“The Queen is wed to the land,” Thom said as brightly colored balls danced in a circle, “but the Dragon ... the Dragon is one with the land, and the land is one with the Dragon.”
Further back Rand saw a Fade coming, black cloak undisturbed by the wind, horse ghosting silently through the trees. Two severed heads hung at the Myrddraal's saddlebow, dripping blood that ran in darker streams down its mount's coalblack shoulder. Lan and Moiraine, faces distorted in grimaces of pain. The Fade pulled on a fistful of tethers as it rode. Each tether ran back to the bound wrists of one of those who ran behind the soundless hooves, their faces blank with despair. Mat and Perrin. And Egwene.
“Not her!” Rand shouted. “The Light blast you, it's me you want, not her!”
The Halfman gestured, and flames consumed Egwene, flesh crisping to ash, bone blacking and crumbling.
“The Dragon is one with the land,” Thom said, still juggling unconcernedly, “and the land is one with the Dragon.”
Rand screamed ... and opened his eyes.
The cart creaked along the Caemlyn Road, filled with night and the sweetness of longvanished hay and the faint smell of horse. A shape blacker than the night rested on his chest, and eyes blacker than death looked into his.
“You are mine,” the raven said, and the sharp beak stabbed into his eye. He screamed as it plucked his eyeball out of his head.
With a throatripping shriek, he sat up, clapping both hands to his face.
Early morning daylight bathed the cart. Dazed, he stared at his hands. No blood. No pain. The rest of the dream was already fading, but that ... Gingerly he felt his face and shuddered.
“At least ...” Mat yawned, cracking his jaws. “At least you got some sleep.” There was little sympathy in his bleary eyes. He was huddled under his cloak, with his blanketroll doubled up beneath his head. “He talked all bloody night. ”
“You all the way awake?” Bunt said from the driver's seat. “Gave me a start, you did, yelling like that. Well, we're there.” He swept a hand out in front of them in a grand gesture. “Caemlyn, the grandest city in the world.”
Rand twisted up to kneel behind the driver's seat. He could not help laughing with relief. “We made it, Mat! I told you we'd ...”
Words died in his mouth as his eyes fell on Caemlyn. After Baerlon, even more after the ruins of Shadar Logoth, he had thought he knew what a great city would look like, but this ... this was more than he would have believed.
Outside the great wall, buildings clustered as if every town he had passed through had been gathered and set down there, sidebyside and all pushed together. Inns thrust their upper stories above the tile roofs of houses, and squat warehouses, broad and windowless, shouldered against them all. Red brick and gray stone and plastered white, jumbled and mixed together, they spread as far as the eye could see. Baerlon could have vanished into it without being noticed, and Whitebridge swallowed up twenty times over with hardly a ripple.
And the wall itself. The sheer, fiftyfoot height of pale gray stone, streaked with silver and white, swept out in a great circle, curving to north and south till he wondered how far it must run. All along its length towers rose, round and standing high above the wall's own height, redandwhite banners whipping in the wind atop each one. From inside the wall other towers peeked out, slender towers even taller than those at the walls, and domes gleaming white and gold in the sun. A thousand stories had painted cities in his mind, the great cities of kings and queens, of thrones and powers and legends, and Caemlyn fit into those minddeep pictures as water fits into a jug.
The cart creaked down the wide road toward the city, toward towerflanked gates. The wagons of a merchants' train rolled out of those gates, under a vaulting archway in the stone that could have let a giant through, or ten giants abreast. Unwalled markets lined the road on both sides, roof tiles glistening red and purple, with stalls and pens in the spaces between. Calves bawled, cattle lowed, geese honked, chickens clucked, goats bleated, sheep baaed, and people bargained at the top of their lungs. A wall of noise funneled them toward the gates of Caemlyn.
“What did I tell you?” Bunt had to raise his voice to near a shout in order to be heard. “The grandest city in the world. Built by Ogier, you know. Least, the Inner City and the Palace were. It's that old, Caemlyn is. Caemlyn, where good Queen Morgase, the Light illumine her, makes the law and holds the peace for Andor. The greatest city on earth.”
