Thom Merrilin vanished through the doorway before Rand could speak. “Nynaeve wouldn't do anything. She said she couldn't help him. I knew ... I hoped you'd think of something.”

Master al'Vere looked at Tam more sharply, then shook his head. “We will see, boy. We will see.” But he no longer sounded confident. “Let's get him into a bed. He can rest easy, at least.”


Rand let himself be prodded toward the stairs at the back of the common room. He tried hard to keep his certainty that somehow Tam would be all right, but it had been thin to begin with, he realized, and the sudden doubt in the Mayor's voice shook him.

On the second floor of the inn, at the front, were half a dozen snug, wellappointed rooms with windows overlooking the Green. Mostly they were used by the peddlers, or people down from Watch Hill or up from Deven Ride, but the merchants who came each year were often surprised to find such comfortable rooms. Three of them were taken now, and the Mayor hurried Rand to one of the unused ones.

Quickly the down comforter and blankets were stripped back on the wide bed, and Tam was transferred to the thick feather mattress, with goosedown pillows tucked under his head. He made no sound beyond hoarse breathing as he was moved, not even a groan, but the Mayor brushed away Rand's concern, telling him to set a fire to take the chill off the room. While Rand dug wood and kindling from the woodbox next to the fireplace, Bran threw back the curtains on the window, letting in the morning light, then began to gently wash Tam's face. By the time the gleeman returned, the blaze on the hearth was warming the room.

“She will not come,” Thom Merrilin announced as he stalked into the room. He glared at Rand, his bushy white brows drawing down sharply. “You didn't tell me she had seen him already. She almost took my head off.”

“I thought ... I don't know ... maybe the Mayor could do something, could make her see ... ” Hands clenched in anxious fists, Rand turned from the fireplace to Bran. “Master al'Vere, what can I do?” The rotund man shook his head helplessly. He laid a freshly dampened cloth on Tam's forehead and avoided meeting Rand's eye. “I can't just watch him die, Master al'Vere. I have to do something.” The gleeman shifted as if to speak. Rand rounded on him eagerly. .“Do you have an idea? I'll try anything.”

“I was just wondering,” Thom said, tamping his longstemmed pipe with his thumb, “if the Mayor knew who scrawled the Dragon's Fang on his door.” He peered into the bowl, then looked at Tam and replaced the unlit pipe between his teeth with a sigh. “Someone seems not to like him anymore. Or maybe it's his guests they don't like.”

Rand gave him a disgusted look and turned away to stare into the fire. His thoughts danced like the flames, and like the flames they concentrated fixedly on one thing. He would not give up. He could not just stand there and watch Tam die. My father, he thought fiercely. My father. Once the fever was gone, that could be cleared up as well. But the fever first. Only, how?

Bran al'Vere's mouth tightened as he looked at Rand's back, and the glare he directed at the gleeman would have given a bear pause, but Thom just waited expectantly as if he had not noticed it.

“It's probably the work of one of the Congars, or a Coplin,” the Mayor said finally, “though the Light alone knows which. They're a large brood, and if there's ill to be said of someone, or even if there isn't, they'll say it. They make Cenn Buie sound honeytongued.”

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“That wagonload who came in just before dawn?” the gleeman asked. “They hadn't so much as smelled a Trolloc, and all they wanted to know was when Festival was going to start, as if they couldn't see half the village in ashes.”

Master al'Vere nodded grimly. “One branch of the family. But none of them are very different. That fool Darl Coplin spent half the night demanding I put Mistress Moiraine and Master Lan out of the inn, out of the village, as if there would be any village at all left without them.”

Rand had only half listened to the conversation, but this last tugged him to speak. “What did they do?”

“Why, she called ball lightning out of a clear night sky,” Master al'Vere replied. “Sent it darting straight at the Trollocs. You've seen trees shattered by it. The Trollocs stood it no better.”

“Moiraine?” Rand said incredulously, and the Mayor nodded.

