Two of the men were untying the harness straps of one of the big Dhurrans from a Trolloc's ankles. Lan, squatting beside the body, had tossed back the blanket enough to reveal the Trolloc's shoulders and goatsnouted head. As Rand trotted up, the Warder unfastened a metal badge, a bloodred enamelled trident, from one spiked shoulder of the Trolloc's shirt of black mail.
“Ko'bal,” he announced. He bounced the badge on his palm and snatched it out of the air with a growl. “That makes seven bands so far.”
Moiraine, seated crosslegged on the ground a short distance off, shook her head tiredly. A walking staff, covered from end to end in carved vines and flowers, lay across her knees, and her dress had the rumpled look of having been worn too long. “Seven bands. Seven! That many have not acted together since the Trolloc Wars. Bad news piles on bad news. I am afraid, Lan. I thought we had gained a march, but we may be further behind than ever.”
Rand stared at her, unable to speak. An Aes Sedai. He had been trying to convince himself that she would not look any different now that he knew whom ... what he was looking at, and to his surprise she did not. She was no longer quite so pristine, not with wisps of her hair sticking out in all directions and a faint streak of soot across her nose, yet not really different, either. Surely there must be something about an Aes Sedai to mark her for what she was. On the other hand, if outward appearance reflected what was inside, and if the stories were true, then she should look closer to a Trolloc than to a more than handsome woman whose dignity was not dented by sitting in the dirt. And she could help Tam. Whatever the cost, there was that before anything else. He took a deep breath.
“Mistress Moiraine ... I mean, Moiraine Sedai.” Both turned to look at him, and he froze under her gaze. Not the calm, smiling gaze he remembered from the Green. Her face was tired, but her dark eyes were a hawk's eyes. Aes Sedai. Breakers of the world. Puppeteers who pulled strings and made thrones and nations dance in designs only the women from Tar Valon knew.
“A little more light in the darkness,” the Aes Sedai murmured. She raised her voice. “How are your dreams, Rand al'Thor?”
He stared at her. “My dreams?”
“A night like that can give a man bad dreams, Rand. If you have nightmares, you must tell me of it. I can help with bad dreams, sometimes.”
“There's nothing wrong with my ... It's my father. He's hurt. It's not much more than a scratch, but the fever is burning him up. The Wisdom won't help. She says she can't. But the stories — ” She raised an eyebrow, and he stopped and swallowed hard. Light, is there a story with an Aes Sedai where she isn't a villain? He looked at the Warder, but Lan appeared more interested in the dead Trolloc than in anything Rand might say. Fumbling his way under her eyes, he went on. “I ... ah ... it's said Aes Sedai can heal. If you can help him ... anything you can do for him ... whatever the cost ... I mean ...” He took a deep breath and finished up in a rush. “I'll pay any price in my power if you help him. Anything.”
“Any price,” Moiraine mused, half to herself. “We will speak of prices later, Rand, if at all. I can make no promises. Your Wisdom knows what she is about. I will do what I can, but it is beyond my power to stop the Wheel from turning.”
“Death comes sooner or later to everyone,” the Warder said grimly, “unless they serve the Dark One, and only fools are willing to pay that price.”
Moiraine made a clucking sound. “Do not be so gloomy, Lan. We have some reason to celebrate. A small one, but a reason.” She used the staff to pull herself to her feet. “Take me to your father, Rand. I will help him as much as I am able. Too many here have refused to let me help at all. They have heard the stories, too,” she added dryly.
“He's at the inn,” Rand said. “This way. And thank you. Thank you!” They followed, but his pace took him quickly ahead. He slowed impatiently for them to catch up, then darted ahead again and had to wait again.
“Please hurry,” he urged, so caught up in actually getting help for Tam that he never considered the temerity of prodding an Aes Sedai. “The fever is burning him up.”
Lan glared at him. “Can't you see she's tired? Even with an angreal, what she did last night was like running around the village with a sack of stones on her back. I don't know that you are worth it, sheepherder, no matter what she says.”
Rand blinked and held his tongue.
