”

“It was not all about a battle,” Nynaeve said. “I heard him say Aes Sedai. That was no battle. Mother,” she added belatedly.

For a moment the Amyrlin seemed to consider, perhaps what to say, perhaps whether to say anything. “For a time,” she said finally, “I believe the past and the present were one. He was there, and he was here, and he knew who we were. He commanded us to release him.” She paused again. “ ‘I am a free man, Aes Sedai. I am no Aes Sedai meat.’ That is what he said.”

Leane sniffed loudly, and some of the other Aes Sedai muttered angrily under their breath.

“But, Mother,” Egwene said, “he could not have meant it as it sounds. Manetheren was allied with Tar Valon.”

“Manetheren was an ally, child,” the Amyrlin told her, “but who can know the heart of a man? Not even he himself, I suspect. A man is the easiest animal to put on a leash, and the hardest to keep leashed. Even when he chooses it himself.”

“Mother,” Sheriam said, “it is late. The cooks will be waiting for these helpers.”

“Mother,” Egwene asked anxiously, “could we not stay with Mat? If he may still die....”

The Amyrlin’s look was level, her face without expression. “You have chores to do, child.”

It was not scrubbing pots she meant. Egwene was sure of that. “Yes, Mother.” She curtsied, her skirts brushing Nynaeve’s and Elayne’s as they made theirs. One last time she looked at Mat, then followed Sheriam out. Mat had still not moved.


Mat opened his eyes slowly and stared up at the white plaster ceiling, wondering where he was and how he had come there. An intricate fringe of gilded leaves bordered the ceiling, and the mattress under his back felt plumped full of feathers. Somewhere rich, then. Somewhere with money. But his head was empty of the where and the how, and a lot more besides.

He had been dreaming, and bits of those dreams still tumbled together with memories in his head. He could not separate one from the other. Wild flights and fights, strange people from across the ocean, Ways and Portal Stones and pieces of other lives, things right out of a gleeman’s tales, these had to be dreams. At least, he thought they must be. But Loial was no dream, and he was an Ogier. Chunks of conversations drifted around in his thoughts, talks with his father, with friends, with Moiraine, and a beautiful woman, and a ship captain, and a well-dressed man who spoke to him like a father giving sage advice. Those were probably real. But it was all bits and fragments. Drifting.

“Muad’drin tia dar allende caba’drin rhadiem,” he murmured. The words were only sounds, yet they sparked—something.

The packed lines of spearmen stretched a mile or more to either side below him, dotted with the pennants and banners of towns and cities and minor Houses. The river secured his flank on the left, the bogs and mires on the right. From the hillside he watched the spearmen struggle against the mass of Trollocs trying to break through, ten times the humans’ number. Spears pierced black Trolloc mail, and spiked axes carved bloody gaps in the human ranks. Screams and bellows harried the air. The sun burned hot overhead in a cloudless sky, and shimmers of heat rose above the battle line. Arrows still rained down from the enemy, slaying Trolloc and human alike. He had called his archers back, but the Dreadlords did not care so long as they broke his line. On the ridge behind him, the Heart Guard awaited his command, horses stamping impatiently. Armor on men and horses alike shone silver in the sunlight; neither men nor animals could stand the heat much longer.

They must win here or die. He was known as a gambler; it was time to toss the dice. In a voice that carried over the tumult below, he gave the order as he swung up into his saddle. “Footmen prepare to pass cavalry forward!” His bannerman rode close beside him, the Red Eagle banner flapping over his head, as the command was repeated up and down the line.

Below, the spearmen suddenly moved, sidestepping with good discipline, narrowing their formations, opening wide gaps between. Gaps into which the Trollocs poured, roaring bestial cries, like a black, oozing tide of death.

He drew his sword, raised it high. “Forward the Heart Guard!” He dug his heels in, and his mount leaped down the slope. Behind him, hooves thundered in the charge. “Forward!” He was first to strike into the Trollocs, his sword rising and falling, his bannerman close behind. “For the honor of the Red Eagle!” The Heart Guard pounded into the gaps between the spearmen, smashing the tide, hurling it back. “The Red Eagle!” Half-human faces snarled at him, oddly curved swords sought him, but he cut his way ever deeper. Win or die. “Manetheren!”

Mat’s hand trembled as he raised it to his forehead. “Los Valdar Cuebiyari,” he muttered. He was almost sure he knew what it meant—“Forward the Heart Guard,” or maybe “The Heart Guard will advance”—but that could not be. Moiraine had told him a few words of the Old Tongue, and those were all he knew of it. The rest might as well be magpie chatter.

“Crazy,” he said roughly. “It probably isn’t even the Old Tongue at all. Just gibberish. That Aes Sedai is crazy. It was only a dream.”

Aes Sedai. Moiraine. He suddenly became aware of his too-thin wrist and bony hand, and looked at them. He had been sick. Something to do with a dagger. A dagger with a ruby in the hilt, and a long-dead, tainted city called Shadar Logoth. It was all foggy and distant, and made no real sense, but he knew it was no dream. Egwene and Nynaeve had been taking him to Tar Valon to be Healed. He remembered that much.

He tried to sit up, and fell back, as weak as a newborn lamb. Laboriously, he pulled himself up and shoved the single woolen blanket aside. His clothes were gone, perhaps into the vine-carved wardrobe standing against the wall. For the moment he did not care about clothes. He struggled to his feet, tottered across the flowered carpet to cling to a high-backed armchair, and lurched from the chair to the table, gilded scrolls on its legs and edges.

Beeswax candles, four to each tall stand and small mirrors behind the flames, lit the room brightly. A larger mirror on the wall above the highly polished washstand threw his reflection back at him, gaunt and wasted, cheeks hollow and dark eyes sunken, hair sweat-matted, bent like an old man and wavering like pasture grass in a breeze. He made himself stand straight, but it was not much improvement.

A large, covered tray sat on the table in front of his hands, and his nose caught the smells of food. He twitched aside the cloth, revealing two large silver pitchers and dishes of thin green porcelain. He had heard that the Sea Folk charged its weight in silver for that porcelain. He had expected beef tea, or sweetbreads, the kinds of things invalids had pushed on them. Instead, one plate held slices of a beef roast piled thickly, with brown mustard and horseradish. On others there were roasted potatoes, sweetbeans with onions, cabbage, and butterpeas. Pickles, and a wedge of yellow cheese. Thick slices of crusty bread, and a dish of butter. One pitcher was filled with milk and still beaded with condensation on the outside, the other with what smelled like spiced wine. There was enough of everything for four men. His mouth watered, and his stomach growled at him.

First I find out where I am. But he rolled up a slice of beef and dipped it in the mustard before pushing himself away from the table toward the three tall, narrow windows.

Wooden shutters carved in lacy patterns covered them, but through the holes he could see that it was night outside. Lights from other windows made dots in the blackness. For a moment he sagged against the white stone windowsill in frustration, but then he began to think.

You can turn the worst that comes to your advantage if you only think, his father always said, and certainly Abell Cauthon was the best horse trader in the Two Rivers. When it seemed somebody had taken advantage of Mat’s father, it always turned out they had gotten the greasy end of the stick. Not that Abell Cauthon ever did anything dishonest, but even Taren Ferry folk never got the best of him, and everybody knew how close to the bone they cut. All because he thought about things from every side that there was.

Tar Valon. It had to be Tar Valon. This room belonged in a palace. The flowered Domani carpet alone probably cost as much as a farm. More, he did not think he was sick any longer, and from what he had been told, Tar Valon was his only chance to get well. He had never actually felt sick, not that he remembered, not even when Verin—another name swam out of the haze—had told someone nearby that he was dying. Now he felt weak as a babe and hungry as a starving wolf, but somehow, he was sure the Healing had been done. I feel—whole and well, that’s all. I’ve been Healed. He grimaced at the shutters.

Healed. That meant they had used the One Power on him. The notion sent goose bumps marching across his skin, but he had known it would be done. “Better than dying,” he told himself. Some of the stories he had heard about Aes Sedai came back. “It has to be better than dying. Even Nynaeve thought I was going to die. Anyway, it’s done, and worrying about it now won’t help anything.” He realized he had finished the slice of beef and was licking its juice from his fingers.

Unsteadily, he made his way back to the table. There was a stool underneath. He pulled it out and sat down. Not bothering with knife or fork, he made another roll of beef. How could he turn being in Tar Valon—In the White Tower. It has to be—to his advantage?

Tar Valon meant Aes Sedai. That was certainly no reason to stay even an hour. Exactly the opposite. What he remembered of his time with Moiraine, and later with Verin, was not much to go on. He could not recall either of them doing anything really terrible, but then he could not recall a great deal of that time at all. Anyway, whatever Aes Sedai did, they did for their own reasons.

“And those aren’t always the reasons you think they are,” he mumbled around a mouthful of potato, then swallowed. “An Aes Sedai never lies, but the truth an Aes Sedai tells you isn’t always the truth you think it is. That’s one thing I have to remember: I can’t be sure about them even when I think I know.” It was not a cheering conclusion. He filled his mouth with butterpeas.

Thinking about Aes Sedai made him remember a little about them. The seven Ajahs: Blue, Red, Brown, Green, Yellow, White, and Gray. The Reds were the worst. Except for that Black Ajah they all claim doesn’t exist. But the Red Ajah should be no threat to him. They were only interested in men who could channel.

Rand. Burn me, how could I forget that? Where is he? Is he all right? He sighed regretfully, and spread butter on a piece of still-warm bread. I wonder if he’s gone mad yet.

Even if he knew the answers, he could do nothing to help Rand. He was not sure he would if he could. Rand could channel, and Mat had grown up with stories of men channeling, stories to frighten children. Stories that frightened adults, too, because some of them were all too true. Discovering what Rand could do had been like finding out his best friend tortured small animals and killed babies. Once you finally made yourself believe it, it was hard to call him a friend any longer.

“I have to look out for myself,” he said angrily. He upended the wine pitcher over his silver cup and was surprised to find it empty. He filled the cup with milk, instead. “Egwene and Nynaeve want to be Aes Sedai.” He had not really remembered that until he said it aloud. “Rand is following Moiraine around and calling himself the Dragon Reborn. The Light knows what Perrin is up to. He’s been acting crazy ever since his eyes turned funny. I have to look out for myself.” Burn me, I have to! I’m the last one of us who’s still sane. There’s only me.

Tar Valon. Well, it was supposed to be the wealthiest city in the world, and it was the center of trade between the Borderlands and the south, the center of Aes Sedai power. He did not think he could get an Aes Sedai to gamble with him. Or trust the fall of the dice or the turn of the cards if he did. But there had to be merchants, and others with silver and gold. The city itself would be worth a few days. He knew he had traveled far since leaving the Two Rivers, but aside from a few vague memories of Caemlyn and Cairhien, he could remember nothing of any great cities. He had always wanted to see a great city.

“But not one full of Aes Sedai,” he muttered sourly, scraping up the last of the butterpeas. He gulped them down and went back for another helping of beef.

Idly, he wondered if the Aes Sedai might let him have the ruby from the Shadar Logoth dagger. He remembered the dagger in only the fuzziest way, but even that was like remembering a terrible injury. His insides knotted up, and sharp pain dug at his temples. Yet the ruby was clear in his mind, as big as his thumbnail, dark as a drop of blood, glittering like some crimson eye. Surely he had more claim to it than they did, and it had to be worth as much as a dozen farms back home.

They’ll probably say it is tainted, too. And likely it was. Still he spun a little fancy of trading the ruby to some of the Coplins for their best land. Most of that family—troublemakers from the cradle, where they were not thieves and liars as well—deserved whatever happened to them and more. But he really did not believe the Aes Sedai would give it back to him, did not relish the notion of carrying it as far as Emond’s Field if they did. And the thought of owning the largest farm in the Two Rivers was no longer as exciting as it once had been. Once that had been his biggest ambition, that, and to be known as his father’s equal as a horse trader. Now it seemed such a small thing to want. A cramped thing, with the whole wide world just waiting out there.

First off, he decided, he would find Egwene and Nynaeve. Maybe they’ve come to their senses. Maybe they’ve given up this foolishness about becoming Aes Sedai. He did not think they would have, but he could not go without seeing them. He would go; that was sure. A visit with them, a day to see the city, perhaps a game with the dice to pad out his purse, and then he would be off for somewhere where there were no Aes Sedai. Before he returned home—I will go home one day. One day, I will—he meant to see something of the world, and without any Aes Sedai making him dance to her tune.

Rummaging around the tray for something more to eat, he was shocked to realize nothing was left but smears and a few crumbs of bread and cheese. The pitchers were both empty. He squinted down at his stomach in wonder. He should have been stuffed to the ears with all that in him, but he felt as if he had hardly eaten at all. He scraped the last bits of cheese together between thumb and forefinger. Halfway to his mouth, his hand froze.

I blew the Horn of Valere. Softly he whistled a bit of tune, then cut it short when the words came to him:

I’m down at the bottom of the well.It’s night, and the rain is coming down.The sides are falling in,and there’s no rope to climb.I’m down at the bottom of the well.“There had better be a bloody rope to climb,” he whispered. He let the cheese crumbs fall on the tray. For the moment he felt sick again. Determinedly he tried to think, tried to penetrate the fog that shrouded everything in his head.

Verin had been bringing the Horn to Tar Valon, but he could not remember if she knew he was the one who had blown it. She had never said anything to make him think so. He was sure of that. He thought he was. So what if she does know? What if they all do? Unless Verin did something with it I don’t know about, they have the Horn. They don’t need me. But who could say what Aes Sedai thought they needed?

“If they ask,” he said grimly, “I never even touched it. If they know.... If they know, I’ll... I’ll handle that when it comes. Burn me, they can’t want anything from me. They can’t!”

A soft knock on the door brought him swaying to his feet, ready to run. If there had been any place to run to, and if he could have managed more than three steps. But there was not, and he could not.

The door opened.


The woman who came in, dressed all in white silk and silver, shut the door behind her and leaned back against it to study him with the darkest eyes Mat had ever seen. She was so beautiful he almost forgot to breathe, with hair as black as night held by a finely woven silver band, and as graceful in repose as another woman would be dancing. He halfway thought that he knew her, but he rejected the idea out of hand. No man could ever forget a woman like her.

“You may be passable, I suppose, once you fill out again,” she said, “but for now, perhaps you could put on something.”

For an instant Mat continued to stare at her; then suddenly he realized he was standing there naked. Face scarlet, he shambled to the bed, pulled the blanket around himself like a cloak, and more fell than sat down on the edge of the mattress. “I’m sorry for... I mean, I... that is, I didn’t expect... I... I...” He drew a deep breath. “I apologize for your finding me this way.”

He could still feel the heat in his cheeks. For a moment he wished that Rand, whatever he had become, or even Perrin were there to advise him. They always seemed to get on well with women. Even girls who knew that Rand was all but promised to Egwene used to stare at him, and they seemed to think Perrin’s slow ways were gentle and attractive. However hard he tried, he always managed to make a fool of himself in front of girls. As he had just done.

“I would not have visited you in this way, Mat, except that I was here in the... in the White Tower—” She smiled as if the name amused her—“for another purpose, and I wanted to see all of you.” Mat’s face reddened again, and he tugged the blanket around him tighter, but she seemed not to have been teasing him. More graceful than a swan, she glided to the table. “You are hungry. That’s to be expected, the way they do things. Make sure you eat all they give you. You will be surprised at how quickly you put weight back and regain strength.”

“Pardon,” Mat said diffidently, “but do I know you? Meaning no offense, but you seem... familiar.” She looked at him until he began to shift uneasily. A woman like her would expect to be remembered.

“You may have seen me,” she said finally. “Somewhere. Call me Selene.” Her head tilted slightly; she appeared to be waiting for him to recognize the name.

It tugged at the edges of memory. He thought he must have heard it before, but he could not say when or where. “Are you an Aes Sedai, Selene?”

“No.” The word was soft but surprisingly emphatic.

For the first time, he studied her, able now to see more than her beauty. She was almost as tall as he was, slender and, he suspected from the way she moved, strong. He was not sure of her age—a year or two older than he, or maybe as much as ten—but her cheeks were smooth. Her necklace of smooth white stones and woven silver matched her wide belt, but she did not wear a Great Serpent ring. The absence should not have surprised him—no Aes Sedai would ever say right out that she was not—yet it did. There was an air about her—a self-confidence, a surety in her own power to match any queen’s, and something more—that he associated with Aes Sedai.

“You aren’t by any chance a novice, are you?” He had heard that novices wore white, but he could not really believe it of her. She makes Elayne look like a cringer. Elayne. Another name drifting into his head.

“Hardly that,” Selene said with a wry twist to her mouth. “Let us just say that I am someone whose interests coincide with yours. These... Aes Sedai mean to use you, but you will like it, in the main, I think. And accept it. There is no need to convince you to seek out glory.”

“Use me?” The memory returned to him of thinking that, but about Rand, that the Aes Sedai meant to use Rand, not him. They’ve no bloody use for me. Light, they can’t have! “What do you mean? I’m no one important. I am no use to anyone but myself. What kind of glory?”

“I knew that would pull you. You, above all.”

Her smile made his head spin. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. The blanket slipped, and he caught it hastily before it could fall. “Now listen, they are not interested in me.” What about me sounding the Horn? “I am just a farmer.” Maybe they think I’m tied to Rand in some way. No, Verin said.... He was not sure what Verin had said, or Moiraine, but he thought most Aes Sedai knew nothing at all about Rand. He wanted to keep it that way, at least until he was a long way gone. “Just a simple country man. I only want to see a little of the world and go back to my da’s farm.” What does she mean, glory?

Selene shook her head as if she had heard his thoughts. “You are more important than you yet know. Certainly more important than these so-called Aes Sedai know. You can have glory, if you know enough not to trust them.”

“You certainly sound as if you don’t trust them.” So-called? A thought came to him, but he could not manage to say it. “Are you a... ? Are you... ?” It was not the kind of thing you accused someone of.

“A Darkfriend?” Selene said mockingly. She sounded amused, not angered. She sounded contemptuous. “One of those pathetic followers of Ba’alzamon who think he will give them immortality and power? I follow no one. There is one man I could stand beside, but I do not follow.”

Mat laughed nervously. “Of course not.” Blood and ashes, a Darkfriend wouldn’t name herself Darkfriend. Probably has a poisoned knife, if she is. He had a vague memory of a woman dressed as one nobly born, a Darkfriend with a deadly dagger in her slender hand. “That wasn’t what I meant at all. You look.... You look like a queen. That’s what I meant. Are you a Lady?”

“Mat, Mat, you must learn to trust me. Oh, I will use you, too—you have too suspicious a nature, especially since carrying that dagger, for me to deny it—but my use will gain you wealth, and power, and glory. I will not compel you. I have always believed men perform better if convinced rather than forced. These Aes Sedai do not even realize how important you are, and he will try to dissuade or kill you, but I can give you what you desire.”

“He?” Mat said sharply. Kill me? Light, it’s Rand they were after, not me. How does she know about the dagger? I suppose the whole Tower knows. “Who wants to kill me?”

Selene’s mouth tightened as if she had said too much. “You know what you want, Mat, and I know it every bit as well as you. You must choose who you will trust to gain it for you. I admit I will use you. These Aes Sedai will never do that. I will lead you to wealth and glory. They will keep you tied to a leash until you die.”

“You say a lot,” Mat said, “but how do I know any of it is true? How do I know I can trust you any more than I can them?”

“By listening to what they tell you, and what they do not. Will they tell you your father came to Tar Valon?”

“My da was here?”

“A man named Abell Cauthon, and another named Tam al’Thor. They made nuisances of themselves until they gained an audience, I have heard, wanting to know where you and your friends were. And Siuan Sanche sent them back to the Two Rivers with empty hands, not even letting them know you were alive. Will they tell you that, unless you ask? Perhaps not even then, for you might try to run away back home.”

“My da thinks I am dead?” Mat said slowly.

“He can be told you live. I can see to it. Think on who to trust, Mat Cauthon. Will they tell you that even now Rand al’Thor is trying to escape, and the one called Moiraine is hunting him? Will they tell you that the Black Ajah infests their precious White Tower? Will they even tell you how they mean to use you?”

“Rand is trying to escape? But—” Maybe she knew Rand had proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn, and maybe she did not, but he would not tell her. The Black Ajah! Blood and bloody ashes! “Who are you, Selene? If you’re not Aes Sedai, what are you?”

Her smile hid secrets. “Just remember that there is another choice. You need not be a puppet for the White Tower or prey for Ba’alzamon’s Darkfriends. The world is more complex than you can imagine. Do as these Aes Sedai wish for the present, but remember your choices. Will you do that?”

“I don’t see that I have much choice at all,” he said glumly. “I suppose I will.”

Selene’s look sharpened. Friendliness sloughed off her voice like an old snake skin. “Suppose? I did not come to you like this, talk in this way, for suppose, Matrim Cauthon.” She stretched out a slim hand.

Her hand was empty, and she stood halfway across the room, but he leaned back, away from her hand, as if she were right on top of him with a dagger. He did not know why, really, except that there was a threat in her eyes, and he was sure it was real. His skin began to tingle, and his headache returned.

Suddenly tingle and pain vanished together, and Selene’s head whipped around as if listening to something beyond the walls. A tiny frown appeared on her face, and she lowered her hand. The frown vanished. “We will talk again, Mat. I have much to say to you. Remember your choices. Remember that there are many hands that would kill you. I alone guarantee you life, and all you seek, if you do as I say.” She slipped out of the door as silently and gracefully as she had entered.

Mat let out a long breath. Sweat ran down his face. Who in the Light is she? A Darkfriend, perhaps. Except that she had sounded as contemptuous of Ba’alzamon as she was of Aes Sedai. Darkfriends spoke of Ba’alzamon the way anyone else might speak of the Creator. And she had not asked him to conceal her visit from the Aes Sedai.

Right, he thought sourly. Pardon me, Aes Sedai, but this woman came to see me. She wasn’t Aes Sedai, but I think maybe she started to use the One Power on me, and she said she wasn’t a Darkfriend, but she did say you mean to use me, and the Black Ajah’s in your Tower. Oh, and she said I’m important. I don’t know how. You don’t mind if I leave now, do you?

Going was beginning to be a better idea by the minute. He slid awkwardly off the bed and made his way unsteadily to the wardrobe, still clutching his blanket around him. His boots were on the floor inside, and his cloak hung from a peg, under his belt, with pouch and sheathed belt knife. It was just a country knife, with a stout blade, but it could do as much as any fine dagger. The rest of his clothes—two sturdy wool coats, three pairs of breeches, half a dozen linen shirts and smallclothes—had been brushed or washed as required, and neatly folded on the shelves that took up one side of the wardrobe. He felt the pouch hanging from the belt, but it was empty. Its contents lay jumbled on a shelf with what had been emptied from his pockets.