“Mistress Moiraine. And Master Lan was a whirlwind with that sword of his. His sword? The man himself is a weapon, and in ten places at once, or so it seemed. Burn me, but I still wouldn't believe it if I couldn't step outside and see ...” He rubbed a hand over his bald head. “Winternight visits just beginning, our hands full of presents and honeycakes and our heads fall of wine, then the dogs snarling, and suddenly the two of them burst out of the inn, running through the village, shouting about Trollocs. I thought they'd had too much wine. After all ... Trollocs? Then, before anyone knew what was happening, those ... those things were right in the streets with us, slashing at people with their swords, torching houses, howling to freeze a man's blood.” He made a sound of disgust in his throat. “We just ran like chickens with a fox in the henyard till Master Lan put some backbone into us.”

“No need to be so hard,” Thom said. “You did as well as anyone could. Not every Trolloc lying out there fell to the two of them.”

“Umm ... yes, well.” Master al'Vere gave himself a shake. “It's still almost too much to believe. An Aes Sedai in Emond's Field. And Master Lan is a Warder.”

“An Aes Sedai?” Rand whispered. “She can't be. I talked to her. She isn't ... She doesn't ...”

“Did you think they wore signs?” the Mayor said wryly. “'Aes Sedai' painted across their backs, and maybe, 'Danger, stay away'?” Suddenly he slapped his forehead. “Aes Sedai. I'm an old fool, and losing my wits. There's a chance, Rand, if you're willing to take it. I can't tell you to do it, and I don't know if I'd have the nerve, if it were me.”

“A chance?” Rand said. “I'll take any chance, if it'll help — ”

“Aes Sedai can heal, Rand. Burn me, lad, you've heard the stories. They can cure where medicines fail. Gleeman, you should have remembered that better than I. Gleemen's tales are full of Aes Sedai. Why didn't you speak up, instead of letting me flail around?”

“I'm a stranger here,” Thom said, looking longingly at his unlit pipe, “and Goodman Coplin isn't the only one who wants nothing to do with Aes Sedai. Best the idea came from you.”

“An Aes Sedai,” Rand muttered, trying to make the woman who had smiled at him fit the stories. Help from an Aes Sedai was sometimes worse than no help at all, so the stories said, like poison in a pie, and their gifts always had a hook in them, like fishbait. Suddenly the coin in his pocket, the coin Moiraine had given him, seemed like a burning coal. It was all he could do not to rip it out of his coat and throw it out the window.

“Nobody wants to get involved with Aes Sedai, lad,” the Mayor said slowly. “It is the only chance I can see, but it's still no small decision. I cannot make it for you, but I have seen nothing but good from Mistress Moiraine ... Moiraine Sedai, I should call her, I suppose. Sometimes” — he gave a meaningful took at Tam — “you have to take a chance, even if it's a poor one.”

“Some of the stories are exaggerated, in a way,” Thom added, as if the words were being dragged from him. “Some of them. Besides, boy, what choice do you have?”

“None,” Rand sighed. Tam still had not moved a muscle; his eyes were sunken as if he had been sick a week. “I'll ... I'll go find her. ”

“The other side of the bridges,” the gleeman said, “where they are ... disposing of the dead Trollocs. But be careful, boy. Aes Sedai do what they do for reasons of their own, and they aren't always the reasons others think.”

The last was a shout that followed Rand through the door. He had to hold onto the sword hilt to keep the scabbard from tangling in his legs as he ran, but he would not take the time to remove it. He clattered down the stairs and dashed out of the inn, tiredness forgotten for the moment. A chance for Tam, however small, was enough to overcome a night without sleep, for a time at least. That the chance came from an Aes Sedai, or what the price of it might be, he did not want to consider. And as for actually facing an Aes Sedai ... He took a deep breath and tried to move faster.

The bonfires stood well beyond the last houses to the north, on the Westwood side of the road to Watch Hill. The wind still carried the oily black columns of smoke away from the village, but even so a sickly sweet stink filled the air, like a roast left hours too long on the spit. Rand gagged at the smell, then swallowed hard when he realized its source. A fine thing to do with Bel Tine fires. The men tending the fires had cloths tied over their noses and mouths, but their grimaces made it plain the vinegar dampening the cloths was not enough. Even if it did kill the stench, they still knew the stench was there, and they still

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