Other contingents followed behind the wagons, with banners representing more who had fought and defeated the false Dragon. The Golden Bees of Illian, the three White Crescents of Tear, the Rising Sun of Cairhien, others, many others, of nations and of cities, and of great men with their own trumpets, their own drums to thunder their grandeur. It was anticlimactic after Logain.
Rand leaned out a bit further to try to catch one last sight of the caged man. He was defeated, wasn't he? Light, he wouldn't be in a bloody cage if he wasn't defeated.
Overbalanced, he slipped and grabbed at the top of the wall, pulled himself back to a somewhat safer seat. With Logain gone, he became aware of the burning in his hands, where the stone had scraped his palms and fingers. Yet he could not shake free of the images. The cage and the Aes Sedai. Logain, undefeated. No matter the cage, that had not been a defeated man. He shivered and rubbed his stinging hands on his thighs.
“Why were the Aes Sedai watching him?” he wondered aloud.
“They're keeping him from touching the True Source, silly.”
He jerked to look up, toward the girl's voice, and suddenly his precarious seat was gone. He had only time to realize that he was toppling backward, falling, when something struck his head and a laughing Logain chased him into spinning darkness.
The Web Tightens
It seemed to Rand that he was sitting at table with Logain and Moiraine. The Aes Sedai and the false Dragon sat watching him silently, as if neither knew the other was there. Abruptly he realized the walls of the room were becoming indistinct, fading off into gray. A sense of urgency built in him. Everything was going, blurring away. When he looked back to the table, Moiraine and Logain had vanished, and Ba'alzamon sat there instead. Rand's whole body vibrated with urgency; it hummed inside his head, louder and louder. The hum became the pounding of blood in his ears.
With a jerk he sat up, and immediately groaned and clutched his head, swaying. His whole skull hurt; his left hand found sticky dampness in his hair. He was sitting on the ground, on green grass. That troubled him, vaguely, but his head spun and everything he looked at lurched, and all he could think of was lying down until it stopped.
The wall! The girl's voice!
Steadying himself with one hand flat on the grass, he looked around slowly. He had to do it slowly; when he tried to turn his head quickly everything started whirling again. He was in a garden, or a park; a slatepaved walk meandered by through flowering bushes not six feet away, with a white stone bench beside it and a leafy arbor over the bench for shade. He had fallen inside the wall. And the girl?
He found the tree, close behind his back, and found her, too — climbing down out of it. She reached the ground and turned to face him, and he blinked and groaned again. A deep blue velvet cloak lined with pale fur rested on her shoulders, its hood hanging down behind to her waist with a cluster of silver bells at the peak. They jingled when she moved. A silver filigree circlet held her long, redgold curls, and delicate silver rings hung at her ears, while a necklace of heavy silver links and dark green stones he thought were emeralds lay around her throat. Her pale blue dress was smudged with bark stains from her tree climbing, but it was still silk, and embroidered with painstakingly intricate designs, the skirt slashed with inserts the color of rich cream. A wide belt of woven silver encircled her waist, and velvet slippers peeked from under the hem of her dress.
He had only ever seen two women dressed in this fashion, Moiraine and the Darkfriend who had tried to kill Mat and him. He could not begin to imagine who would choose to climb trees in clothes like that, but he was sure she had to be someone important. The way she was looking at him redoubled the impression. She did not seem in the least troubled at having a stranger tumble into her garden. There was a selfpossession about her that made him think of Nynaeve, or Moiraine.
He was so enmeshed in worrying whether or not he had gotten himself into trouble, whether or not she was someone who could and would call the Queen's Guards even on a day when they had other things to occupy them, that it took him a few moments to see past the elaborate clothes and lofty attitude to the girl herself. She was perhaps two or three years younger than he, tall for a girl, and beautiful, her face a perfect oval framed by that mass of sunburst curls, her lips full and red, her eyes bluer than he could believe. She was completely different from Egwene in height and face and body, but every bit as beautiful. He felt a twinge of guilt, but told himself that denying what his eyes saw would not bring Egwene safely to Caemlyn one whit faster.