He brushed aside a redhawk’s feather, a smooth, striped rock he had liked the colors of, his razor, and his bone-handled pocketknife, and freed his wash-leather purse from some coils of spare bowstring. When he tugged it open, he found his memory had been all too good in this instance.

“Two silver marks and a handful of copper,” he muttered. “I won’t get far on that.” Once it would have seemed a small fortune to him, but that had been before he left Emond’s Field.

He stooped to peer back into the shelf. Where are they? He began to be afraid the Aes Sedai might have thrown them out, the way his mother would if she had ever found them. Where... ? He felt a surge of relief. Way in the back, behind his tinderbox and ball of twine for snares and the like, were his two leather dice cups.

They rattled as he pulled them out, but he still popped off the tight-fitting round caps. Everything was as it should be. Five dice carved with symbols, for crowns, and five marked with spots. The spotted dice would do for a number of games, but more men seemed to play crowns than anything else. With these, his two marks would become enough to take him far away from Tar Valon. Away from Aes Sedai and Selene, both.

A peremptory knock was followed immediately by the door opening. He whirled around. The Amyrlin Seat and the Keeper of the Chronicles were entering. He would have recognized them even without the Amyrlin’s broad, striped stole, and the Keeper’s narrower blue stole. He had seen them once and only once, a long way from Tar Valon, but he could not forget the two most powerful women among the Aes Sedai.

The Amyrlin’s eyebrows rose at the sight of him standing there with the blanket hanging from his shoulders and his purse and dice cups in his hands. “I don’t think you will need those for a while yet, my son,” she said dryly. “Put them up and get back to bed before you fall on your face.”

He hesitated, his back stiffening, but his knees chose that moment to wobble, and the two Aes Sedai were looking at him, dark eyes and blue alike appearing to read his every rebellious thought. He did as he was told, holding the blanket around him with both hands. He lay down straight as a board, not sure what else he could do.

“How are you feeling?” the Amyrlin asked briskly as she put a hand on his head. Goose bumps covered his skin. Had she done something with the One Power, or was it being touched by an Aes Sedai that made him feel a chill?

“I’m fine,” he told her. “Why, I am ready to be on my way. Just let me say goodbye to Egwene and Nynaeve, and I’ll be out of your hair. I mean, I will go... uh, Mother.” Moiraine and Verin had not seemed to care much how he talked, but this was the Amyrlin Seat, after all.

“Nonsense,” the Amyrlin said. She pulled the high-backed chair around, closer to the bed, and sat, addressing Leane. “Men always seem to refuse to admit they are sick until they’re sick enough to make twice as much work for women. Then they claim they’re well too soon, with the same result.”

The Keeper glanced at Mat and nodded. “Yes, Mother, yet this one cannot claim he is well when he can barely stand up. At least he has eaten everything on his tray.”

“I’d be surprised if he had left enough crumbs to interest a finch. And still hungry, unless I miss my guess.”

“I could have someone bring him a pie, Mother. Or some cakes.”

“No, I think he has had as much as he can hold for now. If he brings it all back up, it won’t do him any good.”

Mat scowled. It seemed to him that when you got sick, you became invisible to women unless they were actually talking to you. And then they took at least ten years off your age. Nynaeve, his mother, his sisters, the Amyrlin Seat, they all did it.

“I’m not hungry at all,” he announced. “I am fine. If you will let me put my clothes on, I’ll show you how well I am. I will be out of here before you know it.” They were both looking at him, now. He cleared his throat. “Uh... Mother.”

The Amyrlin snorted. “You’ve eaten a meal for five, and you will eat three or four like it every day for days yet, or else you will starve to death. You’ve just been Healed from a link to the evil that killed every man, woman, and child in Aridhol, and no less strong for near two thousand years waiting for you to pick it up. It was killing you just as surely as it killed them. That is not like having a fish spine stuck in your thumb, boy. We very nearly killed you ourselves trying to save you.”

“I am not hungry,” he maintained. His stomach growled loudly to give him the lie.

“I read you aright the first time I saw you,” the Amyrlin said. “I knew right then you’d bolt like a startled fisher-bird if you ever thought someone was trying to hold you. As well I took precautions.”

He eyed them warily. “Precautions?” They looked back, all serenity. He felt as if their eyes were pinning him to the bed.

“Your name and description are on their way to the bridge guards,” the Amyrlin said, “and the dockmasters. I’ll not try to hold you inside the Tower, but you will not leave Tar Valon until you are well. Should you try to hide in the city, hunger will drive you back here eventually, or if it doesn’t, we will find you before you starve.”

“Why do you want to keep me here so badly?” he demanded. He heard Selene’s voice. They want to use you. “Why should you care whether I starve or not? I can feed myself.”

The Amyrlin gave a small laugh with little amusement in it. “With two silver marks and a handful of copper, my son? Your dice would need to be very lucky indeed to buy all the food you’ll need in the next few days. We do not Heal people, then let them waste our efforts by dying while they still need care. In addition to which, you may yet need more Healing.”

“More? You said you had Healed me. Why should I need more?”

“My son, you carried that dagger for months. I believe we dug every trace of it out of you, but if we missed even the smallest speck, it could still be fatal. And who knows what effect your having it in your possession so long may have? Half a year from now, a year, and you may wish you had an Aes Sedai to hand to Heal you again.”

“You want me to stay here a year?” he said incredulously, and loudly. Leane shifted her feet and eyed him sharply, but the Amyrlin’s calm features were unruffled.

“Perhaps not so long as that, my son. Long enough to be certain, though. Surely you want as much. Would you set sail in a boat when you didn’t know whether the caulking would hold, or whether a plank might be rotten?”

“I never had much to do with boats,” Mat muttered. It might be true. Aes Sedai never lied, but there were too many mights and mays in it for him. “I’ve been gone from home a long time, Mother. My da and my mother probably think I am dead.”

“If you wish to write a letter to them, I will see that it is carried to Emond’s Field.”

Mat waited for more, but no more came. “Thank you, Mother.” He essayed a small laugh. “I’m half surprised my da did not come looking for me. He’s the kind of man who would.” He was not sure, but he thought there was a small hesitation before the Amyrlin answered.

“He did come. Leane spoke to him.”

The Keeper took it up immediately. “We did not know where you were then, Mat. I told him so, and he left before the heavy snows. I gave him some gold to make the journey home easier.”

“No doubt,” the Amyrlin said, “he will be pleased to hear from you. And your mother will, certainly. Give me the letter when you have written it, and I will see to it.”

They had told him, but he had had to ask. And they didn’t mention Rand’s da. Maybe because they didn’t think I would care, and maybe because.... Burn me, I don’t know. Who can tell with Aes Sedai? “I was traveling with a friend, Mother. Rand al’Thor. You remember him. Do you know if he is all right? I’ll bet his da is worried, too.”

“As far as I know,” the Amyrlin said smoothly, “the boy is well enough, but who can say? I have seen him only once, the time I saw you, in Fal Dara.” She turned to the Keeper. “Perhaps he could do with a small piece of pie, Leane. And something for his throat, if he is going to do all this talking. Will you see that it is brought to him?”

The tall Aes Sedai left with a murmured, “As you command, Mother.”

When the Amyrlin turned back to Mat, she was smiling, but her eyes were blue ice. “There are things it would be dangerous for you to talk about, perhaps even in front of Leane. A flapping tongue has killed more men than sudden storms ever did.”

“Dangerous, Mother?” His mouth felt suddenly parched, but he resisted the urge to lick his lips. Light, how much does she know about Rand? If only Moiraine didn’t keep so many secrets. “Mother, I don’t know anything dangerous. I can hardly remember half of what I do know.”

“Do you remember the Horn?”

“What horn is that, Mother?”

She was on her feet and looming over him so fast he hardly saw her move. “You play games with me, boy, and I will make you weep for your mother to come running. I have no time for games, and neither do you. Now, do—you—remember?”

Clutching the blanket tightly around him, he had to swallow before he could say, “I remember, Mother.”

She seemed to relax, just a little, and Mat shrugged his shoulders queasily. He felt as if he had just been allowed to lift them off a chopping block.

“Good. That is good, Mat.” She sat back down slowly, studying him. “Do you know that you are linked to the Horn?” He mouthed the word “linked” silently, shocked, and she nodded. “I did not think you knew. You were first to blow the Horn of Valere after it was found. For you, it will summon dead heroes back from the grave. For anyone else, it is only a horn—so long as you live.”

He took a deep breath. “So long as I live,” he said in a dull voice, and the Amyrlin nodded. “You could have let me die.” She nodded again. “Then you could have had anyone you want blow it, and it would have worked for them.” Another nod. “Blood and ashes! You mean me to blow it for you. When the Last Battle comes, you mean me to call heroes back from the grave to fight the Dark One for you. Blood and bloody ashes!”

She put an elbow on the arm of the chair and propped her chin on her hand. Her eyes never left him. “Would you prefer the alternative?”

He frowned, then remembered what the alternative was. If someone else had to sound the Horn.... “You want me to blow the Horn? Then I’ll blow the Horn. I never said I would not, did I?”

The Amyrlin gave an exasperated sigh. “You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he’d much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn’t stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?”

He could not meet her eyes. He studied his fingers as they plucked irritably at his blanket. “I’m no hero. I do what I have to do, but I am no hero.”

“Most of those we call heroes only did what they had to do. I suppose it will have to be enough. For now. You must not speak to anyone but me of the Horn, my son. Or of your link to it.”

For now? he thought. It’s all you are going to bloody get, now or ever. “I don’t mean to bloody tell everybo—” She arched an eyebrow, and he made his voice smooth again. “I do not want to tell anyone. I wish nobody knew. Why do you want to keep it such a secret? Don’t you trust your Aes Sedai?”

For a long moment he thought he had gone too far. Her face hardened, and her look could have carved axe handles.

“If I could make it so that only you and I knew,” she said coldly, “I would. The more people know a thing, the more the knowledge spreads, even with the best will. Most of the world believes the Horn of Valere is only legend, and those who know better believe one of the Hunters has yet to find it. But Shayol Ghul knows it has been found, and that means at least some Darkfriends know.

But they do not know where it is, and, if the Light shines on us, they do not know you sounded it. Do you really want Darkfriends coming after you? Halfmen, or other Shadowspawn? They want the Horn. You must know that. It will work as well for the Shadow as for the Light. But if it is to work for them, they must take you, or kill you. Do you want to risk that?”

Mat wished he had another blanket, and maybe a goose-down comforter. The room suddenly felt very cold. “Are you telling me Darkfriends could come after me here? I thought the White Tower could keep Darkfriends out.” He remembered what Selene had said about the Black Ajah, and wondered what the Amyrlin would say to that.

“A good reason to stay, wouldn’t you say?” She got to her feet, smoothing her skirts. “Rest, my son. Soon you will feel much better. Rest.” She closed the door softly behind her.

For a long time Mat lay staring up at the ceiling. He barely noticed when a serving woman came with his piece of pie and another pitcher of milk, taking the tray of empty dishes when she went. His stomach rumbled loudly at the warm smell of apples and spices, but he paid that no mind, either. The Amyrlin thought she held him like a sheep in a pen. And Selene.... Who in the Light is she? What does she want? Selene had been right about some things; but the Amyrlin had told him she meant to use him, and how. In a way. There were too many holes in what she had said to suit him, too many holes she could slip something deadly through. The Amyrlin wanted something, and Selene wanted something, and he was the rope they were tugging between them. He thought he would rather face Trollocs than be caught between those two.

There had to be a way out of Tar Valon, a way out of both their grasps. Once he was beyond the river, he could keep out of Aes Sedai hands, and Selene’s, and Darkfriends’, too. He was sure of it. There had to be a way. All he had to do was think about it from every angle.

The pie grew cold on the table.

A World of Dreams

Egwene scrubbed her hands with a hand towel as she hurried down the dimly lit corridor. She had washed them twice, but they still felt greasy. She had not thought there could be so many pots in the world. And today had been bake day, so buckets of ashes had had to be hauled from the ovens. And the hearths cleaned. And the tables rubbed bone-white with fine sand, and the floors scrubbed on hands and knees. Ash and grease stained her white dress. Her back ached, and she wanted to be in her bed, but Verin had come to the kitchens, supposedly for a meal to eat in her rooms, and whispered a summons to her in passing.

Verin had her quarters above the library, in corridors used only by a few other Brown sisters. There was a dusty air to the halls there, as if the women who lived along them were too busy with other things to bother having the servants clean very often, and the passages took odd turns and twists, sometimes dipping or rising unexpectedly. The tapestries were few, their colorful weavings dulled, apparently cleaned as seldom as everything else here. Many of the lamps were unlit, plunging much of the hall into gloom. Egwene thought she had it to herself, except for a flash of white ahead, perhaps a novice or a servant scurrying about some task. Her shoes, clicking on bare black and white floor tiles, made echoes. It was not a comforting place for one thinking of the Black Ajah.

She found what Verin had told her to look for. A dark paneled door at the top of a rise, beside a dusty tapestry of a king on horse back receiving the surrender of another king. Verin had named the pair of them—men dead hundreds of years before Artur Hawkwing was born; Verin always seemed to know such things—but Egwene could not remember their names, or the long-vanished countries they had ruled. It was the only wall hanging she had seen that matched Verin’s description, though.

Minus the sound of her own footsteps, the hallway seemed even emptier than before, and more threatening. She rapped on the door, and entered hurriedly on the heels of an absentminded “Who is it? Come in.”

One step into the room, she stopped and stared. Shelves lined the walls, except for one door that must lead to inner rooms and except for where maps hung, often in layers, and what seemed to be charts of the night sky. She recognized the names of some constellations—the Plowman and the Haywain, the Archer and the Five Sisters—but others were unfamiliar. Books and papers and scrolls covered nearly every flat surface, with all sorts of odd things interspersed among the piles, and sometimes on top of them. Strange shapes of glass or metal, spheres and tubes interlinked, and circles held inside circles, stood among bones and skulls of every shape and description. What appeared to be a stuffed brown owl, not much bigger than Egwene’s hand, stood on what seemed to be a bleached white lizard’s skull, but could not be, for the skull was longer than her arm and had crooked teeth as big as her fingers. Candlesticks had been stuck about in a haphazard fashion, giving good light here and shadows there, although seeming in danger of setting fire to papers in some places. The owl blinked at her, and she jumped.

“Ah, yes,” Verin said. She was seated behind a table as cluttered as everything else in the room, a torn page held carefully in her hands. “It is you. Yes.” She noticed Egwene’s sideways glance at the owl, and said absently, “He keeps down mice. They chew paper.” Her gesture took in the entire room, and reminded her of the page she held. “Fascinating, this. Rosel of Essam claimed more than a hundred pages survived the Breaking, and she should have known, since she wrote barely two hundred years afterwards, but only this one piece still exists, so far as I know. Perhaps only this very copy. Rosel wrote that it held secrets the world could not face, and she would not speak of them plainly. I have read this page a thousand times, trying to decipher what she meant.”

The tiny owl blinked at Egwene again. She tried not to look at it. “What does it say, Verin Sedai?”

Verin blinked, very much as the owl had. “What does it say? It is a direct translation, mind, and reads almost like a bard reciting in High Chant. Listen. ‘Heart of the Dark. Ba’alzamon. Name hidden within name shrouded by name. Secret buried within secret cloaked by secret. Betrayer of Hope. Ishamael betrays all hope. Truth burns and sears. Hope fails before truth. A lie is our shield. Who can stand against the Heart of the Dark? Who can face the Betrayer of Hope? Soul of shadow, Soul of the Shadow, he is—’ ” She stopped with a sigh. “It ends there. What do you make of it?”

“I don’t know,” Egwene said. “I do not like it.”

“Well, why should you, child? Like it, or understand it? I have studied it nearly forty years, and I do neither.” Verin carefully placed the page inside a silk-lined folder of stiff leather, then casually stuffed the folder into a stack of papers. “But you did not come for that.” She rummaged across the table, muttering to herself, several times barely catching a pile of books or manuscripts before it toppled. Finally she came up with a handful of pages covered in a thin, spidery hand and tied with nubby string. “Here, child. Everything that is known about Liandrin and the women who went with her. Names, ages, Ajahs, where they were born. Everything I could find in the records. Even how they performed in their studies. What we know of the ter’angreal they took, too, which isn’t much. Only descriptions, for the most part. I do not know whether any of this will help. I saw nothing of any use in this.”

“Perhaps one of us will see something.” A sudden wave of suspicion took Egwene by surprise. If she didn’t leave something out. The Amyrlin seemed to trust Verin only because she had to. What if Verin was Black Ajah herself? She gave herself a shake. She had traveled all the way from Toman Head to Tar Valon with Verin, and she refused to believe this plump scholar could be a Darkfriend. “I trust you, Verin Sedai.” Can I, really?

The Aes Sedai blinked at her again, then dismissed whatever thought had come to her with a shake of her head. “That list I gave you may be important, or it may be so much waste of paper, but it isn’t the only reason I summoned you.” She started moving things on the table, making some shaky stacks taller to clear a space. “I understand from Anaiya that you might become a Dreamer. The last was Corianin Nedeal, four hundred and seventy-three years ago, and from what I can make of the records, she barely deserved the name. It would be quite interesting, if you do.”

“She tested me, Verin Sedai, but she couldn’t be sure that any of my dreams foretold the future.”

“That is only part of what a Dreamer does, child. Perhaps the least part. Anaiya believes in bringing girls along too slowly, in my opinion. Look here.” With one finger, Verin drew a number of parallel lines across the area she had cleared, lines clear in dust atop the old beeswax. “Let these represent worlds that might exist if different choices had been made, if major turning points in the Pattern had gone another way.”

“The worlds reached by the Portal Stones,” Egwene said, to show she had listened to Verin’s lectures on the journey from Toman Head. What could this possibly have to do with whether or not she was a Dreamer?

“Very good. But the Pattern may be even more complex than that, child. The Wheel weaves our lives to make the Pattern of an Age, but the Ages themselves are woven into the Age Lace, the Great Pattern. Who can know if this is even the tenth part of the weaving, though? Some in the Age of Legends apparently believe that there were still other worlds—even harder to reach than the worlds of the Portal Stones, if that can be believed—lying like this.” She drew more lines, cross-hatching the first set. For a moment she stared at them. “The warp and the woof of the weave. Perhaps the Wheel of Time weaves a still greater Pattern from worlds.” Straightening, she dusted her hands. “Well, that is neither here nor there. In all of these worlds, whatever their other variations, a few things are constant. One is that the Dark One is imprisoned in all of them.”

In spite of herself, Egwene stepped closer to peer at the lines Verin had drawn. “In all of them? How can that be? Are you saying there is a Father of Lies for each world?” The thought of so many Dark Ones made her shiver.

“No, child. There is one Creator, who exists everywhere at once for all of these worlds. In the same way, there is only one Dark One, who also exists in all of these worlds at once. If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, he is freed on all. So long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all.”

“That does not seem to make sense,” Egwene protested.

“Paradox, child. The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the un-maker of order.”

The owl suddenly took flight on silent wings, landing atop a large white skull on a shelf behind the Aes Sedai. It peered down at the two women, blinking. Egwene had noticed the skull when she came in, with its curled horns and snout, and vaguely wondered what sort of ram had so big a head. Now she took in the roundness of it, the high forehead. Not a ram’s skull. A Trolloc.

She drew a shuddering breath. “Verin Sedai, what does this have to do with being a Dreamer? The Dark One is bound in Shayol Ghul, and I do not want to even think of him escaping.” But the seals on his prison are weakening. Even novices know that, now.

“Do with being a Dreamer? Why, nothing, child. Except that we must all confront the Dark One in one way or another. He is prisoned now, but the Pattern did not bring Rand al’Thor into the world for no purpose. The Dragon Reborn will face the Lord of the Grave; that much is sure. If Rand survives that long, of course. The Dark One will try to distort the Pattern, if he can. Well, we have gone rather far afield, haven’t we?”

“Forgive me, Verin Sedai, but if this”—Egwene indicated the lines drawn in the dust—“has nothing to do with being a Dreamer, why are you telling me about it?”

Verin stared at her as if she were deliberately being dense. “Nothing? Of course it has something to do with it, child. The point is that there is a third constant besides the Creator and the Dark One. There is a world that lies within each of these others, inside all of them at the same time. Or perhaps surrounding them. Writers in the Age of Legends called it Tel’aran’rhiod, “the Unseen World.” Perhaps “the World of Dreams” is a better translation. Many people—ordinary folk who could not think of channeling—sometimes glimpse Tel’aran’rhiod in their dreams, and even catch glimmers of these other worlds through it. Think of some of the peculiar things you have seen in your dreams. But a Dreamer, child—a true Dreamer—can enter Tel’aran’rhiod.”

Egwene tried to swallow, but a lump in her throat stopped her. Enter it? “I... I don’t think I am a Dreamer, Verin Sedai. Anaiya Sedai’s tests—”

Verin cut her off. “—prove nothing one way or the other. And Anaiya still believes that you may very well be one.”

“I suppose I will learn whether I am or not eventually,” Egwene mumbled. Light, I want to be, don’t I? I want to learn! I want it all.

“You have no time to wait, child. The Amyrlin has entrusted a great task to you and Nynaeve. You must reach out for any tool you might be able to use.” Verin dug a red wooden box from under the welter on her table. The box was large enough to hold sheets of paper, but when the Aes Sedai opened the lid a crack, all she pulled out was a ring carved from stone, all flecks and stripes of blue and brown and red, and too large to be a finger ring. “Here, child.”

Egwene shifted the papers to take it, and her eyes widened in surprise. The ring certainly looked like stone, but it felt harder than steel and heavier than lead. And the circle of it was twisted. If she ran a finger along one edge, it would go around twice, inside as well as out; it only had one edge. She moved her finger along that edge twice, just to convince herself.

“Corianin Nedeal,” Verin said, “had that ter’angreal in her possession for most of her life. You will keep it, now.”

Egwene almost dropped the ring. A ter’angreal? I am to keep a ter’angreal?

