“Maybe it's another traveler,” Egwene said hopefully. “An Ogier, perhaps.”
“Ogier have more sense than to use the Ways,” Loial growled. “All but Loial, who has no sense at all. Elder Haman always said it, and it's true.”
“What do you feel, Lan?” Moiraine asked. “Is it something that serves the Dark One?”
The Warder shook his head slowly. “I don't know,” he said as if that surprised him. “I cannot tell. Perhaps it's the Ways, and the taint. It all feels wrong. But whoever it is, or whatever, he's not trying to catch us. He almost caught up at the last Island and scampered back across the bridge so as not to. If I fall behind, I might surprise him though, and see who, or what, he is. ”
“If you fall behind, Warder,” Loial said firmly, “you'll spend the rest of your life in the Ways. Even if you can read Ogier, I have never heard or read of a human who could find his path off the first Island lacking an Ogier guide. Can you read Ogier?”
Lan shook his head again, and Moiraine said, “So long as he does not trouble us, we will not trouble him. We have no time. No time.”
As they rode off the bridge onto the next Island, Loial said, “If I remember the last Guiding correctly, there is a path from here that leads toward Tar Valon. Half a day's journey at most. Not quite as long as it will take us to reach Mafal Dadaranell. I'm sure that —”
He cut off as the light of their lanterns reached the Guiding. Near the top of the slab, deeply chiseled lines, sharp and angular, made wounds in the stone. Suddenly Lan's alertness was no longer hidden. He remained easily erect in his saddle, but Rand had the sudden impression that the Warder could feel everything around him, even feel the rest of them breathing. Lan began circling his stallion around the Guiding, spiraling outward. He rode as if he were ready to be attacked, or to attack himself.
“This explains much,” Moiraine said softly, “and it makes me afraid. So much. I should have guessed. The taint, the decay. I should have guessed.”
“Guessed what?” Nynaeve demanded just as Loial asked, “What is it? Who did this? I've never seen or heard of anything like it.”
The Aes Sedai faced them calmly. “Trollocs.” She ignored their frightened gasps. “Or Fades. Those are Trolloc runes. The Trollocs have discovered how to enter the Ways. That must be how they got to the Two Rivers undiscovered; through the Waygate at Manetheren. There is at least one Waygate in the Blight.” She glanced toward Lan before continuing; the Warder was far enough away that only the faint light of his lantern could be seen. “Manetheren was destroyed, but almost nothing can destroy a Waygate. That is how the Fades could gather a small army around Caemlyn without raising an alarm in every nation between the Blight and Andor.” Pausing, she touched her lips thoughtfully. “But they cannot know all the paths yet, else they would have been pouring into Caemlyn through the gate we used. Yes.”
Rand shivered. Walking through the Waygate to find Trollocs waiting in the dark, hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, twisted giants with halfanimal faces snarling as they leaped forward in the blackness to kill. Or worse.
“They don't use the Ways easily,” Lan called. His lantern was no more than twenty spans off, but the light of it was only a dim, fuzzy ball that seemed very distant to those around the Guiding. Moiraine led the way to him. Rand wished his stomach were empty when he saw what the Warder had found.
At the foot of one of the bridges the frozen shapes of Trollocs reared, caught flailing about them with hooked axes and scythelike swords. Gray and pitted like the stone, the huge bodies were half sunken in the swollen, bubbled surface. Some of the bubbles had burst, revealing more snouted faces, forever snarling with fear. Rand heard someone retching behind him, and swallowed hard to keep from joining whoever it was. Even for Trollocs it had been a horrible way to die.
A few feet beyond the Trollocs the bridge ended. The signpost lay shattered into a thousand shards.
Loial got down from his horse gingerly, eyeing the Trollocs, as if he thought they might come back to life. He examined the remains of the signpost hurriedly, picking out the metal script that had been inlaid in the stone, then scrambled back into his saddle. “This was the first bridge of the path from here to Tar Valon,” he said.
Mat was scrubbing the back of his hand across his mouth, with his head turned away from the Trollocs. Egwene hid her face in her hands. Rand moved his horse close to Bela and touched her shoulder. She twisted around and clutched him, shuddering. He wanted to shudder, too; her holding him was the only thing that kept him from it.
