“Ta'veren,” Loial said.

Rand blinked. “What?”


“Ta'veren.” Loial rubbed behind a pointed ear with one blunt finger and gave a little shrug. “Elder Haman always said I never listened, but sometimes I did. Sometimes, I listened. You know how the Pattern is woven, of course?”

“I never really thought about it,” he said slowly. “It just is.”

“Um, yes, well. Not exactly. You see, the Wheel of Time weaves the Pattern of the Ages, and the threads it uses are lives. It is not fixed, the Pattern, not always. If a man tries to change the direction of his life and the Pattern has room for it, the Wheel just weaves on and takes it in. There is always room for small changes, but sometimes the Pattern simply won't accept a big change, no matter how hard you try. You understand?”

Rand nodded. “I could live on the farm or in Emond's Field, and that would be a small change. If I wanted to be a king, though ...” He laughed, and Loial gave a grin that almost split his face in two. His teeth were white, and as broad as chisels.

“Yes, that's it. But sometimes the change chooses you, or the Wheel chooses it for you. And sometimes the Wheel bends a lifethread, or several threads, in such a way that all the surrounding threads are forced to swirl around it, and those force other threads, and those still others, and on and on. That first bending to make the Web, that is ta'veren, and there is nothing you can do to change it, not until the Pattern itself changes. The Web — ta'maral'ailen, it's called — can last for weeks, or for years. It can take in a town, or even the whole Pattern. Artur Hawkwing was ta'veren. So was Lews Therin Kinslayer, for that matter, I suppose.” He let out a booming chuckle. “Elder Haman would be proud of me. He always droned on, and the books about traveling were much more interesting, but I did listen sometimes.”

“That's all very well,” Rand said, “but I don't see what it has to do with me. I'm a shepherd, not another Artur Hawkwing. And neither is Mat, or Perrin. It's just ... ridiculous.”

“I didn't say you were, but I could almost feel the Pattern swirl just listening to you tell your tale, and I have no Talent there. You are ta'veren, all right. You, and maybe your friends, too.” The Ogier paused, rubbing the bridge of his broad nose thoughtfully. Finally he nodded to himself as if he had reached a decision. “I wish to travel with you, Rand.”

For a minute Rand stared, wondering if he had heard correctly. “With me?” he exclaimed when he could speak. “Didn't you hear what I said about ... ?” He eyed the door suddenly. It was shut tight, and thick enough that anyone trying to listen on the other side would hear only a murmur, even with his ear pressed against the wooden panels. Just the same he went on in a lower voice. “About who's chasing me? Anyway, I thought you wanted to go see your trees.”

“There is a very fine grove at Tar Valon, and I have been told the Aes Sedai keep it well tended. Besides, it is not just the groves I want to see. Perhaps you are not another Artur Hawkwing, but for a time, at least, part of the world will shape itself around you, perhaps is even now shaping itself around you. Even Elder Haman would want to see that.”

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Rand hesitated. It would be good to have someone else along. The way Mat was behaving, being with him was almost like being alone. The Ogier was a comforting presence. Maybe he was young as Ogier reckoned age, but he seemed as unflappable as a rock, just like Tam. And Loial had been all of those places, and knew about others. He looked at the Ogier, sitting there with his broad face a picture of patience. Sitting there, and taller sitting than most men standing. How do you hide somebody almost ten feet tall? He sighed and shook his head.

“I don't think that is a good idea, Loial. Even if Moiraine finds us here, we'll be in danger all the way to Tar Valon. If she does not ...” If she doesn't, then she's dead and so is everyone else. Oh, Egwene. He gave himself a shake. Egwene was not dead, and Moiraine would find them.

Loial looked at him sympathetically and touched his shoulder. “I am sure your friends are well, Rand.”

Rand nodded his thanks. His throat was too tight to speak.

“Will you at least talk with me sometimes?” Loial sighed, a bass rumble. “And perhaps play a game of stones? I have not had anyone to talk to in days, except good Master Gill, and he is busy most of the time. The cook seems to run him unmercifully. Perhaps she really owns the inn?”