Verin seemed not to notice her shock. “According to her, it eases the passage to Tel’aran’rhiod. She claimed it would work for those without Talent as well as for Aes Sedai, so long as you are touching it when you sleep. There are dangers, of course. Tel’aran’rhiod is not like other dreams. What happens there is real; you are actually there instead of just glimpsing it.” She pushed back the sleeve of her dress, revealing a faded scar the length of her forearm. “I tried it myself, once, some years ago. Anaiya’s Healing did not work as well as it should have. Remember that.” The Aes Sedai let her sleeve cover the scar again.

“I will be careful, Verin Sedai.” Real? My dreams are bad enough as they are. I want no dreams that leave scars! I’ll put it in a sack and stick it in a dark corner and leave it there. I’ll— But she wanted to learn. She wanted to be Aes Sedai, and no Aes Sedai had been a Dreamer in nearly five hundred years. “I’ll be very careful.” She slipped the ring into her pouch and tugged the drawstrings tight, then picked up the papers Verin had given her.

“Remember to keep it hidden, child. No novice, or even an Accepted, should have a thing like that in her possession. But it may prove useful to you. Keep it hidden.”

“Yes, Verin Sedai.” Remembering Verin’s scar, she almost wished another Aes Sedai would come along and take it from her right then.

“Good, child. Now, off with you. It grows late, and you must be up early to help with breakfast. Sleep well.”

Verin sat looking at the door for a time after it closed behind Egwene. The owl hooted softly behind her. Pulling the red box to her, she opened the lid all the way and frowned at what nearly filled the space.

Page upon page, covered with a precise hand, the black ink barely faded after nearly five hundred years. Corianin Nedeal’s notes, everything she had learned in fifty years of studying that peculiar ter’angreal. A secretive woman, Corianin. She had kept by far the greater part of her knowledge from everyone, trusting it only to these pages. Only chance and a habit of rummaging through old papers in the library had led Verin to them. As far as she could discover, no Aes Sedai besides herself knew of the ter’angreal; Corianin had managed to erase its existence from the records.

Once again she considered burning the manuscript, just as she had considered giving it to Egwene. But destroying knowledge, any knowledge, was anathema to her. And for the other.... No. It is best by far to leave things as they are. What will happen, will happen. She let the lid drop shut. Now where did I put that page?

Frowning, she began to search the stacks of books and papers for the leather folder. Egwene was already out of her mind.

The Price of the Ring

Egwene had only gone a short distance from Verin’s rooms when Sheriam met her. The Mistress of Novices wore a preoccupied frown.

“If someone hadn’t remembered Verin speaking to you, I might not have found you.” The Aes Sedai sounded mildly irritated. “Come along, child. You are holding everything up! What are those papers?”

Egwene clutched them a little tighter. She tried to make her voice both meek and respectful. “Verin Sedai thinks I should study them, Aes Sedai.” What would she do if Sheriam asked to see them? What excuse could she give for refusing, what explanation for pages telling all about thirteen women of the Black Ajah and the ter’angreal they had stolen?

But Sheriam seemed to have dismissed the papers from her mind as soon as she asked. “Never mind that. You are wanted, and everyone is waiting.” She took Egwene’s arm and forced her to walk faster.

“Wanted, Sheriam Sedai? Waiting for what?”

Sheriam shook her head with exasperation. “Did you forget that you are to be raised to the Accepted? When you come to my study tomorrow, you will be wearing the ring, though I doubt it will soothe you very much.”

Egwene tried to stop short, but the Aes Sedai hurried her on, taking a narrow set of stairs that curled down through the library walls. “Tonight? Already? But I am half-asleep, Aes Sedai, and dirty, and.... I thought I would have days yet. To get ready. To prepare.”

“The hour waits on no woman,” Sheriam said. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, when the Wheel wills. Besides, how would you prepare? You already know the things you must. More than your friend Nynaeve did.” She pushed Egwene through a tiny door at the foot of the stairs and hurried her across another hall to a ramp curving down and down.

“I listened to the lectures,” Egwene protested, “and I remember them, but... can’t I have a night’s sleep first?” The winding ramp seemed to have no end.

“The Amyrlin Seat decided there was no point in waiting.” Sheriam gave Egwene a sidelong smile. “Her exact words were, ‘Once you decide to gut a fish, there’s no use waiting till it rots.’ Elayne has already been through the arches by this time, and the Amyrlin means you to go through tonight as well. Not that I can see the point of such a hurry,” she added, half to herself, “but when the Amyrlin commands, we obey.”

Egwene let herself be pulled down the ramp in silence, a knot forming in her belly. Nynaeve had been far from forthcoming about what had happened when she was raised to the Accepted. She would not speak of it at all, except for a grimaced ‘I hate Aes Sedai!’ Egwene was trembling by the time the ramp finally ended at a broad hallway, far below the Tower in the rock of the island.

The hall was plain and undecorated, the pale rock through which it had been hewn smoothed but left otherwise untouched, and there was only one set of dark wooden doors, as tall and wide as fortress gates and as plain, although of smoothly finished and finely fitted planks, at the very end. Those great doors were so well balanced, though, that Sheriam easily pushed one open, and pulled Egwene through after her, into a great, domed chamber.

“Not before time!” Elaida snapped. She stood to one side in her red-fringed shawl, beside a table on which sat three large silver chalices.

Lamps on tall stands illumined the chamber, and what sat centered under the dome. Three rounded, silver arches, just tall enough to walk under, sitting on a thick silver ring with their ends touching where they joined it. An Aes Sedai sat cross-legged on the bare rock before each of the spots where arches joined ring, all three wearing their shawls. Alanna was the sister of the Green Ajah, but she did not know the Yellow sister, or the White.

Surrounded by the glow of saidar embraced, the three Aes Sedai stared fixedly at the arches, and within the silver structure an answering glow flickered and grew. That structure was a ter’angreal, and whatever it had been made for in the Age of Legends, now novices passed through it to become Accepted. Inside it, Egwene would have to face her fears. Three times. The white light within the arches no longer flickered; it stayed within them as if confined, but it filled the space, made it opaque.

“Be easy, Elaida,” Sheriam said calmly. “We will be done soon.” She turned to Egwene. “Novices are given three chances at this. You may refuse twice to enter, but at the third refusal, you are sent away from the Tower forever. That is how it is done usually, and you certainly have the right to refuse, but I do not think the Amyrlin Seat will be pleased with you if you do.”

“She should not be given this chance.” There was iron in Elaida’s voice, and her face was scarcely softer. “I do not care what her potential is. She should be put out of the Tower. Or failing that, set to scrubbing floors for the next ten years.”

Sheriam gave the Red sister a sharp look. “You were not so adamant about Elayne. You demanded to be part of this, Elaida—perhaps because of Elayne—and you will do your part for this girl as well, as you are supposed to, or you will leave and I will find another.”

The two Aes Sedai stared at one another until Egwene would not have been surprised to see the glow of the One Power surround them. Finally Elaida gave a toss of her head and sniffed loudly.

“If it must be done, let us do it. Give the miserable girl her chance to refuse and be done with it. It is late.”

“I won’t refuse.” Egwene’s voice quavered, but she steadied it and held her head high. “I want to go on.”

“Good,” Sheriam said. “Good. Now I will tell you two things no woman hears until she stands where you do. Once you begin, you must go on to the end. Refuse at any point, and you will be put out of the Tower just as if you had refused to begin for the third time. Second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger.” She sounded as if she had said this many times. There was a light of sympathy in her eyes, but her face was almost as stern as Elaida’s. The sympathy frightened Egwene more than the sternness. “Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they—were—not—there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail, and....”Sheriam’s face drove the unspoken words home; Egwene shivered. “This is your last chance. Refuse now, and it counts only as the first. You may still try twice more. If you accept now, there is no turning back. It is no shame to refuse. I could not do it, my first time. Choose.”

They never came out? Egwene swallowed hard. I want to be Aes Sedai. And first I have to become Accepted. “I accept.”

Sheriam nodded. “Then ready yourself.”

Egwene blinked, then remembered. She had to enter unclothed. She bent to set down the tied bundle of papers Verin had given her—and hesitated. If she left them there, Sheriam or Elaida either one could go through them while she was inside the ter’angreal. They could find that smaller ter’angreal in her pouch. If she refused to go on, she could hide them away, perhaps leave them with Nynaeve. Her breath caught. I cannot refuse now. I’ve already begun.

“Have you already chosen to refuse, child?” Sheriam asked, frowning. “Knowing what that will mean, now?”

“No, Aes Sedai,” Egwene said quickly. Hastily she undressed and folded her clothes, then set them on top of the pouch and the papers. It would have to do.

Beside the ter’angreal, Alanna suddenly spoke. “There is some sort of—resonance.” She never took her eyes from the arches. “An echo, almost. I do not know from where.”

“Is there a problem?” Sheriam asked sharply. She sounded surprised, too. “I will not send a woman in there if there is any problem.”

Egwene looked yearningly at her piled clothes. Please, yes, Light, a problem. Something that will let me hide those papers without refusing to enter.

“No,” Alanna said. “It is like having a biteme buzz ’round your head when you’re trying to think, but it does not interfere. I would not have mentioned it, only it has never happened before that I ever heard.” She shook her head. “It is gone now.”

“Perhaps,” Elaida said dryly, “others thought such a small thing was not worth mentioning.”

“Let us go on.” Sheriam’s tone would not put up with any more distractions. “Come.”

With a last glance at her clothes and the hidden papers, Egwene followed her toward the arches. The stone felt like ice under her bare feet.

“Whom do you bring with you, Sister?” Elaida intoned.

Continuing her measured pace, Sheriam replied, “One who comes as a candidate for Acceptance, Sister.” The three Aes Sedai around the ter’angreal did not move.

“Is she ready?”

“She is ready to leave behind what she was, and, passing through her fears, gain Acceptance.”

“Does she know her fears?”

“She has never faced them, but now is willing.”

“Then let her face what she fears.” Even in its formality, there was a note of satisfaction in Elaida’s voice.

“The first time,” Sheriam said, “is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

Egwene took a deep breath and stepped forward, through the arch and into the glow. Light swallowed her whole.

“Jaim Dawtry dropped by. There’s odd news down from Baerlon with the peddler.”

Egwene raised her head from the cradle she was rocking. Rand was standing in the doorway. For an instant her head spun. She looked from Rand—my husband—to the child in the cradle—my daughter—and back again, in wonder.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

It was not her own thought, but a disembodied voice that could have been inside her head or out, male or female, yet emotionless and unknowable. Somehow, it did not seem strange to her.

The moment of wonder passed, and the only thing to wonder about was why she had thought anything seemed out of round. Of course Rand was her husband—her handsome, loving husband—and Joiya was her daughter—the most beautiful, sweetest little girl in the Two Rivers. Tam, Rand’s father, was out with the sheep, supposedly so Rand could work on the barn but really so he could have more time to play with Joiya. This afternoon Egwene’s mother and father would come out from the village. And probably Nynaeve, to see if motherhood was interfering with Egwene’s studies to replace Nynaeve as Wisdom one day.

“What kind of news?” she asked. She took up rocking the cradle again, and Rand came over to grin down at the tiny child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Egwene laughed softly to herself. He was so taken with his daughter that he did not hear what people said to him half the time. “Rand? What kind of news? Rand?”

“What?” His grin faded. “Strange news. War. There’s some big war, taking up most of the world, so Jaim claims.” That was strange news; word of wars seldom reached the Two Rivers till the wars were long done. “He says everybody is fighting some folk called the Shawkin, or the Sanchan, or something like that. I never heard of them.”

Egwene knew—she thought she knew—Whatever it was, was gone.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “It’s nothing to upset us here, my heart. Wars never touch the Two Rivers. We are too far from everywhere for anyone to care.”

“I’m not upset. Did Jaim say anything else?”

“Nothing you can believe. He sounded like a Coplin. He said the peddler told him these people use Aes Sedai in battle, but then he claimed they offer a thousand gold marks to anyone who turns an Aes Sedai over to them. And they kill anybody who hides one. It makes no sense. Well, it’s nothing to trouble us. It is all a long way from here.”

Aes Sedai. Egwene touched her head. The way back comes but once. Be steadfast.

She noticed Rand had a hand to his own head. “The headaches?” she asked.

He nodded, his eyes suddenly tight. “That powder Nynaeve gave me doesn’t seem to be working the last few days.”

She hesitated. These headaches of his worried her. They grew worse every time they came, now. And worst of all was something she had not noticed at first, something she almost wished she never had noticed. When Rand’s head hurt, strange things happened soon after. Lightning out of a clear sky, smashing to bits that huge oak stump he had been working two days to root out where he and Tam were clearing new field. Storms that Nynaeve did not hear coming when she listened to the wind. Wildfires in the forest. And the deeper his pain grew, the worse what followed. No one else had connected these things to Rand, not even Nynaeve, and Egwene was grateful for that. She did not want to think about what it might mean.

That is plain stupid foolish, she told herself. I must know if I am going to help him. Because she had a secret of her own, one that frightened her even as she tried to puzzle out what it meant. Nynaeve was teaching her the herbs, teaching Egwene to follow her as Wisdom, one day. Nynaeve’s cures often worked in near miraculous fashion, wounds healed with barely a scar, sick folk brought back from the edge of the grave. But three times now, Egwene had cured someone Nynaeve had given up for dead. Three times she had sat to hold a hand through the last hour, and seen the person get up from a deathbed. Nynaeve had questioned her closely on what she had done, what herbs she had used, in what blending. Thus far, she had not found the courage to admit that she had done nothing. I must have done something. Once might be chance, but three times.... I have to figure it out. I have to learn. That set off a buzz in her head, as though the words were echoing inside her skull. If I could do something for them, I can help my husband.

“Let me try, Rand,” she said. And as she stood, through the open door, she saw a silver arch standing in front of the house, an arch filled with white light. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She took two steps toward the door before she could stop herself.

She halted, looked back at Joiya gurgling in her cradle, at Rand still pressing hand to his head and looking at her as if wondering where she was going. “No,” she said. “No, this is what I want. This is what I want! Why can’t I have this, too?” She did not understand her own words. Of course, this was what she wanted, and she had it.

“What is it you want, Egwene?” Rand asked. “If it’s anything I can get, you know I will. If I can’t get it, I’ll make it.”

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

She took another step, into the doorway. The silver arch beckoned her. Something waited on the other side. Something she wanted more than anything else in the world. Something she had to do.

“Egwene, I—”

There was a thump behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see Rand on his knees, bowed and head cradled in his hands. The pain had never hit him so hard. What will come after this?

“Ah, Light!” he panted. “Light! Hurts! Light, it hurts worse than ever! Egwene?”

Be steadfast.

It was waiting. Something she had to do. Had to. She took a step. It was hard, harder than anything she had ever done in her life. Outside, toward the arch. Behind her, Joiya was laughing.

“Egwene? Egwene, I can’t—” He cut off with a loud groan.


She stiffened her back and kept walking, but she could not keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. Rand’s groans built to a scream, drowning Joiya’s laughter. From the corner of her eye, Egwene saw Tam coming, running as hard as he could.

He can’t help, she thought, and tears became wracking sobs. There is nothing he can do. But I could. I could.

She stepped into the light, and was consumed.

Trembling and sobbing, Egwene stepped out of the arch, the same by which she had entered, memory cascading back with Sheriam’s face confronting her. Cold clear water washed away her tears as Elaida slowly emptied a silver chalice over her head. Her weeping went on; she did not think it would ever end.

“You are washed clean,” Elaida pronounced, “of what sin you may have done, and of those done against you. You are washed clean of what crime you may have committed, and of those committed against you. You come to us washed clean and pure, in heart and soul.”

Light, Egwene thought as the water ran down her body, let it be so. Can water wash away what I did? “Her name was Joiya,” she told Sheriam between sobs. “Joiya. Nothing can be worth what I just... what I....”

“There is a price to become Aes Sedai,” Sheriam replied, but the sympathy was back in her eyes, stronger than before. “There is always a price.”

“Was it real? Did I dream it?” Weeping swallowed what she wanted to say. Did I leave him to die? Did I leave my baby?

Sheriam put an arm around her shoulders, began guiding her around the circle of arches. “Every woman I have ever watched come out of there has asked that question. The answer is, no one knows. It has been speculated that perhaps some of those who do not come back chose to stay because they found a happier place, and lived out their lives there.” Her voice hardened. “If it is real, and they stayed from choice, then I hope the lives they live are far from happy. I have no sympathy for any who run from their responsibilities.” The edge on her tone softened slightly. “Myself, I believe it is not real. But the danger is. Remember that.” She stopped in front of the next glow-filled arch. “Are you ready?”

Shifting her feet, Egwene nodded, and Sheriam took her arm away.

“The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

Egwene trembled. Whatever happens, it cannot be worse than the last. It cannot be. She stepped into the glow.

She stared down at her dress, blue silk sewn with pearls, all dusty and torn. Her head came up, and she took in the ruins of a great palace around her. The Royal Palace of Andor, in Caemlyn. She knew that, and wanted to scream.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

The world was not the way she wanted it, no way that she could think of without wanting to cry, but all her tears had been cried away long ago, and the world was as it was. Ruin was what she expected to see.

Careless of making more rips in her dress but as careful of sound as a mouse, she climbed one of the piles of rubble and peered into the curving streets of the Inner City. As far as she could see in every direction lay ruin and desolation, buildings that looked as if they had been torn apart by madmen, thick plumes of smoke rising from the fires still burning. There were people in the streets, bands of armed men prowling, searching. And Trollocs. The men shied away from the Trollocs, and the Trollocs snarled at them and laughed, harsh guttural laughter. But they knew each other, worked together.

A Myrddraal came striding down the street, its black cloak swaying gently with its steps even when the wind gusted to drive dust and rubbish past it. Men and Trollocs alike cowered under its eyeless stare. “Hunt!” Its voice sounded like something long dead crumbling. “Do not stand there shivering! Find him!”

Egwene slipped back down the pile of jumbled stones as silently as she could.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

She stopped, afraid the whisper had come from Shadowspawn. In some way, though, she was sure it had not. Glancing back over her shoulder, half fearful of seeing the Myrddraal standing where she had just been, she hurried onward and into the ruined palace, climbing over fallen timbers, squeezing between heavy blocks of collapsed masonry as she made her way. Once she stepped on a woman’s arm, sticking out from under a mound of plaster and bricks that had been an interior wall and perhaps part of the floor above. She noticed the arm as little as she noticed the Great Serpent ring on one finger. She had trained herself not to see the dead buried in the refuse heap Trollocs and Darkfriends had made of Caemlyn. She could do nothing for the dead.

Forcing her way through a narrow gap where part of the ceiling had fallen, she found herself in a room half buried under what had stood above it. Rand lay with a heavy beam pinning him across the waist, his legs hidden beneath the stone blocks that filled half the room. Dust and sweat coated his face. He opened his eyes when she came near him.

“You came back.” He forced the words out in a hoarse rasp. “I was afraid—No matter. You have to help me.”

She sank wearily to the floor. “I could lift that beam easily with Air, but as soon as it moves, everything else will come down on top of you. On top of both of us. I cannot manage all of it, Rand.”

His laugh was bitter and painful, and cut off almost as soon as it began. Fresh sweat glistened on his face, and he spoke with an effort. “I could shift the beam myself. You know that. I could shift that and the stones above, all of them. But I have to let go of myself to do it, and I can’t trust that. I cannot trust—” He stopped, wheezing for breath.

“I do not understand,” she said slowly. “Let go of yourself? What can’t you trust?” The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She rubbed her hands roughly over her ears.

“The madness, Egwene. I am—actually—holding it—at bay.” His gasping laugh made her skin prickle. “But it takes everything I have just to do that. If I let go, even a little, even for an instant, the madness will have me. I won’t care what I do then. You have to help me.”

“How, Rand! I’ve tried everything I know. Tell me how, and I will do it.”

His hand flopped out, fell just short of a dagger lying in the dust bare-bladed. “The dagger,” he whispered. His hand made a painful journey back to his chest. “Here. In the heart. Kill me.”

She stared at him, at the dagger, as if they were both poisonous serpents. “No! Rand, I will not. I cannot! How could you ask such a thing?”

Slowly his hand crept back toward the dagger. His fingers came short again. He strained, moaning, brushed it with a fingertip. Before he could try again, she kicked it away from him. He collapsed with a sob.

“Tell me why,” she demanded. “Why would you ask me to—to murder you? I will Heal you, I will do anything to get you out of there, but I cannot kill you. Why?”

“They can turn me, Egwene.” His breathing was so tortured, she wished she could weep. “If they take me—the Myrddraal—the Dreadlords—they can turn me to the Shadow. If madness has me, I cannot fight them. I won’t know what they are doing till it is too late. If there is even a spark of life left when they find me, they can still do it. Please, Egwene. For the love of the Light. Kill me.”

“I—I can’t, Rand. Light help me, I cannot!”

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

She looked over her shoulder, and a silver arch filled with white light took up most of the open space among the rubble.

“Egwene, help me.”

Be steadfast.

She stood and took a step toward the arch. It was right there in front of her. One more step, and....

“Please, Egwene. Help me. I can’t reach it. For the love of the Light, Egwene, help me!”

“I cannot kill you,” she whispered.

“I can’t. Forgive me.” She stepped forward.


Light burned her to ash.

Staggering, she stepped out of the arch, neither noticing her nakedness nor caring. A shudder ran through her, and she covered her mouth with both hands. “I couldn’t, Rand,” she whispered. “I couldn’t. Please forgive me.” Light help him. Please, Light help Rand.

Cold water poured over her head.

“You are washed clean of false pride,” Elaida intoned. “You are washed clean of false ambition. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul.”

As the Red sister turned away, Sheriam gently took Egwene’s shoulders and guided her toward the last arch. “One more, child. One more, and it is done.”

“He said they could turn him to the Shadow,” Egwene mumbled. “He said the Myrddraal and the Dreadlords could force him.”

Sheriam missed a step, and looked around quickly. Elaida was almost back to the table. The Aes Sedai surrounding the ter’angreal stared at it, seeming lost to anything else. “An unpleasant thing to talk of, child,” Sheriam said finally, and softly. “Come. One more.”

“Can they?” Egwene insisted.

“Custom,” Sheriam said, “is not to speak of what happens within the ter’angreal. A woman’s fears are her own.”

“Can they?”