“Gently, my friend,” Moiraine said. Without slowing her pace, she reached up to pat the Warder's shoulder. He towered over her protectively, as if he could give her strength just by being close. “You think only of taking care of me. Why should he not think the same of his father?” Lan scowled, but fell silent. “I am coming as quickly as I can, Rand, I promise you.”
The fierceness of her eyes, or the calm of her voice — not gentle, exactly; more firmly in command — Rand did not know which to believe. Or perhaps they did go together. Aes Sedai. He was committed, now. He matched his stride to theirs, and tried not to think of what the price might be that they would talk about later.
A Place of Safety
While he was still coming through the door Rand's eyes went to his father — his father no matter what anyone said. Tam had not moved an inch; his eyes were still shut, and his breath came in labored gasps, low and rasping. The whitehaired gleeman cut off a conversation with the Mayor — who was bent over the bed again, tending Tam — and gave Moiraine an uneasy look. The Aes Sedai ignored him. Indeed, she ignored everyone except for Tam, but at him she stared with an intent frown.
Thom stuck his unlit pipe between his teeth, then snatched it out again and glowered at it. “Man cannot even smoke in peace,” he muttered. “I had better make sure some farmer doesn't steal my cloak to keep his cow warm. At least I can have my pipe out there.” He hurried out of the room.
Lan stared after him, his angular face as expressionless as a rock. “I do not like that man. There is something about him I don't trust. I did not see a hair of him last night.”
“He was there,” Bran said, watching Moiraine uncertainly. “He must have been. His cloak did not get singed in front of the fireplace.”
Rand did not care if the gleeman had spent the night hiding in the stable. “My father?” he said to Moiraine pleadingly.
Bran opened his mouth, but before he could speak Moiraine said, “Leave me with him, Master al'Vere. There is nothing you can do here now except get in my way.”
For a minute Bran hesitated, torn between dislike of being ordered about in his own inn and reluctance to disobey an Aes Sedai. Finally, he straightened to clap Rand on the shoulder. “Come along, boy. Let us leave Moiraine Sedai to her ... ah ... her ... There's plenty you can give me a hand with downstairs. Before you know it Tam will be shouting for his pipe and a mug of ale.”
“Can I stay?” Rand spoke to Moiraine, though she did not really seem to be aware of anyone besides Tam. Bran's hand tightened, but Rand ignored him. “Please? I'll keep out of your way. You won't even know I am here. He's my father,” he added with a fierceness that startled him and widened the Mayor's eyes in surprise. Rand hoped the others put it down to tiredness, or the strain of dealing with an Aes Sedai.
“Yes, yes,” Moiraine said impatiently. She had tossed her cloak and staff carelessly across the only chair in the room, and now she pushed up the sleeves of her gown, baring her arms to her elbows. Her attention never really left Tam, even while she spoke. “Sit over there. And you, too, Lan.” She gestured vaguely in the direction of a long bench against the wall. Her eyes traveled slowly from Tam's feet to his head, but Rand had the prickly feeling that she was looking beyond him in some fashion. “You may talk if you wish,” she went on absently, “but do it quietly. Now, you go, Master al'Vere. This is a sickroom, not a gathering hall. See that I am not disturbed.”
The Mayor grumbled under his breath, though not loudly enough to catch her attention, of course, squeezed Rand's shoulder again, then obediently, if reluctantly, closed the door behind him.
Muttering to herself, the Aes Sedai knelt beside the bed and rested her hands lightly on Tam's chest. She closed her eyes, and for a long time she neither moved nor made a sound.
In the stories Aes Sedai wonders were always accompanied by flashes and thunderclaps, or other signs to indicate mighty works and great powers. The Power. The One Power, drawn from the True Source that drove the Wheel of Time. That was not something Rand wanted to think about, the Power involved with Tam, himself in the same room where the Power might be used. In the same village was bad enough. For all he could tell, though, Moiraine might just as well have gone to sleep. But he thought Tam's breathing sounded easier. She must be doing something. So intent was he that he jumped when Lan spoke softly.
“That is a fine weapon you wear. Is there by chance a heron on the blade, as well?”
For a moment Rand stared at the Warder, not grasping what it was he was talking about. He had completely forgotten Tam's sword in the lather of dealing with an Aes Sedai. It did not seem so heavy anymore. “Yes, there is.