“Victory in the Gap! We won!”
“A miracle in the Gap! The Age of Legends has come back!”
“Spring!” a grizzled old soldier laughed as he hung a garland of morningstars around Rand's neck. His own topknot was a white cluster of them. “The Light blesses us with spring once more!”
Learning they wanted to go to the keep, a circle of men clad in steel and flowers surrounded them, running to clear a way through the celebration.
Ingtar's was the first face Rand saw that was not smiling. “I was too late,” Ingtar told Lan with a sour grimness. “Too late by an hour to see. Peace!” His teeth ground audibly, but then his expression became contrite. “Forgive me. Grief makes me forget my duties. Welcome, Builder. Welcome to you all. It is good to see you safely out of the Blight. I will bring the healer to Moiraine Sedai in her chambers, and inform Lord Agelmar—”
“Take me to Lord Agelmar,” Moiraine commanded. “Take us all.” Ingtar opened his mouth to protest, and bowed under the force of her eyes.
Agelmar was in his study, with his swords and armor back on their racks, and his was the second face that did not smile. He wore a troubled frown that deepened when he saw Moiraine carried in on her litter by liveried servants. Women in the blackandgold fluttered over bringing the Aes Sedai to him without a chance to freshen herself or be brought the healer. Loial carried the gold chest. The pieces of the seal were still in Moiraine's pouch; Lews Therin Kinslayer's banner was wrapped in her blanketroll and still tied behind Aldieb's saddle. The groom who had led the white mare away had received the strictest orders to see the blanketroll was placed untouched in the chambers assigned to the Aes Sedai.
“Peace!” the Lord of Fal Dara muttered. “Are you injured, Moiraine Sedai? Ingtar, why have you not seen the Aes Sedai to her bed and brought the healer to her?”
“Be still, Lord Agelmar,” Moiraine said. “Ingtar has done as I commanded him. I am not so frail as everyone here seems to think.” She motioned two of the women to help her to a chair. For a moment they clasped their hands, exclaiming that she was too weak, that she should be in a warm bed, and the healer brought, and a hot bath. Moiraine's eyebrows lifted; the women shut their mouths abruptly and hurried to aid her into the chair. As soon as she was settled she waved them away irritably. “I would speak with you, Lord Agelmar. ”
Agelmar nodded, and Ingtar waved the servants from the room. The Lord of Fal Dara eyed those who remained expectantly; especially, Rand thought, Loial and the golden chest.
“We hear,” Moiraine said as soon as the door shut behind Ingtar, “that you won a great victory in Tarwin's Gap.”
“Yes,” Agelmar said slowly, his troubled frown returning. “Yes, Aes Sedai, and no. The Halfmen and their Trollocs were destroyed to the last, but we barely fought. A miracle, my men call it. The earth swallowed them; the mountains buried them. Only a few Draghkar were left, too frightened to do else but fly north as fast as they could.”
“A miracle indeed,” Moiraine said. “And spring has come again.”
“A miracle,” Agelmar said, shaking his head, “but ... Moiraine Sedai, men say many things about what happened in the Gap. That the Light took on flesh and fought for us. That the Creator walked in the Gap to strike at the Shadow. But I saw a man, Moiraine Sedai. I saw a man, and what he did, cannot be, must not be.”
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, Lord of Fal Dara.”
“As you say, Moiraine Sedai. ”
“And Padan Fain? He is secure? I must speak with him when I am rested.”
“He is held as you commanded, Aes Sedai, whining at his guards half the time and trying to command them the rest, but ... Peace, Moiraine Sedai, what of you, in the Blight? You found the Green Man? I see his hand in the new things growing.”
“We found him,” she said flatly. “The Green Man is dead, Lord Agelmar, and the Eye of the World is gone. There will be no more quests by young men seeking glory.”
The Lord of Fal Dara frowned, shaking his head in confusion. “Dead? The Green Man? He cannot be ... Then you were defeated? But the flowers, and the growing things?”
“We won, Lord Agelmar. We won, and the land freed from winter is the proof, but I fear the last battle has not yet been fought.” Rand stirred, but the Aes Sedai gave him a sharp look and he stood still again. “The Blight still stands, and the forges of Thakan'dar still work below Shayol Ghul. There are many Halfmen yet, and countless Trollocs. Never think the need for watchfulness in the Borderlands is gone.”
