“Why, to see,” Loial said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I read the books, all the travelers' accounts, and it began to burn in me that I had to see, not just read.” His pale eyes brightened, and his ears stiffened. “I studied every scrap I could find about traveling, about the Ways, and customs in human lands, and the cities we built for you humans after the Breaking of the World. And the more I read, the more I knew that I had to go Outside, go to those places we had been, and see the groves for myself.”
Rand blinked. “Groves?”
“Yes, the groves. The trees. Only a few of the Great Trees, of course, towering to the sky to keep memories of the stedding fresh.” His chair groaned as he shifted forward, gesturing with his hands, one of which still held the book. His eyes were brighter than ever, and his ears almost quivered. “Mostly they used the trees of the land and the place. You cannot make the land go against itself. Not for long; the land will rebel. You must shape the vision to the land, not the land to the vision. In every grove was planted every tree that would grow and thrive in that place, each balanced against the next, each placed to complement the others, for the best growing, of course, but also so that the balance would sing in the eye and the heart. Ah, the books spoke of groves to make Elders weep and laugh at the same time, groves to remain green in memory forever.”
“What about the cities?” Rand asked. Loial gave him a puzzled look. “The cities. The cities the Ogier built. Here, for instance. Caemlyn. Ogier built Caemlyn, didn't you? The stories say so.”
“Working with stone...” His shoulders gave a massive shrug. “That was just something learned in the years after the Breaking, during the Exile, when we were still trying to find the stedding again. It is a fine thing, I suppose, but not the true thing. Try as you will — and I have read that the Ogier who built those cities truly did try — you cannot make stone live. A few still do work with stone, but only because you humans damage the buildings so often with your wars. There were a handful of Ogier in ... ah ... Cairhien, it's called now ... when I passed through. They were from another stedding, luckily, so they didn't know about me, but they were still suspicious that I was Outside alone so young. I suppose it's just as well there was no reason for me to linger there. In any case, you see, working with stone is just something that was thrust on us by the weaving of the Pattern; the groves came from the heart.”
Rand shook his head. Half the stories he had grown up with had just been stood on their heads. “I didn't know Ogier believed in the Pattern, Loial.”
“Of course, we believe. The Wheel of Time weaves the Pattern of the Ages, and lives are the threads it weaves. No one can tell how the thread of his own life will be woven into the Pattern, or how the thread of a people will be woven. It gave us the Breaking of the World, and the Exile, and Stone, and the Longing, and eventually it gave us back the stedding before we all died. Sometimes I think the reason you humans are the way you are is because your threads are so short. They must jump around in the weaving. Oh, there, I've done it again. The Elders say you humans don't like to be reminded of how short a time you live. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings.”
Rand laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. I suppose it'd be fun to live as long as you do, but I never really thought about it. I guess if I live as long as old Cenn Buie, that'll be long enough for anybody.”
“He is a very old man?”
Rand just nodded. He was not about to explain that old Cenn Buie was not quite as old as Loial.
“Well,” Loial said, “perhaps you humans do have short lives, but you do so much with them, always jumping around, always so hasty. And you have the whole world to do it in. We Ogier are bound to our stedding.”
“For a time, Rand. But I must go back, eventually. This world is yours, yours and your kind's. The stedding are mine. There's too much hurlyburly Outside. And so much is changed from what I read about.”
“Well, things do change over the years. Some, anyway.”
“Some? Half the cities I read about aren't even there any longer, and most of the rest are known by different names. You take Cairhien. The city's proper name is Al'cair'rahienallen, Hill of the Golden Dawn. They don't even remember, for all of the sunrise on their banners. And the grove there. I doubt if it has been tended since the Trolloc Wars. It's just another forest, now, where they cut firewood. The Great Trees are all gone, and no one remembers them. And here? Caemlyn is still Caemlyn, but they let the city grow right over the grove. We're not a quarter of a mile from the center of it right where we sit — from where the center of it should be. Not a tree of it left. I've been to Tear and Illian, too. Different names, and no memories. There's only pasture for their horses where the grove was at Tear, and at Illian the grove is the King's park, where he hunts his deer, and none allowed inside without his permission. It has all changed, Rand. I fear very much that I will find the same everywhere I go. All the groves gone, all the memories gone, all the dreams dead.”
