“Do you know what it is?” Nynaeve asked reluctantly, then hesitated. “Can you do something for him? Your Healing?” The request for aid, the admission that she could do nothing, came out of her as if dragged.
Perrin glared at both the women. “If you're going to talk about me, talk to me. I'm sitting right here. ” Neither looked at him.
“Healing?” Moiraine smiled. “Healing can do nothing about this. It is not an illness, and it will not ...” She hesitated briefly. She did glance at Perrin, then, a quick look that regretted many things. The look did not include him, though, and he muttered sourly as she turned back to Nynaeve. “I was going to say it will not harm him, but who can say what the end will be? At least I can say it will not harm him directly.”
Nynaeve stood, dusting off her knees, and confronted the Aes Sedai eye to eye. “That's not good enough. If there's something wrong with —”
“What is, is. What is woven already is past changing.” Moiraine turned away abruptly. “We must sleep while we can and leave at first light. If the Dark One's hand grows too strong ... We must reach Caemlyn quickly.”
Angrily, Nynaeve snatched up her bag and stalked off before Perrin could speak. He started to growl an oath, but a thought hit him like a blow and he sat there gaping silently. Moiraine knew. The Aes Sedai knew about the wolves. And she thought it could be the Dark One's doing. A shiver ran through him. Hastily he shrugged back into his shirt, tucking it in awkwardly, and pulled his coat and cloak back on. The clothing did not help very much; he felt chilled right down to his bones, his marrow like frozen jelly.
Lan dropped to the ground crosslegged, tossing back his cloak. Perrin was glad of that. It was unpleasant, looking at the Warder and having his eyes slide past.
For a long moment they simply stared at one another. The hard planes of the Warder's face were unreadable, but in his eyes Perrin thought he saw something. Sympathy? Curiosity? Both?
“You know?” he said, and Lan nodded.
“I know some, not all. Did it just come to you, or did you meet a guide, an intermediary?”
“There was a man,” Perrin said slowly. He knows, but does he think the same as Moiraine? “He said his name was Elyas. Elyas Machera.” Lan drew a deep breath, and Perrin looked at him sharply. “You know him?”
“I knew him. He taught me much, about the Blight, and about this.” Lan touched his sword hilt. “He was a Warder, before ... before what happened. The Red Ajah ...” He glanced to where Moiraine was, lying before the fire.
It was the first time Perrin could remember any uncertainty in the Warder. At Shadar Logoth Lan had been sure and strong, and when he was facing Fades and Trollocs. He was not afraid now — Perrin was convinced of that — but he was wary, as if he might say too much. As if what he said could be dangerous.
“I've heard of the Red Ajah,” he told Lan.
“And most of what you've heard is wrong, no doubt. You must understand, there are ... factions within Tar Valon. Some would fight the Dark One one way, some another. The goal is the same, but the differences ... the differences can mean lives changed, or ended. The lives of men or nations. He is well, Elyas?”
“I think so. The Whitecloaks said they killed him, but Dapple — ” Perrin glanced at the Warder uncomfortably. “I don't know.” Lan seemed to accept that he did not, reluctantly, and it emboldened him to go on. “This communicating with the wolves. Moiraine seems to think it's something the ... something the Dark One did. It isn't, is it?” He would not believe Elyas was a Darkfriend.
But Lan hesitated, and sweat started on Perrin's face, chill beads made colder by the night. They were sliding down his cheeks by the time the Warder spoke.
“Not in itself, no. Some believe it is, but they are wrong; it was old and lost long before the Dark One was found. But what of the chance involved, blacksmith? Sometimes the Pattern has a randomness to it — to our eyes, at least — but what chance that you should meet a man who could guide you in this thing, and you one who could follow the guiding? The Pattern is forming a Great Web, what some call the Lace of Ages, and you lads are central to it. I don't think there is much chance left in your lives, now. Have you been chosen out, then? And if so, by the Light, or by the Shadow?”
“The Dark One can't touch us unless we name him.” Immediately Perrin thought of the dreams of Ba'alzamon, the dreams that were more than dreams. He scrubbed the sweat off his face. “He can't.”
