“About what?” Mat asked at the same time that Rand said, “We're not interested.” They looked at each other, and Mat shrugged. “We're not interested,” he said.
Rand gulped the last of the milk and stuffed the heel of his half of the bread into his pocket. With their money almost gone, it might be their next meal.
How to leave the inn? If Paitr discovered that Mat was almost blind, he would tell others ... other Darkfriends. Once Rand had seen a wolf separate a crippled sheep from the flock; there were other wolves around, and he could neither leave the flock nor get a clear shot with his bow. As soon as the sheep was alone, bleating with terror, hobbling frantically on three legs, the one wolf chasing it became ten as if by magic. The memory of it turned his stomach. They could not stay there, either. Even if Paitr was telling the truth about being alone, how long would he stay that way?
“Time to go, Mat,” he said, and held his breath. As Mat started to stand, he pulled Paitr's eyes to himself by leaning forward and saying, “Leave us alone, Darkfriend. I won't tell you again. Leave—us—alone.”
Paitr swallowed hard and pressed back in his chair; there was no blood left in his face at all. It made Rand think of a Myrddraal.
By the time he looked back at Mat, Mat was on his feet, his awkwardness unseen. Rand hastily hung his own saddlebags and other bundles around him, trying to keep his cloak over the sword as he did. Maybe Paitr already knew about it; maybe Gode had told Ba'alzamon, and Ba'alzamon had told Paitr; but he did not think so. He thought Paitr had only the vaguest idea of what had happened in Four Kings. That was why he was so frightened.
The comparatively bright outline of the door helped Mat make a beeline for it, if not quickly, then not slow enough to seem unnatural, either. Rand followed closely, praying for him not to stumble. He was thankful Mat had a clear, straight path, with no tables or chairs in the way.
Behind him Paitr suddenly leaped to his feet. “Wait,” he said desperately. “You have to wait.”
“Leave us alone,” Rand said without looking back. They were almost to the door, and Mat had not put a foot wrong yet.
“Just listen to me,” Paitr said, and put his hand on Rand's shoulder to stop him.
Images spun in his head. The Trolloc, Narg, leaping at him in his own home. The Myrddraal threatening at the Stag and Lion in Baerlon. Halfmen everywhere, Fades chasing them to Shadar Logoth, coming for them in Whitebridge. Darkfriends everywhere. He whirled, his hand balling up. “I said, leave us alone!” His fist took Paitr flush on the nose.
The Darkfriend fell on his bottom and sat there on the floor staring at Rand. Blood trickled from his nose. “You won't get away,” he spat angrily. “No matter how strong you are, the Great Lord of the Dark is stronger. The Shadow will swallow you!”
There was a gasp from further into the common room, and the clatter of a broom handle hitting the floor. The old man with the broom had finally heard. He stood staring wideeyed at Paitr. The blood drained from his wrinkled face and his mouth worked, but no sound came out. Paitr stared back for an instant, then gave a wild curse and sprang to his feet, darting out of the inn and down the street as if starving wolves were at his heels. The old man shifted his attention to Rand and Mat, looking not a whit less frightened.
Rand hustled Mat out of the inn and out of the village as fast as he could, listening all the while for a hue and cry that never came but was no less loud in his ears for that.
“Blood and ashes,” Mat growled, “they're always there, always right on our heels. We'll never get away.”
“No they're not,” Rand said. “If Ba'alzamon knew we were here, do you think he'd have left it to that fellow? There'd have been another Gode, and twenty or thirty bullyboys. They're still hunting, but they won't know until Paitr tells them, and maybe he really is alone. He might have to go all the way to Four Kings, for all we know.”
“But he said — ”
“I don't care.” He was unsure which “he” Mat meant, but it changed nothing. “We're not going to lie down and let them take us.”
They got six rides, short ones, during the day. A farmer told them that a crazy old man at the inn in Market Sheran was claiming there were Darkfriends in the village. The farmer could hardly talk for laughing; he kept wiping tears off his cheeks. Darkfriends in Market Sheran! It was the best story he had heard since Ackley Farren got drunk and spent the night on the inn roof.
