“I don't know what he wants,” Rand said. “We've never seen him before.” It might even be the truth; he could not tell one Fade from another.
“Uhhuh. Well, like I say, I don't know nothing, and I guess I don't want to. There's enough trouble around for everybody without I go looking for more.”
Mat was slow in gathering his things, and Rand was already in the street before he started climbing down. Rand waited impatiently. Mat turned stiffly from the cart, hugging bow and quiver and blanket roll to his chest, muttering under his breath. Heavy shadows darkened the undersides of his eyes.
Rand's stomach rumbled, and he grimaced. Hunger combined with a sour twisting in his gut made him afraid he was going to vomit. Mat was staring at him now, expectantly. Which way to go? What to do now?
Bunt leaned over and beckoned him closer. He went, hoping for advice about Caemlyn.
“I'd hide that ...” The old farmer paused and looked around warily. People pushed by on both sides of the cart, but except for a few passing curses about blocking the way, no one paid them any attention. “Stop wearing it,” he said, “hide it, sell it. Give it away. That's my advice. Thing like that's going to draw attention, and I guess you don't want any of that.”
Abruptly he straightened, clucking to his horse, and drove slowly on down the crowded street without another word or a backward glance. A wagon loaded with barrels rumbled toward them. Rand jumped out of the way, staggered, and when he looked again Bunt and his cart were lost to sight.
“What do we do now?” Mat demanded. He licked his lips, staring wideeyed at all the people pushing by and the buildings towering as much as six stories above the street. “We're in Caemlyn, but what do we do?” He had uncovered his ears, but his hands twitched as if he wanted to put them back. A hum lay on the city, the low, steady drone of hundreds of shops working, thousands of people talking. To Rand it was like being inside a giant beehive, constantly buzzing. “Even if they are here, Rand, how could we find them in all of this?”
“Moiraine will find us,” Rand said slowly. The immensity of the city was a weight on his shoulders; he wanted to get away, to hide from all the people and noise. The void eluded him despite Tam's teachings; his eyes drew the city into it. He concentrated instead on what was right around him, ignoring everything that lay beyond. Just looking at that one street, it almost seemed like Baerlon. Baerlon, the last place they had all thought they were safe. Nobody's safe anymore. Maybe they are all dead. What do you do then?
“They're alive! Egwene's alive!” he said fiercely. Several passersby looked at him oddly.
“Maybe,” Mat said. “Maybe. What if Moiraine doesn't find us? What if nobody does but the ... the ...” He shuddered, unable to say it.
“We'll think about that when it happens,” he told Mat firmly. “If it happens.” The worst meant seeking out Elaida, the Aes Sedai in the Palace. He would go on to Tar Valon, first. He did not know if Mat remembered what Thom had said about the Red Ajah — and the Black — but he surely did. His stomach twisted again. “Thom said to find an inn called The Queen's Blessing. We'll go there first.”
“How? We can't afford one meal between the two of us.”
“At least it's a place to start. Thom thought we could find help there.”
“I can't ... Rand, they're everywhere.” Mat dropped his eyes to the paving stones and seemed to shrink in on himself, trying to pull away from the people that were all around them. “Wherever we go, they're right behind us, or they're waiting for us. They'll be at The Queen's Blessing, too. I can't ... I ... Nothing's going to stop a Fade.”
Rand grabbed Mat's collar in a fist that he was trying hard to keep from trembling. He needed Mat. Maybe the others were alive — Light, please! — but right then and there, it was just Mat and him. The thought of going on alone... He swallowed hard, tasting bile.
He looked around quickly. No one seemed to have heard Mat mention the Fade; the crowd pressed past lost in its own worries. He put his face close to Mat's. “We've made it this far, haven't we?” he asked in a hoarse whisper. “They haven't caught us yet. We can make it all the way, if we just don't quit. I won't just quit and wait for them like a sheep for slaughter. I won't! Well? Are you going to stand here till you starve to death? Or until they come pick you up in a sack?”
He let go of Mat and turned away. His fingernails dug into his palms, but his hands still trembled. Suddenly Mat was walking alongside him, his eyes still down, and Rand let out a long breath.