“Rockhard stubborn,” the Warder mused. “Maybe stubborn enough to save yourself, in the end. Remember the times we live in, blacksmith. Remember what Moiraine Sedai told you. In these times many things are dissolving, and breaking apart. Old barriers weaken, old walls crumble. The barriers between what is and what was, between what is and what will be.” His voice turned grim. “The walls of the Dark One's prison. This may be the end of an Age. We may see a new Age born before we die. Or perhaps it is the end of Ages, the end of time itself. The end of the world.” Suddenly he grinned, but his grin was as dark as a scowl; his eyes sparkled merrily, laughing at the foot of the gallows. “But that's not for us to worry about, eh, blacksmith? We'll fight the Shadow as long as we have breath, and if it overruns us, we'll go under biting and clawing. You Two Rivers folk are too stubborn to surrender. Don't you worry whether the Dark One has stirred in your life. You are back among friends, now. Remember, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and even the Dark One cannot change that, not with Moiraine to watch over you. But we had better find your friends soon.”
“What do you mean?”
“They have no Aes Sedai touching the True Source to protect them. Blacksmith, perhaps the walls have weakened enough for the Dark One himself to touch events. Not with a free hand, or we'd be done already, but maybe tiny shiftings in the threads. A chance turning of one corner instead of another, a chance meeting, a chance word, or what seems like chance, and they could be so far under the Shadow not even Moiraine could bring them back.”
“We have to find them,” Perrin said, and the Warder gave a grunt of a laugh.
“What have I been saying? Get some sleep, blacksmith.” Lan's cloak swung back around him as he stood. In the faint light from fire and moon he seemed almost part of the shadows beyond. “We have a hard few days to Caemlyn. Just you pray we find them there.”
“But Moiraine ... she can find them anywhere, can't she? She says she can.”
“But can she find them in time? If the Dark One is strong enough to take a hand himself, time is running out. You pray we find them in Caemlyn, blacksmith, or we may all be lost.”
Weaving of the Web
Rand looked down on the crowds from the high window of his room in The Queen's Blessing. They ran shouting along the street, all streaming in the same direction, waving pennants and banners, the white lion standing guard on a thousand fields of red. Caemlyners and outlanders, they ran together, and for a change no one appeared to want to bash anyone else's head. Today, maybe, there was only one faction.
He turned from the window grinning. Next to the day when Egwene and Perrin walked in, alive and laughing over what they had seen, this was the day he had been waiting for most.
“Are you coming?” he asked again.
Mat glowered from where he lay curled up in a ball on his bed. “Take that Trolloc you're so friendly with.”
“Blood and ashes, Mat, he's not a Trolloc. You're just being stubborn stupid. How many times do you want to have this argument? Light, it's not as if you'd never heard of Ogier before.”
“I never heard they looked like Trollocs.” Mat pushed his face into his pillow and curled himself tighter.
“Stubborn stupid,” Rand muttered. “How long are you going to hide up here? I'm not going to keep bringing you your meals up all those stairs forever. You could do with a bath, too.” Mat shrugged around on the bed as if he were trying to burrow deeper into it. Rand sighed, then went to the door. “Last chance to go together, Mat. I'm leaving now.” He closed the door slowly, hoping that Mat would change his mind, but his friend did not stir. The door clicked shut.
In the hallway, he leaned against the doorframe. Master Gill said there was an old woman two streets over, Mother Grubb, who sold herbs and poultices, besides birthing babies, tending the sick, and telling fortunes. She sounded a little like a Wisdom. Nynaeve was who Mat needed, or maybe Moiraine, but Mother Grubb was who he had. Bringing her to The Queen's Blessing might bring the wrong kind of attention as well, though, if she would even come. For her as well as for Mat and him.
Herbalists and hedgedoctors were lying low in Caemlyn right now; there was talk against anyone who did any kind of healing, or fortunetelling. Every night the Dragon's Fang was scrawled on doors with a free hand, sometimes even in the daylight, and people might forget who had cured their fevers and poulticed their toothaches when the cry of Darkfriend went up. That was the temper in the city.
It was not as if Mat were really sick. He ate everything Rand carried up from the kitchen — he would take nothing from anyone else's hand, though — and never complained about aches or fever. He just refused to leave the room. But Rand had been sure