Sheriam sighed, glanced at the other Aes Sedai again, then dropped her voice to a whisper and spoke swiftly. “This is something known only to a few, child, even in the Tower. You should not learn it now, if ever, but I will tell you. There is—a weakness in being able to channel. That we learn to open ourselves to the True Source means that we can be—opened to other things.” Egwene shuddered. “Calm yourself, child. It is not so easily done. It is a thing not done, so far as I know—Light send it has not been done!—since the Trolloc Wars. It took thirteen Dreadlords—Darkfriends who could channel—weaving the flows through thirteen Myrddraal. You see? Not easily done. There are no Dreadlords today. This is a secret of the Tower, child. If others knew, we could never convince them they were safe. Only one who can channel can be turned in this way. The weakness of our strength. Everyone else is as safe as a fortress; only their own deeds and will can turn them to the Shadow.”

“Thirteen,” Egwene said in a tiny voice. “The same number who left the Tower. Liandrin, and twelve more.”

Sheriam’s face hardened. “That is nothing for you to dwell on. You will forget it.” Her voice climbed to a normal volume. “The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”

Egwene stared at the glowing arch, stared at some far distance beyond it. Liandrin and twelve others. Thirteen Darkfriends who can channel. Light help us all. She stepped into the light. It filled her. It shone through her. It burned her to the bone, seared her to the soul. She flashed incandescent in the light. Light help me! There was nothing but the light. And the pain.

Egwene stared into the standing mirror, and was not sure whether she was more surprised by the ageless smoothness of her face or the striped stole that hung around her neck. The stole of the Amyrlin Seat.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.


She swayed, caught at the mirror and almost toppled it and herself to the blue-tiled floor of her dressing chamber. Something is wrong, she thought. The wrongness had nothing to do with her sudden dizziness, or at least that was not what felt wrong. It was something else. But she had no idea what.

There was an Aes Sedai at her elbow, a woman with Sheriam’s high cheekbones but dark hair and concerned brown eyes, and the hand-wide stole of the Keeper on her shoulders. Not Sheriam, though. Egwene had never seen her before; she was sure she knew her as well as she knew herself. Haltingly, she put a name to the woman. Beldeine.

“Are you ill, Mother?”

Her stole is green. That means she was raised from the Green Ajah. The Keeper always comes from the same Ajah as the Amyrlin she serves. Which means if I’m the Amyrlin—if?—then I was Green Ajah, too. That thought shook her. Not that she had been Green Ajah, but that she had to reason it out. Light, something is wrong with me.

The way back will come bu.... The voice in her head trailed away to finish in a buzz.

Thirteen Darkfriends.

“I am well, Beldeine,” Egwene said. The name felt strange on her tongue; it felt as if she had been saying it for years. “We mustn’t keep them waiting.” Keep who waiting? She did not know, except that she felt infinitely sad about ending that wait, endlessly reluctant.

“They will be growing impatient, Mother.” There was a hesitation in Beldeine’s voice, as if she felt the same reluctance as Egwene, but for a different reason. Unless Egwene missed her guess, behind that outer calm, Beldeine was terrified.

“In that case, we had best be about it.”

Beldeine nodded, then took a deep breath before crossing the carpet to where her staff of office, topped with the snowdrop White Flame of Tar Valon, stood propped beside the door. “I suppose we must, Mother.” She took up the staff and opened the door for Egwene, then hurried ahead so that they made a procession of two, Keeper of the Chronicles leading the Amyrlin Seat.

Egwene noticed little of the corridors they took. All her attention was directed inward. What is the matter with me? Why can’t I remember? Why is so much of what I... almost remember wrong? She touched the seven-striped stole on her shoulders. Why am I half sure I’m still a novice?

The way back will come but on—This time it ended abruptly.

Thirteen of the Black Ajah.

She stumbled at that. It was a frightening thought, but it chilled her to the marrow beyond fear. It felt—personal. She wanted to scream, to run and hide. She felt as if they were after her. Nonsense. The Black Ajah has been destroyed. That seemed an odd thought, too. Part of her remembered something called the Great Purge. Part of her was sure no such thing had happened.

Eyes fixed ahead, Beldeine had not noticed her stumble. Egwene had to lengthen her stride to catch up. This woman is scared to her toenails. What in the Light is she taking me to?

Beldeine stopped before tall, paired doors, their dark wood each inlaid with a large silver Flame of Tar Valon. She wiped her hands on her dress, as if they were suddenly sweaty, before opening one door and leading Egwene up a straight ramp of the same silver-streaked white stone that made Tar Valon’s walls. Even here it seemed to shine.

The ramp let into a large, circular room under a domed ceiling at least thirty paces high. A raised platform ran around the outer edge of the room, fronted by steps except where this ramp and two others came out, spaced equally around the circle. The Flame of Tar Valon lay centered in the floor, surrounded by widening spirals of color, the colors of the seven Ajahs. At the opposite side of the room from where the ramp entered, a high-backed chair stood, heavy and ornately carved in vines and leaves, painted in the colors of all the Ajahs.

Beldeine rapped her staff sharply on the floor. There was a tremor in her voice. “She comes. The Watcher of the Seals. The Flame of Tar Valon. The Amyrlin Seat. She comes.”

With a rustle of skirts, shawled women on the platform got up from their chairs. Twenty-one chairs in groupings of three, each triad painted and cushioned in the same color as the fringe on the shawls of the women who stood before them.

The Hall of the Tower, Egwene thought as she crossed the floor to her chair. The Amyrlin Seat’s chair. That’s all it is. The Hall of the Tower, and the Sitters for the Ajahs. I’ve been here thousands of times. But she could not remember one of them. What am I doing in the Hall of the Tower? Light, they’ll skin me alive when they see.... She was not sure what it was they would see, only that she prayed they did not.

The way back will come but—

The way back will—

The way—

The Black Ajah waits. That, at least, was whole. It came from everywhere. Why did no one else seem to hear it?

Settling in the chair of the Amyrlin Seat—the chair that was also the Amyrlin Seat—she realized she had no idea what to do next. The other Aes Sedai had seated themselves when she did, all but Beldeine, who stood beside her with the staff, swallowing nervously. They all seemed to be waiting on her.

“Begin,” she said finally.

It seemed to be enough. One of the Red Sitters stood. Egwene was shocked to recognize Elaida. At the same time she knew that Elaida was foremost of the Sitters for the Red, and her own bitterest enemy. The look on Elaida’s face as she stared across the chamber made Egwene shiver inside. It was stern and cold—and triumphant. It promised things best not thought of.

“Bring him in,” Elaida said loudly.

From one of the ramps—not the one Egwene had entered by—came the crunch of boots on stone. People appeared. A dozen Aes Sedai surrounding three men, two of them burly guards with the white teardrops of the Flame of Tar Valon on their chests, tugging the chains in which the third stumbled as if dazed.

Egwene jerked forward in her chair. The chained man was Rand. Eyes half-closed, head sagging, he seemed nearly asleep, moving only as the chains directed.

“This man,” Elaida proclaimed, “has named himself the Dragon Reborn.” There was a buzz of distaste, not as if the listeners were surprised, but as though it were not something they wanted to hear. “This man has channeled the One Power.” The buzz was louder now, disgusted and tinged with fear. “There is only one penalty for this, known and recognized in every nation, but pronounced only here, in Tar Valon, in the Hall of the Tower. I call on the Amyrlin Seat to pronounce the sentence of gentling on this man.”

Elaida’s eyes glittered at Egwene. Rand. What do I do? Light, what do I do?

“Why do you hesitate?” Elaida demanded. “The sentence has been set down for three thousand years. Why do you hesitate, Egwene al’Vere?”

One of the Green Sitters was on her feet, anger bright through her calm. “Shame, Elaida! Show respect for the Amyrlin Seat! Show respect for the Mother!”

“Respect,” Elaida answered coldly, “can be lost as well as won. Well, Egwene? Can it be you show your weakness, your unfitness for your office, at last? Can it be you will not pronounce sentence on this man?”

Rand tried to lift his head and failed.

Egwene struggled to her feet, head spinning, trying to remember she was the Amyrlin Seat with the power to command all these women, screaming that she was a novice, that she did not belong here, that something was dreadfully wrong. “No,” she said shakily. “No, I cannot! I will not—”

“She betrays herself!” Elaida’s shout drowned out Egwene’s attempt to speak. “She condemns herself out of her own mouth! Take her!”

As Egwene opened her mouth, Beldeine moved beside her. Then the Keeper’s staff struck her head.


First there was pain in her head. There was something hard under her back, and cold. Next came the voices. Murmurs.

“Is she still unconscious?” It was a rasp, a file on bone.

“Do not worry,” a woman said from far, far away. She sounded uneasy, afraid, and trying not to show either. “She will be dealt with before she knows what is happening to her. Then she is ours, to do with as we will. Perhaps we will give her to you for sport.”

“After you make your own use of her.”

“Of course.”

The distant voices moved further away.

Her hand brushed against her leg, touched bare, pebbly flesh. She opened her eyes a crack. She was naked, bruised, lying on a rough wooden table, in what seemed to be a disused storeroom. Splinters stuck her back. There was a metallic taste of blood in her mouth.

A cluster of Aes Sedai stood to one side of the room, talking among themselves, voices low yet urgent. The pain in her head made thinking difficult, but it seemed important to count them. Thirteen.

Another group, black-cloaked and hooded men, joined the Aes Sedai, who seemed caught between cowering and trying to dominate with their presence. One of the men turned his head to look toward the table. The dead white face within the hood had no eyes.

Egwene had no need to count the Myrddraal. She knew. Thirteen Myrddraal, and thirteen Aes Sedai. Without another thought, she screamed in pure terror. Yet even in the midst of fear that tried to split her bones, she reached out for the True Source, clawed desperately for saidar.

“She’s awake!”

“She cannot be! Not yet!”

“Shield her! Quickly! Quickly! Cut her off from the Source!”

“It’s too late! She is too strong!”

“Seize her! Hurry!”

Hands reached for her arms and legs. Pasty pale hands like slugs under rocks, ordered by minds behind pale, eyeless faces. If those hands touched her flesh, she knew she would go mad. The Power filled her.

Flames burst from Myrddraal skin, ripping through black cloth as if they were solid daggers of fire. Shrieking Halfmen crisped and burned like oiled paper. Fist-sized chunks of stone tore themselves free of the walls and whizzed across the room, producing shrieks and grunts as they thudded into flesh. The air stirred, shifted, howled into a whirlwind.

Slowly, painfully, Egwene pushed herself off the table. The wind whipped her hair and made her stagger, but she continued to drive it as she stumbled toward the door. An Aes Sedai loomed in front of her, a woman bruised and bleeding, surrounded by the glow of the Power. A woman with death in her dark eyes.

Egwene’s mind put a name to the face. Gyldan. Elaida’s closest confidante, always whispering together in corners, closeting themselves in the night. Egwene’s mouth tightened. Disdaining stones and wind, she balled up her fist and punched Gyldan between the eyes as hard as she could. The Red sister—the Black sister—crumpled as if her bones had melted.

Rubbing her knuckles, Egwene staggered out into the hall. Thank you, Perrin, she thought, for showing me how to do that. But you didn’t tell me how much it hurts when you do.

Shoving the door shut against the wind, she channeled. Stones around the doorway shivered, cracked, settled against the wood. It would not hold them for long, but anything that slowed pursuit for even a minute was worth doing. Minutes might mean life. Gathering her strength, she forced herself to break into a run. It wobbled, but at least it was a run.

She must find some clothes, she decided. A woman clothed had more authority than the same woman naked, and she was going to need every bit of authority. They would look for her first in her rooms, but she had a spare dress and shoes in her study—and another stole—and that lay not far off.

It was unnerving, trotting through empty hallways. The White Tower no longer held the numbers it once had, but there was usually someone about. The loudest sound was the slap of her bare soles on the tiles.

She hurried through the antechamber of her study to the inner room, and at last she found someone. Beldeine was sitting on the floor, head in her hands, weeping.

Egwene stopped warily, as Beldeine raised reddened eyes to meet hers. No glow of saidar surrounded the Keeper, but Egwene was still cautious. And confident. She could not see her own glow, of course, but the power—the Power—surging through her was enough. Especially when added to her secret.

Beldeine scrubbed a hand across tearstained cheeks. “I had to. You must understand. I had to. They.... They....” She took a deep, shuddering breath; it all came out in a rush. “Three nights ago they took me while I slept and stilled me.” Her voice rose to a near shriek. “They stilled me! I cannot channel any longer!”

“Light,” Egwene breathed. The rush of saidar cushioned her against the shock. “The Light help and comfort you, my daughter. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have....” She let it trail away, knowing there was nothing she could do.

“What would you have done? What? Nothing! There’s nothing you can do. But they said they could give it back to me, with the power of... the power of the Dark One.” Her eyes squeezed shut, leaking tears. “They hurt me, Mother, and they made me.... Oh, Light, they hurt me! Elaida told me they would make me whole again, make me able to channel again, if I obeyed. That’s why I.... I had to!”

“So Elaida is Black Ajah,” Egwene said grimly. A narrow wardrobe stood against the wall, and in it hung a green silk dress, kept for when she had no time to return to her rooms. A striped stole hung beside the dress. She began to dress herself, quickly. “What have they done with Rand? Where have they taken him? Answer me, Beldeine! Where is Rand al’Thor?”

Beldeine huddled, lips trembling, eyes turned bleakly inward, but finally she roused herself enough to say, “The Traitor’s Court, Mother. They took him to the Traitor’s Court.”

Shivers assaulted Egwene. Shivers of fear. Shivers of rage. Elaida had not waited, not even an hour. The Traitor’s Court was used for only three purposes: executions, the stilling of an Aes Sedai, or the gentling of a man who could channel. But all of the three took an order from the Amyrlin Seat. So who wears the stole out there? Elaida, she was sure. But how could she make them accept her so quickly, with me not tried, not sentenced? There cannot be another Amyrlin until I’ve been stripped of stole and staff. And they’ll not find that easy to do. Light! Rand! She started for the door.

“What can you do, Mother?” Beldeine cried. “What can you do?” It was not clear whether she meant for Rand or for herself.

“More than anyone suspects,” Egwene said. “I never held the Oath Rod, Beldeine.” Beldeine’s gasp followed her from the room.

Egwene’s memory still played hide-and-seek with her. She knew no woman could achieve the shawl and the ring without pledging the Three Oaths with the Oath Rod firmly in hand, the ter’angreal sealing her to keep those oaths as if they had been engraved on her bones at birth. No woman became Aes Sedai without being bound to them. Yet she knew that somehow, in some fashion she could not begin to dredge up, she had done just that.

Her shoes clicked swiftly as she ran. At least she knew now why the halls were empty. Every Aes Sedai, except perhaps those she had left in the storeroom, every Accepted, every novice, even all the servants, would be gathered in the Traitor’s Court, according to custom, to watch the will of Tar Valon made fact.

And the Warders would be ringing the courtyard against the possibility that someone might try to free the man to be gentled. The remnants of Guaire Amalasan’s armies had attempted it, at the end of what some called the War of the Second Dragon, just before Artur Hawkwing’s rise had given Tar Valon other things to worry it, and so had Raolin Darksbane’s followers, long years earlier. Whether Rand had any followers or not, she could not remember, but Warders remembered such things, and guarded against them.

If Elaida, or another, truly did wear the stole of the Amyrlin, the Warders might well not admit her to the Traitor’s Court. She knew she could force a way in. It would need to be done quickly; there was no point if Rand was gentled while she was still wrapping Warders in Air. Even Warders would break if she loosed the lightnings on them, and balefire, and broke the ground under their feet. Balefire? she wondered. But it would also do no good if she broke Tar Valon’s power to save Rand. She had to save both.

Well short of the ways that led to the Traitor’s Court, she turned aside and climbed, up stairs and ramps that grew narrower and tighter the higher she went, until she thrust open a trapdoor and climbed out onto a sloping tower top, a roof of nearly white tiles. From there, she could see across other roofs, past other towers, into the broad open well of the Traitor’s Court.

The court was crowded except for a cleared space in the middle. People filled the windows overlooking it, crowded the balconies and even the rooftops, but she could make out the lone man, small at that distance, swaying in his chains in the center of the cleared space. Rand. Twelve Aes Sedai surrounded him, and another—who Egwene knew had to be wearing a seven-striped stole, even though she could not distinguish it—stood before Rand. Elaida. The words she must be saying crept into Egwene’s head.

This man, abandoned of the Light, has touched saidin, the male half of the True Source. Thus do we hold him. Most abominably has this man channeled the One Power, knowing that saidin is tainted by the Dark One, tainted for men’s pride, tainted for men’s sin. Thus do we chain him.

Forcefully, Egwene pushed the rest of it out of her thoughts. Thirteen Aes Sedai. Twelve sisters and the Amyrlin, the traditional number for gentling. The same number as for.... She rid herself of that, too. She had no time for anything but what she was there to do. If she could only manage to reason out how.

At that distance, she thought she could manage to lift him with Air. Pick him right out of the circle of Aes Sedai and float him straight to her. Maybe. Even if she could find the strength, even if she did not drop him to his death halfway, it would be a slow process, with him a helpless target for archers, and the glow of saidar pointing out her own position for any Aes Sedai who looked. Any Myrddraal, for that matter.

“Light,” she muttered, “there’s no other way short of starting a war inside the White Tower. And I may do that anyway.” She gathered the Power, separated skeins, directed flows.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

It had been so long since she last heard those words that she gave a start, slipped on the smooth tiles, barely caught herself short of the edge. The ground lay a hundred paces down. She looked over her shoulder.

There on the tower top, tilted to sit flat against the sloping tiles, was a silver arch filled with a glowing light. The arch flickered and wavered; streaks of angry red and yellow darted through the white light.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

The archway thinned to transparency, grew solid again.

Frantic, Egwene gazed toward the Traitor’s Court. There had to be time. There had to be. All she needed was a few minutes, perhaps ten, and luck.

Voices bored into her head, not the disembodied, unknowable voice that warned her to be steadfast, but women’s voices she almost believed she knew.

—can’t hold much longer. If she does not come out now—

Hold! Hold, burn you, or I’ll gut you all like sturgeons!

going wild, Mother! We can’t—

The voices faded to a drone, the drone to silence, but the unknowable spoke again.

The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.

There is a price to be Aes Sedai.

The Black Ajah waits.

With a scream of rage, of loss, Egwene threw herself at the arch as it shimmered like a heat haze. She almost wished she would miss and plunge to her death.

Light plucked her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs, split the hairs to wisps of nothing. All drifted apart on the light. Forever.


Light pulled her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs that drifted apart, burning. Drifting and burning, forever. Forever.

Egwene stepped out of the silver arch cold and stiff with anger. She wanted the iciness of anger to counter the searing of memory. Her body remembered burning, but other memories scored and scorched more deeply. Anger cold as death.

“Is that all there is for me?” she demanded. “To abandon him again and again. To betray him, fail him, again and again? Is that what there is for me?”

Suddenly she realized that all was not as it should be. The Amyrlin was there now, as Egwene had been taught she would be, and a shawled sister from each Ajah, but they all stared at her worriedly. Two Aes Sedai now sat at each place around the ter’angreal, sweat running down their faces. The ter’angreal hummed, almost vibrated, and violent streaks of color tore the white light inside the arches.

The glow of saidar briefly enveloped Sheriam as she put a hand on Egwene’s head, sending a new chill through her. “She is well.” The Mistress of Novices sounded relieved. “She is unharmed.” As if she had not expected it.

Tension seemed to go out of the other Aes Sedai facing Egwene. Elaida let out a long breath, then hurried away for the last chalice. Only the Aes Sedai around the ter’angreal did not relax. The hum had lessened, and the light began the flickering that signaled the ter’angreal was settling toward quiescence, but those Aes Sedai looked as if they were fighting it every inch of the way.

“What... ? What happened?” Egwene asked.

“Be silent,” Sheriam said, but gently. “For now, be silent. You are well—that is the main thing—and we must complete the ceremony.” Elaida came, close to running, and handed the final silver chalice to the Amyrlin.

Egwene hesitated only a moment before kneeling. What happened?

The Amyrlin emptied the chalice slowly over Egwene’s head. “You are washed clean of Egwene al’Vere from Emond’s Field. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Egwene al’Vere, Accepted of the White Tower.” The last drop splashed onto Egwene’s hair. “You are sealed to us, now.”

The last words seemed to have a special meaning, just between Egwene and the Amyrlin. The Amyrlin thrust the chalice at one of the other Aes Sedai and produced a gold ring in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail. Despite herself, Egwene trembled as she raised her left hand, trembled again as the Amyrlin slipped the Great Serpent ring onto the third finger. When she became Aes Sedai, she could wear the ring on the finger she chose, or not at all if it was necessary to hide who she was, but the Accepted wore it there.

Unsmiling, the Amyrlin pulled her to her feet. “Welcome, Daughter,” she said, kissing her cheek. Egwene was surprised to feel a thrill. Not child, but daughter. Always before she had been child. The Amyrlin kissed her other cheek. “Welcome.”

Stepping back, the Amyrlin regarded her critically, but spoke to Sheriam. “Get her dry and into some clothes, then be certain she is well. Certain, you understand.”

“I am certain, Mother.” Sheriam sounded surprised. “You saw me delve her.”

The Amyrlin grunted, and her eyes shifted to the ter’angreal. “I mean to know what went wrong tonight.” She strode away in the direction of her glare, skirts swaying purposefully. Most of the other Aes Sedai joined her around the ter’angreal, now only a silver structure of arches on a ring.

“The Mother is worried about you,” Sheriam said as she drew Egwene to one side, to where there was a thick towel for her hair, and another for the rest of her.

“How much reason did she have?” Egwene asked. The Amyrlin wants nothing to happen to her hound till the deer is pulled down.

Sheriam did not answer. She merely frowned slightly, then waited until Egwene was dry before handing her a white dress banded at the bottom with seven rings.

She slipped into that dress with a flash of disappointment. She was one of the Accepted, with the ring on her finger and the bands on her dress. Why don’t I feel any different?

Elaida came over, her arms filled with Egwene’s novice dress and shoes, her belt and pouch. And the papers Verin had given her. In Elaida’s hands.

Egwene made herself wait for the Aes Sedai to hand the bundle to her rather than snatch them away. “Thank you, Aes Sedai.” She tried to eye the papers surreptitiously; she could not tell if they had been disturbed. The string was still tied. How would I know if she’s read all of them? Squeezing her pouch under cover of the novice dress, she felt the peculiar ring, the ter’angreal, inside. At least that’s still here. Light, she could have taken that, and I don’t know that I would have minded. Yes, I would. I think I would.