“I'm sorry, Rand,” Mat mumbled.
“Forget it,” Rand said.
Mat barely looked up enough to keep from walking into people while the words poured out in a lifeless voice. “I can't stop thinking I'll never see home again. I want to go home. Laugh if you want; I don't care. What I wouldn't give to have my mother blessing me out for something right now. It's like weights on my brain; hot weights. Strangers all around, and no way to tell who to trust, if I can trust anybody. Light, the Two Rivers is so far away it might as well be on the other side of the world. We're alone, and we'll never get home. We're going to die, Rand.”
“Not yet, we won't,” Rand retorted. “Everybody dies. The Wheel turns. I'm not going to curl up and wait for it to happen, though.”
“You sound like Master al'Vere,” Mat grumbled, but his voice had a little spirit in it.
“Good,” Rand said. “Good.” Light, let the others be all right. Please don't let us be alone.
He began asking directions to The Queen's Blessing. The responses varied widely, a curse for all those who did not stay where they belonged or a shrug and a blank look being the most common. Some stalked on by with no more than a glance, if that.
A broadfaced man, nearly as big as Perrin, cocked his head and said, “The Queen's Blessing, eh? You country boys Queen's men?” He wore a white cockade on his widebrimmed hat, and a white armband on his long coat. “Well, you've come too late.”
He went off roaring with laughter, leaving Rand and Mat to stare at one another in puzzlement. Rand shrugged; there were plenty of odd folk in Caemlyn, people like he had never seen before.
Some of them stood out in the crowd, skins too dark or too pale, coats of strange cut or bright colors, hats with pointed peaks or long feathers. There were women with veils across their faces, women in stiff dresses as wide as the wearer was tall, women in dresses that left more skin bare than any tavernmaid he had seen. Occasionally a carriage, all vivid paint and gilt, squeezed through the thronged streets behind a four- or sixhorse team with plumes on their harness. Sedan chairs were everywhere, the polemen pushing along with never a care for who they shoved aside.
Rand saw one fight start that way, a brawling heap of men swinging their fists while a paleskinned man in a redstriped coat climbed out of the sedan chair lying on its side. Two roughly dressed men, who seemed to have been just passing by up till then, jumped on him before he was clear. The crowd that had stopped to watch began to turn ugly, muttering and shaking fists. Rand pulled at Mat's sleeve and hurried on. Mat needed no second urging. The roar of a small riot followed them down the street.
Several times men approached the two of them instead of the other way around. Their dusty clothes marked them as newcomers, and seemed to act like a magnet on some types. Furtive fellows who offered relics of Logain for sale with darting eyes and feet set to run. Rand calculated he was offered enough scraps of the false Dragon's cloak and fragments of his sword to make two swords and half a dozen cloaks. Mat's face brightened with interest, the first time at least, but Rand gave them all a curt no, and they took it with a bob of the head and a quick, “Light illumine the Queen, good master,” and vanished. Most of the shops had plates and cups painted with fanciful scenes purporting to show the false Dragon being displayed before the Queen in chains. And there were Whitecloaks in the streets. Each walked in an open space that moved with him, just as in Baerlon.
Staying unnoticed was something Rand thought about a great deal. He kept his cloak over his sword, but that would not be good enough for very long. Sooner or later someone would wonder what he was hiding. He would not — could not — take Bunt's advice to stop wearing it, not his link to Tam. To his father.
Many others among the throng wore swords, but none with the heronmark to pull the eye. All the Caemlyn men, though, and some of the strangers, had their swords wound in strips of cloth, sheath and hilt, red bound with white cord, or white bound with red. A hundred heronmarks could be hidden under those wrappings and no one would see. Besides, following local fashion would make them seem to fit in more.
A good many shops were fronted with tables displaying the cloth and cord, and Rand stopped at one. The red cloth was cheaper than the white, though he could see no difference apart from the color, so he bought that and the white cord to go with it, despite Mat's complaints about how little money they had left. The tightlipped shopkeeper eyed them up and down with a twist to his mouth while he took Rand's coppers, and cursed them when Rand asked for a place