It was Loial's turn to look confused. Rand came to his rescue. “He's coming with us. I promised him he could.”
Moiraine stood looking at the Ogier as if she had not heard, but finally she nodded. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” she murmured. “Lan, see that we are not taken unaware.” The Warder vanished from the room, silently but for the click of the door shutting behind him.
Lan's disappearance acted like a signal; all talk was cut off. Moiraine moved to the fireplace, and when she turned back to the room every eye was on her. Slight of build as she was, her presence dominated. “We cannot remain long in Caemlyn, nor are we safe here in The Queen's Blessing. The Dark One's eyes are already in the city. They have not found what they are searching for, or they would not still be looking. That we have to our advantage. I have set wards to keep them away, and by the time the Dark One realizes that there is a part of the city the rats no longer enter, we will be gone. Any ward that will turn a man aside, though, would be as good as a beacon fire for the Myrddraal, and there are Children of the Light in Caemlyn, also, looking for Perrin and Egwene.” Rand made a sound, and Moiraine raised an eyebrow at him.
“I thought they were looking for Mat and me,” he said.
The explanation made both the Aes Sedai's eyebrows lift. “Why would you think the Whitecloaks were looking for you?”
“I heard one say they were looking for someone from the Two Rivers. Darkfriends, he said. What else was I supposed to think? With everything that's been happening, I'm lucky I can think at all.”
“It has been confusing, I know, Rand,” Loial put in, “but you can think more clearly than that. The Children hate Aes Sedai. Elaida would not — ”
“Elaida?” Moiraine cut in sharply. “What has Elaida Sedai to do with this?”
She was looking at Rand so hard that he wanted to lean back. “She wanted to throw me in prison,” he said slowly. “All I wanted was a look at Logain, but she wouldn't believe I was in the Palace gardens with Elayne and Gawyn just by chance.” They were all staring at him as if he had suddenly sprouted a third eye, all except Loial. “Queen Morgase let me go. She said there was no proof I meant any harm and she was going to uphold the law no matter what Elaida suspected.” He shook his head, the memory of Morgase in all her radiance making him forget for a minute that anyone was looking at him. “Can you imagine me meeting a Queen? She's beautiful, like the queens in stories. So is Elayne. And Gawyn ... you'd like Gawyn, Perrin. Perrin? Mat?” They were still staring.
“Blood and ashes, I just climbed up on the wall for a look at the false Dragon. I didn't do anything wrong.”
“That's what I always say,” Mat said blandly, though he was suddenly grinning hard, and Egwene asked in a decidedly neutral voice, “Who's Elayne?”
Moiraine muttered something crossly.
“A Queen,” Perrin said, shaking his head. “You really have had adventures. All we met were Tinkers and some Whitecloaks.” He avoided looking at Moiraine so obviously that Rand saw the avoidance plain. Perrin touched the bruises on his face. “On the whole, singing with the Tinkers was more fun than the Whitecloaks.”
“The Traveling People live for their songs,” Loial said. “For all songs, for that matter. For the search for them, at least. I met some Tuatha'an a few years back, and they wanted to learn the songs we sing to trees. Actually, the trees won't listen to very many anymore, and so not many Ogier learn the songs. I have a scrap of that Talent, so Elder Arent insisted I learn. I taught the Tuatha'an what they could learn, but the trees never listen to humans. For the Traveling People they were only songs, and just as well received for that, since none was the song they seek. That's what they call the leader of each band, the Seeker. They come to Stedding Shangtai, sometimes. Few humans do.”
“If you please, Loial,” Moiraine said, but he cleared his throat suddenly and went on in a quick rumble as if afraid she might stop him.
“I've just remembered something, Aes Sedai, something I have always wanted to ask an Aes Sedai if ever I met one, since you know many things and have great libraries in Tar Valon, and now I have, of course, and ... may I?”
“If you make it brief,” she said curtly.