“You can't give up, Loial. You can't ever give up. If you give up, you might as well be dead.” Rand sank back in his chair as far as he could go, his face turning red. He expected the Ogier to laugh at him, but Loial nodded gravely instead.
“Yes, that's the way of your kind, isn't it?” The Ogier's voice changed, as if he were quoting something. “Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder's eye on the Last Day.” Loial cocked his shaggy head expectantly, but Rand had no idea what it was he expected.
A minute went by with Loial waiting, then another, and his long eyebrows began to draw down in puzzlement. But he still waited, the silence growing uncomfortable for Rand.
“The Great Trees,” Rand said finally, just for something to break that silence. “Are they like Avendesora?”
Loial sat up sharply; his chair squealed and cracked so loudly Rand thought it was going to come apart. “You know better than that. You, of all people.”
“Me? How would I know?”
“Are you playing a joke on me? Sometimes you Aielmen think the oddest things are funny. ”
“What? I'm not an Aielman! I'm from the Two Rivers. I never even saw an Aielman!”
Loial shook his head, and the tufts on his ears drooped outward. “You see? Everything is changed, and half of what I know is useless. I hope I did not offend you. I'm sure your Two Rivers is a very fine place, wherever it is.”
“Somebody told me,” Rand said, “that it was once called Manetheren. I'd never heard it, but maybe you ... ”
The Ogier's ears had perked up happily. “Ah! Yes. Manetheren.” The tufts went down again. “There was a very fine grove there. Your pain sings in my heart, Rand al'Thor. We could not come in time.”
Loial bowed where he sat, and Rand bowed back. He suspected Loial would be hurt if he did not, would think he was rude at the least. He wondered if Loial thought he had the same sort of memories the Ogier seemed to. The corners of Loial's mouth and eyes were certainly turned down as if he were sharing the pain of Rand's loss, just as if the destruction of Manetheren were not something that happened two thousand years ago, near enough, something that Rand only knew about because of Moiraine's story.
After a time Loial sighed. “The Wheel turns,” he said, “and no one knows its turning. But you have come almost as far from your home as I have. A very considerable distance, as things are now. When the Ways were freely open, of course — but that is long past. Tell me, what brings you so far? Is there something you want to see, too?”
Rand opened his mouth to say that they had come to see the false Dragon — and he could not say it. Perhaps it was because Loial acted as if he were no older than Rand, ninety years old or no ninety years old. Maybe for an Ogier ninety years was not any older than he was. It had been a long time since he had been able to really talk to anyone about what was happening. Always the fear that they might be Darkfriends, or think he was. Mat was so drawn in on himself, feeding his fears on his own suspicions, that he was no good for talking. Rand found himself telling Loial about Winternight. Not a vague story about Darkfriends; the truth about Trollocs breaking in the door, and a Fade on the Quarry Road.
Part of him was horrified at what he was doing, but it was almost as if he were two people, one trying to hold his tongue while the other only felt the relief at being able to tell it all finally. The result was that he stumbled and stuttered and jumped around in the story. Shadar Logoth and losing his friends in the night, not knowing if they were alive or dead. The Fade in Whitebridge; and Thom dying so they could escape. The Fade in Baerlon. Darkfriends later, Howal Gode, and the boy who was afraid of them, and the woman who tried to kill Mat. The Halfman outside the Goose and Crown.
When he started babbling about dreams, even the part of him that wanted to talk felt the hackles rising on the back of his neck. He bit his tongue clamping his teeth shut. Breathing heavily through his nose, he watched the Ogier warily, hoping he thought he had meant nightmares. The Light knew it all sounded like a nightmare, or enough to give anyone nightmares. Maybe Loial would just think