“A loyal subject from the Two Rivers.” Morgase sighed. “My child, you should pay more heed to those books. The Two Rivers has not seen a tax collector in six generations, nor the Queen's Guards in seven. I daresay they seldom even think to remember they are part of the Realm.” Rand shrugged uncomfortably, recalling his surprise when he was told the Two Rivers was part of the Realm of Andor. The Queen saw him, and smiled ruefully at her daughter. “You see, child?”

Elaida had put down her knitting, Rand realized, and was studying him. She rose from her stool and slowly came down from the dais to stand before him. “From the Two Rivers?” she said. She reached a hand toward his head; he pulled away from her touch, and she let her hand drop. “With that red in his hair, and gray eyes? Two Rivers people are dark of hair and eye, and they seldom have such height.” Her hand darted out to push back his coat sleeve, exposing lighter skin the sun had not reached so often. “Or such skin.”


It was an effort not to clench his fists. “I was born in Emond's Field,” he said stiffly. “My mother was an outlander; that's where my eyes come from. My father is Tam al'Thor, a shepherd and farmer, as I am.”

Elaida nodded slowly, never taking her eyes from his face. He met her gaze with a levelness that belied the sour feeling in his stomach. He saw her note the steadiness of his look. Still meeting him eye to eye, she moved her hand slowly toward him again. He resolved not to flinch this time.

It was his sword she touched, not him, her hand closing around the hilt at the very top. Her fingers tightened and her eyes opened wide with surprise. “A shepherd from the Two Rivers,” she said softly, a whisper meant to be heard by all, “with a heronmark sword.”

Those last few words acted on the chamber as if she had announced the Dark One. Leather and metal creaked behind Rand, boots scuffling on the marble tiles. From the corner of his eye he could see Tallanvor and another of the guardsmen backing away from him to gain room, hands on their swords, prepared to draw and, from their faces, prepared to die. In two quick strides Gareth Bryne was at the front of the dais, between Rand and the Queen. Even Gawyn put himself in front of Elayne, a worried look on his face and a hand on his dagger. Elayne herself looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. Morgase did not change expression, but her hands tightened on the gilded arms of her throne.

Only Elaida showed less reaction than the Queen. The Aes Sedai gave no sign that she had said anything out of the ordinary. She took her hand from the sword, causing the soldiers to tense even more. Her eyes stayed on his, unruffled and calculating.

“Surely,” Morgase said, her voice level, “he is too young to have earned a heronmark blade. He cannot be any older than Gawyn.”

“It belongs with him,” Gareth Bryne said.

The Queen looked at him in surprise. “How can that be?”

“I do not know, Morgase,” Bryne said slowly. “He is too young, yet still it belongs with him, and he with it. Look at his eyes. Look how he stands, how the sword fits him, and he it. He is too young, but the sword is his.”

-- Advertisement --

When the CaptainGeneral fell silent, Elaida said, “How did you come by this blade, Rand al'Thor from the Two Rivers?” She said it as if she doubted his name as much as she did where he was from.

“My father gave it to me,” Rand said. “It was his. He thought I'd need a sword, out in the world.”

“Yet another shepherd from the Two Rivers with a heronmark blade.” Elaida's smile made his mouth go dry. “When did you arrive in Caemlyn?”

He had had enough of telling this woman the truth. She made him as afraid as any Darkfriend had. It was time to start hiding again. “Today,” he said. “This morning.”

“Just in time,” she murmured. “Where are you staying? Don't say you have not found a room somewhere. You look a little tattered, but you have had a chance to freshen. Where?”

“The Crown and Lion.” He remembered passing The Crown and Lion while looking for The Queen's Blessing. It was on the other side of the New City from Master Gill's inn. “I have a bed there. In the attic.” He had the feeling that she knew he was lying, but she only nodded.

“What chance this?” she said. “Today the unbeliever is brought into Caemlyn. In two days he will be taken north to Tar Valon, and with him goes the DaughterHeir for her training. And at just this juncture a young man appears in the Palace gardens, claiming to be a loyal subject from the Two Rivers ... ”

“I am from the Two Rivers.” They were all looking at him, but all ignored him. All but Tallanvor and the guards; those eyes never blinked.

