“Lan — no! — Dai Shan, for you are a Diademed Battle Lord of Malkier whatever you say. Dai Shan, the Golden Crane banner in the van would put heart into men who know they are riding north to die. The word will spread like wildfire, and though their kings have told them to hold where they are, lances will come from Arafel and Kandor, and even from Saldaea. Though they cannot come in time to stand with us in the Gap, they may save Shienar.”
Lan peered into his wine. His face did not change, but wine slopped over his hand; the silver goblet crumpled in his grip. A servant took the ruined cup and wiped the Warder's hand with a cloth; a second put a fresh goblet in his hand while the other was whisked away. Lan did not seem to notice. “I cannot!” he whispered hoarsely. When he raised his head his blue eyes burned with a fierce light, but his voice was calm again, and flat. “I am a Warder, Agelmar.” His sharp gaze slid across Rand and Mat and Perrin to Moiraine. “At first light I ride to the Blight.”
Agelmar sighed heavily. “Moiraine Sedai, will you not come, at least? An Aes Sedai could make the difference.”
“I cannot, Lord Agelmar.” Moiraine seemed troubled. “There is indeed a battle to be fought, and it is not chance that the Trollocs gather above Shienar, but our battle, the true battle with the Dark One, will take place in the Blight, at the Eye of the World. You must fight your battle, and we ours.”
“You cannot be saying he is loose!” Rocklike Agelmar sounded shaken, and Moiraine quickly shook her head.
“Not yet. If we win at the Eye of the World, perhaps not ever again.”
“Can you even find the Eye, Aes Sedai? If holding the Dark One depends on that, we might as well be dead. Many have tried and failed.”
“I can find it, Lord Agelmar. Hope is not lost yet.”
Agelmar studied her, and then the others. He appeared puzzled by Nynaeve and Egwene; their farmclothes contrasted sharply with Moiraine's silk dress, though all were travelstained. “They are Aes Sedai, too?” he asked doubtfully. When Moiraine shook her head, he seemed even more confused. His gaze ran over the young men from Emond's Field, settling on Rand, brushing the redwrapped sword at his waist. “A strange guard you take with you, Aes Sedai. Only one fighting man.” He glanced at Perrin, and at the axe hanging from his belt. “Perhaps two. But both barely more than lads. Let me send men with you. A hundred lances more or less will make no difference in the Gap, but you will need more than one Warder and three youths. And two women will not help, unless they are Aiel in disguise. The Blight is worse than usual this year. It — stirs.”
“A hundred lances would be too many,” Lan said, “and a thousand not enough. The larger the party we take into the Blight, the more chance we will attract attention. We must reach the Eye without fighting, if we can. You know the outcome is all but foretold when Trollocs force battle inside the Blight.”
Agelmar nodded grimly, but he refused to give up. “Fewer, then. Even ten good men would give you a better chance of escorting Moiraine Sedai and the other two women to the Green Man than will just these young fellows. ”
Rand abruptly realized the Lord of Fal Dara assumed it was Nynaeve and Egwene who with Moiraine would fight against the Dark One. It was unnatural. That sort of struggle meant using the One Power, and that meant women. That sort of struggle means using the Power. He tucked his thumbs behind his sword belt and gripped the buckle hard to keep his hands from shaking.
“No men,” Moiraine said. Agelmar opened his mouth again, and she went on before he could speak. “It is the nature of the Eye, and the nature of the Green Man. How many from Fal Dara have ever found the Green Man and the Eye?”
“Ever?” Agelmar shrugged. “Since the War of the Hundred Years, you could count them on the fingers of one hand. No more than one in five years from all the Borderlands together.”
“No one finds the Eye of the World,” Moiraine said, “unless the Green Man wants them to find it. Need is the key, and intention. I know where to go — I have been there before.” Rand's head whipped around in surprise; his was not the only one among the Emond's Fielders, but the Aes Sedai did not seem to notice. “But one among us seeking glory, seeking to add his name to those four, and we may never find it though I take us straight to the spot I remember.”