“I did not think it so, Aes Sedai,” he said stiffly.
Moiraine motioned for Loial to set the gold chest at her feet, and when he did, she opened it, revealing the horn. “The Horn of Valere,” she said, and Agelmar gasped. Rand almost thought the man would kneel.
“With that, Moiraine Sedai, it matters not how many Halfmen or Trollocs remain. With the heroes of old come back from the tomb, we will march to the Blasted Lands and level Shayol Ghul. ”
“NO!” Agelmar's mouth fell open in surprise, but Moiraine continued calmly. “I did not show it to you to taunt you, but so that you will know that in whatever battles yet come, our might will be as great as that of the Shadow. Its place is not here. The Horn must be carried to Illian. It is there, if fresh battles threaten, that it must rally the forces of the Light. I will ask an escort of your best men to see that it reaches Illian safely. There are Darkfriends still, as well as Halfmen and Trollocs, and those who come to the horn will follow whoever winds it. It must reach Illian.”
“It shall be as you say, Aes Sedai.” But when the lid of the chest closed, the Lord of Fal Dara looked like a man being denied his last glimpse of the Light.
Seven days later, bells still rang in Fal Dara. The people had returned from Fal Moran, adding their celebration to that of the soldiers, and shouts and singing blended with the pealing of the bells on the long balcony where Rand stood. The balcony overlooked Agelmar's private gardens, green and flowering, but he did not give them a second look. Despite the sun high in the sky, spring in Shienar was cooler than he was used to, yet sweat glistened on his bare chest and shoulders as he swung the heronmark blade, each move precise yet distant from where he floated in the void. Even there, he wondered how much joy there would be in the town if they knew of the banner Moiraine still kept hidden.
“Good, sheepherder.” Leaning against the railing with his arms folded across his chest, the Warder watched him critically. “You are doing well, but don't push so hard. You can't become a blademaster in a few weeks.”
The void vanished like a pricked bubble. “I don't care about being a blademaster. ”
“It's a blademaster's blade, sheepherder.”
“I just want my father to be proud of me.” His hand tightened on the rough leather of the hilt. I just want Tam to be my father. He slammed the sword into its scabbard. “Anyway, I don't have a few weeks.”
“Then you've not changed your mind?”
“Would you?” Lan's expression had not altered; the flat planes of his face looked as if they could not change. “You won't try to stop me? Or Moiraine Sedai?”
“You can do as you will, sheepherder, or as the Pattern weaves for you.” The Warder straightened. “I'll leave you now.”
Rand turned to watch Lan go, and found Egwene standing there.
“Changed your mind about what, Rand?”
He snatched up his shirt and coat, suddenly feeling the cool. “I'm going away, Egwene. ”
“Somewhere. I don't know.” He did not want to meet her eyes, but he could not stop looking at her. She wore red wildroses twined in her hair, flowing about her shoulders. She held her cloak close, dark blue and embroidered along the edge with a thin line of white flowers in the Shienaran fashion, and the blossoms made a line straight up to her face. They were no paler than her cheeks; her eyes seemed so large and dark. “Away.”
“I'm sure Moiraine Sedai will not like you just going off. After ... after what you've done, you deserve some reward.”
“Moiraine does not know I am alive. I have done what she wanted, and that's an end to it. She doesn't even speak to me when I go to her. Not that I've tried to stay close to her, but she's avoided me. She won't care if I go, and I don't care if she does.”
“Moiraine is still not completely well, Rand.” She hesitated. “I have to go to Tar Valon for my training. Nynaeve is coming, too. And Mat still needs to be healed of whatever binds him to that dagger, and Perrin wants to see Tar Valon before he goes ... wherever. You could come with us.”
“And wait for some Aes Sedai besides Moiraine to find out what I am and gentle me?” His voice was rough, almost a sneer; he could not change it. “Is that what you want?”
He knew he would never be able to tell her how grateful he was that she had not hesitated before answering.
“Rand, you aren't afraid ...” They were alone, but she looked around and still lowered her voice. “Moiraine Sedai says you don't have to touch the True Source. If you don't touch saidin, if you don't try to wield the Power,