“People are funny, Rand. The best of them are. Take Haral Luhhan. Master Luhhan is a strong man, and a brave one, but he can't bear to see butchering done. Turns pale as a sheet.”

“What does that have to do with anything? Everybody knows Master Luhhan can't stand the sight of blood, and nobody but the Coplins and the Congars thinks anything of it.”


"Just this, lad. People don't always think or behave the way you might believe they would. Those folk back there ... let the hail beat their crops into the mud, and the wind take off every roof in the district, and the wolves kill half their livestock, and they'll roll up their sleeves and start from scratch. They'll grumble, but they won't waste any time with it. But you give them just the thought of Aes Sedai and a false Dragon in Ghealdan, and soon enough they'll start thinking that Ghealdan is not that far the other side of the Forest of Shadows, and a straight line from Tar Valon to Ghealdan wouldn't pass that much to the east of us. As if the Aes Sedai wouldn't take the road through Caemlyn and Lugard instead of traveling crosscountry! By tomorrow morning half the village would have been sure the entire war was about to descend on us. It would take weeks to undo. A fine Bel Tine that would make. So Bran gave them the idea before they could get it for themselves.

“They've seen the Council take the problem under consideration, and by now they'll be hearing what we decided. They chose us for the Village Council because they trust we can reason things out in the best way for everybody. They trust our opinions. Even Cenn's, which doesn't say much for the rest of us, I suppose. At any rate, they will hear there isn't anything to worry about, and they'll believe it. It is not that they couldn't reach the same conclusion, or would not, eventually, but this way we won't have Festival ruined, and nobody has to spend weeks worrying about something that isn't likely to happen. If it does, against all odds ... well, the patrols will give us enough warning to do what we can. I truly don't think it will come to that, though.”

Rand puffed out his cheeks. Apparently, being on the Council was more complicated than he had believed. The cart rumbled on along the Quarry Road.

“Did anyone besides Perrin see this strange rider?” Tam asked.

“Mat did, but — ” Rand blinked, then stared across Bela's back at his father. “You believe me? I have to go back. I have to tell them.” Tam's shout halted him as he turned to run back to the village.

“Hold, lad, hold! Do you think I waited this long to speak for no reason?”

Reluctantly Rand kept on beside the cart, still creaking along behind patient Bela. “What made you change your mind? Why can't I tell the others?”

“They'll know soon enough. At least, Perrin will. Mat, I'm not sure of. Word must be gotten to the farms as best it can, but in another hour there won't be anyone in Emond's Field above sixteen, those who can be responsible about it, at least, who doesn't know a stranger is skulking around and likely not the sort you would invite to Festival. The winter has been bad enough without this to scare the young ones.”

“Festival?” Rand said. “If you had seen him you wouldn't want him closer than ten miles. A hundred, maybe.”

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“Perhaps so,” Tam said placidly. “He could be just a refugee from the troubles in Ghealdan, or more likely a thief who thinks the pickings will be easier here than in Baerlon or Taren Ferry. Even so, no one around here has so much they can afford to have it stolen. If the man is trying to escape the war ... well, that's still no excuse for scaring people. Once the watch is mounted, it should either find him or frighten him off.”

“I hope it frightens him off. But why do you believe me now, when you didn't this morning?”

“I had to believe my own eyes then, lad, and I saw nothing.” Tam shook his grizzled head. “Only young men see this fellow, it seems. When Haral Luhhan mentioned Perrin jumping shadows, though, it all came out. Jon Thane's oldest son saw him, too, and so did Samel Crawe's boy, Bandry. Well, when four of you say you've seen a thing — and solid lads, all — we start thinking maybe it's there whether we can see it or not. All except Cenn, of course. Anyway, that's why we're going home. With both of us away, this stranger could be up to any kind of mischief there. If not for Festival, I wouldn't come back tomorrow, either. But we can't make ourselves prisoners in our own homes just because this fellow is lurking about.”

“I didn't know about Ban or Lem,” Rand said. “The rest of us were going to the Mayor tomorrow, but we were worried he wouldn't believe us, either.”