Elaida’s face was as cold as her voice. “I did not want you to be brought forward tonight. Not because I feared what happened; no one could foresee that. But because of what you are. A wilder.” Egwene tried to protest, but Elaida kept on, as implacable as a mountain glacier. “Oh, I know you learned to channel under Aes Sedai teaching, but you are still a wilder. A wilder in spirit, a wilder in ways. You have vast potential, else you would never have survived in there tonight, but potential changes nothing. I do not believe you will ever be part of the White Tower, not in the way the rest of us are, no matter on which finger you wear your ring. It would have been better for you had you settled for learning enough to stay alive, and gone back to your sleepy village. Far better.” Turning on her heel, she stalked away, out of the chamber.

If she isn’t Black Ajah, Egwene thought sourly, she’s the next thing to it. Aloud, she muttered to Sheriam, “You could have said something. You could have helped me.”

“I would have helped a novice, child,” Sheriam replied calmly, and Egwene winced. She was back to “child” again. “I try to protect novices where they need it, since they cannot protect themselves. You are Accepted, now. It is time for you to learn to protect yourself.”

Egwene studied Sheriam’s eyes, wondering if she had imagined an emphasis on that last sentence. Sheriam had had as much opportunity as Elaida to read the list of names, to decide that Egwene was mixed in with the Black Ajah. Light, you’re becoming suspicious of everybody. Better that than dead, or captured by thirteen of them and.... Hastily, she stopped that line of thought; she did not want it in her head. “Sheriam, what did happen tonight?” she asked. “And don’t put me off.” Sheriam’s eyebrows rose almost to her scalp, it seemed, and she hastily amended her question. “Sheriam Sedai, I mean. Forgive me, Sheriam Sedai.”

“Remember you aren’t Aes Sedai yet, child.” Despite the steel in her voice, a smile touched Sheriam’s lips, yet it vanished as she went on. “I do not know what happened. Except that I very much fear you almost died.”

“Who knows what happens to those who do not come out of a ter’angreal?” Alanna said as she joined them. The Green sister was known for her temper and her sense of humor, and some said she could flash from one to the other and back again before you could blink, but the look she gave Egwene was almost diffident. “Child, I should have stopped this when I had the chance, when I first noticed that—reverberation. It came back. That is what happened. It came back a thousandfold. Ten thousand. The ter’angreal almost seemed to be trying to shut off the flow from saidar—or melt itself through the floor. You have my apologies, though words are not enough. Not for what almost happened to you. I say this, and by the First Oath you know it is true. To show my feelings, I will ask the Mother to let me share your time in the kitchens. And, yes, your visit to Sheriam, too. Had I done as I should, you would not have been in danger of your life, and I will atone for it.”

Sheriam’s laugh was scandalized. “She will never allow that, Alanna. A sister in the kitchens, much less.... It is unheard of. It’s impossible! You did what you believed right. There is no fault to you.”

“It was not your fault, Alanna Sedai,” Egwene said. Why is Alanna doing this? Unless maybe to convince me she didn’t have anything to do with whatever went wrong. And maybe so she can keep an eye on me all the time. It was that image, a proud Aes Sedai up to her elbows in greasy pots three times a day just to watch someone, that convinced her she was letting her imagination run away with her. But it was also unthinkable that Alanna should do as she said she would. In any case, the Green sister certainly had had no chance to see the list of names while tending the ter’angreal. But if Nynaeve is right, she wouldn’t need to see those names to want to kill me if she is Black Ajah. Stop that! “Really, it wasn’t.”

“Had I done as I should,” Alanna maintained, “it would never have happened. The only time I have ever seen anything like it was once years ago when we tried to use a ter’angreal in the same room with another that may have been in some way related to it. It is extremely rare to find two such as that. The pair of them melted, and every sister within a hundred paces had such a headache for a week that she couldn’t channel a spark. What’s the matter, child?”

Egwene’s hand had tightened around her pouch till the twisted stone ring impressed itself on her palm through the thick cloth. Was it warm? Light, I did it myself. “Nothing, Alanna Sedai. Aes Sedai, you did nothing wrong. You have no reason to share my punishments. None at all. None!”

“A bit vehement,” Sheriam observed, “but true.” Alanna only shook her head.

“Aes Sedai,” Egwene said slowly, “what does it mean to be Green Ajah?” Sheriam’s eyes opened wider with amusement, and Alanna grinned openly.

“Just with the ring on your finger,” the Green sister said, “and already trying to decide which Ajah to choose? First, you must love men. I don’t mean be in love with them, but love them. Not like a Blue, who merely likes men, so long as they share her causes and do not get in her way. And certainly not like a Red, who despises them as if every one of them were responsible for the Breaking.” Alviarin, the White sister who had come with the Amyrlin, gave them a cool look and moved on. “And not like a White,” Alanna said with a laugh, “who has no room in her life for any passions at all.”

“That was not what I meant, Alanna Sedai. I want to know what it means to be a Green sister.” She was not sure Alanna would understand, because she was not certain she herself understood what she wanted to know, but Alanna nodded slowly as if she did.

“Browns seek knowledge, Blues meddle in causes, and Whites consider the questions of truth with implacable logic. We all do some of it all, of course. But to be a Green means to stand ready.” A note of pride entered Alanna’s voice. “In the Trolloc Wars, we were often called the Battle Ajah. All Aes Sedai helped where and when they could, but the Green Ajah alone was always with the armies, in almost every battle. We were the counter to the Dreadlords. The Battle Ajah. And now we stand ready, for the Trollocs to come south again, for Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. We will be there. That is what it means to be a Green.”

“Thank you, Aes Sedai,” Egwene said. That is what I was? Or what I will be? Light, I wish I knew if it was real, if it had anything at all to do with here and now.

The Amyrlin joined them, and they swept deep curtsies to her. “Are you well, Daughter?” she asked Egwene. Her eyes flicked to the corner of the papers sticking out from under the novice dress in Egwene’s hands, then back to Egwene’s face immediately. “I will know the why of what occurred tonight before I am done.”

Egwene’s cheeks reddened. “I am well, Mother.”

Alanna surprised her by asking the Amyrlin just what she had said she would.

“I never heard of such a thing,” the Amyrlin barked. “The owner doesn’t muck out with the bilge boys even if he has run the boat on a mud-flat.” She glanced at Egwene, and worry tightened her eyes. And anger. “I share your concern, Alanna. Whatever this child has done, it did not deserve that. Very well. If it will assuage your feelings, you may visit Sheriam. But it is to be strictly between you two. I’ll not have Aes Sedai held up to ridicule, even inside the Tower.”

Egwene opened her mouth to confess all and let them take the ring—I don’t want the bloody thing, really—but Alanna forestalled her.

“And the other, Mother?”

“Do not be ridiculous, Daughter.” The Amyrlin was angry, and sounded more so by the word. “You’d be a laughingstock inside the day, except for those who decided you were mad. And don’t think it would not follow you. Tales like that have a way of traveling. You would find stories told of the scullion Aes Sedai from Tear to Maradon. And that would reflect on every sister. No. If you need to rid yourself of some feeling of guilt and cannot handle it as a grown woman would, very well. I have told you that you may visit Sheriam. Accompany her tonight when you leave here. That will give you the rest of the night to decide if it was of any help. And tomorrow you can start finding out what went wrong here tonight!”

“Yes, Mother.” Alanna’s voice was perfectly neutral.

The desire to confess had died in Egwene. Alanna had shown only one brief flash of disappointment, when she realized the Amyrlin would not allow her to join Egwene in the kitchens. She doesn’t want to be punished any more than any sensible person does. She did want an excuse to be in my company. Light, she couldn’t have deliberately caused the ter’angreal to go wild; I did that. Can she be Black Ajah?

Wrapped in thought, Egwene heard a throat cleared, then again, more roughly. Her eyes focused. The Amyrlin was staring right into her, and when she spoke, she bit off each word.

“Since you seem to be asleep standing up, child, I suggest you go to bed.” For one instant her glance flashed to the nearly concealed papers in Egwene’s hands. “You have much work to do tomorrow, and for many days thereafter.” Her eyes held Egwene’s a moment longer, and then she was striding away before any of them could curtsy.

Sheriam rounded on Alanna as soon as the Amyrlin was out of earshot. The Green Aes Sedai glowered and took it in silence. “You are mad, Alanna! A fool, and doubly a fool if you think I will go lightly on you just because we were novices together. Are you taken by the Dragon, to—?” Suddenly Sheriam became aware of Egwene, and the target of her anger shifted. “Did I not hear the Amyrlin Seat order you to your bed, Accepted? If you breathe a word of this, you will wish I had buried you in a field to manure the ground. And I will see you in my study in the morning, when the bell rings First and not one breath later. Now, go!”

Egwene went, her head spinning. Is there anybody I can trust? The Amyrlin? She sent us off chasing thirteen of the Black Ajah and forgot to mention that thirteen is just the number needed to turn a woman who can channel to the Shadow against her will. Who can I trust?

She did not want to be alone, could not stand the thought of it, and so she hurried to the Accepted’s quarters, thinking that tomorrow she would be moving there herself, and immediately after knocking pushed open Nynaeve’s door. She could trust her with anything. Her and Elayne.

But Nynaeve was seated in one of the two chairs, with Elayne’s head buried in her lap. Elayne’s shoulders shook to the sound of weeping, the softer weeping that comes after no energy is left for deeper sobs but the emotion still burns. Dampness shone on Nynaeve’s cheeks, too. The Great Serpent gleaming on her hand, smoothing Elayne’s hair, matched the ring on the hand Elayne used to clutch at Nynaeve’s skirt.

Elayne lifted a face red and swollen from long crying, sniffing through her sobs when she saw Egwene. “I could not be that awful, Egwene. I just couldn’t!”

The accident with the ter’angreal, Egwene’s fear that someone might have read the papers Verin had given her, her suspicions of everyone in that chamber, all these had been terrible, but they had buffered her in a rough, ungentle way from what had happened inside the ter’angreal. They had come from outside; the other was inside. Elayne’s words stripped the buffer away, and what was inside hit Egwene as if the ceiling had collapsed. Rand her husband, and Joiya her baby. Rand pinned and begging her to kill him. Rand chained to be gentled.

Before she was aware of moving, she was on her knees beside Elayne, all the tears that should have fallen earlier coming out in a flood. “I couldn’t help him, Nynaeve,” she sobbed. “I just left him there.”

Nynaeve flinched as if struck, but the next moment her arms were around both Egwene and Elayne, hugging them, rocking them. “Hush,” she crooned softly. “It eases with time. It eases, a little. One day we will make them pay our price. Hush. Hush.”

Scouting and Discoveries

Sunlight through the carved shutters, creeping across the bed, woke Mat. For a moment, he only lay there, frowning. He had not reasoned out any plan for escaping from Tar Valon before sleep had overtaken him, but neither had he given up. Too much memory still lay covered with fog, but he would not give up.

Two serving women came bustling with hot water and a tray heavy with food, laughing and telling him how much better he looked already, and how soon he would be back on his feet if he did what the Aes Sedai told him. He answered them curtly, trying not to sound bitter. Let them think I mean to go along. His stomach rumbled at the smells from the tray.

When they left, he tossed aside his blanket and hopped out of bed, pausing only to stuff half a slice of ham into his mouth before pouring out water to wash and shave. Staring into the mirror above the washstand, he paused in lathering his face. He did look better.

His cheeks were still hollow, but not quite as hollow as they had been. The dark circles had vanished from under his eyes, which no longer seemed set so deep in his head. It was as if every bite he had eaten the night before had gone into putting meat on his bones. He even felt stronger.

“At this rate,” he muttered, “I will be gone before they know it.” But he was still surprised when, after shaving, he sat down and consumed every scrap of ham, turnip, and pear on the tray.

He was sure they expected him to climb back into bed once he had eaten, but instead, he dressed. Stamping his feet to settle them in his boots, he eyed his spare clothes and decided to leave them, for now. I have to know what I’m doing, first. And if I have to leave them.... He tucked the dice cups into his pouch. With those, he could get all the clothes he needed.

Opening the door, he peeked out. More doors paneled in pale, golden wood lined the hall, with colorful tapestries between, and a runner of blue carpet ran down the white-tiled floor. But there was no one out there. No guard. He tossed his cloak over one shoulder and hurried out. Now to find a way outside.

It took some little wandering, down stairs and along corridors and across open courts, before he found what he wanted, a doorway to the outside, and he saw people before then: serving women and white-clad novices hurrying about their chores, the novices running even harder than the servants; a handful of roughly dressed male servants carrying large chests and other heavy loads; Accepted in their banded dresses. Even a few Aes Sedai.

The Aes Sedai did not seem to notice him as they strode along, intent on whatever purpose, or else they gave him no more than a passing glance. His were country clothes, but well made; he did not look a vagabond, and the serving men showed that men were allowed in this part of the Tower. He suspected they might take him for another servant, and that was just as well with him, so long as no one asked him to lift anything.

He did feel some regret that none of the women he saw was Egwene or Nynaeve, or even Elayne. She’s a pretty one, even if she does have her nose in the air half the time. And she could tell me how to find Egwene and the Wisdom. I cannot go without saying goodbye. Light, I don’t suppose one of them would turn me in, just because they are becoming Aes Sedai themselves? Burn me, for a fool! They’d never do that. Anyway, I will risk it.

But once out-of-doors, under a bright morning sky with only a few drifting white clouds, he put the women from his mind for the time. He was looking across a wide, flagstoned yard with a plain stone fountain in the middle and a barracks on the other side that was made of gray stone. It looked almost like a huge boulder among the few trees growing out of rimmed holes in the flagstones close by. Guardsmen in their shirtsleeves sat in front of the long, low building, tending weapons and armor and harness. Guardsmen were what he wanted, now.

He sauntered across the yard and watched the soldiers as if he had nothing better to do. As they worked they talked and laughed among themselves like men after the harvest. Now and again one of them looked curiously at Mat as he strolled among them, but none challenged his right to be there. From time to time he asked a casual question. And finally he got the answer he sought.

“Bridge guard?” said a stocky, dark-haired man no more than five years older than Mat. His words had a heavy Illianer accent. Young he might have been, but a thin white scar crossed his left cheek, and the hands oiling his sword moved with familiarity and competence. He squinted up at Mat before returning to his task. “I do be on the bridge guard, and back there again this even. Why do you ask?”

“I was just wondering what conditions were like on the other side of the river.” I might as well find that out, too. “Good for traveling? It can’t be muddy, unless you have had more rain than I know about.”

“Which side of the river?” the guardsman asked placidly. His eyes did not lift from the oiled rag he was running along his blade.

“Uh... east. The east side.”

“No mud. Whitecloaks.” The man leaned to one side to spit, but his voice did not change. “Whitecloaks do be poking their noses into every village for ten miles. They have no hurt anyone yet, but them just being there do upset the folk. Fortune prick me if I do no think they wish to provoke us, for they do look as if they would attack if they could. No good for anyone who do want to travel.”

“What about west, then?”

“The same.” The guardsman raised his eyes to Mat’s. “But you will no be crossing, lad, east or west. Your name do be Matrim Cauthon, or Fortune abandon me. Last night a sister, herself in person, did come to the bridge where I did stand guard. She did drill your features at us till each could speak them back to her. A guest, she did say, and no to be harmed. But no to be allowed out of the city, either, if you must be tied hand and foot to keep you from it.” His eyes narrowed. “Is it that you did steal something from them?” he asked doubtfully. “You do no have the look of those the sisters do guest.”

“I didn’t steal anything!” Mat said indignantly. Burn me, I didn’t even get a chance to work around to it easy. They must all know me. “I’m no thief!”

“No, it is no that I do see in your face. No thievery. But you do have the look of the fellow who did try to sell me the Horn of Valere three days gone. So he did claim it did be, all bent and battered as it did be. Do you have a Horn of Valere to sell? Or mayhap it do be the Dragon’s sword?”

Mat gave a jump at the mention of the Horn, but he managed to keep his voice level. “I was sick.” Others of the guardsmen were looking at him now. Light, they’ll all know I am not supposed to leave, now. He forced a laugh. “The sisters Healed me.” Some of the guardsmen frowned at him. Perhaps they thought other men should show more respect than to call the Aes Sedai sisters. “I guess the Aes Sedai don’t want me to go before I have all my strength back.” He tried willing the men, all of those watching him now, to accept that. Just a man who was Healed. Nothing more. No reason to trouble yourself about him any further.

The Illianer nodded. “You do have the look of sickness in your face, too. Perhaps that do be the reason. But never did I hear of so much effort to keep one sick man in the city.”

“That’s the reason,” Mat said firmly. They were all still looking at him. “Well, I need to be going. They said I have to take walks. Lots of long walks. To build up strength, you know.”

He felt their eyes following him as he left, and he scowled. He had simply meant to find out how well his description had been passed around. If only the officers among the bridge guards had had it, he might have been able to slip by. He had always been good at slipping into places unseen. And out. It was a talent you developed when your mother always suspected you were up to some mischief and you had two sisters to tell on you. And now I’ve made sure half a barracks full of guardsmen will know me. Blood and bloody ashes!

Much of the Tower grounds were gardens full of trees, leatherleaf and paperbark and elms, and he soon found himself walking along a wide, twisting graveled path. It could have led through countryside, if not for the towers visible over the treetops. And the white bulk of the Tower itself, behind him but pressing on him as if he carried it on his shoulders. If there were ways out of the Tower grounds that were not watched, this seemed the place to find them. If they existed.

A girl in novice white appeared ahead on the path, striding purposefully toward him. Wrapped in her own thoughts, she did not see him at first. When she came close enough for him to make out her big, dark eyes and the way her hair was braided, he grinned suddenly. He knew this girl—memory drifting up from shrouded depths—though he would never have expected to find her here. He had never expected to see her again at all. He grinned to himself. Good luck to balance bad. As he remembered, she had quite an eye for the boys.

“Else,” he called to her. “Else Grinwell. You remember me, don’t you? Mat Cauthon. A friend and I visited your father’s farm. Remember? Have you decided to become Aes Sedai, then?”

She stopped short, staring at him. “What are you doing up and out?” she said coldly.

“You know about that, do you?” He moved closer to her, but she stepped back, keeping her distance. He stopped. “It’s not catching. I was Healed, Else.” Those large, dark eyes seemed more knowing than he remembered, and not nearly so warm, but he supposed studying to be an Aes Sedai could do that. “What is the matter, Else? You look like you don’t know me.”

“I know you,” she said. Her manner was not as he remembered, either; he thought she could give Elayne lessons now. “I have... work to be about. Let me by.”

He grimaced. The path was broad enough for six to walk abreast without crowding. “I told you it isn’t catching.”

“Let me by!”

Muttering to himself, he stepped to one edge of the gravel. She went past him along the other side, watching to make sure he did not come closer. Once by, she quickened her steps, glancing over her shoulder at him until she was out of sight around a bend.

Wanted to make sure I didn’t follow her, he thought sourly. First the guardsmen, and now Else. My luck is not in, today.

He started off again, and soon heard a ferocious clatter from one side ahead, like dozens of sticks being beat together. Curious, he turned off toward it, into the trees.

A little way brought him to a large expanse of bare ground, the earth beaten hard, at least fifty paces across and nearly twice as long. At intervals around it under the trees stood wooden stands holding quarterstaffs, and practice swords made of strips of wood bound loosely together, and a few real swords and axes and spears.

Spaced across the open ground, pairs of men, most stripped to the waist, flailed at each other with more practice swords. Some moved so smoothly it almost seemed they danced with one another, flowing from stance to stance, stroke to counterstroke in continuous motion. There was nothing quickly apparent aside from skill to mark them from the others, but Mat was sure he was watching Warders.

Those who did not move so smoothly were all younger, each pair under the watchful eyes of an older man who seemed to radiate a dangerous grace even standing still. Warders and students, Mat decided.

He was not the only audience. Not ten paces from him, half a dozen women with ageless Aes Sedai faces and as many more in the banded white dresses of the Accepted stood watching one pair of students, bare to the waist and slick with sweat, under the guidance of a Warder shaped much like a block of stone. The Warder used a short-stemmed pipe in one hand, trailing tabac smoke, to direct his pupils.

Sitting down cross-legged under a leatherleaf, Mat rooted three large pebbles out of the ground and began to juggle them idly. He did not feel weak, exactly, but it was good to sit. If there was a way out of the Tower grounds, it would not go away while he took a short rest.

Before he had been there five minutes he knew who it was the Aes Sedai and Accepted were watching. One of the blocky Warder’s pupils was a tall, lithe young man who moved like a cat. And almost as pretty as a girl, Mat thought wryly. Every woman was staring at the tall fellow with sparkling eyes, even the Aes Sedai.

The tall man handled his practice sword almost as deftly as the Warders, now and then earning an approving gravelly comment from his teacher. It was not that his opponent, a youth more Mat’s age, with red-gold hair, was unskilled. Far from it, as much as Mat could see, though he had never claimed to know anything about swords. The golden-haired man met every lightning attack, turning it away before the bound strips could strike him, and even launched an occasional attack of his own. But the handsome fellow countered those attacks and flowed back into his own in the space of a heartbeat.

Mat shifted the pebbles to one hand, but kept them spinning in the air. He did not think he would care to face either of them. Certainly not with a sword.

“Break!” The Warder’s voice sounded like rocks emptying out of a bucket. Chests heaving, the two men let their practice swords fall to their sides. Sweat matted their hair. “You can rest till I finish my pipe. But rest fast; I am almost in the dottle.”

Now that they had stopped dancing about, Mat got a good look at the youth with the red-gold hair and let the pebbles drop. Burn me, I’ll bet my whole purse that’s Elayne’s brother. And the other one’s Galad, or I’ll eat my boots. On the journey from Toman Head it had seemed half of Elayne’s conversation had been of Gawyn’s virtues and Galad’s vices. Oh, Gawyn had some vices according to Elayne, but they were small; to Mat they sounded like the sort of things no one but a sister would consider vices at all. As for Galad, once Elayne was pinned down, he sounded like what every mother said she wanted her son to be. Mat did not think he wanted to spend much time in Galad’s company. Egwene blushed whenever Galad was mentioned, though she seemed to think no one noticed.

A ripple seemed to pass through the watching women when Gawyn and Galad stopped, and they appeared on the point of stepping forward almost as one. But Gawyn caught sight of Mat, said something quietly to Galad, and the two of them walked by the women. The Aes Sedai and Accepted turned to follow with their eyes. Mat scrambled to his feet as the pair approached.

“You are Mat Cauthon, are you not?” Gawyn said with a grin. “I was sure I recognized you from Egwene’s description. And Elayne’s. I understand you were sick. Are you better now?”

“I’m fine,” Mat said. He wondered if he was supposed to call Gawyn “my Lord” or something of the sort. He had refused to call Elayne “my Lady”—not that she had demanded it, actually—and he decided he would not do her brother better.