“As well we are not going to Tar Valon yet,” Moiraine said.
Nynaeve rounded on the Aes Sedai. “How can you take it so calmly? The same could happen to us!”
“Perhaps,” Moiraine said serenely, and Nynaeve ground her teeth so hard Rand could hear them grate. “It is more likely, though,” Moiraine went on, unruffled, “that the men, the Aes Sedai, who made the Ways protected them, building in traps for creatures of the Dark One. It is something they must have feared then, before the Halfmen and Trollocs had been driven into the Blight. In any case, we cannot tarry here, and whatever way we choose, back or ahead, is as likely to have a trap as any other. Loial, do you know the next bridge?”
“Yes. Yes, they did not ruin that part of the Guiding, thank the Light.” For the first time Loial seemed as eager to go on as Moiraine did. He had his big horse moving before he finished speaking.
Egwene clung to Rand's arm for two more bridges. He regretted it when she finally let go with a murmured apology and a forced laugh, and not just because it had felt good having her hold onto him that way. It was easier to be brave, he discovered, when someone needed your protection.
Moiraine might not have believed a trap could be set for them, but for all the haste she spoke of, she made them travel more slowly than before, pausing before letting them onto any bridge, or off one onto an Island. She would step Aldieb forward, feeling the air in front of her with an outstretched hand, and not even Loial, or Lan, was allowed to go ahead until she gave permission.
Rand had to trust her judgment about traps, but he peered into the darkness around them as if he could actually see anything more than ten feet away, and strained his ears listening. If Trollocs could use the Ways, then whatever was following them could be another creature of the Dark One. Or more than one. Lan had said he could not tell in the Ways. But as they crossed bridge after bridge, ate a midday meal riding, and crossed still more bridges, all he could hear were their own saddles creaking, and the horses' hooves, and sometimes one of the others coughing, or muttering to himself. Later there was a distant wind, too, off in the black somewhere. He could not say in which direction. At first he thought it was his imagination, but with time he became sure.
It'll be good to feel the wind again, even if it's cold.
Suddenly he blinked. “Loial, didn't you say there isn't any wind in the Ways?”
Loial pulled his horse up just short of the next Island and cocked his head to listen. Slowly his face paled, and he licked his lips. “Machin Shin,” he whispered hoarsely. “The Black Wind. The Light illumine and protect us. It's the Black Wind.”
“How many more bridges?” Moiraine asked sharply. “Loial, how many more bridges?”
“Two. I think, two.”
“Quickly, then,” she said, trotting Aldieb onto the Island. “Find it quickly!”
Loial talked to himself, or to anyone who was listening, while he read the Guiding. “They came out mad, screaming about Machin Shin. Light help us! Even those Aes Sedai could heal, they ...” He scanned the stone hastily, and galloped toward the chosen bridge with a shouted, “This way!”
This time Moiraine did not wait to check. She urged them on to a gallop, the bridge trembling beneath the horses, lanterns swinging wildly overhead. Loial ran his eyes over the next Guiding and wheeled his big mount around like a racer almost before it had stopped. The sound of the wind became louder. Rand could hear it even over the pounding of hooves on stone. Behind them, and gusting closer.
They did not bother with the last Guiding. As soon as the light of the lanterns caught the white line running from it, they swung in that direction, still galloping. The Island vanished behind, and there was only the pitted, gray stone underfoot and the white line. Rand was breathing so hard he was no longer sure if he could hear the wind.
Out of the darkness the gates appeared, vinecarved and standing alone in the black like a tiny piece of wall in the night. Moiraine leaned out of her saddle, reaching toward the carvings, and suddenly pulled back. “The Avendesora leaf is not here!” she said. “The key is gone!”
“Light!” Mat shouted. “Bloody Light!” Loial threw back his head and gave a mournful cry, like a howl of dying.
Egwene touched Rand's arm. Her lips trembled, but she only looked at him. He put his hand on top of hers, hoping he did not look more frightened than she did. He felt it. Back toward the Guiding, the wind howled. He almost thought he could hear voices in it, voices screaming vileness that, even half understood, brou