Suddenly Mat took his arm, pulling him to his feet. All of their things — saddlebags, blanketrolls, Thom's bundled cloak and instrument cases — hung from Mat's shoulders with his bow. The innkeeper was watching them, wiping his face anxiously. Weaving, more than half supported by Mat, Rand let his friend steer him toward the back door.
“Sssorry, Mmmat,” he managed. He could not stop his teeth from chattering. “Mmmust have ... bbeen tthe ... rain. Oone mmore night out ... wwon't hhurt ... I guess.” Twilight darkened the sky, spotted by a handful of stars.
“Not a bit of it,” Mat said. He was trying to sound cheerful, but Rand could hear the hidden worry. “He was scared the other folk would find out there was somebody sick in his inn. I told him if he kicked us out, I'd take you into the common room. That'd empty half his rooms in ten minutes. For all his talk about fools, he doesn't want that.”
“Here,” Mat said, pulling open the stable door with a loud creak of hinges.
It was darker inside than out, and the air smelled of hay and grain and horses, with a strong undersmell of manure. When Mat lowered him to the strawcovered floor, he folded over with his chest on his knees, still hugging himself and shaking from head to toe. All of his strength seemed to go for the shaking. He heard Mat stumble and curse and stumble again, then a clatter of metal. Suddenly light blossomed. Mat held up a battered old lantern.
If the inn was full, so was its stable. Every stall had a horse, some raising their heads and blinking at the light. Mat eyed the ladder to the hayloft, then looked at Rand, crouched on the floor, and shook his head.
“Never get you up there,” Mat muttered. Hanging the lantern on a nail, he scrambled up the ladder and began tossing down armloads of hay. Hurriedly climbing back down, he made a bed at the back of the stable and got Rand onto it. Mat covered him with both their cloaks, but Rand pushed them off almost immediately.
“Hot,” he murmured. Vaguely he knew that he had been cold only a moment before, but now he felt as if he were in an oven. He tugged at his collar, tossing his head. “Hot.” He felt Mat's hand on his forehead.
“I'll be right back,” Mat said, and disappeared.
He twisted fitfully on the hay, how long he was not sure, until Mat returned with a heaped plate in one hand, a pitcher in the other, and two white cups dangling from fingers by their handles.
“There's no Wisdom here,” he said, dropping to his knees beside Rand. He filled one of the cups and held it to Rand's mouth. Rand gulped the water down as if he had had nothing to drink in days; that was how he felt. “They don't even know what a Wisdom is. What they do have is somebody called Mother Brune, but she's off somewhere birthing a baby, and nobody knows when she'll be back. I did get some bread, and cheese, and sausage. Good Master Inlow will give us anything as long as we stay out of sight of his guests. Here, try some.”
Rand turned his head away from the food. The sight of it, the thought of it, made his stomach heave. After a minute Mat sighed and settled down to eat himself. Rand kept his eyes averted, and tried not to listen.
The chills came once more, and then the fever, to be replaced by the chills, and the fever again. Mat covered him when he shook, and fed him water when he complained of thirst. The night deepened, and the stable shifted in the flickering lantern light. Shadows took shape and moved on their own. Then he saw Ba'alzamon striding down the stable, eyes burning, a Myrddraal at either side with faces hidden in the depths of their black cowls.
Fingers scrabbling for his sword hilt, he tried to get to his feet, yelling, “Mat! Mat, they're here! Light, they're here!”
Mat jerked awake where he sat crosslegged against the wall. “What? Darkfriends? Where?”
Wavering on his knees, Rand pointed frantically down the stable... and gaped. Shadows stirred, and a horse stamped in its sleep. Nothing more. He fell back on the straw.
“There's nobody but us,” Mat said. “Here, let me take that.” He reached for Rand's sword belt, but Rand tightened his grip on the hilt.
“No. No. I have to keep it. He's my father. You understand? He's mmy ffather!” The shivering swept over him once more, but he clung to the sword as if to a lifeline. “Mmy ffather!” Mat gave up trying to take it and pulled the cloaks back over him.
There were other visitations in the night, while Mat dozed. Rand was never sure if they were really there or not. Sometimes he looked at Mat, with his head on his chest, wondering if he would see them, too, if he woke.