A scrabbling sound came from up in the tree and bits of bark fell, followed by a boy dropping lightly to the ground behind her. He was a head taller than she and a little older, but his face and hair marked him as her close kin. His coat and cloak were red and white and gold, embroidered and brocaded, and for a male even more ornate than hers. That increased Rand's anxiety. Only on a feastday would any ordinary man dress in anything like that, and never with that much grandeur. This was no public park. Perhaps the Guards were too busy to bother with trespassers.
The boy studied Rand over the girl's shoulder, fingering the dagger at his waist. It seemed more a nervous habit than any thought that he might use it. Not completely, though. The boy had the same selfpossession as the girl, and they both looked at him as if he were a puzzle to be solved.
“We will never hear the end of this, Elayne, if mother finds out,” the boy said suddenly. “She told us to stay in our rooms, but you just had to get a look at Logain, didn't you? Now look what it has got us.”
“Be quiet, Gawyn.” She was clearly the younger of the two, but she spoke as though she took it for granted that he would obey. The boy's face struggled as if he had more to say, but to Rand's surprise he held his peace. “Are you all right?” she said suddenly.
It took Rand a minute to realize she was speaking to him. When he did, he tried to struggle to his feet. “I'm fine. I just —” He tottered, and his legs gave way. He sat back down hard. His head swam. “I'll just climb back over the wall,” he muttered. He attempted to stand again, but she put a hand on his shoulder, pressing him down. He was so dizzy the slight pressure was enough to hold him in place.
“You are hurt.” Gracefully she knelt beside him. Her fingers gently parted the bloodmatted hair on the left side of his head. “You must have struck a branch coming down. You will be lucky if you didn't break anything more than your scalp. I don't think I ever saw anyone as skillful at climbing as you, but you don't do so well falling.”
“You'll get blood on your hands,” he said drawing back.
Firmly she pulled his head back to where she could get at it. “Hold still.” She did not speak sharply, but again there was that note in her voice as if she expected to be obeyed. “It does not look too bad, thank the Light.” From pockets on the inside of her cloak she began taking out an array of tiny vials and twisted packets of paper, finishing with a handful of wadded bandage.
He stared at the collection in amazement. It was the sort of thing he would have expected a Wisdom to carry, not someone dressed as she was. She had gotten blood on her fingers, he saw, but it didn't seem to bother her.
“Give me your water flask, Gawyn,” she said. “I need to wash this.”
The boy she called Gawyn unfastened a leather bottle from his belt and handed it to her, then squatted easily at Rand's feet with his arms folded on his knees. Elayne went about what she was doing in a very workmanlike manner. He did not flinch at the sting of the cold water when she washed the cut on his scalp, but she held the top of his head as if she expected him to try to pull away again and would have none of it. The ointment she smoothed on after, from one of her small vials, soothed almost as much as one of Nynaeve's preparations would have.
Gawyn smiled as she worked, a calming smile, as if he, too, expected Rand to jerk away and maybe even run. “She's always finding stray cats and birds with broken wings. You are the first human being she has had to work on.” He hesitated, then added, “Do not be offended. I am not calling you a stray.” It was not an apology, just a statement of fact.
“No offense taken,” Rand said stiffly. But the pair were acting as if he were a skittish horse.
“She does know what she is doing,” Gawyn said. “She has had the best teachers. So do not fear, you are in good hands.”
Elayne pressed some of the bandaging against his temple and pulled a silk scarf from her belt, blue and cream and gold. For any girl in Emond's Field it would have been a treasured feastday cloth. Elayne deftly began winding it around his head to hold the wad of bandage in place.
“You can't use that,” he protested.
She went on winding. “I told you to hold still,” she said calmly.
Rand looked at Gawyn. “Does she always expect everybody to do what she tells them?”
A flash of surprise crossed the young man's face, and his mouth tightened with amusement. “Most of the time she does. And most of the time they do.”
“Hold this,” Elayne said. “Put your hand there while I tie—” She exclaimed at the sight of his hands. “You did not do this falling. Climbing where you shouldn't have been climbing is more like it.” Quickly finishing her knot, she turned his hands palms upward in front of him, muttering to herself about how little water was left. The water made the lacerations burn, but her touch was surprisingly delicate. “Hol