Nynaeve's face had gone white. “Can you do anything?” she whispered.
“I hope so.” Moiraine sighed. “For the sake of the world, I hope I am not too late.” Her hand delved into the pouch at her belt and came out with the silkshrouded angreal . “Leave me. Stay together, and find somewhere you will not be seen, but leave me. I will do what I can for him.”
Remembrance of Dreams
It was a subdued group that Rand led back down the stairs. None of them wanted to talk to him now, or to one another. He did not feel much like talking, either.
The sun was far enough across the sky to dim the back stairwell, but the lamps had not yet been lit. Sunlight and shadow striped the stairs. Perrin's face was as closed as the others, but where worry creased everyone else's brow, his was smooth. Rand thought the look Perrin wore was resignation. He wondered why, and wanted to ask, but whenever Perrin walked through a deeper patch of shadow, his eyes seemed to gather in what little light there was, glowing softly like polished amber.
Rand shivered and tried to concentrate on his surroundings, on the walnut paneled walls and the oak stair railing, on sturdy, everyday things He wiped his hands on his coat several times, but each time sweat sprang out on his palms anew. It'll all be all right, now. We're together again, and ... Light, Mat.
He took them to the library by the back way that went by the kitchens, avoiding the common room. Not many travelers used the library; most of those who could read stayed at more elegant inns in the Inner City. Master Gill kept it more for his own enjoyment than for the handful of patrons who wanted a book now and then. Rand did not want to think why Moiraine wanted them to keep out of sight, but he kept remembering the Whitecloak underofficer saying he would be back, and Elaida's eyes when she asked where he was staying. Those were reasons enough, whatever Moiraine wanted.
He took five steps into the library before he realized that everyone else had stopped, crowded together in the doorway, openmouthed and goggling. A brisk blaze crackled in the fireplace, and Loial was sprawled on the long couch, reading, a small black cat with white feet curled and half asleep on his stomach. When they entered he closed the book with a huge finger marking his place and gently set the cat on the floor, then stood to bow formally.
Rand was so used to the Ogier that it took him a minute to realize that Loial was the object of the others' stares. “These are the friends I was waiting for, Loial,” he said. “This is Nynaeve, the Wisdom of my village. And Perrin. And this is Egwene.”
“Ah, yes,” Loial boomed, “Egwene. Rand has spoken of you a great deal. Yes. I am Loial.”
“He's an Ogier,” Rand explained, and watched their amazement change in kind. Even after Trollocs and Fades in the flesh, it was still astonishing to meet a legend walking and breathing. Remembering his own first reaction to Loial, he grinned ruefully. They were doing better than he had.
Loial took their gaping in his stride. Rand supposed he hardly noticed it compared with a mob shouting “Trolloc.”
“And the Aes Sedai, Rand?” Loial asked.
“Upstairs with Mat.”
The Ogier raised one bushy eyebrow thoughtfully. “Then he is ill. I suggest we all be seated. She will be joining us? Yes. Then there's nothing to do but wait.”
The act of sitting seemed to loosen some catch inside the Emond's Field folk, as if being in a wellstuffed chair with a fire in the fireplace and a cat now curled up on the hearth made them feel at home. As soon as they were settled they excitedly began asking the Ogier questions. To Rand's surprise, Perrin was the first to speak.
“The stedding, Loial. Are they really havens, the way the stories say?” His voice was intent, as if he had a particular reason for asking.
Loial was glad to tell about the stedding, and how he came to be at The Queen's Blessing, and what he had seen in his travels. Rand soon leaned back, only partly listening. He had heard it all before, in detail. Loial liked to talk, and talk at length when he had the slightest chance, though he usually seemed to think a story needed two or three hundred years of background to make it understood. His sense of time was very strange; to him three hundred years seemed a reasonable length of time for a story or explanation to cover. He always talked about leaving the stedding as if it were just a few months before, but it had finally come out that he had been gone more than three years.
Rand's thoughts drifted to Mat. A dagger. A bloody knife, and it might kill him just from carrying it. Light, I don't want any more adventure. If she can heal him, we should all go ... not home. Can't go home. Somewhere. We'll all go somewhere they've never heard of Aes Sedai or the Dark One. Somewhere.