Rand was ready to agree. His mouth hung open, and he wanted to put his hands over his ears to shut out the din. People crowded the road, as thick as folk in Emond's Field crowded the Green at Bel Tine. He remembered thinking there were too many people in Baerlon to be believed, and almost laughed. He looked at Mat and grinned. Mat did have his hands over his ears, and his shoulders were hunched up as if he wanted to cover them with those, too.
“How are we going to hide in this?” he demanded loudly when he saw Rand looking. “How can we tell who to trust with so many? So bloody many. Light, the noise!”
Rand looked at Bunt before answering. The farmer was caught up in staring at the city; with the noise, he might not have heard anyway. Still, Rand put his mouth close to Mat's ear. “How can they find us among so many? Can't you see it, you woolheaded idiot? We're safe, if you ever learn to watch your bloody tongue!” He flung out a hand to take in everything, the markets, the city walls still ahead. “Look at it, Mat! Anything could happen here. Anything! We might even find Moiraine waiting for us, and Egwene, and all the rest.”
“If they're alive. If you ask me, they're as dead as the gleeman.”
The grin faded from Rand's face, and he turned to watch the gates come nearer. Anything could happen in a city like Caemlyn. He held that thought stubbornly.
The horse could not move any faster, flap the reins as Bunt would; the closer to the gates they came, the thicker the crowd grew, jostling together shoulder to shoulder, pressing against the carts and wagons heading in. Rand was glad to see a good many were dusty young men afoot with little in the way of belongings. Whatever their ages, a lot of the crowd pushing toward the gates had a travelworn look, rickety carts and tired horses, clothes wrinkled from many nights of sleeping rough, dragging steps and weary eyes. But weary or not, those eyes were fixed on the gates as if getting inside the walls would strip away all their fatigue.
Half a dozen of the Queen's Guards stood at the gates, their clean redandwhite tabards and burnished plateandmail a sharp contrast to most of the people streaming under the stone arch. Backs rigid and heads straight, they eyed the incomers with disdainful wariness. It was plain they would just as soon have turned away most of those coming in. Aside from keeping a way clear for traffic leaving the city, though, and having a hard word with those who tried to push too fast, they did not hinder anyone.
“Keep your places. Don't push. Don't push, the Light blind you! There's room for everybody, the Light help us. Keep your places.”
Bunt's cart rolled past the gates with the slow tide of the throng, into Caemlyn.
The city rose on low hills, like steps climbing to a center. Another wall encircled that center, shining pure white and running over the hills. Inside that were even more towers and domes, white and gold and purple, their elevation atop the hills making them seem to look down on the rest of Caemlyn. Rand thought that must be the Inner City of which Bunt had spoken.
The Caemlyn Road itself changed as soon as it was inside the city, becoming a wide boulevard, split down the middle by broad strips of grass and trees. The grass was brown and the tree branches bare, but people hurried by as if they saw nothing unusual, laughing, talking, arguing, doing all the things that people do. Just as if they had no idea that there had been no spring yet this year and might be none. They did not see, Rand realized, could not or would not. Their eyes slid away from leafless branches, and they walked across the dead and dying grass without once looking down. What they did not see, they could ignore; what they did not see was not really there.
Gaping at the city and the people, Rand was taken by surprise when the cart turned down a side street, narrower than the boulevard, but still twice as wide as any street in Emond's Field. Bunt drew the horse to a halt and turned to look back at them hesitantly. The traffic was a bit lighter here; the crowd split around the cart without breaking stride.
“What you're hiding under your cloak, is it really what Holdwin says?”
Rand was in the act of tossing his saddlebags over his shoulder. He did not even twitch. “What do you mean?” His voice was steady, too. His stomach was a sour knot, but his voice was steady.
Mat stifled a yawn with one hand, but he shoved the other under his coat — clutching the dagger from Shadar Logoth, Rand knew — and his eyes had a hard, hunted look under the scarf around his head. Bunt avoided looking at Mat, as if he knew there was a weapon in that hidden hand.
“Don't mean nothing, I suppose. Look, now, if you heard I was coming to Caemlyn, you were there long enough to hear the rest. Was I after a reward, I'd have made some excuse to go in the Goose and Crown, speak to Holdwin. Only I don't much like Holdwin, and I don't like that friend of his, not at all. Seems like he wants you two more than he want