“Did you come to the practice yard to learn the sword?” Galad asked.

Mat shook his head. “I was only out walking. I don’t know much about swords. I think I’ll put my trust in a good bow, or a good quarterstaff. I know how to use those.”

“If you spend much time around Nynaeve,” Galad said, “you’ll need bow, quarterstaff, and sword to protect yourself. And I don’t know whether that would be enough.”

Gawyn looked at him wonderingly. “Galad, you just very nearly made a joke.”

“I do have a sense of humor, Gawyn,” Galad said with a frown. “You only think I do not because I do not care to mock people.”

With a shake of his head, Gawyn turned back to Mat. “You should learn something of the sword. Everyone can do with that sort of knowledge these days. Your friend—Rand al’Thor—carried a most unusual sword. What do you hear of him?”

“I haven’t seen Rand in a long time,” Mat said quickly. Just for a moment, when he had mentioned Rand, Gawyn’s look had gained intensity. Light, does he know about Rand? He couldn’t. If he did, he’d be denouncing me for a Darkfriend just for being Rand’s friend. But he knows something. “Swords aren’t the be-all and end-all, you know. I could do fairly well against either of you, I think, if you had a sword and I had my quarterstaff.”

Gawyn’s cough was obviously meant to swallow a laugh. Much too politely, he said, “You must be very good.” Galad’s face was frankly disbelieving.

Perhaps it was that they both clearly thought he was making a wild boast. Perhaps it was because he had mishandled questioning the guardsman. Perhaps it was because Else, who had such an eye for the boys, wanted nothing to do with him, and all those women were staring at Galad like cats watching a jug of cream. Aes Sedai and Accepted or not, they were still women. All these explanations ran through Mat’s head, but he rejected them angrily, especially the last. He was going to do it because it would be fun. And it might earn some coin. His luck would not even have to be back.

“I will wager,” he said, “two silver marks to two from each of you that I can beat both of you at once, just the way I said. You can’t have fairer odds than that. There are two of you, and one of me, so two to one are fair odds.” He almost laughed aloud at the consternation on their faces.

“Mat,” Gawyn said, “there’s no need to make wagers. You have been sick. Perhaps we will try this some time when you are stronger.”

“It would be far from a fair wager,” Galad said. “I’ll not take your wager, now or later. You are from the same village as Egwene, are you not? I... I would not have her angry with me.”

“What does she have to do with it? Thump me once with one of your swords, and I will hand over a silver mark to each of you. If I thump you till you quit, you give me two each. Don’t you think you can do it?”

“This is ridiculous,” Galad said. “You would have no chance against one trained swordsman, let alone two. I’ll not take such advantage.”

“Do you think that?” asked a gravel voice. The blocky Warder joined them, thick black eyebrows pulled down in a scowl. “You think you two are good enough with your swords to take a boy with a stick?”

“It would not be fair, Hammar Gaidin,” Galad said.

“He has been sick,” Gawyn added. “There is no need for this.”

“To the yard,” Hammar grated with a jerk of his head back over his shoulder. Galad and Gawyn gave Mat regretful looks, then obeyed. The Warder eyed Mat up and down doubtfully. “Are you sure you’re up to this, lad? Now I take a close look at you, you ought to be in a sickbed.”

“I am already out of one,” Mat said, “and I’m up to it. I have to be. I don’t want to lose my two marks.”

Hammar’s heavy brows rose in surprise. “You mean to hold to that wager, lad?”

“I need the money.” Mat laughed.

His laughter cut off abruptly as he turned toward the nearest stand that held quarterstaffs and his knees almost buckled. He stiffened them so quickly he thought anyone who noticed would think he had just stumbled. At the stand he took his time choosing out a staff, nearly two inches thick and almost a foot taller than he was. I have to win this. I opened my fool mouth, and now I have to win. I can’t afford to lose those two marks. Without those to build on, it will take forever to win the money I need.

When he turned back, the quarterstaff in both hands before him, Gawyn and Galad were already waiting out where they had been practicing. I have to win. “Luck,” he muttered. “Time to toss the dice.”

Hammar gave him an odd look. “You speak the Old Tongue, lad?”

Mat stared back at him for a moment, not speaking. He felt cold to the bone. With an effort, he made his feet start out onto the practice yard. “Remember the wager,” he said loudly. “Two silver marks from each of you against two from me.”

A buzz rose from the Accepted as they realized what was happening. The Aes Sedai watched in silence. Disapproving silence.

Gawyn and Galad split apart, one to either side of him, keeping their distance, neither with his sword more than half-raised.

“No wager,” Gawyn said. “There’s no wager.”

At the same time, Galad said, “I’ll not take your money like this.”

“I mean to take yours,” Mat said.

“Done!” Hammar roared. “If they have not the nerve to cover your wager, lad, I’ll pay the score myself.”

“Very well,” Gawyn said. “If you insist on it—done!”

Galad hesitated a moment more before growling, “Done, then. Let us put an end to this farce.”

The moment’s warning was all Mat needed. As Galad rushed at him, he slid his hands along the quarterstaff and pivoted. The end of the staff thudded into the tall man’s ribs, bringing a grunt and a stumble. Mat let the staff bounce off Galad and spun, carrying it on around just as Gawyn came within range. The staff dipped, darted under Gawyn’s practice sword, and clipped his ankle out from under him. As Gawyn fell, Mat completed the spin in time to catch Galad across his upraised wrist, sending his practice sword flying. As if his wrist did not pain him at all, Galad threw himself into a smooth, rolling dive and came up with his sword in both hands.

Ignoring him for the moment, Mat half turned, twisting his wrists to whip the length of the staff back beside him. Gawyn, just starting to rise, took the blow on the side of his head with a loud thump only partly softened by the padding of hair. He went down in a heap.

Mat was only vaguely aware of an Aes Sedai rushing out to tend Elayne’s fallen brother. I hope he’s all right. He should be. I’ve hit myself harder than that falling off a fence. He still had Galad to deal with, and from the way Galad was poised on the balls of his feet, sword raised precisely, he had begun to take Mat seriously.

Mat’s legs chose that moment to tremble. Light, I can’t weaken now. But he could feel it creeping back in, the wobbly feeling, the hunger as if he had not eaten for days. If I wait for him to come to me, I’ll fall on my face. It was hard to keep his knees straight as he started forward. Luck, stay with me.

From the first blow, he knew that luck, or skill, or whatever had brought him this far, was still there. Galad managed to turn that one with a sharp clack, and the next, and the next, and the next, but strain stiffened his face. That smooth swordsman, almost as good as the Warders, fought with every ounce of his skill to keep Mat’s staff from him. He did not attack; it was all he could do to defend. He moved continually to the side, trying not to be forced back, and Mat pressed him, staff a blur. And Galad stepped back, stepped back again, wooden blade a thin shield against the quarterstaff.

Hunger gnawed at Mat as if he had swallowed weasels. Sweat rolled down into his eyes, and his strength began to fade as if it leached out with the sweat. Not yet. I can’t fall yet. I have to win. Now. With a roar, he threw all his reserves into one last surge.

The quarterstaff flickered past Galad’s sword and in quick succession struck knee, wrist, and ribs and finally thrust into Galad’s stomach like a spear. With a groan, Galad folded over, fighting not to fall. The staff quivered in Mat’s hands, on the point of a final crushing thrust to the throat. Galad sank to the ground.

Mat almost dropped the quarterstaff when he realized what he had been about to do. Win, not kill. Light, what was I thinking? Reflexively he grounded the butt of the staff, and as soon he did, he had to clutch at it to hold himself erect. Hunger hollowed him like a knife reaming marrow from a bone. Suddenly he realized that not only the Aes Sedai and Accepted were watching. All practice, all learning, had stopped. Warders and students alike stood watching him.

Hammar moved to stand beside Galad, still groaning on the ground and trying to push himself up. The Warder raised his voice to shout, “Who was the greatest blademaster of all time?”

From the throats of dozens of students came a massed bellow. “Jearom, Gaidin!”

“Yes!” Hammar shouted, turning to make sure all heard. “During his lifetime, Jearom fought over ten thousand times, in battle and single combat. He was defeated once. By a farmer with a quarterstaff! Remember that. Remember what you just saw.” He lowered his eyes to Galad, and lowered his voice as well. “If you cannot get up by now, lad, it is finished.” He raised a hand, and the Aes Sedai and Accepted rushed to surround Galad.

Mat slid down the staff to his knees. None of the Aes Sedai even glanced his way. One of the Accepted did, a plump girl he might have liked to ask for a dance if she were not going to be an Aes Sedai. She frowned at him, sniffed, and turned back to peering at what the Aes Sedai were doing around Galad.

Gawyn was on his feet, Mat noted with relief. He pulled himself up as Gawyn came over. Mustn’t let them know. I’ll never get out of here if they decide to nurse me from sunup to sunup. Blood darkened the red-gold hair on the side of Gawyn’s head, but there was neither cut nor bruise apparent.

He pushed two silver marks into Mat’s hand with a dry “I think I will listen next time.” He noticed Mat’s glance, touched his head. “They Healed it, but it was not bad. Elayne has given me worse more than once. You are good with that.”

“Not as good as my da. He’s won the quarterstaff at Bel Tine every year as long as I can remember, except once or twice when Rand’s da did.” That interested look came back into Gawyn’s eyes, and Mat wished he had never mentioned Tam al’Thor. The Aes Sedai and the Accepted were all still clustered around Galad. “I... I must have hurt him badly. I did not mean to do that.”

Gawyn glanced that way—there was nothing to be seen but two rings of women’s backs, Accepted’s white dresses making the outer ring as they peered over the shoulders of crouching Aes Sedai—and laughed. “You did not kill him—I heard him groaning—so he should be on his feet by now, but they are not going to let this chance pass, now they have their hands on him. Light, four of them are Green Ajah!” Mat gave him a confused look—Green Ajah? What does that have to do with anything?—and Gawyn shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Just rest assured that the worst Galad has to worry about is finding himself Warder to a Green Aes Sedai before his head clears.” He laughed. “No, they would not do that. But I will wager you those two marks of mine in your hand that some of them wish they could.”

“Not your marks,” Mat said, shoving them in his coat pocket, “mine.” The explanation had made little sense to him. Except that Galad was well. All he knew of what passed between Warders and Aes Sedai were the pieces he remembered of Lan and Moiraine, and there was nothing there like what Gawyn seemed to be suggesting. “Do you think they’d mind if I collected my wager from him?”

“They very likely would,” Hammar said dryly as he joined them. “You are not very popular with those particular Aes Sedai right now.” He snorted. “You’d think even Green Aes Sedai would be better than girls just loose from their mother’s apron strings. He isn’t that good-looking.”

“He is not,” Mat agreed.

Gawyn grinned at both of them, until Hammar glared at him. “Here,” the Warder said, pushing two more silver coins into Mat’s hand. “I will collect from Galad later. Where are you from, lad?”

“Manetheren.” Mat froze when he heard the name come out of his mouth. “I mean, I’m from the Two Rivers. I have heard too many old stories.” They just looked at him without saying anything. “I.... I think I will go back and see if I can find something to eat.” Not even the Midmorning bell had rung yet, but they nodded as if it made sense.

He kept the quarterstaff—no one had told him to put it back—and walked slowly until the trees hid him from the practice yard. When they did, he leaned on the staff as though it were the only thing holding him up. He was not sure it was not.

He thought that if he parted his coat, he would see a hole where his stomach should have been, a hole growing larger as it pulled the rest of him in. But he hardly thought of hunger. He kept hearing voices in his head. You speak the Old Tongue, lad? Manetheren. It made him shiver. Light help me, I keep digging myself deeper. I have to get out of here. But how? He hobbled back toward the Tower proper like an old, old man. How?


Egwene lay across Nynaeve’s bed, chin in her hands, watching Nynaeve pace back and forth. Elayne sprawled in front of the fireplace, which was still full of the ashes of last night’s fire. Yet again Elayne was studying the list of names Verin had produced, patiently reading every word one more time. The other pages, the list of ter’angreal, sat on the table; after one shocked reading they had not discussed that one further, though they had talked of everything else. And argued, too.

Egwene stifled a yawn. It was only the middle of the morning, but none of them had gotten much sleep. They had had to be up early. For the kitchens, and breakfast. For other things that she refused to think about. The little sleep she herself had managed had been filled with unpleasant dreams. Maybe Anaiya could help me understand them, those that need understanding, but.... But what if she is Black Ajah? After staring at every woman in that chamber last night, wondering which was Black Ajah, she was finding trust for anyone but her two companions hard to come by. But she did wish she had some way of interpreting those dreams.

The nightmares about what had happened inside the ter’angreal last night were easy enough to understand, though they had made her wake up weeping. She had dreamed of the Seanchan, too, of women in dresses with lightning bolts woven on their breasts, collaring a long line of women who wore Great Serpent rings, forcing them to call lightning against the White Tower. That had started her awake in a cold sweat, but that had to be just a nightmare, too. And the dream about Whitecloaks binding her father’s hands. A nightmare brought on by homesickness, she supposed. But the others....

She glanced at the other two women again. Elayne was still reading. Nynaeve still paced with that steady tread.

There had been a dream of Rand, reaching for a sword that seemed to be made of crystal, never seeing the fine net dropping over him. And one of him kneeling in a chamber where a parched wind blew dust across the floor, and creatures like the one on the Dragon banner, but much smaller, floated on that wind, and settled into his skin. There had been a dream of him walking down into a great hole in a black mountain, a hole filled with a reddish glare as from vast fires below, and even a dream of him confronting Seanchan.

About that last, she was uncertain, but she knew the others had to mean something. Back when she had been sure she could trust Anaiya, back before she had left the Tower, before she learned the reality of the Black Ajah, a little cautious questioning of the Aes Sedai—done, oh, so carefully, so Anaiya would think it no more than the curiosity she showed about other things—had revealed that a Dreamer’s dreams about ta’veren were almost always significant, and the more strongly ta’veren, the more “almost always” became “certainly.”

But Mat and Perrin were ta’veren, too, and she had also dreamed of them. Odd dreams, even more difficult to understand than the dreams of Rand. Perrin with a falcon on his shoulder, and Perrin with a hawk. Only the hawk held a leash in her talons—Egwene was somehow convinced both hawk and falcon were female—and the hawk was trying to fasten it around Perrin’s neck. That made her shiver even now; she did not like dreams about leashes. And that dream of Perrin—with a beard!—leading a huge pack of wolves that stretched as far as the eye could see. Those about Mat had been even nastier. Mat, placing his own left eye on a balance scale. Mat, hanging by his neck from a tree limb. There had been a dream of Mat and Seanchan, too, but she was willing to dismiss that as a nightmare. It had to have been just a nightmare. Just like the one about Mat speaking the Old Tongue. That had to come from what she had heard during his Healing.

She sighed, and the sigh turned into another yawn. She and the others had gone to his room after breakfast to see how he was, but he had not been there.

He is probably well enough to go dancing. Light, now I will probably dream about him dancing with Seanchan! No more dreams, she told herself firmly. Not now. I will think about them when I am not so tired. She thought of the kitchens, of the midday meal soon to come, and then supper, and breakfast again tomorrow, and pots and cleaning and scrubbing going on forever. If I am ever not tired again. Shifting her position on the bed, she looked at her friends again. Elayne still had her eyes on the list of names. Nynaeve’s steps had slowed. Any moment now, Nynaeve will say it again. Any moment.

Nynaeve came to a halt, staring down at Elayne. “Put those away. We have been over them twenty times, and there isn’t a word that helps. Verin gave us rubbish. The question is, was it all she had, or did she give us rubbish on purpose?”

As expected. Maybe half an hour till she says it again. Egwene frowned down at her hands, glad she could not see them clearly. The Great Serpent ring looked—out of place—on hands all wrinkled from long immersion in hot, soapy water.

“Knowing their names helps,” Elayne said, still reading. “Knowing what they look like helps.”

“You know very well what I mean,” Nynaeve snapped.

Egwene sighed and folded her arms in front of her, rested her chin on them. When she had come out of Sheriam’s study that morning, with the sun still not even a glint on the horizon, Nynaeve had been waiting with a candle in the cold, dark hall. She had not been seeing very clearly, but she was sure Nynaeve had looked ready to chew stone. And knowing chewing stones would not change anything in the next few minutes. That was why she was so irritable. She’s as touchy about her pride as any man I ever met. But she should not take it out on Elayne and me. Light, if Elayne can stand it, she should be able to. She isn’t the Wisdom anymore.

Elayne hardly appeared to notice whether Nynaeve was irritable or not. She frowned into the distance thoughtfully. “Liandrin was the only Red. All the other Ajahs lost two each.”

“Oh, do be quiet, child,” Nynaeve said.

Elayne wiggled her left hand to display her Great Serpent ring, gave Nynaeve a meaningful look, and went right on. “No two were born in the same city, and no more than two in any one country. Amico Nagoyin was the youngest, some fifteen years older than Egwene and I. Joiya Byir could be our great-grandmother’s great-grandmother.”

Egwene did not like it that one of the Black Ajah shared her daughter’s name. Fool girl! People sometimes have the same name, and you never had a daughter. It wasn’t real!

“And what does that tell us?” Nynaeve’s voice was too calm; she was ready to explode like a wagon full of fireworks. “What secrets have you found in it that I missed? I am getting old and blind, after all!”

“It tells us it is all too neat,” Elayne said calmly. “What chance that thirteen women chosen solely because they were Darkfriends would be so neatly arrayed across age, across nations, across Ajahs? Shouldn’t there be perhaps three Reds, or four born in Cairhien, or just two the same age, if it was all chance? They had women to choose from or they could not have chosen so random a pattern. There are still Black Ajah in the Tower, or elsewhere we don’t know about. It must mean that.”

Nynaeve gave her braid one ferocious tug. “Light! I think you may be right. You did find secrets I couldn’t. Light, I was hoping they all went with Liandrin.”

“We do not even know that she is their leader,” Elayne said. “She could have been ordered to... to dispose of us.” Her mouth twisted. “I am afraid I can only think of one reason for them to go to such lengths to spread everything out so, to avoid any pattern except a lack of pattern. I think it means there is a pattern of some kind to the Black Ajah.”

“If there’s a pattern,” Nynaeve said firmly, “we will find it. Elayne, if watching your mother run her court taught you to think like this, I’m glad you watched closely.” Elayne’s answering smile made a dimple in her cheek.

Egwene eyed the older woman carefully. It seemed Nynaeve was finally ready to stop being a bear with a sore tooth. She raised her head. “Unless they want us to think they’re hiding a pattern, so we will waste our time hunting for it when there isn’t one. I am not saying there isn’t; I am only saying we do not know yet. Let’s look for it, but I think we ought to look at other things, too, don’t you?”

“So you finally decided to rouse,” Nynaeve said. “I thought you had gone to sleep.” But she was still smiling.

“She is right,” Elayne said disgustedly. “I have built a bridge out of straw. Worse than straw. Wishes. Maybe you are right, too, Nynaeve. What use is this—this rubbish?” She snatched one paper out of the stack in front of her. “Rianna has black hair with a white streak above her left ear. If I am close enough to see that, it’s closer than I want to be.” She grabbed another page. “Chesmal Emry is one of the most talented Healers anyone has seen in years. Light, could you imagine being Healed by one of the Black Ajah?” A third sheet. “Marillin Gemalphin is fond of cats and goes out of her way to help injured animals. Cats! Paah!” She scrabbled all the pages together, crumpling them in her fists. “It is useless rubbish.”

Nynaeve knelt beside her and gently pried her hands from around the papers. “Perhaps, and perhaps not.” She smoothed the pages carefully on her breast. “You found in them something for us to look for. Perhaps we will find more, if we are persistent. And there is the other list.” Both her eyes and Elayne’s darted to Egwene, brown and blue alike frowning worriedly.

Egwene avoided looking at the table where the other sheets lay. She did not want to think about them, but she could not avoid it. The list of ter’angreal had etched itself into her mind.

Item. A rod of clear crystal, smooth and perfectly clear, one foot long and one inch in diameter. Use unknown. Last study made by Corianin Nedeal. Item. A figurine of an unclothed woman in alabaster, one hand tall. Use unknown. Last study made by Corianin Nedeal. Item. A disc, apparently of simple iron yet untouched by rust, three inches in diameter, finely engraved on both sides with a tight spiral. Use unknown. Last study made by Corianin Nedeal. Item. Too many items, and more than half the “use unknowns” last studied by Corianin Nedeal. Thirteen of them, to be exact.

Egwene shivered. It’s getting so I do not even like to think of that number.

The knowns on the list were fewer, not all of any apparent real use, but hardly more comforting, as she saw it. A wooden carving of a hedgehog, no bigger than the last joint of a man’s thumb. Such a simple thing, and surely harmless. Any woman who tried to channel through it went to sleep. Half a day of peaceful, dreamless sleep, but it was too close not to make her skin crawl. Three more had to do with sleep in some way. It was almost a relief to read of a fluted rod of black stone, a full pace in length, that produced balefire, with the notation DANGEROUS AND ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTROL writ so strong in Verin’s hand that it tore the paper in two places. Egwene still had no idea what balefire was, but though it surely sounded dangerous if anything ever did, it just as surely had nothing to do Corianin Nedeal or dreams.

Nynaeve carried the smoothed-out pages to the table and set them down. She hesitated before spreading the others out and running her finger down one page, then the next. “Here’s one Mat would enjoy,” she said in a voice much too light and airy. “Item. A carved cluster of six spotted dice, joined at the corners, less than two inches across. Use unknown, save that channeling through it seems to suspend chance in some way, or twist it.” She began to read aloud. “ ‘Tossed coins presented the same face every time, and in one test landed balanced on edge one hundred times in a row. One thousand tosses of the dice produced five crowns one thousand times.’ ” She gave a forced laugh. “Mat would love that.”

Egwene sighed and got to her feet, walked stiffly to the fireplace. Elayne scrambled up, watching as silently as Nynaeve. Pushing her sleeve as far up her arm as it would go, Egwene reached carefully up the chimney. Her fingers touched wool on the smoke shelf, and she pulled out a wadded, singed stocking with a hard lump in the toe. She brushed a smear of soot from her arm, then took the stocking to the table and shook it out. The twisted ring of striped, flecked stone spun across the tabletop and fell flat atop a page of the ter’angreal list. For a few moments they just stared at it.

“Perhaps,” Nynaeve said finally, “Verin simply missed the fact that so many of them were last studied by Corianin.” She did not sound as if she really believed it.