The door opened, and for a moment Rand thought he was still imagining. Mat stood there, blinking, with his coat buttoned up and the dark scarf wrapped low around his forehead. Then Rand saw Moiraine, with her hand on Mat's shoulder, and Lan behind them. The Aes Sedai was watching Mat carefully, as one watches someone only lately out of a sickbed. As always, Lan was watching everything while appearing to watch nothing.
Mat looked as if he had never been sick a day. His first, hesitant smile included everyone, though it slipped into an openmouthed stare at the sight of Loial, as if he were seeing the Ogier for the first time. With a shrug and a shake, he turned his attention back to his friends. “I ... ah ... that is...” He took a deep breath. “It ... ah ... it seems I've been acting ... ah ... sort of oddly. I don't remember much of it, really.” He gave Moiraine an uneasy look. She smiled back confidently, and he went on. “Everything is hazy after Whitebridge. Thom, and the ...” He shivered and hurried on. “The further from Whitebridge, the hazier it gets. I don't really remember arriving in Caemlyn at all.” He eyed Loial askance. “Not really. Moiraine Sedai says I ... upstairs, I ... ah ...” He grinned, and suddenly he truly was the old Mat. “You can't hold a man to blame for what he does when he's crazy, can you?”
“You always were crazy,” Perrin said, and for a moment he, too, sounded as of old.
“No,” Nynaeve said. Tears made her eyes bright, but she was smiling. “None of us blames you.”
Rand and Egwene began talking at once then, telling Mat how happy they were to see him well and how well he looked, with a few laughing comments thrown in about hoping that he was done with tricks now that one so ugly had been played on him. Mat met banter with banter as he found a chair with all of his old swagger. As he sat down, still grinning, he absentmindedly touched his coat as if to make sure that something tucked behind his belt was still there, and Rand's breath caught.
“Yes,” Moiraine said quietly, “he still has the dagger.” The laughter and talk was still going on among the rest of the Emond's Field folk, but she had noticed his sudden intake of breath and had seen what had caused it. She moved closer to his chair, where she did not have to raise her voice for him to hear clearly. “I cannot take it away from him without killing him. The binding has lasted too long, and grown too strong. That must be unknotted in Tar Valon; it is beyond me, or any lone Aes Sedai, even with an angreal.”
“But he doesn't look sick anymore.” He had a thought and looked up at her. “As long as he has the dagger, the Fades will know where we are. Darkfriends, too, some of them. You said so.”
“I have contained that, after a fashion. If they come close enough to sense it now, they will be on top of us anyway. I cleansed the taint from him, Rand, and did what I could to slow its return, but return it will, in time, unless he receives help in Tar Valon.”
“A good thing that's where we're going, isn't it?” He thought maybe it was the resignation in his voice, and the hope for something else, that made her give him a sharp look before turning away.
Loial was on his feet, bowing to her. “I am Loial, son of Arent son of Halan, Aes Sedai. The stedding offers sanctuary to the Servants of the Light. ”
“Thank you, Loial, son of Arent,” Moiraine answered dryly, “but I would not be too free with that greeting if I were you. There are perhaps twenty Aes Sedai in Caemlyn at this moment, and every one but I of the Red Ajah.” Loial nodded sagely, as if he understood. Rand could only shake his head in confusion; he would be Lightblinded if he knew what she meant. “It is strange to find you here,” the Aes Sedai went on. “Few Ogier leave the stedding in recent years.”
“The old stories caught me, Aes Sedai. The old books filled my unworthy head with pictures. I want to see the groves. And the cities we built, too. There do not seem to be many of either still standing, but if buildings are a poor substitute for trees, they are still worth seeing. The Elders think I'm odd, wanting to travel. I always have, and they always have. None of them believe there is anything worth seeing outside the stedding. Perhaps when I return and tell them what I've seen, they will change their minds. I hope so. In time.”
“Perhaps they will,” Moiraine said smoothly. “Now, Loial, you must forgive me for being abrupt. It is a failing of humankind, I know. My companions and I have urgent need to plan our journey. If y