“You have seen the Green Man, Moiraine Sedai?” The Lord of Fal Dara sounded impressed, but in the next breath he frowned. “But if you have already met him once ... ”
“Need is the key,” Moiraine said softly, “and there can be no greater need than mine. Than ours. And I have something those other seekers have not. ”
Her eyes barely stirred from Agelmar's face, but Rand was sure they had drifted toward Loial, just for an instant before the Aes Sedai pulled them back. Rand met the Ogier's eyes, and Loial shrugged.
“Ta'veren,” the Ogier said softly.
Agelmar threw up his hands. “It will be as you say, Aes Sedai. Peace, if the real battle is to be at the Eye of the World, I am tempted to take the Black Hawk banner after you instead of to the Gap. I could cut a path for you — ”
“That would be disaster, Lord Agelmar. Both at Tarwin's Gap and at the Eye. You have your battle, and we ours.”
“Peace! As you say, Aes Sedai.”
Having reached a decision, however much he disliked it, the shavenheaded Lord of Fal Dara seemed to put it out of his mind. He invited them to table with him, all the while making conversation about hawks and horses and dogs, but with never a mention of Trollocs, or Tarwin's Gap, or the Eye of the World.
The chamber where they ate was as stark and plain as Lord Agelmar's study had been, with little more furnishing it than the table and chairs themselves, and they were severe in line and form. Beautiful, but severe. A big fireplace warmed the room, but not so much that a man called out hurriedly would be stunned by the cold outside. Liveried servants brought soup and bread and cheese, and the talk was of books and music until Lord Agelmar realized the Emond's Field folk were not talking. Like a good host he asked gently probing questions designed to bring them out of their quiet.
Rand soon found himself competing to tell about Emond's Field and the Two Rivers. It was an effort not to say too much. He hoped the others were guarding their tongues, Mat especially. Nynaeve alone held herself back, eating and drinking silently.
“There's a song in the Two Rivers,” Mat said. “'Coming Home From Tarwin's Gap.'” He finished hesitantly, as if suddenly realizing that he was bringing up what they had been avoiding, but Agelmar handled it smoothly.
“Little wonder. Few lands have not sent men to hold back the Blight over the years.”
Rand looked at Mat and Perrin. Mat silently formed the word Manetheren.
Agelmar whispered to one of the servants, and while others cleared the table that man vanished and returned with a canister, and clay pipes for Lan, Loial, and Lord Agelmar. “Two Rivers tabac,” the Lord of Fal Data said as they filled their pipes. “Hard to come by, here, but worth the cost.”
When Loial and the two older men were puffing contentedly, Agelmar glanced at the Ogier. “You seem troubled, Builder. Not beset by the Longing, I hope. How long have you been away from the stedding?”
“It is not the Longing; I have not been gone such a time as that.” Loial shrugged, and the bluegray streamer rising from his pipe made a spiral above the table as he gestured. “I expected — hoped — that the grove would still be here. Some remnant of Mafal Dadaranell, at least.”
“Kiserai ti Wansho,” Agelmar murmured. “The Trolloc Wars left nothing but memories, Loial, son of Arent, and people to build on them. They could not duplicate the Builders' work, any more than could I. Those intricate curves and patterns your people create are beyond human eyes and hands to make. Perhaps we wished to avoid a poor imitation that would only have been an everpresent reminder to us of what we had lost. There is a different beauty in simplicity, in a single line placed just so, a single flower among the rocks. The harshness of the stone makes the flower more precious. We try not to dwell too much on what is gone. The strongest heart will break under that strain.”
“The rose petal floats on water,” Lan recited softly. “The kingfisher flashes above the pond. Life and beauty swirl in the midst of death.”
“Yes,” Agelmar said. “Yes. That one has always symbolized the whole of it to me, too.” The two men bowed their heads to one another.
Poetry out of Lan? The man was like an onion; every time Rand thought he knew something about the Warder, he discovered another layer underneath.Loial nodded slowly. “Perhaps I also dwell too much on what is gone. And yet, the groves were beautiful.” But he was looking at the stark room as if seeing it anew, and suddenly finding things worth seeing.
Ingtar appeared and bowed to Lord Agelmar. “Your pardon, Lord, but you wanted to know of anything out of the ordinary, however small.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“A small thing, Lord. A stranger tried to enter the town. Not of Shienar. By his accent, a Lugarder. Sometimes, at least. When the South Gate guards attempted to question him, he ran away. He was seen to enter the forest, but only a short time later he was foun