Rand had a sudden itch between his shoulder blades; it was as if he could feel Fain's eyes on him then, through the intervening stone. The Aes Sedai noticed his uneasy shrug, but she went on implacably.
“If Fain was half mad by the time he reached Caemlyn, he sank even further when he realized that only two of those he sought were there. He was compelled to find all of you, but he could do no other than follow the two who were there, either. He spoke of screaming when the Waygate opened in Caemlyn. The knowledge of how to do it was in his mind; he does not know how it came there; his hands moved of their own accord, burning with the fires of Ba'alzamon when he tried to stop them. The owner of the shop, who came to investigate the noise, Fain murdered. Not because he had to, but out of envy that the man could walk freely out of the cellar while his feet carried him inexorably into the Ways.”
“Then Fain was the one you sensed following us,” Egwene said. Lan nodded. “How did he escape the ... the Black Wind?” Her voice shook; she stopped to swallow. “It was right behind us at the Waygate.”
“He escaped, and he did not,” Moiraine said. “The Black Wind caught him — and he claimed to understand the voices. Some greeted him as like to them; others feared him. No sooner did the Wind envelop Fain than it fled.”
“The Light preserve us.” Loial's whisper rumbled like a giant bumblebee.
“Pray that it does,” Moiraine said. “There is much yet hidden about Padan Fain, much I must learn. The evil goes deeper in him, and stronger, than in any man I have yet seen. It may be that the Dark One, in doing what he did to Fain, impressed some part of himself on the man, perhaps even, unknowing, some part of his intent. When I mentioned the Eye of the World, Fain clamped his jaws shut, but I felt something knowing behind the silence. If only I had the time now. But we cannot wait.”
“If this man knows something,” Agelmar said, “I can get it out of him.” His face held no mercy for Darkfriends; his voice promised no pity for Fain. “If you can learn even a part of what you will face in the Blight, it's worth an extra day. Battles have been lost for not knowing what the enemy intends.”
Moiraine sighed and shook her head ruefully. “My lord, if we did not need at least one good night's sleep before facing the Blight, I would ride within the hour, though it meant the risk of meeting a Trolloc raid in the dark. Consider what I did learn from Fain. Three years ago the Dark One had to have Fain brought to Shayol Ghul to touch him, despite the fact that Fain is a Darkfriend dedicated to his marrow. One year ago, the Dark One could command Fain, the Darkfriend, through his dreams. This year, Ba'alzamon walks in the dreams of those who live in the Light, and actually appears, if with difficulty, at Shadar Logoth. Not in his own body, of course, but even a projection of the Dark One's mind, even a projection that flickers and cannot hold, is more deathly dangerous to the world than all the Trolloc hordes combined. The seals on Shayol Ghul are weakening desperately, Lord Agelmar. There is no time.”
Agelmar bowed his head in acquiescence, but when he raised it again there was still a stubborn set to his mouth. “Aes Sedai, I can accept that when I lead the lances to Tarwin's Gap we will be no more than a diversion, or a skirmish on the outskirts of the real battle. Duty takes men where it will as surely as does the Pattern, and neither promises that what we do will have greatness. But our skirmish will be useless, even should we win, if you lose the battle. If you say your party must be small, I say well and good, but I beg you to make every effort to see that you can win. Leave these young men here, Aes Sedai. I swear to you that I can find three experienced men with no thought of glory in their heads to replace them, good swordsmen who are almost as handy in the Blight as Lan. Let me ride to the Gap knowing that I have done what I can to help you be victorious.”
“I must take them and no others, Lord Agelmar,” Moiraine said gently. “They are the ones who will fight the battle at the Eye of the World.”
Agelmar's jaw dropped, and he stared at Rand and Mat and Perrin. Suddenly the Lord of Fal Dara took a step back, his hand groping unconsciously for the sword he never wore inside the fortress. “They aren't ... You are not Red Ajah, Moiraine Sedai, but surely not even you would ...” Sudden sweat glistened on his shaven head.
“They are ta'veren,” Moiraine said soothingly. “The Pattern weaves itself around them. Already the Dark One has tried to kill each of them more than once. Three ta'veren in one place are enough to change the life around them as surely as a whirlpool changes the path of a straw. When the place is the Eye of the World, the Pattern might weave even the Father of Lies into itself, and make him harmless again.”