“Brief,” he said as though wondering what it meant. “Yes. Well. Brief. There was a man came to Stedding Shangtai a little time back. This was not unusual in itself, at the time, since a great many refugees had come to the Spine of the World fleeing what you humans call the Aiel War.” Rand grinned. A little time back; twenty years, near enough. “He was at the point of death, though there was no wound or mark on him. The Elders thought it might be something Aes Sedai had done” — Loial gave Moiraine an apologetic look — “since as soon as he was within the stedding he quickly got well. A few months. One night he left without a word to anyone, simply sneaked away when the moon was down.” He looked at Moiraine's face and cleared his throat again. “Yes. Brief. Before he left, he told a curious tale which he said he meant to carry to Tar Valon. He said the Dark One intended to blind the Eye of the World, and slay the Great Serpent, kill time itself. The Elders said he was as sound in his mind as in his body, but that was what he said. What I have wanted to ask is, can the Dark One do such a thing? Kill time itself? And the Eye of the World? Can he blind the eye of the Great Serpent? What does it mean?”
Rand expected almost anything from Moiraine except what he saw. Instead of giving Loial an answer, or telling him she had no time for it now, she stood there staring right through the Ogier, frowning in thought.
“That's what the Tinkers told us,” Perrin said.
“Yes,” Egwene said, “the Aiel story.”
Moiraine turned her head slowly. No other part of her moved. “What story?”
It was an expressionless look she gave them, but it made Perrin take a deep breath, though when he spoke he was as deliberate as ever. “Some Tinkers crossing the Waste — they said they could do that unharmed — found Aiel dying after a battle with Trollocs. Before the last Aiel died, she — they were all women, apparently — told the Tinkers what Loial just said. The Dark One — they called him Sightblinder — intends to blind the Eye of the World. This was only three years ago, not twenty. Does it mean something?”
“Perhaps everything,” Moiraine said. Her face was still, but Rand had the feeling her mind raced behind those dark eyes.
“Ba'alzamon,” Perrin said suddenly. The name cut off all sound in the room. No one appeared to breathe. Perrin looked at Rand, then at Mat, his eyes strangely calm and more yellow than ever. “At the time I wondered where I'd heard that name before ... the Eye of the World. Now I remember. Don't you?”
“I don't want to remember anything,” Mat said stiffly.
“We have to tell her,” Perrin continued. “It's important now. We can't keep it secret any longer. You see it, don't you, Rand?”
“Tell me what?” Moiraine's voice was harsh, and she seemed to be bracing for a blow. Her gaze had settled on Rand.
He did not want to answer. He did not want to remember any more than Mat, but he did remember — and he knew Perrin was right. “I've ...” He looked at his friends. Mat nodded reluctantly, Perrin decisively, but at least they had done it. He did not have to face her alone. “We have had ... dreams.” He rubbed the spot on his finger where the thorn had stuck him once, remembering the blood when he woke. Queasily remembering the sunburned feel of his face another time. “Except maybe they weren't dreams, exactly. Ba'alzamon was in them.” He knew why Perrin had used that name; it was easier than saying the Dark One had been in your dreams, inside your head. “He said ... he said all sorts of things, but once he said the Eye of the World would never serve me.” For a minute his mouth was as dry as dust.
“He told me the same thing,” Perrin said, and Mat sighed heavily, then nodded. Rand found he had spit in his mouth again. “You aren't angry with us?” Perrin asked, sounding surprised, and Rand realized that Moiraine did not seem angry. She was studying them, but her eyes were clear and calm, if intent.
“More with myself than you. But I did ask you to tell me if you had strange dreams. In the beginning, I asked.” Though her voice remained level, a flash of anger crossed her eyes, and was gone in an instant. “Had I known after the first such, I might have been able to... There has not been a Dreamwalker in Tar Valon for nearly a thousand years, but I could have tried. Now it is too late. Each time the Dark One touches you, he makes the next touching easier for him. Perhaps my presence can still shield you somewhat, but even then ... Remember the stories of the Forsaken binding men to them? Strong men, men who had fought the Dark One from the start. Those stories are true, and none of the Forsaken had a tenth of the strength of their master, not Aginor or Lanfear, not Balthamel or Demandred, not even Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope himself. ”
Nynaeve and Egwene were looking at him, Rand saw, him and Mat and Perrin all three. The women's faces were a blooddrained blend of fear and horror. Are they afrai