Egwene stepped out of the shadows, her hair in a long, dark braid as it had been in Emond's Field, her face pained and mournful. “Why did you leave us?” she asked. “We're dead because you left us.”
Rand shook his head weakly on the hay. “No, Egwene. I didn't want to leave you. Please.”
“We're all dead,” she said sadly, “and death is the kingdom of the Dark One. The Dark One has us, because you abandoned us.”
“No. I had no choice, Egwene. Please. Egwene, don't go. Come back, Egwene!”
But she turned into the shadows, and was shadow.
Moiraine's expression was serene, but her face was bloodless and pale. Her cloak might as well have been a shroud, and her voice was a lash. “That is right, Rand al'Thor. You have no choice. You must go to Tar Valon, or the Dark One will take you for his own. Eternity chained in the Shadow. Only Aes Sedai can save you, now. Only Aes Sedai.”
Thom grinned at him sardonically. The gleeman's clothes hung in charred rags that made him see the flashes of light as Thom wrestled with the Fade to give them time to run. The flesh under the rags was blackened and burned. “Trust Aes Sedai, boy, and you'll wish you were dead. Remember, the price of Aes Sedai help is always smaller than you can believe, always greater than you can imagine. And what Ajah will find you first, eh? Red? Maybe Black. Best to run, boy. Run.”
Lan's stare was as hard as granite, and blood covered his face. “Strange to see a heronmark blade in the hands of a sheepherder. Are you worthy of it? You had better be. You're alone, now. Nothing to hold to behind you, and nothing before, and anyone can be a Darkfriend.” He smiled a wolf's smile, and blood poured out of his mouth. “Anyone.”
Perrin came, accusing, pleading for help. Mistress al'Vere, weeping for her daughter, and Bayle Domon, cursing him for bringing Fades down on his vessel, and Master Fitch, wringing his hands over the ashes of his inn, and Min, screaming in a Trolloc's clutches, people he knew, people he had only met. But the worst was Tam. Tam stood over him, frowning and shaking his head, and said not a word.
“You have to tell me,” Rand begged him. “Who am I? Tell me, please. Who am I? Who am I?” he shouted.
“Easy, Rand. ”
For a moment he thought it was Tam answering, but then he saw that Tam was gone. Mat bent over him, holding a cup of water to his lips.
“Just rest easy. You're Rand al'Thor, that's who you are, with the ugliest face and the thickest head in the Two Rivers. Hey, you're sweating! The fever's broken. ”
“Rand al'Thor?” Rand whispered. Mat nodded, and there was something so comforting in it that Rand drifted off to sleep without even touching the water.
It was a sleep untroubled by dreams — at least by any he remembered — but light enough that his eyes drifted open whenever Mat checked on him. Once he wondered if Mat was getting any sleep at all, but he fell back asleep himself before the thought got very far.
The squeal of the door hinges roused him fully, but for a moment he only lay there in the hay wishing he was still asleep. Asleep he would not be aware of his body. His muscles ached like wrungout rags, and had about as much strength. Weakly he tried to raise his head; he made it on the second try.
Mat sat in his accustomed place against the wall, within arm's reach of Rand. His chin rested on his chest, which rose and fell in the easy rhythm of deep sleep. The scarf had slipped down over his eyes.
Rand looked toward the door.A woman stood there holding it open with one hand. For a moment she was only a dark shape in a dress, outlined by the faint light of early morning, then she stepped inside, letting the door swing shut behind her. In the lantern light he could see her more clearly. She was about the same age as Nynaeve, he thought, but she was no village woman. The pale green silk of her dress shimmered as she moved. Her cloak was a rich, soft gray, and a frothy net of lace caught up her hair. She fingered a heavy gold necklace as she looked thoughtfully at Mat and him.
“Mat,” Rand said, then louder, “Mat!”
Mat snorted and almost fell over as he came awake. Scrubbing sleep from his eyes, he stared at the woman.
“I came to look at my horse,” she said, gesturing vaguely at the stalls. She never took her eyes away from the two of them, though. “Are you ill?”
“He's all right,” Mat said stiffly. “He just caught a chill in the rain, that's all. ”
“Perhaps I should look at him. I have some knowledge ...”
Rand wondered if she were Aes Sedai. Even more than her clothes, her selfassured manner, the way she held her head as if on the point of giving a command, did not belong here. And if she i