Elayne nodded, but doubtfully. “I saw her walking in the rain once, soaking wet, and took a cloak to her. She was so wrapped up in whatever she was thinking, I do not believe she knew it was raining until I put the cloak around her shoulders. She could have missed it.”

“Maybe,” Egwene said. “If she did not, she had to know I’d notice as soon as I read the list. I do not know. Sometimes I think Verin notices more than she lets on. I just do not know.”

“So there’s Verin to suspect,” Elayne sighed. “If she is Black Ajah, then they know exactly what we are doing. And Alanna.” She gave Egwene an uncertain, sidelong look.

Egwene had told them everything. Except what happened inside the ter’angreal during her testing; she could not bring herself to talk about that, any more than Nynaeve or Elayne could tell of their testings. Everything that happened in the testing chamber, what Sheriam had said about the terrible weakness conferred by the ability to channel, every word Verin had said, whether it seemed important or not. The one part they had had trouble accepting was Alanna; Aes Sedai just did not do things like that. No one in her right mind did anything like that, but Aes Sedai least of all.

Egwene glowered at them, almost hearing them say it. “Aes Sedai are not supposed to lie, either, but Verin and the Mother seem awfully close with what they tell us. There are not supposed to be Black Ajah.”

“I like Alanna.” Nynaeve tugged her braid, then shrugged. “Oh, very well. Perha—That is, she did behave oddly.”

“Thank you,” Egwene said, and Nynaeve gave her an acknowledging nod as if she had heard no sarcasm.

“In any case, the Amyrlin knows of it, and she can keep an eye on Alanna far more easily than we can.”

“What about Elaida and Sheriam?” Egwene asked.

“I have never been able to like Elaida,” Elayne said, “but I cannot truly believe she is Black Ajah. And Sheriam? It’s impossible.”

Nynaeve snorted. “It should be impossible for any of them. When we do find them, there is nothing says they’ll all be women we do not like. But I don’t mean to put suspicion—not this kind of suspicion!—on any woman. We need more to go on than that they might have seen something they shouldn’t.” Egwene nodded agreement as quickly as Elayne, and Nynaeve went on: “We will tell the Amyrlin that much, and put no more weight to it than it deserves. If she ever looks in on us as she said she would. If you are with us when she comes, Elayne, remember she does not know about you.”

“I am not likely to forget it,” Elayne said fervently. “But we should have some other way to get word to her. My mother would have planned it better.”

“Not if she could not trust her messengers,” Nynaeve said. “We will wait. Unless you two think one of us should have a talk with Verin? No one would think that remarkable.”

Elayne hesitated, then gave her head a small shake. Egwene was quicker and more vigorous with hers; slip of the mind or not, Verin had left out too much to be trusted.

“Good.” Nynaeve sounded more than satisfied. “I am just as pleased we cannot talk to the Amyrlin when we choose. This way we make our own decisions, act when and as we decide, without her directing our every step.” Her hand ran down the pages listing stolen ter’angreal as if she were reading it again, then closed on the striped stone ring. “And the first decision concerns this. It’s the first thing we have seen that has any real connection to Liandrin and the others.” She frowned at the ring, then took a deep breath. “I am going to sleep with it tonight.”

Egwene did not hesitate before taking the ring out of Nynaeve’s hand. She wanted to hesitate—she wanted to keep her hands by her sides—but she did not, and she was pleased. “I am the one they say might be a Dreamer. I do not know whether that gives me any advantage, but Verin said it’s dangerous using this. Whichever of us uses it, she needs any advantage she can find.”

Nynaeve gripped her braid and opened her mouth as if to protest. When she finally spoke, though, it was to say, “Are you sure, Egwene? We do not even know if you are a Dreamer, and I can channel more strongly than you. I still think I—” Egwene cut her off.

“You can channel more strongly if you are angry. Can you be sure you’ll be angry in a dream? Will you have time to become angry before you need to channel? Light, we don’t even know that anyone can channel in a dream. If one of us has to do it—and you are right; it is the only connection we have—it should be me. Maybe I really am a Dreamer. Besides, Verin did give it to me.”

Nynaeve looked as if she wanted to argue, but at last she gave a grudging nod. “Very well. But Elayne and I will be there. I do not know what we can do, but if anything goes wrong, perhaps we can wake you up, or.... We will be there.” Elayne nodded, too.

Now that she had their agreement, Egwene felt a queasiness in the pit of her stomach. I talked them into it. I wish I did not want them to talk me out of it. She became aware of a woman standing in the doorway, a woman in novice white, with her hair in long braids.

“Did no one ever teach you to knock, Else?” Nynaeve said.

Egwene hid the stone ring inside her fist. She had the strangest feeling that Else had been staring at it.

“I have a message for you,” Else said calmly. Her eyes studied the table, with all the papers scattered on it, then the three women around it. “From the Amyrlin.”

Egwene exchanged wondering looks with Nynaeve and Elayne.

“Well, what is it?” Nynaeve demanded.

Else arched an eyebrow in amusement. “The belongings left behind by Liandrin and the others were put in the third storeroom on the right from the main stairs in the second basement under the library.” She glanced at the papers on the table again and left, neither hurrying nor moving slowly.

Egwene felt as if she could not breathe. We’re afraid to trust anybody, and the Amyrlin decides to trust Else Grinwell of all women?

“That fool girl cannot be trusted not to blab to anyone who’ll listen!” Nynaeve started for the door.

Egwene grabbed up her skirts and darted past her at a run. Her shoes skidded on the tiles of the gallery, but she caught a glimpse of white vanishing down the nearest ramp and dashed after it. She must be running, too, to be so far ahead already. Why is she running? The flash of white was already disappearing down another ramp. Egwene followed.

A woman turned to face her at the foot of the ramp, and Egwene stopped in confusion. Whoever she was, this was certainly not Else. All in silver and white silk, she sparked feelings Egwene had never had before. She was taller, more beautiful by far, and the look in her black eyes made Egwene feel small, scrawny, and none too clean. She can probably channel more of the Power than I can, too. Light, she is probably smarter than all three of us put together on top of it. It isn’t fair for one woman to—Abruptly she realized the way her thoughts were going. Her cheeks reddened, and she gave herself a shake. She had never felt—less—than any other woman before, and she was not about to start now.

“Bold,” the woman said. “You are bold to go running about so, alone, where so many murders have been done.” She sounded almost pleased.

Egwene drew herself up and straightened her dress hurriedly, hoping the other woman would not notice, knowing she did, wishing the woman had not seen her running like a child. Stop that! “Pardon, but I am looking for a novice who came this way, I think. She has large, dark eyes and dark hair in braids. She’s plump, and pretty in a way. Did you see which way she went?”

The tall woman looked her up and down in an amused way. Egwene could not be sure, but she thought the woman might have glanced a moment at the clenched fist by her side, where she still held the stone ring. “I do not think you will catch up to her. I saw her, and she was running quite fast. I suspect she is far away from here by now.”

“Aes Sedai,” Egwene began, but she was given no chance to ask which way Else had gone. Something that might have been anger, or annoyance, flashed through those black eyes.

“I have taken up enough time with you for now. I have more important matters to see to. Leave me.” She gestured back the way Egwene had come.

So strong was the command in her voice that Egwene turned and was three steps up the ramp before she realized what she was doing. Bristling, she spun back. Aes Sedai or no, I—

The gallery was empty.

Frowning, she dismissed the nearest doors—no one lived in those rooms, except possibly mice—and ran down the ramp, peered both ways, followed the curve of the gallery with her eyes all the way around. She even peered over the rail, down into the small Garden of the Accepted, and studied the other galleries, higher as well as lower. She saw two Accepted in their banded dresses, one Faolain and the other a woman she knew by sight if not name. But there was no woman in silver and white anywhere.

Behind a Lock

Shaking her head, Egwene walked back to the doors she had dismissed. She had to go somewhere. Inside the first, the few furnishings were shapeless mounds under dusty cloths, and the air seemed stale, as if the door had not been opened in some time. She grimaced; there were mouse tracks in the dust on the floor. But no others. Two more doors, opened hastily, showed the same thing. It was no surprise. There were many more empty rooms than occupied in the Accepted’s galleries.

When she pulled her head out of the third room, Nynaeve and Elayne were coming down the ramp behind her with no particular haste.

“Is she hiding?” Nynaeve asked in surprise. “In there?”

“I lost her.” Egwene peered both ways along the curving gallery again. Where did she go? She did not mean Else.

“If I had thought Else could outrun you,” Elayne said with a smile, “I’d have chased her, too, but she has always looked too plump for running to me.” Her smile was worried, though.

“We will have to find her later,” Nynaeve said, “and make sure she knows to keep her mouth shut. How could the Amyrlin trust that girl?”

“I thought I was right on top of her,” Egwene said slowly, “but it was someone else. Nynaeve, I turned my back for a moment, and she was gone. Not Else—I never even saw her!—the woman I thought was Else at first. She was just—gone, and I don’t know where.”

Elayne’s breath caught. “One of the Soulless?” She looked around hastily, but the gallery was still empty except for the three of them.

“Not her,” Egwene said firmly. “She—” I am not going to tell them she made me feel six years old, with a torn dress, a dirty face, and a runny nose. “She was no Gray Man. She was tall and striking, with black eyes and black hair. You’d notice her in a crowd of a thousand. I have never seen her before, but I think she is Aes Sedai. She must be.”

Nynaeve waited, as though for more, then said impatiently, “If you see her again, point her out to me. If you think there’s cause. We’ve no time to stand here talking. I mean to see what is in that storeroom before Else has a chance to tell the wrong person about it. Maybe they were careless. Let’s not give them a chance to correct it, if they were.”

As she fell in beside Nynaeve, with Elayne on the other side, Egwene realized she still had the stone ring—Corianin Nedeal’s ter’angreal—clutched in her fist. Reluctantly, she tucked it into her pouch and pulled the drawstrings tight. As long as I don’t go to sleep with the bloody—But that’s what I am planning, isn’t it?

But that was for tonight, and no use worrying about it now. As they made their way through the Tower, she kept an eye out for the woman in silver and white. She was not sure why she was relieved not to see her. I am a grown woman, and quite capable, thank you. Still, she was just as glad that no one they encountered looked even remotely like her. The more she thought of the woman, the more she felt there was something—wrong—about her. Light, I am starting to see the Black Ajah under my bed. Only, maybe they are under the bed.

The library stood a little apart from the tall, thick shaft of the White Tower proper, its pale stone heavily streaked with blue, and it looked much like crashing waves frozen at their climax. Those waves loomed as large as a palace in the morning light, and Egwene knew they certainly contained as many rooms as one, but all those rooms—those below the odd corridors in the upper levels, where Verin had her chambers—were filled with shelves, and the shelves filled with books, manuscripts, papers, scrolls, maps, and charts, collected from every nation over the course of three thousand years. Not even the great libraries in Tear and Cairhien held so many.

The librarians—Brown sisters all—guarded those shelves, and guarded the doors as closely, to make sure not a scrap of paper left unless they knew who took it and why. But it was not to one of the guarded entrances that Nynaeve led Egwene and Elayne.

Around the foundations of the library, lying flat to the ground in the shade of tall pecan trees, were other doors, both large and small. Laborers sometimes needed access to the storerooms beneath, and the librarians did not approve of sweating men tracking through their preserve. Nynaeve pulled up one of those, no bigger than the front door of a farmhouse, and motioned the others down a steep flight of stairs descending into darkness. When she let it down behind them, all light vanished.

Egwene opened herself to saidar—it came so smoothly that she barely realized what she was doing—and channeled a trickle of the Power that flooded through her. For a moment the mere feel of that rush surging within her threatened to overwhelm other sensations. A small ball of bluish-white light appeared, balanced in the air above her hand. She took a deep breath and reminded herself of why she was walking stiffly. It was a link to the rest of the world. The feel of her linen shift against her skin returned, of woolen stockings, and her dress. With a small pang of regret, she banished the desire to pull in more, to let saidar absorb her.

Elayne made a glowing sphere for herself at the same time, and the pair provided more light than two lanterns would have. “It feels so—wonderful, doesn’t it?” she murmured.

“Be careful,” Egwene said.

“I am.” Elayne sighed. “It just feels.... I will be careful.”

“This way,” Nynaeve told them sharply and brushed by to lead them down. She did not go too far ahead. She was not angry, and had to use the light the other two provided.

The dusty side corridor by which they had entered, lined with wooden doors set in gray stone walls, took nearly a hundred paces to reach the much wider main hall that ran the length of the library. Their lights showed footprints overlaying footprints in the dust, most from the large boots men would wear and most themselves faded by dust. The ceiling was higher here, and some of the doors nearly large enough for a barn. The main stairs at the end, half the width of the hall, were where large things were brought down. Another flight beside them led deeper. Nynaeve took it without a pause.

Egwene followed quickly. The bluish light washed out Elayne’s face, but Egwene thought it still looked paler than it should. We could scream our lungs out down here, and no one would hear a whimper.

She felt a lightning bolt form, or the potential for one, and nearly stumbled. She had never before channeled two flows at once; it did not seem difficult at all.

The main hall of the second basement was much like the first level, wide and dusty but with a lower ceiling. Nynaeve hurried to the third door on the right and stopped.

The door was not large, but its rough wooden planks somehow gave an impression of thickness. A round iron lock hung from a length of stout chain that was drawn tight through two thick staples, one in the door, the other cemented into the wall. Lock and chain alike had the look of newness; there was almost no dust on them.

“A lock!” Nynaeve jerked at it; the chain had no give, and neither did the lock. “Did either of you see a lock anywhere else?” She pulled it again, then flung it against the door hard enough to bounce. The bang echoed down the hall. “I did not see one other locked door!” She pounded a fist on the rough wood. “Not one!”

“Calm yourself,” Elayne said. “There is no need to throw a tantrum. I could open the lock myself, if I could see how the inside of it works. We will open it some way.”

“I do not want to calm myself,” Nynaeve snapped. “I want to be furious! I want... !”

Letting the rest of the tirade fade from her awareness, Egwene touched the chain. She had learned more things than how to make lightning bolts since leaving Tar Valon. One was an affinity for metal. That came from Earth, one of the Five Powers few women had much strength in—the other was Fire—but she had it, and she could feel the chain, feel inside the chain, feel the tiniest bits of the cold metal, the patterns they made. The Power within her quivered in time to the vibrations of those patterns.

“Move out of my way, Egwene.”

She looked around and saw Nynaeve wrapped in the glow of saidar and holding a prybar so close in color to the blue-white of the light that it was nearly invisible. Nynaeve frowned at the chain, muttered something about leverage, and the prybar was suddenly twice as long.

“Move, Egwene.”

Egwene moved.

Thrusting the end of the prybar through the chain, Nynaeve braced it, then heaved with all her strength. The chain snapped like thread, Nynaeve gasped and stumbled halfway across the hall in surprise, and the prybar clattered to the floor. Straightening, Nynaeve stared from the bar to the chain in amazement. The prybar vanished.

“I think I did something to the chain,” Egwene said. And I wish I knew what.

“You could have said something,” Nynaeve muttered. She pulled the rest of the chain from the staples and threw open the door. “Well? Are you going to stand there all day?”

The dusty room inside was perhaps ten paces square, but it held only a heap of large bags made of heavy brown cloth, each stuffed full, tagged, and sealed with the Flame of Tar Valon. Egwene did not have to count them to know there were thirteen.

She moved her ball of light to the wall and fastened it there; she was not certain how she did it, but when she took her hand away, the light remained. I keep learning how to do things without knowing what they are, she thought nervously.

Elayne frowned at her as if considering, then hung her light on the wall, too. Watching, Egwene thought she saw what it was she had done. She learned it from me, but I just learned it from her. She shivered.

Nynaeve went straight to tumbling the bags apart and reading the tags. “Rianna. Joiya Byir. These are what we are after.” She examined the seal on one bag, then broke the wax and unwound the binding cords. “At least we know no one’s been here before us.”

Egwene chose a bag and broke the seal without reading the name on the tag. She did not really want to know whose possessions she was searching. When she upended them onto the dusty floor, they proved to be mainly old clothes and shoes, with a few ripped and crumpled papers of the sort that might hide under the wardrobe of a woman who was not too assiduous in seeing her rooms cleaned. “I don’t see anything useful here. A cloak that would not do for rags. A torn half of a map of some city. Tear, it says in the corner. Three stockings that need darning.” She stuck her finger through the hole in a velvet slipper that had no mate and waggled it at the others. “This one left no clues behind.”

“Amico did not leave anything, either,” Elayne said glumly, tossing clothes aside with both hands. “It might as well be rags. Wait, here’s a book. Whoever bundled these up must have been in a hurry to toss in a book. Customs and Ceremonies of the Tairen Court. The cover is torn off, but the librarians will want it anyway.” The librarians certainly would. No one threw away books, no matter how badly damaged.

“Tear,” Nynaeve said in a flat voice. Kneeling amid the clutter from the bag she was searching, she retrieved a scrap of paper she had already thrown away. “A list of trading ships on the Erinin, with the dates they sailed from Tar Valon and the dates they were expected to arrive in Tear.”

“It could be coincidence,” Egwene said slowly.

“Perhaps,” Nynaeve said. She folded the paper and tucked it up her sleeve, then broke the seal on another bag.

When they finally finished, every bag searched twice and discarded rubbish heaped around the edges of the room, Egwene sat down on one of the empty bags, so engrossed that she barely noticed her own wince. Drawing up her knees, she studied the little collection they had made, all laid in a row.

“It is too much,” Elayne said. “There is too much of it.”

“Too much,” Nynaeve agreed.

There was a second book, a tattered, leather-bound volume entitled Observations on a Visit to Tear, with half its pages falling out. Caught in the lining of a badly torn cloak in Chesmal Emry’s bag, where it might have slipped through a rip in one of the pockets of the cloak, had been another list of trading vessels. It said no more than the names, but they were all on the other list, too, and according to that, those vessels all had sailed in the early morning after the night Liandrin and the others left the Tower. There was a hastily sketched plan of some large building, with one room faintly noted as “Heart of the Stone,” and a page with the names of five inns, the word “Tear” heading the page badly smudged but barely readable. There was....

“There’s something from everyone,” Egwene muttered. “Every one of them left something pointing to a journey to Tear. How could anyone miss seeing it, if they looked? Why did the Amyrlin say nothing of this?”

“The Amyrlin,” Nynaeve said bitterly, “keeps her own counsel, and what matter if we burn for it!” She drew a deep breath, and sneezed from the dust they had stirred up. “What worries me is that I am looking at bait.”

“Bait?” Egwene said. But she saw it as soon as she spoke.

Nynaeve nodded. “Bait. A trap. Or maybe a diversion. But trap or diversion, it’s so obvious no one could be taken in by it.”

“Unless they do not care whether whoever found this saw the trap or not.” Uncertainty tinged Elayne’s voice. “Or perhaps they meant it to be so obvious that whoever found it would dismiss Tear immediately.”

Egwene wished she could not believe that the Black Ajah could be as sure of themselves as that. She realized she was gripping her pouch in her fingers, running her thumb along the twisted curve of the stone ring inside. “Perhaps they meant to taunt whoever found it,” she said softly. “Perhaps they thought whoever found this would rush headlong after them, in anger and pride.” Did they know we would find it? Do they see us that way?

“Burn me!” Nynaeve growled. It was a shock; Nynaeve never used such language.

For a time they simply stared in silence at the array.

“What do we do now?” Elayne asked finally.

Egwene squeezed the ring hard. Dreaming was closely linked to Foretelling; the future, and events in other places, could appear in a Dreamer’s dreams. “Maybe we will know after tonight.”

Nynaeve looked at her, silent and expressionless, then chose out a dark skirt that seemed not to have too many holes and rips, and began bundling in it the things they had found. “For now,” she said, “we will take this back to my room and hide it. I think we just have time, if we don’t want to be late to the kitchens.”

Late, Egwene thought. The longer she held the ring through her pouch, the greater the urgency she felt. We’re already a step behind, but maybe we won’t be too late.


The room Egwene had been given, on the same gallery with Nynaeve and Elayne, was little different from Nynaeve’s. Her bed was a trifle wider, her table a little smaller. Her bit of rug had flowers instead of scrolls. That was all. After the novices’ quarters, it seemed like a room in a palace, but when the three of them gathered there late that night, Egwene wished she were back on the novice galleries, with no ring on her finger and no bands on her dress. The others looked as nervous as she felt.

They had worked in the kitchens for two more meals, and in between tried to puzzle out the meaning of what they had found in the storeroom. Was it a trap, or an attempt to divert the search? Did the Amyrlin know of the things, and if she did, why had she not mentioned them? Talking provided no answers, and the Amyrlin never appeared so they could ask her.

Verin had come into the kitchens after the midday meal, blinking as if she were not sure why she was there. When she saw Egwene and the other two on their knees among the cauldrons and kettles, she looked surprised for a moment, then walked over and asked, loud enough for anyone to hear, “Have you found anything?”

Elayne, with her head and shoulders inside a huge soup kettle, banged her head on the rim backing out. Her blue eyes seemed to take up her entire face.

“Nothing but grease and sweat, Aes Sedai,” Nynaeve said. The tug she gave her braid left a smear of greasy soap suds on her dark hair, and she grimaced.

Verin nodded as if that were the answer she had been seeking. “Well, keep looking.” She peered around the kitchen again, frowning as though puzzled to find herself there, and left.

Alanna came to the kitchens after midday, too, collecting a bowl of big green gooseberries and a pitcher of wine, and Elaida, then Sheriam, appeared after supper, and Anaiya, too.

Alanna had asked Egwene if she wanted to know more of the Green Ajah, inquired when they were going to get on with their studies. Just because the Accepted chose their own lessons and pace did not mean they were not supposed to do any at all. The first few weeks would be bad, of course, but they had to choose, or the choosing would be done for them.

Elaida merely stood for a time, stern-faced and staring at them, hands on her hips, and Sheriam did the same in almost the identical pose. Anaiya stood the same way, but her look was more concerned. Until she saw them glancing at her. Then her face became a match for Elaida’s and Sheriam’s before her.

None of those visits meant anything that Egwene could see. The Mistress of Novices certainly had reason to check on them, as well as on the novices working in the kitchens, and Elaida had reason to keep an eye on the Daughter-Heir of Andor. Egwene tried not to think of the Aes Sedai’s interest in Rand. As for Alanna, she was not the only Aes Sedai who came for a tray to take back to her rooms rather than eat with the others. Half the sisters in the Tower were too busy for meals, too busy to take the time to summon a servant to fetch a tray. And Anaiya... ? Anaiya could well be concerned for her Dreamer. Not that she would do anything to ease a punishment set by the Amyrlin Seat herself. That could have been Anaiya’s reason for coming. It could have been.

