“A small thing!” Agelmar's chair scraped across the floor as he stood. “Peace! The tower watch is so negligent a man can reach the walls unseen, and you call it a small thing?”
“He is a madman, Lord.” Awe touched Ingtar's voice. “The Light shields madmen. Perhaps the Light cloaked the tower watch's eyes and allowed him to reach the walls. Surely one poor madman can do no harm.”
“Has he been brought to the keep yet? Good. Bring him to me here. Now.” Ingtar bowed and left, and Agelmar turned to Moiraine. “Your pardon, Aes Sedai, but I must see to this. Perhaps he is only a pitiful wretch with his mind blinded by the Light, but ... Two days gone, five of our own people were found in the night trying to saw through the hinges of a horsegate. Small, but enough to let Trollocs in.” He grimaced. “Darkfriends, I suppose, though I hate to think it of any Shienaran. They were torn to pieces by the people before the guards could take them, so I'll never know. If Shienarans can be Darkfriends, I must be especially careful of outlanders in these days. If you wish to withdraw, I will have you shown to your rooms. ”
“Darkfriends know neither border nor blood,” Moiraine said. “They are found in every land, and are of none. I, too, am interested in seeing this man. The Pattern is forming a Web, Lord Agelmar, but the final shape of the Web is not yet set. It may yet entangle the world, or unravel and set the Wheel to a new weaving. At this point, even small things can change the shape of the Web. At this point I am wary of small things out of the ordinary.”
Agelmar glanced at Nynaeve and Egwene. “As you wish, Aes Sedai.”
Ingtar returned, with two guards carrying long bills, and escorting a man who looked like a ragbag turned inside out. Grime layered his face and matted his scraggly, uncut hair and beard. He hunched into the room, sunken eyes darting this way and that. A rancid smell wafted ahead of him.
Rand sat forward intently, trying to see through all the dirt.
“You've no cause to be holding me like this,” the filthy man whined. “I'm only a poor destitute, abandoned by the Light and seeking a place, like everyone else, to shelter from the Shadow.”
“The Borderlands are a strange place to seek — ” Agelmar began, when Mat cut him off.
“Padan Fain,” Perrin agreed, nodding.
“The beggar,” Rand said, suddenly hoarse. He sat back at the sudden hatred that flared in Fain's eyes. “He's the man who was asking about us in Caemlyn. He has to be.”
“So this concerns you after all, Moiraine Sedai,” Agelmar said slowly.
Moiraine nodded. “I greatly fear that it does.”
“I didn't want to.” Fain began to cry. Fat tears cut runnels in the dirt on his cheeks, but they were unable to reach the bottom layer. “He made me! Him and his burning eyes.” Rand flinched. Mat had his hand under his coat, no doubt clutching the dagger from Shadar Logoth again. “He made me his hound! His hound, to hunt and follow with never a bit of rest. Only his hound, even after he threw me away.”
“It does concern us all,” Moiraine said grimly. “Is there a place where I can talk with him alone, Lord Agelmar?” Her mouth tightened with distaste. “And wash him first. I may need to touch him.” Agelmar nodded and spoke softly to Ingtar, who bowed and disappeared through the door.
“I will not be compelled!” The voice was Fain's, but he was no longer crying, and an arrogant snap had replaced the whine. He stood upright, not crouching at all. Throwing back his head, he shouted at the ceiling. “Never again! I — will — not!” He faced Agelmar as if the men flanking him were his own bodyguard and the Lord of Fal Dara his equal rather than his captor. His tone became sleek and oily. “There is a misunderstanding here, Great Lord. I am sometimes taken by spells, but that will pass soon. Yes, soon I will be rid of them.” Contemptuously he flicked his fingers against the rags he wore. “Do not be misled by these, Great Lord. I have had to disguise myself against those who have tried to stop me, and my journey has been long and hard. But at last I have reached lands where men still know the dangers of Ba'alzamon, where men still fight the Dark One.”
Rand stared, goggling. It was Fain's voice, but the words did not sound like the peddler at all.
“So you've come here because we fight Trollocs,” Agelmar said. “And you are so important that someone wants to stop you. These people say you are a peddler called Padan Fain, and that you are following them.”