Another man, a roundfaced wagonwright with tools hanging from the sides of his cart and two wagon wheels in the back, told a different story. Twenty Darkfriends had held a gathering in Market Sheran. Men with twisted bodies, and the women worse, all dirty and in rags. They could make your knees grow weak and your stomach heave just by looking at you, and when they laughed, the filthy cackles rang in your ears for hours and your head felt as if it were splitting open. He had seen them himself, just at a distance, far enough off to be safe. If the Queen would not do something, then somebody ought to ask the Children of the Light for help. Somebody should do something.
It was a relief when the wagonwright let them down.
With the sun low behind them they walked into a small village, much like Market Sheran. The Caemlyn Road split the town neatly in two, but on both sides of the wide road stood rows of small brick houses with thatched roofs. Webs of vine covered the bricks, though only a few leaves hung on them. The village had one inn, a small place no bigger than the Winespring Inn, with a sign on a bracket out front, creaking back and forth in the wind. The Queen's Man.
Strange, to think of the Winespring Inn as small. Rand could remember when he thought it was about as big as a building could be. Anything bigger would be a palace. But he had seen a few things, now, and suddenly he realized that nothing would look the same to him when he got back home. If you ever do.
He hesitated in front of the inn, but even if prices at The Queen's Man were not as high as in Market Sheran, they could not afford a meal or a room, either one.
Mat saw where he was looking and patted the pocket where he kept Thom's colored balls. “I can see well enough, as long as I don't try to get too fancy.” His eyes had been getting better, though he still wore the scarf around his forehead, and had squinted whenever he looked at the sky during the day. When Rand said nothing, Mat went on. “There can't be Darkfriends at every inn between here and Caemlyn. Besides, I don't want to sleep under a bush if I can sleep in a bed.” He made no move toward the inn, though, just stood waiting for Rand.
After a moment Rand nodded. He felt as tired as he had at any time since leaving home. Just thinking of a night in the open made his bones ache. It's all catching up. All the running, all the looking over your shoulder.
“They can't be everywhere,” he agreed.
With the first step he took into the common room, he wondered if he had made a mistake. It was a clean place, but crowded. Every table was filled, and some men leaned against the walls because there was nowhere for them to sit. From the way the serving maids scurried between the tables with harried looks — and the landlord, too — it was a larger crowd than they were used to. Too many for this small village. It was easy to pick out the people who did not belong there. They were dressed no differently from the rest, but they kept their eyes on their food and drink. The locals watched the strangers as much as anything else.
A drone of conversation hung in the air, enough that the innkeeper took them into the kitchen when Rand made him understand that they needed to talk to him. The noise was almost as bad there, with the cook and his helpers banging pots and darting about.
The innkeeper mopped his face with a large handkerchief. “I suppose you're on your way to Caemlyn to see the false Dragon like every other fool in the Realm. Well, it's six to a room and two or three to a bed, and if that doesn't suit, I've nothing for you.”
Rand gave his spiel with a feeling of queasiness. With so many people on the road, every other one could be a Darkfriend, and there was no way to pick them out from the rest. Mat demonstrated his juggling — he kept it to three balls, and was careful even then — and Rand took out Thom's flute. After only a dozen notes of “The Old Black Bear,” the innkeeper nodded impatiently.
“You'll do. I need something to take those idiots' minds off this Logain. There's been three fights already over whether or not he's really the Dragon. Stow your things in the corner, and I'll go clear a space for you. If there's any room to. Fools. The world's full of fools who don't know enough to stay where they belong. That's what's causing all the trouble. People who won't stay where they belong.” Mopping his face again, he hurried out of the kitchen, muttering under his breath.
The cook and his helpers ignored Rand and Mat. Mat kept adjusting the scarf around his head, pushing it up, then blinking at the light and tugging it back down again. Rand wondered if he could see well enough to do anything more complicated than juggle three balls. As for himself...The queasiness in his stomach grew thicker. He dropped on a low stool, holding his head in his hands. The kitchen felt cold. He shivered. Steam filled the air; stoves and ovens crackled with heat. His shivers became stronger, his teeth chattering. He wrapped his arms around himself, but it did no good. His bones felt as if they were freezing. Dimly he was aware of Mat asking him something, shaking his shoulder, and of someone cursing and running out of the room. Then the innkeeper was there, with the cook frowning at his side, and Mat was arguing loudly with them both. He could not make out any of what they said; the words were a buzz in his ears, and he could