Agelmar stopped trying to find his sword, but he still looked at Rand and the others doubtfully. “Moiraine Sedai, if you say they are, then they are, but I cannot see it. Farmboys. Are you certain, Aes Sedai?”
“The old blood,” Moiraine said, “split out like a river breaking into a thousand times a thousand streams, but sometimes streams join together to make a river again. The old blood of Manetheren is strong and pure in almost all these young men. Can you doubt the strength of Manetheren's blood, Lord Agelmar?”
Rand glanced sideways at the Aes Sedai. Almost all. He risked a look at Nynaeve; she had turned back to watch as well as listen, though she still avoided looking at Lan. He caught the Wisdom's eye. She shook her head; she had not told the Aes Sedai that he was not Two Rivers born. What does Moiraine know?
“Manetheren,” Agelmar said slowly, nodding. “I would not doubt that blood.” Then, more quickly, “The Wheel brings strange times. Farmboys carry the honor of Manetheren into the Blight, yet if any blood can strike a fell blow at the Dark One, it would be the blood of Manetheren. It shall be done as you wish, Aes Sedai.”
“Then let us go to our rooms,” Moiraine said. “We must leave with the sun, for time grows short. The young men must sleep close to me. Time is too short before the battle to allow the Dark One another strike at them. Too short. ”
Rand felt her eyes on him, studying him and his friends, weighing their strength, and he shivered. Too short.
The wind whipped Lan's cloak, sometimes making him hard to see even in the sunlight, and Ingtar and the hundred lances Lord Agelmar had sent to escort them to the Border, in case they met a Trolloc raid, made a brave display in double column with their armor and their red pennants and their steelclad horses led by Ingtar's Gray Owl banner. They were easily as grand as a hundred of the Queen's Guards, but it was the towers just in sight ahead of them that Rand studied. He had had all morning to watch the Shienaran lances.
Each tower stood tall and solid atop a hill, half a mile from its neighbor. East and west others rose, and more beyond those. A broad, walled ramp spiralled around each stone shaft, winding all the way around by the time it reached the heavy gates halfway to the crenellated top. A sortie from the garrison would be protected by the wall until it reached the ground, but enemies striving to reach the gate would climb under a hail of arrows and stones and hot oil from the big kettles poised on the outward flaring ramparts above. A large steel mirror, carefully turned down, away from the sun, now, glittered atop each tower below the high iron cup where signal fires could be lit when the sun did not shine. The signal would be flashed, to towers further from the Border, and by those to still others, and so relayed to the heartland fortresses, from where the lances would ride to turn back the raid. Were times normal, they would.
From the two nearest tower tops men watched them approach. Just a few men on each, peering curiously through the crenels. In the best of times the towers were only manned enough for selfdefense, depending more on stone walls than strong arms to survive, but every man who could be spared, and more, was riding to Tarwin's Gap. The fall of the towers would not matter if the lances failed to hold the Gap.
Rand shivered as they rode between the towers. It was almost as if he had ridden through a wall of colder air. This was the Border. The land beyond looked no different from Shienar, but out there, somewhere beyond the leafless trees, was the Blight.
Ingtar lifted a steel fist to halt the lances short of a plain stone post in sight of the towers. A borderpost, marking the boundary between Shienar and what once was Malkier. “Your pardon, Moiraine Aes Sedai. Pardon, Dai Shan. Pardon, Builder. Lord Agelmar commanded me to go no further.” He sounded unhappy about it, disgruntled at life in general.
“That is as we planned, Lord Agelmar and I,” Moiraine said.
Ingtar grunted sourly. “Pardon, Aes Sedai,” he apologized, not sounding as if he meant it. “To escort you here means we may not reach the Gap before the fighting is done. I am robbed of the chance to stand with the rest, and at the same time I am commanded not to ride one step beyond the borderpost, as if I had never before been in the Blight. And My Lord Agelmar will not tell me why.” Behind the bars of his faceguard, his eyes turned the last word into a question to the Aes Sedai. He scorned to look at Rand and the others; he had learned they would acco