Hanging her dress in the wardrobe, Egwene told herself once again that even Verin’s slip could have been perfectly ordinary; the Brown sister was often absentminded. If it was a slip. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she pulled up her shift and began rolling down her stockings. She was almost beginning to dislike white as much as she did gray.

Nynaeve stood in front of the fireplace with Egwene’s pouch in one hand, tugging her braid. Elayne sat by the table, making nervous conversation.

“Green Ajah,” the golden-haired woman said for what Egwene thought must be the twentieth time since midday. “I might choose Green Ajah myself, Egwene. Then I can have three or four Warders, perhaps marry one of them. Who better for Prince Consort of Andor than a Warder? Unless it is....” She trailed off, blushing.

Egwene felt a pang of jealousy she thought she had put down long ago, and sympathy mixed with it. Light, how can I be jealous when I cannot look at Galad without shivering and feeling as if I am melting, both at the same time? Rand was mine, but no more. I wish I could give him to you, Elayne, but he is not for either of us, I think. It may be all well and good for the Daughter-Heir to marry a commoner, as long as he’s an Andorman, but not to marry the Dragon Reborn. She let the stockings fall on the floor, telling herself there were more important things to worry about tonight than neatness. “I am ready, Nynaeve.”

Nynaeve handed her the pouch, and a long, thin strip of leather. “Perhaps it will work for more than one at once. I could... go with you, perhaps.”

Emptying the stone ring onto her palm, Egwene threaded the leather strip through it, then tied it around her neck. The stripes and flecks of blue and brown and red seemed more vivid against the white of her shift. “And leave Elayne to watch over the both of us alone? When the Black Ajah may know us?”

“I can do it,” Elayne said stoutly. “Or let me go with you, and Nynaeve can keep guard. She is the strongest of us, when she’s angry, and if there is need for a guard, you can be sure she will be.”

Egwene shook her head. “What if it won’t work for two? What if two of us trying makes it not work at all? We would not even know till we woke up, and then we’ve wasted the night. We cannot waste even one if we are to catch up. We’re too far behind them already.” They were valid reasons, and she believed them, but there was another, closer to her heart. “Besides, I’ll feel better knowing both of you are watching over me, in case....”

She did not want to say it. In case someone came while she was asleep. The Gray Men. The Black Ajah. Any one of the things that had turned the White Tower from a place of safety to a dark woods full of pits and snares. Something coming in while she lay there helpless. Their faces showed they understood.

As she stretched herself out on the bed and plumped a feather pillow behind her head, Elayne moved the chairs, one to either side of the bed. Nynaeve snuffed the candles one by one, then, in the dark, sat in one of the chairs. Elayne took the other.

Egwene closed her eyes and tried to think sleepy thoughts, but she was too conscious of the thing lying between her breasts. Far more conscious than of any soreness remaining from her visit to Sheriam’s study. The ring seemed to weigh as much as a brick, now, and thoughts of home and quiet pools of water all slid apart with remembrance of it. Of Tel’aran’rhiod. The Unseen World. The World of Dreams. Waiting just the other side of sleep.

Nynaeve began to hum softly. Egwene recognized a nameless, wordless tune her mother used to hum to her when she was little. When she was lying in bed, in her own room, with a fluffy pillow, and warm blankets, and the mingled smells of rose oil and baking from her mother, and.... Rand, are you all right? Perrin? Who was she? Sleep came.

She stood among rolling hills quilted with wildflowers and dotted with small thickets of leafy trees in the hollows and on the crests. Butterflies floated above the blossoms, wings flashing yellow and blue and green, and two larks sang to each other nearby. Just enough fluffy white clouds drifted in a soft blue sky, and the breeze held that delicate balance between cool and warm that came only a few special days in spring. It was a day too perfect to be anything but a dream.

She looked at her dress, and laughed delightedly. Exactly her favorite shade of sky-blue silk, slashed with white in the skirt—that changed to green as she frowned momentarily—sewn with rows of tiny pearls down the sleeves and across the bosom. She stuck out a foot just to peek at the toe of a velvet slipper. The only jarring note was the twisted ring of multicolored stone hanging around her neck on a leather cord.

She took the ring in her hand and gasped. It felt as light as a feather. If she tossed it up, she was sure it would drift away like thistledown. Somehow, she did not feel afraid of it any longer. She tucked it inside the neck of her dress to get it out of the way.

“So this is Verin’s Tel’aran’rhiod,” she said. “Corianin Nedeal’s World of Dreams. It does not look dangerous to me.” But Verin had said it was. Black Ajah or not, Egwene did not see how any Aes Sedai could tell a lie right out. She could be mistaken. But she did not believe Verin was.

Just to see if she could, she opened herself to the One Power. Saidar filled her. Even here, it was present. She channeled the flow lightly, delicately, directed it into the breeze, swirling butterflies into fluttering spirals of color, into circles linked with circles.

Abruptly she let it go. The butterflies settled back, unconcerned by their brief adventure. Myrddraal and some other Shadowspawn could sense someone channeling. Looking around, she could not imagine such things in that place, but just because she could not imagine them did not mean they were not there. And the Black Ajah had all those ter’angreal studied by Corianin Nedeal. It was a sickening reminder of why she was there.

“At least I know I can channel,” she muttered. “I’m not learning anything standing here. Perhaps if I look around....” She took a step...

. . . and was standing in the dank, dark hallway of an inn. She was an innkeeper’s daughter; she was sure it was an inn. There was not a sound, and all the doors along the hall were shut tight. Just as she wondered who was behind the plain wooden door in front of her, it swung silently open.

The room within was bare, and cold wind moaned through open windows, stirring old ash on the hearth. A big dog lay curled up on the floor, shaggy tail across its nose, between the door and a thick pillar of rough-cut, black stone that stood in the middle of the floor. A large, shaggy-haired young man sat leaning back against the pillar in only his smallclothes, head lolling as if asleep. A massive black chain ran around the pillar and across his chest, the ends gripped in his clenched hands. Asleep or not, his heavy muscles strained to hold that chain tight, to prison himself against the pillar.

“Perrin?” she said wonderingly. She stepped into the room. “Perrin, what’s the matter with you? Perrin!” The dog uncurled itself and stood.

It was not a dog, but a wolf, all black and gray, lips curling back from glistening white teeth, yellow eyes regarding her as they might have a mouse. A mouse it meant to eat.

Egwene stepped back hastily into the hall in spite of herself. “Perrin! Wake up! There’s a wolf!” Verin had said what happened here was real, and showed the scar to prove it. The wolf’s teeth looked as big as knives. “Perrin, wake up! Tell it I’m a friend!” She embraced saidar. The wolf stalked nearer.

Perrin’s head came up; his eyes opened drowsily. Two sets of yellow eyes regarded her. The wolf gathered himself. “Hopper,” Perrin shouted, “no! Egwene!”

The door swung shut before her face, and total darkness enveloped her.

She could not see, but she felt sweat beading on her forehead. Not from heat. Light, where am I? I don’t like this place. I want to wake up!

A whirring sound, and she jumped before she recognized a cricket. A frog gave a bass croak in the darkness, and a chorus answered it. As her eyes adapted, she dimly made out trees all around her. Clouds blanketed the stars, and the moon was a thin sliver.

Off to her right through the woods was another glow, flickering. A campfire.

She considered a moment before moving. Wanting to wake up had not been enough to take her way from Tel’aran’rhiod, and she still had not found out anything useful. And she had not been hurt in any way. So far, she thought, shivering. But she had no idea who—or what—was at that campfire. It could be Myrddraal. Besides, I’m not dressed for running around in the forest. It was the last thought that decided her; she prided herself on knowing when she was being foolish.

Taking a deep breath, she gathered up her silken skirts and crept closer. She might not have Nynaeve’s skill at woodcraft, but she knew enough to avoid stepping on dead twigs. At last she peered carefully around the trunk of an old oak at the campfire.

The only one there was a tall young man, sitting and staring into the flames. Rand. Those flames did not burn wood. They did not burn anything that she could see. The fire danced above a bare patch of ground. She did not think they even scorched the soil.

Before she could move, Rand raised his head. She was surprised to see he was smoking a pipe, a thin ribbon of tabac smoke lifting from the bowl. He looked tired, so very tired.

“Who’s out there?” he demanded loudly. “You’ve rustled enough leaves to wake the dead, so you might as well show yourself.”

Egwene’s lips compressed, but she stepped out. I did not! “It’s me, Rand. Do not be afraid. It is a dream. I must be in your dreams.”

He was on his feet so suddenly that she stopped dead. He seemed in some way larger than she remembered. And a touch dangerous. Perhaps more than a touch. His blue-gray eyes seemed to burn like frozen fire.

“Do you think I don’t know it is a dream?” he sneered. “I know that makes it no less real.” He stared angrily out into the darkness as if looking for someone. “How long will you try?” he shouted at the night. “How many faces will you send? My mother, my father, now her! Pretty girls won’t tempt me with a kiss, not even one I know! I deny you, Father of Lies! I deny you!”

“Rand,” she said uncertainly. “It’s Egwene. I am Egwene.”

There was a sword in his hands, suddenly, out of nowhere. Its blade was worked out of a single flame, slightly curved and graven with a heron. “My mother gave me honeycake,” he said in a tight voice, “with the smell of poison rank on it. My father had a knife for my ribs. She—she offered kisses, and more.” Sweat slicked his face; his stare seemed enough to set her afire. “What do you bring?”

“You are going to listen to me, Rand al’Thor, if I have to sit on you.” She gathered saidar, channeled the flows to make the air hold him in a net.

The sword spun in his hands, roaring like an open furnace.

She grunted and staggered; it felt as if a rope stretched too tight had broken and snapped back into her.

Rand laughed. “I learn, you see. When it works....” He grimaced and started toward her. “I could stand any face but that one. Not her face, burn you!” The sword flashed out.

Egwene fled.

She was not sure what it was she did, or how, but she found herself back among the rolling hills under a sunny sky, with larks singing and butterflies playing. She drew a deep, shuddering breath.

I’ve learned.... What? That the Dark One is still after Rand? I knew that already. That maybe the Dark One wants to kill him? That’s different. Unless maybe he’s gone mad already, and does not know what he is saying. Light, why couldn’t I help him? Oh, Light, Rand!

She took another long breath to calm herself. “The only way to help him is to gentle him,” she muttered. “As well go ahead and kill him.” Her stomach twisted and knotted. “I’ll never do that. Never!”

A redbird had perched on a cloudberry bush nearby, crest lifting as it tilted its head to watch her cautiously. She addressed the bird. “Well, I am not helping anything standing here talking to myself, am I? Or talking to you, either.”

The redbird took wing as she stepped toward the bush. It was still a flash of crimson as she took the next step, vanished into a thicket as she took a third.

She stopped and fished the stone ring on its cord out of the front of her dress. Why was it not changing? Everything had changed so fast up till now that she could hardly catch her breath. Why not now? Unless there was some answer right here? She looked around uncertainly. The wildflowers taunted her, and the larksong mocked her. This place seemed too much of her own making.

Determined, she tightened her hand around the ter’angreal. “Take me where I need to be.” She shut her eyes and concentrated on the ring. It was stone, after all; Earth should give her some feeling for it. “Do it. Take me where I need to be.” Once again she embraced saidar, fed a trickle of the One Power into the ring. She knew it did not need any flow of Power directed at it to work, and she did not try to do anything to it. Only to give it more of the Power to use. “Take me to where I can find an answer. I need to know what the Black Ajah wants. Take me to the answer.”

“Well, you’ve found your way at last, child. All sorts of answers here.”

Egwene’s eyes snapped open. She stood in a great hall, its vast domed ceiling supported by a forest of massive redstone columns. And hanging in midair was a sword of crystal, gleaming and sparkling as it slowly revolved. She was not certain, but she thought it might be the sword Rand had been reaching for in that dream. That other dream. This all felt so real, she had to keep reminding herself it was a dream, too.

An old woman stepped out of the shadows of the column, bent and hobbling with a stick. Ugly did not begin to describe her. She had a bony, pointed chin, an even bonier, sharper nose, and it seemed there were more warts growing hairs on her face than there was face.

“Who are you?” Egwene said. The only people she had seen so far in Tel’aran’rhiod were those she already knew, but she did not think she could have forgotten this poor old woman.

“Just poor old Silvie, my Lady,” the old woman cackled. At the same time she managed a stoop that might have been meant for a curtsy, or possibly a cringe. “You know poor old Silvie, my Lady. Served your family faithfully all these years. Does this old face still frighten you? Don’t let it, my Lady. It serves me, when I need it, as good as a prettier.”

“Of course, it does,” Egwene said. “It’s a strong face. A good face.” She hoped the woman believed it. Whoever this Silvie was, she seemed to think she knew Egwene. Perhaps she knew answers, too. “Silvie, you said something about finding answers here.”

“Oh, you’ve come to the right place for answers, my Lady. The Heart of the Stone is full of answers. And secrets. The High Lords would not be pleased to see us here, my Lady. Oh, no. None but the High Lords enter here. And servants, of course.” She gave a sly, screeching laugh. “The High Lords don’t sweep and mop. But who sees a servant?”

“What kind of secrets?”

But Silvie was hobbling toward the crystal sword. “Plots,” she said as if to herself. “All of them pretending to serve the Great Lord, and all the while plotting and planning to regain what they lost. Each one thinking he or she is the only one plotting. Ishamael is a fool!”

“What?” Egwene said sharply. “What did you say about Ishamael?”

The old woman turned to present a crooked, ingratiating smile. “Just a thing poor folks say, my Lady. It turns the Forsaken’s power, calling them fools. Makes you feel good, and safe. Even the Shadow can’t take being called a fool. Try it, my Lady. Say, Ba’alzamon is a fool!”

Egwene’s lips twitched on the edge of a smile. “Ba’alzamon is a fool! You are right, Silvie.” It actually did feel good, laughing at the Dark One. The old woman chuckled. The sword revolved just beyond her shoulder. “Silvie, what is that?”

Callandor, my Lady. You know that, don’t you? The Sword That Cannot Be Touched.” Abruptly she swung her stick behind her; a foot from the sword, the stick stopped with a dull thwack and bounded back. Silvie grinned wider. “The Sword That Is Not a Sword, though there’s precious few knows what it is. But none can touch it save one. They saw to that, who put it here. The Dragon Reborn will hold Callandor one day, and prove to the world he’s the Dragon by doing it. The first proof, anyway. Lews Therin come back for all the world to see, and grovel before. Ah, the High Lords don’t like having it here. They like nothing to do with the Power. They’d rid themselves of it, if they could. If they could. I suppose there’s others would take it, if they could. What wouldn’t one of the Forsaken give, to hold Callandor?”

Egwene stared at the sparkling sword. If the Prophecies of the Dragon were true, if Rand was the Dragon as Moiraine claimed, he would wield it one day, though from the rest of what she knew of the Prophecies concerning Callandor, she could not see how it could ever come to be. But if there’s a way to take it, maybe the Black Ajah knows how. If they know it, I can figure it out.

Cautiously, she reached out with the Power, probing at whatever held and shielded the sword. Her probe touched—something—and stopped. She could sense which of the Five Powers had been used here. Air, and Fire, and Spirit. She could trace the intricate weave made by saidar, set with a strength that amazed her. There were gaps in that weave, spaces where her probe should slide through. When she tried, it was like fighting the strongest part of the weave head on. It hit her then, what she was trying to force a way through, and she let her probe vanish. Half that wall had been woven using saidar; the other half, the part she could not sense or touch, had been made with saidin. That was not it, exactly—the wall was all of one piece—but it was close enough. A stone wall stops a blind woman as surely as one who can see it.

Footsteps echoed in the distance. Boots.

Egwene could not tell how many there were, or from which direction they were coming, but Silvie gave a start and immediately stared off among the columns. “He’s coming to stare at it again,” she muttered. “Awake or asleep, he wants....” She seemed to remember Egwene, and put on a worried smile. “You must leave, now, my Lady. He mustn’t find you here, or even know you’ve been.”

Egwene was already backing in among the columns, and Silvie followed, flapping her hands and waving her stick. “I am going, Silvie. I just have to remember the way.” She fingered the stone ring. “Take me back to the hills.” Nothing happened. She channeled a hairlike flow to the ring. “Take me back to the hills.” The redstone columns still surrounded her. The boots were closer, close enough not to be swallowed in their own echoes anymore.

“You don’t know the way out,” Sylvie said flatly, then went on in a near whisper, ingratiating and mocking at once, an old retainer who felt she could take liberties. “Oh, my Lady, this is a dangerous place to come into, if you don’t know the way out. Come, let poor old Silvie take you out. Poor old Silvie will tuck you safe in your bed, my Lady.” She wrapped both arms around Egwene, urging her further from the sword. Not that Egwene needed much urging. The boots had stopped; he—whoever he was—was probably gazing at Callandor.

“Just show me the way,” Egwene whispered back. “Or tell me. There’s no need to push.” The old woman’s fingers had somehow gotten tangled around the stone ring. “Don’t touch that, Silvie.”

“Safe in your bed.”

Pain annihilated the world.

With a throat-wrenching shriek, Egwene sat up in the dark, sweat rolling down her face. For a moment she had no idea where she was, and did not care. “Oh, Light,” she moaned, “that hurt. Oh, Light, that hurt!” She ran her hands over herself, sure her skin must be scored or wealed to make such a burning, but she could not find a mark.

“We are here,” Nynaeve’s voice said from the darkness. “We’re here, Egwene.”

Egwene threw herself toward the voice and wrapped her arms around Nynaeve’s neck in sheer relief. “Oh, Light, I’m back. Light, I’m back.”

“Elayne,” Nynaeve said.

In a few moments one of the candles was giving a small light. Elayne paused with the candle in hand and the spill she had lit with flint and steel in the other. Then she smiled, and every candle in the room burst into flame. She stopped at the washstand and came back to the bed with a cool, damp cloth to wash Egwene’s face.

“Was it bad?” she asked worriedly. “You never stirred. You never mumbled. We did not know whether to wake you or not.”

Hurriedly, Egwene fumbled the leather cord from around her neck and hurled it and the stone ring across the room. “Next time,” she panted, “we decide on a time, and you wake me after it. Wake me if you have to stick my head in a basin of water!” She had not realized that she had decided there would be a next time. Would you put your head in a bear’s mouth just to show you weren’t afraid? Would you do it twice just because you’d done it once and didn’t die?

Yet it was more than a matter of proving to herself that she was not afraid. She was afraid, and knew it. But so long as the Black Ajah had those ter’angreal Corianin had studied, she would have to keep going back. She was sure the answer to why they wanted them lay in Tel’aran’rhiod. If she could find answers about the Black Ajah there—perhaps other answers, too, if half what she had been told about Dreaming were true—she had to go back. “But not tonight,” she said softly. “Not yet.”

“What happened?” Nynaeve asked. “What did you... dream?”

Egwene lay back on the bed and told them. Of it all, the only thing she left out was about Perrin talking to the wolf. She left the wolf out altogether. She felt a little guilty about keeping secrets from Elayne and Nynaeve, but it was Perrin’s secret to tell, when and if he chose, not hers. The rest she gave them word for word, describing everything. When she was done, she felt emptied.

“Aside from being tired,” Elayne said, “did he look hurt? Egwene, I cannot believe he would ever hurt you. I cannot believe he would.”

“Rand,” Nynaeve said dryly, “will have to look after himself awhile longer.” Elayne blushed; she looked pretty doing it. Egwene realized that Elayne looked pretty doing anything, even crying, or scrubbing pots. “Callandor,” Nynaeve continued. “The Heart of the Stone. That was marked on the plan. I think we know where the Black Ajah is.”

Elayne had regained her poise. “It does not change the trap,” she said. “If it is not a diversion, it is a trap.”

Nynaeve smiled grimly. “The best way to catch whoever set a trap is to spring it and wait for him to come. Or her, in this instance.”

“You mean go to Tear?” Egwene said, and Nynaeve nodded.

“The Amyrlin has cut us loose, it seems. We make our own decisions, remember? At least we know the Black Ajah is in Tear, and we know who to look for there. Here, all we can do is sit and stew in our own suspicions of everybody, wonder if there is another Gray Man out there. I would rather be the hound than the rabbit.”

“I have to write to my mother,” Elayne said. When she saw the looks they gave her, her voice became defensive. “I have already vanished once without her knowing where I was. If I do it again.... You do not know Mother’s temper. She could send Gareth Bryne and the whole army against Tar Valon. Or hunting after us.”

“You could stay here,” Egwene said.

“No. I will not let you two go alone. And I won’t stay here wondering if the sister teaching me is a Darkfriend, or if the next Gray Man will come after me.” She gave a small laugh. “I will not work in the kitchens while you two are off adventuring, either. I just have to tell my mother than I am out of the Tower on the Amyrlin’s orders, so she won’t become furious if she hears rumors. I do not have to tell her where we are going, or why.”

“You surely had better not,” Nynaeve said. “She very likely would come after you if she knew about the Black Ajah. For that matter, you can’t know how many hands your letter will pass through before it reaches her, or what eyes might read it. Best not to say anything you don’t mind anyone knowing.”

“That’s another thing.” Elayne sighed. “The Amyrlin does not know I am one of you. I have to find some way to send it with no chance of her seeing it.”

“I will have to think on that.” Nynaeve’s brows furrowed. “Perhaps once we’re on our way. You could leave it at Aringill on the way downriver, if we have time to find someone there going to Caemlyn. A sight of one of those papers the Amyrlin gave us might convince somebody. We will have to hope they work on ship captains, too, unless one of you has more coin than I have.” Elayne shook her head dolefully.

Egwene did not even bother. What money they had possessed had all gone on the journey from Toman Head, except for a few coppers each. “When....” She had to stop and clear her throat. “When do we leave? Tonight?”

Nynaeve looked as if she were considering it for a moment, but then she shook her head. “You need sleep, after....” Her gesture took in the stone ring lying where it had bounced off the wall. “We will give the Amyrlin one more chance to seek us out. When we finish with breakfast, you both pack what you want to take, but keep it light. We have to leave the Tower without anyone noticing, remember. If the Amyrlin doesn’t reach us by midday, I mean to be on a trading ship, shoving that paper down the captain’s throat if need be, before Prime sounds. How does that sound to you two?”