Fain hesitated. He glanced at Moiraine and hurriedly pulled his eyes away from the Aes Sedai. His gaze ran across the Emond's Fielders, then jerked back to Agelmar. Rand felt the hate in that look, and the fear. When Fain spoke again, though, his voice was unruffled. “Padan Fain is simply one of the many disguises I have been forced to wear over the years. Friends of the Dark pursue me, for I have learned how to defeat the Shadow. I can show you how to defeat him, Great Lord.”
“We do as well as men can,” Agelmar said dryly. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, but we have fought the Dark One almost since the Breaking of the World without peddlers to teach us how.”
“Great Lord, your might is unquestioned, but can it stand against the Dark One forever? Do you not often find yourself pressed to hold? Forgive my temerity, Great Lord; he will crush you in the end, as you are. I know; believe me, I do. But I can show you how to scour the Shadow from the land, Great Lord.” His tone became even more unctuous, though still haughty. “If you but try what I advise, you will see, Great Lord. You will cleanse the land. You, Great Lord, can do it, if you direct your might in the right direction. Avoid letting Tar Valon entangle you in its snares, and you can save the world. Great Lord, you will be the man remembered through history for bringing final victory to the Light.” The guards held their places, but their hands shifted on the long shafts of the bills as if they thought they might have to use them.
“He thinks a great deal of himself for a peddler,” Agelmar said to Lan over his shoulder. “I think Ingtar is right. He is mad.”
Fain's eyes tightened angrily, but his voice remained smooth. “Great Lord, I know my words must appear grandiose, but if you will only — ” He cut off abruptly, stepping back, as Moiraine rose and started slowly around the table. Only the guards' lowered bills kept Fain from backing right out of the room.
Stopping behind Mat's chair, Moiraine put a hand on his shoulder and bent to whisper in his ear. Whatever she said, the tension went out of his face, and he took his hand from under his coat. The Aes Sedai went on until she stood beside Agelmar, confronting Fain. As she came to a halt, the peddler sank into a crouch once more.
“I hate him,” he whimpered. “I want to be free of him. I want to walk in the Light again.” His shoulders began to shake, and tears streamed down his face even more heavily than before. “He made me do it.”
“I am afraid he is more than a peddler, Lord Agelmar,” Moiraine said. “Less than human, worse than vile, more dangerous than you can imagine. He can be bathed after I have spoken with him. I dare not waste a minute. Come, Lan.”
More Tales of the Wheel
An itchy restlessness had Rand pacing beside the dining table. Twelve strides. The table was exactly twelve strides long no matter how many times he stepped it off. Irritably he made himself stop keeping tally. Stupid thing to be doing. I don't care how long the bloody table is. A few minutes later he discovered that he was counting the number of trips he made up the table and back. What is he saying to Moiraine and Lan? Does he know why the Dark One is after us? Does he know which of us the Dark One wants?
He glanced at his friends. Perrin had crumbled a piece of bread and was idly pushing the crumbs around on the table with one finger. His yellow eyes stared unblinking at the crumbs, but they seemed to see something far off. Mat slouched in his chair, eyes half closed and the beginnings of a grin on his face. It was a nervous grin, not amusement. Outwardly he looked like the old Mat, but from time to time he unconsciously touched the Shadar Logoth dagger through his coat. What is Fain telling her? What does he know?
Loial, at least, did not look worried. The Ogier was studying the walls. First he had stood in the middle of the room and stared, turning slowly in a circle; now he was almost pressing his broad nose against the stone while he gently traced a particular join with fingers thicker than most men's thumbs. Sometimes he closed his eyes, as if the feeling was more important than seeing. His ears gave an occasional twitch, and he muttered to himself in Ogier, appearing to have forgotten anyone else was in the room with him.
Lord Agelmar stood talking quietly with Nynaeve and Egwene in front of the long fireplace at the end of the room. He was a good host, adept at making people forget their troubles; several of his stories had Egwene in giggles. Once even Nynaeve threw back her head and roared with laughter. Rand gave a start at the unexpected sound, and jumped again when Mat's chair crashed to the floor.
“Blood and ashes!” Mat growled, ignoring the way Nynaeve's mouth tightened at his language. “What's taking her so long?” He righted his chair and sat back down without looking at anyone. His