“Gray hairs don't mean our brains have curdled,” Tam said dryly. “So you keep a sharp eye. Maybe I'll catch sight of him, too, if he shows up again.”

Rand settled down to do just that. He was surprised to realize that his step felt lighter. The knots were gone from his shoulders. He was still scared, but it was not so bad as it had been. Tam and he were just as alone on the Quarry Road as they had been that morning, but in some way he felt as if the entire village were with them. That others knew and believed made all the difference. There was nothing the blackcloaked horseman could do that the people of Emond's Field could not handle together.

Chapter 5


The sun stood halfway down from its noonday high by the time the cart reached the farmhouse. It was not a big house, not nearly so large as some of the sprawling farmhouses to the east, dwellings that had grown over the years to hold entire families. In the Two Rivers, that often included three or four generations under one roof, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and nephews. Tam and Rand were considered out of the ordinary as much for being two men living alone as for farming in the Westwood.

Here most of the rooms were on one floor, a neat rectangle with no wings or additions. Two bedrooms and an attic storeroom fitted up under the steeply sloped thatch. If the whitewash was all but gone from the stout wooden walls after the winter storms, the house was still in a tidy state of repair, the thatch tightly mended and the doors and shutters wellhung and snug fitting.

House, barn, and stone sheep pen formed the points of a triangle around the farmyard, where a few chickens had ventured out to scratch at the cold ground. An open shearing shed and a stonedipping trough stood next to the sheep pen. Hard by the fields between the farmyard and the trees loomed the tall cone of a tightwalled curing shed. Few farmers in the Two Rivers could make do without both wool and tabac to sell when the merchants came.

When Rand took a look in the stone pen, the heavyhorned herd ram looked back at him, but most of the blackfaced flock remained placidly where they lay, or stood with their heads in the feed trough. Their coats were thick and curly, but it was still too cold for shearing.

“I don't think the blackcloaked man came here,” Rand called to his father, who was walking slowly around the farmhouse, spear held at the ready, examining the ground intently. “The sheep wouldn't be so settled if that one had been around.”

Tam nodded but did not stop. When he had made a complete circuit of the house, he did the same around the barn and the sheep pen, still studying the ground. He even checked the smokehouse and the curing shed. Drawing a bucket of water from the well, he filled a cupped hand, sniffed the water, and gingerly touched it with the tip of his tongue. Abruptly he barked a laugh, then drank it down in a quick gulp.

“I suppose he didn't,” he told Rand, wiping his hand on his coat front. “All this about men and horses I can't see or hear just makes me look crossways at everything.” He emptied the well water into another bucket and started for the house, the bucket in one hand and his spear in the other. “I'll start some stew for supper. And as long as were here, we might as well get caught up on a few chores.”

Rand grimaced, regretting Winternight in Emond's Field. But Tam was right. Around a farm the work never really got done; as soon as one thing was finished two more always needed doing. He hesitated about it, but kept his bow and quiver close at hand. If the dark rider did appear, he had no intention of facing him with nothing but a hoe.

First was stabling Bela. Once he had unharnessed her and put her into a stall in the barn next to their cow, he set his cloak aside and rubbed the mare down with handfuls of dry straw, then curried her with a pair of brushes. Climbing the narrow ladder to the loft, he pitched down hay for her feed. He fetched a scoopful of oats for her as well, though there was little enough left and might be no more for a long while unless the weather warmed soon. The cow had been milked that morning before first light, giving a quarter of her usual yield; she seemed to be drying up as the winter hung on.

Enough feed had been left to see the sheep for two days — they should have been in the pasture by now, but there was none worth calling it so — but he topped off their water. Whatever eggs had been laid needed to be gathered, too. There were only three. The hens seemed to be getting cleverer at hiding them.

He was taking a hoe to the vegetable garden behind the house when Tam came out and settled on a bench in front of the barn to mend harness, propping his spear beside him. It made Rand feel better about the bow lying on his cloak a

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