“... with a story calculated to entice Elayne and bearing a heronmark blade. He does not wear an armband or a cockade to proclaim his allegiance, but wrappings that carefully conceal the heron from inquisitive eyes. What chance this, Morgase?”

The Queen motioned the CaptainGeneral to stand aside, and when he did she studied Rand with a troubled look. It was to Elaida that she spoke, though. “What are you naming him? Darkfriend? One of Logain's followers?”

“The Dark One stirs in Shayol Ghul,” the Aes Sedai replied. “The Shadow lies across the Pattern, and the future is balanced on the point of a pin. This one is dangerous.”

Suddenly Elayne moved, throwing herself onto her knees before the throne. “Mother, I beg you not to harm him. He would have left immediately had I not stopped him. He wanted to go. It was I who made him stay. I cannot believe he is a Darkfriend.”

Morgase made a soothing gesture toward her daughter, but her eyes remained on Rand. “Is this a Foretelling, Elaida? Are you reading the Pattern? You say it comes on you when you least expect it and goes as suddenly as it comes. If this is a Foretelling, Elaida, I command you to speak the truth clearly, without your usual habit of wrapping it in so much mystery that no one can tell if you have said yes or no. Speak. What do you see?”

“This I Foretell,” Elaida replied, “and swear under the Light that I can say no clearer. From this day Andor marches toward pain and division. The Shadow has yet to darken to its blackest, and I cannot see if the Light will come after. Where the world has wept one tear, it will weep thousands. This I Foretell.”

A pall of silence clung to the room, broken only by Morgase expelling her breath as if it were her last.

Elaida continued to stare into Rand's eyes. She spoke again, barely moving her lips, so softly that he could barely hear her less than an arm's length away. “This, too, I Foretell. Pain and division come to the whole world, and this man stands at the heart of it. I obey the Queen,” she whispered, “and speak it clearly.”

Rand felt as if his feet had become rooted in the marble floor. The cold and stiffness of the stone crept up his legs and sent a shiver up his spine. No one else could have heard. But she was still looking at him, and he had heard.

“I'm a shepherd,” he said for the entire room. “From the Two Rivers. A shepherd. ”

“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” Elaida said aloud, and he could not tell if there was a touch of mockery in her tone or not.

“Lord Gareth,” Morgase said, “I need the advice of my CaptainGeneral. ”

The blocky man shook his head. “Elaida Sedai says the lad is dangerous, My Queen, and if she could tell more I would say summon the headsman. But all she says is what any of us can see with our own eyes. There's not a farmer in the countryside won't say things will get worse, without any Foretelling. Myself, I believe the boy is here through mere happenstance, though an ill one for him. To be safe, My Queen, I say clap him in a cell till the Lady Elayne and the Lord Gawyn are well on their way, then let him go. Unless, Aes Sedai, you have more to Foretell concerning him?”

“I have said all that I have read in the Pattern, CaptainGeneral,” Elaida said. She flashed a hard smile at Rand, a smile that barely bent her lips, mocking his inability to say that she was not telling the truth. “A few weeks imprisoned will not harm him, and it may give me a chance to learn more.” Hunger filled her eyes, deepening his chill. “Perhaps another Foretelling will come.”

For a time Morgase considered, chin on her fist and elbow on the arm of her throne. Rand would have shifted under her frowning gaze if he could have moved at all, but Elaida's eyes froze him solid. Finally the Queen spoke.

“Suspicion is smothering Caemlyn, perhaps all of Andor. Fear and black suspicion. Women denounce their neighbors for Darkfriends. Men scrawl the Dragon's Fang on the doors of people they have known for years. I will not become part of it.”

“Morgase — ” Elaida began, but the Queen cut her off.

“I will not become part of it. When I took the throne I swore to uphold justice for the high and the low, and I will uphold it even if I am the last in Andor to remember justice. Rand al'Thor, do you swear under the Light that your father, a shepherd in the Two Rivers, gave you this heronmark blade?”

Rand worked his mouth to get enough moisture to speak. “I do.” Abruptly remembering to whom he was speaking he hastily added, “My Queen.” Lord Gareth raised a heavy eyebrow, but Mor

-- Advertisement --