“Of course, I will.” His voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat and tried to grin. “And if we meet in Tar Valon, you can show me the grove there.” They have to be all right. Light send they're all right.

Chapter 37

The Long Chase

Nynaeve gripped the reins of the three horses and peered into the night as if she could somehow pierce the darkness and find the Aes Sedai and the Warder. Skeletal trees surrounded her, stark and black in the dim moonlight. The trees and the night made an effective screen for whatever Moiraine and Lan were doing, not that either of them had paused to let her know what that was. A low “Keep the horses quiet,” from Lan, and they were gone, leaving her standing like a stableboy. She glanced at the horses and sighed with exasperation.

Mandarb blended into the night almost as well as his master's cloak. The only reason the battletrained stallion was letting her get this close was because Lan had handed her the reins himself. He seemed calm enough now, but she remembered all too well the lips drawing back silently when she reached for his bridle without waiting for Lan's approval. The silence had made the bared teeth seem that much more dangerous. With a last wary look at the stallion, she turned to peer in the direction the other two had gone, idly stroking her own horse. She gave a startled jump when Aldieb pushed a pale muzzle under her hand, but after a minute she gave the white mare a pat, too.

“No need to take it out on you, I suppose,” she whispered, “just because your mistress is a coldfaced — ” She strained at the darkness again. What were they doing?

After leaving Whitebridge they had ridden through villages that seemed unreal in their normality, ordinary market villages that seemed to Nynaeve unconnected to a world that had Fades and Trollocs and Aes Sedai. They had followed the Caemlyn Road, until at last Moiraine sat forward in Aldieb's saddle, peering eastward as if she could see the whole length of the great highway, all the many miles to Caemlyn, and see, too, what waited there.

Eventually the Aes Sedai let out a long breath and settled back. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” she murmured, “but I cannot believe it weaves an end to hope. I must first take care of that of which I can be certain. It will be as the Wheel weaves.” And she turned her mare north, off the road into the forest. One of the boys was in that direction with the coin Moiraine had given him. Lan followed.

Nynaeve gave a long last look at the Caemlyn Road. Few people shared the roadway with them there, a couple of highwheeled carts and one empty wagon in the distance, a handful of folk afoot with their belongings on their backs or piled on pushcarts. Some of those were willing to admit they were on their way to Caemlyn to see the false Dragon, but most denied it vehemently, especially those who had come through Whitebridge. At Whitebridge she had begun to believe Moiraine. Somewhat. More, at any rate. And there was no comfort in that.

The Warder and the Aes Sedai were almost out of sight through the trees before she started after them. She hurried to catch up. Lan looked back at her frequently, and waved for her to come on, but he kept at Moiraine's shoulder, and the Aes Sedai had her eyes fixed ahead.

One evening after they left the road, the invisible trail failed. Moiraine, the unflappable Moiraine, suddenly stood up beside the small fire where the tea kettle was boiling, her eyes widening. “It is gone,” she whispered at the night.“He is ... ?” Nynaeve could not finish the question. Light, I don't even know which one it is!

“He did not die,” the Aes Sedai said slowly, “but he no longer has the token.” She sat down, her voice level and her hands steady as she took the kettle off the flames and tossed in a handful of tea. “In the morning we will keep on as we've been going. When I get close enough, I can find him without the coin.”

As the fire burned down to coals, Lan rolled himself in his cloak and went to sleep. Nynaeve could not sleep. She watched the Aes Sedai. Moiraine had her eyes closed, but she sat upright, and Nynaeve knew she was awake.

Long after the last glow had faded from the coals, Moiraine opened her eyes and looked at her. She could feel the Aes Sedai's smile even in the dark. “He has regained the coin, Wisdom. All will be well.” She lay down on her blankets with a sigh and almost at once was breathing deep in slumber.

Nynaeve had a hard time joining her, tired as she was. Her mind conjured up the worst no matter how she tried to stop it. All will be well. After Whitebridge, she could no longer make herself believe that so easily.

Abruptly Nynaeve was jerked from memory back to the night; there really was a hand on her arm. Stifling the cry that rose in her throat, she fumbled for the knife at her belt, her hand closing on the hilt before she realized th

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